Thursday, January 10, 2008

Visiting and the Field of Legal History

Thanks so much to Mary for letting me pull up a rock and sit for spell here at legalhistoryblog. I'm hoping to talk about a few things over my visit--some stuff related to the profession of legal history--who we are and how that shapes what we study; some related professional matters, like the relationship between what we study and contemporary questions; something about what legal history can contribute to our understanding of larger issues in history and in law; and finally, some scholarship that I've been reading and enjoying.

Let me start with an issue central to our profession: who we are. One of the great virtues of being a book review editor is having the chance to see the entire field. Pretty much every book that's published in American legal history crosses my desk these days. (And even some stuff that isn't quite legal history. Just got a review copy of George Washington and the Art of Business yesterday. Now that's sure to sell a ton of copies--what a brilliant idea for a book. Combine our beloved president with business. Of course, I guess marketing's one of the things that business writers are good at!)

One of the things that I've both noticed and been concerned by is the gender imbalance among the books that arrive and the gender imbalance in the people reviewing books. (In fall 2007 issue, for instance, of the 29 books reviewed, 10 are by women; 11 of the reviewers are women.). Now, the former I have no control over; but over time I became increasingly concerned that I was not only seeing a problem but that I was part of the problem.

So that set me to wondering about the make-up of the field. With apologies to our friends over at the elsblog, I thought that I'd do a quick and rough count of the gender of legal historians using the list of people teaching in legal history in the AALS Directory. In the 2006-07 registry there are approximately 224 people listed in the category of teaching legal history for 1-5 years; of those, approximately 49 are women (22%). (There are I think 6 people listed twice.) The news is similar for the 6-10 year category of the 88 (eliminting duplicates) 16 are women (18%); for the over 10 years category, of the 166 people listed, I think there are only 8 women (5%). This is a really quick study--I know there are a lot of legal historians who are not in the AALS legal history directory and there are a lot of people listed are not primarily legal historians. There are other problems with the list--as the duplicates suggest. Also, I take it this relies on self-reporting, so a lot of people who've been in the business for more than five years are still listed in the 1-5 year category. Right now I'm painting with a broad brush. The picture is disturbing, however, for the profession. We may be missing out on the contributions of people who are drawn to other areas of legal inquiry; the gender imbalance may also skew what is studied in the field.

Al Brophy