This special issue of the Journal of Australian Colonial History explores the relationship between love and law in late-eighteenth and nineteenth century Australia. We solicit contributions that examine aspects of the history of the legal regulation and production of intimacy, with special attention to how love and law came together, or more typically collided, in the colonial courts. Of particular interest is the role of gender, race and class in the construction of love. We wish to focus upon the relationship between intimacy and power – in both its formal institutional incarnations and as it was exercised through authority structures within households and communities.  We welcome close readings, narrow studies, theoretically-focused papers and broad, comparative studies.


There are now a number of scholars striving to better understand the curious encounter between love and law in Australia’s nineteenth-century courtrooms. This work draws upon cases involving abduction, breach of promise of marriage, homosexuality, bigamy, seduction, criminal conversation and defamation to legislation governing miscegenation and divorce. While feminist historians have mined trials of intimacy to reveal how the law translated gender-specific norms and moral standards into legally binding rules, cultural historians have focused on how romantic experience was made intelligible to the courts through shaping testimony according to narratives found in theatre and literature. A number of social historians have also cited these cases as evidence of how the court communicated changing social values in the colonies. Even more recently, historians of the emotions have focused upon standards of affective conduct required by the court and how these compare with the corresponding community standards expressed by litigants and the press.


In spite of this flourishing of interest in the field, significant work is still required to chart the colonial and imperial contexts for these cases. This special edition of the Journal of Australian Colonial History will bring together new research on love, law and colonialism using transnational, feminist, cultural, environmental, spatial and new materialist inquiries alongside social and political histories. We are interested in how the mobility enabled by romance and empire or impelled by poverty collided with law directed towards fixed racial identities and domestic stasis. We are inviting scholars to explore occasions when legal pluralism (the operation of more than one legal system within a single polity) highlighted different cultural rules governing love and in so doing offered examples of the contingency of Christian marriage. We know much about married women, but comparatively little about their single counterparts or their illegitimate children. We are seeking scholarship that links these trials of intimacy to broader political and social processes.


What does the history of love and law tell us about the development of welfare; about how colonial states sought to shift the financial burden posed by deserted wives or abandoned children from the community to husbands and fathers? How were colonial masculinities and femininities negotiated through these cases? How did bureaucratic forms and objects – the material reality of law – seek to channel affective behavior into appropriate forms? How did the court respond to the expression of human emotions? Were such expressions considered a threat to legal authority and values of reason and objectivity that underpinned this world; or were there occasions when sensibility triumphed over sense? Did such expressions humanized the law? How did liberalism’s most cherished actor, the autonomous freely-contracting individual, collide with legally enshrined female powerlessness in the colonies? How did Courts respond to the embarrassment of the romantic melodramas played out within their walls? This special edition brings love, law and colonialism into one analytical frame and promises to be of interest to scholars in a vast range of disciplines – from law to history, anthropology, sociology, political theory, literature and performance studies.


5000 – 8000 word papers due Friday 24 June 2016

Guest Editors: Kiera Lindsey and Alecia Simmonds

Expressions of Interest, Questions & Submissions:

Journal of Colonial Australian History: