Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture Series

2018 Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture


Dr. Farah Peterson

Monuments and Memory: How the Law Writes American History

American history is written into American law. Yet the law also writes our history. When a judge on the Supreme Court writes a consequential opinion, that opinion often rests on a story about who we are as a people, as American citizens. Legal opinions thus stand as public memorials to a shared past.

Like physical monuments to fallen heroes and momentous events, legal opinions are grand, affirmative, and state-building—and like all physical monuments, they erase as much as they affirm. They often ignore difficult, divisive, or ambiguous aspects of the histories they tell. Painful moments of America’s past, such as slavery and Jim Crow, are neglected in favor of stories that celebrate the events of which Americans are proud. The picture of America that results from such legal opinions can therefore be distorted. This imposes a significant cost, for judicial storytelling is often the lens through which lawyers, legislators, and policy makers understand the American past, much as public memorials, monuments, and museums form the basis of our nation’s collective memory.

Farah Peterson is a legal historian who focuses on statutory interpretation. Peterson holds a Ph.D. in American history from Princeton University. She earned her J.D. from Yale Law School, and received her bachelor’s in history from Yale as well. After law school, Peterson clerked for Associate Justice Stephen Breyer at the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Guido Calabresi at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She is currently working on a book, "The Most Dangerous Branch: Law and Legislation in Republican America," based on her doctoral dissertation.

Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture
Wednesday, October 17, 7:30PM
Warwick Center
The lecture is free and open to the public

Panel to follow the Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture
October 18, 2018
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute 
620 S. College Rd., ILM 28403
The day after the Department of History's annual Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture, UNCW will present a panel discussion featuring renowned scholars and legal professionals who will provide a commentary on the themes raised in Dr. Peterson's lecture and raise additional points from their own unique perspectives.  
All UNCW students and faculty are welcome to attend. Please use this link to RSVP for the panel.
Sherman Emerging Scholar Panelists:  
Ben David (New Hanover County District Attorney), Jeffrey Noecker (New Hanover County District Court Judge), Winnifred Sullivan (University of Indiana School of Law), Fitzhugh Brundage (UNC Chapel Hill)
Moderator: Candice Bredbenner, UNCW