2011 Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History

Fellows' Comments*

Fahad Ahmad Bishara
PhD Candidate in History, Duke University

The Hurst Institute exceeded my expectations in ways that I could not have imagined. The group dynamic could not have been better: in addition to the standard American legal history fare that I was expecting, the Institute included scholars working on Egypt, India, the Ancient World, and the Philippines. Some might say that it had the makings of a perfect nightmare: few of us were familiar enough with each others’ regions to comment on the finer points of analysis or even the broader context. Instead, it ended up being the greatest blessing of all, as it unshackled the discussion from the constraints of minutia and allowed us to participate in a much broader discussion surrounding conceptual frameworks, comparative analyses, and historiographic agendas. This, if anything, was the Institute's greatest strength: its ability to bring scholars of widely disparate areas and time periods together in one forum to engage in one conversation. And there could have been no greater conductor in this symphony than Barbara Welke, who seemed to always know when to intervene in the discussion, what to ask, and when to wrap up the discussion.

Ari Bryen, PhD
Rhetoric & Classics, UC Berkeley

This was one of the most interesting seminars I've ever attended. The energy in the room was remarkable, and combined the best of the seminar format: a very smart group of people using diverse methods and representing diverse fields of interest, providing incisive comments, calling bluffs when they see them, and willing to put themselves and their own work on the table as well. It's perhaps easy to get smart people in a room, though: instilling them with a sense of common purpose, mutual respect, and genuine openness to interdisciplinary study is due to the genius of the organizers, and certainly to Barbara Welke (who is probably the most able seminar leader I've ever met, combining all of the virtues of a light touch with a commitment to genuinely pushing people to clarify, re-state, and re-think). The best part was that the culture of the institute was one of immersion. Work got done in the seminar room, to be sure, but in no way did it end there: meals, drinks, coffee, walks – all became venues for discussion and debate.

Anna Leah Fidelis Casteneda, SJD
Denver, NC

The Hurst Institute was one of the most rigorous and rewarding professional and personal experiences of my life. It was an exhilarating turbocharged fortnight packed with intense reading, thinking, and discussion and with interactions both spirited and serious. Through all this, our brilliant leader Barbara Welke deftly and most sympathetically guided us. I feel privileged to have been part of such a talented, committed, generous, and supportive community of scholars and delighted to have befriended them. I enjoyed and learned a great deal from sharing with each other our common passion for legal history, an enterprise that we conceived of and approached in ways as diverse as our projects, interests, and circumstances, and I eagerly look forward to continuing our enriching exchanges. I was thrilled to finally meet senior scholars I have long idolized and whose work has inspired and served as a model for my own. Indeed, the opportunity to get to know some of my legal historian heroes at close range was an unparalleled honor, but they quickly dispelled any intimidation I felt with the warmth, openness, and trust by which they engaged our questions and dissected their craft.

Orna Alyagon Darr, PhD
Lecturer, Academic Center Carmel, Haifa

Several ingredients made the two weeks in Madison a fabulous academic experience – a diverse group of scholars who share a common interest in legal history; a pleasant environment with few distractions; Barbara, a facilitator and mentor who skillfully steered the discussion, and generously shared her insights and advice, all in the most supportive and intellectually-stimulating manner; guest scholars who opened a window to their intellectual world; Pam's outstanding organization and Howie’s hospitality. Both formal sessions and informal social activities were energizing, stimulating and exciting. I'm already looking forward to a future reunion…
Rohit De
PhD Candidate in History, Princeton

The Hurst Institute was one of the most exciting academic experiences that I have had. It is rare to find such a congenial company of scholars who offered both warm friendship and rigorous scholarship. Rarely, does one find such an appropriate use of the term fellowship to describe participation in the Hurst Institute.

I was particularly grateful for the temporal, methodological and geographical diversity the work of the fellows represented. The format allowed narrow disciplinary borders to be broken down, and to move beyond the immediate concerns of our place and period and ask what it is that we do as legal historians. As a historian of 20th century South Asia, I learnt about reading sources from Roman Egypt, theorizing economic life from 19th century East Africa and the centrality of property in revolutionary orders from 18th century America. Both directly through comments I recieved, and even from the act of discussing the scholarship of my colleagues, I was compelled to think about new questions and develop my own scholarship in new directions. Barbara Welke's deft ability to bring together diverse conversations ranging from medieval China to 1980's Arizona back to central themes was what made this exercise so effective.

The Institute also encouraged us to think about and gave us valuable advice on, the more routine activities of writing and publishing. This was largely due to Barbara Welke's warmth and generosity. Barbara shared some of her work from different stages of a publishing process, which was really valuable for scholars to think through.

Howie Erlanger, Pam Hollenhorst and the Institute for Legal Studies helped ensure create a space in which these conversations could occur. The Institute creates a continuing community of scholars that I look forward to being a part of.

Arthur Mitchell Fraas
PhD Candidate in History, Duke University
I can’t speak highly enough about my fellow participants, Barbara, and everyone at the ILS. When I returned from the Institute I described it to my friends as the most intense and rewarding two weeks of my academic career. The intellectual community and high level of engagement with legal history over those two weeks is really unmatched in my experience of graduate school and the academy in general. Just being in a room for several hours each day with such thoughtful and incisive people was energizing and I’m sure to recommend it to any legal historian I meet from now on. Even more importantly, this intellectually charged atmosphere didn’t result in the kind of mean-spirited critique one finds in so many parts of the university. At the end of the two weeks I felt like I had a new group of friends and supporters in my work.

