Prof. Blumenthal Wins Organization of American Historians Book Award

April 10, 2017

The Organization of American Historians has announced that Susanna Blumenthal, the Julius E. Davis Professor of Law and an associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, is the winner of the 2017 Merle Curti Award for the best book published in American intellectual history.

Blumenthal’s book, Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture, was published by Harvard University Press in 2016. It explores how attorneys in the post-Revolutionary War era struggled to define mental soundness in the courtroom. “Litigants presented conflicting religious, philosophical, and medical understandings of the self, intensifying fears of a populace maddened by too much liberty,” writes the publisher. “Judges struggled to reconcile commonsense notions of rationality with novel scientific concepts that suggested deviant behavior might result from disease rather than conscious choice.”

Legal scholars have praised the book. Writing in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Meir Dan-Cohen, a professor at University of California, Berkeley School of Law, called it a “thoughtful study of American law’s confrontation with insanity during the 19th century.” Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the 400-page book was an “extensive and exquisitely detailed journey through a long overlooked corner of 19th-century jurisprudence in America.”

“Law and history are closely linked. Understanding the historical development of legal rules and institutions helps us understand the present and the future directions of those same rules and institutions,” said Dean Garry W. Jenkins. “In her book, Blumenthal synthesizes the roots of our legal approach to assessing mental capacity with deftness and insight. We are proud of her achievement and congratulate her on this prestigious award.”

Blumenthal, who is also co-director of the Law School’s Program in Law and History, received her Ph.D. in history from Yale University, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her A.B. from Harvard College. Her current book project, tentatively titled The Apprehension of Fraud, explores the role of law in policing the ambiguous borderland between capitalism and crime in 19th-century America. 

Professor Susanna Blumenthal
Professor Susanna Blumenthal

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