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Taming the Past

Taming the Past
Essays on Law in History and History in Law

$39.99 (P)

Part of Studies in Legal History

  • Date Published: June 2017
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316644003

$ 39.99 (P)
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About the Authors
  • Lawyers and judges often make arguments based on history - on the authority of precedent and original constitutional understandings. They argue both to preserve the inspirational, heroic past and to discard its darker pieces - such as feudalism and slavery, the tyranny of princes and priests, and the subordination of women. In doing so, lawyers tame the unruly, ugly, embarrassing elements of the past, smoothing them into reassuring tales of progress. In a series of essays and lectures written over forty years, Robert W. Gordon describes and analyses how lawyers approach the past and the strategies they use to recruit history for present use while erasing or keeping at bay its threatening or inconvenient aspects. Together, the corpus of work featured in Taming the Past offers an analysis of American law and society and its leading historians since 1900.

    • Equips reader with the tools to recognize different kinds of historical argument in legal reasoning and to critique them
    • Gives readers a richer and more plausible way of thinking about the relationship between legal and social change
    • Makes explicit the kinds of stories we tell about the past and how it led to the present in legal decisions, arguments and lawyers' writings
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Advance praise: ‘Robert W. Gordon has been one of the preeminent commentators on the rapid rise of American Legal History as a discipline. Each of these essays, written over the past forty years, constitutes an important example of his unequalled influence over the dramatic development of the field.’ Morton Horwitz, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Emeritus, Harvard Law School, Massachusetts

    Advance praise: ‘The sparkling essays of one of the preeminent legal historians of our era are now collected in one place, where they can talk with each other. Here we see the vintage apercus that make us laugh aloud at Gordon’s wit and nod our head at his wisdom. So, for example, we see Gordon discussing ‘Willard Hurst’s benign, if also rather insistent, influence;’ talking about how ‘dead paradigms … never really get killed off [in law], but hang around and Dracula-like, rise from their coffins to stalk the earth;’ observing that E. P. Thompson ‘almost never (save when exposing an opponent as an ignorant twit) showed off how hard he had been working;’ and pointing out that ‘history does not make a good domestic pet.’ This book is a real treat!’ Laura Kalman, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Advance praise: ‘Once an arcane backwater, mostly located in the backrooms of law schools, disconnected from the main themes of academic legal study, legal history has become a site of core controversies, ones that everyone involved with the study of law had to engage with. Legal history is where scholars from emerging fields of ‘non-legal’ history - including historical studies of gender, of race, and of market capitalism - found the scholarly perspectives that made possible exciting new work about law. The writings of Robert W. Gordon helped guide how it all happened. American scholarship owes him a debt of gratitude. And it is good that a new generation will be introduced to his analytic clarity, to his wisdom, and to his attractive voice, through this accessible edition.’ Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University

    Advance praise: ‘For four decades, Robert W. Gordon has provoked, inspired, and nourished the writing of critical legal histories. I can still recall the exhilaration of reading him as a student. This indispensable volume collects classics and little-known essays that will engage first-time and returning readers with unsettling questions about the ways we understand law’s history and authority.’ Reva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor, Yale Law School

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316644003
    • dimensions: 232 x 163 x 26 mm
    • weight: 0.83kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction
    Part I. The Common Law Tradition in Legal Historiography:
    1. The common law tradition in American legal historiography
    2. Holmes' common law as legal and social science
    Part II. Legal Historians:
    3. James Willard Hurst, against the common law tradition - social-legal history's pioneer
    4. Hurst recaptured
    5. Morton Horwitz and his critics: a conflict of narratives
    6. The elusive transformation
    7. Method and politics: Horwitz on lawyers' uses of history
    8. E. P. Thompson's legacies
    9. Owen Fiss, the constitution of liberal order at the 'Troubled Beginnings of the Modern State'
    Part III. History and Historicism in Legal History and Argument:
    10. Historicism in legal scholarship
    11. Critical legal histories
    12. The past as authority and social critic
    13. Taming the past: three lectures on history in legal argument
    14. Originalism and nostalgic traditionalism
    15. Undoing historical injustice.

  • Author

    Robert W. Gordon, Stanford University, California
    Robert W. Gordon is a Professor of Law at Stanford University, California. He was President of the American Society for Legal History in 2000–2, has served on several bar association committees and task forces devoted to reform of the profession, and has previously taught at the University of Wisconsin, Yale University, Connecticut, Harvard University Massachusetts and the University of Oxford.

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