Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Writing Legal Lives workshop

On September 21,  a workshop on Writing Legal Lives at Harvard brought together scholars working on Russia, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Americas, 1870-1950. Here's how organizers Catherine Evans (University of Toronto), Kalyani Ramnath (Harvard)and Fei-Hsien Wang (Indiana University Bloomington) described the event in their concept note:
The Legal Lives workshop sessions are focused around three themes: approaches, collective lives, and limits. These themes highlight common elements among papers and suggest avenues for discussion, but are not meant to limit the scope of conversation. We expect that each session will engage with the nature of ‘writing legal lives’ as a method or approach; the question of which aspects or how many ‘lives’ we try to capture; and the ethical, practical and theoretical limits of biographical legal writing. 
Guiding Questions:
• What are the benefits and pitfalls of writing legal history through the lives of individuals? What kinds of questions does a deliberately 'peopled' account of law raise for legal historians? How is this method particularly useful in exploring transnational, imperial, global and/or non-Western legal histories?
• What are the boundaries among biography, prosopography and other approaches to life writing, if any? Does the question of whose life (or whose lives) we're narrating change how we describe our approach? For instance, is a biography of a judge fundamentally different from a biography of a criminal, a sea captain, or a colonial lawyer?
• Is there anything new in a 'writing legal lives' approach? Is there a better way to describe what we're doing, and/or are 'we' doing anything collectively at all? Which scholars and scholarly approaches inspire us? Are we doing something new, bringing back something old, or simply continuing an existing tradition?
• What are the limits, if any, of 'law'? Does a person's 'legal' life include encounters with administrative, bureaucratic, carceral and/or political processes and institutions, or should we limit the realm of the 'legal' to courtrooms and lawyers' offices? What is the difference, if any, between writing a 'legal' life and writing a life?
Full program after the jump:

Saturday 21 September 2019
9:15am – 11:00am – Session 1: Approaches to Legal Life Writing 
  • Rohit De 
“Representing the Other Race: Achroo Kapila and the Making of an Asian African Lawyer”
  • Franziska Exeler 
“Writing a Microhistory of a Soviet War Crimes Trial. Chernihiv, November 1947”
  • Catherine Evans 
“A Bad Detective: The Limits of Police Authority in Nineteenth-Century Canada”
  • Nurfadzilah Yahaya 
“The Holy Rail Conundrum—Religious, Colonial and National Sovereignty Over the Hejaz Railway”

11:15am – 1:00pm: Session 2: Collective Legal Lives 
  • Rudolph Ng 
“From Contracts to Depositions: Reconstructing the Lives of Coolies in Nineteenth-Century Latin America”
  • Diana Kim
“The Ones Who Disappeared”
  • Tatiana Borisova
“Peopled" account of law in late imperial Russia by Justice Anatolii Koni (1844-1927)” 
  • Fei-Hsien Wang 
“Bicycle Thieves Going to the Supreme Court: Legal lives in China's Post-War Hyperinflation”

2:30pm – 3:45pm: Session 3: The Limits of Legal Life Writing 
  • Julia Stephens 
“Picking the Pockets of the Dead: A Reflection on the Ethical Dilemmas of Writing Legal Lives”
  • Anne O Donnell
“Forgetting the Russian Revolution: Property, Time, and the Dismantling of the Legal Self in the RSFSR, 1920-1922”
  • Kalyani Ramnath
“Umbichi Haji’s Last Wishes: Confronting the Limits of Legal Life Writing”
--posted by Mitra Sharafi