Haris A. Durrani

Graduate Student

I study the histories of law, technology, and extraterritoriality in the twentieth century. My dissertation follows legal disputes surrounding the first communications satellites launched in the 1960s. I ask how legal and technological practices surrounding the satellites both implemented and reconfigured ideas of extraterritoriality and empire. In the context of decolonization and the administrative state, the project tracks U.S. lawyers and engineers in government and industry as they conceptualized property, jurisdiction, and sovereignty at sea, on foreign territory, across the radio spectrum, and in orbit. Their concepts were shaped by debates with counterparts in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.

I am also interested in how these histories inform contemporary legal, regulatory, and political problems. Furthermore, I maintain an interest in legal and historical questions about secularism, legal pluralism, shari‘a, and Islamic(ate) science.

In 2023–24, I was the NASA Fellow in the History of Space Technology (American Historical Association). I was also a William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Early Career Scholar (American Society for Legal History) and a Center for International Security Studies Fellow at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. In 2024–25, I will clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

I obtained a J.D. at Columbia Law School, where I was a James Kent Scholar, a Tony Patiño Fellow, a Salzburg Lloyd N. Cutler Fellow in International Law, and an International Fellow at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. I also received the Parker School Recognition of Achievement in International and Comparative Law and served as Articles Editor for the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. Previously, I obtained an M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and a B.S. from Columbia Engineering, where I was an Egleston Scholar. At Columbia, I majored in Applied Physics and minored in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.

My work has been awarded the 2020 Graduate Student Annual Conference Paper Prize from Stanford Law School (for the Center for Law and History’s conference Working with Intellectual Property) and the Sacknoff Prize for Space History (from the Society for the History of Technology and Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly). I have published academic work in Cosmic Fragments (forthcoming, University of Pittsburgh Press), the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly, Comparative Islamic Studies, and The New York Review of Science Fiction. My essays have appeared in The New Inquiry (twice), Catapult, the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law’s The Bulletin, Media Diversified (reprinted in From the Lines of Dissent), Poet’s Country, and more.

I write fiction that converses with my historical and legal work. My debut book, Technologies of the Self (republished in The Fantasist), won the Driftless Prize. My short fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (50th Issue), Analog Science Fiction and Fact (republished in Lightspeed; adapted and translated into an Italian graphic novel, Collegàti), The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction (Vol. II) (reprinted from Mithila Review), The Harvard Advocate, The Lifted Brow, Skin Deep (Imagining 2043), and more. At Columbia, I co-founded The Muslim Protagonist, an annual literary conference for Muslim writers.

I also apply my interests in law, technology, and empire to writing on the historical context of Dune, novelist Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction saga. My work on Herbert’s novels has appeared in The Washington Post, Tor.com, New Lines Magazine, and the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (audio). On this subject, I have also been interviewed for NPR’s Throughline, New Lines Magazine Podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct, and Stop Everything! I was co-editor with Henry Cowles of “The Sciences of Dune” at Los Angeles Review of Books. Most recently, I delivered a lecture on Dune at the Bradford Literature Festival. BoingBoing christened me the “leading post-colonial Dune scholar of our time.”

Prospective applicants, feel free to contact me with questions about studying history of science or legal history at Princeton or in general, on law school and the JD/PhD path, or anything else.

Year of Study
Fifth Year
Area of Interest
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Constitutional History
Environmental History
History of Technology
Imperial History
Political History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
20th Century
21st Century
Latin America and the Caribbean
North America