Authority in the Archives

1 Critical Analysis of Law 110 (2014)

33 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2019

See all articles by Paul Halliday

Paul Halliday

University of Virginia - Corcoran Department of History

Date Written: April 1, 2014


This article offers a critique of the sensory deprivation under which legal studies normally operate by exploring how material forms shape law’s substance. Archives and the objects in them used for storing precedents have a history that we must understand if we are to ascribe meaning and authority to the texts they contain. Thus the images here do not simply illustrate propositions; they raise and answer questions about how physical forms constrain what is knowable as law. We can see this by studying practices in the eighteenth-century English court of King’s Bench, and especially the manuscript precedent books made by that court’s clerks. Examining one case — of the liberal campaigner, John Wilkes — we can watch clerks shaping authority as they used indexing tools of their own making to find the crucial precedents. Those same clerks then turned the case into a precedent by storing the results in the archive over which they were masters.

Keywords: court archives, King's Bench, methods in legal history, court clerks, precedent

Suggested Citation

Halliday, Paul, Authority in the Archives (April 1, 2014). 1 Critical Analysis of Law 110 (2014). Available at SSRN:

Paul Halliday (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Corcoran Department of History ( email )

Nau Hall
Charlottesville, VA 22904
United States

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