Legal History

The Illinois Legal History Program seeks to further knowledge and appreciation of legal history through an ambitious series of workshops, conferences, and public lectures. Since its formation in 2004, the Program has hosted numerous distinguished scholars in its workshop series. With a particular emphasis on American, British, and comparative legal-historical scholarship, the Program draws upon the intellectual expertise of numerous faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students who study legal history at the College of Law enjoy access to a wide range of curricular offerings, a rich set of online legal resources, and an impressive collection of rare legal-historical materials in the College of Law’s Albert E. Jenner Jr. Memorial Law Library.

Director

Richard J. Ross – David C. Baum Professor of Law and Professor of History

Program Hosted Events

Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

The Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History gathers to discuss the comparative legal history of the Atlantic world in the period c. 1492 to 1815. The one-day symposium brings together law professors, historians, and social scientists to explore a particular topic in comparative legal history, broadly understood. We traditionally meet at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

The symposium is overseen by Professor Richard Ross. Funding has been provided by the University of Illinois College of Law.

Arguing for the Rule of Law: Using the Hebrew Bible and Caricatures of Foreigners in British and Spanish America

Friday, October 26, 2018; Newberry Library, Chicago 

Organized by: Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (University of Texas at Austin) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign)

How did settlers, imperial officials, indigenous peoples, and Africans in the New World seek to demonstrate, or disprove, that a polity respected the rule of law?  (The phrase “rule of law” is modern; but the core of the idea is not). Colonial rule invited accusations of arbitrary government and systematic lawlessness. This conference will focus on two common techniques used to assess whether a polity respected the supremacy of law. First, controversialists asked whether governance accorded with God’s expectations of justice as laid out in Scripture, particularly the Hebrew Bible. Second, caricatures of other societies could be held up to make one’s own appear lawful and just, or the reverse. British American settlers applauded the civility of their law by reference to the presumed barbarism of the Irish and Amerindians. They saw liberty in their exploitive legal order by opposing it to the supposed absolutism of the Spanish and French empires. Spanish settlers justified their rule and derecho by contrasting them to the law of indigenous polities and of their New World rivals. The conference will bring together historians, law professors, and social scientists to think about the complex debates about the rule of law in the English and Iberian Atlantic.  

The list of speakers and commentators will be announced when available.

Past Symposiums on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

2015-16 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Anglicization of Law and through Law: Early Modern British North America, India, and Ireland Compared
Friday, April 8, 2016
Organized by Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College, Dublin), Richard Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), and Philip Stern (Duke University)

2014-15 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Meanings of Justice in New World Empires: Settler and Indigenous Law as Counterpoints
Friday, October 10, 2014
Organized by Brian Owensby (University of Virginia) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2012-13 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Law and the French Atlantic
Friday, October 5, 2012
Organized by Allan Greer (McGill University) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2010-11 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
The Struggle for Land: Property, Territory, and Jurisdiction in Early Modern Europe and the Americas
Friday, April 8, 2011
Organized by Tamar Herzog (Stanford University) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2009-10 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
New Perspectives on Legal Pluralism
Friday, April 23, 2010
Organized by Lauren Benton (New York University) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2008-09 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
The Law of Nations and the Early Modern Atlantic World
Friday, April 3, 2009
Organized by Eliga Gould (University of New Hampshire) and Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2007-08 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Criminal Justice in the British Atlantic World, 1500-1850
Friday, February 29, 2008
Organized by Bruce Smith (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2006-07 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Law, Religion, and Social Discipline in the Early Modern Atlantic World
Friday, October 6, 2006
Organized by Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

2005-06 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History
Membership in Communities and States in the Early Modern Atlantic World: Legal Rules, Social Judgments, and the Negotiation of Citizenship
Friday, October 14, 2005
Organized by Richard J. Ross (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)