REVISION: Colonialism and Constitutional Memory

By Aziz F. Rana

The United States shares a number of basic traits with various British settler societies in the non-white world. These include longstanding histories in which colonists and their descendants divided legal, political, and economic rights between insiders and subordinated outsiders, be they expropriated indigenous groups or racial minorities. But Americans rarely think of themselves as part of an imperial family of settler polities and instead generally conceive of the country as quintessentially anti-imperial and inclusive. What explains this fact and what are its political consequences? This essay, prepared for the Third "Law As..." Symposium, offers an initial response, arguing that a significant reason is the symbolic power of the American Federal Constitution in sustaining a particular narrative of the country as free and equal from the founding. Although this creedal narrative has played a powerful and productive role in creating a more inclusive national community, it ...

Aziz F. Rana Professor of Law
Photo of Aziz Rana

Contact Information

Cornell Law School
106 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Phone: (607) 255-5423
Fax: (607) 255-7193


Megan Olivares
Cornell Law School
249 Hughes Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Professional Biography

Aziz Rana's research and teaching center on American constitutional law and political development, with a particular focus on how shifting notions of race, citizenship, and empire have shaped legal and political identity since the founding.

His book, The Two Faces of American Freedom (Harvard University Press, 2010) situates the American experience within the global history of colonialism, examining the intertwined relationship in American constitutional practice between internal accounts of freedom and external projects of power and expansion. His current book manuscript explores the modern rise of constitutional veneration in the twentieth century -- especially against the backdrop of growing American global authority -- and how veneration has influenced the boundaries of popular politics.

He has written essays and op-eds for such venues as The New York Times, The Nation,,, Jacobin, and N+1. He has recently published articles and chapter contributions (or has them forthcoming) with Yale University Press, California Law Review, and Texas Law Review among others.

Prior to joining the Cornell faculty, he was an Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fellow in Law at Yale. He received his A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard College and his J.D. from Yale Law School. He also earned a Ph.D. in political science at Harvard, where his dissertation was awarded the university's Charles Sumner Prize.


A.B., Harvard University, 2000
J.D, Yale Law School, 2006
Ph.D. (Government), Harvard University, 2007