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Legal Historian John Fabian Witt ’99 to Join YLS Faculty

John Fabian Witt ’99, the George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia University, will start in New Haven as a member of the Yale Law School faculty in July 2009. Professor Witt’s research and teaching interests focus on the history of American law.

His first book, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard Press, 2004) won the 2001 Thomas J. Wilson Prize of Harvard University Press, the 2005 James Willard Hurst Prize (sponsored by the Law and Society Association), and the 2005 William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Prize from the American Society for Legal History. In The Accidental Republic, Professor Witt argued that experiments in accident law at the turn of the 20th century shaped 21st-century American accident law by laying the foundations of the American administrative state and triggering a hotly contested legal transformation from the principles of free labor to new categories of insurance and risk.

His second book, Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard Press, 2007), explored the constitutional foundations of American nationhood through examination of the little-known stories of five Americans, including a bohemian Greenwich Village suffragist and a black Baptist minister from rural South Carolina. His articles have appeared in the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, The New York Times, Slate, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Professor Witt is currently writing a book on the laws of war in American history.

“As a scholar and a teacher,” Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said, “John Witt has emerged as the most compelling new voice in American legal history and torts and one of the most energizing and communal colleagues in the American legal academy. We are thrilled to welcome him home to Yale.”

Professor Witt earned three degrees from Yale University: his B.A. in 1994, his J.D. in 1999, and his Ph.D. in history in 2000. He joined the Columbia law faculty in 2001, after clerking for Judge Pierre N. Leval of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.