Selected Comments from the 2005 Hurst Fellows

Christopher Beauchamp

What made this a great experience was the level of commitment that every participant brought to the Institute. Presenting work here was like finally having the conference/seminar experience you've always dreamed of acute and well-informed questions on everything from the detail up to the big picture, offered by a roomful of friends in an honest and thoroughly constructive way. . . . All that, plus time available every day to do my own writing, so that the two-week duration--which had seemed like a difficult time commitment to make, however useful--turned out to be a very worthwhile investment. . . . I also had the great pleasure of being on a steep learning curve, having come into the Institute knowing only those areas of legal history literature that (I thought) related to my own subject. I came out wide-eyed at the range and quality of work that is out there.

Margot Canaday, Ph.D.

I found the Hurst Institute to be a wonderfully enriching experience. It was phenomenally well organized . . . and the group dynamic really made it work. (It was the most collegial academic gathering I have ever participated in.) I appreciated the opportunity to do research at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library . . . and I really enjoyed hearing people talk about their own work.

Jonathan Chausovsky, Ph.D.

The environment for the two weeks was refreshing and stimulating. I enjoyed having the time to read and reflect. . . . Two weeks is an excellent length to the stay—enough time to get to know one another, and to immerse in each others work, while any longer would be too much time away from home. I have never been to a function where I without exception enjoyed the company of everyone I met. I look forward to carrying on contacts with the members of the group.

Lianna Farber, Ph.D.

It is very clear to me that participating in the Hurst Institute is one of the best academic experiences I have ever had. . . . being with people who care about legal history and are reading the same texts every day, all day, for twelve days, creates an intellectual intensity I have never seen equaled. Part of it, too, I think, was the mix of people. All of us cared about legal history, yet all of us came to it with different questions, from different historical and methodological sub-fields. I think that those who study any given historical period or issue tend to have their own sets of questions and assumptions. Coming together, so that I as a medievalist could be asked the questions that are "natural" first questions for someone working on the nineteenth-century American south, and vice versa, and we both could be asked the "natural" first questions of someone working on twentieth-century American family law, was extraordinarily helpful for all of us. It meant that we gained some distance on our own work, and saw it in different ways, but always in ways that stayed focused on legal history.

Angela S. Fernandez

I think it was a good idea to leave it open what fellows give out as their background reading. I liked the way that people approached this differently, since it made for variety and allowed each fellow to suit it to their style and to do what they were comfortable with. I found it most helpful to hear about and read work at this stage rather than finished polished pieces. . . Bob [Gordon] did an amazing job of shepherding each fellow, whatever the topic, pulling out the positive, signaling what was weaker … The group got along extremely well and much of that came from him setting the tone in this collegial and collaborative way. It was good to have fellows at different stages of things – some done job searches, some not – to be able to learn from each other about different stage of life professional issues

Bernie D. Jones, Ph.D.

I thought the program was truly enjoyable, insofar as we had a great balance between seminar work during the day and time for us to work on our own, with access to resources in Wisconsin.

Melissa E. Murray

The Hurst Institute was an eye-opening experience for me. I have always felt that family law and legal history go hand in hand; but I have always worried that, absent graduate training in history, my efforts to bring an historical perspective to family law were in vain. The Hurst Institute provided an amazing tutorial in the principles and methodology of legal history.

Kristin A. Olbertson, Ph.D.

First of all, I cannot say enough about the quality of the participants in the program. Without exception, my fellow attendees were smart, collegial, interesting people who were generous with their comments and criticism. I felt extremely fortunate to be working and thinking with such a diverse and dedicated group. Upon first reading over the schedule, I thought it might be a big light, and that perhaps our meetings could have been consolidated into one week. But after having experienced the program, I feel that the schedule was just right. Seminar sessions were intense and required significant preparation, not to mention some "downtime" during which to process everything we had read and analyzed. The tour of the Historical Society was excellent, as were the visits from scholars Laura Edwards and Dirk Hartog. As a beginning scholar, it was incredibly helpful to be able to read and discuss more senior scholars' work in its early stages. These sessions provided great insights into legal historical methodology and the developing contours of the field.

