Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on PhDs

Note to readers: This is a part of a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman. If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me.

Question from Lael Weinberger, attorney and history graduate student: 

Professor Friedman began writing legal history without professional training as a historian. How does he feel that this impacted his career as a legal historian?

Answer from Lawrence:

You're right, I have no professional training in legal history; or in history itself for that matter.  One course in college.  So I'm definitely an amateur. Sometimes I think this is an advantage.  I'm on the outside looking in.  Also, I don't have to write "history;" and a lot of my work isn't properly historical at all.  If I had a position in a history department, that would be considered (quite rightly) peculiar. 
But mostly lack of training is a disadvantage.  The new legal historians have studied history, they know the literature, they think hard about methodology, they know the lingo, and they have a sharp historical sense.  The younger scholars with joint degrees are doing wonderful work.   I hope I've made a contribution; but perhaps it would have been more of a contribution if I knew more about what I was doing and why.  It's hard not to feel sometimes like an impostor.