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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reposting: Legal History Blog post by Bernard Hibbitts on being a Canadian teaching legal history to Americans


If you don't follow the excellent (American) Legal History Blog, you should at least check out this blog post by Bernard Hibbitts on the challenges of being a non-American teaching American Legal History .

Historians have put the "I" back into history, as the expression goes. It's an intriguing step forward to consider the ramifications of putting the "I" into teaching. Most academics introduce themselves and their backgrounds to their students at the outset of a course, but I think few really put much thought into what that means for the choices they make as academics, in teaching as well as in writing.

Here is some of what Hibbitts has to say:

At the same time, I think being a Canadian immigrant constitutes a strength that draws me to topics and situations that are often ignored in the standard historiography of American lawyering, such as that is. Reflecting the relatively high profile of indigenous "First Nations" peoples in Canada, I'm naturally drawn to the meager but still remarkable historical record of indigenous lawyering in the United States, both before and after the Trail of Tears. I'm interested in white lawyer in-migrations (from Europe and Canada) and out-migrations (to Canada, Europe, and even Central and South America) that to this point have been underplayed or not considered as interconnected events. As a cultural and perhaps even biological heir of the Loyalists, I'm particularly interested in American lawyers from the 18th century through the 20th who experienced war, loss, and exile north of the border and elsewhere. As an expatriate of a nation whose people still like to think of themselves as peacekeepers, I'm fascinated by the longstanding militarism of American lawyers both at home and abroad. As someone who came into the American "melting pot" from the Canadian "mosaic" I'm intrigued by the ongoing but underemphasized implications of ethnicity in American lawyering, and how the ethnic background of white American lawyers (English, German, Irish, Canadian, Italian, Russian, Jewish etc.) shaped their concerns, attitudes and initiatives over time. Coming from a (Con)federation of powerful provinces, I'm struck by the deep historical regionalism of American lawyering that in my view transcends in both significance and subtlety the North-South and/or East-West divides we tend to limit ourselves to today. Being a citizen of a county whose political spectrum (even now) is left-shifted as compared to the contemporary United States, I'm impressed by the many "lost" American lawyers who campaigned tirelessly for labor and working people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but whose efforts and contributions were largely erased from remembered American legal history after the 1920s and, even moreso, the 1950s. Finally, coming from a national legal educational system that was never as dependent on one law school and one instructional model, I've been almost relieved to recover in the dusty and literally disintegrating records of the forgotten US correspondence law schools (circa roughly 1890-1925) a legal pedagogical counterculture that was, to put it bluntly, far more visionary (not to mention profoundly democratic) than anything Christopher Columbus Langdell ever came up with at Harvard Law School.

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