University of Wisconsin–Madison

2013 Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History

Selected Comments from Fellows

Gregory Ablavsky, University of Pennsylvania Law School
    The most valuable part of the Hurst Institute was the sense of collective enterprise, particularly when so much of academic work is solitary.  Far more than at an academic conference, the Hurst Institute instilled a strong sense of community. 
    . . . [T]he phrase “legal history” might intimidate some, particularly those who might not identify themselves primarily as legal historians.  But I don't think there was any particular insistence on any legal historical orthodoxy, and I found the group quite open  to diverse takes on the field.
    I particularly appreciated the more personal and reflective accounts that scholars offered in the afternoon sessions.  Rarely do young scholars get that sort of perspective on the profession; this offered an exceptional setting to explore aspects largely undiscussed in graduate schools or conferences.

Lily Chang, Magdalene College, Cambridge
    The Hurst Summer Institute provided an intellectually fertile and engaging environment that was both welcoming and well-organised from the very beginning. During my time in Madison, I found it to be a dynamic and vibrant site of interaction for early-career scholars. It offered a rare opportunity to bring together those who could actively share one's ideas with other scholars who shared a common interest in the ways in which law and society intersected in the past and to the present. This type of environment has not only benefited my own professional and intellectual growth as an early career scholar but also underscored the importance of the wider significance of the Hurst Summer Institute as recognisably one the most stimulating and supportive sites for the exchange of ideas for scholars interested in the intersections between law and society.

Anne Fleming
, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School
    In two weeks, the Hurst Institute turned a group of junior legal historians into an intellectual community of friends and colleagues. . . . [The Hurst Institute] offered time and space to think more broadly about method, audience, and new directions in the field.  I departed Madison feeling ready to dive back into my own work with a renewed sense of purpose, and very excited to watch the other fellows’ projects develop.

Suzanne Kahn, Columbia University
    The 2013 Hurst Institute was a true highlight of my year and one of the best academic experiences I have had. I found the programming to be intellectually stimulating in the best possible way. The diversity of the speakers and fellows meant that our conversations introduced me to many new and interesting moments in history and yet always felt relevant and stimulating as I thought about how to approach my own work.
    After a year of working in the archives and writing mostly on my own, it felt like a real gift to be able to spend two weeks thinking through the bigger questions of legal history with such a wonderful group of people. It was also amazing to get such a great group of people to spend over an hour talking about my work. It's the kind of opportunity you only get a few times, if you are lucky, while working on your dissertation. I left with many new ideas about how to approach my work, but just as importantly I left feeling refreshed and ready to begin writing again.

Jesse Nasta, Northwestern University
    Participating in the Hurst Summer Institute was a transformative experience. I left Madison with a new, richer perspective on legal history, and with enough insights, inspirations, and citations to complete my dissertation this coming year. For perspective applicants, I would like to emphasize how truly supportive and warm the atmosphere at the Hurst Institute remained throughout the two weeks. . . . scholars at any stage of their early career would benefit from the Hurst Institute. . .  Similarly, I was impressed with the amount of time, attention, and personal feedback the visiting scholars provided.

Michael Schoeppner, California Institute of Technology
    For two weeks, nearly all of our waking hours were devoted to reading and discussing the theories, methods, and practices of legal history. We grappled with the moral and philosophical implications of our own research, and we were exposed to some of the most compelling recent scholarship in the field. What is most remarkable about this crash course in legal historiography was the sense of camaraderie that emerged among the Fellows. Focused seminar discussions spilled over into informal conversations over lunch and dinner. Criticism flowed freely, but it was uniformly constructive. I found myself more and more invested in the work of the other Fellows, and their comments on my work left a deep impact. In just two weeks, it seemed, we had built a community of historians with a shared sense of identity and purpose.

Laurie M. Wood, University of Texas at Austin
    Fellows benefit from a rare combination of research and professional advice shared by scholars in discussion sections and over meals. Senior scholars offer priceless mentoring about how to refine research topics. They also share stories about their personal journeys to become legal historians and answer questions about how to transition from student to scholar. This advice is particularly valuable because it can be hard to obtain in the dissertation-focused world of graduate school or amidst the demanding workload of a first teaching job. Fellows also gain content expertise and camaraderie from each other. Intensive workshops for each participant’s work counts as some of the most comprehensive feedback anyone receives at this stage.
Nurfadzilah Yahaya, Washington University in St. Louis
    Not only did the Hurst Legal institute expand my intellectual horizons, the 12-day intensive session effectively trained me to speak to as broad an audience as possible every single day. Personally, it was particularly inspiring to see how accomplished scholars such as Dirk Hartog and the five guest speakers enthusiastically stepped out of their respective fields in order to engage with as many Fellows as possible. [They] provided excellent models for successful discussions which are broad and general that don’t just pertain to narrow fields. While difficult and challenging, these scholars demonstrate in very different ways how it can be done.

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