Susan Longfield Karr’s current manuscript, “On Justice and Right: The Moral Authority of ius gentium,” focuses on the intersection of legal and political thought in early sixteenth-century Italy, Germany, France, and England. Integrating social, political, legal, and intellectual history, this case study explores how the introduction of philological, comparative, and historical methods to the teaching and interpretation of Roman law informed the centrality of ius gentium (universal customary law or the laws of peoples) within natural law and natural rights theories in the early sixteenth century: interpretations that became foundational to international political and legal thought from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. As this project focuses on a period of major change in history—not unlike the present—in which thinkers attempted to retrace and reexamine the legal traditions, traditions that they inherited from their past, it offers a historical perspective to contemporary attempts to reconsider and reevaluate the development and history of modern conceptions of human liberty and civic rights, both locally and globally.
Although related methodologically to the current project, the focus of her next project seeks to offer an alternative to progressive histories of rights by non-historians, as well as a corrective to the ensuing debate among historians about the ‘origins’ of modern human rights. Essentially, this second project investigates how and why stories of origins (original moments) are continually re-imagined from generation to generation by historians, political theories, the public at large as a means to legitimize and critique changes in political and legal authority. Her broader research interests directly intersect, and indeed, enhance her teaching fields, which include: Natural Law and Natural Rights; Legal Theory; History and Theory of Human Rights; European Legal History; the development and critique of Legal Liberalism; and political, civic, and religious toleration