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September 19, 2012

Law professor awarded National Science Foundation grant

Michelle McKinley's research project receives $50,000

University of Oregon School of Law Associate Professor Michele McKinley recently was awarded a Law and Social Science Grant in the amount of $50,000 from the National Science Foundation for her research project, "Legal Mobilization of Enslaved Litigants: Ecclesiastical versus Civil Lawsuits." 

The project is a comprehensive survey, indexing and analyzing archived lawsuits brought by enslaved men and women in Lima, Peru, between 1543-1700. The project's central hypothesis is that slave litigants' claims were often more successful in ecclesiastical courts than they were in secular courts, because they were brought within a religious and legal context that was deeply ambivalent about the status of slaves as humans vis-à-vis their status as property.

McKinley said the grant allows her to apply a theory of legal mobilization, which scholars are used to seeing in contemporary legal analysis, to 17th century slave litigation in colonial Lima.

"The grant enables me to continue working on the line of research that demonstrates the major thesis of my book — that law matters," McKinley added. "Slaves in colonial seventeenth century Latin America used the law insistently to pursue their freedom. Enslaved litigants took advantages of the fissures in the creaky edifice of colonial law to negotiate better terms for themselves and their offspring, and curbed their owner's unrestricted property rights over their slaves."

The data gathered through this research will assist humanist and social science scholars in comparative slavery studies, by assessing the measurable performance of courts in denying or approving slave claims.

The NSF funds research and education in science and engineering, through grants, contracts and cooperative agreements. The foundation accounts for about 20 percent of federal support to academic institutions for basic research.

In addition to being a professor at Oregon Law, McKinley is a Dean's Distinguished Faculty Fellow and the Associate Dean for Faculty Development. McKinley is the former Managing Director of Cultural Survival, an advocacy and research organization dedicated to indigenous peoples. She is also the founder, and former director, of the Amazonian Peoples' Resources Initiative, a community based reproductive rights organization in Peru, where she worked for nine years as an advocate for global health and human rights.

McKinley's list of honors and awards while at Oregon Law includes the American Society for Legal History 2011 Surrency Prize, an Oregon Humanities Center Research Fellowship, two awards from the American Philosophical Society, a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. Additionally, McKinley serves as a faculty advisor for the Oregon Review of International Law, she co-coordinated Oregon Law's 2007-08 Legal Theory Workshops and has served as a member of the Dean's Faculty Advisory Council.

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