Lea VanderVelde is the Josephine R. Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law. She writes in the fields of employment law, property law, 19th century legal history, and constitutional law.
She has again re-invented her approach to legal research and law teaching using computer technology. New digital research technologies allow us to look at the expansion of the American nation in the critical years before the Civil War in new ways. During this time, law served in the process of expanding American empire.
Currently, she is the principal investigator for The Law of the Antebellum Frontier project at the Stanford Spatial History Lab. This project seeks to digitally analyze the legal and economic mechanisms at work on the American frontier in the early 1800s. Understanding these mechanisms reflects upon how empires expand and how American expansion into the Ohio and Mississippi river basins shaped American identity and the constitutional amendments after the civil war. The project uses very new techniques, of GIS mapping, geolocation, social network modeling and text mining, to examine large amounts of very old texts in the antebellum frontier. She also teaches a course entitled the Law of the Frontier, 1800-1857.
Information on the Stanford Spatial History Project is available here. Professor VanderVelde is the principal investigator for this project.
Using computer technology in the class room, she has adapted her Employment law course to be organized around a class wiki research project rather than a casebook. In this course each student develops the law of a different state by doing basic research and analysis on that state, which is collectively posted for the course. Employment Law is perfect for this methodology because it is a subject that is state-based and differs considerably from one state to another. Each state follows common law patterns developed in by its state supreme court with relatively few statutory interventions.
She has been an active participant in the debate over whether there should be a Restatement of Employment Law, both inside the American Law Institute and in conferences held by the Labor Law Group. She organized and hosted the fall 2011 Experts Conference on the Restatement of Employment Law, held at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago.
Her second book, Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom Before Dred Scott, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2014. It follows her 2009 book, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier. The book is based upon the discovery of almost 300 freedom suits brought by slaves in the St. Louis courts. Those files have now available on the web. http://stlcourtrecords.wustl.edu/about-freedom-suits-series.php
An article describing her role in the discovery can be found in the Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2003.
In the 1990s, her trio of articles, published in the Yale and Stanford law journals, demonstrated the significance of gender in the historical development of rules in contracts, torts, and constitutional litigation respectively. “The Gendered Origins of Specific Performance Doctrine” (1992) responded to a then current claim that gender had nothing to do with contract law. “The Legal Ways of Seduction” demonstrated the special place of the tort of seduction and gender played in tort law. “Mrs. Dred Scott,” the article, with Sandya Subramanian, provided an analysis of gender, marriage and slavery in the notorious U.S. Supreme Court case. Other articles have explored cultural patterns in land use law and the 13th Amendment and law of slavery.
She often spends spring semester in Vienna where she teaches American law at the the Juridicum of the University of Vienna. She has also taught at Yale Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Wisconsin bar and the American Law Institute. She has been the University’s Faculty Scholar and Global Scholar in various years. In search of cultural comparisons, she has visited South Africa, the Three Gorges of the Yangtse River and the dam-building site in China, Mount Koya and Kyoto, Japan, and Jaipur, India where she interviewed Kailash Satyarthi and observed an organization called the Global March to End Child Slavery. In 2011 she was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies.