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Grant number: FT-254548-17

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Caroline E. Shaw
Bates College (Lewiston, ME 04240-6028)

A History of the Legal Concepts of Reputation and Defamation in the British Court System

A book-length study on the history of reputation and defamation laws in Britain.

Freedom of expression has become a right. Yet, it is qualified by the responsibility to respect the reputation of others. The “right” to reputation fits somewhat uncomfortably in the canon of liberal rights, however. Rights to property or the right to vote, for example, seem like individual possessions to be safeguarded by the state. Reputation, by contrast, exists within the minds of others in a particular community. In the modern era, worldly individuals were supposed to be indifferent to frivolous gossip. Nevertheless, defenses of reputation have remained peculiarly robust in British legal culture. This project offers the first historical account of reputation and British law over the last two centuries. It examines the intellectual debates and the social contexts in which laws of libel and slander were remade in the modern era. It asks why Britain is an outlier and asks us to think more deeply about the role of community in the constellation of individual, liberal rights.

Project fields:
British History; Cultural History; Legal History

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

Total amounts:
$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2017 – 7/31/2017