Monday, November 28, 2022

Lara, Roberts, Harris named ASLH Honorary Fellows

Another announcement from this year's meeting of the American Society for Legal History: the naming of three new honorary fellows. From the announcement: "Election as an Honorary Fellow of the American Society for Legal History is the highest honor the Society can confer. It recognizes distinguished historians whose scholarship has shaped the broad discipline of legal history and influenced the work of others. Honorary Fellows are the scholars we admire, whom we aspire to emulate, and on whose shoulders we stand." The honorees are Silvia Lara (State University of Campinas), Richard Roberts (Stanford University), and Ron Harris (Tel Aviv University). Citations after the jump:

Silvia Lara

Silvia Lara is an immensely creative historian of slavery, law, and structures of rule in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Brazil. As mentor and advisor to an entire generation of younger scholars, she and her students have built a subtle legal history of slavery in Brazil, tracing the multiple dimensions of the lives of those subjected to claims to hold their very persons as property. Silvia Lara earned her undergraduate degrees and her Ph.D. in History from the University of São Paulo. Her first book, Fields of Violence: Slaves and Masters in the Captaincy of Rio de Janeiro, 1750-1808, was a deep critical analysis of paternalism and punishment as ideology and practice in eighteenth-century Brazil. This book brought her into view as a major figure as the subject of slavery was being reopened for serious empirical study in the euphoria and scholarly combat of Brazil in the post- dictatorship period of the late1980s.

She began her career as an assistant professor in the Department of History of the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), a department famous for its innovative approaches to history, on a campus comparatively free of the censorship and expulsion that had marked the federal universities under the years of military control. Public discussions about race and inequalityexpanded as the legislature crafted a new national constitution that confronted the ongoing need for redress of many kinds. When the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) won municipal elections in the city of São Paulo in 1988, Silvia Lara moved into “public history,” serving for three years as Director of the Iconography and Museums Division of the Historical Heritage Department of the Municipal Secretariat of Culture for three years. After returning to the university, she wrote a magisterial work on 18th century cultural history, titled Eighteenth-century Fragments: Slavery, Culture, and Power in Portuguese America.

In collaboration with colleagues and graduate students from UNICAMP and elsewhere, Silvia Lara was building the field of socio-legal history Brazil, directing doctoral theses on different aspects of labor history, social history, and cultural studies. She directed some 43 masters and doctoral dissertations, yielding a roster of authors of major historical works that pioneered the systematic use of testimony recorded in Brazilian notarial and judicial archives. With her former studentJoselí Mendonça, for example, she published a major collection of essays titled Laws and Justice in Brazil: Essays in Social History, a landmark in socio-legal historical studies.

In the early 2000s, and drawing on her understanding of law and treaty-making, she turned to the study of the long-lived seventeenth- century colonial communities of runaways from slavery and their descendants known, collectively as Palmares. Calling attention to neglected sources and perspectives on the negotiated relations between this sub-state led by Africans and their descendants, on the one hand, and a sequence of Portuguese colonial authorities, on the other, her work culminated in a book titled Palmares & Cucaú — published earlier this year. Scholars have characterized it as a “methodological tour de force.” In the process, she re-transcribed and reinterpreted sources on the community of Palmares that had often been cited from flawed printed trascriptions. She dug out new sources, and In a generous initiative characteristic of her pedagogical and mentoring mission, she made sure that each of these new transcriptions would be published as well, making the raw material available to those who shared — or challenged — her approach. Instead of focusing on the martyred figure of Zumbi, who had fought to the death to defend the independence of the community of Palmares, she turned instead to the diplomatic achievements of Zumbi’s predecessor Gana Zumba, who successfully negotiated a peace treaty with the Portuguese authorities in the region of Pernambuco in 1678. Understanding that Gana Zumba could not have foreseen the depth of Portuguese duplicity, she explores the understandings of statecraft and responsibility that underlay his negotiation of the treaty itself.

Throughout her career, Silvia Lara has had a sharp eye for documentary riches that would be of value to a wide community of scholars. Along with her students, Silvia Lara created the first-ever compilation of Portuguese legislation on slavery, a massive (700 page), open access word-searchable research resource. Most recently, she has arranged, overseen, and organized the digitization of the vast collection of late 20th and early 21st c. labor inspection reports generated by the Public Ministry of Labor in the State of São Paulo. The paper originals held in the offices of the Ministry were at risk of being routinely destroyed. Digital copies are now archived in a research library at UNICAMP, becoming a valuable resource for the history of labor and of the enforcement of Brazil’s labor laws, including the laws against the “imposition of labor in conditions analogous to slavery.”

