Law Fellows: Biography of Bill Piatt

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by Paul Garza

This post is from our 2022 Spring Internship series.

I worked with the Law Fellows research group under Dr. Lindsey Wieck and Dr. Geraldo Poyo. The Law Fellows is a St. Mary’s University affiliated group that researches the history of the Law School with a focus on significant people, events, successes, and ordeals. Law Fellows collect and share resources related to the law school’s history. The Law Fellows also produces biographies of alumni and faculty that have made significant contributions to the school’s success. The law school’s WordPress website can be reached at: http://stmupublichistory.org/law/

Most of my work with the Law Fellows has been digital. Even the collecting and archiving of information and sources has been kept safe using online platforms like Google Drive, Airtable, and OneNote.

Short Biography from the St. Mary’s University Law School Website
LawNotes Newsletter 2006, “Message from the Dean,” page 2.

Throughout this internship, I learned how to write a biography and what kinds of sources to look for. Because there were no academic articles to refer to, I had to think historically about potential sources. So, I thought about the origin, purpose, and context of several documents. I then was able to collect both primary and secondary sources to create a narrative about the deanship of Bill Piatt. 

Another important skill I learned was interpretation as a historian. Biographical writing is more factual and profile-like information, which made it difficult for me to feel like there was an interpretive part to this project. However, I quickly learned that interpretation happens from the very beginning. It happens when I decided which primary and secondary sources to use. The interpretative part of writing this biography was identifying themes that characterized the deanship of Bill Piatt.

Within the Law Fellows, I was responsible for researching the deanship of William “Bill Piatt”. This process involved reading and collecting both primary and secondary sources that helped to understand the climate of the law school under bill Piatt. I sourced through the digital commons of St. Mary’s University where I found the LawNotes newsletter, The Witan, and some publications written and supervised by Piatt. The LawNotes newsletter was especially useful in helping identify the themes of student advocacy, academic excellence, and Catholic heritage that defined Bill Piatt’s time as dean of the law school. I also used documents like Bill Piatt’s resume and curriculum vitae to highlight his biggest accomplishments as dean.

I was also responsible for organizing and maintaining photos or any relevant information in a shared Google Drive folder. I worked with the Airtable online platform for further organization of photos while using metadata to make searching and identifying more efficient. It was important to make sure all metadata was consistent across each platform and updated. I learned how consistent safekeeping and archiving is necessary in the digital age. Before even uploading anything to Google Drive or Airtable, I kept every photo and document saved on a OneNote folder for my own personal use.  

Image of Law Fellows Airtable Worksheet

The Law Fellows internship provided me with various public history skills, like researching, interpreting, collecting, curating, and writing. I was able to work with a team of historians, both professionals and students, to create and make available the history of the St. Mary’s University Law School.

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