18 J. Legal Educ. 155 (1965-1966)
On Teaching Legal History Backwards

handle is hein.journals/jled18 and id is 167 raw text is: COMME NTS
The purpose of this department is to afford an opportunity for informal ex-
change of ideas on matters related to legal education. Typical comments will
range from about 1200 to about 3000 words in length, and may either advocate
innovations in curriculum or teaching method or respond critically to previ-
ously published material. As a general rule, the authors will gladly answer in-
quiries and, to the extent available, upon request supply copies of materials
referred to.
ON TEACHING LEGAL HISTORY BACKWARDS
MALCOLMZ S. MASON *
Scire leges non hoc est verba earum tenere, sedZ v m ac potestatem.
Digest, 1.3.17
If I were teaching legal history, I would like to try, one year, teaching it
backwards.
Why do we teach legal history? One reason, and the reason I consider
most important, is because we hope to achieve depth of focus that will aid-
understanding of present legal processes and awareness of legal changes now
occurring. An effective lawyer today, in any area of moment, must have of
course a sense of what the legal system is, but he must also have a sense of
what it is becoming, where and in what directions it is moving or capable of
movement. Legal history can help to give that awareness.
Unfortunately, however, the traditional syllabus tends to create, for all but
the luckiest of students, certain distortions in the learning process. Holds-
worth remarks that the continuous history of English law began in the year
449 when the Jutes landed in the island of Thanet.' To start there is logical,
but the texts are dry and dusty, the facts are dim and misty, the concepts are
vague and mystic.
A great historian and a great teacher, Julius Goebel accomplished for some
of us a bringing out of the sense of relevance of the historical processes in-
volved.2 But how great the danger that for most students either the relevance
is lost or false conceptions are acquired. To start with the unknown in order
to throw light on the known, with the intellectually inaccessible in order to
throw light on the readily accessible, is unsound in principle. It takes a student
who does not yet have a grasp of what law is, what courts are, what legal
policy and practice are, what legal growth is, and lets him form his first and
basic notions out of materials that are most in danger of being misunderstood
* lember of the New York Bar.
1 WILLWS SEA=       HODswonT, SoUnCEs AxD LITERATUE OF ENGLISH LAW 1
(1925).
2See Warren, Julius Goebel, Jr.-An Appreciation, 61 CoL.L.R. 1195 (1961).
155

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