Course Details

English Legal History

Upon declaring their independence, the former American colonies passed so-called reception statutes as one of their first official legislative acts. These statutes adopted the English common and statute law as part of the law of the new state. As each American state (except Louisiana) joined the Union, they, in turn, did the same. To understand ourselves as American lawyers, therefore, we should understand something about where our law and our legal concepts and biases come from. This class will study the development of the English common law from its origins around the 11th century until the modernization of the medieval legal system by the English Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875. We will study both the history of the English constitutional law and the role of judges and lawyers in fashioning a pragmatic and enduring common law legal system. The class will include both big-picture discussions of the evolution of courts and legal doctrine and narrower studies of how lawyers at different periods thought about and interacted with the law they had available to them. The course has two goals: first to provide an understanding of the broad sweep of English legal history, and second to show how historians have constructed this history from the source material. The former lesson is of use to lawyers interested in changing the law because before lawyers argue for reform they need to know why the law is the way it is. The second lesson is of use to litigators who essentially do the jobs of historians in creating stories from a mass of unruly facts. Students will have the option of taking an exam or writing a 5000-word paper based on primary source research. Either option will account for 50% of the final grade. The remaining 50% will come from a mix of class participation, one-page response papers on the readings, short quizzes, and a small mid-term project. Students who opt to write papers may choose to do directed archival research in England during Spring Break.

Catalog Number: LAWSTUDY 707


Course History

Spring 2016
Title: English Legal History
Faculty: Kadens, Emily (courses | profile)
Section: 1     Credits: 3.0
Capacity: 65     Actual: 35