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Ideologies in Law Time: The Oxford History of the Laws of England


  • Janet McLean

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    • Janet McLean is a Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and may be reached at She thanks Dirk Hartog, Catherine Evans, Michael Lobban, and Paul Rishworth for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


In the introduction to the new Oxford History of the Laws of England 1820–1914, the authors suggest that their task is to tell the “history of the law itself.” This review essay examines what can be learned from a history told from law's internal point of view rather than through the perspectives of other disciplines, such as economics or philosophy. It considers whether and how the common law responded to industrialization and laissez-faire ideology, the influence of salient philosophical movements—such as utilitarianism—on statutory change, and how all history is an exercise in ideology. In considering the public sphere, it suggests that this work should form the inspiration for further inquiry.