This seminar-style reading group provides a forum to explore diverse ways of knowing and inquiring about "law" in humanistic and social scientific academic research. We meet twice a semester over a shared reading of any attendee's choosing—whether a seminal text required for an exam or teaching, or a newer work. The group meets up to twice per semester. Open to graduate students and faculty.

If you would like to propose a session, please e-mail an organizer.

For 2018, the organizer is:

Paul M. B. Gutierrez (Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science)                              

Spring 2018


Tuesday April 10th at 4:00 PM, Sharpe House Room 107

Facilitators: Paul M. B. Gutierrez & Daniel Platt

Contracts and contractual logics continue to suffuse contemporary society; indeed, as a legal concept—not to mention a political, cultural, and economic concept—the contract remains primary. In this broader sense, we appear to continue to live in the aftermath of what Morton Horwitz termed the “Triumph of the Contract” and what Henry Sumner Maine celebrated as the “movement from Status to Contract” in the 19th century.

In this meeting of the Brown Legal Studies Reading Group, we will revisit these two landmark texts, but will do so alongside recent works that have challenged or complicated these prevailing accounts of the 19th century rise of the contract. In particular, we will explore research focused on the intersections of contractual logics and gender, race, and capitalism—exploring the ways contractual logics have been suspended or alternatively deployed in these areas.

The texts for this session are:

  • Henry Sumner Maine, “Primitive Society and Ancient Law,” in Ancient Law

  • Morton Horwitz, “Triumph of the Contract,” in The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860

In addition, we will ask participants to read at least two of the following pieces:

  • Carole Pateman, Selections, in The Sexual Contract

  • Carole Pateman and Charles Mills, “Contract and Social Change” in Contract and Domination

  • Evelyn Atkinson, “Out of the Household,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities

  • John Witt, “Narrating Bankruptcy,” Northwestern University Law Review

Spring 2017


Tuesday March 21st at 2:30PM, Sharpe House Room 107

To orient our discussion on this broad and multi-faceted topic, we prepared a draft syllabus for a hypothetical seminar course called "law and sanctuary"; how to structure a semester-long course with these varieties of historical, theoretical, theological, and political approaches in mind?


  • Jeremy Mumford (Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Brown)

    • presenting on a very short primary source, two passages from a famous, possibly semi-fictional 17th-century memoir, "Lieutenant Nun". [] These are two passages where, after murdering someone in an honor conflict, Erauso [aka Lieutenant Díaz] successfully escapes arrest by demanding sanctuary (asilo) in a church. The text gives the impression that one of churches' main functions was protecting criminals from justice. Also presenting a chapter from Victor Uribe-Uran, “God’s Forgiveness: Heavenly Intercessions,” chap. 5 in Fatal Love: Spousal Killers, Law and Punishment in the Late Colonial Spanish Atlantic (Stanford, 2015), 151-175, 333-339. The chapter discusses the law of sanctuary (asilo) and how Erauso used it.

  • Sara Ludin (PhD Candidate, Berkeley Law; Visiting Research Fellow in Brown History)

    • Shoemaker, Karl. Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400-1500. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.

    • Waligora-Davis, Nicole A. Sanctuary: African American and Empire. Oxford University Press, 2011.

  • Nathaniel Berman (Rahel Varnhagen Professor of International Affairs, Law, and Modern Culture at Cogut Center for the Humanities)

    • presentation on the Nuremberg Defense in International Law

  • Daniel Platt (PhD Candidate in American Studies at Brown)

    • Cunningham, Hilary. God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the Politics of Religion. University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Fall 2016

Friday October 14th at 2:30 PM, Sharpe House Room 107

Presenter: Daniel Platt, PhD Candidate in American Studies at Brown


Early social theory made much of the divide between the public world of politics and commerce and the private domain of family and home. This meeting of the Legal Studies Reading Group considers how scholars have used the laws of marriage, emancipation, and immigration to question the durability of that narrative. In what ways, they ask, have family and market or family and state been mutually constituted? How might a more holistic framework shape the histories we write of liberalism, capitalism, state-formation, and nation-making? Join us for a discussion of four key texts in the project of understanding the relationship between “Law and the Family.”

  • Christopher Lasch, “Social Pathologists and the Socialization of Reproduction,” in Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 3-21.

  • Nancy Cott, “Introduction” and “Perfecting Community Rules with State Laws,” in Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 1-8, 24-55.

  • Amy Dru Stanley, “Instead of Waiting for the Thirteenth Amendment: The War Power, Slave Marriage, and Inviolate Human Rights,” American Historical Review (June 2010): 732-765.

  • Martha Gardner, “In the Shadow of the Law,” “The Limits of Derivative Citizenship,” “When Americans Are Not Citizens,” and “Families, Made in America,” in The Qualities of a Citizen: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870-1965 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1-12, 31-50, 121-139, 223-240.