Will Hanley, PhD
Assistant Professor of History, Florida State University

The Hurst Summer Institute gave me an experience of the academic life I hoped I'd have. This was largely due to the structure: isolation from the rest of life, an intense schedule, but also enough open time to feel relaxed and to really get to know each other. It was also due to the quality of the participants, visitors, and of course Barbara. We participants were far enough along in our professional formation to engage in discussions that surpassed my graduate school experiences, while the senior academics who joined us were kind enough to show us draft work and speculative thinking that decreased the distance between us. The result was the sort of intellectual and personal engagement between the members of our community that is worthy of the old monastic form of university life (an approach that has largely and mercifully passed into the past). I was not trained in legal history, but this focused experience has given me the confidence to feel that I now belong to the field. Academic fields are formed socially as much as they are intellectually, and the Hurst Institute balances the two beautifully.

Barbara’s focus on our professional development, and questions of publication in particular, was invaluable.

Nate Holdren
PhD Candidate in History
University of Minnesota

The Hurst Institute demonstrates that excellence in pedagogy is something that scholars too can be be on the receiving end of. Like good teachers usually strive for, the Hurst Institute created a framework and a space within which creative improvisation happened in a successful and satisfying way. The Institute was an incredible opportunity to learn from scholarship and scholars at a range of career stages and a place to form relationships with other early career scholars. I learned a lot about a lot – information, methods, theories. As someone beginning a career in legal history I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to build relationships with other scholars, improve my work, and deepen my understanding of the field. It was also tremendously gratifying to be part of a conversation with other scholars about their work and to be part of a group that is a collective resource for someone else’s work. I know all of our work will be better as a result of our experiences and it's an honor to participate in others' projects in such a way. I wish I could attend the Hurst every summer.

Alison Lefkovitz, PhD
Visiting Assistant Professor, Miami University Ohio

The Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History was truly one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as a scholar. Under the careful guidance of Barbara Welke, we had the chance to explore foundational texts alongside the remarkable work of the fellows. Thinking through such great scholarship and getting phenomenally thoughtful feedback on my own work has helped me think about my project in exciting new ways. Overall the two weeks at the Hurst reminded me of the thrill about scholarship I experienced when I participated in a graduate history seminar for the first time.

Above all, the community at the Hurst Institute made the experience amazing. Pam Hollenhorst did a phenomenal job of organizing our stay. Howie Erlanger made promises about the Hurst that sounded too good to be true, but the seminar lived up to all his boasts. Chris Tomlins, Lauren Benton, Dylan Penningroth, Bob Gordon, Lawrence Friedman, and Sally Gordon all generously answered our many questions about their work and the field as a whole. The other fellows were one of the brightest, most dynamic, truly committed, supportive, and fun bunch of people I've ever met. Finally Barbara Welke was all you could ask for in a mentor. She was truly committed to making us all better scholars. Her energy was incomparable as was her generosity.

Howard Pashman
JD/PhD Candidate in Law & History, Northwestern University

The Hurst Summer Institute offers a program unlike any other in the country. Nowhere else can early career scholars spend a week with more senior historians discussing the challenges of research and interpretation that we all share. Nor is there any other institute that offers the sort of sustained, critical attention to works in progress that the fellows receive here. The Institute represents something of an intellectual hothouse--a set of conditions where ideas flourish, they grow faster, than they do in a normal environment.

Keramet Reiter
PhD Candidate, JSP Program, UC Berkeley

The Hurst Institute provided a professionally invigorating, if intellectually exhausting, two weeks. I feel both privileged and honored to have participated in the intense immersion in legal history, complete with a group of incredibly bright and challenging peers, not to mention gracious hosts, who made me feel welcome in Madison and at the University of Wisconsin.

Barbara Welke, especially, was a model of academic mentorship and leadership; it's hard to imagine a better shepherd for the Hurst Fellows. The highlights of the two weeks were participating in the daily, vibrant conversations and receiving feedback – of a caliber and diversity that I know is precious in academia – on my own work.

Felicity Turner, PhD
University of Sydney, US Studies Center

My two weeks in Madison as a Hurst fellow was both an exhilarating and exhausting experience. While participation in the Institute demanded hard work and long hours, the benefits were huge. The generosity and support of my fellow “Hurstians” has encouraged me to rethink major ideas framing my work, and sally forth with confidence as I do so. The opportunity to meet and interact with senior professionals in the field – who gave generously of both their time and their own work-in-progress – proved reassuring, and perhaps a little disquieting, as I realized that seniority provides little respite. Senior historians with a few books under their belt continue to grapple, so it seems, with many of the same issues that I do in my own work.

Kimberly Welch

ABF Law & Society Fellow, PhD Candidate, University of Maryland

The Hurst Summer Institute was a gratifying experience in every respect. It provided me with the opportunity to encounter a diversity of ideas and questions, myriad approaches to the craft of legal history, and (most importantly) a new community of scholars. I found the discussions – both formal and informal – to be rigorous and dynamic. As a newcomer to legal history, I benefited from reading and discussing classic works in the field of law and society and am grateful for the chance to have met established legal historians.

The second week of the Institute, however, was the most rewarding. I am especially appreciative for the care and generosity with which the other participants read my work. The process of writing is often an isolating experience. I left with a better sense of my project and fresh ideas about its importance and contribution.

I think one of the most successful things about the Hurst Institute is its capacity to bring together a diverse group of scholars and make them into a community. Without exception the Hurst Fellows were bright, collegial, vibrant, and intellectually generous. I look forward to reconvening with the other participants at conferences, the continued exchange of ideas and work, and our future conversations over a good meal. In particular, this community would not have been the same without Barbara Welke to guide it – as mentor, teacher, and friend. Barbara was simply wonderful.

*The institutional title listed for each Hurst Fellow reflects their academic status as of June 2011, when the Hurst Institute took place.  

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