The UW’s distinction in historical studies has extended beyond the departments of History and History of Science.
Virtually next door, in the UW Law School, legal historian J. Willard Hurst pioneered what became known as modern American legal history, which sees the law not as a static, self-contained body of judicial doctrine but as dynamically shaped by larger social, political, and economic forces. Hurstian legal history, in other words, is equally social, political, and economic history.
Hurst taught in the Law School from 1937 to 1981. His best known work is Law and Economic Growth, a history of Wisconsin’s lumber industry in the nineteenth century.
Hurst’s successors in the Law School have held joint appointments in the History Department. In alternating years the Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History brings together promising young legal historians for an intensive two-week program.