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Conference Draws Legal Historians from Around the Globe

November 24, 2010

Hundreds of legal history scholars gathered in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History, hosted by the law school Nov. 18-21.

Scholars from Sweden, Israel, China, Brazil, Canada, France, Australia, England and the U.S. took part and discussed topics including legal battles over indigenous natural resources, race in American juvenile justice and sanctuary for convicted felons in Medieval England.

ASLH President Constance Backhouse, the Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, said the gathering was the most internationally diverse conference in the organization’s history.

The conference brought together scholars with diverse perspectives on new and familiar historical topics. Associate Professor Donald Tibbs said, adding that Philadelphia made a fitting venue for the international event.

A discussion of “Before (And After) Roe v. Wade” examined the social and political climate that preceded the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Linda Greenhouse, now a senior research scholar in law and the Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, and Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel recounted the varied social and political forces that gave rise to the landmark case and its outcome. While many observers contend the ruling fueled the rise of conservatism, the presenters traced causes of an unfolding political realignment that bears little relationship to Roe v. Wade.

In the plenary address, Hendrik Hartog, the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University, detailed his study of inheritance conflicts in 19th- and 20th-century New Jersey and the rich insights they contained about parent-child relations and aging in an era before pensions and Social Security existed.

Dean Roger Dennis welcomed the 250 participants for the plenary and reception in Drexel University’s Main Building, which was the first campus structure erected by Anthony J. Drexel in 1891 to house the Drexel Institute.

Dennis noted Anthony Drexel’s roles as a prominent banker and – with his family – as a visionary educator committed to helping urban working class men and women improve their lives. Although Drexel is now a comprehensive national research university, Dennis said, it has remained true to its roots.

“We are particularly interested in the direct impact that our research and teaching have on our community,” he said.