Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

The international and multidisciplinary Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice, made possible by donations from the friends, family, and colleagues of the late Zipporah Batshaw Wiseman (1930-2021), is offered annually in honor of her important work at the intersection of law and literature.

For half a century, pioneering feminist Professor Wiseman inspired her students and colleagues with her powerful intellect, fierce advocacy, and profound joy in attempting to create a more just and equal world. Among her many interests, she was keenly attuned to the ways that texts—from legal cases to fiction, poetry, and film—actively construct and define our perspectives on the meaning and value of categories like “justice” and “inequality.” She co-edited an early collection on law and literature with English professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism (Duke UP 1994). Read more about Professor Wiseman’s life and legacy.

We welcome papers from any discipline that engage both legal and literary methods or texts. For these purposes, literary texts include written and other narrative forms, such as film. Papers should use an interdisciplinary lens to explore issues of justice, broadly understood. The papers may work from any of a variety of perspectives: legal and literary, of course, but also philosophical, historical, sociological, political, economic, or cultural. The winning paper receives $1,250, and is also published in the Rapoport Center’s Working Paper Series.

See submission details for the 2023 Wiseman Prize.

Winners can be viewed below.

2023: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

Prisoner of the Book: The Living Constitution and Borges’ Book of Sand

Ana Van Liedekerke uses Jorge Luis Borges' short story The Book of Sand (1975) to examine the aversion of Constitutional originalists in the United States to the idea of the Constitution as a living text. Contrasting Justice Antonin Scalia's rhetoric of magic as used to denounce the “living Constitution” with Justice William J. Brennan’s conception of an originalist Constitution as a ghost terrorizing the present, the paper asks what vision of the text these metaphors construct, and how they make the Constitution of the other into a "nightmarish" object.

2022: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

Plain Reading the Constitution: Frederick Douglass, Textualism, and the Pursuit of Racial Justice

Emma Brush presents Frederick Douglass’ “plain reading” textualism as a counter to the current constitutional arguments used by the Supreme Court, which often use inherently-racist originalism and color-blind constitutionalism to justify or ignore racial injustices. Brush explores Douglass’ claim that the Constitution should be seen as a “glorious liberty document,” drawing on Lockean natural law, common law, and the American tradition of prioritizing liberty, arguing that if Douglass could look to the Constitution as a tool for abolition, Douglass' textualism may also provide progressive constitutionalists with a theory of intepretation that centers racial justice.

2022: Second Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

Ordinary Subjects of Tyranny: Practical Constitutionalism and Public Judgement in the Political Thought of George Buchanan

Timothy Lundy examines the influence of George Buchanan’s poetic work on classical democratic political thought in an unexpected sixteenth-century monarchical setting. Demonstrating the value of fictional poetry in appealing to both rulers and subjects, Lundy explores Buchanan’s pragmatic approach to arguments in favor of limited monarchy and political transparency. Buchanan’s work envisions a system of “robust public judgement” in which common people recognize a collective authority to remove tyrannical leadership and rulers respond to the public interest. This relationship, Lundy argues, reveals the indispensability of both fiction and popular support in past and present political decision-making.

2021: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

An Ethos of Restitution: Walter Schwarz and the Gloss

Laura Petersen's paper, "An Ethos of Restitution: Walter Schwarz and the Gloss" explores the legal writing of Dr. Walter Shwarz, a Jewish lawyer active in settling restitution claims in post-WWII Germany. Through an engagement with his glosses, commentaries written in the literal margins next to summaries of legal decisions regarding restitution claims, Petersen argues that these glosses were also located in the margins of the law itself, bringing a human dimension to what was a rigid and bureaucratic process and ultimately constructing the building blocks for a different ethos and practice of law.

2021: Second Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice

Duty to Disobey: Modernism, Autonomy, and Dissidence in the Global 1930s

Rajgopal Saikumar puts a set of modernist texts in conversation to ask, what is one’s obligation to obey the laws of the state that one belongs to? Relatedly, what is the subject’s duty to disobey unjust authority? By providing examples from the Black radical tradition, European antiwar pacifism, and South Asian anti-colonial thought in the interwar years, this paper explores heterodox conjugations of commitment and disobedience to juridical authority.