photo of Samantha Barbas.

Bringing a historian's skills to the Baldy Center

The School of Law’s signature vehicle for interdisciplinary scholarship, the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy is moving forward from last year’s 40th anniversary celebration with a new director. Following the retirement of Professor Errol Meidinger, who led the center for the past nine years, Professor Samantha Barbas has been named to lead the next chapter of its history.

“Buffalo Law has a very long tradition of being a center of interdisciplinary scholarship,” Barbas says. “That is part of our identity, this intellectual scholarly production.”

The new director embodies the Baldy Center’s philosophy that the insights of other scholarly disciplines can shed new light on issues in the law. A specialist in legal history, Barbas has particular interest and expertise in First Amendment and mass communications law, and has written three books on media law and history. In addition to a J.D. from Stanford Law School, she earned a Ph.D. in American History at the University of California, Berkeley.

Intellectual cross-pollination is what the Baldy Center is all about. Established in 1978 with a bequest by Buffalo attorney Christopher Baldy, a 1910 graduate of the law school, the center provides a fertile working environment through invited speakers, discussions of works in progress, symposia and workshops, and a grant program that funds research by legal scholars in residence. (Barbas received a research grant for the 2018-19 academic year to support her work on a biography of civil liberties pioneer Morris Ernst, and has received several previous grants through the Baldy Center.)

As she settles into this new role, Barbas says she expects the center to continue to benefit from the participation of academics across the university in the arts and sciences. The Center's Advisory Council includes not only law professors but scholars in geography, sociology and political science. She would like to see its range expand further into other disciplines in the humanities, including history.

She also hopes to engage more student interest. “That’s something I would like to work on, finding a way to get students more involved and perhaps inviting them to workshops,” Barbas says. In the works is a symposium planned for next spring, with the expectation that the student-edited Buffalo Law Review will publish some of the papers presented at the event.

In addition, Barbas says, she’s thinking about reaching out to the broader community with more public-facing lectures by well-known intellectuals.

A short-term goal is to extend the Baldy Center’s visibility, among other things by connecting with interested parties on social media. “There’s a lot going on at the Baldy Center that people in the law school and at other law schools don’t know about,” she says.

But at its heart, the mission of the center will remain: to help legal scholars make connections that inform their thinking and their work. “When you bring people together, whether it’s in workshops or on our Advisory Committee, you make friendships,” Barbas says, “and that’s the basis for great scholarship.”