Jill Fraley Profile

Dr. Jill B. Fraley

Growing up in rural Kentucky, Dr. Jill Fraley recalls strip mines for playgrounds and orange-tinted stream water.  But for her, these memories have not been a burden.  Instead, they—and her love for the people and places of Appalachia–have become a driving force in her prolific, multi-disciplinary scholarship.

Dr. Fraley’s career path took her first from Kentucky to Yale, where she double-majored in religion and history, before obtaining her law degree from Duke.  After several years practicing law in the product and premises liability field, she returned to Yale and earned both an L.L.M. in 2008 and a doctorate of law degree in 2011.  She returned home to Appalachia, joining the faculty of Washington and Lee shortly thereafter.

During this period of intensive education and work, Dr. Fraley still managed to produce a wide variety of articles.   Among others, this included works of history (Missionaries to the Wilderness: A History of Land, Identity, and Moral Geography in Appalachia, Journal of Appalachian Studies, vol. 17, No. 1/2, pp.28-41 (2011); poetry (Night ScreamsAppalachian Journal 234-234 (2008)); and social science (Walk along My Mind: Space, Mobility, and the Significance of PlaceHumanity & Society, vol. 31.2-3, pp. 248-259 (2007)).

In 2009, she began focusing on legal articles. Re-Examining Acts of God, 27 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 669, analyzes the traditional divide in tort law between human causation and natural causes, or acts of God.  Fraley argues, based on an exploration of the underlying geographical theories and the experience of law in related questions such as biotechnology patents, that this distinction is outdated and unhelpful.  Instead, she suggests that allocating percentages of fault would allow for greater fairness and justice in the case of damage caused by a global-warming induced hurricane, for example.

A 2011 piece, Finding Possession: Labor, Waste, and the Evolution of Property, 39 Cap. U. L. Rev. 51 looks at the historical development of the linkage between labor and possession of property and the “right of first possession”.  This concept and the related notion of waste, or un-worked land, was used by British and American settlers to justify their right to settle and develop new land claims.  Fraley concludes that the handed-down notions of Lockean private property as an unimpeachable right deserve reconsideration.   Instead, she suggests allowing for a more balanced approach between the good of society and the individual good.

Dr. Fraley has continued to study and publish in other fields, with articles such as: Images of Force: The Power of Maps in Community Development, Community Development Journal, 46(4), 421-435 (2011) and The Political Rhetoric of Property and Natural Resource Ownership: A Meditation on Chance, Taxation and Appalachia, Society & Natural Resources, 25(2), 127-140 (2012).  This firm grounding in the concerns and methodologies of other disciplines has given her an appreciation for the way in which they approach questions of the human condition.  In its relationship to other fields, “law can remain oddly isolationist and uninviting to scholars in other fields, despite the many connections that have already been made between law and other disciplines,” she says.  “This is unhealthy.  [Legal scholars]…should cultivate a sense of listening to scholars in other fields and inviting their insights.”

Dr. Fraley has two book projects coming up this year.  The first is a revision and updating of her doctoral thesis on Law and Geography.  She explores the intersection of these two vital disciplines and argues that powerful actors sometimes use geographical methods such as map making and surveys to enforce their preferred structure on others.  The other book is a look at the impact of the early American concept of “waste” on the development of settlements and the allocation of natural resources.  Dr. Fraley traces how the norms of property ownership on the small scale had a large effect on the eventual division of natural resources between states and nations.  Of particular interest is the settlement and treatment of the greater Appalachian area.

As she continues her wide-ranging scholarly journey–exploring the connections between property, environment, history and geography–in some ways she has never left home.  Dr. Fraley’s love of Appalachia shines through.

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