University of Wisconsin–Madison

Selected Comments from the 2001 Hurst Fellows

Edward J. Balleisen

The Hurst Institute this past June gave me the chance to work closely with an extremely talented group of younger legal historians, as well as several senior scholars at the pinnacle of the field. In the first of two weeks, we engaged with a set of basic and enduring issues concerning American legal history, framed by selections of recent scholarship. These lively seminar discussions ranged widely, considering approaches to research methodology, theories of causation, and evaluation of evidence, but focused throughout on the degree of autonomy characterizing legal institutions and the relationships among economic, social, cultural, and legal change. In the second week, each Fellow ran an hour-long discussion related to his or her ongoing research, sometimes based on a draft paper or chapter, and sometimes suggested by a reading from another legal historian or by a collection of primary sources. As the participants in the Institute had divergent backgrounds and scholarly interests, these sessions explored a variety of problems in legal history and covered topics separated by chronology, geography, and historical method.

The environment of the Hurst Institute proved wonderfully conducive to both intellectual exchange and community building. The manageable size facilitated cohesiveness, while scheduling left sufficient time for participants to interact meaningfully outside the venue of formal sessions. Discussions frequently spilled over into meals or late afternoon drinks on the Terrace at the University of Wisconsin Student Union; and while we most certainly did not always agree with one another, the group almost always functioned constructively. I greatly profited not only from the incisive responses that I received to my own current work, but also from the probing commentary on the research problems tackled by other Fellows, as well as the broader considerations of key debates within the field of American legal history. At no point in the two weeks did the Institute lose steam; we seemed to have as much energy when we finished on the second Thursday as when we did on the previous Monday.

Douglas Harris

Seldom in an academic career does one have an opportunity for sustained engagement with a shared set of texts with a group of similarly interested scholars. The Hurst Summer Institute for Legal History at the University of Wisconsin provided exactly such an opportunity, in a delightful setting, with a remarkable and generous group of people. I will remember fondly my two weeks in Madison, and will long be grateful for the reminder about the importance of informed talk and discussion in the growth of an academic community.

Thomas M. Hilbink

The discussions we had were some of the best I've had since beginning my graduate education. Our common passion for legal history -- and especially legal history in the Hurstian tradition -- brought me newfound energy and enthusiasm for my current work and my future career. To practice legal history is a more interesting prospect now that I know that I undertake the journey with these people as my colleagues. They will support, challenge, and cajole me as I write my first book and in the future as well. No number of encounters at ASLH meetings, visiting appointments, or interactions on H-Law could have resulted in such an intense bond with such and inspiring, collegial group. They make legal history relevant and, almost more importantly, fun.

Gwen Hoerr (McNamee) Jordan

Coming from an institution that does not have a legal history program I benefited greatly from the substantive discussions of numerous critical works in the field as well as our lively debates over methodology. Equally valuable was being part of the community of scholars that were connected with the institute. There was clearly a shared enthusiasm among the participants for the field.

Ajay Mehrotra

In keeping with the tradition of Willard Hurst's boundary-stretching scholarship, the Institute was most successful, I believe, in gathering and discussing a variety of approaches to doing legal history. Reading and commenting on such a variety of legal scholarship has helped me immensely by forcing me to think outside the traditional boundaries of my own research interests. Like most scholars, I think many of us came to the Institute with a firm grasp of the intellectual dialogue surrounding our own research interests, but with little first-hand knowledge of the many other ways in which research in legal history could be conducted.  Especially since my project in in its early stages, such contact with other scholars and other ways of attacking intellectual issues has helped me both focus on the questions that I am seeking to answer and rethink the different methodological approaches that I may use in addressing my research interests.  . . .the congenial tone of the workshops and the dialogues we've had since our time in Madison suggests that we are well on the way to forming what should be lasting social and intellectual bonds.  I think we all came away from our contact in Madison with a new found respect and faith in thefuture of the legal history community.

