1984 U. Ill. L. Rev. 511 (1984)
Introductory Remarks: Why the History of Western Law Is Not Written

handle is hein.journals/unilllr1984 and id is 521 raw text is: INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: WHY
THE HISTORY OF WESTERN
LAW IS NOT WRITTEN
Harold J Berman *
The following Introductory Remarks were previously delivered as the
General Address at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for
Legal History, October 23, 1982, and are presented here with only
minor alterations.
The title of these introductory remarks is adapted, of course, from
Maitland's famous Inaugural Lecture, Why the History of English
Law is not Written. Maitland said that there are vast provinces [of
English legal history] that lie unreclaimed, not outlying provinces but
the very heart of the country,' including the evolution of the great
elementary conceptions, ownership, possession, contract, tort and the
like.2
The history of English law has not been written, Maitland said,
first and foremost because of the traditional isolation of the study of
English law from every other study,3 especially its isolation from the
study of other legal systems. History involves comparison, he wrote,
and the English lawyer who knew nothing and cared nothing for any
system but his own hardly came in sight of the idea of legal history.4
English lawyers, he stated, have for the last six centuries exagger-
ated the uniqueness of our legal history. . .. I know just enough to
say this with confidence, that there are great masses of medieval law
very comparable with our own; a little knowledge of them would send
us to our Year Books with new vigour and new intelligence.5
These statements were made almost a century ago. Since then
some of the provinces of English legal history have been reclaimed.
Yet the complaint remains valid-and even more so with regard to
* James Barr Ames Professor of Law, Harvard Law School- B.A. 1938, Dartmouth College,
Af.A. 1942, LL.B. 1947, Yale University.
Much of what is contained in these Introductory Remarks has been published in a greatly ex-
pandedform in H. BERMAN, LAW AND REVOLUTION: THE FORMATION OF THE WESTERN LEGAL
TRADITION (1983).
I. Hty the History of English Law is not Written, in 1 F. MAITLAND, COLLECTED PAPERS
484 (H. Fisher ed. 1911).
2. Id
3. Id at 487.
4. Id at 488.
5. Id at 490.

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