Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Syllabus for "California Legal History"

I'm teaching a new course in "California Legal History" this fall. I hope to add a local dimension to our current offerings in national and international history and law and to capitalize on interest in the 2008 campaign to promote deeper historical consciousness related to past elections (hence the focus on politicians Earl Warren and Pat Brown). Below is my tentative syllabus:

University of California Hastings College of the Law
Fall 2008

Professor Elizabeth L. Hillman

This seminar explores the singular legal history of California, a state that has become emblematic of progress, protest, and opportunity for the entire United States. With an emphasis on the last fifty years, but with important forays into the 19th and early 20th century, we will explore how the law has reflected, struggled with, and occasionally resolved the tensions created by California’s demographics, geography, and politics.

The course does not assume extensive background in California history nor does it attempt a comprehensive approach to the sprawling history of the nation’s most populous state. Instead, we will engage with a few key themes, people, and episodes in California history. These include John Wesley Powell, Earl Warren, and Pat Brown; the interplay of politics, law, and culture in San Francisco; the impact of immigration; the struggle to allocate water and other natural resources; and the turmoil of the 1960s. Throughout, our emphasis will be on how law and politics have both shaped and adapted to California’s changing environment and population.

Course Materials (listed in the order in which they are assigned)

Kevin Starr, California: A History (New York: Random House, 2007). ISBN 978-0-8129-7753-0.

Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (New York: Penguin, 1992). ISBN 978-0-1401-5994-3.

Jim Newton, Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made (New York: Riverhead, 2006). ISBN 978-1594489280.

Philip L. Fradkin, The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0-520-24820-5.

Lucy E. Salyer, Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995). ISBN 978-0-8078-4530-1.

Nan Alamilla Boyd, Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). ISBN 978-0-520-24474-0.

Chester Hartman with Sarah Carnochan, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, rev. ed. 2002). ISBN 978-0-520-08605-0.

Ethan Rarick, California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). ISBN 978-0-520-24828-1.


Your grade will be based on your class participation (25%) and the quality of your work on three essays submitted during the course of the semester (each worth 25% of your final grade). This course is a seminar, which makes your presence in class even more critical than usual. We meet only once per week, and you can only contribute to class if you are present and prepared. Unexcused absences will lower your grade.

The three written assignments are described below. Each paper must be five to ten pages long (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 11 or 12 point font). More details will be provided in class. Note that this course satisfies the requirement for a seminar with a substantial writing component.

Assignment 1, due Sept. 18: An essay based on an interview with a lawyer about his or her experience in California legal practice, governance, or advocacy.

You may interview anyone who has been out of law school for at least 10 years (this includes practicing attorneys, judges, law professors, and those who abandoned the practice of law). Your goal in this assignment is to convey a sense of how California as a place has influenced your subject’s experience with the law (or alternatively, how California practice is similar—indistinguishable?—from legal practice elsewhere). If you need assistance identifying a subject for this assignment, please let me know and we’ll connect you to Hastings alumni.

Assignment 2, due Oct. 30: An essay about law in San Francisco.

Select one or more of the assigned readings and analyze how the development of the law influenced or reflected a major event or trend in California history.

Assignment 3, due Nov. 21: An essay about sources and methods of legal history, based on independent research in an archive (a list of suggested archives will be distributed in class).

Select a topic, identify a source of primary information about it, find an archive that holds that source, review the source – and then write an essay analyzing the validity of that source for legal historians. Your essay should refer specifically not only to the source that you review, but to other examples of historians relying on similar sources of evidence in the assigned course materials.

Reading assignments

I. Foundations

Aug 28
Starr, California: A History (through p. 70)
Browse the “Laws and Regulations” and “Statistics” sections of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, available at http://www.cdfa.ca.gov

Sept 4
Starr, California: A History
Browse the population data available from regarding California, available at http://www.census.gov/census2000/states/ca.html; http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000lk.html; http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/doemoff/govinfo/state/gov_calstats.html

Sept 11
Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
Joan Didion, “Holy Water,” The White Album (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990), first published 1979, available at http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2004/thirst/special_holywater.html

Sept 18
No class scheduled; class dinner/make-up in November, date TBD.

Sept 25
Newton, Justice for All (through p. 261)
Essay #1 due: interview.

II. San Francisco

Oct 2
Fradkin, The Great Earthquake

Oct 9
Salyer, Laws Harsh as Tigers

Oct 16
Boyd, Wide-Open Town

Oct 23
Hartman with Carnochan, City for Sale (through p. 212)
Browse the “government” section of the City of San Francisco’s official website, http://www.sfgov.org/site/government_index.asp

Oct 30
Hartman with Carnochan, City for Sale
Essay #2 due: San Francisco.

