Join us for the launch of Catherine Evans’ new book, “Unsound Empire: Civilization & Madness in Late-Victorian Law” on Wednesday, April 13 at 2 pm at the Canadiana Gallery.
Unsound Empire is a history of criminal responsibility in the nineteenth‑century British Empire told through detailed accounts of homicide cases across three continents. If a defendant in a murder trial was going to hang, he or she had to deserve it. Establishing the mental element of guilt—criminal responsibility—transformed state violence into law. And yet, to the consternation of officials in Britain and beyond, experts in new scientific fields posited that insanity was widespread and growing, and evolutionary theories suggested that wide swaths of humanity lacked the self‑control and understanding that common law demanded. Could it be fair to punish mentally ill or allegedly “uncivilized” people? Could British civilization survive if killers avoided the noose?
Catherine Evans is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. She is interested in the history of law in the British empire, especially as it intersects with histories of medicine, including psychiatry and medical jurisprudence; Victorian concepts of difference and civilization; and crime. Her current project is a legal history of fire in the nineteenth-century British world.
Featuring guests, Philip Girard (Osgoode Hall, York University) and Bhavani Rahman (Department of History, University of Toronto)
Philip Girard is Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School. He has published extensively in the field of Canadian and comparative legal history, and is co-author of A History of Law in Canada. Professor Girard’s scholarship has been accorded many honours by academic societies in history and law, including several book prizes. He was the first Canadian to be made an honorary fellow of the American Society for Legal History (2011), and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2021.
Bhavani Raman is Associate Professor, Department of History (Tricampus) and Historical and Cultural Studies (UTSC). She is the author of Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial India (Chicago 2012, Permanent Black 2015). She writes on colonial legal history, bureaucracy, and paperwork, and wider Tamil world. She is currently working on a book project on early colonial security laws and a project on colonial urban hydrology using historical maps of the coastal city of Chennai (Madras).
Get a copy of Catherine Evans’ book, Unsound Empire: Civilization & Madness in Late-Victorian Law today.
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