Monday, June 3, 2013

LSA Hurst Prize to Witt, "Lincoln's Code"

Congratulations to John Fabian Witt (Yale Law School): The Law & Society Association has named Lincoln's Code (the Free Press) the winner of this year's J. Willard Hurst award ("given to the best work (in English) in socio-legal history published in the previous year"). Here's the citation:
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John Witt's Lincoln's Code is a tour de force of legal history.  Its sweeping narrative of the origins of the modern law of war carries us from the battlefields of the American Revolution, through Indian Removal, to the carnage of Sherman's march and Gettysburg.  At the center of the narrative is a legal code, the set of rules for wartime commissioned by Abraham Lincoln and written by Francis Lieber, that is still the basis for the laws of war.  Witt demonstrates the way statesmen, soldiers, and lawyers struggled with the competing aims of humanitarianism and justice, and the way Lieber's code constrained some aspects of inhumanity in battle, yet allowed mass destruction in the name of a just cause.  And he shows how slavery shaped the laws of war:  the protection of slave property had been seen as a chief humanitarian accomplishment during the Revolution, but during the Civil War, the military imperative of emancipation helped to establish the primacy of justice over humanitarianism in Lieber's code.  In doing so, it gave the U.S. Civil War a global significance it otherwise might not have had. 
Weaving together deep archival research, compelling biography, incisive legal analysis, and entertaining storytelling, Lincoln's Code is a groundbreaking, original history with enduring significance for our times.  John Witt has pushed the boundaries of traditional sociolegal history and given us a new way to think about the history of war, with law at its troubled center. It will endure as a touchstone in the field, both for its nimble navigation of source material and its sheer interpretive force. Lincoln’s Code is a model of scholarly work that is both firmly grounded in historical analysis and profoundly relevant to the contemporary world.
Honorable mentions went to Ken Mack (Harvard Law School) for Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer (Harvard University Press) and Michele Landis Dauber (Stanford Law School) for The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State (University Of Chicago Press).

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