American Legal History

American Legal History explores the interaction between law, politics, and culture in American society, concentrating on the period from the Revolution through the New Deal. Although built on an underlying narrative account of the period, it proceeds thematically, with particular attention to five central topics: (1) democracy and the rule of law; (2) law, state, and economy; (3) marriage, gender, and the family; (4) race, slavery and Reconstruction; (4) law and the organization of labor; (5) crime and punishment; and (6) legal education and the role of the lawyer in the American polity.

Readings will include an array of primary legal sources, such as treatises, statutes, constitutions, and landmark cases, as well as contemporary religious, scientific, and literary works, which will help to situate the legal materials in broader cultural context. A number of secondary historical studies will be considered as well, both for insights into the topics covered, and to illustrate various approaches to legal-historical analysis. The course will encourage critical examination of these sources with the aim of illuminating the life of the law in American history and the role of history in legal thought and practice. No previous background in American history is assumed. Take-home exam, or research paper in lieu of the exam. The research paper may be used to satisfy the upper-level writing requirement.
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