The first part of the program gave me a better understanding of the history of legal history and where my own work fits. I also gained a greater appreciation for the work of J. Willard Hurst, his methodology, and who he was as a person. This period also provided the group with a common background and set of materials that we could draw upon in the days ahead, facilitating the ability for us to engage in productive dialogue. Paper presentations were excellent and served to remind me of the breath of the field. Indeed, one of the elements which made the Institute so spectacular was the diversity of the topics that people were working upon. Instead of creating an odd patchwork of unrelated topics and issues, it forced us to articulate the common questions that we brought to our work and allowed exposure to a wide array of methodologies. Repeatedly, I had to ask myself what questions I was bringing to my own work and what I was choosing not to ask. In addition, substantively I gained a great deal from the papers. Our different backgrounds and concerns, also allowed me to depart with a new reading list.
Robert Gordon and Lawrence Friedman brought their immense learning to the Institute. The discussions they stimulated were interesting and enlightening. They encouraged the scholarship of the all of the Fellows, regardless of the Fellows' research areas or theoretical perspectives. The guest lecturers, Morton Horwitz and Barbara Welke, brought their own unique perspectives to the sessions. The Fellows had diverse academic backgrounds; this diversity was reflected in the discussions both in the sessions and over dinner in the evenings. The paper presentations in the second week provided an excellent opportunity to present our work in a friendly and helpful environment.
The Hurst Summer Institute was a wonderful experience. As a social historian with a strong interest in the law, but no formal legal training, I believe I benefited enormously from the intensive introduction to the "Hurstian perspective." One of the particular strengths of the two-week Institute was the on-going intellectual exchanges, both in analyzing readings and sharing our own research, among the senior scholars, visiting scholars, and participants. In a collegial atmosphere--and in beautiful surroundings--I appreciated the opportunity to engage in frank and constructive discussions about the many uses of legal history across the many disciplines.
The Institute was a terrific opportunity not just to meet the "Great People" of legal history in our talented and gracious leaders Lawrence Friedman and Robert Gordon and our guest scholars Morton Horwitz and Barbara Welke, but it was an opportunity to meet the up and coming young scholars who no doubt will become leaders in the field as their scholarship is more widely published. Coming from a department in which I am the only legal historian, the Institute was most helpful in making contact with my peers. Despite having a law degree, I didn't have a strong legal history background. I feel that the Institute helped remedy that deficiency in my education. The discussions involving our own work were very helpful for me and made me rethink some of my approaches and strategies. I have every confidence that my book (and my future projects) will be better because of the group's comments.
I found the J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute to be a tremendous opportunity to engage in sustained discussion about legal history topics and methodologies with a group of people confronting similar issues in their own work. The reading materials and discussions ranged from canonical texts and classic debates, to newer approaches to legal history; the ongoing conversation helped me think about my own work in new ways. Bob Gordon and Lawrence Friedman were incredibly generous with their time, and with their willingness to share their insights and experience with us. We also profited from sessions led by guest scholars Barbara Welke and Morton Horwitz, in which they described how they came to their historical questions and research strategies. The Fellows' own presentations in the second week ranged widely in subject matter, but each demonstrated the wealth of topics that legal history encompasses, and the contributions that legal history approaches can make to other fields. I greatly benefited from the comments I received on my own work. I really appreciated the chance to get to know the other Fellows, who are pushing the field of legal history in new directions; the Fellows were individuals with a variety of backgrounds, interests, and approaches who formed a community of scholars over two weeks. Further, the Institute's logistics made it very easy to continue conversations over dinner or on the Memorial Union terrace.
As someone trained as a social historian and women's historian, I came to the seminar without any formal training in legal history (I hadn't taken a class in legal history or gone to law school). I came out of the seminar with a much better sense of the field, and energized and excited by the range of work and approaches to legal history.
For me, the Hurst Institute was the legal history equivalent of a "master class," an intense pedagogical experience with the best possible teachers. The Hurst Institute was an excellent opportunity for me to think about where my work fits into the field of legal history and to further both my teaching and research. From reading Hurst's own writing, and that of other leading scholars, I gained perspective on the origins of U.S. legal history. From reading and discussing new work by colleagues in the workshop, I gained perspective on the future directions of our field. The workshop allowed me to resolve lingering doubts (which, it turned out, other young scholars shared) about whether my work indeed lies within the province of legal history. I was able to see the continuities between earlier scholarship and that of my generation, and to begin guessing at the ways we will reshape the field. Overall, participation in the Institute was an invaluable experience. It was especially welcome at the current stage of my work – fully immersed in the details of a nascent manuscript, needing reminders to consider the forest as well as the trees. As a junior faculty member in a department that is heavily weighted toward the tenured ranks, it was a particular delight for me to meet junior colleagues. I found a remarkable willingness to share information among participants in the Institute, and a remarkable lack of competitiveness.
