Celebrating Bob Gordon's Taming the Past.

Author:Gross, Ariela J.
Position:INTRODUCTION

Bob Gordon's most famous article, Critical Legal Histories, published in the pages of the Stanford Law Review in 1984, (1) was an instant classic, and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that it redefined the field of legal history and set the agenda for two generations of legal historians. The article is nonetheless but a piece of Gordon's wide-ranging and hugely influential body of scholarship on critical historicism, a representative sampling of which has been gathered together in the volume Taming the Past Essays on Law in History and History in Law. (2) As numerous speakers at the Stanford Law School conference marking its publication noted, the sum of the work is even greater than its parts, making us see his influence in a new light altogether. With generosity and enthusiasm for the creative potential of legal history and historians, Gordon has shown us the many ways history animates, disturbs, challenges, and upends received wisdom, especially the view that things have always been and must always be a certain way. It is the untamable past that electrifies Gordon's essays, from his brilliant disquisitions on scholars from F.W. Maitland to Owen Fiss, to his penetrating critiques of originalism on today's U.S. Supreme Court and the uses of history in legal regimes confronting a shameful past.

Taming the Past speaks to legal practitioners as well as the academy, as Gordon reminds us that "the historicized past poses a perpetual threat to the legal rationalizations of the present." (3) The volume "tracks [Gordon's] central focus on the history of legal thought, especially the complex relationships among law, legal practice, and the American state from 1870 through the present." (4) It is divided into three parts, which respectively concern the common law tradition in legal historiography, particularly as embodied by Oliver Wendell Holmes; legal historians; and history and historicism in legal history and argument.

All of the Reflections raise important questions about how much is truly contingent and how much is structurally determined; about what in legal culture and professionalism is worth preserving and elaborating; and about how legal historians can further the pursuit of justice by telling critical stories about the past and the present. Susanna Blumenthal takes as her topic the metaphor of the untamable dragon of legal history from Holmes's Path of the Law (5) and meditates on the model Gordon offered of what it means to...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP