Nations before the Nation-State:

Indigenous Subjecthood within the British Empire

This talk will provide an overview of a book project examining small Indigenous nations as they forged new forms of political relations within the constraints of British colonial rule. It focuses on so-called “tributary” nations who accepted, though usually through coercion and conquest, a status as subjects of the king. Despite the violence inherent in subjugation, Indigenous leaders could still exert power by embracing the “subject” category, which was itself in flux amid the territorial expansion of the British empire. Through engagement with British political culture, Indigenous peoples transformed it. Insisting on Indigenous conceptualizations of political belonging even as they adapted them under the pressures of settler colonialism, Native leaders articulated creative new possibilities for divided sovereignty and pluralist empire, thereby staking a claim for Indigenous futures. Encompassing Indigenous nations from the Caribbean to Canada, this project explores the role of Indigenous intellectuals in shaping the terms of colonial rule, the revolutionary remaking of imperial subjects into racialized citizens, and the evolution of modern concepts of sovereignty in the era before the nation-state.

Bio: Matthew Kruer is a historian of early America exploring the relationship between Indigenous power and the development of the British empire. He holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and is Assistant Professor of Early North American History and the College at the University of Chicago. His first book, Time of Anarchy: Indigenous Power and the Crisis of Colonialism in Early America (Harvard University Press, 2022), is based on a doctoral dissertation that was awarded the 2016 Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians.