The World History Association (WHA) recently named Lauren Benton, Ph.D., professor of history and director of the legal studies program at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the winner of the association’s 2003 book award. Benton’s new book, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900, (Cambridge University Press, 2002) will receive the honor in June of 2003 at the association’s annual conference.
(ATTENTION EDITORS: Benton, a resident of Maplewood, is available for telephone or in-person interviews to discuss her findings. To set up interviews, contact Sheryl Weinstein at 973-994-3257).
Based in part on Benton’s research in Uruguay as a Fulbright scholar, the book advances a new perspective in world history, arguing that institutions and culture--not just the global economy--serve as important elements of international order. One of the book’s controversial arguments is that early empires had similar structures of law, providing more continuity than difference between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Later, legal conflicts contributed to the rise of colonial states. Benton’s book challenges the portrayal of the West as sole source and inspiration for the modern state system.
Benton shows how indigenous subjects across time were active in making, changing, and interpreting the law and in shaping international order. Adam McKeown, professor of history at Columbia University, has called the book “a landmark in the creation of a more complex modern global cultural history.”
David Chappell, chair of the association’s book award committee, says that although this was another very competitive year for the WHA award, jurors were unanimous in their praise for Benton's well-researched and argued thesis. “Jurors praised Benton's opening methodological chapters, her detailed case studies spanning five hundred years and five continents, and the connection she makes between past colonial legal politics and contemporary postcolonial conflicts. One juror even called the text one of the best and most original works in the field of legal pluralism,” Chappell says.
In addition to research in world history, Benton has published in the field of comparative economic development. Her previous publications include Invisible Factories (SUNY Press, 1990) and The Informal Economy with Alejandro Portes and Manuel Castells, eds. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
Benton received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University. The World History Association (WHA) was founded in 1982, with a mission to promote the study of global history by encouraging and supporting research, teaching, communication, and publication.