I am just back from Washington, D.C., where I attended the XVIIIth International Congress of Comparative Law, organized by the International Academy of Comparative Law. At the business meeting of the Academy, I received the Canada Prize. It’s awarded every four years to recognize a book, in English or French, “in which the common law and the civil law systems are the subject of a critical comparative study in a field of private or public law.”
My book, Contextual Subjects, is based on doctoral research that I submitted at the University of Toronto in 2005. At that time I was fortunate to be a visiting scholar at the Centre de recherche en éthique de l’Université de Montréal (CREUM). I was lucky enough to have funding from the Trudeau Foundation and was able focus full-time on my scholarship. On my supervisors’ advice, I set aside the thesis for a couple of months to get some distance and then took it up again to revise it for submission to the Press.
The process of turning my thesis into a book was challenging-my first book, and despite having The Thesis and the Book in hand, a sense of being on unknown terrain. I was trying to open up the work, to make it accessible to a wider audience. What was liberating was that I no longer had to tailor it to my doctoral supervisors. They had been wonderful, generous and keen to help me produce a dissertation that was mine, not theirs. Still, I had added some things to the text at the request of one or another of the committee members that never quite worked for me. It was satisfying to strip those away. One of the biggest challenges was drawing the line between reasonable revisions of the work, which were feasible, and a wholesale rewriting, which was not. The years of my doctoral research and start of teaching were ones of intense intellectual growth, during which I was constantly changing. So at the various stages of production-submission of the initial MS, response to the evaluators’ reports, copy edits, proof reading-I had to remind myself to publish, as best I could, the book that I had in front of me, and not a new book that I could have begun to write then.
Hearing the jury’s citation made me look differently at Contextual Subjects, which I had never consciously viewed as a work of “comparative law.” They mentioned the integration of Canadian common law and the civil law of Quebec in the book’s study of public law and family law. I had of course intended that integration. But drawing on multiple sources in that way, including integrating the public and the private, is so much a part of my general approach to scholarship that I hadn’t appreciated it the way the jury did. This is probably the result of my undergrad law studies and now teaching at McGill, where the core courses integrate the legal traditions of the common law and civil law.
Receiving the Canada Prize at the Congress helped me to meet lots of new colleagues from around the world. It means the most to me, though, as encouragement to continue developing my voice and doing the kind of scholarship that I have been doing.
*UTP wishes to congratulate Robert Leckey on winning the 2010 Canada Prize from the International Academy of Comparative Law. To read an excerpt from his award-winning book, Contextual Subjects, click here.