In Signposts, Sally E. Hadden and Patricia Hagler Minter have assembled seventeen essays, by both established and rising scholars, that showcase new directions in southern legal history across a wide range of topics, time periods, and locales. The essays will inspire today's scholars to dig even more deeply into the southern legal heritage, in much the same way that David Bodenhamer and James Ely's pathbreaking 1984 work, Ambivalent Legacy, inspired an earlier generation to take up the study of southern legal history.
Contributors to Signposts explore a wide range of subjects related to southern constitutional and legal thought, including real and personal property, civil rights, higher education, gender, secession, reapportionment, prohibition, lynching, legal institutions such as the grand jury, and conflicts between bench and bar. A number of the essayists are concerned with transatlantic connections to southern law and with marginalized groups such as women and native peoples. Taken together, the essays in Signposts show us that understanding how law changes over time is essential to understanding the history of the South.
The contributors are Lisa Lindquist Dorr, Laura F. Edwards, James W. Ely, Tim Alan Garrison, Sally E. Hadden, Roman J. Hoyos, Thomas N. Ingersoll, Jessica K. Lowe, Patricia Hagler Minter, Cynthia Nicoletti, Susan Richbourg Parker, Christopher W. Schmidt, Jennifer M. Spear, Christopher R. Waldrep, Peter Wallenstein, Charles L. Zelden, and me. Here is a flier with more details on Signposts.
I am expecting my copy of the book to arrive shortly and I'll be talking about a number of the chapters when it does. Right now I want to talk about my chatper, which urges intellectual historians of the pre-Civil War South to integrate lawyers and judges into their story more fully. My chapter is called "The World Made by Law and the Laws Made by the World of the Old South." I use Anthony Grafton's fabulous 2009 book Worlds Made by Words (Harvard 2009) as an inspiration for the title, obviously. Where Grafton is interested in how scholars created community through their work, I am interested in a somewhat different issue -- how economic and demographic reality shaped law -- and particularly legal thought.
I argue that because the law was closely linked to economic and demographic reality that legal thinkers were closely related to their society, rather than distinct from it. Lawyers and judges in the old south demonstrate that people who truck in ideas are sometimes closely linked to the leaders of their society. While we may think about some intellectuals in the pre-Civil War era as distinct from their culture (think Transcendentalists, for instance), in the old South some of the leading intellectuals were closely related to it. This is a point of substantial contention among historians of southern intellectual history. Michael O'Brien's fabulously important Conjectures of Order looms large in my chapter, as does Drew Faust's A Sacred Circle. Though my dataset in this chapter is largely drawn from appellate cases, I develop some of these themes about how lawyers and judges reflected the ideas of their era in a recent article on addresses by judges and lawyers here at UNC before the Civil War. (And in an earlier article on addresses at the University of Alabama before the war. I also wrote about how antebellum legal thought north and south correlated with another part of culture, landscape art.)
I suggested -- ok, begged is the right word for it -- that Sally and Patti use a picture of Blackhead Signpost Road in Southampton as the cover art. I thought it fit so perfectly with the legal history of the South -- the road, after all, gets its name from the slave who was executed there and whose head was left on a post as a warning to others. Wow. About this I will have a lot -- lot -- more to say in June when my article on the Nat Turner rebellion trials comes out. Obviously wiser heads prevailed on the issue of cover art. If you'd like to know more about Blackhead Signpost Road and the Nat Turner rebellion, check out my paper on "The Nat Turner Trials," which is available for free download from ssrn.
I hope that you'll pass the recommendation for this book along to your favorite librarian.