Robert W. Gordon in Conversation with David Sugarman
The Docket (the Digital Edition of Law & History Review), Volume 1, Issue 3, October 2018.
39 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2018
Date Written: September 5, 2018
The discussion that follows arises out of more than six hours of recorded conversations in which Bob Gordon talks about his life and work. It delineates the importance of Bob’s family background and early life; the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the 1960’s; his undergraduate studies at Harvard; his experience of learning law at Harvard Law School; the teachers that most inspired him; his early years as a law professor at Buffalo and Wisconsin; his multifarious research and writing projects, many unfinished or unpublished; and some of the key ideas, ideals, individuals and movements that shaped his thinking, writing and professional development including Barrington Moore Jr., Stanley Hoffmann, Mark de Wolfe Howe, John P. Dawson, Stewart Macaulay, Willard Hurst, E.P. Thompson and the Warwick School of Social History, Morton J. Horwitz, Duncan Kennedy, Lawrence M. Friedman, F.W. Maitland, American Legal Realism and Critical Legal Studies. It also illuminates a range of topics including how he came to write his most cited publication, “Critical Legal Histories”, and its intended goals; his response to its success and to subsequent criticisms, including the efficacy or otherwise of his influential notion of “law as constitutive of consciuousness”; how his vocal and highly visible support for Critical Legal Studies affected him; his copious writings on the legal profession, and their place within the literature on lawyers and society; the presentist dimensions in his work and his response to the issue of presentism; the use of history for either conservative or progressive causes; his preference for essay writing; and his writing style and polemical goals. His reflections on teaching and writing brings the conversation to a close.
Here is Bob in his own words, adding a more personal reflection and commentary to his more formal publications and presentations. I see this conversation as a dialogue with a large invisible audience. By uniquely illuminating the ideas and biography of one of the most influential and much--loved legal historians of the last fifty years, it provides food for legal scholars wishing to think about the relevance of their role, whilst for historians (legal or otherwise) it offers a window into the theory and method of legal history and the ways in which intellectual currents in legal history were navigated over the second half of the twentieth and early twenty--first centuries. Hopefully, it conveys the spirit of our dialogue, and, among other things, what a good time we were having.
Keywords: legal history, law and society, legal education, legal profession, law and ideology, Mark de Wolfe Howe, John P. Dawson, Stewart Macaulay, Willard Hurst, E.P. Thompson, Morton Horwitz, Duncan Kennedy, F.W. Maitland, Critical Legal Studies, Legal Realism, Richard L. Abel, Barrington Moore Jr.
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