‘Using the Past’

Sarah A Seo, ‘A User’s Guide to History’, in Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism (Shauhin Talesh, Elizabeth Mertz, and Heinz Klug eds, 2021), available at SSRN. In ‘A User’s Guide to History’, Sarah A Seo offers a thoughtful and challenging assessment of the possibilities and pitfalls of using historical scholarship to guide our present. At the heart of her essay is a tension between needs and methods. We need to know the past to understand the present; we need to know what we’ve done before so we can make the right choices about policies today. But, as Seo strikingly puts it, ‘history’s methods seem unsuited for determining what, exactly, those policies should be’. To demand that history has a ‘practical use’, that it serves as ‘a tool for reform’, may be ‘something like a suicide mission’, putting at risk ‘the integrity of the discipline’ (p 465) … (more)

[Christopher W Schmidt, JOTWELL, 19 May]

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