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Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us About People Fleeing From Persecution

by Robert F. Barsky

Image is of the book cover for Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us About People Fleeing From Persecution.Guggenheim Fellow Robert F. Barsky participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2018. During this residency he worked on Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us About People Fleeing From Persecution. He is a Professor of French, European Studies, Jewish Studies, and Law at Vanderbilt University.  He was the Canada Research Chair in Law, Narrative and Border Crossing from 2019 to 2020. This picture of Barsky with Michel Pierssens was taken at a book launch for Clamouring for Legal Protection at the Clos des Bernadines in St. Aignan, France.

A few words with Robert

“I had been planning this book for several years, but I wrote the first draft of several chapters in the Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio. My residency played a massive role in shaping the book, in part because of the extraordinary impact of the wonderful conversations I had with fellow residents, and in part because I was writing about the “great books” in a setting that was deeply rooted in a fascinating past. As such, I found extraordinary inspiration from the setting, which in turn contributed to my thinking about the power of historical works upon contemporary thought.

“My residency shaped two of the most intense research projects of my career, both of which directed towards the ever-more crucial areas of vulnerable migrations and border crossing.”


What can law students learn from Alice in Wonderland?

In this novel approach to law and literature, Clamouring for Legal Protection delves into the canon of so-called Great Books, and discovers that many of their beloved characters encounter obstacles similar to those faced by contemporary refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented persons.

Among others, the struggles of Odysseus, Moses, Aeneas, Dante, Satan, Dracula and Wonderland’s Alice provide surprising insights into current discussions around migration, border crossings and the treatment of refugees – by drawing remarkable parallels with the real people who today seek legal protection after escaping untenable situations in their home countries.

Clamouring for Legal Protection joins the growing law and literature movement, which underscores the power that literature has to instill empathy and, in this case, help us identify with the plight of contemporary refugees.

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To find out more about Robert’s work, listen to him discuss Clamouring for Legal Protection on an episode of Briefcase: Humanities and the Law Podcast.

Or you can simply follow him on Twitter or Instagram.