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Advances a new perspective in world history, arguing that institutions and culture - and not just the global economy - serve as important elements of international order. Focusing on colonial legal politics and the interrelation of local and indigenous cultural contests and institutional change, the book uses case studies to trace a shift in plural legal orders - from the multicentric law of early empires to the state-centered law of the colonial and postcolonial world. In the early modern world, the special legal status of cultural and religious others itself became an element of continuity across culturally diverse empires. In the nineteenth century, the state's assertion of a singular legal authority responded to repetitive legal conflicts - not simply to the imposition of Western models of governance. Indigenous subjects across time and in all settings were active in making, changing, and interpreting the law - and, by extension, in shaping the international order.