Professor Swanson Receives Law and Society Association’s Top Honor


Professor Kara W. Swanson, an expert in intellectual property law, gender and sexuality, the history of science, medicine, and technology and legal history, has been selected for a Law and Society Association (LSA) Annual Award. Nationwide, there are only 22 recipients of this high honor in 2021. Swanson was selected for the John Hope Franklin Prize, which was established in 2010 to recognize exceptional scholarship in the field of race, racism and the law, for her essay, “Race and Selective Legal Memory: Reflections on ‘Invention of a Slave’.” The essay repositions a United States Attorney General opinion from 1858 that declared inventions by African Americans – enslaved and free – unpatentable. Combining history with her own experiences in patent law, Swanson contrasts legal forgetting of the opinion with generations of Black activists remembering its backstory of Ned, the enslaved blacksmith, and his innovative plow. In so doing, she traces a color line in US legal thought, pedagogy, and practice in ways that connect the antebellum patent office to 21st century questions of racial justice.

“I am profoundly honored and humbled to receive an award named for Dr. John Hope Franklin, a historian of the United States whose work is a shining example of history attentive to racial justice.  I wrote this essay as my small contribution to that ongoing project,” said Swanson, whose research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, among other funding organizations.

Each year, the LSA recognizes outstanding scholarly publications and contributions to the law and society community. Swanson will be recognized at the LSA’s annual meeting on May 29, 2021. “These awards reflect some of the best law and society scholarship each year, and I'm thrilled to see the diverse range of disciplines represented across our membership,” said LSA Executive Officer Steven Boutcher.

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