English Legal History and Interdisciplinary Legal Studies
BOUNDARIES OF THE LAW: GEOGRAPHY, GENDER AND JURISDICTION IN MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN EUROPE, Anthony Musson, ed., Ashgate
21 Pages Posted: 2 May 2004 Last revised: 2 May 2010
This essay focuses on two issues: the nature of medieval and early modern English legal history and its place in interdisciplinary legal studies and the possible opportunities for expanding the interface between English legal history and other disciplines. In discussing English legal history, the focus is on medieval and early modern scholarship. With regard to the first issue, while some might characterize English legal history as interdisciplinary, it seems different than the numerous "law ands" that populate the intellectual landscape. There is a difference between "legal history" and "law and history." This work identifies various reasons for this difference. Thus, the essay concludes that English legal history scholarship is not interdisciplinary in the usual sense. If English legal history is not interdisciplinary in the "law and" sense, then what is its nature? Two strands have emerged, which might be labeled institutional and contextual. The paper reviews these two strands and argues that English legal history, at least the medieval and early modern variety, is neither history nor law. If so, some reconsideration of the nature of legal history is in order and concludes that it is neither history nor law. But if so and if it is different from the "law ands," how should one characterize it? Perhaps the answer is that it is a distinct intellectual endeavor, separate from both law and history, but one that combines the methodology, objectives, insights, and knowledge of both law and history.
After discussing the nature of English legal history, the essay moves to the second issue, expanding the interdisciplinary interface. It suggests the possibility of several interdisciplinary efforts, "English legal history ands." In particular, the essay identifies philosophy, literature, and economics as candidates. The paper develops the potential for expanding the legal history tradition to include these philosophical, literary, economic interfaces. The paper concludes with some general remarks about the medieval and early English legal history scholarship and some comparisons with American legal history scholarship. The essay observes that the former scholarship has been relatively untouched by the culture wars that have beset the academy. Thus, English legal history is neither trendy, as been charged of the "law ands" nor a political battlefield as has also been true for these other endeavors. On other hand, if it has a shortcoming, it is its narrowness. Perhaps it would be useful if some scholars connected the discussion of institutional and doctrinal development to "big ideas." Although such a reorientation would be controversial with some English legal historians, others might view it also as a return to its roots, as exemplified by some of Maitland's scholarship. Larger questions emerge in comparing the English and American scholarship. First, it is doubtful whether what has been said about the nature of medieval and early modern English legal history would be equally valid with respect to American legal history. Various reasons for these differences emerge. Thus, further work comparing medieval and early modern English legal history and American legal history should be explored.
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