Continuing our recap of the awards announced at this year's meeting of
the American Society for Legal History, we focus today on those given by
the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation. This post covers the Cromwell Foundation Early Career Fellowships, which the Foundation awards to "support research and writing in American legal history by early-career scholars."
Here are the winning scholars, along with descriptions of their projects:
Jonah Estess is presently a PhD candidate in American History at American University. He is currently working on his dissertation entitled “Bank and State: Money, Law, and Moral Economy, 1775-1896.” Estess expects to receive his doctorate in 2024. Estess’ dissertation explores how the federal government’s monetary system of paper currency and coins was long steeped in conflict. Conflicts regarding U.S. currency and monetary policy related to the developing national character of the U.S., its political economy, market morality, and ultimately the meaning of democracy. Struggles and debates included those between farmers, merchants, investors, and the state, each with their own demands, needs, and interests. Professor Gautham Rao is Estess’ dissertation advisor. Rao, as the Executive Editor of Law and History Review, reads many manuscripts and comments that Estess’ work is highly innovative in both its approach and methodology, combining the innovative use of primary sources with an intense understanding of the complex economic, political, and cultural role of money, its use, production and meaning. The dissertation will provide a significant intervention into the existing literature by combining a cultural understanding of money from the ground-up as well as a high-level analysis of monetary policy and the state. Connected to this is the way in which Estess’ actors are both everyday people as well as a policy makers and state actors, functioning on a national and even international stage. This is a truly momentous and ambitious project. Estess intends to use Cromwell funding to write a specific chapter in his dissertation that will examine federal monetary reforms and the creation of the national banking system in the decade after the American Civil War. Specifically, the funds will be used to underwrite visits to a number of archives that are crucial to Estess’ work.
Bobby Cervantes is a PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Kansas. Cervantes’ dissertation is entitled “Las Colonias: The Housing of Poverty in Modern Americas.” The dissertation examines the development of rural and impoverished Mexican-American communities in Texas in the Post World War II period. These unincorporated towns or colonias are largely composed of substandard housing and lack a variety of even basic municipal utilities, such as water or electricity. The dissertation analyzes how these entities developed as a consequence of U.S. immigration policy, local Texas ordinances regarding the incorporation of cities, municipal regulation, and property law. More specifically, such towns grew out of a need by landowners for Mexican agricultural workers. Such low paid workers needed housing which was largely controlled by landowners who also exerted significant political power. This process of development was hastened by the termination of the U.S. Bracero (or “guest worker”) program in the 1950s. Colonias thus continued to expand and these now permanent residents increasingly became the victims of a variety of predatory land, leasing, and lending contracts. The dissertation in part examines such contracts, eviction proceedings, and the defenses raised. Moreover, residents of colonias were not passive and at various times organized and asserted significant agency to demand better provisions of utilities and amenities. This is far from a linear story of progressive improvement as global conditions and international treaties such as NAFTA continually erased or slowed residents’ ongoing struggles for better housing and living conditions. Ultimately, the dissertation will provide an important intervention on a little-known subject while situating such colonias into a broader framework about racialized poverty, “rural urbanism,” immigration, and property law. Cervantes will use Cromwell Funds to travel to Texas to conduct research regarding local housing deeds and lending contracts, as well as other documents.
Kimberly Beaudreau is a graduate student in American History at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She is currently working on her dissertation “Economic Migrants and the Decline of the American Refugee and Asylum System,1975-2000,” which examines the racialized development and genealogy of the category “economic migrant.” This is a crucial issue in U.S. immigration law as “economic migrants” as opposed to “political refugees” do not qualify for asylum in the U.S. Beaudreau will analyze how the Refugee Act of 1980 dramatically curtailed, rather than expanded, the granting of asylum during the last decades of the twentieth century. In part, the continuing contraction of ineligibility for asylum was accomplished through international treaties, congressional laws, and the rules and administrative action of various federal agencies. These measures disproportionately targeted poor, non-white border crossers from around the world and prevented most people from ever reaching US soil. Beaudreau’s project will make an especially important contribution in the field of immigration law and history by connecting the experiences of Southeast Asian, Haitian, and Central American refugees. Moreover, she puts into dialogue official state documents with oral histories of migrants as well as documents from a variety of immigrant and human rights organizations. Beaudreau will use Cromwell funding to conduct archival research in Washington, DC, and Maryland, specifically at the US Coast Guard Historian’s Office and USCIS History Office and Library.
Jared Berkowitz is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Brandeis University. His dissertation is entitled “Creature of Capitalism: A Legal History of Corporate Personhood in America, 1789-1890.” It explores the history of the complex development of corporate personhood and argues that corporate personhood at the turn of the nineteenth century was understood as endowing upon a corporation a certain limited type of artificial personhood rather than an actual legal person endowed with a variety of rights. More specifically, the project narrates how corporate personhood transformed in the 19 th century from a populist tactic designed to mitigate legislative corruption into a legal tool deployed against emerging government regulation. The dissertation will explore the contingent and often shifting meaning of corporate personhood in a range of legal, political, and social contexts including the establishment of the First National Bank, issues of personal jurisdiction, creditor rights, and a variety of tax cases. Following the Civil War, corporate personhood became increasingly concretized with courts endowing corporations with due process rights. Importantly for the project, Berkowitz uses a wide range of sources that have not been typically employed when examining the history of corporations or the history of capitalism. As one of his dissertation advisor’s states, Berkowitz’s dissertation has the potential to be enormously significant and offer the fullest and richest history of corporations to date. Berkowitz has completed his archival research and will use Cromwell funds to assist with living costs as he finishes writing his dissertation.
Donna Devlin is a PhD candidate in American History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her dissertation is entitled, “Women of the Great Plains and the “Disruption” of Neighborhoods: Challenging Sexual Violence and Coercion through Local Courts of Law in Kansas and Nebraska, 1870-1900, with a Segue to the Present.” Devlin is examining the role of rape and sexual violence in the context of the frontier societies of the Great Plain states. She argues that the tremendous difficulty in prosecuting such cases (when they are prosecuted at all) is one of continuity and provides a mechanism for creating and maintaining white male power while normalizing sexual violence. More specifically, the dissertation examines both law on the books as well as law on the ground. In doing so, she contextualizes sexual violence, political power, and women’s agency in bringing a variety of legal cases related to sexual violence. This is a highly innovative and creative project as studies about the history of sexual violence have concentrated either in the South or in urban areas. As such work is so new, Devlin’s primary sources include an intense scrutiny of local court records and other local material. This project will contribute significantly to women’s legal history as well as Western history. Cromwell funds will be used to travel to archives in Kansas and Nebraska.
Congratulations to all the fellowship recipients! And many thanks to the members of the fellowship subcommittee, chaired by Felice Batlan.
-- Karen Tani