2019 Morris Cohen Competition Presentation

Friday, November 1, 2019 (1pm - 2pm US/Central)

Morris L. Cohen Competition is named in honor of the late Morris L. Cohen of Yale Law School, one of the founders of Legal History &Rare Book Special Interest Section of AALL and an eminent scholar of legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography. The purpose of the Competition is to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with AALL and law librarianship. The Competition is jointly sponsored by LH&RB and Gale, part of Cengage Learning, a world leader in e-research and educational publishing for libraries, schools and business.

This year's Competition winner, Jake C. Richards, will present his paper "Abolition as a sovereign project: the Auditoria Geral da Marinha, legal geography, and the testimony of slaves in ending the illegal slave trade to Brazil, 1850-1856."

In 1850, after repeated British naval incursions into its territorial waters, the Brazilian parliament passed Lei 581 which abolished the Brazilian slave trade, the largest in the Atlantic world. Although many scholars have studied the motives for abolition, to date nobody has systematically analyzed how the law was enforced, in particular, the court given jurisdiction to enforce the law, the Auditoria Geral da Marinha in Rio de Janeiro. This paper argues that the Auditoria raised the deterrent threat against slave-trading, helping to end the trade by 1856. However, the Auditoria also produced two unforeseen and far-reaching effects. First, it limited its recognition of captured slaves as persons, constraining their testimony and preventing it from highlighting the fact that merchants had illegally imported hundreds of thousands of slaves between 1831 and 1850. Second, the Auditoria undermined abstract legal distinctions between the high seas, coastal waters, and coastal land, producing unforeseen tensions between state authorities and the slave owners whose vast coastal estates were subject to invasive investigations. The paper unpacks these effects through case studies to demonstrate the effect of the Auditoria on slaves, slave society, sovereignty, and territory.

Jake C. Richards is completing his PhD in History at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. His dissertation examines the legal and social history of ‘liberated Africans' – enslaved Africans recaptured from slave ships by anti-slave-trade naval squadrons, and subject to waged apprenticeship for up to fourteen years – in comparative perspective in Africa and Latin America, c. 1839 - 1871. A related publication, ‘Anti-Slave-Trade Law, ‘Liberated Africans' and the State in the South Atlantic World, c.1839–1852', Past and Present, 241:1 (2018), won the Royal Historical Society's Alexander Prize (2019) and in an earlier version, the Transatlantic Studies Association's D. C. Watt Prize (2017). In October, he will join Durham University as assistant professor of modern history.

Please direct any questions regarding this webinar to Christine George at

* You must be a current member of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section (LHRB-SIS) in order to attend this webinar. If you are not a member of AALL, you can join here. If you're already a member of AALL but not the LHRB-SIS, you can join here.