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Michelle F. Seldin is in her third year of Law School at Penn, and ABD (all but dissertation) toward her Ph.D. degree in American Culture from the University of Michigan.
While in the latter stages of finishing coursework for the Ph.D. she had started in 1996, it occurred to Seldin that she needed more education to round out the scholarship of her dissertation. The subject of her study is the history of legalization movements, specifically the movement to legalize prostitution in the United States in the 1870s in response to a public health crisis of venereal disease.
“When I look back at the legal research I did during my Ph.D. program, I realize I didn’t know what I was doing,” Seldin laughs. “I was trying to do legal history without any legal thinking skills. There was no way for me to understand the struggle in the 1870s without understanding the criminal justice system at all levels.”
She took courses in the philosophy of criminal law and torts with professors Stephen Morse and Heidi Hurd, respectively. She “sought out” all the faculty who work within the law and humanities, taking constitutional litigation with Seth Kreimer, comparative constitutions with Kim Lane Scheppele, and religion and the law with Sarah Barringer Gordon.
This past academic year, along with fellow students, Seldin started a feminist legal theory group. Faculty members such as Gordon, Howard Lesnick, and Catherine Struve visited the group’s weekly meetings to make presentations. Struve spoke about gender issues in civil procedure.
“Penn’s a small place and professors and administrators make themselves available,” Seldin says. “When we saw an opening in the curriculum, we created our own seminar. It was approved practically on the spot and many faculty members participated as guest lecturers.”
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