Friday, September 30, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on teaching in history depts. and law schools

Note to readers: This is a part of a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman.

Question from David Pye, PhD University of West Georgia:  I am wondering about the difference, if any, between teaching a Legal History survey in a law school and in a history department.

Answer from Lawrence:
The question about the difference between teaching a legal history survey in a law school as compared to teaching it in a history department is a very good question.  I wish I knew the answer.  I have always taught in a law school, although my course is cross-listed and I have some history students.  I would imagine there are differences in academic culture-- the things the professor would refer to, the traditions she would invoke, and so on.  Also, teaching mostly law students, one can assume they know certain terms; you don't have to define "tort."  But I imagine what really makes a difference is not the students, or the department, but the individual instructor.  As I said in another response, there really isn't a canon for American legal history.  In my own course, I spend a lot of time on family law, and on criminal justice; and I know that many people who teach legal history  (in law school or not) basically skip these subjects.  On the other hand, I go very lightly on the constitutional convention, the founding fathers, and big Supreme Court cases; and I pay shockingly little attention to the intellectual history of American law (such as it is).  Other people feel very differently and design their courses accordingly.