Monday, May 3, 2010

Pursuing the Joint Degree

One of the most interesting facets of legal history is that there are multiple access points. Scholars enter from history departments and law schools; they carry various degrees and credentials. Expertise is required, but one need not have passed the bar or had formal training in the historical method. Whether this will be true twenty years from now remains to be seen, but my entirely unscientific observation is that a fair amount of recent entrants to the field have dual degrees in law and history.
A J.D./Ph.D. is not for the faint of heart, and I recommend it only for those who believe that both degrees are necessary to achieving their career goals. For those who are sure, or simply want more information, this post is for you. I’ve put together a list of institutions (that I know of) that train legal historians and welcome dual degree students. Please supplement my list and add your comments!
Out of loyalty, I’ll list my home institution first. The University of Pennsylvania has a J.D./Ph.D. program in American Legal History, with a formal system of funding, cross-credits, and advisers. It has the firm backing of both the Law School and the History Department, which is important because dual degrees can involve significant red tape. You want to be at an institution that will invest in your success and help you solve the complicated administrative problems that can arise.
I know several legal historians who have pursued dual degrees at New York University. NYU boasts scholars in the Law School and the History Department who are excited to work with legal history graduate students. NYU is also home to a fantastic legal history colloquium, which gives students access to cutting-edge work and an interesting array of scholars.
Another legal history powerhouse is Yale University: it has consistently encouraged dual degree students and has produced many of the field’s rising stars. I don’t know much about the formal structure of the program (the website is somewhat vague), but it’s clear that Law School and History faculty have worked together to produce top-notch legal historians. Cross-departmental cooperation and dialogue is crucial to a good joint degree experience.
Some programs that I’m less familiar with, but look strong are Columbia University’s and Stanford University’s. These institutions would be natural places to pursue dual degrees, given their impressive collections of legal historians. Another option out west is the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at the University of California, Berkeley. This Ph.D. program does not require or lead to a J.D.., but some candidates get one while there.
I imagine there are other places that have produced or are currently training J.D./Ph.D. students in legal history. The machinery and the potential advisers appear to be in place at Harvard University and the University of Chicago, for example. Hopefully, those who know better will comment below.
Of course, one need not complete both degrees at the same university. Doing so can shave off time and minimize the financial cost, but there are good reasons (availability of mentors, educational quality, geography) for pursuing a J.D. at one institution and a Ph.D. at another. For those with a J.D. in hand, Princeton is a terrific place to pursue the doctorate. The History Department’s list of legal history alums is truly stunning.
Last, there are a number of J.D./M.A. legal history programs. The University of Virginia’s, for one, appears to be thriving.

Update: I forgot the University of Michigan. Here's a link to the Law School's Dual Degrees page.
Image credit: robed elite

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