Allison Powers Useche, Past & Present Fellow

Settlement Colonialism: Compensatory Justice in United States Expansion, 1868-1978

Allison Powers Useche is a legal and political historian of the United States in the World. Her current book project, Settlement Colonialism: Compensatory Justice in United States Expansion, 1848-1941, tells the story of the rise and fall of a model of American imperialism premised on the concept of market value compensation for property lost as a result of territorial annexation. This model came into crisis when foreign nationals living in United States territories turned to the process of claims settlement to argue that the U.S. government permitted forms of state violence and labor coercion in violation of the international legal norms known as the “standard of civilization.” By demonstrating how these claimants questioned the government’s ability to protect life and property within its borders, the project uncovers a forgotten moment of struggle over the limits and possibilities of international law to address structural injustices within the American legal system.

Her second book project, Transplanting Empire, traces the emergence of comparative law as a new institutional and conceptual framework for American foreign policymaking during the long nineteenth century. It follows the politicians, lawyers, engineers, and citizens who mobilized comparisons between United States, Spanish, and British imperial models to stake claims to natural resources in the Americas. The book explains how the discipline of comparative law became a new site of struggle over the ways evidence of nature—including ideas about natural law, the natural world, and the natural development of societies—could be used to justify or challenge imperial power hierarchies.