Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feminist Legal History: The New Insiders?

At the ASLH meeting in November, I started to wonder if feminist legal historians were the new insiders within the field of legal history. Linda Kerber was our keynote speaker, for one, and she gave a rousing talk celebrated the subfield she has done so much to promote. At a conference that was somewhat thinly attended, I kept running into Jane Dailey, Nina Dayton, Sally Gordon, Ariela Dubler, Deborah Dinner, Sarena Mayeri, Felicity Turner, and other accomplished practitioners -- who have made a huge difference with their work, and most of whom have high-status jobs and are now training a new generation of scholars. Of course, the relative increase in our presence, or our visibility may be misleading (maybe the feminist legal historians stand out because they dress better than other scholars? maybe we happened to attend the conference in Atlanta disproportionately because we wanted to honor Kerber?). But if we are increasingly insiders in the field, it is also legitimate to ask whether this is an entirely good thing -- and what we will do to bring those who are currently outsiders, or more marginal members of the consorority (?) inside. Where is the new cutting edge? And how do we continue to make progress on the agenda Kerber outlined -- one that is symbolized for me by the continuing absence, which Kerber mentioned, of such important cases as Goesaert v. Cleary (1948), a devastating loss for advocates of women's employment rights, from legal history, constitutional history, law, and political science teaching and texts -- while making the tent bigger and the legal history field more theoretically encompassing?