Stephen Robertson

The J. Willard Hurst Legal History Institute was an extremely rewarding experience that far exceeded my expectations. I expected the Institute to provide an opportunity to network with other legal historians; it went far beyond that, establishing an on-going community of scholars committed to a shared vision of legal history, and to supporting each other. The disparate research interests of the participants, which I had feared would be a handicap, proved one of the Institute's strengths. Our concern with similar theoretical and methodological issues transformed our differences into a source of intellectual energy and enthusiasm, an excitement that owed something to the realization that without the Institute we would likely not have read each other's work. Finally, the Institute was also fun outside the seminar room, providing a unique opportunity to continue conversations, and build relationships, over an extended period, and over food, drink, darts and bowling! I look forward to the Hurst Institute community being a significant part of my future career.

Marc Rodriguez

I found the Hurst Institute to extremely stimulating. Not only was it an opportunity to spend time workshopping with noted scholars . . . it succeeded in bringing together a topically diverse yet workable group of young scholars for two weeks of serious contemplation and examination of not only the work of Willard Hurst, but also our own views of how legal history will be done in the future.

Joseph E. Slater

The Willard Hurst Legal History Institute was an extraordinarily valuable and intellectually rich experience. . . . It was a unique opportunity to think critically about a variety of theories and methodologies of legal history, and learn about a number of new subjects within the field. I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity. . . . I want to salute Lawrence Friedman for his hard, patient, and constructive work with all of us.

Elizabeth Lee Thompson

The 2001 Willard Hurst Legal History Institute was a resounding success. The Institute was unlike any other conference. What set it apart was the opportunity it afforded a dozen legal historians near the beginning of their scholarly career to participate in a two-week, concentrated discussion of the field of legal history. The exchange of ideas among fellows and with senior scholars proved intellectually challenging, highly relevant, and scholastically motivating. In addition, the Institute provided unparalleled mentoring opportunities by both established scholars who led Institute sessions and other respected legal historians associated with the University of Wisconsin. Fellows benefited from the obvious commitment of Lawrence Friedman and others to fostering our work and our understanding of issues central to the study of legal history.

Among the most valuable outcomes of the Institute were the relationships formed among the Hurst Fellows. I began the Institute knowing that I would learn much from my colleagues; I left Madison knowing that I had quality friendships with other fellows that would continue for years to come. The community that we developed allows for the continuation of what began in June 2001: an ongoing sharing of ideas, scholarship, and experiences.

Dalia Tsuk

The conversations inside and outside the classroom were intellectually stimulating and extremely helpful. Particularly I appreciate the opportunity not only to learn about a wide variety of topics in legal history, but also to closely examine different methodologies used to study them.  Altogether, these two weeks provided me with new tools and paradigms for critically thinking about my work and about legal history in general. Furthermore, I found a group of colleagues who share a strong commitment to the study of legal history.

Ina vom Feld

It was a wonderful experience and I have profited from it immensely. Oftentimes during the discussions about the relationship between law and society I caught myself thinking, "That is exactly what interests me about legal history" and I felt very much encouraged to continue looking at the law in action. The two weeks of the Hurst Institute helped me see even more clearly what I want my work to be about.

For me the Institute was especially valuable. I got a good idea what some of the current themes of American legal history are but even more importantly I profited from the discussions because they exposed me to a different perspective than I could have gained at a conference of German or continental European scholars. It is very helpful to think anew about the assumptions that one works under -- in my case the question of a certain dichotomy of state and society in Germany during the 19th century.

Adam Winkler

The Hurst Institute provided me access to two things of enormous value: an in-depth, focused understanding of Hurst's historical methodology, and a new community of cohorts with similar interests in historical scholarship with which to engage and to work in the future.  Understanding Hurst and his approach to historical explanation is essential for any legal scholar who intends to grapple ithe the central issues in the field.  Regarding the community of scholars created by the Institute, one sure sign is that the fellows have stayed in touch and continue to share ideas.  We have created an email list to foster discussion of our work, and it has provided me the opportunity to present research in progress and to receive insightful feedback.

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