Ted Leonhardt


Hometown: Farmington, CT
Junior (Class of 2015)
Majors: History and Political Science

I began working in the lab last summer as a research assistant for Professor Stern examining documents from seventeenth century English Tangier. My continued interest in the history of the early-modern English empire led me to begin work on the Mapping Sovereignty project in the 2013 fall semester through an independent study. I have focused on the legal theories of colonial charters, the history of Connecticut’s border disputes, and using social network visualization software to map relationships between individuals involved in colonization. Studying these topics allows me to better grasp the origins of modern Anglo-American political and legal cultures and the development of different governmental and corporate forms.

Reflection on Mapping Sovereingty

At college, it is rare to delve deeply into a topic over the course of an entire year. Mapping Sovereignty offered me the opportunity to do just that. Finding small group learning opportunities at a research university like Duke can be challenging. Our group weekly participated in a largely self-directed seminar in which we could discuss core concepts, present findings, plan the expansion of the project, and generally have a fun time joking around as we got to know one another. Through the project, each of us developed a unique level of expertise, especially in research methodology. I hope that our project can serve as an example for future undergraduate humanities labs.

“Mapping Sovereignty” is an ambiguous concept, and one of the challenges of the project was defining our direction. At times, it could be frustrating to reach dead ends after several weeks of research. Our database of charters, which had been the focus of our work, seemed extraneous once we decided to conduct case studies on specific colonies. Yet the process of probing different angles of the sovereignty issue gave me a more holistic understanding of sovereignty and a greater grasp of the long process of research. Finally, I learned that what can seem like spent time often turns out to be valuable in producing greater understanding and tangible results. The database, once shelved, became the basis for social networking visualizations. Both the rigor and the reward of research lie in its meandering nature.

When I look over this website, I notice the potential for future projects in the vein of Mapping Sovereignty. Humanities labs are unique in that they lack a set syllabus for students to complete before the end of the term. This can allow for greater exploration while also leaving certain uncharted areas for future students. In particular, more case studies and the greater application of networking visualizations and timelines could augment this website. Were we to fully embrace the “digital” aspect of the digital humanities, we could partner with other schools to “crowd-source” this website.

At times during the semester, peers who did not partake in the lab would notice me working on the project and ask what I was studying. Repeatedly explaining the work of Mapping Sovereignty to “laymen” led me to reflect on why one might study sovereignty in the early-modern period. Sovereignty lies at the intersection of so many issues including legal, commercial, political, and social concerns. Factors from fishing rights (Newfoundland) to financial markets (the South Sea Company) affected the cases we studied.  In examining English notions of sovereignty in the early-modern period, we gain a glimpse of the foundations of the political-legal order that largely remains the basis of Anglo-American governance. If we wish to understand Britain, the United States, and many other parts of the world today, sovereignty is a place to start.