Dr Edward Cavanagh
Fellow in History

Isaac Newton Research Fellow in History

BA (ANU), BA Hons (Swinburne), MA (Witwatersrand), PhD (Ottawa), FRHistS

My research profile is interdisciplinary. Within history, I am interested in the history of ideas and world history. Within law, I am interested in legal and constitutional history.

History of ideas

My approach to the history of ideas is partially informed by the fashion of the ‘Cambridge school’: attentive to the stakes of argumentation in context, conscious of the intellectual continuities traceable from Cicero through Machiavelli to Laski, and curious about the modification of key ideas for different ends. I am especially attracted to an approach developed within this field, sometimes called the ‘history in ideas’, recently championed by David Armitage (e.g. Civil Wars: A History in Ideas) and Andrew Fitzmaurice (e.g. Sovereignty, Property, Empire), with important precursors, I think, in J. G. A. Pocock and F. W. Maitland. This entails following specific ideas through a variety of discrete contexts. In my case, I am interested in legal ideas. Currently, I am interested in concepts like conquest, crown, contract, and corporation. The next project I am developing is called, ‘Time out of Mind: Prescription and the Origins of Global Order, 529-2020’, which shows how time has been used to fortify rights within Europe and across the world. Working with this approach, I have published articles in Modern Intellectual History and Historical Journal, with another under review in the Journal of the History of Ideas.

World history

Increasingly distinct from the World History one finds at Cambridge, my own approach to global history makes room for Europe within the world, and is interested especially in the movement of ideas and the development of institutions. Working within a particularly long early modern period, I have researched and published extensively on sub-Saharan Africa, Western Europe, Australasia, and Asia, from 1200 to 2000. My PhD dissertation combined equal measures of continental Europe, Africa, and the Americas, omitting additional research material on the Pacific and India for want of space. My current research project, ‘Conquest for the Crown: War and Government in the Imperial Constitution, 1066-1923’, will soon emerge in two articles and one chapter on the modern history of Australia, India, southern Africa, and Canada – and the imperial constitution of Great Britain knitting them together – before culminating in two books. My next project on ‘prescription’ will explore the development of political, religious, and territorial claims within Europe and across the world, culminating in the fortification of boundaries and the acceptance of international legal norms. Working with this approach, I have co-edited the Routledge Handbook of the History of Settler Colonialism, I have published two monographs, besides a number of articles in Itinerario, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, History Compass, Journal of Southern African Studies, and other outlets.

Legal and constitutional history

My approach to constitutional history uses legislation, case law, parliamentary debates, and the correspondence between political actors, among other materials, in order to explain political, legal, and institutional change. Legal history, conservatively understood, involves the collation of evidence from episodes mostly of a private law nature to draw conclusions about process, motivations, and outcomes – but to this approach I only partially subscribe. Disavowing antiquarianism, my work is interested more in how particular ideas have been used to characterise a particular interest in law (as opposed to what are the consequences of a justiciable endorsement of a particular interest in law). Working between constitutional and legal history, I have developed a strong interest in a variety of ideas, researching across a wide range of public and private concepts, including corporations, offices, charters, jurisdiction, private international law, restitution, prescription, contract, tort, war, genocide, human rights, and property, leading to a number of publications in top outlets, including Comparative Legal History, Law and History Review, and a series of history journals, besides currently co-editing Empire and Legal Thought.

Downing College is an inspirational place to work between the history of ideas, world history, and legal and constitutional history. It was once home to the greatest English legal historian ever to live (F. W. Maitland, Fellow between 1888 and 1906). Additionally, it was home to one of the founding English-language scholars in historiography of international law (Clive Parry, Fellow between 1946 and 1982).

Conquest for the Crown: War, Legislation, and Legal Personality in the Imperial Constitution, 1066-1923 (under preparation).

Law and Empire in the Longue Durée (under preparation).

‘Infidels in English Legal Thought: Conquest, Commerce, and Slavery in the Common Law from Coke to Mansfield, 1608-1774’, Modern Intellectual History (2017). https://doi.org/10.1017/S1479244317000580

‘Charters Abroad: The Mobility and Applicability of Official Grants in North-Western Europe and North-Eastern America from Edward I to Chief Justice John Marshall’, Comparative Legal History (forthcoming, 2018).

‘The Atlantic Prehistory of Private International Law: Trading Companies of the New World and the Pursuit of Restitution in England and France, 1613-43’, Itinerario 41, 3 (2017).

‘Prescription and Empire from Justinian to Grotius’, Historical Journal (2017).

‘Corporations and Business Associations from the Commercial Revolution to the Age of Discovery: Trade, Empire, and Expansion without the State, 1200-1600’, History Compass (2016).

The Routledge Handbook of the Global History of Settler Colonialism (Routledge, 2016), co-edited with Lorenzo Veracini, and sole author of the chapter ‘Settler Colonialism in South Africa: Land, Labour and Transformation, 1880-2015’.

‘Possession and Dispossession in Corporate New France, 1600-1663: Debunking a “Juridical History” and Revisiting Terra Nullius’, Law and History Review (2014).

‘The History of Dispossession at Orania and the Politics of Land Restitution in South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies (2013).

Settler Colonialism and Land Rights in South Africa: Possession and Dispossession on the Orange River (Palgrave, 2013).