III. Rebels?

Nov 6
Rarick, California Rising (through p. 252)

Nov 13
Rarick, California Rising

Nov 20
Free Speech Movement, Bancroft Digital Archive and Oral History Project (http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/FSM/)
The McCone Report (the official study of the 1965 Watts riots) (http://www.usc.edu/libraries/archives/cityinstress/mccone/)
Essay # 3 due: Archival source analysis.


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Looks like a great course!

Here's some titles that might fall under the heading of "further reading:"

Davis, Mike. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1992).

Hine, Robert V. California's Utopian Colonies (1983 ed.).

Horne, Gerald. Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (1997 ed.).

Kann, Mark E. Middle Class Radicalism in Santa Monica (1986).

Logan, John R. and Harvey L. Molotch. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place (1987).

Sonenshein, Raphael J. Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles (1993).

Andrewdb said...

Patrick O'donnell - it isn't all about black and white

I think this course sounds very interesting.

As a 20+ year business attorney in California I would say the two most common "California only" areas are the anti-deficiancy laws re real property mortgages and the non-enforcability of non-compete covenants. I don't know if there is a lot of opportunity for historical treatment of them, but they are big areas and California-specific.

Not apparent from this syllabus is the impact of the Spanish/Mexican heritage on California - property titles trace back to The King of Spain By Right Of Conquest - what treatment is there of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo? Community Property is a hispanic legal concept I beleive and that may also be something to address.

I don't see anything specific here about farm labor issues - migrant farm workers would also be an area where California lead the way.

Perhaps it is included under the Kevin Starr stuff, but the Progressive Era reforms of Gov. Johnson (initiative, referendum, city manager government, etc), while not only in California, I think are important to understand California and this was one of the leading states for at least some of that.

I think the treatment of the Asian immigrants (no property owning, immigration restrictions, etc) is great and something we often don't hear about today as Asians have become so "successful".

I also think the treatment of GLBT legal issues has a lot of potential. The _Black Cat_ case was in the 1940's - compare that with the requirement in NY as late as the 1960's that bars could not serve alcohol to known homosexuals at the risk of their license (see Chanucey's _Gay New York_)

Good luck with the course!

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...


Who said "it" (whatever *that* is) is "all about black and white"? What an utterly ridiculous comment to make.

Andrewdb said...

Sorry, this thing things my normal indicator of good humor is an html tag.

My point is that your suggested readings seem to tilt somewhat towards a black/white lens of analysis. Horne and Sonenstein, for example. I haven't read Kann, so I don't know if it does.

Sorry you can't seem to take mild (and hopefully good nmatured) disagreement without calling names.

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

There are five books: two of the five deal with racial politics, so that hardly makes for a tilt. In any case, what is wrong with dealing with racial politics? The syllabus references the McCone Report and the Horne book deals with the events that study treats. You made a gross generalization that that was not an adequate characterization of the titles I listed and was in no way relevant to the subject matter of the books concerned (apart from being vague and opaque), so it does not do to characterize what you wrote as "mild disagreement" as that is not an inference licensed by your comment. And there was no "name calling," only an apt description of your cryptic comment, i.e., one without any good reason to make.

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Oops! There's of course six titles, not five (hence two of six...).

Mary L. Dudziak said...

Designing a legal history class can be daunting, since the relevant subjects are potentially so vast. The traditional course is the broad survey, but that can lend itself to surface treatment of many topics. This class is a great example of finding a focus (here geography, which of course works because Beth will be teaching in California), which can allow for deeper engagement with the topics covered.

Another way to focus the course is through time boundaries. Although I've taught a post-Civil War course, I most often teach about the 20th century, and I've thought about organizing a course around a particularly interesting year (e.g. 1968).

I would be interested to hear about how others frame their courses. Is the broad survey (all of US legal history, or perhaps divided by the Civil War), still the standard course? Do others teach geographically focused courses (for example a course on the Southwest would be a great topic and would necessarily be transnational)? What are other successful ways to frame legal history courses?

David Schorr said...

Great syllabus - I particularly like the writing assignments.

On water law, if you want something more historical-legal, you might want to try something from Donald Worster or Donald Pisani.

Worster's Rivers of Empire is a critical view of California water law, while his "Irrigation and Democracy in California: The Early Promise", 28 PAC. HISTORIAN 30, 30 (1984) is a nice exposition of the optimistic side of California irrigation ideology.

Good luck!

Elizabeth L. Hillman said...

Many thanks for all the insight and encouragement this post generated. I'll explore each of the specific sources mentioned in the comments as I move forward with the course.

I've taught historical law school courses before on topics such as sex crimes in U.S. history, biography and the law, and women's legal history (a topic that admittedly does almost nothing to limit the possibilities!). For me, the primary challenge in drafting an effective syllabus is the one that Mary identified: balancing coverage v. depth, finding a way to maximize students' exposure to new themes and ideas while giving them enough traction on that new material so that they can engage with it critically. I think writing assignments are a tremendous help in fostering that critical engagement.