Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Reviving the Research Canons: What Every Law Prof Needs to Have Read
Mike Madison has a really nice piece out entitled "Lost Classics of Intellectual Property Law." In it, he chides legal scholarship for failing to pay enough attention to older pieces that have come before and have laid the foundation for the discipline. His essay seeks to address this problem by setting out those "classics" that need to read, understood, and cited to provide "better and more consistent acknowledgement of earlier work." The article is actually a compilation of his earlier blog posts, including a 2007 self-described "rant" against the failure of IP scholars to understand the background literature in their field. Talking about presentations at a working-papers conference, Madison said: "By far the biggest flaw in presentations and papers by junior IP scholars (and sometimes by more senior IP scholars) was and is their evident ignorance of earlier work. And not just or even work published within the last year or last five years; I’m thinking of the fact that a lot of foundational work published ten years ago or earlier remains significant today."
The new essay called to mind a project we had at Prawfs eight (!) years ago called the "Research Canons" project. The effort was similar to Madison's -- to compile lists of the foundational works in the legal sub-fields for use by scholars in the area, particularly junior ones. At the completion of our two-month run, thanks to help from a lot of folks, we ended up with entries for 42 subject areas. We had 220 comments and links from 18 fellow bloggers supporting the endeavor. You can find a list of the subject areas, with links to the individual posts, here.
At the end of the Canons run, I expressed hope that the canons could serve as a continuing resource. However, I also recognized that "[a] weakness of blogs posts is that they seem to have a short shelf-life: once a post is more than a day old, it can be forgotten." I don't know whether folks continue to check out the Canons, but I suspect that they have been largely forgotten. So it seems like a good time to revive the project, eight years down the road, and think again about those books, articles, and chapters that are canonical -- that everyone in the discipline should have read.
So this post is intended as an announcement for the project and a request for feedback. What's the best way to proceed? I'm planning on having individual posts for individual subjects, as before. But this time, I'm thinking of asking for the following:
- Classic Canons. The pieces that form the foundation for the discipline.
- Forgotten Canons. The pieces that have not gotten the attention they deserve.
- New Canons. The pieces from the last decade that deserve canonical status.
Let me know what you think of the project, whether the old one was helpful, and what we can do this time to make it better.
I think it's a great idea to try to push the project to the next level. Here are a few thoughts:
(a) I think the project needs its own home on the web, whoever might own or curate it.
(b) Seems like this is the sort of thing law libraries should want to do, and could do really well, in the present era.
(c) Would be great to find ways to get working-paper conferences and similar events to devote time to the issue in an ongoing way. For example, in the i.p. field (the focus of Mike Madison's posts), why not have an annual keynote, or plenary paper, that focuses on one or more canonical pieces and engages on just what it is that makes them canonical, the influence the piece has had, the influences that produced the piece, etc.
Posted by: Joe Miller | Aug 13, 2014 1:04:16 PM