Making Law Intelligible in Comparative Context

Brian Philip Owensby, Richard J Ross

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this opening chapter, Owensby and Ross offer a conceptual, theoretical, and historiographical framing of “legal intelligibility” and explore its relevance to understanding interimperial legalities from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. They advocate an explicitly comparative approach between Iberian and British legal systems as these played out on the ground, while arguing that a deep understanding of law and justice in these settings requires equally close attention to indigenous legal ideas and practices. The authors argue that imperial and indigenous legal presuppositions informed, shaped, and sometimes misdirected legal encounters. At the heart of the process is what they call “legal intelligibility”—how and to what extent legal regimes and associated notions of justice became intelligible to settlers and Natives who faced each other across the terrain of law.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationJustice in a New World
Subtitle of host publicationNegotiating Legal Intelligibility in British, Iberian, and Indigeous America
EditorsBrian P Owensby, Richard J Ross
PublisherNYU Press
ISBN (Print)9781479850129, 9781479807246
StatePublished - 2018


  • justice
  • imperial legalities
  • legal intelligibility
  • legal systems


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