8th Stanford-Berkeley Law and Colonialism Symposium: "Interpreters, Letter Writers, and Clerks: Mediating Law and Authority in Colonial Africa"
May 2-4, 2002
Recent research on African colonial law has demonstrated that colonial courts and bureaucracies became important sites for struggles over access to resources and the meanings of social relationships and authority. Courts played an important role in both the ideology and the practice of colonial rule and as such they inspired significant policy debates among different groups of Europeans, including colonial officials, settlers, missionaries, and businessmen. In practice, however, the clerks controlling the gateways to these courts often exercised great influence in the exchange of ideas and outcome of cases. This power dynamic contributed to the making of colonial legal systems and the messiness of the establishment and daily operation of colonial courts. Because Europeans both in the metropoles and in the colonies ascribed such ideological and practical importance to the colonial courts, most colonial states were deeply involved in overseeing and regularizing the functioning of these courts. But few European officials had sufficient linguistic skills and cultural sensibilities to understand what went on in these courts. Most, therefore, relied on Africans to assist them.
The goal of this symposium is to examine and assess the roles played by African intermediaries in the operation of the native courts. We are particularly interested in examining how these African intermediaries not only influenced what went on prior to and during court proceedings, but how evidence of court proceedings was produced. Most colonial courts mandated some form of written records. Who composed these records? Who produced or shaped the evidence upon which these records are based? Some of the best evidence we have of the roles of African intermediaries in the practice of the colonial courts comes to us through novels. Amadou Hampaté Bâ's characterization of Wangrin illustrates how Europeans were often manipulated by their trusted African intermediaries with often significant consequences for the day-to-day functioning of the colonial state. We are especially interested in what historical documents can reveal about the authority of colonial courts and the influence of Africans in the mediation and application of colonial law.
We invite students of colonial Africa to present papers at the 8th Stanford-Berkeley Law and Colonialism Symposium to be held 2-4 May 2002. Those interested in presenting papers should submit an abstract outlining the proposed topic by 10 January 2002. Please send your proposals to Benjamin N. Lawrance. Proposals can also be submitted electronically or by fax. For more information, please contact Emily Lynn Osborn, or Richard Roberts.
Benjamin N. Lawrance
Center for African Studies
Stanford, CA 94305-2152
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