brendan kane on human rights and the history of violence in the early modern british empire


Brendan Kane, ‘Introduction: Human Rights and the History of Violence in the Early British Empire’, History 99, 336 (2014).

Specialists on early modern violence and on human rights history have much to gain through collaboration, or at least mutual awareness. Human rights historians are increasingly drawing on studies of early modern violence. However, as contended here, early modernists tend to approach the subject framed by their own geographical areas of interest. As such, we lack an overarching sense of violence and its meanings across the Tudor and Stuart realms and colonies, something that would be of great utility in understanding how developments in the early modern period relate to later ones. In the interests of promoting such broader investigation and comparison, the present essay briefly surveys important aspects of the approach to violence in the English, Irish and Atlantic historiographies, and in the literatures of massacre and of human rights. In doing so, it sets the essays included in this special edition in their historiographical contexts and highlights crucial interventions. It concludes with thoughts not only on how a more comprehensive understanding of violence in the early British empire might be of value to human rights historians, but how the new meta-narrative of human rights history might spur greater comparative work amongst early modernists.

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