Annette Gordon-Reed on Law Scholarship
Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers. She earned a place in history with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which had an acclaimed but stormy reception when published in 1997, and which The New Yorker described as “brilliant.” She is recognized as one of our country’s most distinguished presidential scholars.Gordon-Reed spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She speaks or moderates at numerous conferences across the country on history and law-related topics. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and son.
Gordon-Reed: Well, I think, you know, one of the things that you learn in law school pretty early on is that people are incoherent. That you can’t … people have motives that they don’t even understand on their own. They don’t understand their lives and then your clients come in and they tell you their problems. They may not be telling you the truth and you have to try to figure out what the truth is. All kinds of… people are mixed up and you can’t really expect coherence from them. And I think that people who have studied Jefferson more so than other areas maybe he’s because he’s a founding father, maybe this is something that people fall prey to when they’re thinking about founding fathers expect the kind of coherence from them that really is not realistic. And then when he’s not coherent, they get mad at them and they’re critical of him because he’s not coherent when… I think my training as lawyer, we try to teach our students from the very beginning that people are sort of crazy by nature and you can’t expect all of this stuff to fit. So, I think that kind of view of the world informs. I don’t go in and say, oh, it’s impossible for this person to have felt that. It’s impossible for this person to do that. Nobody would ever do that because people [just thought rational] and they don’t work that way, and so that sensibility informs I think my work.
Understanding that the world is incoherent informs Annette Gordon-Reed’s work.
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