Dylan Penningroth

Research Expertise and Interest

African American history, U.S. socio-legal history

Research Description

Dylan C. Penningroth specializes in African American history and in U.S. socio-legal history. His first book, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), won the Avery Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. His articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, and the Journal of Family History. Penningroth has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Stanford Humanities Center, and has been recognized by the Organization of American Historians’ Huggins-Quarles committee, a Weinberg College Teaching Award (Northwestern University), a McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence (Northwestern), and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Before joining Berkeley Law in 2015, Dylan Penningroth was on the faculty of the History Department at the University of Virginia (1999-2002), at Northwestern University (2002-2015), and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation (2007-2015).

In 2022, Penningroth published "Race in Contract Law" in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The article shows that contracts scholars, judges, and lawyers have frequently relied on cases involving African Americans, racial metaphors and analogies, and theories about slavery to develop common-law rules and to think through major doctrinal and theoretical problems in contract. The article offers a historically rich account of how and why legal professionals have highlighted or downplayed race in contract law.

Penningroth is currently finishing a book entitled Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Civil Rights. Combining legal and social history, and drawing from a large sample of trial court records, the study explores how ordinary Black people used and thought about law in their everyday lives, and how Black legal activity and Black legal thought helped shape American law from the 1830s to the 1970s. It will be published by Liveright in September 2023. 

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