Traditionally, the history of law and constitutional history have been considered separate fields of study. My research bridges that divide by looking at when and how people have influenced systems of formal law.
This summer (2019) I will publish a digital legal history of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, using Scalar. In it, I consider what the race riots tell us about the criminal legal system in Chicago. The study is also an experiment in using digital tools to help make scholarship more available.
My first book, Debating—and Creating—Authority, considered how popular forces in seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay used a series of legal events to contest claims of authority, provoking debates that ultimately altered the constitutional order within the colony and in Britain’s Atlantic empire. In my next three books–The Rule of Justice, Criminal Justice in the United States, 1789-1939, and The Chicago Trunk Murder— I looked at how popular forces influenced criminal justice in the United States.
My most recent book, Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago, 1871-1971 (2016), used a murder trial from the late 1930s to consider the role of the third degree and other coercive police methods on criminal justice. I am building a website, Pattern & Practice: Reclaiming the Lost History of Police Torture in Chicago, that builds on that book. It provides a space to tell the stories of those lost histories. Hopefully as it evolves it will also be an archive that can be used by activists who are trying to really understand how the culture of torture and abuse at the CPD evolved.