The Limits of the Law in Claiming Rights to Land in a Settler Colony: South Australia in the Early-to-Mid Nineteenth Century

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In the closing decades of the twentieth century, as indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand increasingly filed legal suits to regain their lands or win compensation for lands that they had lost, scholars increasingly devoted themselves to the task of explaining the ways in which European powers had laid claim to indigenous people's territories across the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Their research invariably emphasized the role of the law. This was true not only of legal scholars but of intellectual and cultural historians as well. For example, Patricia Seed asserted that the law was central to all European claims of possession in the New World, because it was "the means by which states created their legitimacy."Most of these scholars argued that particular legal doctrines that were formulated in metropolitan Europe dictated the terms on which imperial powers claimed indigenous people's lands at the peripheries. More particularly, it became commonplace for these scholars to argue that a doctrine called terra nullius was especially important in this regard.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-657
Number of pages27
JournalLaw and History Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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