Yvonne Pitts

The Hurst Summer Institute was an invigorating, thought provoking, and collegial experience. Formal and informal meetings provided great opportunities to exchange ideas with established scholars and those who are early in their careers. The Institute's facilitators, Robert Gordon and Lawrence Friedman, continued Willard Hurst's tradition of mentorship combined with intellectual rigor. Collectively, we explored some of the major debates in legal history and how scholars have sought to resolve those issues. Guest lecturers Laura Edwards and Hendrik Hartog presented works-in-progress, generating discussion on new directions in legal history as well as on the processes of archival research, writing, and interpretation. The Fellows' disciplinary diversity and varying research interests encouraged broad inquiries and wide-ranging discussions about the craft and methods of legal history. Overall, the Institute has broadened my theoretical perspectives, suggesting new directions for methodological approaches in my work. It was an experience that I will not soon forget and will have a far-reaching influence on how I think about law and history.

Mitra Sharafi

It was an all-around fabulous experience.

Hilary Soderland

Participation in the 2005 J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History was an intellectually rich and highly rewarding experience. The Institute provided an extraordinary opportunity to encounter a great diversity of concepts and approaches and to engage in interdisciplinary and international dialogues. The collaborative environment fostered a dynamic forum within which fellows were able to connect with others whose work also centers on the active role of law in society. The Institute's structure facilitated the exchange of ideas in both formal and informal settings. The Institute co-chairs, Lawrence Friedman and Robert Gordon, conducted sessions on the discourse of legal-historical scholarship and covered issues and ideas central to American legal history from Willard Hurst to the present, including modes of inquiry and analysis, relationships of causation, and evaluation of evidence. The seminar-style sessions led by two visiting scholars, Laura Edwards and Hendrick Hartog, both of whom presented their work, gave fellows an in-depth picture of diverse approaches to the practice of legal history. The lively debate that emerged during these sessions also sparked countless informal dialogues. Throughout the two weeks, the fellows also interacted with University of Wisconsin (UW) faculty and others. The Institute for Legal Studies at the UW Law School also sponsored a lunchtime talk each week when fellows could meet the law faculty. All the scholars involved with the Hurst Institute were generous with their time and in their willingness to share expertise, knowledge, and advice with the fellows.

The 2005 Hurst Fellows represented a wide range of disciplines, academic backgrounds, career stages, and institutions. Similarly, research topics spanned various time periods, methods and theories, and media through which law and history are investigated. After each fellow presented his or her work, the critical feedback, thought, and care offered in response was a testament to the supportive yet intellectually challenging environment of the Institute. The guidance and evaluation I received following my presentation was invaluable. Coming from an archaeology department, I am rather separated from legal-historical scholarship and the insights, criticism, encouragement, and ideas proposed in Madison have opened new ways of thinking about how my work is positioned within the sphere of legal history. Throughout the Institute, I benefited from the genuine interest others showed in my subject and in my research on the legal history of archaeology. Not only did the Institute provide an extended period for critical engagement with legal-historical scholarship but also it introduced me to an exceptional group of colleagues in a variety of disciples—all of whom are exploring the parameters of legal-historical inquiry in innovative ways. Such a collegial atmosphere initiated great camaraderie and connection among fellows and I expect that maintaining these professional and personal ties will figure prominently in my future career. The two weeks in Madison and the interaction with numerous scholars to whom Hurst had served as a mentor underscored Hurst's legacy as a mentor in addition to that of an eminent legal historian. I felt welcomed into a stimulating and vibrant community—a community that embodies the ethos of Willard Hurst in its commitment to young scholars and in the development, encouragement, and support of legal historians as well as the field of legal history.

Kyle G. Volk

In all aspects, I found the 2 weeks in Madison to be extremely beneficial to my intellectual and professional growth. First and foremost, the institute allowed me to revisit some classic scholarship (namely, Hurst's) and in so doing, forced to be more self-conscious in my own approach to doing legal history, and history in general. Most importantly, I was able to get great feedback on my own work, both in the formal sessions and than in discussions over meals . . . Without a doubt, the ability to meet other young scholars was priceless. It was great to see what other people interested in legal history are working on, how they approach projects, sources, writing, and how they think historically. I expect many of the participants to be colleagues for quite some time and look forward to exchanging ideas with them in diverse settings in the future.

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