Root and Branch: Contexts of Legal History in Alabama and the South

By Pruitt, Paul | The Journal of Southern Legal History, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Root and Branch: Contexts of Legal History in Alabama and the South


Pruitt, Paul, The Journal of Southern Legal History


I. Introduction: Origins and Goals of Legal History

In October 1888, Frederic William Maitland delivered his first lecture as Downing Professor at Cambridge University.1 Titled "Why the History of English Law Is Not Written," his speech was intended both to explain the undeveloped state of English legal history and to summon future scholars to the fray.2 Certainly Maitland (1850-1906) did not doubt the significance of his special field.3 "Legal documents . . . ," he said, "are the best, often the only evidence that we have for social and economic history, for the history of morality, for the history of practical religion."4 Yet, such documents, including reports of cases and other proceedings, were neglected by English historians in the 1800s just as similar American documents are underused by many historians today, all despite the fact that the common law nations are remarkable for their preservation and orderly arrangement of legal records.5

Lawyers, to be sure, will say their work involves a good deal of ferreting through old, even ancient, books searching for the legislative history of a statute or for ruling caselaw. Maitland conceded this point, but felt such research could not yield the "best" types of history because of the fundamental difference between the objectives of a lawyer and the objectives of a historian.6 Maitland observed, "[w]hat the lawyer wants is authority and the newer the better . . . . "7 Then he added, "what the historian wants is evidence and the older the better."8 The lawyer, in other words, is looking for results; the historian is looking to establish the context of past events. Successful lawyers are too busy to travel the many side paths that true historical research requires.9 Most historians lack the technical knowledge to master what Maitland called "an extremely formal system of pleading and procedure," or to take in stride "a whole scheme of actions with repulsive names."10

Maitland believed that historians were obliged to present ideas in their proper context." The "thoughts of men in the past ..." he wrote, "must once more become thinkable to us."12 Maitland provided an institutional framework for the study of early common law in his two-volume work, History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I, tracing, as he did so, concepts that had shaped the English approach to landholding and the legal status of persons.13 Throughout his historical career, he served as a mainstay of the Seiden Society, which, from 1887 to the present, has published more than one hundred volumes of original sources - court proceedings, plea rolls, cases, municipal documents, treatises, and other legal materials.14 Maitland's work has served as the foundation for the creation of "legal history" as a field of study settled firmly, if awkwardly, among more conventional academic realms.15

In the United States, James Willard Hurst (1910-1997) took up Maitland's task by surveying legal institutions in his 1950 work, The Growth of American Law}6 A few years later Hurst would argue, famously, that nineteenth-century American legal institutions were shaped to allow for rapid economic development.17 Over the course of a long career at the University of Wisconsin, Hurst explored many connections between legal institutions and larger social forces.18 Hurst's intellectual heirs have also produced volumes of rich historical literature.19 Likewise, American historians, archivists, and librarians have made significant progress in assembling and cataloguing scarce legal documents and making them accessible,20 though such sources are probably more often cited in law review articles than in the writings of traditional academic historians.

II. Emergence of Southern Legal History

By the 1980s, scholars had begun to explore the intersection of legal and southern historical currents.21 The sub-discipline of "southern legal history" continued to develop throughout the 1990s, often through analysis of economic, racial, or sociohistorical themes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Root and Branch: Contexts of Legal History in Alabama and the South
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.