2014 Conference

Denver, November 6-9, 2014


The Society held its annual meeting in the majestic Rocky Mountain state for the first time. The program for the meeting is available here:<2014 ASLH Program LR>. As one member put it: “We move from sea-level Miami to the Mile High City.” The conference hotel was the Four Seasons Denver.  The hotel is located in the city’s Theatre District and features clear views of Rockies.

Tom Romero of the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver ably chaired the Local Arrangements Committee which had a panoply of activities arranged for all members. For example, the Thursday night opening reception took place in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals at the Bryon White U.S. Courthouse, and the Saturday evening reception was held at the Colorado Supreme Court Building (the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center). But prior to the official start of the conference, on Wednesday, Matthew Mirow (FIU) and Margot Canaday (Princeton) guided the inaugural ASLH Student Research Colloquium (SRC), a pre-conference devoted to discussion of the early stage research projects of eight graduate students. An initiative inspired by the Society’s Graduate Student Outreach Committee (led by John Wertheimer), this gathering created a vivacious start to the meeting as well as providing graduate students with a sense of their important part in the conference. This momentum carried forward into their second day of the SRC, as well as the Workshop on Medieval Legal History, which provided detailed feedback to three graduate or law students whose work was entering its final phases. The SRC and Workshop were such obvious successes that the Society intends to repeat both at the 2015 meeting, although the content area of the Workshop will switch to another field of legal scholarship.

Thirty-eight panels presented a variety of new work, ranging from the “Law at the Border” and “Regulating Sin” to “Law and Psychiatry in Modern America” and “Satire in Medieval Law.” Attendance at the meeting was strong, with attendees from more than 40 countries and an overall attendance more than 350.

There were multiple highlights to the conference. The welcoming comments to the plenary session, delivered by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, were illuminating and inspirational. She shared with conference attendees the history of the Carr Judicial Center, and how the building incorporated a learning center devoted to legal history, as well as artwork that focused upon state legal history, too. Carr’s opposition to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, an unpopular stance in the 1940s, was one reason his name graced the building. Following Rice’s welcome, attendees listened to Philip Girard (Osgoode Hall Law School and honorary fellow of the Society) deliver the plenary lecture, “Disorienting: Towards a Legal History of North America,” which highlighted some of the similarities but many of the differences between Canadian and U.S. legal history. His discussion used the metaphor offered by Richard Ford’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Canada, which examined the lives of two fraternal twins, separated in adolescence and whose lives unfolded in America and Canada, with contrasting experiences of liberty.

The Saturday luncheon provided more highlights, as the Society recognized the achievements of its members, and honored those whose scholarship has advanced the field significantly. Following remarks from President Michael Grossberg, committee chairs advanced to the rostrum to name the winners of the Society’s prizes, starting with the John Phillips Reid book award, which was given to Michele Dauber for her book The Sympathetic State.

Prizes for the best book, article, and dissertation in legal history, funded by the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, were introduced by Foundation trustee and Society member John Gordan III. The book prize was awarded to Yvonne Pitts for her book Family, Law, and Inheritance in America: A Social and Legal History of Nineteenth-Century Kentucky (Cambridge University Press). The article prize went to Nicholas Parrillo for his article “Leviathan and Interpretive Revolution: The Administrative State, the Judiciary, and the Rise of Legislative History, 1890-1950,” 123 Yale Law Journal (2013): 266-411. The dissertation prize went to Elisa Martia Alvarez Minoff for “Free to Move? The Law and Politics of Internal Migration in Twentieth-Century America” (Harvard University). Fellowships to early career legal historians, also funded by the Cromwell Foundation, were likewise distributed to John M. Collins, Scott De Orio, Helen Dewar, Nancy O. Gallman, Jane C. Manners, Emily Margolis, and Samanthis Q. Smalls.

The Surrency award for the best article published in the Law and History Review was given to David Fraser and Frank Caestecker for their article “Jews or Germans? Nationality Legislation and the Restoration of Liberal Democracy in Western Europe after the Holocaust,” which appeared in Law and History Review 31 (2013): 391-422.

The Sutherland award for the best article published in English legal history was given to Garthine Walker, whose article “Rape, Acquittal and Culpability in Popular Crime Reports in England, c.1670–C.1750, ” appeared in Past and Present 220 (2013), 115-42.

The Craig Joyce Medal for outstanding service to the Society was presented to Tom Green (past president of the Society, a 25-year editor of the Studies in Legal History series, and member of too many committees to list).

The conclusion of the luncheon came with the recognition of the Society’s newest Honorary Fellows, whose accomplishments in their respective scholarly fields left the audience speechless as each was chronicled by Ariela Gross, Laura Kalman, or Bruce Mann (members of the Honors committee). Mary Frances Berry, António Hespanha, and Charles Donahue each addressed the room as they accepted their awards. Collectively, the three have published more than 25 books and 250 articles, in addition to editing more than 25 volumes, and their impact on their respective areas within legal history cannot be denied. But none of them are resting on their laurels. Hespanha’s comments probably spoke for all three, when he humbly stated that he hoped his future scholarship justified receiving such an honor from the society.