Law and Legal Culture in Early America

Call for Proposals

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture announces a call for papers for a symposium exploring Anglo-American jurisprudence and professional legal training in early America from the mid-sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries.

The symposium, to be held October 18, 2019, at the William & Mary Law School will correspond with the opening of an exhibit of 16th-18th century law books, British Antecedents: American Liberties?  An Exhibit of Early Law Books from the Collection of Sid Lapidus. Texts on display will include compendia such as Sir Thomas Smith’s De Republica Anglorum: The Manner of Government or Policies of the Realme of England (1583), supplemented topical tracts such as William Prynne’s An Humble Remonstrance to His Majesty, Against the Tax of Ship-Money (1641), and books of professional advice such as William Fulbeck’s A Direction of Preparative to the Study of the Law: Wherein is Shewed, What Things Ought to be Observed and Used of Them That are Addicted to the Study of Law, and What on the Contrary Part Ought to be Eschewed and Avoyded (1620).

In conjunction with the exhibit, the symposium invites fresh examination of the role of British legal treatises and instructional essays in early American law with a focus on Virginia. Participants will have the opportunity to consider the physical objects alongside the symposia discussions. The committee invites proposals for papers that examine such topics as the material culture of law books, transatlantic print culture, the nature of legal precedents and legal training in British America— including how early Virginia law and legal training evolved within a transatlantic imperial framework and demonstrate unique legal interpretations—as well as changing educational structures and methods of dissemination and oversight.

Proposals are due Monday, August 19, 2019. All submissions should include a one-page summary of each paper and a one-page c.v. for each participant; panel submissions should also include a one-paragraph description.  Each c.v. should include mail and email addresses and telephone numbers. Materials may be emailed directly to the Omohundro Institute at

The program will be announced on Monday, September 2. All applicants will be informed of the committee’s decisions before then.

Program Committee:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D., Digital Historian, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

Warren M. Billings, Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, University of New  Orleans and Visiting Professor of Law, William & Mary Law School

Randi Flaherty, Ph.D., Special Collections Librarian, University of Virginia School of Law Special Collections

Linda K. Tesar, Head of Technical Services & Special Collections, Wolf Law Library, William & Mary Law School