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Sunday, March 2, 2014


Dear students,

Prof. David Skeel (University of Pennsylvania Law School) will be the first guest speaker of the Law and the Humanities Course 2014. He is a good friend of this course, an expert in the field of Law and the Humanities and a wonderful teacher. He will begin his week of lessons on March 5th 2014, describing  the most important strand of the Law and the Humanities movement: Law and Literature. The readings will be provided during the course if they are not available on the RomaTre online databases.

The Law and the Humanities classes will take place as follows:
Wed.: 2:15 pm - 4:00 pm - Aula 3
Thur. and Fri.: 10:15 am - 12:00 - Aula 4
See you soon!

Brief Outline: 
In this class, we will briefly explore the history of law and literature scholarship in the United States, and consider the prospects of this movement for the future. We will focus in particular on three recent strands of law and literature scholarship, which are often referred to as 1) law as language (associated with James Boyd White); 2) literature as empathy (associated with Robin West and Martha Nussbaum) and 3) law and narrative (associated with Patricia Williams).

Suggested Readings:
- D.A. Skeel, Lawrence Joseph and Law and Literature, in "University of Cincinnati Law Review", 77.3 (2009), pp. 921-939.

Prof. David Skeel's CV:
David A. Skeel is currently the S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School (2004-), after having been Associate Professor of Law at the Temple University School of Law (1993- 1998) and Professor of Law at University of Pennsylvania Law School (1999- 2003) .
He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina (B.A. 1983) and the University of Virginia (J.D. 1987). His poems have appeared in Boulevard, Kansas Quarterly and elsewhere. He has written on law and literature or related issues for Columbia Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Legal Affairs, Wallace Stevens Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications; and he served as an advisory editor of Boulevard in the 1990s.
He also is the author of two books:
- Icarus in the Boardroom: The Fundamental Flaws in Corporate America and Where They Came From (Oxford U. Press, 2005)
- Debt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America (Princeton University Press, 2001) .
In 1999 & 2002 he received the Harvey Levin Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 2004 the Lindback Award (university-wide “Great Teacher” award).

For a complete overview on Prof. Skeel’s CV and his extensive list of publications see:


  1. Today Prof. David Skeel explain the third strand of the Law and Literature movement called “Legal story telling” and he read us the “Benetton Story” by Patricia Williams. This story is about an episode of racism in which Patricia Williams was discriminated. She was shopping in Soho and she wanted to buy a gift for her mother, so she rang the bell of the store, but the clerk would not let her in, saying that the store was closed although many white people were in. For law it shouldn’t matter if you are black or white, but episodes like this make us realize that racism still exists. Patricia Williams is a professor at Columbia university and she knows very well what “discrimination” means, for this reason she devotes part of her work in fighting discrimination.
    In one of her article (The Race-Baiting of America, published on The Nation) she says that according to a recent Pew poll, “Blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to be living in poverty. And the median net worth of white households was 14 times the median net worth of black households”.
    The truth is that also today, in 2014, 60 years later Martin Luther King, blacks are treated less fairly by police, in the court, in employment, education, hospitals and stores. The question is: what we can do to change this situation? And what is the role of the law?

  2. The course we are following takes his name,"Law and the Humanities",from a cultural movement, that firstly spread all over Great Britain,whose purpose was to explore all the relationships between law and other high expressions of human knowledge, such as literature,music and so on.In the first lesson of this course we focused our attention on the relationship between law and literature.The movement called "Law and Literature" take his roots in the USA from the publication in 1908 of the work intitled "A list of legal novels" written by John Wigmore.He included in his work pieces of literature based on legal themes and he said he had written this book in order to promote literary works that witnessed the main juridical values of American culture.In the following years other works linked to the same field had been published.They consolidate the belief that literature contributes to form the etichal conscience of lawyers and,in this way,the legal literatur perspective began to be involved in universities teaching.In 1925 Benjamin Cardozo with the essay intitled "Law and Literature" prefigured not only the possibility to read and interpret the legal judgments as examples of literature but also the possibility of grasp,through the literary representations,the context in whict it performs legal experience.Consequently the main addresses of the movement were underlined.The first had been intitled "Law in Literature" and the second one "Law as Literature".The purpose of the first movement was to analyse literary representations of law voted useful to the umanistic preparation of lawyers.The second address is based on the assumption of analogy between law and literature because both are texts.As a matter of facts this second direction of "Law and Literature" aims to develop a methodology that works using techniques of literary criticism in order to solve some frequent problems of the law theories, especially those linked to the interpretation and the analysis of legal thought.

