Vanderbilt Law School Background Image

Daniel J. Sharfstein

Tarkington Chair of Teaching Excellence
Professor of Law
Professor of History
Chancellor Faculty Fellow
Director, George Barrett Social Justice Program

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: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017). 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, the William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History, and the Chancellor’s Award for Research from Vanderbilt. His article, “Atrocity, Entitlement, and Personhood in Property” won the Association of American Law Schools 2011 Scholarly Papers Competition. 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. He has twice won the Law School’s Hall-Hartman Outstanding Professor Award. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, he was a law clerk for Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Judge Rya W. Zobel of the U.S. 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. Professor Sharfstein, who holds a secondary appointment in Vanderbilt University's College of Arts and Science as a professor of history, is in the inaugural cohort of Chancellor Faculty Fellows.

"Rachel Dolezal's 'Passing' Isn't So Unusual," New York Times Magazine, June 15, 2015

Research Interests

American legal history, race and the law, property law

Area(s) of Expertise

American legal history, property law

Representative Publications

  • Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War, W.W. Norton & Company (2017)
  • “Frizzly Studies: Negotiating the Invisible Lines of Race,” 19 Common Knowledge 518 (2013)
    Full Text | WWW | PDF
  • “Atrocity, Entitlement, and Personhood in Property,” 98 Virginia Law Review 635 (2012)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “The Backwards Gesture: Historical Narratives in Carol Rose’s Property Scholarship,” 19 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 1039 (2011)
    Full Text | WWW
  • 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