Legal historians have sometimes studied the law of one place and time while disregarding that of others. Comparative lawyers have sometimes compared the law of different jurisdictions while ignoring the historical reasons they are alike or unlike. The consequences have been unfortunate. Historians have often explained rules which are ubiquitous by the circumstances peculiar to one time and place. Comparative lawyers have often explained the similarities and differences among laws with a blind eye to how they arose. To understand how these problems came about, this article examines the origins of legal history and comparative law. It then describes, more concretely, why these disciplines need each other. Legal rules acquire their structure over time. Thus even if a comparative law scholar were only interested in the structure of modern rules, he would need the help of history.
This article by James Gordley is a selection from The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (2 ed.), edited by Mathias Reimann and Reinhard Zimmermann.
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