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Get to Know: Sarah Seo

Sarah Seo
Associate Professor

Joined Iowa Law: I moved to Iowa City in August 2016.

Hometown: It’s a bit complicated. I was born in South Korea; immigrated to Dallas, Texas, at age 5; then spent my adolescent years in College Station, Texas.

Alma Mater:
A.B., Princeton University
J.D., Columbia Law School
Ph.D., Princeton University

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? I finished my PhD in History at Princeton University.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? I have always loved reading history, especially biographies. So it was almost a foregone conclusion that I would major in history in college (almost—I considered majoring in music). My undergraduate thesis was on the history of the Korean Comfort Women Movement. For my research, I traveled to Korea to interview some of the activists in the movement, and many were lawyers. I had never interacted with lawyers before; no one in my family is a lawyer. These activists inspired me to go to law school. As a law student and then law clerk, I realized that the questions that most interested me were the “why” questions. Why, for example, were so many criminal cases drug cases? These questions were essentially about history, and I decided that I wanted to spend my career figuring out answers to those questions. I am lucky because I get to study both law and history.

Courses: Criminal procedure, criminal law, and legal history.

What does your scholarship entail? I just published Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. It’s a history of policing cars, which, in the car-dominated United States, is ultimately a history of policing American society. In twentieth-century American culture, the car represented individual liberty. But from the perspective of law, driving was the most policed aspect of everyday life. My book examines the question, how has the meaning of freedom changed such that Americans came to accept extensive policing of the embodiment of their freedom?

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? Interacting with students. They think from a place of curiosity and ask questions I’ve never thought of. I learn a lot from them.

Name five of your favorite things.

  • Favorite book: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
  • Favorite down-time activity: it’s a toss-up between listening to music and going to the movies
  • Favorite comfort food: Oreos with milk
  • Favorite time of day: early mornings, when I write
  • All-around favorite: My dog, Grimke. She’s a Maltipoo.
Sarah Seo