In sum, from the end of the Brazilian dictatorship, across the tumultuous establishment of a new constitutional order, Silvia Lara has helped to build the profession of history in Brazil, the study of law and slavery, and a sophisticated public-facing historical outreach to her fellow citizens. Her generosity and tremendous energy have brought scholars together in fruitful collaborations throughout Brazil, as well as across borders and languages. In a period when social historians were often tempted to raid legal records for juicy stories, Silvia Lara was already attending carefully to the dynamics of the interpretation and application of law in a specific place and moment. Microhistories built from judicial records, in her hands, remained true to the complexity of the legal processes that generated those records.

The ASLH characteristically describes Honorary Fellows as those “on whose shoulders we stand.” Silvia Lara’s books and articles, combined with the training, mentoring, and editorial initiatives that she continues to offer so generously, honor our field even as we honor her.

Richard Roberts

Richard Roberts, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University, has done more than any other scholar to bring together the fields of African history and legal history. His many historical studies highlight the operations of law and legal institutions across a diverse continent, amidst shifting relations of power. A deeply appreciated mentor, Professor Roberts has trained more of the current generation of historians of Africa than anyone else active in the field.  His former students continue to enrich the field with their own significant contributions to legal history.

Professor Roberts received his PhD in History from the University of Toronto in 1978.  He taught for over 40 years at Stanford University. He has written or edited 14 books, and he has never slowed down. His first book was published in 1987; his most recent came out this year. Professor Roberts did not set out to do legal history; he turned to the study of law as he worked on the analysis of political power and political economy in colonial Africa. Soon he was putting law at the center of his preoccupations, and for over 30 years he has produced monographs, edited collections, and articles that have defined the field within African history.  He is widely recognized as for his studies of law and legal institutions in Africa, including publications on slavery, slave emancipation, forced labor, commodity production, child trafficking, and forced marriages.

Professor Roberts’ first book, Warriors, Merchants, and Slaves:  The State and the Economy in the Middle Niger Valley, 1712-1914 (1987), explored the changing nature of power in a West African kingdom. Slave-owning warriors ruled this state and cemented their power through legal institutions in which particular forms of Islamic law were practiced. The imposition of colonial rule by France at the turn of the century overturned these power relations, introducing new legal jurisdictions and changing–but not ending–the Islamic courts and local legal practices.  Professor Roberts continued his multidimensional approach to political economy and law in his second monograph, Two Worlds of Cotton:  Colonialism and the Regional Economy in the French Soudan, 1800-1946 (1996).

Slavery was the focus of Professor Robertson’s first co-edited volume, The End of Slavery in Africa (1988), a collective volume that focused how colonization changed the nature of master-slave relations.  Professor Roberts has continued for many decades his research on slavery and other forms of coerced labor, carefully illuminating the ways in which legal interventions and local practices were intertwined and often in tension with one another. He underscored the gendered dimension of coercion in his co-edited books Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa:  Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (2010), Trafficking in Women and Children in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (2012), and Marriage by Force?  Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa (2016).

As Professor Roberts worked on slavery he uncovered the rich array of sources on trials, tribunals, and administrative procedures available in archives in Africa and France. These became the foundation of the now classic study, Law in Colonial Africa (1991, reprinted 1998), he co-edited with Kristin Mann. The breakthrough of this book was its reach beyond the purported dichotomy of codified and customary law toward an approach that unified legal and social history and focused on how people used the law, in relation to colonial authorities and in disputes with each other. Professor Roberts’ research took him more deeply into the courts themselves, the foundation of his third monograph, Litigants and Households:  African Disputes and Colonial Courts in the French Soudan, 1895-1912 (2005).

The concept of the “intermediary” is central to Professor Roberts’ work in legal history. Intermediaries, Interpreters and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Modern Africa (2006), a book Roberts co-edited with two of his former students, focuses on people in the middle of the vertical relationship of colonial ruler to subject. The concept of intermediary is also critical to his most recent monograph, Conflicts of Colonialism:  The Rule of Law, French Soudan, and Faama Mademba Sèye (2022).  This study, published in both French and English, is based on Roberts’ indefatigable digging in African and French archives at a career stage when most scholars prefer less stressful methods of research. The book follows a man of modest origins who manipulated French officials into giving him the title of “king” of a region to which he had no natal connection. In this colonial setting, both administrators and Africans tried to mobilize multiple versions of the ‘rule of law’.

