17 June 2020 • Faculty Crow on Empire, Oceans, Law and Melville

In two new publications, Associate Professor of History Matthew Crow tracks the history of legal thought across empires and oceans, discussing contemporary questions of law and authority in the context of American literature and history.

Drawing on his current book project, which focuses on the work of the American writer Herman Melville, Crow’s chapter “Littoral Leviathan: Histories of Oceans, Laws, and Empires,” appears in Empire and Legal Thought: Ideas and Institutions from Antiquity to Modernity, edited by Edward Cavanagh; his article “A Melvillean Moment: Law, History, and Empire from Gibbon to Melville,” appears in the June 2020 issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies.

“Law and literature give us an historical, critical purchase on modern subjectivity and the present political moment,” Crow writes in “A Melvillean Moment.” “The dialectical analysis of form and substance of law [that Edward] Gibbon develops in [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire] provided Melville with material for his own historically inflected narratives and critiques. But for Melville, it is not just older forms or images of rule that resurface and are recovered in time but those of action, too…If there is a Gibbonian moment, there can be a Melvillean one, too, one in which we find ourselves alert to the histories and potentialities to be found in the texts and contexts we come across, and that we collect and recollect.”

Crow is the author of Thomas Jefferson, Legal History, and the Art of Recollection, published in 2017 Cambridge University Press. His scholarship examines the intersections between American legal, political and cultural history. His current project, The Constitutions of Herman Melville: Law and the Making of Oceanic History, explores the work of Melville, the intellectual history of maritime law, and the problem that discretionary justice poses to democratic thought and politics.

Crow joined the HWS faculty in 2012. He holds a B.A. from University of California, San Diego and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has been a research fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, the Huntington Library and other organizations. He serves as the faculty athletic fellow for the Hobart crew team.