Writing the Social History of Legal Doctrine
Doctrine, it seems, is a dirty word these days in legal history circles. A recent exchange between Risa Goluboff and Kenneth Mack in the Harvard Law Review on the topic of his new book focused, at least in part, on the centrality of doctrine to the enterprise of legal history.' Mack suggested that decentering "appellate legal doctrine" distinguishes the "new" civil rights history from the "old" traditional approach that seeks to explore how lawyers (and regular people) interacted with "formal law." Writing about the nuts and bolts of legal doctrine-and seeking to explain its development-is no longer at the center of legal history scholarship, having been displaced by monographs that highlight how people experienced law. A more than passing concern with doctrine might well serve to mark someone as old-fashioned these days, and there is a poignant but delicious irony in reflecting on the idea that historians, above all else, do not want to be behind the curve.