What excites you most about joining the new law school faculty?
I find the sheer fact of novelty very exciting – and also slightly unnerving! Most of us spend our careers in institutions that already existed when we came along, institutions with their own entrenched ways of doing things, cultures, habits, routines, traditions. In this law school, faculty and students have the opportunity to invent all of these things for ourselves. It will be interesting to see how inventive we can be.
Why did you go into law teaching? What is your teaching style?
Here’s more novelty! Strictly speaking, I never went into law teaching. I don’t have a law degree, I have a history PhD. My first job was in a “legal studies” program at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Legal Studies at La Trobe was a social science degree. They thought hiring a historian would be interesting. I needed a job and I thought, “why not?” As career planning goes, it might not have been the most obvious thing to do but it turned out to be the best decision I could have hoped to make. It was a very exciting interdisciplinary program.
Interdisciplinarity is probably the key to how I teach – I like conversational interactions that involve everyone in a class in the examination of problems or circumstances or issues from many different angles. Our students will come from many different disciplinary backgrounds; we want to be able to take advantage of all that accrued knowledge as well as impart what we know. “Learning together” is a cliché but teachers always learn from students as well as, one hopes, the other way round. One major attraction to me of law teaching at Irvine is that our class sizes are likely to be small enough for a while to allow the style of teaching I prefer.
Describe your scholarship.
I am currently preparing a book for publication that I have worked on for at least 15 years, far longer than any other book I wrote. It is a study of the history of colonizing mainland America in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of the multiple roles that law played in that process. Early American history is very much oriented to the Atlantic and to England, and this book is no exception. Coming to the Pacific Coast makes me very conscious of the very distinct colonial history of California vis-à-vis Spain and Mexico. But I think there are commonalities too.
Other work that I have done recently explores the conceptual history of “police” as a legal discourse of regulation. I’m also interested in the critical theorist Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), who is not known for his writing on law but actually did address law quite extensively in the course of his own work on the philosophy of history and literary criticism. I also do quite a lot of scholarly editing in legal history.
What are you the most excited about doing in the first years of the law school?
Actually, I’m very curious to see from the inside how a law school operates day-to-day. We have made some very exciting commitments to the kind of law school we want Irvine to be – an interdisciplinary school, a school with a strong “public interest” component, a school that takes clinical education very seriously. I want to help put those commitments into practice.
I also want to learn whether it will be easy or difficult to put them into practice. The social science expression is “regression to the mean” – the tendency in any measurable collective phenomenon for exceptions not to become rules, for things to “return to normal,” outliers to fall back toward the center. Our commitments suggest we want Irvine to be unlike other law schools. I am sure we will encounter all sorts of pressures that are constantly pulling us back toward the mean. I want to try to help us resist those pressures.