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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter documents some of the diverse functions of legal literature and case reporting prior to the emergence of the modern doctrine of stare decisis in the mid-nineteenth century. In examining the historical variability of legal literature, this chapter attempts to open up new avenues of research for scholars working between law and the humanities. By acknowledging and trying to make sense of that diversity, scholars might find in legal literature useful archival objects that could serve as evidence for phenomena beyond the recording of decisions and the transmission of precedents. This chapter briefly tracks the shifting functions of legal literature in late-medieval and early modern England to suggest how scholars might use such sources. The remainder of the chapter focuses on a transitional period in the history of stare decisis: the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when legal practitioners began fully to grapple with a much more modern notion of precedent as fully binding. Even during this period, however, case reporting served a variety of ends beyond the transmission of precedent, and social historians and literary scholars in particular have used legal literature in creative ways to track both societal shifts and literary forms. The goal here is to expand how scholars working at the intersections of law and the humanities might use legal literature and to suggest new ways to think about case reports: not solely as narrow objects for the transmission of precedent but as archival resources for a variety of superficially non-legal subjects.

Keywords: precedent, case reporting, legal literature, stare decisis, popular literature, law and literature

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