Here's an excerpt from the Legal History Blog post of Jillian Jacklin, a PhD student in History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, about one of the panels at Life and Law in Rural America: Cows, Cars and Criminals. The American Studies Graduate Student Conference was held March 25-26 at Princeton University; an earlier post about the event is here:
An interdisciplinary dream, the Princeton University conference on rural America this past weekend was one of my most memorable moments as an academic to date. An array of fledgling scholars discussed their own research, compassionately and judiciously commented on each other’s work, and grappled with divergent and competing meanings of “rurality.” Gracing all of us with her wisdom on the subject and personal experience growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks, UC-Davis “ruralist” and Professor of Law, Lisa Pruitt, provided a compelling case for producing scholarship on the intersection between law and rural life. Arguably more importantly for a group of graduate students in the humanities, her talk urged us all to care about rural people; and she demonstrated a need for social justice beyond the borders of U.S. cities. Overall, our projects contributed to a lively symposium that the American Studies Program hosted, and my time at Princeton was insightful and inspiring.
Although not all of the participants would have referred to themselves as legal scholars upon initially attending, the conference certainly revealed the importance of law in U.S. history. One panel that I absolutely appreciated, titled “Rural Labor and Immigration,” focused on the juncture between rural work and matters of legality (and in interesting ways, law enforcement or lack their of) in the history of rural America.The full post, which describes papers by Smita Ghosh, Vanessa Guzman, Tyler Gray Greene, and Daniel Platt, is here.
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Postdoctoral Research Associate in African American Studies at Princeton, Jarvis McInnis, offered important feedback for each of the panel participants. And he spent considerable time providing thoughtful theoretical and content-specific questions and suggestions. But what I found to be most interesting and useful for an American Studies gathering was his emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of the conference. Focusing on what he believed to be the greatest contributions of each paper, he simultaneously critiqued them through his own disciplinary lenses. As a scholar of African American & African Diasporic literature and culture (as his Princeton University bio states), Jarvis also demonstrated his knowledge of a vast collection of fields. He made sure to contextualize the literary, historical, anthropological, and cultural studies suggestions that he gave to each graduate student by explaining that he was recommending certain titles and bodies of scholarship based on his research and training.
Both humble and smart in his comments, Jarvis captured the meanings and complexity of “Life and Law in Rural America” as a conference. He encouraged each of us to avoid complacency or becoming overly rooted in any academic field, and by way of his thoughtful commentary, he inspired us to become more communicative and collective as scholars. Legal historians can learn from exploring rural spaces for sure; but as Jarvis suggested, we need to move beyond the silos created by our specific disciplines as well.