Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on PhDs

Note to readers: This is a part of a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman. If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me.

Question from Lael Weinberger, attorney and history graduate student: 

Professor Friedman began writing legal history without professional training as a historian. How does he feel that this impacted his career as a legal historian?

Answer from Lawrence:

You're right, I have no professional training in legal history; or in history itself for that matter.  One course in college.  So I'm definitely an amateur. Sometimes I think this is an advantage.  I'm on the outside looking in.  Also, I don't have to write "history;" and a lot of my work isn't properly historical at all.  If I had a position in a history department, that would be considered (quite rightly) peculiar. 
But mostly lack of training is a disadvantage.  The new legal historians have studied history, they know the literature, they think hard about methodology, they know the lingo, and they have a sharp historical sense.  The younger scholars with joint degrees are doing wonderful work.   I hope I've made a contribution; but perhaps it would have been more of a contribution if I knew more about what I was doing and why.  It's hard not to feel sometimes like an impostor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting point is the marked difference here between the US and the UK. I doubt this question would even have been raised in the UK.

Many UK legal historians will only have studied either law or history at undergraduate level (principally law, at least for more doctrinal legal history) and then gone straight into postgraduate study in the same Faculty. Very few have the possibility even to take courses in another Faculty at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. "Lawyer" legal historians can sometimes obtain permission to attend skills courses such as paleography, but not more general courses.

Not only does this seem to be normal in the UK, it's not even really remarked upon. People from both history and law backgrounds seem to produce good work nonetheless.