Professor Roberts has an outstanding record as a graduate adviser. His students hold positions at many distinguished universities and continue to produce innovative scholarship on legal history. Professor Roberts has been an editor of the Journal of African History, the field’s premier English-language journal, and of the Journal of Legal Pluralism. He is strongly committed to both African and legal studies and played a major role in arranging the symposium on African Legal History jointly sponsored by the ASLH and the African Studies Association when both societies met in Boston in 2019. He has mentored and collaborated with many African scholars and has institutional connections to the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and the Senegalese National Archives.  Recognized for his innovative scholarship, inspiring teaching, and generous collegiality, Professor Roberts has received many awards for teaching and scholarship, including a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In accord with this record, and the heartfelt support of every historian of Africa whom we consulted, we honor Richard Roberts for his outstanding scholarship, his dedication to his students and colleagues, and his leadership and thought-provoking transformation of the study of African legal history both in the United States and internationally.

Ron Harris

Ron Harris is Kalman Lubowsky Professor of Law and History at Tel Aviv University. Harris is a highly creative and influential scholar working at the intersection of legal and economic history, who has pursued field-defining research on the evolution of forms of business organization across the globe. At the same time, he has played a pioneering role in creating the field of legal history within Israel, establishing the institutional structures and culture that has led to a flourishing of legal historical scholarship in the country.

After earning first degrees in both law and history from Tel Aviv University, Harris received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and thereafter began his academic career at Tel Aviv University Law School, working his way up the ranks. He has held key administrative positions in the institution, serving as both vice dean and dean. So too, he has been a visiting professor at leading universities around the globe and has received numerous prestigious fellowships, grants, and awards. His publication record includes three monographs, six edited books and journal symposia, and over fifty articles and book chapters.

Harris has conducted pathbreaking research on the interrelationship between legal and economic history, beginning early in his career with work focused on eighteenth and nineteenth-century England and thereafter expanding his focus to pursue a global and comparative frame, encompassing not only Europe, but also the Ottoman Empire, India, and China. He has published two major books addressing the history of business organization, as well as an array of important articles with leading economic historians that compare forms of business organization in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As the reviewers we solicited emphasize, Harris’s research in this domain combines deep knowledge of legal rules and structures (across multiple time periods and locations) with careful attention to the social, political, religious, and economic context. He then deploys this erudition as a means of testing economic theories often developed in the absence of deep historical knowledge, enabling him to identify those frameworks that might transcend particular contingencies (as well as those that do not). In sum, as observed by one of the scholars whom we contacted, Harris has been “a true pioneer at the intersection of economic history and legal history.”

Not only has Harris published extensively on the comparative, transnational history of business organization, but so too, he has authored pioneering scholarship on the history of Israeli law—much of it in Hebrew. In addition to many articles and edited collections, he published a monograph, entitled The Formation of Israeli Law, 1948-1977. Drawing on almost twenty years of research, this book explores key structuring tensions in the foundation of Israeli law—including those between secular and religious law and between law and politics, as well as those between legal cultures, classes, nationalities, and ethnic groups. As described by scholars with whom we spoke, the book has become an absolutely foundational text in the field, such that “no legal treatment in Israel can ignore the analysis [Harris] presents.”

Beyond his extensive and path-breaking scholarship on the history of Israeli law, Harris has also been an extraordinary institutional citizen, playing a leading role in the development of legal history as a thriving and vital field of scholarly engagement in Israel. He served a key role in the 2005 establishment of the Israeli History and Law Organization and then in 2009 became the founding director of the David Berg Foundation Institute for Law and History at Tel Aviv University Law School. These two institutions have fostered a remarkable flourishing of legal history in the country as measured by such metrics as the numbers of students and full-time faculty focused on the field, as well as the number of publications and conferences devoted to it.The end result has been to transform the field of legal history in Israel from one that was marginal and neglected to one that is now valued as part of the mainstream. Moreover, in line with Harris’s own research and scholarly values, legal history research and teaching in Israel today is both global and local, contributing to knowledge across multiple legal-historical domains.

For his pathbreaking contributions to scholarship, encompassing both the globe and Israel in particular, as well as for his vital institutional role in developing the field of legal history within Israel, the Honors Committee concluded that Ron Harris is eminently deserving of recognition. It is a great honor and pleasure to welcome him as an Honorary Fellow of the Society.

Congratulations to these three distinguished honorees!

-- Karen Tani