Wednesday, February 8, 2012

G. Edward White's Law in American History: Volume 1

Courtesy of UVA
Law in American History: Volume One by G. Edward (Ted) White has been published by Oxford University Press.   The publisher's description of the book follows.  Ted will answer our questions about his new book--the first in a three-volume series--and his body of work when he joins us in a series of guest blogger question and answer sessions next month. If you have questions for Ted, email them to me.

In the first of the three volumes of his projected comprehensive narrative history of the role of law in America from the colonial years through the twentieth century, G. Edward White takes up the central themes of American legal history from the earliest European settlements through the Civil War.

Included in the coverage of this volume are the interactions between European and Amerindian legal systems in the years of colonial settlement; the crucial role of Anglo-American theories of sovereignty and imperial governance in facilitating the separation of the American colonies from the British Empire in the late eighteenth century; the American "experiment" with federated republican constitutionalism in the founding period; the major importance of agricultural householding, in the form of slave plantations as well as farms featuring wage labor, in helping to shape the development of American law in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the emergence of the Supreme Court of the United States as an authoritative force in American law and politics in the early nineteenth century; the interactions between law, westward expansion, and transformative developments in transportation and communication in the antebellum years; the contributions of American legal institutions to the dissolution of the Union of American states in the three decades after 1830; and the often-overlooked legal history of the Confederacy and Union governments during the Civil War.
White incorporates recent scholarship in anthropology, ethnography, and economic, political, intellectual and legal history to produce a narrative that is both revisionist and accessible, taking up the familiar topics of race, gender, slavery, and the treatment of native Americans from fresh perspectives. Along the way he provides a compelling case for why law can be seen as the key to understanding the development of American life as we know it. Law in American History, Volume 1 will be an essential text for both students of law and general readers.

3 comments:

Doreen Boxer said...

White's bio­graph­i­cal approach to his­tory could eas­ily fall into “great man” his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, despite White’s asser­tion that he advances no such “‘great man’ the­ory” (White 6). But he seeks less to glo­rify indi­vid­ual judges than to use them as a means of “reflect[ing] the gov­ern­ing social and intel­lec­tual assump­tions of var­i­ous peri­ods of American his­tory.

Doreen Boxer - Former San Bernardino Public Defender

Alfred Brophy said...

Among the many questions I have about this first volume (and also White's Tort Law in America): can we use changes in tort law in the pre-Civil War era to measure changing attitudes towards the market? There's a very important argument among historians of slavery about the influence of capitalism on anti-slavery (and I'd add pro-slavery) attitudes. One line goes that capitalism gave people more contact (and perhaps more sympathy) for the plights of others and so increased anti-slavery sentiments. I wonder if there was a similar dynamic at play with tort law? Did capitalism make legislators and judges more sympathetic to the plights of tort victims? There's a lot to be said here -- and I'd be very interested in White's thoughts on this.

Tomiko Brown-Nagin said...

Al, Ted's response is forthcoming. Sorry for the delay.