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Professor Joseph Biancalana Retires from UC Law

One of academia’s leading scholars of English legal history and long-time University of Cincinnati College of Law professor, Joseph Biancalana, announced his retirement effective this fall.  

 “The College of Law’s annals include more than a few iconic professors – long and vividly remembered across generations,” said UC Law Dean Louis Bilionis. “Joseph Biancalana will be among them.  Our alumni consistently remember him with affection and high praise for his command of the law, his commitment to rigorous scholarly inquiry, his consummate practice of the Socratic method in the classroom, and his enormous passion for teaching.”  

Professor Biancalana received his JD from Harvard Law School, after receiving his BA from Lake Forest College and his MA in English Literature from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that he developed his love of English legal history. “While in college and graduate school I took several seminar courses in [English legal history],” he said. “Then, I was hooked.”

After graduating from law school, he worked as an associate at Herrick & Smith in Boston (Mass.) for four years. He then was awarded a Bigelow Teaching Fellowship from the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught for one year before joining the faculty at UC Law in 1983.

For over 25 years Professor Biancalana taught numerous classes and hundreds of law students. Many benefited from his teaching in courses such as Constitutional Law I and II, Corporations I, Property, Wills and Trusts, and, of course,  English legal history.  Gail King Gibson ’90 spoke about Professor Biancalana for the law school’s Anniversary Memory Project. “Property with [Professor] Biancalana was very interesting…It was clear that he was very intelligent. He was leaps and bounds ahead of the class.” 

When asked what drew him to teaching, Biancalana laughed and said, “English legal history. Teaching was one of the few ways I could continue to delve into this subject!”  He continued, “I will miss interacting with the students, however. And I will definitely miss being able to continue learning in classes such as the graduate-level Fiction Writing Workshop I took last school year at the university.”  Biancalana admitted to enjoying being a teacher and a student, as over the years he had taken numerous classes to continue to hone his skills. 

The author of numerous articles, books, essays, and papers, his work has been published in legal journals including the Cambridge Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, American Historical Review, and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Legal History. Commented Dr. Paul Brand of All Souls College, Oxford, concerning his work, [it is] “notable both for its mastery of the relevant sources and its ability to tackle the major questions of English medieval legal history in a new and interesting way.” His book, The Fee Tail and the Common Recovery in Medieval England 1176-1502 (Cambridge University Press, 2001), is considered a work of major and lasting importance in the field. To that point, Professor Biancalana has twice won the prestigious Sutherland Prize from the American Society for Legal History, an award given to the best article published in English legal history in the preceding year. Additionally, he was commissioned to author the volume in the Oxford History of the Laws of England that will cover the fifteenth century, contributing alongside some of the best English legal historians known today. Noted Sir John Baker, Downing Professor of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge, a professor “cannot now teach English legal history without reference to [Professor Biancalana’s] work.”

A well-respected educator, Professor Biancalana also has a reputation for constructing challenging and stimulating discussions both outside and inside the classroom. “Talking with Joseph could be a challenge, sometimes even a frustration,” said his colleague Thomas Eisele, Professor of Law. “His insistence on clear thought and precise expression (as well as coming up with ideas that were more than platitudes) superseded the ordinary customs of friendship, or collegiality.  This could be off-putting.  But, to be sure, engaging with Joseph's agile mind also was highly rewarding, for anyone willing to submit to such rigorous demands. Joseph's ability to be unsettling in a good sense proved, in my experience, of real and lasting benefit.  In the best tradition of law school curmudgeons, he is a latter-day Socratic gad-fly.”

Inside the classroom alumni and students consistently remember him with affection and the highest praise for his command of the law and passion for teaching. “We are very grateful to [Professor Biancalana] for the impact he had on our curriculum and our students.  In fact, he was one of my favorite professors when I was lucky to be in his Property class during my days as a student at the College of Law,” said Nancy Oliver ’90, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Student Affairs at the College of Law. 

What has been the result of his efforts? He has been awarded several commendations from the law school community. He is a two-time winner of the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. This award, given by UC law students, recognizes professors who distinguish themselves in the classroom. Wrote former law school dean Tom Gerety in a Goldman Prize announcement letter, “Professor Joseph Biancalana approaches his material with an electrifying intensity, and his excitement is oftentimes contagious. He pushes students beyond their black letter law by questioning every rule. Thus, he encourages critical, as well as analytic, thinking about the subject matter.” Finally, Biancalana is also a recipient of the Harold C. Schott Scholarship Award, which recognizes outstanding research and scholarly achievement by a faculty member.

This fall Professor Biancalana will be moving to Cambridge (Mass.) where he plans to pursue various writing projects, read and research articles, and “explore and enjoy beautiful New England.”  The law school community will miss him.