The Lessons of History for the Legal Questions of Today

Legal history is about more than stacking up old statutes. Legal historians study not just how law changes over time, but also the changing relationship between law and society.  Studying the past helps us understand the present, and the most pressing, hot-button legal issues we face today. 

At the University of Michigan, legal history is taught broadly, not narrowly. We look closely at the history of the United States, but also outward to the rest of the Americas, and to Roman law, the laws of Medieval Europe, and the history of Chinese legal frameworks and institutions. At every step, we draw out what might otherwise be unheard voices, as we trace the actions of those excluded from formal citizenship, held as slaves, trapped within patriarchies, or locked into relations of dependence.

Students of legal history often go on into deeper academic pursuits. They also frequently earn judicial clerkships—the rigorous research, writing, and argumentation that are integral to these courses are skills judges often look for. And if your career path is into private practice, public interest, or government, a strong foundation in the study of legal history will serve you well.

Brian Simpson Memorial Lecture: Race in Contract Law

Professor Dylan Penningroth from the University of California, Berkeley Law delivers the 2022 Simpson Lecture, “Race in Contract Law.”

Constitutional Change and Constitutional History

Professor Risa Golubuff from the University of Virginia School of Law delivers the 2019 Simpson Lecture, “Constitutional Change and Constitutional History.”