Humanity in Suspension: Gender and International Law in Seventeenth-Century Literature


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project shows that gender plays a vital, under-studied, role in the articulations of human rights via the prisoner of war. In the seventeenth century these issues receive their recognizably modern formulations; reintroducing the perspective of gender illuminates the surprising malleability of what it means to be a citizen. The research focuses on three intersecting figures: the prisoner of war, the slave, and the female subject. While the slave loses his political personhood absolutely, the prisoner of war exists in suspension, with a free internal will despite outward constraints. This parallels the wife's legal personhood under coverture: her conscience can authorize resistance to her husband's authority, just as the prisoner of war is bound externally but internally free.