Andrew Fitzmaurice and Steven Press, “Corporations and Empire”

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Date(s) - Friday, November 17, 2017
11:45 am - 1:35 pm

Law School Room 4000

Andrew Fitzmaurice, “The expansion of international franchise in the late 19th century”

This paper examines the expansion of the franchise in the international community in the late nineteenth century whereby non-state organisations were formally admitted to hold a place in international law and international society.  Specifically, I examine the role of Sir Travers Twiss in arguing that King Leopold II’s International Association of the Congo, unsupported by any sovereign power, could make treaties whereby it received cessions of sovereignty, and could subsequently be transformed into a state: namely, the Congo Free State.  I place this radical expansion in the understanding of who could hold legal personality in international society in the context of the expansion of the franchise more generally at that time and in terms of the Victorian interest in personal transformation: notably, by examining the question of impersonation and metamorphoses in the life Pharailde van Lynseele, the wife of Sir Travers Twiss, who had been a London prostitute prior to her marriage.

Andrew Fitzmaurice is a Professor of History at the University of Sydney.  His research focuses on the ideologies of European empires, as evidenced in his first book Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500-1625 (2003). His recent book, Sovereignty, Property and Empire  1500-2000 (2014) examines Europeans’ justifications for the appropriation of land and sovereignty in the non-European world from the sixteenth century through to the twentieth. His current work explores the role of the nineteenth-century jurist Sir Travers Twiss in the justification of the Congo Free State, and he currently holds DVC Research/Bridging Support Grant for studying “Corporations in Historical Context.”


Steven Press, “Sovereignty and Diamonds in Southern Africa, 1908-1920”

In 1908, Germans discovered what was then the richest diamond field in history. The backdrop for this find was the Namib desert in the Protectorate of Southwest Africa, the very desert through which Germany had begun its fateful colonization of the Herero and Nama peoples in the 1880s. From the moment of discovery, the Namib diamonds worked to create major uncertainty. These tiny stones had the power to create scandal in the German parliament, or to strike fear in the boardrooms of London. They sparked the imagination of fortune-seekers worldwide. They even inspired a host of cultural depictions, from the massively popular works of Hans Grimm to long-since-forgotten penny dreadfuls.

Anyone could see how the Namib had enormous potential. The problem was that the place was no conventional open-pit mine, but a gigantic sandbox. Diamonds in the Southern Namib could be picked up by hand easily in the early days – in fact, they still can. Ownership and control, therefore, were paramount concerns in need of decisive resolution. The problem was figuring out who owned the Namib in 1908, de jure, and who would control it, de facto. In the event, control of the diamonds was heavily contested in Europe in the run-up to World War I, not just by bankers and by colonial planners, but by the powerful De Beers Corporation and such Americans as future president Herbert Hoover. Plans even emerged for Germany to form a new partnership with De Beers: an international cartel that featured not just corporations but, for the first time, a state. Nor was this turbulence confined to peacetime: From 1914 to 1918, the diamonds proved an essential element in British, American, and German war planning, with stakes high enough to affect the stability of the German mark and threaten the industrial plants of both the Triple Entente and Alliance.

Throughout this period, the Namib diamonds raised unsettling legal issues. Some concerned German colonial authority: the dubious treaties underpinning its international legal position; Germany’s erratic commitment to development; and indigenous labourers’ lack of access to safeguards against abuse. Other doubts related to colonialism more broadly, including the winding-down of late-nineteenth-century chartered company governments that had irretrievably blurred the lines between private and public spheres.

Steven Press is an Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.  He received his B.A. from Vanderbilt University and his A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He taught at Harvard and Vanderbilt before coming to Stanford. His research interests include European sovereignty, international relations, and commodity networks. Press’ first book, Rogue Empires: Conmen and Contracts in Europe’s Scramble for Africa (forthcoming Spring 2017 with Harvard University Press), draws on archival work in ten countries and three languages. The manuscript offers a new approach to understanding the European Scramble for Africa by examining one of its pivotal projects: empires run by companies and individual adventurers. In a recent article in the Journal of Modern History, Press has uncovered the exchanges between Germany, China, and Cuba that led to the USA’s lease for Guantanamo Bay in 1903. His earlier work on post-Napoleonic European nationalism appeared in Central European History.


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