Dr Charles W. A. Prior


My current work has been funded by a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (RF-2017-156\3). With the support of the Trust, I recently completed a new book, provisionally titled Powers in the Land: Negotiating American Sovereignty, from Roanoke to the Republic. As the pitch to the Trust said: ‘Historians hold these truths to be self-evident: that the ideological origins of the American Revolution lie in arguments about political rights, which were conducted exclusively within English and European frameworks of political ideas. This project takes a different approach, and situates conflict over land at the centre of a contest between settlers, Indians, colonial governors and the Crown. Offering the first sustained analysis of treaties and laws that structured the relationship between settlers and Indians, it recovers a long history of ‘conquest’ that Thomas Jefferson claimed as the basis of ‘the right to hold’ and rule territory’. Aspects of the larger argument can be found in my chapter: ‘Settlers Among Empires: Conquest and the American Revolution’ in Remembering Early Modern Revolutions edited by Ted Vallance.

The second book project is called Pathways of Power: Treaties and the Shapes of Sovereignty in America, 1701-1784. It argues that the most important treaties of the eighteenth century were negotiated around council fires in New York and Pennsylvania, rather than in European courts. Treaties shaped relations of power between Indians, settlers and the British Crown, but they are the least understood part of the history of early America. This project fills that gap by providing a systematic analysis of a selection of key treaties that defined a contest for sovereignty and territory before and after the American Revolution. The map of early America was comprised of fluid and contested zones of law and violence, where diplomacy, trade and amity mingled with conflict, exclusion and enmity. That complexity has been obscured by a narrative of democratic revolution that relegated Native Americans to the status of ‘merciless Indian savages’. This project will challenge common perceptions to reveal a history of imperial negotiation where European power was matched by that of indigenous empires. The book devotes a chapter to one of three linked themes: how territory was claimed; how this territory was subsequently used and its ‘ownership’ contested; how space and territory were reshaped as the result of these processes.