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Course Information

American Legal History

This class focuses on a number of crucial themes in American legal history: the transformation of the Constitution from slavery to freedom to Jim Crow and the legal system's adjustments in the aftermath of Civil War; the evolving social role and self-image of lawyers and the emergence of the modern legal profession; and the legal regulation of the economy, labor, race relations, immigration, the family, gender roles, and crime in an increasingly urban, industrial and pluralistic society. In exploring these themes, we can better understand the role of law in shaping American society and culture, as well as how the law in turn has been shaped by social, cultural and political forces and the efforts of individuals, groups and their lawyers. The bulk of the course will cover the period between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Era, roughly 1865-1965, a period in which the dynamics of American legal culture assumed a fundamental form that resonates to this day. In addition to introducing students to historical methods of legal analysis, this course will examine the continuing power of history in American law.