Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Down with Interdisciplinarity? Or Up with Legal History?

An article being discussed in the blogosphere (e.g. Leiter Reports) is Anthony D'Amato, The Interdisciplinary Turn in Legal Education. At a time when an increasing number of law school hires have Ph.D.s, D'Amato argues against interdisciplinarity.

One of D'Amato's claims is that disciplines are like sects.
"Disciplines and sects share the trait that their primary audiences are themselves. They proselytize their own initiates at great lengths before even thinking of proselytizing outsiders. Internal reiteration and refinement of the discipline’s core ideas always take priority." (18)

Hmmm. It seems to me that in history, if anything the current criticism is that historians are spending too much time speaking to outsiders. The question instead has been whether the pressures to write for a broader public undermine the careful practice of history.

But perhaps D'Amato is not talking about historians. As Dan Markel notes, D'Amato's own examples of what law teaching requires repeatedly invoke questions of legal history.
Here's D'Amato: "How many law teachers understand the origins of the jury system and the evolving bifurcation of facts and law (which remains an issue today in the phrase “a mixed question of fact and law”)? How many know that the early jurors asked questions of the parties and their attorneys, and were accustomed to going around the neighborhood interviewing citizens and poking into evidence? How many are aware of the self-protective reaction of the judges in turning to formalism?"

While he warns against "history for history’s sake," the bottom line is that his attack on the disciplines that inform legal scholarship turns out, instead, to be an embrace of just one: legal history.