Historicizing Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England Difference and Sameness in Historical Time
28 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2011
Date Written: February 18, 2011
This paper examines the career of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England from its first appearance in the 1760s into the twentieth century. Specifically, it asks what we can learn about the nature of historical knowledge itself through an exploration of the different editorial practices to which the Commentaries were subjected over the course of two centuries or more. The paper first explores how the Commentaries went from being objects of active "use" to being akin to museum objects venerated for their "style." The paper then undermines this narrative by showing how "style," uncannily, lay at the heart of all the different and contradictory editorial practices to which the Commentaries were subjected, from those most violative of the text's integrity to those most solicitous of it. The paper attempts to confront a question troubling for historians: how do we come to terms with "style"? How do we come to terms with "style's" repeated invocation as various editors sought to fit the Commentaries to the perceived needs of their times?
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