Daniel J. Sharfstein

Professor of Law

Daniel Sharfstein’s scholarship focuses on the legal history of race in the United States. He received a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship to support his work on a book-length exploration of post Reconstruction America, "Thunder in the Mountains: The Clash of Two American Legends, Oliver Otis Howard and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce." His book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin Press, 2011), won the 2012 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for excellence in non-fiction as well as the Law & Society Association’s 2012 James Willard Hurst Jr. Prize for socio-legal history. His writing has also appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, New York Times, Slate, Washington Post, Economist, American Prospect and Legal Affairs. For his research on civil rights and the color line in the American South, Professor Sharfstein was awarded an Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and he was the inaugural recipient of the Raoul Berger Visiting Fellowship in Legal History at Harvard Law School. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, he clerked for the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the Honorable Rya W. Zobel, United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He was also an associate at Strumwasser & Woocher, a public interest law firm in Santa Monica, California. Prior to law school, he worked as a journalist in West Africa and Southern California. Before joining Vanderbilt’s law faculty in fall 2007, he was a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at New York University School of Law.

Research Interests

American legal history, race and the law, property law

Area(s) of Expertise

American legal history, property law

Representative Publications

  • The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, Penguin Press (2011)
  • "Crossing the Color Line: Racial Migration and the Emergence of the One-Drop Rule," 1600-1860," 91 Minnesota Law Review 592 (2007)
    Full Text | SSRN | HEIN
  • "Saving the Race," Legal Affairs (March-April 2005)
    Full Text | HEIN | WWW
  • "The Secret History of Race in the United States," 112 Yale Law Journal 1473 (2003)
    Full Text | HEIN | WWW
  • "Passing Fancy," Legal Affairs (September-October 2003)
    Full Text | HEIN | WWW
  • "European Courts, American Rights: Extradition and Prison Conditions," 67 Brooklyn Law Review 719 (2002)
    Full Text | WWW
  • "Human Rights Beyond the War on Terrorism: Extradition Defenses Based on Prison Conditions in the United States," 42 Santa Clara Law Review 1137 (2002)
    Full Text | HEIN
  • "No Cure for a Broken Heart: Davis v. District of Columbia," 158 F.3d 1342 (D.C. Cir. 1998), 108 Yale Law Journal 2451 (1999) (Case Note)

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Contact Information

(615) 322-1890 (voice)
(615) 322-6631 (fax)
Room 252 (office)

Curriculum Vitae



J.D. Yale Law School
A.B. Harvard College