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LAPA Seminar

Steven Wilf, LAPA Fellow; University of Connecticut

Imagining and Beginning: Rethinking the Origins of American Law

October 25, 2010, 4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance

* Please note new location *

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Steven Wilf, LAPA Fellow and Joel Barlow Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut, for a discussion of "Imagining and Beginning: Rethinking the Origins of American Law."   The commentator will be Keith Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Library Lounge at the Bendheim Center
for Finance
, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet. 

From Steven Wilf: "Americans are particularly devoted to the mythic origins of their law—an oft-told tale of Constitutional crisis, framing, and ratification.  My recent book, Law's Imagined Republic: Popular Politics and Criminal Justice in Revolutionary America, presents an alternative beginning.  Criminal law, I suggest, is the other public law of the late eighteenth century.  The focus in Law's Imagined Republic is upon the remarkable proliferation of popular law talk as a means of political mobilization rather than settled governance, upon the heartland of Revolutionary agitation in the streets from the 1760s through the 1790s rather than a discrete moment of Constitutional deliberation, upon the interaction of popular and elite legal thinking, upon imagined law—sometimes fanciful, sometimes simply mockery—as well as actual statutes, and upon a North Atlantic competition of different legal systems (France's civil law tradition, English common law, and a nascent American republican legalism) rather than upon a narrow genealogy of American law as fashioned only within the boundaries of the American colonies.  Unlike popular constitutionalism, which has sought to rediscover the popular role in shaping the principles of contemporary Constitutional principles, Law's Imagined Republic suggests that to understand our real origins we need to recover legalism out-of-doors in the revolutionary period—its unbridled imagination, vernacular forms, and its reliance upon new, often political modes of reading official law."

Steven Wilf is the Joel Barlow Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut, where he was one of the founders of the Intellectual Property Program. He received both his Ph.D. in History from Yale University and his law degree from Yale Law School in 1995. He served as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before joining the Connecticut faculty. A scholar whose research focuses upon intellectual property law, historical jurisprudence, and legal history, he seeks to explore the fundamental ways that the origins of legal processes effect normative outcomes. Numerous essays and a recent book, The Law Before the Law (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), explore imaginative, often extra-official understandings of legalism. His latest book, Law’s Imagined Republic: Popular Politics and Criminal Justice in Revolutionary America, will be published this year by Cambridge University Press. He has been a visiting professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem and DAAD guest professor at the Freie Universitat, Berlin. He also has held fellowships as John Carter Brown Fellow at Brown University, Fellow in Comparative Legal History at the University of Chicago, Samuel Golieb Fellow at the New York University Law School, and, most recently, Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. At Princeton, Wilf will continue his current work on a book, under contract with Cambridge University Press, examining the history of United States intellectual property law from its beginnings to the present. He is the Microsoft/LAPA Fellow in Law, Property and the Economic Organization of Society for 2010-2011.

Keith E. Whittington is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University and currently director of graduate studies in the Department of Politics. He is the author of Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning, and Constitutional Interpretation: Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review, and Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History (which won the C. Herman Pritchett Award for best book in law and courts and the J. David Greenstone Award for best book in politics and history), and editor (with Neal Devins) of Congress and the Constitution and editor (with R. Daniel Kelemen and Gregory A. Caldeira) of The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics. He has published widely on American constitutional theory and development, federalism, judicial politics, and the presidency. He has been a John M. Olin Foundation Faculty Fellow and American Council of Learned Societies Junior Faculty Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Texas School of Law.  He is currently working on a political history of the judicial review of federal statutes and a volume of cases and materials on American constitutionalism.

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