History of the Common Law in England and America


Course Code:
LAW 363
Law Honors/Pass/Restrd Cr/Fail


The right to a trial by jury, the presumption of public access to criminal proceedings, and citizenship by birth rather than blood, all enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, ultimately derive from English common law. American private law-including contracts, torts, and property-is indebted to the same heritage. This course will examine the history and theory of the common law with the aim of demonstrating its continuing relevance.nThree principal strands will run through the class. The first will trace the substantive and procedural evolution of the common law from its early English roots and writs to its role in the American legal system today. Another thread will emphasize conceptions of the common law, including both historical accounts derived from the writings of Sir Edward Coke, Matthew Hale, Jeremy Bentham, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and more recent theoretical contributions by Guido Calabresi and Ronald Dworkin, among others. Finally, the course will examine certain central institutions of the common law, including the judge who follows precedent and the jury, and compare common law modes of adjudication with the alternative methods employed by the Chancellor in equity and judges in the civil law system. Source materials will include historical cases and documents as well as some secondary articles.nSpecial Instructions: Grades will be based on class participation and (1) the final exam or (2) a long independent research paper for Research (R) credit. After the term begins, students accepted into the course can transfer from section (01) into section (02), which meets the R requirement, with consent of the instructor.nElements used in grading: Class Participation, assignments, final exam or final paper. This course is cross-listed with Hist 131B.

Back to the Top