A Bridge Between: Law and the New Intellectual Histories of Capitalism

23 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2017

Date Written: January 1, 2016


The American historical profession has in recent years witnessed a significant revival of two subfields that were once thought to be nearly dead. Both intellectual history and what is often referred to today as the history of capitalism are flourishing. In some cases, the two fields have converged. What role has law and legal history played in this revival and convergence? How have formal and informal laws, legal institutions, and legal actors and processes informed our conceptual understanding of the origins and development of modern American capitalism? This essay explores these historiographical and programmatic questions as part of a symposium directed at “Opportunities for Law’s Intellectual History.” This brief essay explores the role of law and legal history as a bridge between the two revived subfields. It does so in three parts. Part I briefly chronicles the recent revival of the two subfields. Part II explores why law, in its broadest sense, may be particularly well suited to help integrate the convergence between intellectual history and the new histories of capitalism. Why, that is, law has been and may continue to be a bridge between the two subfields. Part III uses the history of American tax law and policy as one example to show how law is vital to our understanding of the new intellectual histories of capitalism. The essay concludes with a modest set of observations on where the new literature on law and the intellectual histories of capitalism may be headed.

Keywords: Legal History, U.S. Intellectual History, History of Capitalism, tax policy

JEL Classification: A11, B15, H20, H25, H71, K34, N41

Suggested Citation

Mehrotra, Ajay K., A Bridge Between: Law and the New Intellectual Histories of Capitalism (January 1, 2016). 64 Buffalo Law Rev. 1 (2016), American Bar Foundation Research Paper, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2927500

Ajay K. Mehrotra (Contact Author)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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