27 April 2018

BOOK: Robert W. GORDON, Taming the Past : Essays on Law in History and History in Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). ISBN 9781316644003, £ 24.99

Cambridge University Press recently published a new book on the usage of historical arguments by lawyers.


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.


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, 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.


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.

For more information, see the publisher’s website

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