Final Public Oral Exam: Teresa Elisabeth Homans Davis

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
July 13, 2018 - 10:00am

America for Humanity: Law, Liberalism, and Empire in the South Atlantic (1870-1939)


Jeremy Adelman, adviser
Hendrik Hartog
Robert Karl
Natasha Wheatley
Eric Weitz, City University of New York


This dissertation investigates the role of law and lawyers in imagining, mediating and challenging capitalist globalization in the South Atlantic between 1870 and 1939. The story centers on American continental and transatlantic networks that united international and corporate lawyers, businessmen and social reformers from Argentina, Chile and Spain. I argue that these networks played a key role in the spread of foreign capital in the South Atlantic countries, while also serving as important avenues for the promotion of free market ideas. This is a legal and intellectual history of market liberalism written from within a space—the South Atlantic—and from the perspective of a group of actors—lawyers, businessmen and bureaucrats—traditionally ignored in the historiography of law, economics, ideas and empire.

By exploring the legal and intellectual history of market liberalism in the South Atlantic, this dissertation makes two key contributions to the study of imperialism and economic globalization. First, it helps to bridge the gap between the consolidation of new imperial forms after 1870 and the simultaneous processes of internal expansion and colonization that built nation-states across the western hemisphere. Through a number of case studies, it explores lawyers’ dual and interlocking roles as agents of international integration and domestic advocates for the colonization of land, the spread of the rule of law and the marketization of social relations. Relatedly, this dissertation challenges the tendency to subsume all modern anti- imperialism under the banner of anti-liberalism. I argue that, for much of the early twentieth century, perhaps the most influential modes of resistance to Europe and the United States occurred from within the paradigm market liberalism, setting themselves against perceived protectionism and the “politicization” of markets by imperial powers. It was liberalism itself that both fueled and ultimately limited some of the first and most influential South Atlantic critiques of the new imperialism.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.