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Research Seminars



Emily Whewell
Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Germany Between Semicolonial and Colonial Borders: Mobile Subjects and Tensions of Law in the Early 20th Century British Empire


29 Jan 2019

4:00 p.m.
4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus



By the early twentieth century, European imperial expansion across the globe resulted in large numbers of people crossing the borders between colonial and semicolonial parts of the same empire. The latter jurisdiction typically included extraterritorial jurisdictions in East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America, where imperial officials exercised legal authority over their national subjects in a foreign land. Although scholars of imperialism have convincingly argued that the movement of people, goods and ideas across borders shaped imperial law, this paper demonstrates how people crossing from semicolonial parts of empire to colonial domains and vice versa presented unique challenges to British imperial legal authority. The paper focuses on two case studies to exemplify the ways in which these border crossings exposed these tensions of imperial law. First, I discuss the legal arrangements in the Burma-China frontier, which failed to address the limitations of extraterritorial jurisdiction concerning transfrontier crime. In the second part I turn to the Caribbean and a key case which resulted in the failure to extradite a French fugitive convict in British colonial Trinidad. I show how this was linked to the contention that the fugitive had been convicted in semicolonial domain before being transferred to the French territory of Guiana. The paper concludes by showing how in both case studies, border crossing forced legal officials to experiment with new legal practices and reevaluate key legal concepts in empire, such as 'territory', 'jurisdiction' and 'nationality'.


All are welcome. No registration is required.