Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More on the Blackwell Companion to American Legal History

Yesterday we spotlighted the new Blackwell Companion to American Legal History. Alfred L. Brophy (University of North Carolina), one of the editors, has posted some thoughts about the volume here, at the Faculty Lounge. Here's a taste:
I think the volume comes at precisely the right moment for American legal history, because the field is going in so many different directions at once.  A while back -- like when I was in graduate school -- the field was still dominated by studies of appellate opinions and jurisprudence.  So judges, treatise writers, and high brow legal thinkers predominated in the field.  There has been an extraordinary expansion in subjects over the past several decades.  Legal historians are looking closely at enslaved people, women, gay people, immigrants, workers, welfare recipients, as well as lawyers in big firms and small.  And they're looking at the procedures of justice of the peace and police courts, local trial courts, as well as state supreme courts and the United States Supreme Court.  The methods have broadened dramatically, too: we're interested in how fictional literature critiqued law (and in some cases supported it); how the technology of law brought down irrational authority and (more commonly) supported it.  As Sally and I say in the introduction -- and as I've observed elsewhere -- legal history is expanding so much in subjects and methods that it is beginning to look like almost all of history fits somewhere in its boundaries.
There's just a lot of literature to deal with and a great many moving parts.  Most of this is positive -- it's great to be in such a broad field.  One thing, however, is negative here.  And that is that the field is going in search of unifying principles. . . . 
Read on here.