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Making Legal HistoryEssays in Honor of William E. Nelson$
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Daniel J. Hulsebosch and R. B. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780814725269

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814725269.001.0001

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Counting as a Tool of Legal History

Counting as a Tool of Legal History

(p.162) 7 Counting as a Tool of Legal History
Making Legal History

John Wertheimer

NYU Press

Historical writing in the United States experienced a golden age of quantification in the 1960s and 1970s due to advances in computer technology, which enabled scholars to analyze previously unmanageable amounts of data; and the rise of social history, which prompted scholars to seek new ways to study non-elites. American legal history, however, proved comparatively resistant to the quantification craze. As traditionally practiced, legal history emphasized the evolution of legal doctrine, a quintessentially qualitative, not quantitative, matter. Moreover, many legal historians inhabited law schools, not history departments, making them relatively impervious to the quantifying trends that were sweeping arts and sciences faculties. This chapter focuses on the promise and limits of quantitative method for legal historians. It argues that some legal institutions, such as the jury, agency prosecutors, and the state census, cry out for more quantitative work, which can illuminate the social and racial politics of law enforcement and statutory regulation in American history.

Keywords:   American legal history, quantitative method, quantification, historical writing

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