This spring, HLS launched the Law and History program of study headed by two faculty leaders: Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who is also a professor of history in the faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Professor Kenneth Mack ’91. The program of study will guide students in navigating HLS’s extensive course offerings and connect them with faculty whose interests they share. In February, Professors Brown-Nagin and Mack held a kick-off event featuring a panel discussion with Charles Donahue, Annette Gordon-Reed and Mark Tushnet.
What does the Law and History program of study aim to do?
The goal of the program is to make students aware that there are a number of world-class legal historians on the faculty at Harvard Law School who have a lot to offer to students who are interested in history casually, but also to students who might be considering a career in academia. We’re also building community. As of next year, we will be including students in the legal history colloquium, which will be a class where students can meet professors who are coming to present their work. I think there’s a fabulous opportunity for students to network with people who are successful in their professions.
One of the things I want to be absolutely clear to students—something that wasn’t actually crystal clear to me when I first started trying to combine my interest in social history and law—is that the two are completely compatible. It should not be considered odd or strange to study legal history in the context of law school. If anything, I think studying the context in which the law develops makes it clearer how doctrine evolves over time, what goes into the making of doctrine, that it’s not just the law alone—it’s the identity of a lawmaker, it is the social context, it can be the identity of the plaintiffs and defendants, it can be geopolitical considerations, it could be what’s happening in politics. I want students to be comfortable and interested and excited about studying legal history.
How did the Law and History program originate, and how did your own experiences bring you to helping start it?
It launched in part because of a felt need on the parts of me and Ken [Mack] and the dean. We needed an institutional space to showcase the faculty and to make connections among folks on campus who are interested in history.
The program also grew out of my own experiences and frustrations as a law student interested in doing something that at the time was unconventional: talking about law and legal history not only in a top-down manner, but from a bottom-up perspective. I didn’t know how to do it within the confines of law school. When you’re doing something that’s different or new, there’s always the response of, “Well, that isn’t really legal history; that’s not constitutional history.”
For students in the Law and History program, I want to be accessible to them and I want to help them not experience the barriers that I did when I was trying to make my way. I view mentoring students as very important, and I see the Law and History program as a way to mentor for all of us.