Call for Papers – Crime, Justice, and Cultures of Transgression in Early America  (September 14–17, 2023)

Past Futures:Crime, Justice, and Cultures of Transgression in Early America

September 14-17, 2023
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, UK
A conference sponsored by the Charles Brockden Brown Society

Our conference site in Nottingham calls to mind both the outlaw figures associated with the legend of Robin Hood and the haunted villains associated with the poetry of Lord Byron. Increasingly popular in North American culture across the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such transgressive characters spoke to a society undergoing major changes in its understanding of the legitimacy of rebellion and the demands of obedience to authority. Shifts in perceptions of acceptable dissent, the legitimacy of legal and penal institutions, and the relationship between criminality and racial, gender, and class status during the Revolutionary era have had deep and abiding consequences for American thought and culture that still resonate with twenty-first century struggles to address these issues. The Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the Charles Brockden Brown Society invites papers on all aspects of the cultural expression of law-making and law-breaking in North American literary, cultural, and intellectual life between 1691 and 1830 including but not limited to: 

  • Social and political revolution, the ethics of rebellion, and the remaking of laws 
  • Prison reform movements, the development of the asylum, and the medicalization of criminality 
  • Race, slave laws, and African-American theories of justice 
  • Debtors’ prisons, poorhouses, and perceptions of working-class criminality 
  • Treaty-making, Native American negotiations of sovereignty, and the relationship of Indigenous ethical systems to colonial rule 
  • Confidence tricksters, social deception, corruption, and the laws of capitalism 
  • Seduction, sexual assault, prostitution, and the gendering of victimization 
  • Cross-dressing and the violation of social taboos 
  • The transportation of criminals to the New World, pirates, smugglers, “illegal aliens,” and other transatlantic miscreants 
  • Disciplinary practices, surveillance, and the mechanisms of social control 
  • Religious dissent, church/state relations, the criminalization of particular faiths, and conceptions of sin 
  • Censorship, seditious libel, copyright violation, plagiarism, and other instances of illegal textuality 
  • Criminal confessions, execution sermons, and other legal narratives 
  • Villains in sentimental, Gothic, and Romantic literature 

Though we are an author society, we wholly welcome proposals on a broad range of texts and practices beyond those associated with Brown and his writings alone. We also encourage interdisciplinary scholarship, work emphasizing non-U.S. literatures, and presentations on teaching practices. Our conference culture aims to create a space of egalitarian consideration free from career-oriented and competitive attitudes, for new work to flourish. Thus we have no concurrent sessions, so that all may be heard by all. Submissions of pre-formed panels as well as proposals for individual papers of 15-20 minute are encouraged. But due to time and space constraints, we may ask you to reframe your proposed talk as a briefer (5-10 minute) presentation for inclusion within a roundtable format or reconfigure your panel slightly.  

It is the expectation of the organizers that the conference will run primarily in-person but a remote participation option will be available for those who cannot physically attend for medical or financial reasons. Should public health conditions necessitate a fully remote conference, we will adopt new formats, including pre-circulated papers, workshops, and roundtables organized around common readings and teaching practices. We ask that you remain flexible about presentation format should the need arise.  

Please clearly indicate in your abstract whether you plan to attend in-person or online. These preferences will have no bearing on the status of your submission. Some limited travel funding will be available to graduate students. Applicants requesting travel funding should register their interest and need in a cover letter, and provide information about whether or not they are ABD. Graduate students who are interested in receiving feedback on their abstracts before the submission deadline may submit their abstracts for revision suggestions by January 6, 2023. Review does not guarantee acceptance. Graduate students will also have the option to be paired with a faculty mentor for the duration of the conference. 

The proposal deadline (250 words plus short bio for a paper; 1000 words plus short bios for a panel) in docx format is January 22, 2023. Please send your proposals and enquiries to