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Guardians of the Forest: The Failure of the Magna Carta in Colonial America

Following on from the seismic news that the UK has voted to leave the EU, this new episode of The Artist in American History deconstructs the failure of early English settlers to adhere to the spirit of the Magna Carta upon their arrival in North America.  Despite being widely proclaimed as one of England’s greatest achievements, this podcast looks at the ways in which the doctrine of a shared wilderness was subverted by English settlers’ desire to privatise the land and to solidify individual ownership.  The Magna Carta and its sister document, the Charter of the Forest, spoke of values and assumptions which, by the time English settlers arrived in North America, had fallen by the wayside; those documents spoke of the importance of commons, of shared physical spaces controlled and utilised by the community, not dominated by a single landowner or landowning family.  In many ways, had the spirit of 1215, as I call it, been imbibed by the English by the turn of the 17th century, they may have found far more in common with the Americas’ aboriginal population than they ultimately did.  In other words, it was the failure of the Magna Carta in early America, the invisibility of the Charter of the Forest, which gives them their global-historic importance.  Considering the seismic events happening in Europe and the resurgence of English, rather than British, nationalism, it seems all the more important now that we begin drilling down into these myths and exposing the complexities and nuances of history which have so far been ignored and only partially problematised.

 

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The Failure of the Magna Carta in Colonial America



One response to “Guardians of the Forest: The Failure of the Magna Carta in Colonial America”

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