Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 9
Jon Chappell explores the role of international legal discourse in containing the Sino-French war (1884-1885) so that it did not disrupt the trading interests of other powers, particularly Britain and America. He argues that the plurality of foreign empires acting in China created space for Qing officials to become involved in legal discourse and thus to help define the boundaries of the conflict and of legal precedents. Steve Harris investigates the flat-pack legalism of the European use of pre-printed treaty forms across Africa in the 1880s and 1890s. European powers (and their chartered companies) aimed to create a legally homogenous terrain as much for their inter-imperial relations as for their commercial and jurisdictional activities with Africans. Mithi Mukherjee examines how the discourse of international law supplanted discussion of sovereignty in the discourse surrounding the trial for treason of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, the legally recognised sovereign of India, following the rebellion of 1857. Finally, Zak Leonard discusses the application of international law in India through a case study of the return of sovereignty to the Hindu Wadiyar dynasty of Mysore in 1867. The debates surrounding this decision helped to forge an understanding of sovereignty and who might hold it in British India, with implications for other parts of the empire. Together the four papers make the case that contemporary international law cannot be understood without acknowledging its roots in colonial encounters in the extra-European world. Within this encounter, ‘law’ was forged as much by diplomats, soldiers and sailors as it was by European jurists. At a global level ‘international’ law was unevenly applied, with notions of sovereigns and sovereignty depending as much on inter-imperial power politics as on legal precedent.