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Program in Law and History

The Program in Law and History was established in 2007. The program's mission is to support the study of law in its historical context. The program brings together scholars and students from the University of Minnesota and around the world to foster teaching and research in all areas and periods of legal history.

Spring 2014 Legal History Workshop
Seminar Guest Schedule

Professor Barbara Welke

All workshops with speakers will convene on Fridays from 12:15-1:15 p.m in Room 1 of the Law School, unless otherwise noted.

For more information about the workshops, contact Barbara Welke at welke004@umn.edu or Brooke Depenbusch at depen003@umn.edu.



Room 50
"The Origins and Development of Guantanamo's Legal Black Hole"
Michael Straus, Professor of International Relations, Ècole des Hautes Ètudes Internationales


Abstract: In this presentation, Michael Strauss, professor of international relations at Paris' École des Hautes Études Internationales, explains what the jurisdictional gap is, and how it emerged and evolved through a combination of things: the lease itself and how it has been interpreted; the U.S. and Cuban legal systems; the application of the U.S. constitution and laws on territory that is controlled by the U.S. but is not U.S. sovereign territory; and whether the conditions that gave rise to the "legal black hole" can be replicated elsewhere - or already are.


"Home Rule: Equitable Justice in Progressive Chicago and the Philippines"
Nancy Buenger, Center for Law, Society and Justice, University of Wisconsin Madison


Abstract: Progressive lawmakers simultaneously revamped insular and municipal courts under the banner of home rule, voyaging back and forth across the Pacific and comparing notes on the mainland. Home rule signifies the governance of domestic dependents and other quasi-sovereign populations lacking full legal capacity. A richly ambiguous international agenda, it is commonly conflated with local and limited democratic governance in the United States. In Progressive Chicago and the Philippines, home rule drew deeply on the extraordinary power and expansive administrative capacity of equity, a juryless court specializing in the guardianship of dependents. A Roman canonical heritage, equitable courts in Latin and Anglo America are vested with the authority to set aside the law's letter and craft discretionary remedies according to the dictates of conscience and alternative legal traditions. Equity has been described as a legal standard contrary to the American rule of law that was emasculated by nineteenth-century state codes. Reconnecting insular and municipal home rule reveals equity as a powerful metropolitan engine that enhanced the parental power of the American state. Progressive home rulers in Chicago and the Philippines expanded equity's criminal jurisdiction, copied its administrative machinery, and exercised the prerogative to set aside the law's letter, experimenting with alternative legal remedies. Prominent among them were quasi-sovereign actors intimately acquainted with equity's capacity for home rule, including women and Filipino jurists. Embodying the Christian, imperial, and constitutional authority to decide on the exception, equity powered American state expansion, at home and abroad.


"Vestal Virgins and their Families"
Andrew Gallia, Associate Professor of History


Abstract: This article reexamines the evidence for the relationships between the Vestal virgins and their natal kin from the second century BC to the third century AD. It suggests that the bond between these priestesses and their families remained strong throughout this period and that, as a consequence, interpretations of the Vestals' position within Roman society that emphasize the severing of agnatic ties through their removal from patria potestas are misguided. When placed in its broader social and legal context, the ritual "capture" of these priestesses is shown to be a necessary feature of their priestly identity, which only marked them out as extraordinary because of the unique intersection of religious and gender categories that characterized their office. Finally, the implications of these findings for the interpretation of the significance of Vestal virginity are discussed.


"Too Many People Don't Belong Anywhere": The Persistence of Settlement Law in Depression Era America"
Brooke Depenbusch, History Ph.D. program


Abstract: Throughout and past the Great Depression, settlement and removal laws limited the provision of general welfare to settled members of the community and left all other welfare recipients subject to the threat of removal. Thus, though the Great Depression is often associated with the large-scale movement of migrants across the nation, the experience of tens of thousands of migrants instead attests to the prevailing role of law in constricting the poor's freedom of movement. These migrants were the unsettled poor, men and women subject to removal and liable to be transported across the country to the places they legally "belonged." Crucial to the history of the unsettled poor are the administrators, courts, and social welfare reformers who variously implemented, interpreted, and challenged the nation's patchwork of settlement and removal laws. As the nation took its first steps towards constructing its welfare state, these institutional actors fought pitched battles over the attributes that legally defined being "poor" and the consequences that being "poor" ought to have for civic and political belonging. This paper will explore the legal experiences of the unsettled poor and the ways in which the law and legal actors continued to define and place these persons outside of the parameters of fully incorporated citizenship.



