Constance Backhouse wrote me this morning asking me to circulate this. I am thrilled that although I had to miss Philip giving his speech in Denver, the legal history group has the written version, and Philip will be presenting it to us on Wednesday.
I am at the American Society for Legal History’s annual meeting in Denver. I wanted to share with you, and with the Canadian legal history folks, the news about the wonderful “Plenary” speech last night. The top spot on the program is reserved every year for one of the giants of legal history. All of the conference goers, even the ones who typically do not attend the sessions, show up and listen intently. It is considered the marking of a rite of passage.
Last night, Philip Girard was the honoured speaker. His lecture was titled “Disorienting: Towards a Legal History of North America.”
Doug Hay and Rosalie Abella have given wonderful speeches at ASLH plenaries some years back when the ASLH met in Canada. This was the first time that a Canadian had ever been selected to speak at a meeting in the US, and the new ASLH President, Michael Grossberg, made a point of stressing that “you don’t need to be in Canada to learn about Canadian legal history.”
Philip was simply outstanding. All of us have heard him give awesome presentations in the past, but last night he hit a pinnacle that is rarely met. He was brilliant, erudite, witty, thoughtful, and wise. He was terribly funny. He presented ideas that few people in the audience had considered before, and he did so in a way that was accessible and riveting. It’s something we all know already about Philip’s talents. But there was something about watching him display his incredible range and depth, in this venue, that was extraordinary. And he opened by stressing that Canadian legal history thrives because it is a collective, a community that shares, is supportive of its participants, and builds on our collectively diverse research and knowledge.
It was a proud moment to be a Canadian legal historian. I wish you had all been there to hear it. It was simply wonderful.