Publication Date

March 1, 2003

Perspectives Section


The World History Association awarded its 2003 book prize to Lauren Benton (Rutgers Univ at Newark/New Jersey Institute for Technology) for her book Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2002). The award will be presented at the WHA conference in Atlanta this year, June 26–29, 2003.

The award jurors were unanimous in their praise for Benton's well-researched and argued thesis that evolving legal regimes shaped modern imperialism and the international order as much as the global economy did. They praised Benton's opening methodological chapters, her detailed case studies that span 500 years and five continents, and the connection she makes between past colonial legal politics and contemporary postcolonial conflicts. One juror wrote, "By combining and adapting the approaches of legal pluralism and cultural pluralism, the author uncovers a complex world of overlapping and interacting legal regimes that are not closed structures of domination, but, rather, are partly responsive to and shaped by . . . cultures and negotiations. This is, I would suggest, one of the best and most original works in the field of legal pluralism." Another stated, "this book is a landmark in the creation of a more complex modern global cultural history built on more than just expansion and resistance, but on a shifting negotiation of power . . . identity and rights." Another praised the book's sophisticated focus on "institutional world history, analyzing global structures, processes and routines. Clearly written and carefully researched and argued, it brings to the fore a topic seldom prominent in world history…legal regimes." In her conclusion, Benton argues that the important role played by indigenous cultures and institutions in colonial state making should inspire more pluralistic approaches to resolving identity issues today, not assimilation or separation.

Two other praiseworthy finalists in the competition were R. J. Barendse's The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century (M.E. Sharpe, 2002), and Christopher Ehret’s The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 (University Press of Virginia, 2002). For past winners, see the WHA website ( under prizes.

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