PhD Concentrations

Many departments on the Princeton campus in the social sciences and the humanities provide opportunities for PhD students to concentrate in law-related fields. The Politics Department has demonstrated a century of commitment to studies in public law; the History Department has trained a number of legal historians; the Sociology Department has a growing group of scholars doing sociology of law; and the Anthropology Department is home to a large number of legal anthropologists. Many other departments also have opportunities to focus on law in the course of PhD education. For more information, consult the department in question. We have included here some of the most visible concentrations within PhD programs on campus.

Public Law in the Politics Department: A Century of Commitment

The study of law has been a feature of Princeton''s politics department for more than a century. "Public law" is one of the graduate specialty fields, and undergraduate courses in constitutional law and legal theory are among the most popular subjects in the department. The Politics Department at Princeton participated in LAPA''s birth by being one of the three initial hosting departments. (The other two were the Center for Human Values and the Woodrow Wilson School.)

Princeton''s politics department has a distinguished history in the field of public law. Starting with Woodrow Wilson, and continuing down through the holders of the McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence — W. F. Willoughby, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus Mason, Walter Murphy and Robert George — the Princeton politics department has traditionally been an important home for the study of constitutional law. Because the department houses the McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence, American constitutional law has been able to maintain a constant presence in the department over the last century.

In addition to Professor George, the current occupant of the McCormick Chair, the Princeton politics department has on its faculty Keith Whittington and Ken Kersch, who both add to Princeton''s strength in American constitutionalism. The department has resources across the entire field of public law, creating one of the most diverse groups of scholars in politics and law in the country. Jennifer Widner and Kim Lane Scheppele work on comparative constitutionalism, with Widner focusing on African constitutionalism and Scheppele focusing on post-communist Europe. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Robert Keohane and John Ikenberry work on international law; Gary Bass and Emilie Hafner-Burton work on international human rights and humanitarian law. Andrew Moravcsik writes about European Union constitutionalism. Chuck Cameron and Keith Whittington work on judicial politics. In American Politics, Chuck Cameron, Jessica Trounstine, Tom Romer, David Lewis, Beth Jamieson and Brandice Canes-Wrone have ongoing projects in which law is central. And Stephen Macedo, Charles Beitz, Alan Patten, Philip Pettit, Jennifer Pitts and Jan-Werner Müller approach legal issues from the political theory side. Many others in the department have law-related encounters in their work and teaching.

PhD students with an interest in public law may take a generals exam in the field and write a law-related dissertation. For students presently specializing in public law in the department, see


The PhD in History: A Tradition of Legal Historians


The Princeton History Department is an attractive place for graduate study for legal historians who wish to situate their studies within the widest understanding of the historical enterprise. Among the faculty, many who work in social history, cultural history, economic history, diplomatic history, political history, intellectual history, the history of science, and the history of the book (to list only a few of the subspecialties and methodologies found among the faculty) also seriously engage with the law. Hendrik Hartog holds the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professorship in the History of American Law and Liberty.

A steady stream of students has entered the department with an interest in legal history. They have gone on to take minor field examinations in legal history and to write dissertations in the area. Some of the students who have focused their doctoral work on legal history include:

  • Elizabeth Clark, Professor of Law, Boston University (deceased) (religion and feminism in nineteenth century America)
  • Daniel Ernst, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law School (labor and the regulatory state)
  • Sarah Barringer Gordon, Professor of Law and History, University of Pennsylvania (church and state; Mormon polygamy)
  • Michael Millender, Private Practice, Portland, OR (criminal practice in the early republic)
  • Felicia Kornbluh, Assistant Professor of History, Duke University (welfare rights movement; rights and regulation in modern America)
  • Jacob Katz Cogan, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati (state constitution making)
  • Todd Stevens, Assistant Professor of History, Rutgers-Newark (Chinese immigrants and economic life in the nineteenth century Pacific Coast; law and the economy)
  • Risa Goluboff, Professor of Law, University of Virginia (civil rights law and practice during World War II)
  • Donna Dennis, Ph.D., Acting Professor of Law, Rutgers-Newark (pornography and obscenity law in nineteenth century New York City)
  • Kenneth Mack, Professor of Law, Harvard University (African American lawyers and the invention of civil rights practice)
  • Mitra Sharafi, Assistant Professor of Law and History, University of Wisconsin-Madison (South Asian legal history)


A Growing Group in the Sociology of Law


Princeton''s sociology department has a growing group of both faculty and students interested in the sociology of law. Faculty members Devah Pager and Bruce Western study the labor market consequences of mass incarceration; Mitchell Duneier, Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, and Katherine Newman work at the intersection of ethnography, poverty, and legality; Paul Starr, Miguel Centeno and Kim Lane Scheppele engage political and legal theory while thinking about historical transformations; Viviana Zelizer uses legal materials as data for her work on change and variation in interpersonal economic relations; Paul DiMaggio and Doug Massey examine the ways that inequality becomes embedded in social practices that the law is then called upon to change. Other members of the sociology department faculty engage law in their work in a variety of ways.

The department''s course offerings in this area are growing and PhD students have started to take sociology of law as a general examination field and to write dissertations in the area. One of the department''s PhD students in sociology of law, Deborah Becher, just received a Dissertation Support Grant from the Law and Social Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation and another, Scott Washington, received the best graduate student paper prize from the Law and Society Association in 2006. Sara Nephew Hassani became the first PhD student in recent years to complete a generals examination in the sociology of law.


Anthropology of Law: A Major Concentration of Specialists


Princeton''s anthropology department houses perhaps the densest concentration of legal anthropologists in the country. Though the department is small, it can count among its faculty five anthropologists concerned with law. Lawrence Rosen is both a lawyer and an anthropologist (and an adjunct member of Columbia''s law faculty). He works on the law of the Middle East and North Africa, with an additional specialty in Native American Law. Carol Greenhouse is a former president of the Law and Society Association, with a specialty in law and community in the United States. John Borneman, founding co-editor of the Princeton Report on Knowledge, works on political and legal anthropology, focusing on countries going through political and cultural transformations. He began by working on Germany before, during and after unification and is now working on Syria and Lebanon. Abdellah Hammoudi, the founding director of the Princeton Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, works on issues at the intersection of political authoritarianism and religion in the Middle East, more specifically on Morocco. João Biehl works on medical and political anthropology in Latin America and is studying intellectual property rights and the regulation of pharmaceutical markets in Brazil.

Graduate students in the department of anthropology may focus their research on topics in the anthropology of law.