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Posts Tagged ‘Legal Scholarship’

Lack of Intellectual Preparation?

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Historicism, History, Humanities, Law on May 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

Allen Mendenhall

Last week I was reading several old reviews of Lawrence Friedman’s landmark work, A History of American Law.  I came across a 1974 review by David J. Rothman in Reviews in American History.  Rothman made the following point, which, despite being made 34 years ago, is bound to offend some readers of this site, especially those who are lawyers or law professors:

I have attended conferences of law professors doggedly determined to be interdisciplinary, and I have been appalled at the lack of intellectual preparation that many of them had for such work. They would talk blithely about bringing the insights of, say, game theory to the law-with only the vaguest idea of what game theory was all about. (Indeed, how could they have had more than a vague idea? After a general undergraduate training, they went to the law schools, then to the courts as clerks, then back to the law schools.) So one must, perforce, have a lurking fear that some of the new interdisciplinary efforts will be so inadequate as to prompt law professors to decide to do well what they can do, rather than to do badly what they should do. And law schools may well continue to perpetuate half-knowledge. They remain torn between serving as trade schools to the profession and graduate schools to the scholars. This compromise may turn out to be less and less tenable over the next years.
Does Rothman’s claim remain true when the “new interdisciplinary efforts” aren’t so new anymore?  Today many law professors hold Ph.D.s in various disciplines, and these professors use their unique, specialized training to enhance legal scholarship in their respective sub-disciplines.  But does “extra” graduate work or a specialized degree necessarily signal a superior skill set, or is Rothman’s view elitist?   These questions will be the subject of a future post on this site, and potentially of a future article, so I would like to hear back from readers.  Please email your responses to me or, if you’d prefer, post them in the comment box below.    

Law Professors and Laws of Slavery

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Nineteenth-Century America, Politics, Slavery, The Literary Table, Western Civilization on April 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Allen Mendenhall

This post was first published over at The Literary Table.  I have reposted here because the content of the post relates to many recent posts on this site.

Kenneth Stamp published his landmark study The Peculiar Institution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf) in 1956, thus inaugurating the institutionalized and concerted efforts of scholars to examine the history of slavery in America with greater detail.  Research and study of the history of slavery then gained momentum in the 1960s.  One of the seminal texts from this period was David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Cornell University Press, 1966), winner of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.  An ambitious undertaking, this book seeks to demonstrate the continuity of slavery through various times and places in Western Civilization.  A legitimizing narrative or logic always accompanies the institution of slavery, Davis suggests, but such narrative or logic—or narrative logic—is fraught with paradoxes threatening to undermine the institution altogether.  How, for instance, does one reconcile the ideals of freedom and equality, so celebrated by American Revolutionaries, with the pervasive reality of human bondage?  How does one make sense of a Christianity that both condemns and justifies slavery?  How can slaves be humans—rational agents with free will—and chattel property at once?  How does ending the slave trade worsen conditions for the enslaved?  If enslaving infidels, and only infidels, is valid by law and church teaching, then how do European colonists validate the enslavement of converted Africans?  How can colonists rely heavily upon an institution that they fear?  How can one of the earliest American colonies to oppose slavery (Georgia) become a hotbed for slavery?  If, according to law and church teaching, only pagans can be enslaved, why are not Natives enslaved as frequently or as much as Africans?  For that matter, why do early objections to slavery focus on Natives, who are less likely to become slaves than blacks?  Why do colonists insist on Christianizing slaves yet fear converted slaves?  How does the antislavery movement develop out of the very ideology sustaining slavery?  How do notions of sin both justify and subvert the institution of slavery?  Why does the Age of Enlightenment, with its celebration of reason, humanism, and liberation, intensify rather than disparage slavery?  And how can the New World, a putatively progressive landscape, rely on and perpetuate an ancient institution?  These and other questions permeate Davis’s provocative text.  Davis does not try to resolve these apparent contradictions so much as he explores them through various persons, places, and patterns; in so doing, he describes how human bondage gets revised and extended from one age to the next, and how justifications for slavery in one era inaugurate justifications for slavery in later eras.  Read the rest of this entry »

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