The History in “Critical Legal Histories”: Robert W. Gordon. 1984. Critical Legal Histories. Stanford Law Review 36:57–125


Laura F. Edwards is Professor of History at Duke University. She can be reached at She thanks Chris Tomlins and Susanna Blumenthal for their comments at the Law and Society panel that formed the basis for this symposium. She benefited particularly from the comments of Dirk Hartog, who read an earlier version of this piece. Finally, she thanks Bob Gordon for his challenging, inspiring scholarship and his generosity to those of us who work in the field.


This commentary explores Robert Gordon's “Critical Legal Histories” from the perspective of the discipline of history. It argues that we are still stalled at the intellectual juncture that Gordon described so well twenty-five years ago because functionalism and the resulting problems that Gordon addresses in the area of sociolegal studies also pervade the discipline of history. The results reinforce the divide between sociolegal studies and other kinds of historical studies that tend to inhibit the conceptual transformation that Gordon advocates and to marginalize legal studies within the discipline of history.