2013 Annual Meeting

Miami/Fort Lauderdale


ASLH met November 7-10 in Miami for the very first time, a location chosen to facilitate opening new intellectual trade routes with fellow legal historians in nearby Latin America. As always, the Annual Meeting brought together friends and colleagues from the international community of legal historians to visit, discuss, debate, and otherwise shmooze. The meeting is large enough to provide ample fodder for discussion, yet small enough that everyone gets to play. This year was no exception. Over 360 scholars, including a record number of foreign scholars from a record number of countries around the world–with especially large contingents from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and elsewhere in Latin America–gathered at the Hyatt Regency Miami for an unusually rich menu of panels–up to seven in each time slot–skillfully curated by Intisar Rabb, Karl Shoemaker, and their colleagues on the Program Committee.

The meeting began on Thursday with the very first Pre-Conference Legal History Workshop–a new initiative to promote scholarship in fields that have been underrepresented at the Annual Meeting and in the pages of the Law and History Review. The inaugural workshop, ably directed by Lena Salaymeh, focused on Latin American legal history. The workshop was followed by the more traditional kick-off for the meeting–the welcome reception on the hotel promenade next to the Miami River, generously hosted by Florida International University College of Law.

After the day’s panels on Friday, we traveled to Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale for the plenary lecture and reception. After a gracious welcome by Ray Ferrero, Jr., the chancellor of the university, Rebecca J. Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan (and, most importantly, the new President-elect of the Society) delivered the lecture, a tour de force entitled, “Social Facts and Legal Fictions: Eulalie Oliveau and the Right of Property in Persons.” We then adjourned to a lavish reception hosted by Nova’s Farquahar College of Arts and Sciences, which, not coincidentally, is the academic home of our redoubtable Local Arrangements Committee chair, Charles Zelden.

At the luncheon on Saturday, before proceeding to the awards and prizes, the President took note of the new Society website, which, although not without glitches, fared better than HealthCare.gov. He asked Charlie Donahue to stand and receive the thanks of a grateful Society for his many years of service as webmaster, during which he single-handedly created, updated, and maintained the former website. Indeed ASLH would not have a website without him. With the new website, for which he deserves none of the blame, he at long last has been allowed to retire as webmaster.

One of the most pleasant things we do as a Society is recognize the best scholarship in the field. This year, the Sutherland Prize for the best article on English legal history published in the previous year, was awarded to Professor Sir John Baker for “Deeds Speak Louder Than Words: Covenants and the Law of Proof, 1290-1321,” which was published in Susanne Jenks et al., eds., Laws, Lawyers and Texts: Studies in Medieval Legal History in Honour of Paul Brand (2012). The citation is available <here>.

The Surrency Prize, for the best article published in the Law and History Review, the journal of the Society, during the previous calendar year, was awarded to Laura M. Weinrib of the University of Chicago for her essay, “The Sex Side of Civil Liberties: United States v. Dennett and the Changing Face of Free Speech,” which appeared in Volume 30, Number 2, pages 325-386. The citation is available <here>.

The John Phillip Reid Book Award for the best monograph by a mid-career or senior scholar, published in English in any of the fields defined broadly as Anglo-American legal history, went to John Fabian Witt of Yale Law School for his acclaimed book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, published by the Free Press. It is surely a sign of the strength of scholarship in legal history that this was the third straight year in which the book recognized by the Reid Award also received the Bancroft Prize. The citation is available <here>.

The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation generously awards three prizes on the advice of the Cromwell Prize Advisory Committee–a prize for the best doctoral dissertation in American legal history accepted during the previous calendar year, a second prize for the best article in American legal history published by an early career scholar, and a third prize for a first book by a junior scholar in American legal history. This year, the Foundation awarded the dissertation prize to Hidetaka Hirota, for “Nativism, Citizenship, and the Deportation of Paupers in Massachusetts, 1837-1883,” written at Boston College (citation available <here>). The article prize went to Justin Driver of the University of Texas for “The Constitutional Conservatism of the Warren Court,” California Law Review, 100 (2012): 1101-1167 (citation available <here>). And the book prize was awarded to Jonathan Levy of Princeton University for Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, published by Harvard University Press (citation available <here>).

