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Settler Sovereignty

Settler Sovereignty

Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788–1836

Lisa Ford

ISBN 9780674061880

Publication date: 09/30/2011

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In a brilliant comparative study of law and imperialism, Lisa Ford argues that modern settler sovereignty emerged when settlers in North America and Australia defined indigenous theft and violence as crime.

This occurred, not at the moment of settlement or federation, but in the second quarter of the nineteenth century when notions of statehood, sovereignty, empire, and civilization were in rapid, global flux. Ford traces the emergence of modern settler sovereignty in everyday contests between settlers and indigenous people in early national Georgia and the colony of New South Wales. In both places before 1820, most settlers and indigenous people understood their conflicts as war, resolved disputes with diplomacy, and relied on shared notions like reciprocity and retaliation to address frontier theft and violence. This legal pluralism, however, was under stress as new, global statecraft linked sovereignty to the exercise of perfect territorial jurisdiction. In Georgia, New South Wales, and elsewhere, settler sovereignty emerged when, at the same time in history, settlers rejected legal pluralism and moved to control or remove indigenous peoples.


  • The key to understanding Australian attitudes to the law lies deep in our history, as Lisa Ford shows with great forensic flair… [This] is comparative history at its best. Ford moves confidently between the two societies and appears equally at home in both. Both the similarities and the differences are revealing. Each study enlightens the other. This is so because the supporting scholarship is so impressive, the fruit, Ford tells us, of ten years’ research and reflection.

    —Henry Reynolds, Australian Book Review


  • 2010, Winner of the NSW Premier's History Awards
  • 2010, Joint winner of the Littleton-Griswold Prize


  • Lisa Ford is the author of the prizewinning Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788–1836 and coauthor of Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800–1850. She is Professor of History at the University of New South Wales.

Book Details

  • 328 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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