“Travelers, Trade, and Transportation: The Trials of Mary Squires, Susanne Wells, and Elizabeth Canning”

Wednesday, March 1, 2023 - 7:00 pm

The UNI Department of History is pleased to announce the 2022-2023 Carl L. Becker Memorial Lecture in History, scheduled for March 1 at 7:00 in SRL 115. The talk also serves as this year's Phi Alpha Theta Women's History Month lecture. Our lecturer is Professor Dana Rabin (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).

Dana Rabin is professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where she teaches global history, British history, and the history of crime. Her work focuses on eighteenth-century Britain with an emphasis on law, empire, gender, and race. Her first book, Identity, Crime and Legal Responsibility in Eighteenth-Century England (Palgrave, 2004), examined the language of mental states in the English courtroom. Her recent book Britain and its Internal Outsiders 1750-1800: Under Rule of Law (Manchester University Press, 2017) analyzes the intersection of metropole and colony through six legal cases revealing how the law created, delineated, maintained, and managed categories of difference. Her current project examines Jews, whiteness, and belonging in Britain’s Caribbean colonies.

Lecture Abstract:

The disappearance of Elizabeth Canning, her fantastical story of abduction, confinement, and escape, and the criminal trials that followed drew tremendous attention in 1753 and have fascinated historians ever since. The case generated an unprecedented amount of published material including broadsides, ballads, pamphlets, and prints. My talk explores the nexus of race and sexuality in the narratives of three of the five single women involved: Elizabeth Canning, Mary Squires, and Virtue Hall. The explicit disputes about these women concerned their whereabouts, their physical integrity, and their moral character. Embedded in these discussions was a debate about the implications of Britain's imperial expansion, specifically the reality of a religiously, racially, and ethnically diverse London populated by Jews, gypsies, Asians, Africans, Scots, Irish, Catholics, and Protestants, for definitions of Englishness as a cultural tradition and England as a nation. The written record and the images generated by the case exposed an unwieldy female autonomy that made a lie of conventions regarding English femininity, domesticity, chastity, and virtue and collapsed imagined spatial divisions within the metropole. Ultimately what propelled the Canning case into the headlines and the alehouses were discomforts associated with empire and the moral and social threat it posed through its multiplicity of sites and the mobile bodies that moved in its shadows and hidden spaces.

The talk is free and open to the public. All are welcome.
Seerley 115
Contact Information
Cordelia Martin
(319) 273-2097