News & Announcements

November 15, 2022

Congratulations to our 2022 Prize Winners!

The John Phillip Reid Book Award

Kate Masur, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2021). Engagingly written and thoroughly researched, Kate Masur’s Until Justice Be Done uncovers the long arc of civil rights activism in the North, showing how it arose as distinct from antislavery activism and laid the intellectual and political foundations for the later emergence of the Fourteenth Amendment. Centered in the states, rather than the federal government, this First Civil Rights Movement, she shows, was championed by black activists, who were, in turn, supported, by a range of white allies. Together, they challenged the moral and constitutional illegitimacy of the black codes that were enacted throughout the country (including the North) and that were rooted not only in racism, but also in the widely accepted authority of the state to regulate the poor and others deemed to pose a threat to the social order. Combining insights and methods from political, socio-cultural and legal history, Masur’s clear-eyed account explores both the possibilities and the limits of legal reform, offering lessons that are deeply resonant with our own time.


The Peter Gonville Stein Book Award

John Christopoulos, Abortion in Early Modern Italy (Harvard University Press, 2021). John Christopoulos’s Abortion in Early Modern Italy is a masterful interweaving of medical, religious, and legal perspectives on abortion in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Drawing in part on records of trials in criminal and ecclesiastical courts, Christopoulos reveals the full complexity of how women and men from all parts of society thought about and experienced abortion. He demonstrates how large the gulf could be between prescription and practice. In its careful interrogation of a wide range of sources, and in its thoughtful discussion of an issue that the book shows to have been no less controversial in the early modern period than it is today, Abortion in Early Modern Italy is a model of historical scholarship.


Peter Gonville Stein Book Award: Honorable Mention

Jocelyn Hendrickson, Leaving Iberia: Islamic Law and Christian Conquest in North West Africa (Harvard University Press, 2021).




The Sutherland Article Prize 

Holly Brewer, “Creating a Common Law of Slavery for England and its New World Empire,” Law and History Review 39, no 4 (November 2021): 765-834. Holly Brewer’s “Creating a Common Law of Slavery for England and its New World Empire,” is a provocative, ambitious, and deeply researched article, which offers a fundamentally revisionist account of the origins and evolution of the way in which the English common law came to allow human beings to be owned as property. Far from absent at home and merely tolerated abroad, slavery was, Brewer argues, embedded in the English common law for at least a century before the 1772 Somerset decision. Beginning with the efforts of the common law courts under Charles II to support a struggling Royal African Company by contriving a legal fiction by which people could be considered as “things” and thus owned and traded as goods, the article traces the lasting impact of these efforts into the eighteenth century and beyond. Even as later common law judges from John Holt to the Earl of Mansfield attempted to undo the precedent, the damage had been done, having embedded itself through subsequent Parliamentary statute and colonial law across the Atlantic, including in the legal regimes of the new United States. Brewer thus not only locates a place for slavery in the common law—long assumed, not least thanks to Mansfield’s famous ruling, to have resisted it—but inverts our usual understanding of slavery’s path through the law, following it from England into the colonial world rather than vice versa. This process, this article argues, had profound effects, inadvertently producing a “blunt and clumsy instrument” that allowed for both less nuanced and harsher regimes of slavery than developed in other European empires. As if this were not enough, Brewer along the way also offers perspective on a range of other key questions in British legal history, asking readers to reflect on issues such as the role judges play as instruments of policy, how religion and race shape legal argument and precedent, and the need for more complex and multifarious approaches to understanding how the common law itself evolves over time.

Elizabeth Papp Kamali, “Tales of the Living Dead: Dealing with Doubt in Medieval English Law,” Speculum 96, no. 2 (April 2021): 367-417. Elizabeth Papp Kamali’s “Tales of the Living Dead: Dealing with Doubt in Medieval English Law,” is a remarkably erudite, creative, well-written, and original exploration of how medieval criminal and civil law dealt with the surprisingly complex problem of establishing proof of death in the absence of a body or corpse. Kamali takes what might seem at first glance to be a rather narrow concern and shows how the question raises an impressive range of thorny and profound issues about the nature of evidence and proof in the common and civil law. Kamali shows how this problem reached into a range of corners of the law, from homicide prosecutions to probate, along the way encountering conundrums such as how to deal with another kind of “living dead,” namely convicts who for one reason or another survived the gallows. The work not only engages felony law (criminal context) in common law but also similar quandaries in common law actions on property (private law context), Mort d’Ancestor and dower. Reading beyond the formation of substantive rules and norms, the article reveals rhetorical strategies in the law by mining scattered traces in the archival record, especially those of the Court of King’s Bench, alongside chronicles, ballads, and other “nonlegal” materials. Kamali’s work thus presents both a critical perspective on how medieval lawyers and litigants accommodated the absence of traditional evidence as well as a ready model for the tools and techniques legal historians might deploy when confronted with the very same problem.