Prizes are wonderful, of course, but they necessarily look to what people have already accomplished. We build for the future by helping young scholars do the kind of work for which they ultimately will be recognized with prizes. To that end, the President announced that the Board of Directors had approved a day-long graduate student research colloquium to be held in conjunction with the 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. In addition, the Society conferred the following research awards and fellowships:

The Paul L. Murphy Award, which supports the completion of a book on the history of civil liberties in the United States, was given this year to two scholars: Hidetaka Hirota of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, for “Before Ellis Island: The Origins of American Immigration Policy” (citation available <here>), and Laura Weinrib of the University of Chicago for “The Taming of Free Speech” (citation available <here>).

The Kathryn T. Preyer Scholars, two younger legal historians chosen through a competitive process to present their papers on a panel devoted entirely to their work, were Matthew A. Axtell, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at New York University School of Law for his paper “Customs of the River: Governing the Commons within a Nineteenth-Century Steamboat Economy,” and Elizabeth Papp Kamali, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, for her paper “A Felonious State of Mind: Felony and Mens Rea in Medieval England.”

Last, but by no means least, the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, on the advice and recommendation of the Committee for Research Fellowships and Awards, granted a record eight research fellowships to young scholars of American legal history in the early stages of their careers. The Foundation and the Society are very pleased that research fellows often go on to win prizes for the work supported by the fellowships. The eight recipients are:

  1. Matthew Axtell (Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University), for “American Steamboat Gothic: Commercial Law, Mercantile Property, and Slavery’s Liquidation in the Inland River West, 1818-1868.”
  2. Michael Caires (Ph.D. candidate, University of Virginia), for “The Greenback Union: Creating the American Monetary Union in the Civil War and Reconstruction.”
  3. Sara Damiano (Ph.D. candidate, Johns Hopkins University), for “Gender, Law, and the Culture of Credit in New England, 1730-1790.”
  4. Kellen Funk (J.D. candidate, Yale University), for “The Lawyers’ Code: The Transformation of Legal Practice in Nineteenth-Century America.”
  5. Jeremy Kessler (Ph.D. candidate, Yale University), for “The Civil Libertarian State: Conscription and Conscientious Objection in American Law, 1917- 1973.”
  6. Michael Schoeppner (University of Maine), for “Moral Contagions: Black Atlantic Sailors, Citizenship, and Quarantine in the Antebellum South.”
  7. Sarah Seo (Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University), for “The Fourth Amendment, Cars, and Freedom in Twentieth-Century America.”
  8. Jameson R. Sweet (Ph.D. candidate, University of Minnesota), for “The Mixed-Blood Moment: Land, Indian Law, and Race among Dakota Mixed-Bloods in Nineteenth-Century Minnesota.”

Election as an Honorary Fellow of the Society is the highest honor we 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 three Fellows elected this year were in attendance. They were Susan Reynolds, Fellow Emerita of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, who was introduced by Janet Loengard; Douglas Hay, Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, who was introduced by Jim Phillips; and Reva B. Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale University, who was introduced by Linda Kerber.

The President thanked the departing members of the Board of Directors–Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Lyndsay Campbell, David Lieberman, Charles Zelden, and the graduate student representative, Greg Ablavsky–and announced the election of five new directors to three-year terms–Susanna Blumenthal, Jane Dailey, Cornelia Dayton, Michael Lobban, and, as the graduate student representative, Jeremy Kessler. As announced at the plenary, the new President-elect is Rebecca Scott.

With what seemed to be relief, the President handed the gavel of office to the new President, Michael Grossberg, who foiled the planned quick exit by presenting the now Immediate Past President with a pair of custom braces displaying the ASLH logo–a fitting and much-appreciated gift.

Next year we will meet in Denver. The Program Committee will be led by Mitra Sharafi and Joanna Grisinger, and the Local Arrangements Committee by Tom Romero.