Illuminating their breadth and diversity, this book presents a comprehensive and multidisciplinary view of legal documents and their manifold forms, uses, materialities and meanings. In 1951, Suzanne Briet, a librarian at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, famously said that an antelope in a zoo could be a document, thereby radically changing the way documents were analysed and understood. In the fifty years since this pronouncement, the digital age has introduced a potentially limitless range of digital and technological forms for the capture and storage of information. In their multiplicity and their ubiquity, documents pervade our everyday life. However, the material, intellectual, aesthetic and political dimensions and effects of documents remain difficult to pin down. Taking a multidisciplinary and international approach, this collection tackles the question, what is a legal document?, in order to explore the material, aesthetic and intellectual attributes of legal documentation; the political and colonial orders reflected and embedded in documents; and the legal, archival and social systems which order and utilise information. As well as scholars in law, documentary theory, history, Indigenous studies, art history and design theory and practice, this book will also appeal to those working in libraries, archives, galleries and museums, for whom the ongoing challenges of documentation in the digital age are urgent and timely questions.

part I|48 pages

What is a document?

chapter Chapter 1|23 pages

Law's documents

Authority, Materiality, Aesthetics

part II|86 pages


chapter Chapter 3|20 pages

When records speak we listen

Conversations with the archive

chapter Chapter 4|23 pages

Passport struggles

Lawful documents and the politics of recognition and refusal

chapter Chapter 5|18 pages

What is a bogus document?

Refugees, race and identity documents in Australian migration law

chapter Chapter 6|17 pages

The historian as document producer

A candid reflection on the production of oral history timed summaries

chapter Chapter 7|6 pages

Forty-nine most common phrases

part III|112 pages


chapter Chapter 8|22 pages

Law's signature acts

chapter Chapter 9|19 pages

Treaty documents

Materialising international legal agreement

chapter Chapter 10|17 pages

Conjuring documents

Informal wills

chapter Chapter 11|28 pages

Powerful documents from the archive

Nyungar letters and the Ancestors' Words project

chapter Chapter 12|24 pages

Material violence

Destruction, mishaps and redaction of Stasi photographs

part IV|122 pages


chapter Chapter 13|24 pages

Artists and legal documents

Aesthetic, witnessing and affective power

chapter Chapter 14|5 pages

The Rape Contract

chapter Chapter 15|25 pages

The aesthetic archive

Appropriating legal documents in visual art

chapter Chapter 16|22 pages


Documenting sovereignty

chapter Chapter 17|20 pages


Knowledge design methods for interpreting documents

chapter Chapter 18|24 pages

Artistic license

Joan Kee interviews Carey Young