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Dr Edward Cavanagh

Dr Edward Cavanagh

Research Fellow

Downing College
Regent Street



My undergraduate degrees come from the Australian National University and Swinburne University (2007-2010). I picked up a Master of Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand (2011), and then became the first Trillium Scholar to be hosted by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa (2012-2015). I am very much a product, therefore, of the Commonwealth. My global research questions have taken me across the world. I have held visiting fellowships at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, the National Library of Australia, Universität Basel's Institute for European Global Studies, and the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. I have researched in archives and libraries in southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, the United States of America, and elsewhere. 

Subject groups/Research projects

Political Thought And Intellectual History:

Legal thought in the longue durée; British constitutional thought; empire.

World History:

Constitutional history of the British Empire-Commonwealth; European legal and political thought; imperialism and colonialism.

Departments and Institutes

Downing College:

Research Interests

I am interested in the history of legal thought and its place within the history of imperialism, international relations, and colonial politics. As a comparative historian of law and empires, my research involves manoeuvring between the later Middle Ages in Europe (ca. 1200-1500), the age of European expansion into North America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asia-Pacific (ca. 1500-1850), and the period of industrialism and high imperialism (ca. 1850-1930). Prior to coming to Cambridge, I’ve researched and published extensively on the history of southern Africa and the global history of settler colonialism. While maintaining a strong interest in these areas, I continue to embark on a larger project that explores the history of ideas like conquest, contract, crown, and corporation within the ‘imperial constitution’. I’m increasingly fascinated with how these ideas were understood across the world of letters: by the likes of scholastics, classicists, authors of legal textbooks, crown lawyers, undersecretaries in the colonial office, as well as journalists of the popular media. By ‘imperial constitution’, I refer to that evolving institutional arrangement whereby England (and later Great Britain) attempted to rationalise, administer, and control overseas plantations, possessions, and trading ports. This research will culminate in a book spanning the period 1066-1923.


Research Supervision

I am happy to supervise students preparing essays for the M. Phil (World History). I am also happy to act as an informal advisor for all research graduate students in the History of Political Thought, World History, and Legal History.  


I am extremely happy to teach students taking Part I, Paper 21, 'Empires and world history from the fifteenth century to the First World War'. 

Other Professional Activities

I am a Fellow of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law and an active member in the new research group, Legal histories beyond the state. Outside of Cambridge, I am an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London.


  • Medieval British History
  • Modern British History
  • Early Modern History
  • International History
  • Imperial History

Key Publications

Conquest for the Crown: War, Legislation, and Legal Personality in the Imperial Constitution, 1066-1923 (under preparation).

Law and Empire in the Longue Durée (under preparation).

‘Infidels in English Legal Thought: Conquest, Commerce, and Slavery in the Common Law from Coke to Mansfield, 1608-1774’, Modern Intellectual History (forthcoming, 2018).

‘Charters Abroad: The Mobility and Applicability of Official Grants in North-Western Europe and North-Eastern America from Edward I to Chief Justice John Marshall’, Comparative Legal History (forthcoming, 2018).

‘The Atlantic Prehistory of Private International Law: Trading Companies of the New World and the Pursuit of Restitution in England and France, 1613-43’, Itinerario 41, 3 (2017).

‘Prescription and Empire from Justinian to Grotius’, Historical Journal 60, 1 (2017).

The Routledge Handbook of the Global History of Settler Colonialism (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, November, 2016), co-edited with Lorenzo Veracini; sole author of the chapter on South Africa, 1898-2015. 

‘Corporations and Business Associations from the Commercial Revolution to the Age of Discovery: Trade, Empire, and Expansion without the State, 1200-1600’, History Compass 14, 10 (2016).

‘“We Exterminated Them, and Dr. Philip Gave the Country”: The Griqua People and the Elimination of the San in Philippolis and Griquatown’, in Genocide on Settler Frontiers: When Hunter-Gatherers and Commercial Stock Farmers Clash, ed. Mohamed Adhikari (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014; New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015).

‘Possession and Dispossession in Corporate New France, 1600-1663: Debunking a “Juridical History” and Revisiting Terra Nullius’, Law and History Review 32, 1 (2014).

‘Kingdom or Colony? English or British? Early Modern Ireland and the Colonialism Question’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 14, 2 (2013).

‘The History of Dispossession at Orania and the Politics of Land Restitution in South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies 39, 2 (2013).

Settler Colonialism and Land Rights in South Africa: Possession and Dispossession on the Orange River (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

‘Land Rights that Come With Cut-Off Dates: A Comparative Reflection on Restitution, Aboriginal Title, and Historical Injustice’, South African Journal on Human Rights 28, 3, (2012).

‘History, Time, and the Indigenist Critique’, Arena Journal 37, 8 (2012).

‘“Not Celebrated for its Agriculture”: Emigrant Guides and the Complications of Land Settlement in New South Wales, 1831-65’, Australian Studies 3 (2011).

‘A Company with Sovereignty and Subjects of its Own? The Case of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1763’, Canadian Journal of Law and Society 26, 1 (2011).  

The Griqua Past and the Limits of South African History, 1902-1994 (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang Publishers, 2011).