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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The legal treatise is a subject with a pedigree. Previous essays by A. W. B. Simpson, Morton Horwitz, Angela Fernandez and Markus Dubber, and Christopher Tomlins identify different ways that the treatise genre captures the essence of existing law and aspirations. Disembarking from these important contributions, this chapter draws upon such diverse fields as the history of the book, literary genre studies, information management, and the sociology of knowledge. It underscores the multiplicity of the treatise’s genre ecosystem. The legal treatise simultaneously serves as a site for the production of knowledge, a stepping stone or even substitute for codes, fabricated order, a mechanism for establishing authorial authority, a professional talisman, a technic of systematizing and organizing information, a legitimization of existing norms, and a means of constructing a national jurisprudence akin to the way a dictionary might define a national language. Focusing largely on common law treatises of the long nineteenth century, it interrogates how these competing goals might exist within a single literary artifact. What pressures threaten to unravel the legal treatise’s claims to monumental authority? And how can its power erode? The chapter’s salient contribution will be its highlighting the importance of time. The legal treatise is a genre which simultaneously asserts its place as a summa of legal knowledge and—as the commonplace historical introduction often underscores—while continuing to be subject to countless revisions. It is a text readied for obsolescence. Beneath the treatise’s façade of professional authority lies a profound anxiety about its own timelessness.

Keywords: legal treatise, historical jurisprudence, American legal history, history of the book, law books, legal codes, legal literature, digital humanities, legal database, law schools

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