Amalia Kessler, Jonathan Rodden awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

May 4, 2021, 8:48 p.m.

Seven Stanford faculty members were named 2021 Guggenheim Fellows last month. This honor recognizes those who have “demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” Approximately 3,000 applications are submitted each year for these fellowships spanning across various disciplines and reviewed by experts in each field. Only about 175 individuals are selected each year. This article is part of a three-part series profiling the Stanford scholars honored with this award for 2021. 

Amalia Kessler 

As a legal historian, Amalia Kessler M.A. ’96 Ph.D. ’01 “thinks of law, not just in the sense of looking at the formal doctrine, but thinking about its relationship to big questions of social structure, economic class culture, justice, etc.”

Kessler has been named a Guggenheim fellow in constitutional studies and currently serves as director of the Center for Law and History. She spent a year clerking for a federal judge and then practiced law in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice before coming to teach at Stanford in 2003. 

Colleague and law professor Bernadette Meyler J.D. ’03, a 2020 Guggenheim fellow in constitutional studies, has “known and admired” Kessler since Meyler was 18. 

Kessler has been “an invaluable institution builder at Stanford,” especially through her work founding the Center for Law and History, according to Meyler.

Meyler also acknowledged the impact of Kessler’s two published award-winning books, including “Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877.” In the book, Kessler argues that the American legal system uniquely relies on lawyers to solve disputes as compared to other nations who, according to Kessler, “rely on taxpayer-funded judges and other officials.” 

Kessler notes the advantages of adversarial justice — a system in which parties are represented by lawyers, usually in front of an impartial judge and/or jury — but is also skeptical of the heavy reliance on lawyers, especially because they are privately funded. She said that “we are attached to the idea that a lawyer-driven system is synonymous with justice.” Kessler focuses on “two of the big challenges of the 19th century that honestly are still with us today, the rise of capitalism and struggle of racial equality.” 

Currently, Kessler is working on a book titled “The Public Roots of Private Ordering: Arbitration and the Remaking of the Modern American State.” Kessler analyzes the roots of the modern problem of individuals being forced into contracts with corporations, where much of the proceedings are kept secret. She challenges the notion that arbitration should be “blindly enforced by the courts as a matter of private contract.” Kessler added that “there is more room for government involvement to rectify injustice in private arbitration.”

Those who know Kessler describe her as a unique and talented scholar. James Whitman, a professor at Yale Law School, served as a mentor to Kessler during her time as a student there and credits her for being “one of the most creative and influential legal historians at work in American today.” He added that he was delighted to hear that Kessler had been selected as a Guggenheim fellow.

Meyler shared a similar sentiment, saying that she was “not at all surprised by the stellar arc of her career but delighted that she has received the accolades that she deserves.”

Jonathan Rodden

Political science professor Jonathan Rodden, whose work focuses on the comparative political economy of institutions, was also named a 2021 Guggenheim fellow. As a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, he is specifically interested in “the relationship between economic geography and political geography, and what that meant more broadly for representation.”

This research culminated in Rodden’s 2019 book: “Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide.” Rodden examines urban-rural polarization in several Western countries and explains that “the relationship between population density and voting has become more and more pronounced over time” since the Industrial Revolution. 

Rodden’s work for “Why Cities Lose” is part of his long-term project to analyze comparative political economies. Rodden plans to continue his research with the Guggenheim fellowship grant, which ranges from $30,000 to $45,000, by completing a series of political science articles and writing another which he hopes will “broaden my audience a bit beyond what I can do in journal articles.” 

Rodden’s colleagues commended his research and work ethic. Public policy professor Paul Sniderman said that “Why Cities Lose” is “wonderfully written” and “a flagship example of political science at its best.” 

Some colleagues highlighted Rodden’s eminence in the field of geopolitics. International communication professor Judith Goldstein described him as “a worldwide expert in how voting, representation, housing and poverty interact to undermine democracy” who “created the field of geo-politics.” History and political science professor Stephen Haber also said that Rodden is “an intellectual leader” in geo-political analysis and “a wonderful teacher and committed mentor of students.”

Political science professor David Laitin added that Rodden’s work is “marked by a deep ethical concern to correct the imbalance of voting power to the disadvantage of minority populations” to represent “the magnitude of representational inequality.”

Rodden encourages students to find faculty research that is interesting to them: “Stanford is just an amazing place for the kind of undergrad that wants to get involved in faculty research.”

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