The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

GC Events

Mar 24 Brian Connolly on Sovereignty’s Archive

Sovereignty’s Archive




Brian Connolly

(University of South Florida)

March 24, 2016 | 4:30-6:30PM

The Graduate Center, CUNY | Rm 9207


Since the end of the Cold War, or perhaps its been since 9/11, sovereignty has returned as a preoccupation in certain quarters of the U.S. academy.  If the theorizations and histories are new, the references to canonical political theory, high state politics, international law, and states of exception, are rather familiar.  Yet, at least since the late eighteenth century and the consolidation of democratic popular sovereignty as the telos of Western configurations of freedom, an archive of sovereignty has proliferated across print culture that has generally been occluded in contemporary discussions.  In this talk, I focus on sovereignty’s archive across the nineteenth-century, which, in addition to questions of international law, federal and state sovereignty, the sovereignty of the people and the individual, included figurations such as feminine sovereignty, the persistent sovereignty of God, the sovereignty of virtue, and the sovereignty of justice.  In particular, I situate the case Polydore v Prince (1837) – a landmark in antislavery jurisprudence – in this wider archive, and in doing so argue that sovereignty in the age of democratic rule is not distinct from but coeval with disciplinary power, and thus the persistent force of sovereignty lies in its dispersal into the most quotidian moments of the life of the people

Brian Connolly is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida.  He is currently a Member in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study.  He is the author of Domestic Intimacies: Incest and the Liberal Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (Penn, 2014) and is editor of History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History.  His articles and essays have appeared in J19Journal of the Early RepublicHistory of the PresentCommon-placeLos Angeles Review of Books, and Avidly.  He is currently working on a book on the conjunction of sovereignty, kinship, religion, and law in the nineteenth-century U.S.

This event is cosponsored by Revolutionizing American Studies, IRADAC, The Committee on Globalization & Social Change, & The Mellon Sawyer Seminar on The Cultures & History of Freedom.