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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Announcing: The "Research Canons" Project

Prawfsblawg is pleased to announce the "Research Canons" project.  The purpose of this project is to get input from you, our readers, about the most important works of scholarship in the various areas of legal inquiry.

Unlike other disciplines, most law academics do not have an advanced degree in "law."  For students pursuing a Ph.D in areas such as economics, history, or social psychology, they must pass comprehensive exams showing that they have a broad knowledge of the most important works in the field.  It is only after comps that students go on to complete their specialized dissertation research.

Legal academia assumes that entry-level candidates and new scholars have done the background research necessary for their area of expertise.  But it is left to the individual to get this knowledge.  Certainly, the J.D. provides a baseline, and mentors are helpful in providing further direction.  But there is nothing akin to comps that sets forth a comprehensive listing for new folks to follow.  Many of us have heard the question, in the AALS interview, in the job talk, or as a new scholar presenting a paper: "Well, of course, you have read the work of Prof. X in this area, right?"  Failure to respond appropriately to this question may raise eyebrows and cast doubt on the scholar's research.

The Research Canons project is intended to fill this gap.  Over the following weeks, we will be asking for input on the canons for the following subjects:

Let us know if we're missing an area of interest.

We hope this project goes some way in presenting a bibliography for new scholars.  We look forward to hearing your input in the upcoming weeks.  We'll start with Civil Procedure tomorrow.  As for now, perhaps we can start with this question: Is this project worthwhile?  Or are the lists too long, too topic-specific, and/or too ideological to be useful?

Posted by Matt Bodie on September 5, 2006 at 12:55 PM in Research Canons | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 11, 2006 10:33:59 AM


I really like this project. I think it could be very useful to scholars and students.

It reminds me of an interesting project by Fred Shapiro, in which he figured out which works were cited most often in U.S. law reviews. His article, listing the most-cited legal books, most-cited treatises and texts, most cited British books, and most-cited nonlegal books, is Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Legal Books Published Since 1978, 29 J. Legal Stud. 397 (2000). Our library has a guide with the lists and our call numbers here.

Shapiro has also studied the most-cited law review articles -- another source for works that are in some sense canonical. (Citation counts are not a perfect proxy for merit, but they indicate something.) See Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Law Review Articles, 73 Cal. L. Rev. 1540 (1985); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Articles from The Yale Law Journal, 100 Yale L.J. 1449 (1991); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Law Review Articles Revisited, 71 Chi-Kent L. Rev. 751 (1996).

Richard Posner has directed his attention to citation studies (as to so much else), along with his coauthor William Landes. See Richard A. Posner, An Economic Analysis of the Use of Citations in the Law, 2 Am. L. & Econ. Rev. 381 (2000); William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, Citations, Age, Fame, and the Web, 29 J. Legal Stud. 319 (2000); William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, Heavily Cited Articles in Law, 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 825 (1996)(critiquing Shapiro's methodology); William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, The Influences of Economics on Law: A Quantitative Study, 36 J. L. & Econ. 385 (1993).

(Four of the articles above are from two symposia -- "Interpreting Legal Citations" in J. Legal Stud., Jan. 2000, and "Trends in Legal Citations and Scholarship" in Chi.-Kent L. Rev., Summer 1996.)

Posted by: Mary Whisner | Oct 13, 2006 3:39:36 PM

Still, no 'comparative law'? Other legal traditions of the world unimportant? Legal systems of Asia and Africa irrelevant? No significant differences between Romanistic, Germanic, Anglo-American, and Nordic Legal Families? Religious law not worth our attention? This leaves us open to the reasonable criticism that we are rather parochial and provincial, still unduly local in the era of globalization. In short, this is a glaring, serious, and debilitating omission.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 9, 2006 2:00:52 AM

I recommend separating Legal Research from Legal Writing.

Posted by: charles | Oct 5, 2006 12:11:29 PM

I suggest adding Consumer Protection Law to the list.

Posted by: Deepak | Sep 24, 2006 4:34:09 PM

Don't forget Children & Law (juv. justice, abuse/neglect), and Law & Literature

Posted by: DP | Sep 15, 2006 10:36:29 PM

Please add Bankruptcy to the list.

Posted by: John Turner | Sep 15, 2006 11:22:37 AM

It mighty be useful to have two separate categories, "Bioethics" and "Public Health Law," in addition to and distinct from "Health Law." There are separate casebooks, journals, reference sources, and classic sources for each of these three main areas of health law. Most libraries distribute separate pathfinders for each of these three areas.

Posted by: Thaddeus Pope | Sep 14, 2006 10:26:13 AM

please send along those reading lists to Matt or me. Thanks. We'll pick out the ones for the "canons" we're doing and post them there (w/attribution to you).

