Thus far, I have reflected on my college and law school years and on my first few years in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Today, I will write about my transition into academia. At the time, I was an associate attorney at the largest law firm in Latin America, but truth be told I did not find the practice of law to be intellectually rewarding, so I was elated when in the spring of 1998 I was offered my first teaching job at the law school of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Puerto Rico (PUCPR), where I was assigned to teach two courses: (1) a new survey course on “The Evolution and Development of the Institutions of the Civil Law”, and (2) a two-semester course on the U.S. Constitution, and I could not have been happier! (Shout out to Charles Cuprill Oppenheimer (1916-2012), the venerable dean of the PUCPR law school, to whom I owe this happy state of affairs.)
During my first few years in academia, I decided to take an openly historical approach to my subjects. For my civil law lectures, for example I turned to the law of ancient Rome, consulting the Institutes of Gauis and the Corpus Juris Civilis. In addition to these primary Roman law sources, I read a wide variety of classics in legal history, legal theory, and anthropology, including books by Barry Nicholas, John Merryman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir Henry Maine, and E. Adamson Hoebel. Summing up, like the renaissance humanists of the quattrocento, I turned to Roman Law and other bygone legal sources since the European civilian tradition and Puerto Rico’s civil law institutions can ultimately be traced back to ancient Rome. My students and I thus turned to history to discover and reconstruct the origins of the civil law in Western civilization, such as the evolution of delictal (i.e. tort) actions from the early lex talionis, to the more developed lex Aquilia of classical times, up to article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code.
Likewise, for my course on the United States Constitution, I began to read such classics as The Federalist Papers, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the judicial opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall. I also read the works of leading contemporary constitutional scholars, including Akhil Amar’s The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, John Hart Ely’s Democracy and Distrust, and José Trías Monge’s masterful four-volume constitutional history of Puerto Rico. Moreover, instead of organizing my “conlaw” course around Supreme Court cases (as most conlaw professors do), I organized my course around the major historical events in U.S. history: the Revolution, the Founding, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Louisiana Purchase, the Seminole Wars, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, etc.
Though this was only a beginning, it was a fairly productive period in my intellectual life. All told, I had devoured dozens of scholarly books and hundreds of academic articles, and I had prepared detailed and meticulous lecture notes and course outlines. Furthermore, it was only a matter of time before I moved from legal history to history qua history and to give serious and sustained thought to the problems of historical analysis. I eventually discovered a wonderful book entitled The Historian’s Craft, written by the French historian Marc Bloch, who was brutally executed by the Nazis in 1942. His was the most thoughtful book I had read about the work of the historian. He treated such eternal problems as subjectivity, historical causation, and historical time itself with such a degree of humility and humanity that his ideas have left a lasting impression on me.
Now that I look back on this transition, I cannot help but notice that, because of my historical focus, I hardly read any contemporary law cases, but little did I know that my most important intellectual development was yet to come, for I had yet to meet Orlando I. Martínez-Garcia, a future colleague and friend who would gently nudge me in a different direction …