Hello! My name is Daniel Platt, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies. Prior to joining UIS in 2020, I was a postdoctoral fellow at SUNY-Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and a graduate fellow at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. I hold a PhD in American Studies from Brown University and a BA in History from Loyola University Chicago.
My teaching and research unfolds at the intersection of legal history, legal culture, and the history of capitalism. In my first book, Freedom from Finance: Debtors’ Rights in Modern America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming), I dwell on a moral and legal question that acquired profound significance in the United States in the late nineteenth century: what could be taken from people who failed to pay their debts? To some thinkers, paying one’s debts was a measure of freedom, civilization, and personal responsibility. The law, they believed, should force borrowers to honor their promises. To others, however, there was something wrong—and even coercive and uncivilized—in the law foreclosing on the debtor’s home, seizing the debtor’s tools or wages, and otherwise forcing the debtor to honor old pacts. My book traces the struggle between these competing visions of the debtor’s responsibilities and the debtor’s rights in the long wake of the Civil War. It analyses how financial issues became entwined with the major social questions of the day, as the law contemplated the plight of wives burdened by the debts of their husbands, African Americans bound to labor off debts owed to white merchants and landlords in the South, and industrial workers whose meager wages consigned them to borrow from exploitative loan sharks. I argue that the moral concerns that drove these disputes—and shaped the modern law of contract, property, marriage, and bankruptcy—eventually faded in the early twentieth century, giving rise to the more debt-dependent form of capitalism that we live with today.
My teaching similarly foregrounds moral dilemmas in the law with and the impact of those dilemmas on ordinary people. In Theories of Justice, for example, I invite students to explore the law’s handling of controversial disputes like the Baby ‘M’ case from the 1980s, in which a surrogate parent sought to keep the child she had promised to give to another couple. In Capitalism and the Law, the class examines foundational debates over whether genetic material can be patented, whether corporations have civil rights, and whether employers or employees are responsible when someone gets injured at work. Students in this course write two papers: one, discussing the role of the law as it appears in working people’s memoirs, and a second, constructing a legal biography of any object that can be bought and sold, from beach-front property to artistic expressions to parts of the human body. These assignments encourage students to see how law permeates capitalism in all its forms, structuring what we are permitted to exchange and who holds power over whom in economic relationships.
I enjoy getting to know students at UIS on a personal level and being able to help them on their intellectual journeys. Whether that is in the classroom or in extracurricular spaces like the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraterntiy, I truly cherish the opportunity to introduce students to the fascinating world of law and legal thought and to help them consider how that world might be an important part of their lives, studies, and careers.