Professor Sharfstein is the inaugural holder of the chair, which was endowed in honor of Dick L. Lansden Jr. ’34 (‘BA’33), a founding partner in the firm that became Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, and his wife, Martha S. Lansden (BA’33). His appointment was announced by Dean Chris Guthrie, and he was among 29 newly appointed chair holders honored by Vanderbilt University Nov. 11.
Sharfstein co-directs the law school’s George Barrett Social Justice Program. He held the three-year Tarkington Chair in Teaching Excellence from 2016-19 and holds a secondary appointment as professor of history at Vanderbilt University. He was a member of Vanderbilt University’s inaugural cohort of Chancellor Faculty Fellows from 2015-17, receiving two years of funding for his research, and served as a fellow of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities in 2012-13 and 2014-15.
“Dan Sharfstein is an award-winning legal historian whose work has far-reaching implications,” Dean Guthrie said. “He has also made important contributions to the life of the law school through his leadership of our Social Justice Program and by mentoring students. He is a fitting inaugural recipient of the Dick and Martha Lansden Chair.”
Sharfstein’ s scholarship focuses on the legal history of race and citizenship in the United States. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship to research his book on post-Reconstruction America, Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War, published by W.W. Norton in 2017 and recognized as a Montana Book Award Honor Book, a finalist for the Southern Book Award, and as a best book on numerous year-end lists. His book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, published in 2011 by Penguin Press, won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for excellence in non-fiction as well as the Law & Society Association’s 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 appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Virginia Law Review, Minnesota Law Review, New York Times, Slate 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,. He has twice won the Law School’s Hall-Hartman Outstanding Professor Award.
After earning his J.D. at Yale Law School, Sharfstein was a law clerk for Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th 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. He earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard College and then worked for three years as a journalist in West Africa and Southern California before entering law school.
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 and the inaugural Raoul Berger-Mark DeWolfe Howe Visiting Fellow in Legal History at Harvard Law School.
At Vanderbilt, Sharfstein teaches Property, American Legal History, Federal Indian Law, Historic Black Nashville, and the Legal History of Race in the United States.