Teaching is a fairly private experience, which may be an odd thing to say about something we do in front of a large group of people. Beyond talking with colleagues (both in person and in the very useful space Facebook provides to gather teaching advice), there are too few opportunities to see or hear what happens in other people’s classrooms, which is why I was looking forward to reading the essays in Teaching Legal History: Comparative Perspectives. The volume, an expansion of a special volume of the American Journal for Legal History, includes 63 short essays by law professors about how they teach legal history (and one longer essay on the history of teaching legal history in law schools). Some of the contributors have been trained specifically as legal historians, while others came to legal history teaching later in their careers. (Only thirteen of the 65 contributors are women, which raises questions either about the selection of contributors or about law school hiring more generally.) I should state here that I know several of the contributors to this volume—not surprising, as American legal history is my own research field.
There is significant breadth among the 63 essays (although not a lot of depth; by design, most are approximately four pages long). Taken together, they indicate the diversity of legal history courses and methods. Courses discussed range from the standard survey of American legal history to specialized courses on law in the Civil War, Latin American legal history, the history of corporate law, and the legal history of Hawaii. Some authors strive for coverage (some courses cover American legal history since Reconstruction, while others begin with the American Revolution, the Magna Carta, or ancient Mesopotamia); many others focus their courses on students’ own research papers. (I was impressed by how many contributors have their students tackle independent research in local and online archives.) Most contributors assign at least some primary sources (and many use primary sources almost exclusively); it is clear that the ease of gathering primary sources (through online databases and archives) has allowed many to complement or move beyond the few casebooks/sourcebooks that dominate the market. Several other contributors focus instead on secondary materials, and it was encouraging to see many forsake textbooks to expose students to the extremely vibrant recent scholarship in legal history. Continue reading "Bringing History into the Law School Classroom"