HIS 383M • Court Cases and History
2:00 PM-5:00 PM
Historians have used court cases to explore many issues. Besides the endless topics raised by the legal process itself, historians have stripped court records to look at all manner of social, economic, political, and intellectual questions in every region and every time period. Microhistory as a methodology has been driven by the use of court cases. Historians have mixed qualitative and quantitative approaches to using large numbers of court cases. In this research seminar, students will first read together a variety of works that provide examples of some of the many problems which historians have explored through court records and examine methodological issues that these types of documents raise. With the promise and peril of legal source material in mind, students will embark on research papers of their own choice. Although I am an early modern Europeanist, students whose interests lie in any region or time period are welcome to bring their own historical problems and try out getting at some of their questions through court cases. We are fortunate to have extraordinary resources for primary source research of this kind on campus at the Law Library, the PGL, the Bentsen and the HRC. Many records are also available now on line.
I plan to select the initial common readings in part on the basis of the interests of students who join the course. They might include however (shaped in this case by my own interests) the following: Suzanne Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France (Berkeley, 2004) Hendrik Hartog, Man and Wife in America: a History (Cambridge, 2001) Phillipa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics in the British Empire (London, 2003) Daniel Lord Smail, The Consumption of Justice: Emotions, Publicity, and Legal Culture in Marseilles, 1264-1423 (Ithaca, 2003) Gretchen Starr-Lebeau, In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadelupe (Ithaca, 2003) Barbara Welke, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law and the Railroad Revolution (Cambridge, 2001) To get a sense of the extraordinary variety of topics historians have approached through court records, you might also browse on line through the contents of Law and History Review.