Thursday, September 22, 2016

Legal History By Another Name? Legal History in History Departments

(Before you start reading this post in earnest, please know that it is not as long as it seems.  Thank you.)

There are some really wonderful legal historians that teach in history departments.  So many, in fact, that I hope I am excused for naming a few with full knowledge that I am overlooking a great many more:
Linda Kerber (Iowa), Rebecca Scott (Michigan), Laura Kalman (UCSB), Laura Edwards (Duke), Peter Hoffer (Georgia), Sally Hadden (Western Michigan), Margot Canady (Princeton), Cornelia Dayton (Connecticut), David Tannenhaus (UNLV), Hendrik Hartog (Princeton), Elizabeth Dale (Florida), Barbara Welke (Minnesota), Kelly Kennington (Auburn), David Konig (Washington U.), Michael Les Benedict (Ohio State), David Armitage (Harvard), Katherine Turk (UNC), Holly Brewer (Maryland), Jane Dailey (Chicago), Sara MacDougall (John Jay), Kyle Volk (Montana), Rebecca Mclennan (Berkeley), Maribel Morey (Clemson), Malick Ghachem (MIT), Yvonne Pitts (Purdue), Linda Przybyszewski, Michael Willrich (Brandeis), Honor Sachs (Western Carolina), Will Hanley (Florida State), Katrina Jagodinsky (Nebraska), Andrew Wender Cohen (Syracuse), Kimberly Welch (Vanderbilt), Philip Thai (Northeastern), Amy Dru Stanley (Chicago), Ken Ledford (Case Western), Elizabeth Kai Hinton (Harvard), Anne Kornhauser (City College), Ted Steinberg (Case Western), Rohit De (Yale), Alison Lefkovitz (Rutgers/NJIT), David Bodenhamer (Indiana-Purdue), Thomas Mackey (Louisville), Andrew Sandoval-Strausz (New Mexico), Mike Grossberg (Indiana), Robert Palmer (Houston), Saundra Schwartz (Hawai’i-Manoa), Richard Hamm (SUNY-Albany), Sara Butler (Ohio State), Deborah Rosen (Lafayette), Charles Zelden (NOVA-Southeastern), Elisa Minoff (South Florida), Debjani Battacharyya (Drexel), Tim Garrison (Portland State), Chris Capozzola (MIT), Matthew Sommer (Stanford), Julia Randolph (North Carolina State), Matthew Crow (Hobart and William Smith), Melanie Newport (Connecticut-Hartford), James Schmidt (Northern Illinois), Lou Williams (Kansas State), Patricia Minter (Western Kentucky), Lucy Salyer (New Hampshire), Katherine Unterman (Texas A&M), Sarah Levine-Gronningsater (Cal Tech), Jen Manion (UMass-Amherst), Abby Chandler (UMass-Lowell), Kimberly Reilly (Wisconsin-Green Bay), Adam Malka (SUNY-Buffalo), Devin Pendas (Boston College), Alan Rogers (Boston College), Mark Carroll (Missouri), Michael Pfeifer (CUNY), Michael Meranze (UCLA), Richard Ross (Maryland), Shane Landrum (Florida International), Jennifer Mittelstadt (Rutgers), H. Robert Baker (Georgia State), Lou Williams (Kansas State), Kate Masur (Northwestern), Joanna Grisinger (Northwestern), Melissa Macauley (Northwestern), Kathleen Brosnan (Oklahoma), Rena Lauer (Oregon State), Kathlene Baldanza (Penn State), Craig Hammond (Penn State), Emily Blanck (Rowan), Rebecca Rix (Princeton), Jack Rakove (Stanford), Susan Hinely (Stony Brook), James Gigantino (Arkansas), Peter Larson (Central Florida), Victor Bailey (Kansas), Abigail Firey (Kentucky), Daniel Gargola (Kentucky), Jennifer Nye (UMass-Amherst), Kate Ramsey (Miami), Anne S. Twitty (Mississippi), Guy Chet (North Texas), Kevin Butterfield (Oklahoma), Andrew Porwancher (Oklahoma), Kathryn Schumaker (Oklahoma), Randall McGowen (Oregon), Peter Karsten (Pittsburgh), Christopher Curtis (Armstrong State), Sam Lebovic (George Mason), Charlotte Walker-Said (John Jay), Timothy Huebner (Rhodes College), Sarah Milov (Virginia), Kate Brown (Huntington), Erika Vause (Florida Southern), Alejandro de la Fuente (Harvard), John Wertheimer (Davidson), Michael Schoeppner (Maine-Farmington), Nate Holdren (Drake), Anne O'Donnell (Harvard), Kirt von Daacke (Virginia), Nancy Woloch (Barnard), Katherine Hermes (Central Connecticut), Cedric de Leon (Providence College), Lee B. Wilson (Clemson), Carole Emberton (SUNY-Buffalo), Jonathan Gienapp (Stanford).

Again, I know my non-scientific methodology (conference programs, google searches, names in my inbox) has left out lots of people who should be on this list.  I’ve probably mangled a few affiliations, too.  I hope commentators and tweeters use their megaphones to set me straight.  I apologize in advance!

The point of the preceding list was not to be comprehensive, though.  Rather it was in part to give Legal History Blog readers—a great many of whom reside on law faculties—a sense of the remarkable depth of legal history in history departments.  Yet another reason for going down this road is to pick up on a thread from my previous post.  There I had postulated that legal history did not always fit comfortably within the confines of history departments.  In a book driven field, I personally felt pressure to push my project about very legal topics—statutes and administration, for instance—toward topics that had a broader audience within history departments.  But today I’ll try and mute my narcissism for a moment and think more generally about the seeming paradox: the breadth of legal history scholarship in history departments and the persisting uncomfortable fit of legal history within history departments.

First, is there a problem here at all?  For one thing, history departments only rarely search for legal historians.  This year the American Historical Association Careers site finds only one available position for legal historians—the Siegenthaler Chair in American History at Vanderbilt University.  A decade or so worth of search ads on the H-Net Job Guide finds thirteen positions within the United States.  This discussion is not at all intended to mimick the incorrect recent argument of Frederick Lovegall and Kenneth Osgoodthat a paucity of searches in political history reflected that field’s long goodbye.  In fact the opposite is true of both political history and legal history.  As the list above suggests, legal history is booming within history departments.  If someone were to build a similar list of political historians they would surely come to the same conclusion about that field.  But the lack of searches for tenure-line legal historians suggests a structural deficit of interest in hiring faculty who chiefly identify as legal historians.

The sleight of hand at play in my list is that almost everyone on it was not hired as a legal historian but rather as a promising historian of an important historical theme or an epochal, chronological division.  There are, of course, exceptions to this hypothesis, especially in hires for faculty to serve as pre-law advisors or to run pre-law programs.  But by and large legal historians in history departments wear at least two hats as historians of, say, the early American republic and as historians of law.  It is undeniable that historians on law faculties perform similar labors as they juggle black letter teaching and historical research (when the two do not converge).  But a quick glance at the leading legal history journals and legal history conference programs—the Law& History Review, the AmericanJournal of Legal History, Law &Social Inquiry, the American Society for Legal History—suggests that despite the fact that legal historians on history and law faculties do double-duty, fewer of those in history departments choose legal history venues to present their work.  Here then is a second reason there may be a problem for it is not just university administrators overlooking legal history for other fields.  In fact, legal historians within history departments are steering themselves elsewhere.

Those seeking jobs within history departments—who have it tough enough as it is—have long adjusted to the nominal demand problem in their field by teaching well beyond legal history.  Many simply call themselves something else.  Depending on what job I was applying for, I was a historian of early America (not so much), the early republic (yes), the American revolution (sure), the long nineteenth-century (ok), America in the world (hmmm), and big data (eeek).  Joking aside, legal historians on the history job market learn how to be flexible and how to make their legal history research speak to more widely advertised fields in the market, such as it is and has been. 

Some have also found that their work speaks to contemporary concerns.  Carceral state scholars are a case in point.  Jen Manion, whose Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America is one of my favorite recent books, taught at Connecticut College and now is in the history department at Amherst College.  Melanie Newport, who is working on a book about the jail crisis in twentieth-century Cook County, Illinois, now teaches at the University of Connecticut-Hartford.  Katherine Unterman, author of the outstanding Uncle Sam’s Policemen: The Pursuit of Fugitives Across Borders(2015), teaches in the history department at Texas A&M.  Elizabeth Kai Hinton teaches at Harvard University and has written the recently published but already well-received From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime(2016).  Julilly Kohler-Hausmann’s Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America is much anticipated (slated for 2017).  She teaches at Cornell.  And as if to underscore my point about this type of scholarship making waves outside of traditional legal history venues, essays by Kohler-Hausmann and Hinton on the carceral state were paired in an issue of the Journal of Urban History(vol. 41, no. 5, 2015).

There are a great many more scholars within history departments who would not identify as legal historians but whose work has a great deal to say about law, governance, and the state.  That same issue of the Journal of Urban History features work by my good friend, Timothy Stewart-Winter of Rutgers-Newark.  From the title alone, Stewart-Winter’s outstanding essay, “The Law and Order Origins of Urban Gay Politics” is of clear interest to legal historians.  But since Stewart-Winter’s faculty profile lists his interests as “sexuality and gender, political, social, urban, African American,” some may not guess that his recent book, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Riseof Gay Politics, would also be of interest to legal historians.  It most certainly is.  A second example is to be found on the other side of the NY metropolitan region in the work of Stony Brook’s Kathleen Wilson.  In my opinion, Wilson’s 2011 essay in the American Historical Review, “Re-thinking the Colonial State: Gender and Governmentality in theEighteenth-Century British Empire” is a pathbreaking model for new approaches to the boundaries of state power in the age of revolution.  Yet Wilson’s stated interests on her faculty page are “modern British cultural and political history.”  Of course neither Stewart-Winter nor Wilson need identify themselves as legal historians.  But legal historians would be wise to explore their work.

But how should legal historians not-in-the-know find the work of scholars like Stewart-Winter or Wilson who may describe themselves as something else?  Herein lies the challenge and the potential danger of history departments with limited lines for ‘legal historians.’ It is admittedly very difficult for already overworked scholars to read even more journals and keep abreast of multiple historiographies.  

Yet I am bullish nonetheless.  Social media, much-maligned for elevating cat GIFs to an art form, has also succeeded in becoming a wonderful platform for historians to learn of works in fields that they may not consider their own.  Twitter, where I do spend a great deal of time kvetching about my sports teams, was also where I learned about that above referenced issue of the Journal of Urban History, as well as works by Debjani Battacharyya and Emily Blanck, among many others.  Blanck’s work was also serialized in Slate wherein it was shared several hundred times on Facebook.  The Atlantic Monthly, perhaps due to the guidance of social and cultural historian Yoni Applebaum, has also become a premier venue for legal historians to present their work to new audiences.  A second source of optimism lies in the incredible strength of legal history within law faculties.  Because it is almost impossible to be a legal historian in a law school without a doctorate in history, law school legal historians—especially graduates within the past decade plus—quite rightly see their work in dialogue with their history department counterparts.  Here’s one example: our own Karen Tani’s States of Dependency: Welfare, Rights, andAmerican Governance, 1935-1972 (2016), who LHB readers will know teaches in a law school and has a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, clearly curries a scholarly conversation with University of Vermont historian Felicia Kornbluh’s great book, The Battle for Welfare Rights: Politics and Poverty in Modern America (2007).  Likewise, University of New Hampshire historian Eliga Gould’s Among the Powersof the Earth: the American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire interlocutes with the work of NYU Law School legal historian Daniel Hulsebosch as well as Hulsebosch’s more recent collaboration with his colleague DanielGolove. 

In short, the conversation is already happening.  I believe it will only continue to grow.  So much for the present, then.  And since my first two posts dredged up the past, I’ll devote my next and final post to talking a little about the future and my next project.  As always I look forward to your feedback.

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