Law’s empire : English legal cultures at home and abroad [Review Article]
Finn, Margot C.. (2005) Law’s empire : English legal cultures at home and abroad [Review Article]. Historical Journal, Vol.48 (No.1 ). pp. 295-303. ISSN 0018-246X
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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X04004315
The past few decades have witnessed a welcome expansion in historians’ understanding of
English legal cultures, a development that has extended the reach of legal history far
beyond the boundaries circumscribed by the Inns of Court, the central tribunals of
Westminster, and the periodic provincial circuits of their judges, barristers, and attorneys.
The publication of J. G. A. Pocock’s classic study, The ancient constitution and the feudal law, in
1957 laid essential foundations for this expansion by underlining the centrality of legal
culture to wider political and intellectual developments in the early modern period.1
Recent years have seen social historians elaborate further upon the purchase exercised by
legal norms outside the courtroom. Criminal law was initially at the vanguard of this
historiographical trend, and developments in this field continue to revise and enrich our
understanding of the law’s pervasive reach in British culture.2 But civil litigation – most
notably disputes over contracts and debts – now occupies an increasingly prominent
position within the social history of the law. Law’s empire, denoting the area of dominion
marked out by the myriad legal cultures that emanated both from parliamentary statutes
and English courts, is now a far more capacious field of study than an earlier generation of
legal scholars could imagine. Without superseding the need for continued attention to
established lines of legal history, the mapping of this imperial terrain has underscored the
imperative for new approaches to legal culture that emphasize plurality and dislocation
rather than the presumed coherence of the common law.
1 J. G. A. Pocock, The ancient constitution and the feudal law: a study of English legal thought in the seventeenth
century (Cambridge, 1957).
2 See esp. David Cairns, Advocacy and the making of the adversarial criminal trial, 1800–1865 (Oxford,
1998), and John Langbein, The origins of the adversary criminal trial (Oxford, 2003).
|Item Type:||Journal Article|
|Subjects:||K Law > K Law (General)|
|Divisions:||Faculty of Arts > History|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):||Common law -- History , Common law -- English influences|
|Journal or Publication Title:||Historical Journal|
|Publisher:||Cambridge University Press|
|Book Title:||Baker, J.H. (2000). The common law tradition : lawyers, books and the law. London: Hambledon.|
|Official Date:||21 March 2005|
|Number of Pages:||9|
|Page Range:||pp. 295-303|
|Access rights to Published version:||Open Access|
Lawyers, litigation and English society since 1450. By Christopher W. Brooks. London: Hambledon, 1998. Pp. x+274. ISBN 1-85285-156-2. £40.00.
Professors of the law: barristers and English legal culture in the eighteenth century. By David Lemmings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xiv+399. ISBN 0-19-820721-2. £50.00.
Industrializing English law: entrepreneurship and business organization, 1720–1844. By Ron Harris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xvi+331. ISBN 0-521-66275-3. £37.50.
Between law and custom: ‘high’ and ‘low’ legal cultures in the lands of the British Diaspora – the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, 1600–1900. By Peter Karsten. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xvi+560. ISBN 0-521-79283-5. £70.00.
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