The Surrency Article Prize

Jessica Marglin, “Extraterritoriality and Legal Belonging in the Nineteenth-Century Mediterranean,” Law and History Review 39:4 (2021): 679-706. Jessica Marglin’s “Extraterritoriality and Legal Belonging in the Nineteenth- Century Mediterranean” transforms historical understandings of international law, state membership, empire building, and modernity. The article upends a simple narrative that nationality law evolved wholly within national boundaries. Instead, Marglin shows that “the challenges and opportunities presented by extraterritoriality” – specifically, Middle Eastern states’ need to assert jurisdiction over their subjects and Western Empires’ desire to intervene in local affairs – shaped the evolution of legal membership that was fragmentary and differentiated among classes of people. This extraordinary article features rigorous research in multilingual archives, deep thought, careful analysis, and compelling stories. Marglin presents two case studies: the legislation of legal belonging in Tunisia, the Ottoman Empire, and Morocco and the evolution of belonging in colonial North Africa. She introduces readers to a widow living in Istanbul who sought the resolution of an estate under Greek law, Algerians living in Tripolitania and Algeria who appealed to French consular authority, and other creative legal entrepreneurs. Marglin excavates the legal entanglements of consular officers, foreign affairs ministers, and judges respecting the status of individuals living within the jurisdiction of one state while claiming the protection of another. Offering new insight into the nature and historical evolution of legal membership in the Middle East, Marglin demonstrates the exciting potential global legal history holds to illuminate trans-regional sources.

The Jane Burbank Global Legal History Article Prize

Nathaniel Millett, “Law, Lineage, Gender and the Lives of Enslaved Indigenous People on the Edge of the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean.” William & Mary Quarterly 78:4 (October) 2021, pp.687-720. Nathaniel Millett uses a remarkable documentary record to examine the unraveling of slavery in nineteenth century Belize. Plaintiffs who were generations removed from the initial place of enslavement used prohibitions against indigenous slavery by incorporating genealogical memories, racial ambiguity, geographical mobility, and legal loopholes to argue for their freedom.

The Mary L. Dudziak Digital Legal History Prize

Rowan Dorin, Corpus Synodalium Corpus Synodalium, created by Rowan Dorin, Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University, is a database-in-progress that includes 90 percent (approximately 1,400 texts) of the extant local ecclesiastical legislation issued across Latin Christendom from ca. 1215 – ca. 1400. It includes a mapping tool that offers a first-of-its-kind method for tracing change over time across an ecclesiastical geography. As Professor Sara McDougall explains, this database “is a vital resource in seeking to understand local church law, the legislative activity of bishops, as iterated throughout medieval Europe. Previously. . . trying to get at what local church law was in any one place in Medieval Europe, let alone compare it to other places, or try to track changes over time, was quite impossible. This matters because it is so useful to know what was actually happening ‘on the ground’ all over Europe as opposed to focusing only on the decrees issued by the papacy, if we want to know anything about the spread and implementation of any of these ideas and what all that meant for people in practice.”  The committee applauds Dr. Dorin for the scholarly importance, creativity, and intellectual generosity of this marvelous digital legal history project.

The Anne Fleming Article Prize

Casey Marina Lurtz, “Codifying Credit: Everyday Contracting and the Spread of the Civil Code in Nineteenth-Century Mexico,” Law and History Review 39, no. 1 (2021): 97-133.




Paolo Di Martino, Mark Latham, and Michelangelo Vasta, “Bankruptcy Laws around Europe (1850-2015): Institutional Change and Institutional Features,” Enterprise & Society 21, no. 4 (2020): 936-990.



