CFP for NACBS 2021 Panel - Protected or Proscribed? Freedom of Speech in Colonial Contexts

Zak Leonard's picture

Dear fellow scholars,


I am organizing a three-person panel for the 2021 NACBS annual conference in Atlanta that will clarify how freedom of expression was legally conceptualized and adjudicated throughout the British Empire, including India, Ireland, and the settler colonies. Papers may address a range of topics in legal history including seditious or blasphemous libel cases, repressive press laws, and other forms of censorship. Studies that probe the tensions between English common law and colonial law are particularly welcome. This panel will also address acts of resistance to curtailed free speech that occurred both in courtrooms and the public sphere.  


The paper that I will be presenting reveals how judges, defendants, and non-governmental groups debated the freedom of the press in late colonial India through references to eighteenth-century common-law precedents. Specifically, I will suggest that critics of the Indian press acts of 1910 and 1931 weaponized Lord Mansfield’s ruling in the Dean of St. Asaph case (1784) to challenge the colonial state’s creeping autocracy.


If you are interested in participating, please submit a 2-page CV and short abstract to by March 15.