Name: Chris Florio ‘09
Major: History
Minor: Philosophy
Academics: University Scholar
National Merit Scholar
School of Arts & Sciences Summer Research Fellowship
Activities: Tutoring
Student representative to the Board of Trustees

This isn’t your typical summer. What are you working on?

I’m working with Dr. Robert C. Kenzer on a research project titled, “Lincoln’s Lawyers: An Analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Co-Counsels”

Although several books examine Abraham Lincoln's legal career, none have attempted, as this project will, a collective study of his co-counsels. I am evaluating Lincoln's associates in a social context. Were these lawyers as poorly educated as Lincoln, or had many of them received a formal education? And what does this say about social mobility on the American frontier? Was Lincoln, an individual who entered an elite class without any of the social, political, or economic advantages often associated with elites, exceptional in this respect?

Political analysis will come into play after I’ve identified patterns in Lincoln's involvement with other lawyers. Did most of Lincoln's co-counsels share his political leanings? Was Lincoln more inclined to work with lawyers from a rival party on certain kinds of cases? Along with politics, did practical considerations lead Lincoln to retain co-counsels? Lincoln may have used lawyers from local communities to help him appreciate, for instance, a case's potential jury pool.

How’d you get involved in the project?

Dr. Kenzer, my academic advisor and history professor, first suggested writing something about Lincoln's legal career, and I decided that investigating this topic would help me learn how to undertake historical research. I know this experience will benefit me as I pursue my career goal of becoming a college history professor.  

What prepared you for this opportunity?

I have loved American history since I was very little - I suppose since I was about five or six years old - and I think that this love, above all else, has prepared me to begin my own research. As John Lukacs, a venerable historian, wrote, “A cook has to have an appetite for food before cooking, and, likewise, a historian has to have an appetite for his subject matter before researching.”

My interaction with Dr. Kenzer helped me prepare to examine Lincoln's legal career. He told me about the recently published Lincoln Legal Papers and of their vast potential as a historical source. He also guided me during the formulation of my fellowship proposal and has continued to serve as a wonderful advisor throughout the project.

So you're getting to know Lincoln’s co-counsels this summer. What happens next?

This project will help me learn the ropes of independent research and understand the work ethic and discipline that is required of a successful scholar. If my research illuminates new information about Lincoln as a lawyer, then I will continue my explorations as I write my honors thesis in history.

What’s in store for you after graduation?

I plan on either pursuing a Marshall Scholarship or matriculating to a graduate school where I can continue my study of nineteenth century American history.