Law & History Foundation Seminar (American Legal History)

History 280D

Fall 2018
Christopher Tomlins
Selznick Seminar Room, 2240 Piedmont Avenue
Day & Time: 
M 2–5 p.m.
Class Number: 

American Legal History is The Law & History Foundation Seminar for the Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program. It is a reading and discussion seminar taught under the auspices of the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Ph.D. Program, and is open to all JSP graduate students, Berkeley Law JD, LLM and JSD students, graduate students from History, Critical Theory, and other campus programs, and from other Bay Area institutions. The course is cross-listed with the Program in Critical Theory and with the History Department.

Considered as a field of study, legal history is as much history as it is law, and history is primarily a discipline of the book. For this reason I have chosen to make this a course that focuses on books, largely books written about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our goal will be to explore the “main currents” of American legal history while also acquainting ourselves with the methodological and theoretical possibilities for innovation in the production of legal history that exist at the conjunction between history and other social science and humanities disciplines. The course concentrates on the United States, but to set our discussion of theory and method off with a bang, we will begin in the dark undergrowth of a forest in eighteenth century England.

Over the course of the semester our goal will be to achieve a thorough and complete grounding in legal history’s formative literatures by reading a wide selection of the field’s best work, ranging from the classics that have structured the field, stirred controversy, and inspired generations of scholars (like James Willard Hurst’s Law and the Conditions of Freedom and Morton Horwitz’s Transformation of American Law), to the best work of the current generation of field leaders (like Laura Edwards’ The People and their Peace and Kunal Parker’s Legal Thought Before Modernism), to notable recent work by rising scholars (like Karen Tani’s States of Dependency and Ken Mack’s Representing the Race). Along the way we will accumulate considerable knowledge of the substance of American legal history, while giving close critical attention to the very different ways in which scholars have chosen to write the history of American law (and the very different subjects about which they have considered it appropriate to write). 

Faculty Bio for Christopher Tomlins, Elizabeth J. Boalt Professor of Law