Oral History of Barbara Aronstein Black

Barbara Aronstein Black was born (1933) and raised in Brooklyn, and attended the Brooklyn public schools and Brooklyn College. In 1952, she entered Columbia Law School, where she was an editor of the Law Review, a Kent Scholar and recipient of the Federal Bar Association Prize; she graduated in 1955 and spent the academic year 1955-1956 as an associate-in-law at Columbia.

She married Charles L. Black, Jr. in 1954. In 1956, her husband's career took the couple to New Haven, Conn., which was to be their home for 28 years; for the first nine of those years, Black devoted her time to her family, which soon included two sons and a daughter. In 1965, eager to move toward an academic career, but not wishing, quite yet, to take on full-time work, she began a doctoral program in history at Yale. During the next decade, while a graduate student, she was appointed to part-time teaching posts in the history department. Wryly describing her career progress at this stage as "meteoric," Black commented that since, at the age of 38, she held appointment as "quarter-time acting instructor," she could presumably look forward to being a full- time acting instructor by age 152.

However, the pace accelerated, and, receiving her Ph.D. in 1975, she became an assistant professor of history at Yale in 1976 and an associate professor at the Yale Law School in 1979. In the spring semester of 1984, she was a visiting professor at Columbia Law School; in April of that year, she received, from Yale, tenure and appointment as a full professor, and, from Columbia, an invitation to join the faculty as George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History. Accepting the Columbia offer, she moved back to New York. A year and a half later, her colleagues asked her to take on the suddenly vacant Columbia Law School deanship, and she agreed to do so. She served as Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1986 to 1991 and has been happily engaged since then in full-time teaching, research and writing in contracts and legal history. She has been president of the American Society for Legal History (1986-89) and a member of the New York State Ethics Commission (1992-95). She is a member of the New York and Connecticut Bars, a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Selden Society, and other learned societies, and the recipient of honorary degrees from Brooklyn College, Smith, Georgetown University Law Center, and other institutions. She has a number of publications on legal history, and five grandchildren.