General:Representing Responsibility in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Law and Literature



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Name: Benjamin Authers


Tell us something about your level of study and the type of institutional appointment you hold. 
Choose any of the terms below that apply to you:
* undergrad
* grad
* part-time instructor
* pre-tenure faculty member
* tenured faculty member
* archivist-librarian
* independent scholar
* creative practitioner
* interested citizen

Role: Postdoctoral Fellow

Institution: Australian National University

Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Canadian Studies, Victorian Studies, Law and Literature, Human Rights


Please write a paragraph about your persona as a researcher: your position, your discipline, your general research interests, 
and the extent to which you use computers in your research. 
You may wish to mention particular tools that you use with some regularity.

I am a postdoctoral research fellow. I work in Law and the Humanities and Canadian Studies, with a particular interest in the representations of nation (and, increasingly, the more global identities of international human rights law) produced interdisciplinarily by law and literature.

I mainly use computers in my research to access primary and critical materials. Major case law and legislative materials have been made publicly available by government and universities, so that much of what I need to do my research is readily available online (although, frustratingly with case law, often without the pagination of the original text). I use the online collection of Canadian Supreme Court decisions and CanLII very frequently (both are provided by LexUM), as well as material provided online by government. I use legal journal searches less frequently (often because of lack of institutional access).

Increasingly, the primary literary materials that I need for research in the nineteenth century are available online. I use resources such as C19,, The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, as well as geographical mapping material, and special collections catalogues in Canada and in Britain.

In my current work I largely use novels that are in print and in copyright. However, in researching both fields I have made extensive use of online tools such as library catalogues and journal indexes in finding material for research, and have made use of tools like Google Books and OCLC WorldCat for bibliographic information.


Please provide a short description of the larger project from which this story emerges.

The project is to be an analysis of how the idea of “responsibility” is constructed though legal, political, and literary discourses in nineteenth century Canada. It seeks to bring together critical material with primary texts to contextualise ideas like criminality and capacity, the complex relations between communities and legal regimes, and between Canada as colony and Britain as colonial “centre” (with corresponding interrogations of what these ideas mean).


My ideal project would create archives of legal and literary materials and enable them to be interdisciplinarily combined in order to theorise how the concept of responsibility developed in nineteenth-century Canada. The overall aim of the project would be to create a better understanding of how law and literature functioned constitutively in Canada in the period, creating a community that understood itself nationally, legality, morally, racially, and imperially.

Given the legal and literary interconnections between Britain and Canada, and the influence that English legal practices in particular have on Canadian legislation and common law in the period, as well as the close and often contentious presence of the US and analogies drawn with other British colonies such as Australia, this work must necessarily also be understood in a manner that recognises trans-border, trans-Atlantic, and increasingly global relations.

With this caveat, this Project will focus in particular on Canadian material, and on connections that in the first instance are limited to those with Britain, with a possibility for developing further inter-relations. Ideally, it will also incorporate visual aspects that can represent, through mapping and graphs, changing legal relations within Canada, and in Canada’s relationship with the United Kingdom.

With time, this research has come to focus on Western Canada, a part of the country that is frequently figured in terms of the creation of order, and in particular on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. At the intersections of nation, law, indigeneity, masculinity, and a host of other concepts, the cultural, legal, and political representation of the Mounties provide a remarkable site in which to consider how the West enabled Canada to conceive of itself as a responsible nation-state. Within this, I have come to focus on the life (and cultural afterlife) of Samuel Benfield Steele. Taking Steele's life as a starting point has given me a far more manageable scope to investigate what the Mounties meant in their early years. Realising this into a project, I could draw on the University of Alberta's Sam Steele Archives, already in the process of digitisation, and create an archive of Steele's cultural life that would include personal and state documents, as well as the abundant media reports and representations of Steele in literature. The result would be one perspective on the cultural meaning of law in nineteenth-century Canada, as well as a starting point for a series of investigations into its multiply-inflected ideas of responsibility.

Right now, such a large undertaking isn't entirely feasible for me. But someone gave me a wonderful idea for a far more manageable project that would let me bring together the work I've been doing in a few different areas---a digital timeline of the manifold meanings of rights in Canada. A more readily achievable thing, this could let me illustrate how rights have been developed legally, but also how their social and cultural meaning has developed and changed. It would allow me to collaborate with historians and lawyers (such as Jennifer Tunnicliffe and Eric Adams) in the area, and could be developed as an open-but-moderated project that allows members of relevant communities to produce entries---something that would reflect the personalised nature of rights. Although this is certainly changing, there's a paucity of information that attempts to talk about rights discourse in Canada across periods and disciplines, and such a timeline could provide an evolving space for this to take place.

How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?
* broadly applicable
* shared by some
* shared by few or none

Scope: content shared by some.

Does your story describe current research activities that you think CWRC will enhance (present), 
or future research possibilities that you can only dream of now? (future)

Timeline: future

Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories. 
Use as many of the ones listed below as relevant or provide your own.
* Aggregate
* Annotate
* Consider
* Discover
* Interact
* Publish
* Archive/Preserve
* Share
* Visualize
* Map
* Historicize
* Edit
* Network
* Collaborate
* Integrated History of Women's Writing in Canada
* Orlando

Keywords: Rights, Human Rights, Visualize, Orlando, Historicise, Map, Archive, Annotate, Trans-Atlantic, Compare, Interdisciplinary, Law, Cultural Studies.

Are there parts of the story that relate to other CWRC stories? 
Please provide title(s) and link to the relevant story page.

Related Stories:

Are there tools that do some of the sorts of things you'd like to see in CWRC? 
If so, what are they?

Related Tools: Old Bailey, MLA bibliography, CanLII, Orlando,, C19, GIS.