Dylan C. Penningroth


Alexander F. & May T. Morrison Professor of American History & Citizenship

Associate Dean, Program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy / Legal Studies

Dylan C. Penningroth specializes in African American history and in U.S. socio-legal history. His first book, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), won the Avery Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. His articles have appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, and the Journal of Family History. Penningroth has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Stanford Humanities Center, and has been recognized by the Organization of American Historians’ Huggins-Quarles committee, a Weinberg College Teaching Award (Northwestern University), a McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence (Northwestern), and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Before joining UC Berkeley in 2015, Dylan Penningroth was on the faculty of the History Department at the University of Virginia (1999-2002), at Northwestern University (2002-2015), and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation (2007-2015).

Penningroth's new book is entitled Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Civil Rights (Liveright, 2023). Combining legal and social history, and drawing from a large sample of trial court records, the book explores how ordinary Black people used and thought about law in their everyday lives, and how Black legal activity and Black legal thought helped shape American law and Black social movements from the 1830s to the 1970s. Interweaving his own family history with long-forgotten documents found in county courthouse basements, he reveals how African Americans thought about, talked about, and used the law long before the marches of the 1960s. In a world that denied their constitutional rights, Black people built lives for themselves through the “rights of everyday use.” Before the Movement recovers a rich vision of Black life―a vision allied with, yet distinct from, the freedom struggle.


Johns Hopkins University, MA, 1996; PhD in History, 2000

Yale University, BA with Distinction in History, May 1993

Teaching Appointments

2015–Present, Professor of Law and History, University of California at Berkeley

2015–Present, Affiliated Research Professor, American Bar Foundation

2007–2015, Research Professor, American Bar Foundation

2002–2015, Visiting Assistant, Associate, and Professor, History Department, Northwestern

1999–2002, Assistant Professor, History Department, University of Virginia

Awards & Fellowships

2024 Merle Curti Prize, Organization of American Historians

2024 Ellis W. Hawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

2024 Langum Prize for American Legal History

2024 Shortlisted for Mark Lynton History Prize, Columbia Journalism School

2018-2019, ACLS Fellowship

2013–2014, Stanford Humanities Center Fellowship

2013–2017, MacArthur Fellowship

2012, Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll

2011–2014, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, Northwestern

2009–2012, National Science Foundation Award (#0921883), "Local Courts and African American Life" (3-year grant)

2009, EBSCOhost/America: History and Life Award, Organization of American Historians (for article "The Claims of Slaves and Ex-Slaves")

2008, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award, Northwestern

2008–2010, Wayne V. Jones Research Professorship in History, Northwestern

2006–2007, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Newberry Library

2005–2014, Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians

2006, Lane Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern

2004, Avery O. Craven Award, Organization of American Historians

2000, Allan Nevins Prize, The Society of American Historians

1998–1999, Pre-doctoral Fellowship, Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies, University of Virginia

1998, Huggins-Quarles Award, Organization of American Historians

1998, W. M. Keck Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Summer Fellowship, Huntington Library

1994–1998, Dean's Graduate Fellowship, Johns Hopkins

1997–1998, Sawyer Seminar Fellowship, Mellon Foundation, Johns Hopkins

1997, Southern History Research Fellowship, Johns Hopkins

1996, Travel Grant, Institute for Global Studies, Johns Hopkins

1996, Smithsonian Graduate Summer Fellowship, National Museum of American History

Representative Publications

Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights (Liveright, 2023)

"Race in Contract Law," University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 170, no. 5 (2022), 1199-1301 

"Everyday Use: A History of Civil Rights in Black Churches," Journal of American History, vol. 107, no. 4 (2021), 871-98

"Writing Slavery's History," Organization of American Historians Magazine of History, 23, no. 2 (2009), 13-20 (invited essay)

"African American Divorce in Virginia and Washington DC, 1865-1930," Journal of Family History, vol. 33, no. 1 (2008), 21-35

"The Claims of Slaves and Ex-Slaves to Family and Property: A Transatlantic Comparison," American Historical Review 112, no. 4 (2007), 1039-69 (winner of biennial EBSCOhost/America: History and Life Award, Organization of American Historians)

"My People, My People: The Dynamics of Community in Southern Slavery," 166-76, in New Studies in the History of American Slavery, ed. Edward E. Baptist and Stephanie M.H. Camp, University of Georgia Press, 2006

The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003 (winner of Avery Craven Award, OAH)

"Slavery, Freedom, and Social Claims to Property Among African-Americans in Liberty County, Georgia, 1850-1880," Journal of American History 84 (Sept. 1997), 405-35. Reprinted in The Old South: New Studies of Society and Culture, ed. J. William Harris (New York, 2008), 113-41

Professor Dylan C. Penningroth


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442 North Addition, Law School


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