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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: 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? While finishing my PhD, I did two fellowships in legal history, the Samuel I. Golieb Fellowship at NYU Law School and the Charles W. McCurdy/Miller Center Fellowship at UVA Law School. Before that I clerked for two federal judges in New York. And before that, I attended Columbia Law School.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? I always loved history growing up, 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 who had been key in that movement, and many were lawyers. I had never interacted with lawyers before; no one in my family is a lawyer. Meeting these activists was really inspiring, which got me thinking that I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. So, I went to law school, where I ended up writing mostly legal history papers and gravitated toward the legal historians on the faculty.

I loved clerking, and at some point, I realized that it was probably the most fun I would have as a practicing lawyer and that my heart was still in history. I decided I had to go to grad school. I feel lucky now because I get to do both – study law and history.

Courses: Criminal procedure and legal history.

What does your scholarship entail? My current project examines the history of the automobile to explain the evolution of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and to explore the problem of police discretion in a society committed to the rule of law.  Here’s my elevator pitch: if you look at twentieth-century American culture, the car represented individual liberty. But if you look at how the law treated cars, it was the most policed aspect of everyday life. The question I ask in my book is: how has the meaning of freedom changed such that Americans have come to accept extensive policing of the embodiment of their freedom?

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? The students. The way students think comes from a place of curiosity. They ask questions I’ve never thought of, and I learn a lot from them. On top of that, students are thinking about what they want to do, and being a part of their conversation about the possibilities is exciting. It gives me purpose.

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now & why do you enjoy it? I just finished a book, The Nix by Nathan S. Hill. I enjoyed it for a few reasons. One is that the author is from Iowa, and Iowa provides one of the settings in the book. And two, the book is grounded in American history. The main character is trying to figure out why his mother left him as a child, and his story offers a cultural comparison of the late 60s student protests with the recent Occupy Movement.

Name five of your favorite things.

  • Favorite movie: The English Patient
  • Favorite meal: raw oysters and French fries with a glass of champagne
  • Favorite down-time activity: it’s a toss-up between listening to music and going to the movies
  • Favorite time of day: early mornings, when I write
  • All-around favorite: My dog, Grimke. She’s a Maltipoo.


Sarah Seo