Room 30
2013-14 Erickson Legal History Lecture
"The Problem With Pardons"

Cynthia B. Herrup, John H. Hubbard Professor of British History and Professor of History and Law, University of Southern California


Abstract: At the end of every presidency and many governorships, Americans fuss about pardons. Was it right for Bill Clinton to pardon financier Marc Rich in 2001? Should George Ryan have used pardons to clear Illinois' Death Row in 2003? More often than not, we see pardons as signs of unfair treatment, special privilege, and even legal ineptness. It is much easier to name scandals caused by pardons than injustices righted by them. But why? Pardons are meant to do good – to evoke charity and mercy, and to provide a necessary remedy to the sometimes too harsh rationality of the law. Our critiques of pardoning usually concentrate on the specifics of who gives pardons, who gets pardons, and how and why. Is the problem with pardons intrinsic to the concept of pardoning itself? By looking at the history of pardons in the tumultuous world of 17th century England, we can rethink why we have pardons and what we can reasonably expect from them.


(1210 Heller Hall)
"A Pardon Gone Awry: The Case of A Rye Mason"
Cynthia B. Herrup, John H. Hubbard Professor of British History and Professor of History and Law, University of Southern California


"Legal Categorizations of the Child Refugee and Recipient of U.S. Aid during the Cold War, 1945-1960"
Sharon Park, Ph.D. candidate in History


Abstract: After World War II, the legal categories of foreign aid recipients in the U.S. were shifting, developing, and consolidating. On one hand, the "qualifications" for receiving aid included an affiliation with a nation-state, which was important during the Cold War, as national boundaries fluctuated on the global stage. On the other hand, U.S. policymakers, humanitarian workers, and the media emphasized America's global responsibility to support their "less fortunate neighbors" across national and geopolitical lines, on the grounds of universal human rights and humanitarianism. This paper focuses on the case of Jewish child refugees from 1945-1960, which illustrates how the ambiguous legal status of "stateless" refugees challenged the categories of U.S. aid recipients, prompting debates about how much the U.S. could give and who deserved aid. Children in particular were entangled in the bureaucratic politics of this developing "humanitarian industry"; yet they could also transcend restrictions due to their perceived innocence, homelessness as refugees, and the lack of documentation to 'prove" their status as citizens of nation-states-- or even as "displaced persons" and "children"-- in order to receive aid. This paper will thus explore the limitations and the malleability of the criteria for distributing aid during this period. It will also examine how American policymakers' and relief workers' conceptions of children's agency (or lack thereof) shaped their understanding of their need to intervene.


"The Sac and Fox Mixed-Blood Reservation: State and Territorial Law in the Disposition of Indian Lands"
Jameson Sweet, Ph.D. candidate in History


Abstract: Although the regulation of Indians was exclusively a federal power, some nineteenth-century territories and states attempted to regulate American Indians through their local criminal court systems, the taxation of Indian land, and to convey their own requirements for Indians to acquire citizenship. The Sac and Fox "mixed-blood" reservation in southeastern Iowa, created by treaty in 1824, was burdened by the assertion of jurisdiction by successive territorial and state governments. These states and territories used their local courts and legislatures to transfer these lands from American Indian to white American ownership. These courts had the added burden of discerning the legal definition and rights of "mixed-bloods," which were different from both whites and Indians.

Program in Law and History Logo


Susanna Blumenthal
Associate Professor of Law
and History
American Legal History

Barbara Young Welke
Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Professor of History and Professor of Law
American Legal and Constitutional History


Morgan Gooch

The Law and the Child in Historical Perspective

June 1-2, 2014
University of Minnesota
Law School

This conference will focus on law's central role in changing understandings of childhood and children's experiences from the Medieval World through 2000.