The Winner of the 2019 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History is Sarah A. Seo for her Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom.
Sarah Seo’s Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom is an inventive interweaving of technology, society, and criminal procedure that reveals a paradox formerly unacknowledged but so obvious once pointed out: at the same time that the mass-produced automobile brought unprecedented mobility to a wide swath of American society, it also subjected people to an unimaginable level of government authority, utterly reworking the meaning of freedom in the United States. Seo’s sweeping account takes us from the beginnings of traffic enforcement, as police departments were transformed from foot patrols to motor cops; through Prohibition, where the automobile played a vital role in the cat-and-mouse game of liquor control and the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches began to be riddled with exceptions; to the modern era, when the phrase “driving while black” emerged to expose a racialized policing of automotive conduct that in fact continued unabated from the Jim Crow Era to the 21st century. This is a book that scholars will admire for its creativity and careful research, while lay readers will never look at getting behind the wheel in the same way again. – D.S.
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The Finalist of the 2019 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History is Jessica K. Lowe for her Murder in the Shenandoah: Making Law Sovereign in Revolutionary Virginia.
This beautifully written book is history in a grain of sand writ large. Jessica Lowe masterfully transforms a brawl and homicide into a prism on post-Revolutionary Virginia’s legal system already rife with “tense discussion about what it meant to make law ‘king.’” Murder in the Shenandoah is narrative history and legal history at its finest. Brava! – L.K.