  3. In the same period also in Italy there are many literary works written with the purpose of give space to law and literature.Brunelli in 1906 wrote the essay "The tort fact and the immoral fact in front of the positive law",analysing "The Merchant of Venice" wrote by Shakespeare in order to argue about the relationships between positive law,legal interpretation and moral interpretation.The first systematic Italian work is" the literature and the life of law", published in 1936 by Antonio D'Amato: in this work the writer underlined that literature has been always playing an important rule in the legal field because it rapresented a precious material able to explain the origins and the evolutions of legislative institutes.Immediately after he broswed all the main currents of philosophical and legal doctrines that have faced the issue of relationship between law and literature.According to D'Amato thought, literature and law are manifestations of the aspirations of the collective consciousness.They are different moments of the materialisation of the spirit that is expressed through the literature and is formalized in law.Since the sevienties we have a new phase of the movement,characterized by a reflection on the legal literary approach.In this way,the analysis of literary works concerning law is accompanied by a more innovative study able to underline the training and heuristic potential of this line of research.This second phase of studies was inaugurated by the publication, in 1973,of the work of James Boyd White, called "The legal imagination".In this work Boyd White explored the juxtaposition between law and literature.As a matter of facts,law,like literature,is a cultural and social product and must be deeply observed.Law must be considered an integral part of a cultural system where the laywer must make constant reference in order to ascribe a meaning to the words with which he works.In this sense,law and literature must become part of the formation of a lawyer.Boyd White believes that the combination of law and literature can provide the student an awareness of the cultural nature of law.

  4. This morning professor David Skeel introduced us to the second and the third strand of the "Law and Literature"movement.Robin West must be considered the first author of the second strand.In her articles she took as example Franz Kafka's stories, like " The Hunger Artist", "The Judgment", "The Trial". Robin West debates important questions about the moral base of law's authority and in this sense she makes a constant reference to "Law and Literature" and "Law and Economics" movements.In her book intitled "Narrative,Authority and Law" she underlines how narrative, rather than liberal topics talking about abstract rights, representes the best tool in order to explain law's empathy.The main economical address of that period started from the consideration that all people are rational so everybodyacts for himself and there is no space for kind actions. Robin West says that we are more than rational people, highlighting that there's something of universal in our feelings and our experiences. An other writer has been included in the second strand of Law and Literature movement.Her name is Martha Nussbaum.In her book "The fragility of Goodness" she faces the ethical question based on the fact that people strongly committed to justice will surely become vulnerable and this situations may deeply influence their existence in a negative way.She becomes one of the promoter of the capability approach.She faces the interpretation of justice based on the social contract. Generally the social contract theories, unlike the utilitarianism that for Justice provides a solid structure, rely on the assumption that cooperation is carried out by individuals to secure a mutual benefit.According to Nussbaum, theories arising from these positions are going to encounter great difficulties in dealing with topics such as basic justice and substantial freedom in situations that present great asymmetries between the social partners. The third strand of law and literature movement is linked to stories and it is called "Law and narrative". It is based on the consideration that stories represent an incisive way to promote legal values because storytelling is a particularly strong communication strategy.In this movement Derrick Bell and Patricia Williams have been playing an important rule.We focused our attention on her story intitled "Benetton Story".In this story,Patricia Williams wrote she was going shopping to buy a present for her mother.But in the moment she applied for the admittance in the Benetton Store,the white salesclark,seeing she was an African American girl with brown face,didn't let her go in the store, and he told her the store was close.Lady Williams started writing lots of articles in which he faces the topic of racism but she encontred many difficulties with law review.Despite this disavantage,she was able to raise a cultural debate about one of the most important ethical issue of our society,which is racism.

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  6. Legal storytelling is the third strand of law and literature. One of the key figures of this strand is Patricia Williams, the author of “The Alchemy of Race and Rights”. In this book, she related a story of how a clerk at Benetton’s discriminated against her by denying her access to the store (the famous Benetton’s story).
    Legal storytelling has been subjected to several criticisms; in this respect doing some researches on internet I found out that she cites some of the questions she is often asked:
    “Am I not privileging a racial perspective, by considerino only the black point of view? Don’t I have an obligation to include the “salesman’s side” of the story? Am I not putting the salesman on trial and finding him guilty of racism without giving him a chance to respond or cross-examine me? Am I not using the store window as a metaphorical fience against the potential of his explanation in order to represent my side as “authentic”? How can I be sure I’m right? What makes my experience the real black one anyway? Isn’t it possible that another black person might disagree with my experience? If so, doesn’t that render my story too empirical and subjective to pay any attention to?”
    Williams replies to these questions in the following way:
    “These questions question my ability to know, to access, to be objective. And of course, since anything that happens to me is inherently subjective, they take away my power to know what happens to me in the world. Others, by this standard, will always know better than I. And my insistence on recounting stories from my own perspective will be treated as presumption, slander, paranoid hallucination, or just plain lies.
    Recently I got an urgent call from Thomas Grey of Standford Law School. He had used the piece (the Benetton’s article) in his jurisprudence class, and a rumor got started that the Benetton’s story wasn’t true that it was a li ethat was probably the product of a diseased mind trying to make all white people fell guilty. At this point, I realized it almost didn’t make any difference whether I was telling the truth or not – that the greater issue that I had to face was the overwhelming weight of a disbelief that goes beyond mere disinclination to believe and becomes active suppression of anything I might have to say. The greater problem is a powerfully oppressive mechanism for denial of black self-knowledge and expression. And this denial cannot be separated from the simultaneously pathological willingness to believe certain things about back – not to believe them, but things about them.”