Monday, March 2, 2009

Legal History at the Oscars

Thanks to Mary Dudziak and Dan Ernst for inviting to me to join in as a guest blogger this month. I look forward to offering some thoughts on the history of citizenship, immigration, and the military, as well as sharing with readers some exciting new work in modern Asian legal history. I also hope to encourage a discussion of issues facing the historical profession during our current economic downturn. But in the meantime, let’s talk about popular culture.

Last week, I noticed how much legal history was lurking behind some of the films honored at the Academy Awards. Viewers of Frost/Nixon might be particularly interested in the recollections of former White House Counsel John W. Dean.

Angelina Jolie (who, I think, has not yet been mentioned on the Legal History Blog) brought to life the legal drama surrounding Christine and Walter Collins in Los Angeles in 1928 and the so-called Wineville Chicken Coop Killings. National Public Radio provides some of the background on the case here. The film also reminded me of Paula Fass’s outstanding book Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America, a work that should be better known among legal historians.

Finally, among the film Milk’s many accomplishments has been restoring politics to the social movements of the 1970s, and reminding viewers that battles over sexual orientation referenda in 1977-1978 played a crucial role in the formation of LGBT political organizations. Interested historians might check out Fred Fejes, Gay Rights and Moral Panic: The Origins of America’s Debate on Homosexuality, an in-depth account from a media studies perspective.