Law and History Review

Forum: Ab Initio: Law in Early America


Bruce H. Mann c1

The articles in this issue are drawn from the papers delivered at the conference “Ab Initio: Law in Early America,” held in Philadelphia on June 16–17, 2010—the first conference in nearly fifteen years to focus on law in early America. It was sponsored by the Penn Legal History Consortium, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the American Society for Legal History, the University of Michigan Law School, and the University of Minnesota Law School, under the direction of Sarah Barringer Gordon, Martha S. Jones, William J. Novak, Daniel K. Richter, Richard J. Ross, and Barbara Y. Welke. For two days, fifteen mostly younger scholars presented their research to a packed house, with formal comments by senior scholars and vigorous discussion with the audience. That earlier conference, “The Many Legalities of Early America,” which convened in Williamsburg in 1996, had illustrated the shift from what was once trumpeted as the “new” legal history to something that never acquired a name, perhaps because it was less self-conscious in its methodology. “Ab Initio” offered the opportunity to ask how the field has changed in the years since.

(Online publication February 08 2012)



Bruce H. Mann is Carl F. Schipper, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and President of the American Society for Legal History <>. This Introduction is adapted from his keynote address at the conference at which the articles published were presented.