Law and Humanities Find Common Ground at Conference

March 13, 2015 —

Georgetown Law is well known for being a forum for ideas — where one can find experts holding court on issues from intellectual property to terrorism most days of the academic year. And while discussions on culture, music and fiction might emanate less often from the classrooms of McDonough Hall, law and the humanities found common ground at Georgetown Law on March 6 and 7.

It was the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities, which has been held here four times (more than any other place) since the association’s founding in the 1990s — thanks to the influence of Professor Robin West, one of the association’s founders. 

“The idea was to have a society that would facilitate the development of collegial and friendship bonds that would endure over years and even decades,” West says of the organization, which honored her with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. “I think it has been completely successful in that aspiration.”

As has the annual conference, which over the years has received great support from Georgetown Law deans, said Professor Naomi Mezey, the 2015 host committee chair. West and Mezey have each served twice as chair.

What’s the current state of the law and the humanities? “Varied, robust and dynamic,” according to Mezey. “One of the reasons is because of this conference … people in the law get to talk to people working in the humanities, and vice versa, so it creates more intellectual synergy.”

On March 6 in McDonough 437, for example, U.K. lecturer Robert Herian discussed the law of equity in a panel exploring the philosophies of Butler, Derrida and Lacan. In Room 588, West Virginia University Professor Paolo Farah described how intellectual property rights can fail to protect a community’s cultural heritage. In Room 201, legal historian John Strawson helped to explore images of ISIS in a panel on terrorism. 

Later in the day, Mezey was among those commenting on a book by another association founder, Amherst’s Austin Sarat. Sarat’s Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty (Stanford University Press, 2014) is a history of botched and mismanaged executions in the United States from 1890 to 2010 — exploring among other things how these events were covered in the media. 

On Saturday, a panel on “Sex and Gender in Legal, Feminist, and Socio-Historical Perspective” featured both West and Mezey. The conference featured 78 panels over the course of the two days.

Legal scholarship itself has become interdisciplinary, Mezey noted, so it’s exciting to see all the issues come together at Georgetown. “You have philosophers, people in English and rhetoric and history, religion and political science, cultural studies, media — and it’s invigorating, because it provides new ways of looking at familiar legal topics,” she said. “What was true when this was founded — a kind of loneliness on the part of humanities-inclined legal scholars within law schools — is less and less the case.” 

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