What is a Legal Archive?


A workshop organized by Kalyani Ramnath in collaboration with the American Society for Legal History and held on 20 November 2019 at the Center for History and Economics, Harvard University.

This workshop brought together historians of South Asia and Latin America working on projects about law, paperwork, bureaucracy, and procedure who were interested in examining questions such as 'What are the archives of law?' and 'What definitions and notions of law do we work with as we assemble, read and interpret archive sources?' Scholars drew upon their engagement with legal sources and records, as well as their own approach to 'reading' legal materials. They also looked at the promise and perils of working with fragmented archives, with sources in multiple languages, and in multiple geographical locations. In the course of discussions, questions were raised about knowledge production, indigenous agency, and governance. By looking at different frameworks that are constructed around 'archive stories' and considering the legal encounter alongside the archival encounter, the hope was to arrive at creative and critical rethinking of what constitutes a legal archive and how it is constructed and read.

9.00am – 9.30am Coffee and Breakfast

9.30am – 9.45am Opening Remarks

Emma Rothschild (Harvard University)

9.45am – 10.45am Panel 1

Bhavani Raman (University of Toronto, Scarborough)
In the Mirror of the Present: Reading for Justice in the Archives of Counterinsurgency

Michelle McKinley (University of Oregon School of Law)
Secrets and Silences in the Archive

11.00am – 12.00pm Panel 2

Julia Stephens (Rutgers University)
Apparition in the Archive: ‘Reading’ the Legal Legacies of Sher Dil Khan's Indian Ocean Migration

Caroline Cunill (Universite du Maine)
Margins of Power in the Legal Sources of the Spanish Empire’s Archives

12.00pm – 1.30pm Lunch

1.30pm – 2.30pm Panel 3

Elizabeth Lhost (Dartmouth College)
Beyond the Jurists’ Words: Fatwas as an archive of socio-legal history

Melissa Teixeira (University of Pennsylvania)
The economic lives of legal archives

2.45pm – 3.45pm Panel 4

Tatiana Seijas (Rutgers University)
Reading civil court records to reconstruct the 17th-century history of market sellers in Mexico City

Durba Mitra (Harvard University)
Female Sexuality and the Legal Archiving of Social Life in Colonial and Postcolonial India

3.45pm – 4.00pm Closing Remarks