In my seventeen years at Rhodes, I have taught a variety of courses dealing with the history of the American South and the history of the United States Constitution. In addition to my survey course on the South and my upper division seminars on constitutional history, I have offered a range of special topics courses—on The Mind of the South, Southern Politics, Lincoln, and the History of Memphis. Every once and a while, I offer a seminar on my own research expertise, Law and Justice in the American South, where we examine the history of law and lawlessness in the most violent region in the country.
In the past few years, I have also spent considerable time teaching the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the War, I continue to be fascinated by this momentous conflict that divided the young republic, liberated four million enslaved people, and ultimately reshaped both our Constitution and our consciousness.
My teaching reflects, I hope, my passion for studying the complexity of past human experience. In 2004, I won the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching at Rhodes. That same year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named me the Tennessee Professor of the Year.
In fall 2011, one of my classes was featured on "Lectures in History," American History TV, C-SPAN 3 (viewable at cspan.org)
My research interests include the southern judiciary, the American law of slavery, and the relationship between culture and constitutionalism. My first book, The Southern Judicial Tradition: State Judges and Sectional Distinctiveness, 1790-1890, (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1999) explores the impact of southern culture on the judicial decisions of six of the region’s leading nineteenth-century judges. I conclude that southern jurists exhibited both political sectionalism and legal nationalism—that they felt the pressure to conform to southern values at the same time that they participated in an emerging national legal culture.
My second book, The Taney Court: Justices, Ruling, and Legacy (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2003) appeared as part of a series of reference works on the history of the United States Supreme Court. The book examines the justices, major opinions, and overall legacy of the Supreme Court under Roger B. Taney, the author of the infamous Dred Scott decision.
I recently published my third book, Major Problems in American Constitutional History, second ed. (2010), a co-edited reader that combines excerpts of leading scholarly essays with classic primary documents. Part of the Major Problems in American History Series, this text is used in constitutional history courses throughout the United States. I co-edited this book with my former graduate mentor, Kermit L. Hall, who had begun work on the project before his untimely death in 2006. As part of my commitment to keeping up with current scholarship in the field, I compile New Books in American Constitutional/Legal History for the H-Law website. In addition, I currently serve as associate editor of the Journal of Supreme Court History.
I have also published a variety of articles and essays on such topics as the case of a North Carolina slave who killed a white man, the history of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Southern Manifesto of 1956, and Roger B. Taney’s changing views on the slavery issue. A list of selected publications is included below.
Currently, I am writing an undergraduate textbook on the Civil War and Reconstruction that focuses on the constitutional and political history of the period. Writing the textbook allows me to draw from my own scholarly work on law and sectionalism, to engage recent scholarship in the broader field of Civil War era studies, and to craft a compelling synthesis of the constitutional history of the mid-nineteenth century United States.
M.A. and Ph.D., University of Florida
B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa), University of Miami
History 105 – Introductory Seminar: Lincoln
History 105 – Introductory Seminar: The Mind of the South
History 105 – Introductory Seminar: The Supreme Court in U.S. History
History 232 – United States in the Nineteenth Century
History 247 – The American South
History 300 – The Historian’s Craft: Methods and Approaches in the Study of History
History 351 – United States Constitutional History to 1865
History 352 – United States Constitutional History since 1865
History 360 – Public History/Internship
History 435 – Civil War and Reconstruction Era
History 448 – Law and Justice in the American South
History 461 – Internship
History 485 – Senior Seminar
Humanities 201 – The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion
[Edited with Kermit L. Hall], Major Problems in American Constitutional History: Documents and Essays, 2nd ed. (New York, Cengage, 2009)
The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. (Santa Barbara, CA, ABC-CLIO, 2003)
The Southern Judicial Tradition: State Judges and Sectional Distinctiveness, 1790-1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).
Journal Articles, Book Chapters and Review Essays
“Roger B. Taney and the Slavery Issue: Looking beyond—and before—Dred Scott,” Journal of American History, 97 (June 2010), 39-62.
“Lincoln versus Taney: Liberty, Power, and the Clash of the Constitutional Titans,” Albany Government Law Review, 3 (2010), 615-643.
“Lawyer, Litigant, Leader: John Marshall and His Papers – A Review Essay,” American Journal of Legal History, 48 (July, 2006), 314-326. (Review essay of Hobson, et al, eds. The Papers of John Marshall, v. 1-12).
“Judicial Independence in an Age of Democracy, Sectionalism, and War, 1835-1865,” in James W. Ely, Jr., ed., A History of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2002, 61-98.
"The Roots of Fairness: State v. Caesar and Slave Justice in Antebellum North Carolina," in Christopher Waldrep and Donald Nieman, eds., Local Matters: Race, Crime, and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century South, (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 29-52.
"Campus, Community, and Civil Rights: Remembering Memphis and Southwestern in 1968–A Panel Discussion," edited and transcribed with Benjamin Houston, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 58 (Spring, 1999), 70-87.
"Judge John Hemphill, the Homestead Exemption, and the ‘Taming’ of the Texas Frontier," Western Legal History, 11 (Winter/Spring, 1998), 65-85.
"Divided Loyalties: Justice William Johnson and the Rise of Disunion in South Carolina, 1822-1834," Journal of Supreme Court History, (1995), 19-30.
"The Consolidation of State Judicial Power: Spencer Roane, Virginia Legal Culture, and the Southern Judicial Tradition," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 102 (January, 1994), 47-72.
"Encouraging Economic Development: Joseph Henry Lumpkin and the Law of Contract, 1846-1860," Journal of Southern Legal History, 1 (Fall/Winter, 1991), 357-375.
"Joseph Henry Lumpkin and Evangelical Reform in Georgia: Temperance, Education and Industrialization, 1830-1860," Georgia Historical Quarterly, 75 (Summer, 1991), 254-274.