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 12, 2006 5:00:57 PM

To Ryan above and anyone else who might share his passion: I have bibliographies (i.e., reading lists) available on the following topics (a motley, to be sure, but it simply reflects those fields of inquiry or disciplinary specialization that interest me; none of these are exhaustive, but they do provide a fairly good initiation into their respective subjects):

Analogy and Metaphor;
Animal Ethics, Rights, and Law;
Capital Punishment;
Classical Chinese Worldviews;
Conflict Resolution and Nonviolence;
Criminal Law, Punishment & Prisons;
Democratic Theory and Praxis;
The Emotions;
The Ethics, Economics & Politics of Global Distributive Justice;
Islamic Studies;
Israeli/Palestinian Conflict;
Understanding Science & Technology;

Forthcoming: a list for philosophy of law/legal theory (books only).

I'll send any of these along (as Word doc.) upon request.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Sep 12, 2006 4:49:28 PM

Evidence Law

Posted by: Joe | Sep 12, 2006 10:43:40 AM

How about 'American Indian Law,' 'animal law,' 'comparative law,' and 'feminist legal theory?'

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Sep 11, 2006 6:59:59 PM

I would like to see an aviation law category listed, or possibly transportation if aviation is to narrow.

Posted by: Andy Eastmond | Sep 8, 2006 4:25:02 PM

Excellent idea! Despite its obvious overlap with Criminal Procedure, I would like to see a new category: Federal Habeas Corpus.

Posted by: Aaron J. Moskowitz | Sep 7, 2006 4:33:33 PM

Great idea! If it works out as you hope and it isn't too much work, you should consider setting up a similar system for other social science topics. I love and appreciate good, comprehensive reading lists.

Posted by: Ryan | Sep 6, 2006 10:28:44 PM

Are you including human rights law in 'international law' or would you see it as a separate category?

Posted by: Fiona | Sep 6, 2006 10:15:56 PM

I second James Kushner's motion on adding an Election Law section to the Canon. Just last week, I lectured (read: rambled) to a class about what they had to know to call themselves "election lawyers." The field has a lot of constitutional law in it, but a lot of federal statutory law too. And one must not forget the meme that much of election law is local. I am constantly amazed at the quirks of state election law I run into as I gather stories for my blog.

Posted by: Edward Still | Sep 6, 2006 10:12:20 PM

In the immortal words of Winston Churchill: “Insurance brought the miracle of averages to the rescue of the masses.” On that basis alone, Insurance Law should be added to the list.

Posted by: Sean Fitzpatrick | Sep 6, 2006 9:40:12 PM

For selfish reasons (it's a topic I'm interested in, and a canon would be most helpful), I'd request that Election Law be added to the list. If someone thinks that it would be adequately covered in one of the previously-listed topics, I'll withdraw my request.

Posted by: James Kushner | Sep 6, 2006 3:25:36 PM

Dispute Resolution and Negotiation are probably two different areas.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Sep 6, 2006 2:19:33 PM

Great idea, speaking as one who plans to go on the teaching market and wants to be as literate as possible. I have a suggestion: Unless you have a stake in keeping editorial control of the canon, the most efficient way to generate it for all these topics might be to set up a wiki so those with knowledge can post it directly.

Posted by: CMN | Sep 6, 2006 12:51:20 PM

What about Conflicts of Laws? Pretty please?

Posted by: Milbarge | Sep 6, 2006 12:44:46 PM

How about Legislation/Statutory Interpretation? Jim Chen posted a beginning reading list on his Jurisdynamics blog:

Posted by: Aaron | Sep 6, 2006 11:35:10 AM

Whoops. Non-alphabetical listing. My bad.

Posted by: Adam Levitin | Sep 6, 2006 11:24:23 AM

When did commercial law (secured transactions, payments systems, sales, and all that jazz) disappear from the canon? It's a distinct area from contracts.

Posted by: Adam Levitin | Sep 6, 2006 11:23:31 AM

Local Government law. I'm not an academic, although I have that bent. Sub topics might include Land use, emminent domain, and police powers.

Posted by: Brad D. Bailey | Sep 6, 2006 11:03:45 AM

In support of antitrust as a separate category: Mainstream antitrust thinking has changed quite a bit in a relatively short period of time (since the 80's), but it can be difficult to locate the very specialized work essential to the post-Chicago canon. It's a perfect specialization for a canon, because it's very easy to miss good scholarship or have an "original" thought that amounts to re-inventing the wheel.

Posted by: Truster | Sep 6, 2006 10:33:36 AM

This is an interesting idea. One of the things that has amazed me after two years of teaching is how ignorant I was about previous academic work in my subject areas when I went on the market (in spite of my best efforts). That was, of course, in a "pre-Prawfs" era; sites like this (and other proliferating law prof blogs) have helped demystify / democratize the market for information about the legal academy.

