Past & Present Article Wins a 2021 American Society for Legal History Prize

by the Past & Present editorial team

Past & Present was delighted to hear that Dr. Sonia Tycko (St. Peter’s College, Oxford) has been awarded the 2021 Sutherland Prize by the American Society for Legal History, for her article in Past & Present No. 246 (February 2020) “The Legality of Prisoner of War Labour in England, 1648-1655”. The Sutherland Prize is awarded annually for the “best article on British legal history published in the previous year”. This year the prize has been awarded to two scholars with Dr. Priyasha Saksena (University of Leeds) also being recognised for her article “Jousting Over Jurisdiction: Sovereignty and International Law in Late Nineteenth-Century South Asia” published in Law and History Review.

In their citation the prize committee described Dr. Tycko’s work as:

Bringing us back two centuries and across a hemisphere, Sonia Tycko’s meticulously researched and methodically argued article excavates the legal acrobatics that allowed for foreign, especially Dutch and Scottish, soldiers captured by English forces in the mid-seventeenth century to be forced to serve as labor on projects ranging from the drainage of the fens to Caribbean plantations. The Council of State and various private interests saw multiple opportunities in putting prisoners of war to work but were stymied by strictures in the laws of war and jus gentium on the rights of such prisoners, especially prohibitions on enslaving fellow Christians. A bizarrely effective solution was found in reimagining the legal status of such prisoners not as conscripts but rather as akin to convicts and vagrants, offering a precedent for in turn making them an offer they could not refuse to enter into contracts, effectively rendering them legally “free” rather than forced labor. In closely tracking this development, Tycko shows how a population largely consigned to an historiographical footnote in the general story of indentured labor was not only critical to understanding the malleable nature of legal status in the seventeenth-century but also profoundly troubling to our understandings of the critical legal concepts of contract and consent. The article also impressively traces how these arguments developed and were contested among various different actors and interests, offering a creative and original model for linking domestic, international, and Atlantic history—not to mention social, labor, colonial, military, and carceral histories—through the history of legal thought and practice.

You can read the full set of American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting prize citations for the year 2021, here.

To enable more people to read Dr. Tycho’s prize winning work our publisher Oxford University Press have kindly agreed to make “The Legality of Prisoner of War Labour in England, 1648-1655” free to read for a period of three months.

Our congradulations to Dr. Tycko on her scholarship being recognised in this way.

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