Last week I talked some about Signposts: New Directions in Southern Legal History, which Sally Hadden and Patti Minter co-edited. It has just appeared from the University of Georgia Press (and is available at a nice discount at amazon and Barnes and Noble). The book is designed to highlight the extraordinary breadth of work going on in southern legal history -- which spans a huge amount of time (from the seventeenth through the late twentieth century), as well as subjects of study (from local courts through appellate courts, to legislatures, treatise-writers, and humble litigants), and methods (often social history these days, but also intellectual and cultural history). At some point I hope to talk a lot more about just how expansive legal history is these days -- and the challenges that poses for those of us looking for unifying themes. I want to talk about the problems legal historians face; I've been thinking about this in particular as I've been reading the Companion to American Legal History. I think the Companion really helps pull together those themes, but that's a story for another time.
Right now I want to mention each of the individual chapters, because I think this gives a sense of the scope of the work in this volume. The chapters are "In my mother's house: Dowry Property and Female Inheritance Patterns in Spanish Florida" by Susan Richbourg Parker; " The Law and Order campaign in New Orleans, 1763-1765 : A Comparative View" by Thomas N. Ingersoll; "'Using the faculties conceded to her by law': Slavery, Law, and Agency in Spanish New Orleans, 1763-1803" by Jennifer M. Spear; "South Carolina's Grand Jury Presentments: The Eighteenth-Century Experience" by Sally E. Hadden; "Guarding Republican Liberty : St. George Tucker and Judging in Federal Virginia" by Jessica K. Lowe; "The Shades of Loyalty: Elisha W. Chester and the Cherokee Removal" by Tim Alan Garrison; " The Material Conditions of Dependency: The Hidden History of Free Women's Control of Property in the Early Nineteenth-Century South" by Laura F. Edwards; "Democracy, and Lynching, in America," by Christopher R. Waldrep; "The World Made by Laws and the Laws Made by the World of the Old South," by me; "Peaceful Revolution and Popular Sovereignty: Reassessing the Constitutionality of Southern Secession," by Roman J. Hoyos; "Strategic Litigation and the Death of Reconstruction," by Cynthia Nicoletti; "The Homestead Exemption and Southern Legal Culture," by James W. Ely, Jr; "A Place for Themselves in the Modern World: Southern Women and Alcohol in the Age of Prohibition, 1912-1933" by Lisa Lindquist Dorr; "Race, Property, and Negotiated Space in the American South: A Reconsideration of Buchanan v. Warley," by Patricia Hagler Minter; "Race, Law, and Southern Public Higher Education, 1860s-1960s," by Peter Wallenstein; "The Southern Roots of the Reapportionment Revolution," by Charles L. Zelden; and "Defending the Right to Discriminate: The Libertarian Challenge to the Civil Rights Movement," by Christopher W. Schmidt.
When I have a little more time I want to compare the subject matter of these essays to the subjects in the 1989 volume edited by Kermit Hall and James Ely, An Uncertain Tradition: Constitutionalism and the History of the South. One obvious difference is that Hadden and Minter deal with legal (as opposed to constitutional) history. I think that's a good gauge of how interests have broadened over the past twenty-five years.