Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Are You?: Producing A First Book Amid Disciplinary and Geographic Migrations

Before I start laying out my blogging agenda for the next month, I wanted to extend my thanks to the LHB team for the invitation. As I will discuss later, my finding a home in the legal history world was an unplanned but fortuitous turn in my career. Over the years, this blog has helped to showcase for my own consumption not only the quality but also the diversity of scholars working under the legal history rubric.

Today, I want to provide a short road map of my upcoming blogs. Each of these will draw on one way in which producing my first book, The Futility of Law and Development: China and the Dangers of Exporting American Law, intersected with my background as a comparativist and as an anthropologist.

In the course of producing a first book that was only inspired by my doctoral dissertation, I routinely had difficulty describing exactly what my book “is” in a disciplinary sense. I have at times said it is comparative, international or transnational legal history; and all these labels are to some degree true. It is a book that primarily involves events in a foreign setting, China, but is most directly, from my view, a work of American legal history. Furthermore, answering the question at the heart of the book led me to engage with legal history, but also religious and diplomatic history. And throughout these encounters my training as an anthropologist influenced how I read, interpreted, and synthesized the sources I drew on from disparate archives and literatures. All of which was deeply impacted by my own autobiographical migrations, both in a disciplinary and a geographic sense.

So over the coming weeks I will present six posts on these themes:

1)    The Affinities and Disjunctures of History and Anthropology
2)     Subjectivity, Intent and Impact: The Gordian Knot of Empathy and Interpretation
3)     Functionalism and Synthetic History
4)     The Challenges of Comparative Law and Transnational History
5)     Empire and Imperialism: (Mis)Framing Cross-Cultural Engagements
6)     The Young Interdisciplinary Scholar in a Global Academic Market

In these posts I will advance a variety of claims related to how I came to think about my own method and perspective as a scholar. But I should say that comments and criticisms are more than welcome. I believe myself lucky to have been brought into legal history during a time when so much productive novelty and ingenuity is opening and re-opening exciting avenues of research. But coming to grips with how to do well what is novel is recurrent scholarly challenge, and I am still far from having worked it all out myself!