Consent in Early America, 1600-1900


The notion of consent plays an important role in our understanding of power in human society. It gives us a way to think about not only when choices are freely made and when they aren't, but a whole spectrum that lies in-between. Questions about consent are questions about people and social relations, about power and the state, and about freedom and its lack. This conference sets out to examine the concept in multiple contexts, from government to family, health, or justice.

Questions about consent are questions about people and social relations, about power and the state, and about freedom and its lack. These questions span micro and macro scales, from politeness at a Boston dinner table, to gangs of slaves cutting sugar in Louisiana, to establishing a national government in Philadelphia. The ability to give and to withhold consent helps to determine categories and dynamics of struggle, including gender, race, and class. Consent concerns the problems of coordinated action and coordinated ideas that, we suggest, determine social life and historical change - it's about who gets to decide, and how. Panellists will share their ideas about these complex issues as they played out in the lives of early Americans, from the first colonisation to the end of the nineteenth century.


09:00 - Opening Remarks (Tom Cutterham and Kathryn Olivarius, Oxford)

09:15 - Opening Keynote (Holly Brewer, Maryland)

10:00 - Coffee

10:30 - Panel 1: Marriage, Family and Law (Comment: Carol Sanger, Columbia)

  • Paulina Liszka (Catholic University of Lublin), 'Marriage and the Notion of Consent in Early American Family Law'
  • Allison Anna Tait (Columbia), 'Rejecting Amphibious Women and Great Estates: the Creation of the American Separate Estate'
  • Rachel Walker (University of Maryland), 'Consent and the Construction of Gendered Hierarchies in the Early American Republic'

12:00 - Lunch

13:00 - Panel 2: Government, State Power, and Consent (Comment: Katherine Mooney, FSU)

  • Sonia Tycko (Harvard), 'The Discourse of Enticement: Representations of Illicit Colonial Servant Recruitment in Seventeenth-Century London'
  • Andrew Murphy (Rutgers), 'The Complexities of Consent: William Penn (1644-1718) in England and America'
  • Sveinn Johannessen (Cambridge), 'Coercion, Consent and James Madison’s Problem with Popular Rebellion'
  • David Silkenat (Edinburgh), 'The Paradox of Surrender in the Civil War'

14:45 - Coffee

15:15 - Panel 3: Slavery, Labour, and Rape (Comment: Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard)

  • DeLisa Hawkes (Maryland), 'Consent and Silence: Vocal and Bodily Silence in Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince'
  • Tristan Stubbs (Oxford) '"Setting my commands and authority at naught": enslaved consent, resistance and the eighteenth-century plantation overseer'
  • Maria Montalvo (Rice), 'Consenting to Malady: Slaveholders, Slaves, and Incurable Disease in the Antebellum South'
  • Emily Alyssa Owens (Harvard), '"No Shadow of Law": The Suspension of Rape and Consent'

17:00 - Break

17:30 - Keynote (Amy Stanley, Chicago)

19:00 - Dinner at Quod