Area of Study & Practice
- Interdisciplinary Studies
- Legal History
American Legal History
American Legal History explores the social history of American law from the founding of the Jamestown colony through the Civil Rights movement. To a significant degree, much contemporary legal debate is grounded in assumptions about the past. This course is designed to provide students with a perspective on that past, and a sense of the richness of American legal tradition. Although intended as a survey course, its focus is on specific historical incidents and context as a way of understanding broad general themes, and most of the readings consist of such traditional primary source materials as statutes, trial transcripts and appellate opinions. The course goes beyond such official documents, however, and attempts to read events such as riots, lynchings and rebellions as important elements in our legal culture. Among the legal topics covered in the course are those related to the founding of European settlements in North America, relations between the colonists and native peoples, witch trials and issues, legal proof, limits on dissent, experiments with constitutionalism, the limitation of revolutionary principles, the role of courts and judges in redefining property rights in the early Republic, changing principles of tort and contract law, the response to changing forms of labor organization, the criminal law and slavery, the response of the state to the increasing size of business organizations, railroad regulation, industrial accidents, the rise of the penitentiary, order in the West, regulation of immigration, growth of the administrative state, and the Civil Rights movement. This is an examination course. There are no prerequisites.
Please note that course organization and content may vary substantially from semester to semester and descriptions are not necessarily professor specific. Please contact the instructor directly if you have particular course-related questions.