Position title: Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow (2016-2017)
History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
Between Community and Qānūn: Documenting Islamic legal practice in 19th-century British India
My dissertation, “Between Community and Qānūn: Documenting Islamic legal practice in 19th-century British India,” traces the origins of Islamic legal modernism in 19th-century South Asia. By focusing on the mundane practices of paperwork and bureaucratic routines adopted by qāẓīs (Muslim judges) and muftīs (jurisconsults, writers of legal opinions), my work explores the role indigenous legal practitioners played the construction of colonial legal modernity. To do so, I study previously overlooked vernacular sources in Persian and Urdu, including qazi notebooks and registers, published and unpublished fatwa collections, and private legal documents. By focusing on the role of paperwork in the everyday practice of law, my research considers the transformation of legal activity at the local level, moving beyond the colonial construction of law codes and legal categories to consider the written artifacts individuals encountered in the execution of their everyday affairs—from documenting marriages and divorces, to buying and selling land, to negotiating inheritance and the distribution of personal property. This research demonstrates the ways in which public conceptions of law worked outside the colonial courts to create an expansive ethical–legal discourse that continues to shape civil society and civil litigation in post-colonial South Asia.
Elizabeth Lhost is a PhD Candidate in the Departments of History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on the history religious law and colonial policy in 19th- and 20th-century South Asia. She is particularly interested in the role of paperwork in the formalization of legal procedure and the intersections between formal legal structures and popular conceptions of the moral and ethical. With a background in literary studies, Elizabeth enjoys teaching courses on modern South Asian and global history that incorporate close reading, textual analysis, and the consideration of multiple perspectives. She received her BA summa cum laude in English literature and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University and an MA in Languages and Cultures of Asia from UW–Madison in 2009. Her work has been supported by a Fulbright–Nehru Student Research Fellowship, a Junior Research Fellowship from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies and Nicholson Center for British Studies at the University of Chicago. She is currently working to complete her dissertation with support from a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.