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Dean of the College and Africana Studies Program present

An Empire of Consent: Prosecuting Rape in Colonial South Africa, 1848-1902

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Candidate for African History Tenure-Track Position

Elizabeth Thornberry, Ph.D.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges

In the wake of British colonization of South Africa's Eastern Cape region, the colonial courtroom provided a key site for the assertion and contestation of colonial authority. Litigation over sexual violence, in particular, raised fundamental questions about the nature of governance, the place of "custom" in the colonial state, and the role of consent in legitimizing both sexual activity and political authority. I argue that both Xhosa and British participants in these courtroom dramas recognized a connection between the regulation of female sexuality and the form of governance; as a result, the history of rape prosecutions reveals the shape of popular debates about colonial rule within Xhosa communities. The entanglement between debates over governance and sexual consent, meanwhile, constrained the options available to Xhosa women seeking redress for sexual assault. The increasing rhetorical emphasis on consent actually made it more difficult for women and their families to punish men who committed rape.

Time: 4:45 pm – 6:00 pm

Location: RKC 103