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William Davenport Mercer

Senior Lecturer


I am a historian of nineteenth century America, specializing in legal and constitutional history, cultural history, and urban history.

My research is focused on incorporating sources and methodologies used in the humanities to help us better understand changes in law. My scholarship includes a study of a trial referred to as the fastest death penalty case in U.S. history as told through a lost Appalachian murder ballad, a project examining the interplay between free speech rights, blue laws, and vaudeville/burlesque comics, and a monograph on the ways that Americans in the nineteenth century appreciated where their rights came from.

I hold a joint appointment between the History Department and the College of Law. At the History Department, I offer courses on the early American republic, a range of legal and constitutional history topics, both American and comparative, and seminars on topics including the role of the trial in American history, public history, and the ways students can use non-traditional sources, like music, to help craft better historical narratives.


At the law school, I offer classes on legal and constitutional history as well as serve with the clinical faculty in the Prosecution and Defense Criminal Law Externship courses. I am also responsible for the introductory law courses for students pursuing the 3+3 accelerated BA/JD program through the UT College of Law.


Before coming to the University of Tennessee, I practiced law for fourteen years, first as a commercial litigator and later as a legal aid attorney.


Ph.D., University of Florida (2011)

M.A., University of Florida (2007)

J.D., Stetson University College of Law (1997)

B.A., Mercer University (1994)

Selected Publications


Diminishing the Bill of Rights: Barron v. Baltimore and the Foundations of American Liberty (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017)


“The Last Days of the Marshall Court,” accepted for publication in the Journal of Supreme Court History

“The Ballad of Hicks Carmichael: Law, Music, and Popular Justice in Urban Appalachia,” accepted for publication in Law, Culture and the Humanities


“At the Intersection of Sovereignty and Contract: Traffic Cameras and the Privatization of Law Enforcement Power,” 43 University of Memphis Law Review 379 (Winter 2012).

Contact Information

  • 915 Volunteer Boulevard
    2546 Dunford Hall
    Knoxville, TN 37996-4065

  • Phone: 865-974-7094
  • E-mail: