Christopher Schnell


I study people's stories to learn about the way they think about and build the world around them. I enjoy searching for these stories in personal writings, legal and public documents, reminiscences, material culture, and visual culture. My dissertation focuses on the antebellum Midwest and the lawyers who joined the flood of Anglo-Americans who came to the region seeking opportunities in new markets. Historians have long acknowledged how lawyers played major roles in Midwestern politics and, more recently, they have identified the legal system's role in the release of economic energy that would transform the region during the nineteenth century. My dissertation will examine the influence lawyers had on middle-class culture in the Midwest. It will also consider the role middle-class culture played in professionalizing the bar. At the core of my work is a group biography of approximately 1,300 lawyers in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I will explore how their experiences in the settlement of the Midwest, in education and the formation of legal partnerships, in circuit and appellate practice, in family life, and gentility, all brought about a cohesive, middle-class, professional legal culture.

This past summer I received a King V. Hostick research grant from the Illinois Historical Society to fund dissertation research at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Before arriving at Saint Louis University I was an assistant editor at The Papers of Abraham Lincoln where I worked collaboratively with several colleagues to publish a digital format complete edition of Lincoln's legal papers along with a four-volume selective edition of transcribed and annotated legal papers. In my free time I enjoy trying to keep my sons entertained (but usually the reverse occurs).

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