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The Grand Experiment Law and Legal Culture in British Settler Societies
  • Hamar Foster
  • Benjamin L. Berger, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University
  • A. R. Buck
In the late nineteenth century, the English legal historians Frederick Pollock and F.W. Maitland coined the phrase "the grand experiment" to describe the spread of English law throughout the British Empire. For Pollock and Maitland, this was an unequivocally positive process that would uplift settler societies. The work of recent legal historians, however, has alerted us to the more complex impact English law had on the peoples, both settler and indigenous, of those colonial societies. This "new colonial legal history" has revealed subtle and more ambiguous understandings of "the grand experiment." The essays in this volume reflect the exciting new directions in which legal history in the settler colonies of the British Empire has developed. The contributors, all noted scholars, show how local life and culture in selected settlements influenced, and was influenced by, the ideology of the rule of law that accompanied the British colonial project. Exploring themes of legal translation, local understandings, judicial biography, and "law at the boundaries," they examine the legal cultures of dominions in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to provide a contextual and comparative account of the "incomplete implementation of the British constitution" in these colonies. A variety of topics are covered, ranging from libel law in New South Wales, Upper Canada, and Massachusetts to the much-neglected question of the extent to which British courts took note of the decisions made by courts in the settler dominions. Given the current lively debates about national characteristics and the rights of aboriginal peoples in British settler societies, this historical investigation has immediate relevance. The Grand Experiment will be of interest to all those whose lives have been shaped by the legacy of English law.
Publication Date
UBC Press
  • Law--Great Britain--Colonies--History,
  • Law--History,
  • Canada,
  • Indians of North America--Legal status,
  • laws,
  • etc.--History,
  • Great Britain

Co-published in association with the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History.

Bibliographic Citation
Foster, Hamar, Benjamin L. Berger, and A. R. Buck. The Grand Experiment Law and Legal Culture in British Settler Societies. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2008. Print.

Citation Information
Hamar Foster, Benjamin L. Berger and A. R. Buck. The Grand Experiment Law and Legal Culture in British Settler Societies. Vancouver(2008)
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