The main requirement for the seminar is a
substantial and original paper. I would expect the typical paper
be in the 5000-10,000 word range but content is more
important than size. Some of the better papers from past years
webbed here. Papers are
on the last day of exam period, but a draft is due several weeks
There are at least four sorts of paper that I would consider appropriate.
1. A paper on a legal system very different from
ours that has not been covered in the course. It should include
bibliography with adequate references on that system, an
of how it worked, and some discussion of why it had the
characteristics it had—what function at least some of its legal
rules served. Some of the
legal systems we will be studying originally entered the course
2. A paper on one of the systems covered that goes into more depth than my chapter. That means finding additional sources and mining them. It might also mean arguing that some of my description and/or analysis was wrong—with evidence to support the argument.
3. A paper that looks at one or more legal issues running through a variety of different legal systems, analogous to the thread chapters in my current book draft. Obviously the paper has to go well beyond what we cover in the class discussion.
4. A paper using ideas from the systems we have covered to suggest, explain, and defend substantial modifications to our legal system.
To help students who want to do the first sort of paper, which is what most papers in past years have been, some possible places to look are:
The anthropological literature on primitive
societies. One good source is E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of Primitive Man,
University Press, 1967.
The literature on legal history. Obvious possibilities are Anglo-Saxon law, Ottoman law ... .
The literature on non-state mechanisms for
settlement. Lisa Bernstein at the University of Chicago has done
good deal of work on modern arbitration, for instance.
The literature on western mining camps, which
established their own legal systems, and on the Vigilantes.
One possible starting point is to consider what
in your background gives you particularly good access to
information on some legal system past or present, formal or
informal. Did you grow up in the Church of Latter Day Saints?
Are you fluent in Vietnamese? Did you have family members
involved in organized crime? All three of those, as it happens,
are real examples from past years.
If you want to go further afield, you could consider whether the observed behavior of any non-human species comes close enough to a legal system to be worth a paper. An interesting starting point, although not, I think, an adequate one, might be Chimpanzee Politics by Frans De Waal. Or you could look at Konrad Lorenz's books on animal behavior. Or you could try to analyze a fictional legal system, if you can find one that is sufficiently well described.