Friday, November 18, 2011

Legal History at the AHA

Two panels on legal history on the program for the upcoming meeting of the American Historical Association have caught my eye:

Building the Liberal State: Social Workers, Lawyers, and Rights from the Progressive Era to the Great Society

Chair: Felicia Kornbluh, University of Vermont

Pride and Prejudice: Social Workers, Lawyers, and the Provision of Free Legal Aid, 1911-40 Felice Batlan, Chicago-Kent College of Law

The Women of Gault: Pursuing Social Justice for the Child in Great Society America David S. Tanenhaus, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Human Needs and Legal Rights: Social Workers and Lawyers in New Deal Welfare Administration Karen Tani, University of California, Berkeley

Comment: Felicia Kornbluh, University of Vermont

Lawyers and social workers were major participants in building the American liberal state from the Progressive Era through the Great Society. Yet the interactions, networks, and professional communities built by and between these two professions have not been fully explored by historians. Each of the panelists examines how in a different time period, and in a different historical setting, the two professions interacted and how these interactions shaped each of the professions, professional identities, and the structure of benefits, entitlements, and rights that each supported. Moreover similarities and distinctions between the professions also reflected shifting ideas of gender, power, expertise, and authority. As the panelists show, throughout the twentieth century, disciplinary boundaries between law and social work were often deeply porous and many of the leading women social workers such as Sophinisba Breckenridge, who shaped both the profession of social work and the curriculum that would be taught in schools of social work, were trained as lawyers.

At times, however, lawyers' and social workers' methodologies significantly differed as did their understandings of rights and entitlements. The presenters explore why and how this was the case. For example, in its broadest contours, social workers defined the family and then the community as its basic unit of inquiry, where lawyers' primary focus was on the individual. Related to this, social workers perceived justice as requiring a form of social justice, where lawyers understand justice to be a constellation of individual rights. Moreover, social workers understood rights as grounded in social context, specific situations, and human need where lawyers often saw a more abstract and process oriented quality to rights. Law also was coded as a masculine profession, where social work was coded as a female profession. These differences as well as others would have profound affects in terms of the reforms that lawyers and social workers envisioned, the bureaucratic structures that they built, and how they worked with one another.

Legal historians often primarily have been concerned with those actors clearly defined as formally trained lawyers, where historians of women have produced a rich literature on social workers. Each of the panelists attempts to create a new history by analyzing the interactions, criticisms, and overlapping communities and networks between these two professions. In doing so, they seek to explore the significant continuities as well as ruptures between the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the Great Society.

Transnational Legal Networks and the Limits of American Power, 1906-39


Chair: Stanley N. Katz, Princeton University

"To Internationalize International Law": American Philanthropic Initiatives and Transatlantic Legal Thought, 1906-21
Benjamin Allen Coates, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Twisted Borrowings and Failed Exports: The Chinese Republic and the Early Structure of American Transnational Legal Networks
Jed Kroncke, Harvard University

American Philanthropic Organizations and Laws on Race Relations in the United States, South Africa, and Germany Maribel Morey, Princeton University

Comment: Mary L. Dudziak, University of Southern California

Lawyers have historically played a central role in shaping American laws; and by the beginning of the 20th century, they became part of transnational networks with the idea of influencing laws and legal institutions abroad. Within a decade, they were joined by a new professional group equally engaged in shaping American and international legal development: American philanthropists and social scientists.

By analyzing these transnational networks, this panel reveals how American lawyers, philanthropists, and social scientists combined to shape a wide variety of socio-legal projects in the first half of the twentieth century. The three papers-covering the growth of the transatlantic international law profession, the highly internationalized reform discourse in the Chinese Republic after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the introduction of apartheid in South Africa - all demonstrate the vital role of American legal concepts and actors in the construction of national policies and the international community.

The first paper, "`To Internationalize International Law': American Philanthropic Initiatives and Transatlantic Legal Thought, 1906-1921," by Benjamin Coates, explains how the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace (CEIP) changed the nature of international lawyers' conversations on international law in the early twentieth century. The second paper, "Twisted Borrowings and Failed Exports: The Chinese Republic and the Early Structure of American Transnational Legal Networks," written by Jed Kroncke, details American and Chinese lawyers' relationship in the same time period, and how many Chinese attempts to learn from the American legal experience were as warped by the presumption of export embedded in these transnational networks as were American attempts to influence Chinese legal development. The third paper, "Philanthropists, Social Scientists, and Laws on Race Relations in the United States, South Africa, and Germany," by Maribel Morey, describes the role a community of American philanthropists and social scientists played in determining the course of public policies on race in the U.S., Germany, and South Africa in the 1930s.

In each of these three cases, Americans sought to use transnational networks to spread their ideas about proper national and international order. They necessarily entered into dialogue with the intended recipients of their ideas in China, South Africa, and Europe. In so doing, these American attempts to create a world of legal order in their own image led to complicated and often contraindicated outcomes: the international society that surfaced in the interwar period, the Chinese legal institutions, and policy solutions to the international problem of White-Black relations that developed in the 1930s (and particularly the Nuremberg laws) departed in important and unexpected ways from the best-laid plans of American actors.

This panel contributes to the conference's themes of "Communities and Networks" and opens a conversation on the extent to which Americans in the twentieth century were successfully able to create a global empire of legal order crafted in their own image. Moreover, it will also discuss how-by looking at transnational networks of socio-legal actors-historians can expose the specific national nature of international legal projects and the international scope of seemingly national legal projects

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