The opportunity to participate in the Hurst Summer Institute was a great experience for me both intellectually and personally. These institutes are important for establishing the types of intellectual conversations that will take place within a discipline and for encouraging younger scholars to participate in those exchanges. The mix of scholars invited to the Hurst Institute – from very senior scholars to the Hurst Fellows and other participants at early stages in their careers – created a sense of a conversation that was centered, emerging out of a specific set of questions, but open-ended enough to engage new issues and ways of thinking. Barbara Welke was tremendous in fostering a constructive atmosphere. As someone trained in an interdisciplinary American Studies department, this framework allowed me to make connections between my work and the broader discipline of legal history. For instance, the discussions on research and using the national archives were very interesting for me, not only for explaining technical issues about these archives, but for providing a larger forum to think about the relationship between evidence and argument. Since my work uses archives in very different ways than most historical scholarship, it allowed me to consider the specificity of my current project while also prodded me to think about what new questions I could ask and answer through archival research. I have no doubt that I will come back to these issues as my work develops in the future.
The Hurst Institute was a gem of an experience for the following reasons: It was brilliantly organized with everything taken care of, so that we as fellows literally enjoyed the status of full-time intellectuals for two weeks. Every fellow's participation was of a very high intellectual standard, and this did not flag even on the last day. It was a rare privilege to have so many brilliant minds engaging with one's work, and in turn, to engage with that of others. Barbara Welke's direction was unfalteringly positive, encouraging and generous, making even every difference of opinion an enjoyable learning experience.
I would highly recommend the summer institute to any young scholar engaged in the field of legal history. It is a unique opportunity to connect to and learn from leaders in the field, on the one hand, and from a group of emerging scholars, on the other. This year’s fellows, I would venture, provided a sampling of some of the most interesting work around the country and even the world among the emerging generation of legal historians. In every paper I found something to learn from and to think about anew. To be able to understand what others in one’s own scholarly generation are thinking and doing, reading and talking about, is tremendously exciting and a rare opportunity.
Sophia Z. Lee
The Hurst Institute was one of the most productive and energizing intellectual experiences I've had and I am fairly certain I will continue to look back on it in those terms for years to come. For two weeks, the Institute reproduced the kind of dynamic discussion and critical thinking that Dirk Hartog described finding during his years at Madison, nurtured along by Willard Hurst. To sit in a room for six hours a day with people who took the work before us and the comments of their peers seriously-who read, listened, thought, and responded with intensity and focus-was an intellectual treat. . . . a few days into the Institute, I began referring to it as legal history boot camp, I meant it in the most affectionate of ways. In the way some people cherish physically demanding vacations, the Institute was its own sort of luxury retreat. . . .I also found the conversations we had when discussing a work in progress-our own or those of the visiting scholars-particularly dynamic and rich. The opportunity to have such an engaged and thoughtful group dig into my own work was invaluable. . . .I look forward to pondering the methodological and substantive questions posed and to revisiting Barbara and the other fellows' insightful comments for years to come.
The Hurst Summer Institute was one of the best workshops I have ever participated. I’ve learned the depth and breath of legal history through diverse formal and informal conversations and discussions with other engaging scholars in different stages and backgrounds throughout the workshop. I really enjoyed meeting every one of them. The experience surely helps me produce a better dissertation.
Stephen R. Porter
My fellowship at the Hurst Institute constituted quite simply two of the most intellectually rewarding weeks of my life. . . . It was a whirlwind tutorial in how studying “law in action” can provide powerful insights into myriad aspects of social organization. This is not only a tribute to those involved with the Institute today, but to Willard Hurst and the larger intellectual family tree that he produced. . . .[W]hile I was so impressed with the expert dedication of various people affiliated with the fellowship program (e.g., Pam Hollenhorst, Lawrence Friedman, Bob Gordon), I feel particularly fortunate to have participated in a program headed by Barbara Welke. She is not only a stellar scholar, but an absolutely wonderful discussion leader. Her keen perception, erudition, and intellectual generosity made for one exhilarating day after another.
The Hurst Summer Institute was an excellent experience in more than one way. To begin with, it was academically enriching. Most of the Hurst fellows approached legal history from multifarious angles and used “law” in diverse ways in their own projects, largely the result of their different academic training. This made for a most exciting analysis of the assigned papers, but also for a refreshing and very helpful discussion of each participant’s work, which frequently started formally in the seminar room and continued informally in the nearby cafés. Overall, I found the exposure to various exegetical perspectives and ways of thinking about law intellectually stimulating and very instructive. Furthermore, it was a joy to listen to the institute leader, Professor Barbara Welke, and the invited scholars either analysing Hurst’s work, or, their own projects. Their academic quality was well known; what was less known, but equally important, was their ability to stimulate and lead thought-provoking discussions. In particular, it was a privilege to be given the opportunity to learn more about Hurst as a person and scholar from people that had known him for years, notably Professors Friedman, Gordon and Hartog. This makes one appreciate even more the way in which Hurst broke with the earlier tradition of legal history, the paths which he opened with his own research, and, significantly, how he managed to do that in practice. In addition, the Institute was a great opportunity to meet young scholars working in the same field and at the same stage of their career. This meant that we could benefit from each other’s experiences, as well as share opinions on future career choices. Importantly, the group was as dynamic in the seminar room as outside it. To say that the whole event was well organised would be an understatement. Every little detail, either administrative or academic-related, was taken care of perfectly and unnoticeably. This contributed greatly to the success of the whole event.
The Institute was a phenomenally rewarding experience in every respect. To begin with, Barbara Welke was a model facilitator (indeed, one of the many things I learned from my experience is how to run a seminar effectively). She guided our discussions smoothly and patiently, and she set a tone that was both comfortable and intellectually intense. Equally valuable was the diversity of interests among the fellows. The presentations spanned centuries, continents, and disciplines, and thinking through them made me question assumptions that had come out of my own narrower focus. Administratively, the program ran seamlessly. Finally, I want to emphasize that the Institute was extremely important in helping me frame my dissertation even though--or especially since--I'm still in the early stages of research and writing. Several fellows who had already submitted their dissertations commented that they would really have benefitted from a workshop like this earlier in the writing process. While attending the Institute would have been valuable at any point, I really appreciated the opportunity to attend while new ideas and approaches are most productive.
I attended the Hurst Institute immediately after completing graduate school and found it immensely gratifying to spend time in a seminar setting with this new group of intellectual peers. As a junior scholar, I especially appreciated the unique emphasis on developing a cohort of colleagues at similar stages in their careers. Most fellows were also in the process of completing and/or revising dissertations. Reading and responding to each other's work-in-progress offered much-needed perspective and the opportunity to learn more about new fields. This social-cultural historian of the family was forced to grapple with work on personal injury, corporations, the state, immigration, administrative law, etc., to say nothing of the work of the non-US specialists. The experience offered a much-needed antidote to the specialization that comes with graduate work. It also gave me food for thought about how to define law and its history as I began developing syllabi of my own. . . .In addition to enjoying the gorgeous UW-Madison campus at a perfect time of year, a highlight of the Hurst experience included interacting with a number of influential legal historians at various stages in their careers. I especially appreciated the opportunity to get to know Barbara Welke, an inspired and ideal choice to lead the workshop over the course of the two weeks. Her energy, generosity, and fluency across various subfields of legal history really set the tone for a truly rewarding experience.