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Of Mandarins, Legal Consciousness, and the Cultural Turn in US Legal History: Robert W. Gordon. 1984. Critical Legal Histories. Stanford Law Review 36:57–125


Susanna Blumenthal is an Associate Professor of Law and History at the University of Minnesota, For helpful comments on an earlier version of this article, thanks go to Dirk Hartog, Tom Green, Ariela Gross, Jill Hasday, M. J. Maynes, Richard Ross, and Barbara Welke. Many valuable insights were also drawn from the commentaries Chris Tomlins and Laura Edwards offered at the Law and Society panel upon which this symposium is based, and none of this would have been possible without Bob Gordon's wisdom and generosity.


This article traces the impact of Robert Gordon's “Critical Legal Histories” on scholars writing at the intersection of law and history. While Gordon's central claim about the constitutive character of the law has come to serve as a working assumption in the field, the case he made for the intellectual history of doctrine as articulated by legal mandarins has proven less influential in the twenty-five years since the article was published. Instead, legal historians have focused their attention on the interaction between official and lay forms of law-making with a decided emphasis on popular legal consciousness. For precisely this reason, the time may be ripe for reconsideration of mandarin materials, not only for what they have to tell us about the dynamics of cultural change, but also as sources of insight into basic puzzles of the human condition that have tended across time to be expressed in and through legal forms.