Jessica Lowe, Ph.D. candidate, History

The Hermeneutics of Southern Legal History: Uncovering the Politics of State and Local Courts in Federal Virginia

Wed, 10/26/2011
Noon, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

Please join on October 26, when Jessica Lowe will discuss, "The Hermeneutics of Southern Legal History:  Uncovering the Politics of State and Local Courts in Federal Virginia." 

From Professor Scheppele:  "Jessica will begin the session by giving a 20-minute summary of the paper.  She will then take questions for the rest of the time.   If you are planning on attending you can request a copy of the paper at   If you have a chance to read the paper, that's terrific – but you can also come and participate if you haven't read the paper.   As you will see, the paper is a fun read, so I wouldn't be surprised if many of you can't put it down.    But the idea is to approximate the conditions of a job talk, where some of the audience will be knowledgeable and the rest will hear about the topic for the first time.   Therefore if some of you read and some of you don't, that's more or less what the audience is like for job talks!     

Jessica's paper is drawn from the introductory chapters of her dissertation.  Here is her description of what the dissertation is about:

'The following draft article is drawn from my dissertation, Murder in the Shenandoah: Commonwealth v. John Crane and Law in Federal Virginia.   The dissertation/book follows the case through the court system; each chapter focuses on a different moment of the case and, through it, law and life in Virginia in the 1790s – what I term "Federal Virginia."  Chapter One, "Murder in the Valley," introduces the fight between Crane and Vanhorn, situating it within the history of the lower Valley and the historiography of the South.  Chapter Two, "One Case, Two Courts," outlines Virginia's court system and follows Crane's case through the county and district courts, while arguing that local and state networks were tightly connected.   Chapter Three, "St. George Tucker and Judging in Federal Virginia," follows the heated post-trial exchange between Judge Tucker and Crane's attorney (and future Attorney General for President John Adams) Charles Lee, and uses it to look at the conventions and meaning of republican judging in the 1780s and 1790s.  Chapter Four, "For 'Difficulty' – The Challenges of Special Verdicts," focuses on the question that confronted the General Court – murder or manslaughter – and the use of special verdicts in the late 18th century.  Chapter Five, "Lunatic Fits," follows Crane's father James as he tried desperately to procure a pardon for his son from Governor Henry Lee (Charles Lee's brother), and looks at pardon practices in Virginia at this time.  Chapter Six, "Met His Fate Reluctantly," ends Crane's story with his execution, and puts it in the context of the many ways in which Virginians had tried, unsuccessfully, to reform their criminal code.  Finally, the conclusion examines the significance of the case for Southern history, legal history, and the history of the early national period.' 

This draft article provides an introduction to the case and a thematic overview, with particular focus on critiquing the ways in which historians read and use legal texts."

Jessica Lowe is a Ph.D. candidate in the Princeton University History Department. She received her J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School in 2002; after law school, she clerked in the District of Connecticut and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and practiced appellate law in Washington D.C., where she worked on a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. She is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia. She received her B.A. (high honors) from the University of Virginia and also studied at Yale Divinity School, where she was a Marquand Scholar.

Jessica studies eighteenth and nineteenth century American legal history, and specializes in the history of the American South. Her teaching interests span both law and history, and include American legal history, the history and legal theory of the Revolutionary and early national eras, Southern legal history, criminal law and sentencing, American religious history, and Christianity and legal theory. She has held a number of fellowships, including an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. In 2011, she received the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni's Award for Excellence in Teaching.