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Taming the past : essays on law in history and history in law

Works. Selections
Gordon, Robert W. (Robert Watson), 1941- author

Publication Details Click to collapse Cite/Export

  • Creator Robert W. Gordon, Stanford University
  • Format Books
  • Publication Cambridge, United Kingdom : Cambridge University Press, 2017. ©2017
  • Series
  • Physical Details
    • xiii, 424 pages ; 24 cm
  • ISBNs 9781107193239, 1107193230, 9781316644003, 1316644006
  • OCLC ocn969829390


  • "Lawyers and judges often make arguments based on history - on the authority of precedent and original constitutional understandings. They argue both to preserve the inspirational, heroic past and to discard its darker pieces - such as feudalism and slavery, the tyranny of princes and priests, and the subordination of women. In doing so, lawyers tame the unruly, ugly, embarrassing elements of the past, smoothing them into reassuring tales of progress. In a series of essays and lectures written over forty years, Robert W. Gordon describes and analyses how lawyers approach the past and the strategies they use to recruit history for present use while erasing or keeping at bay its threatening or inconvenient aspects. Together, the corpus of work featured in Taming the Past offers an analysis of American law and society and its leading historians since 1900"--


  • Includes bibliographical references and index.


  • Introduction -- Part I. The Common Law Tradition in Legal Historiography -- 1. The common law tradition in American legal historiography -- 2. Holmes's Common Law as legal and social science -- Part II. Legal Historians -- 3. Social-legal history's pioneer: the work of James Willard Hurst -- 4. Hurst recaptured -- 5. Morton Horwitz and his critics: a conflict of narratives -- 6. The elusive transformation -- 7. Method and politics: Horwitz on lawyers' uses of history -- 8. E.P. Thompson's legacies -- 9. The constitution of liberal order at the troubled beginnings of the modern state -- Part III. History and Historicism in Legal History and Argument -- 10. Historicism in legal scholarship -- 11. Critical legal histories -- 12. The past as authority and as social critic: stabilizing and destabilizing functions of history in legal argument -- 13. Taming the past: histories of liberal society in American legal thought -- 14. Originalism and nostalgic traditionalism -- 15. Undoing historical injustice