Katrina Jagodinsky, Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor and Graduate Chair in the Department of History, received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for her project "Petitioning For Freedom: Habeas Corpus in the American West."
Habeas corpus is primarily conceived as the constitutional protection against wrongful arrest or detainment. For thousands of petitioners in the American West between 1812 and 1924, however, habeas offered an opportunity not only to challenge wrongful arrest and detainment, but to challenge the many inequalities that bound their daily lives.
The Petitioning for Freedom project documents the efforts of black petitioners to resist enslavement; of Indigenous petitioners to dodge Indian agents' authority and claim the right to leave their reservations or reclaim their children from the custody of boarding school superintendents and settler families; of Chinese petitioners to challenge deportation after the 1882 Exclusion Act; of parents to secure custody of minor children from former spouses and/or in-law; and patients and inmates to challenge detention in state asylums and institutions.
Jagodinsky will work with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities to develop a robust open source and open access graph database with data from these petitions that will demonstrate the many interpersonal and institutional relationships of power evident in claims to freedom while also assessing their significance and value within the larger body of American jurisprudence. The data will be freely searchable by the general public and scholars alike. Searchers will be able to focus on the jurists and parties involved, jurisdictions hearing the petitions, and keywords drawn from petition narratives. This database will quantify the legal mobilization of thousands of otherwise unknown petitioners, inserting their stories squarely within the American legal history corpus. Data drawn from petitions will inform the work of scholars and practitioners of child and family law, federal Indian law, immigration law, labor law, and legal reform.