It would seem that a sensible place to begin the "canons" project would be with Fred Shapiro's list of the most cited law books published since 1978. That's available at http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/mostcited.html. Break those books down into subject areas and you have a pretty good guide to (some of the) key works.

I would also suggest erring on the side of inclusiveness (both in terms of including specialized fields and including numerous works) to avoid any bickering about what should be in and what should be out. I would say in particular that antitrust should be on your list, since without it there would likely be no law and economics!

Posted by: Geoff | Sep 6, 2006 10:12:35 AM


Posted by: anon | Sep 6, 2006 12:11:11 AM

I'd be happy to see Immigration and naturalization law (including refugee law) added, though I suppose it might be too narrow a field for some people's taste

Posted by: Matt | Sep 5, 2006 11:16:42 PM

Paul, you raise some great points. I'll put up a post on a general law canon forthwith.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Sep 5, 2006 3:23:18 PM

One more point: Even if every faculty member hasn't read every canonical work, including those that we might place in a general canon for academic lawyers, that's what reading groups are for! I don't know how many faculties maintain such a thing, but here at Southwestern, thanks to the good offices of my colleague Michael Dorff, we have a splendid reading group that moves between selecting cutting-edge recent work and classic older work.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 5, 2006 3:07:07 PM

First, this is a great idea.

Second, be careful what you wish for. I believe I've observed before that one of the most startling and distressing facts about the legal academy is not just the lack of an acknowledged canon, but the extent to which many people entering the academy (present company excluded, of course) have not read (or completely read) those works that everyone probably would acknowledge should be in the canon. Perhaps, despite the formal existence of a canon in other fields and the presence of various mechanisms meant to ensure that doctoral candidates have read that canon, the actual reality is not that different in other disciplines; I can't say. But it's strikingly true in law. I am always reminded of the scene in David Lodge's book Changing Places, in which a faculty member loses his shot at advancement because he imprudently wins a game in which the object is to come up with a book you haven't read and that everyone else present has read. Law faculties high and low might well come to a draw pretty quickly in this game. Would you air our dirty laundry?

Third, although you have listed law and philosophy, I would like to see a general law or jurisprudence list. What are the 20 or so canonical works that every academic lawyer ought to have read?

Finally, I think Trevor makes a good point about constitutional law. Note that, depending on what he means to include in the "rights" category, that constitutional criminal procedure may well have been left out -- again! But rather than make those divisions now, I'd wait and see what your canon-formers have to say. I'd be curious about what my fellow constitutional law specialists would say about whether and how to divide constitutional law for purposes of canon-formation.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 5, 2006 3:05:30 PM

Thanks for the suggestions. I had certainly not meant to marginalize Fed Courts, Antitrust, Securities Regulation, Network Industries, or Copyright. I figured that these fields were subsumed within other categories. I had hoped, as Bruce suggests, to have somewhat larger meta-categories. But perhaps these categories are too large for the specialization required these days. I'd love some further thoughts on this.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Sep 5, 2006 2:53:22 PM

And don't forget The Law of the Horse.

Posted by: Adam W | Sep 5, 2006 2:46:20 PM

Constitutional Law is way too big to be one field. At the least, I would suggest separating "Con Law -- Rights" from "Con Law -- Structure" (admitting, of course, that these categories can be hard to distinguish on the margins).

Posted by: Trevor Morrison | Sep 5, 2006 2:30:56 PM

Matt, this strikes me as a very worthwhile project, although there will no doubt be considerable wrangling about what should fall within/outside a given category. But it strikes me as a very long list. I think it's missing what you'd see in other disciplines, which is hierarchical structure. So, thinking back to my history studies, there weren't many books that every historian had to read. But there were books that every Americanist had to read, no matter what period or subtopic you eventually specialized in. (E.g., Foner, Reconstruction; Weibe, Search for Order; Ulrich, Midwife's Tale; Woodward, Origins of the New South.) Then there would be additional books for your particular focus, which I think corresponds to the long list of topics above. But the list seems to be missing the level above that, the books or articles every, say, corporate-law-type scholar (Corporate Law, Law & Economics, Securities Regulation, Tax?) should read. Even coming up with these overarching categories is kind of hard.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 5, 2006 2:29:19 PM

Exactly how marginalized should I feel, as only two of the three courses that I am teaching this year are missing from your list? (Antitrust, Network Industries) Two thirds marginalized? Or does the fact that my third class, Copyright, is subsumed within IP count for more marginalization? :)

Posted by: Randy Picker | Sep 5, 2006 1:55:02 PM

I recommend adding securities regulation.

Posted by: Bill Sjostrom | Sep 5, 2006 1:52:15 PM

Although it may fit within a couple of the categories already listed, I suggest that a separate canon for The Federal Courts would be both necessary and proper.

Posted by: Adam W | Sep 5, 2006 1:41:48 PM

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