Defining Dispossession: Anticolonial Claims-making and the Transformation of Modern International Law
This talk identifies a new origin story for key features of contemporary international law in early twentieth century attempts to shield the U.S. government from legal responsibility for colonial violence. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, thousands of claimants subjected to U.S. power but denied access to U.S. citizenship—from colonized subjects to migrant workers—turned to international tribunals to hold the federal government accountable for land theft, police violence, and coerced labor across the vast United States empire. To avoid the legal scrutiny that their unexpected claims prompted, the State Department invented new ways of limiting who could appeal to international law for redress and on what terms. By demonstrating how claimants’ alternative visions of state responsibility came to be foreclosed, the talk recovers a forgotten arena of struggle over what states owe not only their citizens, but also all those affected by their policies—one that remains essential for understanding the limits of international law to address injustices today.
Please note: A catered lunch will be provided at this Friday Lunch event. Seats are limited and available on a first-come basis. To register, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, title, or affiliation.
Allison Powers Useche is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. She is a historian of the twentieth century United States who focuses on international law and political economies of empire. She received her PhD from Columbia University in 2017.