Barbara Welke

  • Distinguished McKnight University Professor
  • Professor of History and Professor of Law
  • Co-Director, Program in Law and History
  • Distinguished University Teaching Professor
328 Mondale Hall


  • University of Kansas, B.A.
  • University of Michigan, J.D.
  • University of Chicago, Ph.D.


  • American Legal History
  • Legal History
  • Constitutional Law

Professor Barbara Young Welke is professor of history and professor of law. She teaches and writes in the areas of 19th and 20th century U.S. history and U.S. legal and constitutional history. She is also an adjunct faculty member in American Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies.

Professor Welke received her B.A. in history and political science, with highest distinction, honors in history, from the University of Kansas in 1980; her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School in 1983; and her Ph.D., with departmental honors, from the University of Chicago in 1995. Prior to joining the University of Minnesota Department of History in 1998, she was an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon from 1995–98. Before returning to graduate school, Professor Welke practiced law as an associate with Jenner & Block in Chicago.

Professor Welke has received awards for both her scholarship and teaching. Her first book, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920, published by Cambridge University Press in 2001, was awarded the AHA Littleton-Griswold Prize. It tells of how Americans' encounter with corporate power, dangerous technologies, and modernized space reshaped law and broader cultural assumptions about the relative obligations of individuals, corporations, and the state in safeguarding individual liberty in everyday life. Her second book, Law and the Borders of Belonging in the Long Nineteenth Century United States, published by Cambridge University Press in 2010, focuses on the period from the Revolutionary Era through the 1920s (the "long nineteenth century") to highlight the ways American law determined personhood, citizenship and national belonging according to gender, race, and ability, both physical and mental, privileging able white men directly and through the subordination of women, racialized others, and the disabled. She is currently working on two books relating to the history of product liability -- reflecting her continued interest in the relationship between law and liberty in American history, with special interest in gender, race, disability, technology, corporate power, and the state. She is also the author of numerous articles.

Professor Welke's broad interest in American history and commitment to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students is reflected in her teaching and advising in the History Department and at the Law School. She teaches courses in 19th and 20th century U. S. history and more specialized courses U.S. legal and constitutional history at all levels. Welke is actively engaged in advising Ph.D. students whose work engages the role of law in American history, including topics on citizenship, sexuality, gender, race, labor, disability, and immigration. Ph.D. students she has advised have gone on to tenure-track appointments across the United States. In 2006, she was awarded the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching, advising, academic program development, and educational leadership. In June of 2007, 2009, and 2011, she chaired the Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History at the University of Wisconsin, and she will return to chair the 2015 Hurst Summer Institute. She was named a Scholar of the College in the College of Liberal Arts for 2011-2014. As of April 2013, she holds a Distinguished McKnight Professorship.

Professor Welke is actively engaged in departmental, college, university, professional, and public service. She is the former director of the Program in Law and History at the University of Minnesota and currently serves on the Faculty Steering Committee for the Program and has served as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History. She served as Program Committee Chair for the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association and has long been an active member in the American Society for Legal History, serving on the Board of Directors (2002-05), the Editorial Board for Law & History Review (1995-present), the Committee on the Future of the Society (2007-2010), the Nominating Committee (2008-10), the Annual Meeting Program Committee (2005, 2001, 1998). In 2010, she co-chaired the annual meeting program. She has also served on major prize committees in legal history, including the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Prize Committee, the AHA Littleton-Griswold Prize Committee, and the Law & Society Association Dissertation Prize Committee. Professor Welke has also participated in two Teaching American History federal grants.

Legal History Workshop

Women's Legal History

Law & History

Works in Progress

A Consuming Passion: Product Liability and the Rights Revolution in 20th Century America (book in progress)
Playing with Fire (play in progress)
Telling Stories: Love, Loss, History, and Who We Are (book in progress)


Law and the Borders of Belonging in the Long Nineteenth Century United States (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2001) (recipient of the American Historical Association 2002 Littleton-Griswold Prize)

Journal Articles

The Cowboy Suit Tragedy: Spreading Risk, Owning Hazard in the Modern American Consumer Economy, 101 Journal of American History 97-121 (2014)
Owning Hazard, A Tragedy, 1 UC Irvine Law Review 693-771 (2011)
"Glimmers of Life": A Conversation with Hendrik Hartog, 27 Law and History Review 629-655 (2009)
Hendrik Hartog
Beyond Plessy: Space, Status, and Race in the Era of Jim Crow, 2000 Utah Law Review 267-299 (2000) (Legal Archaeology: Making Sense of the Law symposium issue)
Willard Hurst and the Archipelago of American Legal Historiography, 18 Law and History Review 197-204 (2000)
When All the Women Were White, and All the Blacks Were Men: Gender, Class, Race, and the Road to Plessy, 1855-1914, 13 Law and History Review 261-316 (1995) (recipient of the American Society for Legal History 1996 Erwin C. Surrency Prize)
Unreasonable Women: Gender and the Law of Accidental Injury, 1870-1920, 19 Law & Social Inquiry 369-403 (1994)

Book Chapters

Law, Citizenship, and Personhood in the Long Nineteenth Century: The Borders of Belonging, in Cambridge History of Law in America (Michael Grossberg & Christopher L. Tomlins, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Rights of Passage: Gendered-Rights Consciousness and the Quest for Freedom, San Francisco, California, 1850-1870, in African-American Women Confront the West, 1600-2000 (Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, eds., University of Oklahoma Press, 2003)

Book Reviews

Book Review, 32 Law and History Review 437 (2014) (reviewing Jonathan Levy, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (Harvard University Press, 2012))
Miscegenation and the Racial State, 41 Contemporary Sociology 283-287 (2012) (reviewing Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Oxford University Press, 2009))
Book Review, 115 American Historical Review 551-552 (2010) (reviewing Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York University Press, 2009))
Book Review, 36 Journal of Family History 97-99 (2011) (reviewing James D. Schmidt, Industrial Violence and the Legal Origins of Child Labor (Cambridge University Press, 2010))
Book Review, 36 Journal of Interdisciplinary History 292-293 (2005) (reviewing Michael Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago (Cambridge University Press, 2003))
Book Review, 92 Journal of American History 209-210 (2005) (reviewing John Fabian Witt, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004))

Other Publications

Interview with Laura J. Cooper, J. Stewart & Mario Thomas McClendon Professor in Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution, University of Minnesota Law School (University of Minnesota Law School, 2017) (Interviewed February 1, 2017)

Doctoral Theses

Gendered Journeys: A History of Injury, Public Transport, and American Law, 1865-1920 (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, Department of History, 1995) (recipient of the Organization of American Historians' 1996 Lerner-Scott Prize & University of Chicago 1996 Divisional Dissertation Prize (Best Dissertation in the Social Sciences))

Honors & Fellowships

Chair, Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History, University of Wisconsin, Madison (June 14-27, 2015; June 12-24, 2011; June 14-26, 2009; June 10-22, 2007)
Distinguished McKnight University Professor, University of Minnesota, April 2013-Present
Scholar of the College, University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts, 2011-2014 (acknowledging outstanding achievement and contributions in scholarship or creative activity, teaching, and service, as well as in the promise of further achievement)
Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award 2006 (recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching, advising, academic program development, and educational leadership)
William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Grant 2005
University of Minnesota, McKnight-Land Grant Professorship, 2001-2003
National Endowment for the Humanities/Lloyd Lewis Fellowship in American History 1997-98, Newberry Library, Chicago, IL
University of Oregon, Department of History, Endeavour Faculty Fellowship 1998 (for outstanding scholarship, teaching, and service)