How intelligible were colonial legal norms to indigenous Americans and how intelligible were indigenous legal norms to settlers? Responding to a historiography that describes either a dynamic of gradual understanding or a dynamic of continuing incomprehension, legal historians Professors Brian Owensby and Richard Ross have crafted the prodigious edited volume Justice in a New World. Resting on nuanced comparison, the volume argues for a less homogenizing view, and highlights instead the degree to which various indigenous communities were integrated into different early modern empires.
In our conversation, we discuss the genesis of their work and its key concepts. We also explore the different comparative axes along which we may examine both indigenous and settler notions of intelligibility.