Legal History at Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Tradition in Legal History

The "Wisconsin tradition" in legal history consists of both a long-standing university commitment to the teaching and study of legal history and an approach to historical studies that examines the interaction between law and social forces: "law in context," rather than law as a system unto itself. It all started with Willard Hurst.

The Legal History Working Group

Building upon UW’s legal history tradition, supported by the Institute for Legal Studies and co-sponsored by the Department of History, an informal working group was established in 2010 to promote intellectual exchange among faculty and students with a shared interest in the field. The group's priority is to coordinate intensive writing workshops on particular themes within legal history, overseen by a UW scholar with an interest in the area. Two events, a Legal History and Religion Workshop (chaired by Mitra Sharafi) and a Faculty and Early Career Scholar Workshop on Colonial/Postcolonial Law in Asia and the Pacific (chaired by Nancy Buenger), began the series in 2010-11.

Working group members’ areas of specialty include the history of law in medieval Europe (Karl Shoemaker); law in late imperial China (Joe Dennis); law in contemporary China (Sida Liu);  personal law, intellectual property, the legal profession and alternative dispute resolution in South Asia (Don Davis Jr., Marc Galanter, Shubha Ghosh, James Jaffe, Mitra Sharafi); the history of international arbitration (Jason Yackee); race, gender and property in US legal history (Thomas Mitchell, Christy Clark-Pujara); the history of US legal regimes governing economic systems (Peter Carstensen); and American constitutional history (Brad Snyder). For complete descriptions of members’ research areas, see the faculty websites of the individuals listed under Affiliated Scholars.

Students or faculty interested in participating in occasional discussions and events are encouraged to contact Mitra Sharafi.

Affiliated Scholars

This page lists faculty from multiple departments and programs, including Law, History, Sociology, Languages and Cultures of Asia, Library and Information Studies, American Indian Studies, and Legal Studies, with links to their faculty pages.

Selected Resources at Wisconsin

Selected Faculty Workshops and Legal History Events, 2010-14

  • Legal History and Religion Chaired by Mitra Sharafi (9/24/10)

  • Colonial/Postcolonial Law in Asia and the Pacific Chaired by Nancy Buenger (5/9/11)

  • Law and Indigeneity Chaired by Miranda Johnson (4/30/12) 
  • Process, Procedure, and the Making of the Western Legal Tradition. Chaired by Karl Shoemaker and Ada Kuskowski (4/15/13)
  • Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History (biennial, June 2013)
  • Between Courts and Communities: Placing Legal Practices from Asia to the Americas [Link pending] Chaired by Law and Society Postdoctoral Fellow Laurie Wood (3/31/14)  This is an intensive workshop for a small group of scholars who have been invited to read and prepare comments on selected works-in-progress.

Examples of UW Courses with Significant Legal History Content

This page includes course listings from American Indian Studies, History, Languages and Cultures of Asia (LCA), the Law School, and the Legal Studies Program.

Other Relevant Links

The Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History  Biennial two-week summer session for early-career legal historians. The next Hurst Institute is scheduled for June 2013.

American Society for Legal History ASLH is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to fostering scholarship, teaching, and study concerning the law and institutions of all legal systems.

Legal History Blog  Scholarship, News, and New Ideas in Legal History.

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