Legal History Graduate Programs

Students interested in legal history can explore the subject through dual degree programs or concentrations in law schools. Read on for specifics on coursework and admissions requirements.

Prospective graduate students interested in legal history can find programs culminating in joint degrees or programs offering in-depth concentrations in history within a law school curriculum. Joint-degree programs allow students to earn a J.D. and either an M.A. or Ph.D. in history during their course of study. Law schools with concentrations in legal history give students the opportunity to take substantial coursework on the subject within the law school and through their universities' history departments.

Legal History Graduate Program Information

Students in J.D. programs can expect to complete three years of coursework with increasing opportunities for electives like those listed below in years two and three, allowing for a concentration in legal history. Students in dual-degree programs divide their time between law school and the history department, usually focusing on one subject or the other for their first and second years of study.

American Legal History

Most graduate programs in legal history incorporate coursework providing a foundation in American legal history. Classes in this area may cover legal frameworks from a particular time period, like the twentieth century. They may also examine how the U. S. legal system has changed since colonial times. Students examine the changing roles of lawyers, how laws have shaped American society, and how social forces have led to the adaptations of laws and legal doctrines.

American Indian Law

Legal history programs allow students to focus on key constituencies within American society, including American Indians. Classes on this topic cover federal Indian law and how it functions within a constitutional democracy populated in part by native peoples. Students examine the origins of federal Indian law, how it has evolved through time, and how tribal laws and non-tribal laws differ. These classes may also examine legal systems of specific tribes and relevant Supreme Court cases regarding gaming and natural resource use.

Constitutional History

Constitutional history classes focus on meanings and interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. Students review legal research from both recent and early eras on topics including federalism and particular amendments. These classes may also emphasize originalism and approaches to interpreting the Constitution based on the intentions of its original crafters. Constitutional history courses often involve case studies, and students can expect to compose original research papers related to the focus of the class.

International Law

Students focusing on legal history may explore topics related to law on an international scale in addition to U.S. laws. International law classes examine American laws' impact on diplomacy and how American laws have shaped relationships and interactions with countries worldwide. These classes may focus on a particular issue like human rights. Students can expect to examine ongoing legal research and might also complete a take-home exam or research paper.

Special Topics in Legal History

Legal history programs often include room in their curricula for courses covering specific topics of interest. These classes may be presented in a colloquium format. The subjects of inquiry may change from semester to semester and include topics like the evolution of the legal profession, disability rights, recent social movements, and discrimination. Alternatively, they may incorporate other disciplines by studying how legal themes emerge in pieces of classical literature.

Legal History Graduate Program Admissions

For dual degree programs, students must apply to both degree-granting schools or departments. Prospective students should submit transcripts showing an earned undergraduate degree, and, because these programs are often competitive, strong candidates usually have high GPAs and evidence of relevant extracurricular or leadership experience. Applicants to law schools and history departments generally need to submit standardized test scores, which may include the LSAT and GRE. Additional requirements usually include letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement.

Prospective students interested in legal history can find both dual degree programs and law school curricula emphasizing this area. Graduate work in legal history involves coursework in areas including constitutional history, American Indian history, and international law.


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