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Legal Forms

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Organizer: Geoff Baker

Co-Organizer: Emma Davenport

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What is the relationship between legal history or juridical concept, on the one hand, and aesthetic form or genre history, on the other? At least four decades after the beginnings of “law and literature” as a more-or-less codified area of inquiry, and a few after the appearance of Alexander Welsh’s Strong Representations (1992), ongoing scholarship in the field seems to have turned even more intently to the question of the affiliations and disjuncts between legal and literary forms and structures. Compelling recent work has, for example: read the genre of the law report and the role of case law together in order to theorize a sort of “precedential reasoning” at work in the nineteenth-century novel and in realist narrative (Ayelet Ben-Yishai’s Common Precedents, 2013); examined the role of the conflicting impulses of criminal and strict-liability tort law in the development of the eighteenth-century novel (Sandra Macpherson’s Harm’s Way, 2010); and explored the idea of “witnessing” as a partially legal principle whose position somewhere between subjective account and desire for objective fact becomes a tension crucial to literary forms and ethics (Thomas Weitin’s Zeugenschaft: Das Recht der Literatur, 2009).



This seminar seeks papers--on any historical period, national literature, or genre--that engage the relationship between aesthetic forms and legal concepts, theory, and/or practice. We welcome analyses that speak to the “formalist turn” in literary studies as well as explicitly historicist inquiries, as well as those that challenge this binary division of methodologies. Papers may address any area of the law: from criminal to tort to contract to property; from international human rights to state family law; from common-law structures to statutory provisions; from foundational principles to specific applications; from questions of procedure to those of substance.


As a seminar, we may revisit and revise conventional understandings of the field of law and literature (“law in literature”; “law as literature”) as well as interrogate the coherence of the field as a structure for thinking: how does the “and” of “law and literature” facilitate and limit analysis, and what kinds of analyses might alternatives to this formulation enable?


Please feel free to contact the co-organizers with any questions.

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