The people running the Hurst seminar seek to honor J. Willard Hurst's legacy as an historian and a committed colleague, and they succeed splendidly. The collegial and relaxed atmosphere was an additional bonus. The seminar welcomed people whose experiences with legal history were widely divergent. While some Fellows had J.D. degrees and had been through legal history curricula, others, like me, had only recently begun looking to legal history as a framework for our research. Although at the outset I was unfamiliar with many of the concepts and texts under consideration, I felt very much part of the conversation and received invaluable feedback on my own work. In fact, discussions of the parameters of legal history itself were among the seminar's most interesting. The diversity of training among the Fellows was especially useful when we shared our own work, helping to generate new perspectives and to broaden the discussion in novel ways. The seminar was expertly facilitated by Bob Gordon and Lawrence Friedman, both former colleagues of Hurst. Their willingness to engage with one another and to ask deep questions about legal history set a serious yet collegial tone for the seminar. With only the slightest sense of nostalgia, I would say that the Hurst seminar reminded me of the best aspects of graduate school. There was a real sense of intellectual engagement and generosity, a genuine effort to think through difficult questions.
The Institute provides a unique opportunity for scholars interested in legal history to discuss a shared set of readings and to present their own research in a stimulating and supportive environment under the guidance of leading experts in the field. As someone in the early stage of my career in law teaching, I especially enjoyed the opportunity to deepen my connection to Willard Hurst and the Hurstian tradition. Through their shared memories of Hurst and their method of conducting the sessions, the Institute's convenors -- Lawrence Friedman and Bob Gordon -- conveyed a strong sense of Hurst's intellectual rigor and his interest in the work of less senior scholars while encouraging critical thought about Hurst and the Hurstian legacy in legal-historical scholarship. The Institute also allowed me to forge friendships in the idyllic setting of Madison by offering structured and unstructured opportunities for discussions with the participants. The Institute was superbly organized. Working in legal history can often be a solitary endeavor. The Hurst Institute provides an invaluable sense of connection to the present, past, and future of legal history -- and that is a precious and rare gift.
What is special about the Institute is the openness and lack of hierarchy. Not only was it refreshing to hear Lawrence Friedman and Bob Gordon express their views, their frequent disagreements created an environment of constructive criticism and lively debate. Their disagreements on methodology as well as the implications of legal history scholarship spurred the Fellows to leap into to the fray in a serious, yet friendly way. Our discussions were unique for their concentration not so much on the deficiencies of an individual text, but on what was useful or unique.
The two guest scholars proved to be complementary and representative of the different perspectives of scholars located in humanities and social sciences as opposed to law schools. In terms of setting the stage for discussions of the Fellows' own work, each guest scholar emphasized an internal account of how they fashioned their legal histories. Their forthcoming approach allowed the discussion to move away from summary and explanation to questions of how to turn a research project involving legal sources and legal history questions into a compelling narrative and interpretation. With this base, the individual Fellow presentations were both fun and informative. I was particularly struck by the diversity of projects and new directions that the field of legal history is moving. I felt I received comments that moved me to reimagine my work in new contexts. I particularly benefited from the comments that suggested literatures and fields that my work might profitably address that I had not considered.
Finally, it was great to have the opportunity to meet the other Fellows both socially and through their professional work. I particularly enjoyed the balance between the workshops in the morning, free time to explore Madison in the afternoon, and the camaraderie produced by reading each other's work each evening. Legal history can be lonely business in many of our academic environments; finding fellow travelers from different starting points makes the fundamentally interdisciplinary project of legal history more enjoyable and hopefully more relevant to other scholars outside of our individual fields.
Let me begin by stating that Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History is quite possibly the best educational experience that I have had during my graduate study. The beginning week with Robert Gordon and Lawrence Friedman was invaluable. It was not only an honor to learn from them, but also a special treat to see them engage each other in discussing everything about legal history from its value to its methodology. The guest speakers (Morton Horowitz from Harvard Law School and Barbara Welke from the University of Minnesota Department of History) were a valuable addition. I found their interaction with us to be intellectually engaging and serious of purpose. I also enjoyed the opportunity afforded the Fellows to have lunch with the faculty of the Law School, and to talk to them about my research and theirs. Finally, grew academically from the contributions of the other Fellows to our daily discussions and from the presentations of their research. I made some friendships that intend to fully cultivate personally and academically.
The Institute provided a singular opportunity to discuss legal history in a relaxed setting, with both established scholars and those still early in their career. I derived much personal inspiration and confidence in the enduring vitality of legal history as a discipline, from the passion and intellectual commitment of each of the Fellows, and the environment of mutual respect and support that sustained our time together. The relaxed pace of the Summer Institute also allowed plenty of free time to socialize informally with new colleagues, explore the sights and sounds of Madison, and take advantage of the extensive research holdings in the Wisconsin Historical Society's archive and library.