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Brotherhood of Barristers: Gender, Space and the Culture of the Bar, 1840-1940

General Programming

dateSeptember 22, 2022 timeThursday, 5:00pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Modern British History Seminar
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Cartoon drawing of a surprised man in a black robe and powdered wig with the caption "Human nature rebels!"

Modern British History Seminar and Ren Pepitone: Brotherhood of Barristers: Gender, Space and the Culture of the Bar, 1840-1940

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, four legal societies in central London governed the upper half of the bar across Britain and its empire. Known collectively as the Inns of Court, the purpose of these professional societies was not to instruct students in the technicalities of law but to instill in students the values and attitudes appropriate to British barristers. Other Victorian professions cultivated a shared professional outlook by emphasizing expertise: they focused on training, examination, and rationalizing measures. The Inns of Court, by contrast, relied almost exclusively on cultural and affective rather than formal, structural processes to forge members. Law students dined with senior barristers, lawyers drilled together in the volunteer rifle corps. Such a strategy distinguished the legal profession from the world of capital and commerce, but it also gave rise to problems, particularly as developments in economy, empire, and culture shifted the demographic makeup of the bar. This talk, based on the forthcoming book Brotherhood of Barristers, examines the limitations of fraternal professional culture for accommodating difference and the strategies both the legal societies and their members deployed to navigate a professional membership newly- heterogenous in terms of class, life-stage, race, gender, and political outlook.


Seth Koven is G. E. Lessing Distinguished Professor of History and Poetics at Rutgers University, where he teaches modern European women’s and gender history as well as the history of modern Britain and its Empire. His scholarship at the intersection of history and literature explores the redemptive possibilities and thorny problems posed by goodness as a subject of historical inquiry. His prize-winning books capture women and men as they made difficult ethical and moral choices about how to transform their world. Slumming: Social and Sexual Politics in Victorian London analyzed the disturbing and consequential entanglement of eros and altruism in the making of modern philanthropy and welfare. The Match Girl and the Heiress explored the Christian revolutionary love between two women, separated by an immense class divide, as a crucible for making a just society committed to breaking down hierarchies of class, race, sex and gender.

Ren Pepitone is Assistant Professor of History at NYU and is the author of the forthcoming Brotherhood of Barristers: Gender, Space, and the Legal Profession, 1840-1940. They are currently working on a new project on the culture and politics of amateur theatre, tentatively titled Amateur Actors: The Politics of Performance in Modern Britain and its Empire.