Sunday, September 5, 2010

Legal History Reviewed in the WMQ

The July 2010 issue of the William & Mary Quarterly has an impressive number of book review of interest to legal historians. These include Pauline Maier on Alison LaCroix’s The Ideological Origins of American Federalism, Daniel Hulsebosch on Paul Halliday’s Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire, Sean P. Harvey on Eric Slauter's The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution, and Randolph Roth on Jack Marietta and G.S. Rowe’s Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800.

Maier's review commences:
With the retirement of several major historians, including Bernard Bailyn, Jack P. Greene, and now also Gordon S. Wood, there was a certain gnashing of teeth over the failure of younger historians to share their senior colleagues' interest in the colonial and revolutionary origins of American government and law. That concern, it now seems, was premature. Scholarship on the topic remains alive and well, but the scholars doing the work, with a handful of exceptions, have moved across campus from history departments to law schools and—equally striking—hold doctorates in both history and law. The new breed of law school historians includes Daniel J. Hulsebosch at New York University Law School, Mary Sarah Bilder at Boston College Law School, Christian G. Fritz at the University of New Mexico Law School, Steven Wilf at the University of Connecticut Law School, and now also Alison L. LaCroix at the University of Chicago Law School. Their work differs in focus and approach, but it is far from an instrumentalist "law school history" that plucks evidence willy-nilly from the past to support arguments in the contemporary courtroom. They examine the deep chronological and broad geographic origins of American institutions, sometimes follow issues that arose during the Revolution on into the nineteenth century, and, not surprisingly, often direct our attention to the role of the judiciary.