History | Law in America
A222 | 11120 | Elson

Above section open to undergraduates only

This course will examine the American legal system from the
Revolution to the present. It will use trials, judicial opinions,
statutes, stories, films, and other materials to study criminal
prosecutions, private law suits, constitutional conflicts, and other
critical parts of the American legal experience. The basic goals of
the course are to help students understand why law has had a powerful
role in the development of American society and the consequences of
the American reliance on law.

The fundamental issue that we will address throughout this course is
the analysis of the intertwined influence of society and law— does
law exist for the benefit of the common person?  That is, do people
create and direct the law rather than the law defining and directing
them?  Or, on the other hand, is the law used as a tool by those who
can control the legal system, those with power—people like judges,
for instance?

This course will examine American law as it developed through four
distinct periods. Within each of these periods, we will address
various legal topics, including contract law, domestic law, criminal
law, and civil rights law.  We will trace how these bodies of law
change throughout time and will examine the historical causes and
effects of these changes.