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 is offered annually in honor of Professor Wiseman’s (1930-2021) important work at the intersection of law and literature. The winning paper receives $1,250, and is also published in the Rapoport Center’s Working Paper Series.

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.

See submission details for the 2022 Wiseman Prize.

Winners can be viewed below.

2022: First Place

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.


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.


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.