WMU historian awarded National Humanities Center fellowship for early Supreme Court book

Contact: Meghan Behymer

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A Western Michigan University legal historian and distinguished early American scholar has made history herself.

Dr. Sally Hadden

Dr. Sally Hadden, a professor in the Department of History, earned a prestigious one-year fellowship from the National Humanities Center—the first time a Western faculty member has received the fellowship. This recognition comes in acknowledgment of her collaborative efforts on the book "One Supreme Court," a scholarly endeavor that delves into the origins and evolution of the early Supreme Court, providing a fresh perspective on the legal history of the 18th century.

One of 34 scholars selected from a competitive pool of over 500 applicants, Hadden describes this achievement as akin to being "struck by lightning," given its rarity. "Most academics I know, including me, could plaster a room with rejection letters. Because that's part of the job—you apply and apply. So when you get the call saying you've been awarded a fellowship, it's astonishing," says Hadden.

Even more remarkable is the fact that out of the 11 sabbatical-oriented fellowships Hadden pursued over the past year for this project, she was offered a notable four. In addition to accepting the National Humanities Center fellowship, Hadden also accepted a separate six-month fellowship at the George Washington Presidential Library, which will span summer 2024 and summer 2025.

Hadden's fellowship achievement is centered on her co-authorship of an 11-chapter book on the early Supreme Court. The last comprehensive book on the subject was published in the early 1970s, and according to Hadden while it "... has a lot right, there are many elements that don't hold up anymore." The study aims to redefine our knowledge of the Supreme Court's formative years by examining previously uncovered elements.

Hadden's deep expertise spans the English, colonial and revolutionary periods, effectively complementing her co-author, Maeva Marcus, who specializes in the 1790s. This collaboration ensures comprehensive coverage of the court's history, promising to unveil fresh perspectives on this pivotal era of legal development.

Hadden aims to write six chapters for the book during her fellowship tenure. While this aspiration may require flexibility, Hadden is unwavering in her determination to rise to the challenge. "Writing necessitates focused time to engage the mind fully," she explains. Her daily schedule will revolve around intense writing sessions, punctuated only by required fellowship meals and rest. Her co-author, Marcus, will contribute the remaining five chapters.

"We've collected newly discovered materials from 30 different archives in the US and overseas that the previous book overlooked—the South, England, colonial period—pretty much anything we say will be new information," says Hadden.

As Hadden embarks on her fellowship journey, she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to interact with esteemed scholars and engage in cross-disciplinary exchanges.

“I've been looking at the list of other fellows and the projects look amazing, so the fellow lunches every day are just going to be such a highlight,” says Hadden. "I'm very excited to meet Miriam Posner, a leader in digital humanities. I taught a basic digital humanities class, and can't wait to speak with her.”

With the fellowship affording an environment conducive to concentrated research and writing, the collaborative effort between Hadden and her co-author is poised to bridge gaps in the narrative of the early Supreme Court, underscoring the significance of the 18th century as a pivotal phase in the evolution of law and the judicial system.

As Hadden concludes, "Don't assume the 19th and 20th centuries hold all the important history. There's a vibrant period before that people need to learn about, to avoid those assumptions." With her dedication, passion and the resources of the fellowship at her disposal, Hadden is leading the charge toward a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the past.

About Dr. Sally Hadden

Dr. Sally Hadden is a professor in the Department of History at Western Michigan University. She has published one monograph as a solo author: "Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas," as well as co-edited or co-authored three additional books. She is working on two projects: a monograph on eighteenth-century lawyers in colonial American cities, and a study of the earliest U.S. Supreme Court. 

Hadden teaches general education and upper level undergraduate courses on American history on topics ranging from legal history and colonial America to research methods and the Civil War. She leads readings and research seminars for graduate students, in addition to teaching historiography from time to time. 

About the National Humanities Center Fellowship

The National Humanities Center is the world's only independent institute dedicated exclusively to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. Through its residential fellowship program, the Center provides scholars with the resources and time away from their regular activities necessary to generate new knowledge and to further understanding of all forms of cultural expression, social interaction, and human thought. Through its education programs, the Center strengthens teaching on the collegiate and pre-collegiate levels. Through public engagement intimately linked to its scholarly and educational programs, the Center promotes understanding of the humanities and advocates for their foundational role in a democratic society.

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