The Legal History Podcast
EPISODE 22: Philip Thai

EPISODE 22: Philip Thai

August 12, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Philip Thai about his book, “The War on Smuggling: Law, Illicit Markets, and State Power on the China Coast” (Columbia University Press, 2018). Thai is Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University. He is a historian of Modern China with research and teaching interests that include legal history, economic history, and diplomatic history.

Smuggling along the Chinese coast has been a thorn in the side of many regimes. From opium and weapons concealed aboard foreign steamships in the Qing dynasty to nylon stockings and wristwatches trafficked in the People’s Republic, contests between state and smuggler have exerted a surprising but crucial influence on the political economy of modern China. Seeking to consolidate domestic authority and confront foreign challenges, states introduced tighter regulations, higher taxes, and harsher enforcement. These interventions sparked widespread defiance, triggering further coercive measures. Smuggling simultaneously threatened the state’s power while inviting repression that strengthened its authority.



Philip Thai chronicles the vicissitudes of smuggling in modern China—its practice, suppression, and significance—to demonstrate the intimate link between illicit coastal trade and the amplification of state power. China’s War on Smuggling shows that the fight against smuggling was not a simple law enforcement problem but rather an impetus to centralize authority and expand economic controls. The smuggling epidemic gave Chinese states pretext to define legal and illegal behavior, and the resulting constraints on consumption and movement remade everyday life for individuals, merchants, and communities. Drawing from varied sources such as legal cases, customs records, and popular press reports and including diverse perspectives from political leaders, frontline enforcers, organized traffickers, and petty runners, Thai uncovers how different regimes policed maritime trade and the unintended consequences their campaigns unleashed. China’s War on Smuggling traces how defiance and repression redefined state power, offering new insights into modern Chinese social, legal, and economic history.

EPISODE 21: Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente

EPISODE 21: Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente

July 29, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Gross about their book, “Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana” (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

How did Africans become 'blacks' in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders' efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies - Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana - Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross demonstrate that the law of freedom - not slavery - established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.

Alejandro de la Fuente is Robert Wood Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics and is Professor of African and African American Studies and of History at Harvard University. He is a historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations.

Ariela Gross is John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law where she teaches Contracts, History of American Law, and Race and Gender in the Law. Her research and writing focuses on race and slavery in the United States.

EPISODE 20: Paul Finkelman

EPISODE 20: Paul Finkelman

July 17, 2020

In this episode, Lesa Redmond talks with Paul Finkelman about his book "Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South (Second Edition)" (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2020). Finkelman is an American Legal Historian and President of Gratz College. 

Guest host Lesa Redmond is a first year student in the Department of History at Duke University. Her research focuses on colleges and universities and their connections to slavery.

EPISODE 19: Robert Chase

EPISODE 19: Robert Chase

June 3, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Robert Chase about his book, We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners’ Rights in Postwar America (UNC Press, 2020).

Chase is Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University. His areas of research and teaching include state and racial politics, African American and Latino/a history, urban history, labor history and working-class culture, critical race theory, political and sexual violence, social movements, and civil rights.

In We Are Not Slaves Chase draws from three decades of legal documents compiled by prisoners to narrate the struggle to change prison from within. Prisoners forged an alliance with the NAACP to contest the constitutionality of Texas prisons. Behind bars, a prisoner coalition of Chicano Movement and Black Power organizations publicized their deplorable conditions as “slaves of the state” and initiated a prison-made civil rights revolution and labor protest movement. These insurgents won epochal legal victories that declared conditions in many southern prisons to be cruel and unusual--but their movement was overwhelmed by the increasing militarization of the prison system and empowerment of white supremacist gangs that, together, declared war on prison organizers. Told from the vantage point of the prisoners themselves, this book weaves together untold but devastatingly important truths from the histories of labor, civil rights, and politics in the United States as it narrates the transition from prison plantations of the past to the mass incarceration of today.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program.

EPISODE 18: Maddalena Marinari

EPISODE 18: Maddalena Marinari

March 18, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Maddalena Marinari about her book, Unwanted Italian and Jewish Mobilization against Restrictive Immigration Laws, 1882–1965 (UNC Press, 2020) 

Maddalena Marinari is Assistant Professor in History; Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; and Peace Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. She has published extensively on immigration restriction and immigrant mobilization.

In Unwanted Marinari examines how, from 1882 to 1965, Italian and Jewish reformers profoundly influenced the country’s immigration policy as they mobilized against the immigration laws that marked them as undesirable. Strategic alliances among restrictionist legislators in Congress, a climate of anti-immigrant hysteria, and a fickle executive branch often left these immigrants with few options except to negotiate and accept political compromises. As they tested the limits of citizenship and citizen activism, however, the actors at the heart of Marinari’s story shaped the terms of debate around immigration in the United States in ways we still reckon with today.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program.

EPISODE 17: Sophie White

EPISODE 17: Sophie White

February 25, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Sophie White about her book, Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana. (UNC Press, 2019)

Sophie White is Associate Professor of American Studies and Concurrent Associate Professor in the Departments of Africana Studies, History, and Gender Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is an historian of early America with an interdisciplinary focus on cultural encounters between Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, and a commitment to Atlantic and global research perspectives.

In eighteenth-century New Orleans, the legal testimony of some 150 enslaved women and men--like the testimony of free colonists--was meticulously recorded and preserved. Questioned in criminal trials as defendants, victims, and witnesses about attacks, murders, robberies, and escapes, they answered with stories about themselves, stories that rebutted the premise on which slavery was founded.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program.

EPISODE 16: Gregory Downs

EPISODE 16: Gregory Downs

January 20, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Gregory P. Downs about his book The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Downs is professor of history at the University of California, Davis where he studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program.

EPISODE 15: Jane Hong

EPISODE 15: Jane Hong

December 3, 2019

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Jane Hong about her book Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Hong is an assistant professor of history at Occidental College where she specializes in 20th-century U.S. immigration and engagement with the world, with a focus on Asia.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program.

EPISODE 14: Kimberly Welch

EPISODE 14: Kimberly Welch

November 14, 2019

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Kimberly M. Welch about her book Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). Kimberly Welch is Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University. She is a scholar of race, slavery, and law in the early American South. 

Black Litigants has won numerous awards, including the 2018 James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize, the 2019 J. Willard Hurst Prize, the 2018 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History, and the 2019 Vanderbilt University Chancellor's Award for Research.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program. 

EPISODE 13: William Hustwit

EPISODE 13: William Hustwit

October 28, 2019

In this episode, Siobhan talks with William P. Hustwit about his book Integration Now: Alexander v. Holmes and the End of Jim Crow Education (UNC Press, 2019). Hustwit is the Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Birmingham-Southern College. Fifty years after the Supreme Court decision in Alexander v. Holmes (1969), Integration Now explores how studying Alexander enhances understandings of the history underlying school desegregation.

This episode is part of a series featuring legal history works from UNC Press. Support for the production of this series was provided by the Versatile Humanists at Duke program. 

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