Christopher Lawrence Tomlins is Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley and an Affiliated Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. Before joining the American Bar…
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My research has focused on topics in Anglo-American legal history across a broad front, from the “early modern” era (the beginning of the sixteenth century) into the later twentieth century. I am currently in the early stages of new research on the Southampton (Virginia) slave revolt of 1831, known as the Turner Rebellion. This work is generating a series of overlapping research papers through which I intend to develop both the "inside" story of the rebellion by concentrating on the motivations of its inspirational leader, Nat Turner, and the "exterior" story of the rebellion by concentrating on its intersection with race and slavery in post-Revolutionary Virginia. The first of these papers can currently be found here.
Prior to commencing work on the Southampton Revolt, my principal research focus had for some time been the history of English colonizing of mainland America. This work generated numbers of articles and essays, culminating in my most recent book, Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 (also available here) published in 2010. Freedom Bound is a history of migrants and migrations, of colonizers and colonized, of households and servitude and slavery, and of the freedom all craved and some found. Above all it is a history of the law that framed the entire process. Freedom Bound tells how colonies were planted in occupied territories, how they were populated with migrants – free and unfree – to do the work of colonizing, and how the newcomers secured possession. It tells of the new civic lives that seemed possible in new commonwealths, and of the constraints that kept many from enjoying them. It follows the story long past the end of the eighteenth century until the American Civil War, when – just for a moment – it seemed that freedom might finally be unbound.
Freedom Bound gathers together several related fields of scholarly research and inquiry - the history of colonizing; the historical relationship between migration, labor force creation and law; the history of the relation of master and servant (labor and employment law), and of the legal structure of the employment relationship; and the law of slavery and of civic identity. The result is a book about the origins of modern America – a history of the mainland from the beginnings of English presence on the mainland until the Civil War - that according to the eminent historian of Early America, Jack P. Greene, "may well turn out to be the most important work published in American history over the past quarter century." In November 2010 Freedom Bound was named one of Atlantic's "20 Books of the Year," and in March 2011 it was awarded the Bancroft Prize, given annually by the trustees of Columbia University. Freedom Bound has also been awarded the Hurst Prize of the Law and Society Association, the John Phillip Reid Prize of the American Society for Legal History, and named a Choice "Outstanding Academic Title" for 2011..
Freedom Bound has been a major preoccupation of mine for a long time (since I published my last major book, Law, Labor and Ideology in the Early American Republic, in 1993), but it is not all that I have worked on while an ABF Research Professor. In another major project that finished in 2008 after ten years work, Michael Grossberg and I saw the Cambridge History of Law in America into publication. Apart from those books (and others detailed in my CV accessible on this site) I have recently written essays addressing (1) the history of law’s interactions with social science disciplines in general and with the discipline of history in particular; (2) the history of legal education; (3) the history of "republican law" during and after the American Revolution; and (4) the historiography of legal history and legal theory. I also have an abiding interest in the legal philosophy and historical materialism of Walter Benjamin, which is manifest in my more historiographical and theoretical work. For details see my CV.