Mobile Subjects and the Transformation of Law and Space across 18th- and 19th-Century Eurasia
American Society for Legal History 1
Between 1840 and 1940, a hundred million people traveled long-distance across the oceans and lands of Eurasia, outnumbering the number of migrants across the Atlantic by twofold (Adam McKeown, Melancholy Order, 2008). This panel examines some of the key transregional social and political processes that gave shape to the emergent patterns of long distance migration across Eurasia both before and during the great age of intra-Eurasian migration. By bringing together historians of disparate regions in Eurasia – Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and Siberian Asia – the panel aims to identify transregional connections and similarities as well as disjunctures in migration and settlement processes. It highlights a range of approaches to such historical questions, including analyses of emergent international law, economic production, individuals, and the state’s engagement with them.
In particular, the papers investigate how officials in various states in Europe and Asia handled new migrants (refugees, pirates, laborers, traders, settlers) within their jurisdictions. The outcomes varied across time and space: adaptation of the existing social order to make room for the newcomers, assimilation, repatriation, and outright refusal of entry. Nurfadzilah Yahaya considers how early eighteenth century East India Company courts in maritime Southeast Asia depersonalized Malay sovereignty by incorporating friendly kings as legal subjects, while delegitimizing adversarial leaders as pirates. Laurie Wood examines the shifting spatial dynamics of French imperial legal jurisdiction in the Indian Ocean in the eighteenth century, during which entrepôt law struggled to maintain order in the commercial hinterland plantations. Guo-Quan Seng analyzes how the Dutch colonial state attempted to recalibrate the inter-racial social order between Chinese merchants and Javan peasants after half a century of state-endorsed overseas Chinese commercial expansion in the Java hinterland at the turn of the twentieth century. Alyssa Park explores how state actors in Chosŏn Korea, Tsarist Russia and Qing Chinese state actors struggled to reformulate existing concepts of sovereignty when faced with the problem of repatriating Korean refugees who crossed into Siberia in the nineteenth century.
These early modern Eurasian encounters not only preceded Adam Mckeown's Melancholy Order of twentieth century's racialized international passport measures, but point to the diverse ways imperial state-actors intervened to restore and reinvent pre-existing legal and social institutions that were contested their mobile subjects. By probing the imperial state’s responses toward human migration across Eurasia in the 18th-19th centuries, the panel compares and contrasts the redrawing of legal jurisdictions, pluralization of substantive laws, redefinition of citizenship and nationality, and the remaking of indigenous political order.