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Students who plan to practice in almost any area of law, as well as those interested in the academic study of legal history have much to gain from courses in Law and History. The Program of Study in Law and History offers students a chance to examine law and its relationship to the larger world of social movements, economic change, politics and government – in the context of studying law in a period of time different from our own. It is designed to reflect the present evolution of interdisciplinary university education in our rapidly changing world. Law and History offers students a chance to contrast our present circumstances with the past, a chance to understand the long path of development that led to the legal problems we grapple with in the present, and the chance to see the deep roots of the social forces that are changing the shape of our own world. The program offers a chance to study lawyers, legal institutions, and the larger society and its interaction with law. The study of law in historical context provides a rich foundation for both practice and scholarship in all fields of law.

The Program of Study in Law and History is designed to be useful to both students who might take one or several of its foundational or advanced courses to round out their law school education, and for those who are interested in more sustained exposure to academic legal history and interdisciplinary study that will connect them to faculty and students from other parts of the university. The program is designed:

  • To guide students through foundational and advanced courses and seminars about law and history, and related subjects.
  • To facilitate faculty-student interaction and scholarship about legal history—broadly defined—among interested faculty and students.
  • To offer support and advising for students who are engaged in the JD/PhD program in history and plan to pursue academic careers.

The law school boasts unmatched expertise in law and history. Students involved in the program have the opportunity to study with renowned faculty who are leaders in the field. Members of the Harvard Law School faculty write and teach about a wide range of law and history subjects, periods, localities, and methods. We have experts in Civil Rights, the Legal Profession, Economic History, Comparative Law, the Ancient World, English Legal History, Legal Thought, Slavery and Emancipation, and all periods of American Constitutional and Legal History.

Interested students are advised to enroll in a range of course offerings. Foundational courses introduce students to the study of law and history, while advanced courses offer in-depth study of particular subjects. Students also are encouraged to attend the law and history workshop; in this context, students can deepen their understanding of the central questions and controversies that animate the field of legal history.

Academic Offerings

For the latest academic year offerings in Law and History, please visit the HLS Course Catalog.

Foundational Courses

These courses offer context, perspective and introductory readings about or relevant to legal history to interested students.

  • American Legal History
  • Legal History Workshop

Advanced Courses and Seminars

  • American Legal History, 1776 – 1865
  • American Legal History: Law, Economy, and Society in the Era of the American Revolution
  • American Legal History: From Reconstruction to the Present
  • Comparative Law: Ancient Law
  • Constitutional History I: From the Founding to the Civil War
  • Constitional History II: From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement
  • Constitutional Law: Money and the Making of American Capitalism
  • English Legal History
  • Legal History: History of American Economic Regulation
  • Legal History: Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism
  • Legal History Seminar: Continential Legal History
  • Legal History Workshop: Race and Policing in Historical Context
  • Legal History Workshop: Sex and the Law
  • Making Legal History
  • Pierson v. Post and the Theory of Property Seminar
  • Politics, Social Life and Law in Jeffersonian America
  • Roman Law
  • The Warren Court
  • Advanced Legislation: Statutory Interpretation
  • American Legal Education
  • Civil Liberties and the Second Reconstruction: Problems of Suppression and Covert Disruption
  • From Protest to Law: Triumphs and Defeats of the Civil Rights Revolution 1950-1970
  • Mind and Criminal Responsibility in the Anglo-American Tradition
  • The Legal Architecture of Globalization: Money, Debt, and Development

Academic Careers

Students who wish to pursue academic careers in this area should enroll in a variety of the offerings described above combined with significant research and writing under the direction of relevant faculty. For further information, contact the Law and History Program of Study faculty leaders and advising faculty.

Advising Faculty

William Alford

Nikolas Bowie

Christine Desan

Tomiko Brown-Nagin

Charles Donahue

William Fisher

Annette Gordon-Reed

Elizabeth Papp Kamali

Michael Klarman

Adriaan Lanni

Anna Lvovsky

Kenneth Mack

Bruce Mann

Intisar Rabb

Kristen A. Stilt

Laura Weinrib

Fellowship Opportunities

Interdisciplinary Study

The Law School offers a Coordinated JD/PhD Program with the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Students in the program earn a JD and a PhD, allowing them to integrate the study of law with their doctoral studies in history. Several members of the Harvard History Department work in areas related or highly relevant to the law.

To be admitted to the coordinated JD/PHD program, students must apply to and be separately admitted to both the Law School and to GSAS. Students interested in the coordinated program are encouraged to contact April Pettit, in the Office of Academic Affairs at HLS, or Shelby Johnson, in the Office of Student Affairs at GSAS, for further information.