William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Book Prize

Gregory Ablavsky, Federal Ground: Governing Property and Violence in the First U.S. Territories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). Federal Ground, an analysis of early territorial governance, is beautifully written, deeply researched, innovative, and sophisticated. Mining a wide variety of legal and governmental sources, Ablavsky makes original arguments of consequence to several fields in addition to legal history, including Native American history, settler colonialism, and early American state-building. What appears at first to be a narrative of a failed state turns, unexpectedly, into a curious story of limited state “success,” illuminating how the federal state earned legitimacy and practical power in the only regions where it was in charge. Ablavsky shows how both the Natives and white settlers/speculators used or lobbied inchoate federal institutions – at first, just a handful of officers and their ad hoc commissions – to shape the legal landscape in ways that furthered their interests and visions of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.  These contestants constructed the state by demanding that it arbitrate disputes – and then taking its money. Ablavsky uses contests over property and federal responses to violence as his chief examples, pulling from diverse and scattered records to weave a complex yet coherent story of competing claims and their often-contingent resolution. He traces federal officials’ encounters with Indigenous law and with Native understandings of consent, efforts to monopolize the legitimate use of violence, and deployment of federal funds with nuance and sensitivity to his sources’ limitations even as he wrings insights from what must have been an unwieldy archive. In Ablavsky’s telling, the federal government emerged not because of an effective or even coherent federal plan of pacification, land-granting, or settlement, but literally from the ground up. His is a knotty tale of furious claims-making in which there are few heroes and that perhaps only in retrospect takes on the majesty of the tragic. The story is complicated and sometimes counterintuitive, yet told crisply and with wit and insight. Ablavsky unearths and interprets sources with the creativity and mastery of a much more senior scholar. Federal Ground is ambitious and illuminating, without overestimating historians’ ability to reconstruct a contested and thorny past. For years to come, this should be the authoritative history for understanding the earliest phase of American territorial, and thus imperial, history.

William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Article Prize

Christopher Clements, “‘There isn’t no trouble at all if the state law would keep out’:  Indigenous People and New York’s Carceral State,” Journal of American History 108 (September 2021):  296-319. In this deeply researched, gracefully written article, Christopher Clements explores the jurisdictional dynamics that resulted in the over-policing of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, located on the border between New York and Canada, in the twentieth century.  While the title suggests that the focus is Native people and the carcel state, the analysis has much broader implications for understanding the evolving balance of power in the federal system and changing conceptions of sovereignty.  Clements places Native people and their claims to sovereignty at the center of these issues, underscoring the continuing importance of federal Indian policies and Native assertions of sovereignty, while revealing the human cost of the transition from federal to state jurisdiction for the Akwesanse people.

William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Dissertation Prize

Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez, “Undocumented Youth: The Labor, Education, and Rights of Migrant Children in Twentieth Century America” (Columbia University). In a highly original and resonant sociolegal history dissertation, “Undocumented Youth: The Labor, Education, and Rights of Migrant Children in Twentieth Century America,” Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez illuminates the multiple sites of repression of child migrants from Latin America. She does so by combining institutional and social history, charting the rise of legal and quasi-legal international and domestic border controls that disproportionately hurt child migrants, while viscerally conveying the everyday experiences of children trying to make their way to and through the United States. She details the exclusions, restrictions, and removals these young people faced as they and their families sought economic stability and social opportunities through work and education. But Padilla-Rodríguez also widens the lens to examine the complex legal and cultural valences of childhood innocence and “adultification.” As she delves into the child migrants’ experiences of economic privation, near-constant movement, and racialization, Padilla-Rodríguez herself crosses borders to draw on archival sources both in Mexico and the United States. Through elegantly written and accessible storytelling and impressive archival research, Padilla-Rodríguez shows us a “hybrid system of restriction and removal” that operated across both state and national borders, in farms and in schools, in public and in private. Padilla-Rodríguez details how local activists’ responses to increased child labor trafficking and detention led to national reform and new statutory rights in the 1960s. Yet by emphasizing the innocence and vulnerability of children, these well-meaning activists unwittingly handed the state yet more means of repression, including new points of conflict over rights, growing child imprisonment, and additional rationales for deportation. In confronting the paradoxes of reform, Padilla-Rodríguez adds to a burgeoning body of literature by historians that highlights the unintended consequences of socio-legal change.

William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Early Career Fellowships

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 19th 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.

Recent News

  • January 3, 2024

    ASLH (Virtual) Book Club: New Member Page

    We now have a new members-only page through which you can access Zoom links for live book club events, as well as available recordings of earlier events.… Keep Reading
  • November 1, 2023

    2023 Election Results

    At the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, ASLH President Michael Willrich announced the result of the Annual Election. Please join us in congratulating these newly elected members, and thanking them for their service! President Elect: Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) Nominating Committee Member: Susanna Blumenthal (University of Minnesota) Board Members:Keep Reading
  • October 31, 2023

    Congratulations to the 2023 Book and Article Prize Winners!

    Please join the ASLH in offering our congratulations to this year’s prize winners, in thanking the prize committees for their work, and in appreciating the generosity of the people and organizations who have generously funded them.   Cromwell Article Prize  Emilie Connolly, “Fiduciary Colonialism: Annuities and Native Dispossession in Early… Keep Reading