Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cromwell Book Prize to Pitts

The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation awards annually a $5,000 book prize for excellence in scholarship in the field of American Legal History by a junior scholar.  The prize is designed to recognize and promote new work in the field by graduate students, law students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty not yet tenured.  The work may be in any area of American legal history, including constitutional and comparative studies, but scholarship in the colonial and early national periods will receive some preference.  The prize is limited to a first book, wholly or primarily written while the author was untenured.  The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation awards the prize on the recommendation of the Cromwell Prize Advisory Committee of the American Society for Legal History.

At the recently concluded annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History, the 2014 Cromwell Book Prize was awarded to Yvonne Pitts, Purdue University, for Family, Law, and Inheritance in America:  A Social and Legal History of Nineteenth-Century Kentucky (Cambridge University Press).  Here, courtesy of H-Law, is the citation:
Yvonne Pitts' Family, Law, and Inheritance in America:  A Social and Legal History of Nineteenth-Century Kentucky uses inheritance law to reveal patterns in law and society, legal history, and women's and gender history.  By combining intensive research in local wills and appellate cases from Kentucky over the course of a century, Pitts combines a close reading of black-letter law with a subtle appreciation of the changing cultural contexts of inheritance in a febrile era of emancipation, rapid economic change, and the expansion of women's roles in politics and society.  By focusing on inheritance cases that center on personal problems and family disputes, Pitts links them to structural changes in law and society.  Her deep research into wills tracks how plain people understood the process of acquiring wealth and the even more problematic process of distributing it, and demonstrates how legal actors (lawyers, judges, courts and legal rules) both channeled individuals' interactions with the law and were in turn changed by those people. In particular, Pitts' focus on the issues of testamentary capacity and free will of individuals reveal the depth and continuity of gender equality in the legal culture, even after rights were granted to women.

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