What happens when a written constitution is printed? A history across boundaries: The Prothero Lecture

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


After 1750, the rate at which new political constitutions were generated increased relentlessly. By the First World War, written and published devices of this sort already operated in parts of every continent outside Antarctica. Yet for all the scale and speed of this transformation, approaches to the history of written constitutions have often been selective. Although they spread rapidly across maritime and land frontiers, constitutions are still usually examined in the context of individual countries. Although they could function as tools of empire, constitutions have generally been interpreted only in terms of the making of nations and nationalism. And although these are authored texts, written constitutions rarely attract the attention of literary scholars. Instead, these documents have become largely the province of legal experts and students of constitutional history, itself an increasingly unfashionable discipline. In this lecture, I examine the vital and various links between constitutions and print culture as a means of resurrecting and exploring some of the transnational and transcontinental exchanges and discourses involved in the early spread of these instruments. I also touch on the challenges posed to written constitutions - now embedded in all but three of the world's countries - by the coming of a digital age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-88
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Royal Historical Society
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


Dive into the research topics of 'What happens when a written constitution is printed? A history across boundaries: The Prothero Lecture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this