Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wood Reviews White's Law in American History

The eminent historian, Gordon Wood (Brown--history, emeritus), has published a review of Ted White's new book, Law in American History, Volume 1, in The New Republic. The review, entitled "The Dream of Law," is available online to subscribers.  Woods' review begins with high praise for White.  He is "one of America’s most eminent legal historians," having "written fifteen books, many of which have won awards and honors." Such a "wide-ranging body of legal scholarship," Woods writes, "has amply prepared White for what promises to be his magnum opus, a multi-volume work called Law in American History." 

Woods then proceeds to take issue with several features of White's first volume.  Woods criticizes, among other things, White's preoccupation with historical "contingency" and "issues of race, class, and gender."  Woods dismisses the series of hypotheticals posed in White's work as "counterfactual history with vengeance." And he questions White's failure to consider legal issues in the colonial period that, in Wood's estimation, are too important to ignore.  Moreover, Woods describes White's affirmation of readers' "different perspectives [on history], neither wrong or right," as "sad." Wood's review reflects profound differences of opinion among historians about what should count as history and about how historians should approach their craft.  For that reason, it is well worth a read.