Monday, March 5, 2012

Ted White Q&A: Why Three Volumes?

Ted White's new tome, Law in American History: From the Colonial Years through the Civil War, is 565 pages long (with notes)--but only the first of three volumes. That observation generates the first question for Ted.

Q: Your new book is the first of three planned volumes. Given the size and scope of the first volume, that seems like a pretty big commitment. What made you inclined to take on the project?

A: I didn't anticipate a three-volume work when I began the project. The initial idea, which dates back to the mid 1990s, was a book of approximately the same length and scope of Lawrence Friedman's A History of American Law. But I quickly found myself uncomfortable with the prospect of narrating legal developments over fairly large spans of time. That seemed to flatten out the complexity of historical change, something I wanted to emphasize in the work. If I had anticipated a telescoped tradition of the twentieth century, I might well have limited the project to two volumes, but I tend to agree with the editors of the Cambridge History of American Law volumes that there are striking historical differences between the period that encompasses the "long nineteenth century" (which I would extend up to, and in some instances through, the 1920s) and the remainder of the twentieth century. So three volumes seem to make sense at this point. I agree that this is a large commitment, but I have really enjoyed researching and writing the first volume.