CORDIS - EU research results

Beyond Property: Law and Land in the Iberian World (1510-1850)

Project description

A non-Eurocentric approach to the history of land tenure

When did the notion of property in land emerge? Some European studies suggest that this dates to the late 18th century. Meanwhile, Asian, African, and American experts suggest the 16th century. The EU-funded IberLAND project will study these narratives by exploring the development of land tenure systems in the territories of the Portuguese and Spanish Empires in Europe, Africa, America, and Asia. The project proposes a non-Eurocentric approach to the development of land property, instead taking a global perspective. IberLAND will integrate various regional historiographies and combine European and colonial legal histories, focusing on six case studies and building on detailed research in local archives.


The experience of empire decisively shaped the institution of private property in land. From a global perspective, however, the history of this institution is far from straightforward. While European scholarship places the advent of individual property rights in the late 18th century, scholarship on Asia, Africa, and the Americas often attributes the onset of the paradigm of private property to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. This discrepancy of almost 300 years is difficult to reconcile. If Europeans had not yet experienced it themselves, how could they introduce the paradigm of proprietary rights across the world during the process of colonization? IberLAND revisits these incongruent historiographical narratives by studying the development of land tenure regimes in the African, American, Asian, and European territories of the Portuguese and Spanish empires. IberLAND takes a unique approach to the study of land tenure by departing from traditional approaches that assume that Europeans ‘invented’ ideas of private property and then ‘transplanted’ them to their overseas possessions. By contrast, IberLAND aims to construct a non-Eurocentric history of the development of land tenure from a global perspective. The research approach cuts across traditional research frontiers not only by integrating diverse regional historiographies but also by combining European and colonial (legal) history. The project will focus on six case studies and build on extensive research in local archives. The research will be strongly interdisciplinary and will gain insights from global, legal, and ethno-history in dialogue with legal theory, postcolonial studies, and decolonial perspectives. By providing a decentered history of land tenure, IberLAND should influence research in the fields of law, anthropology, and history, and provide a global perspective of law for an interconnected world in which conflicts about land use and extractivism are becoming increasingly important.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 760 343,76
30167 Hannover

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Niedersachsen Hannover Region Hannover
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 760 344,51

Beneficiaries (2)