LW6026 - Legal History

What will I learn on this module?

In this module, through the study of certain selected themes, you will develop a critical awareness of the role of law in society. You will be able to see in an historical context how social conditions are reflected in the development of the law, legal institutions, and perceptions of the law. . The module explores the interplay between law and society rather than substantive black-letter law, but you may be required to consider selected statutory material and cases. You will have an opportunity to study legal history from both an internal and an external perspective.

The module considers English legal history in the national context. In addition, there is scope to examine the local legal history of the north-east of England, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
From the long list of possible themes each year, we choose between four and six for study. There are connections between these themes.

We will also consider what we mean by history, legal history, and historiography.

Trade, Commerce and Business

In this theme we explore trade, commerce, and business in its legal historical context in specific historical periods. We may consider trade/business organisations, the role of the state in trade and business, regulation of trade and business, business disputes and labour history. We may also examine significant frauds, such as nineteenth century company frauds and investment manias.

Crime and Punishment

We will explore crime in specific historical periods. This theme may include: crime and society; public order; law enforcement; the criminal trial process; forms of punishment (including judicial and community punishments) and theories of punishment; rates of offending; crime reporting; and the role of the criminal law in maintaining the norms of social behaviour.
We may also examine specific types of criminal offence such as homicide, theft, fraud, larceny and treason.

Legal Actors

In this theme we will examine the role of specific legal actors in certain historical periods. For example: judges, magistrates, juries, police, barristers (including the introduction of barristers within a wider adversarial setting), solicitors, court staff, coroners, witnesses, regulators, commissioners and experts. In this theme we may also examine the theories around trials – including dispute resolution, the role of the state, and adversarialism.

The theme of legal actors will interconnect and build upon other themes, particularly crime and punishment, the trial process, and legal personhood.

Legal Personhood

This theme centres on questions of status and agency. We consider:
• Who counts as a ‘legal subject’?
• What characteristics limit access to or participation in the law?
• How do ideas of justice and responsibility interact with contemporary societal norms?

Within this theme we may consider

1. Age: issues of competence as witnesses and culpability as offenders for children; children in work.
2. Sex: women as victims and perpetrators of criminal offences; changing treatment of female criminality by the secular and the church courts; impact of marriage on women's legal status; witchcraft; women working in business/trade; and women’s role and participation in the law and democracy.
3. Freedom and class: the ideal subject (a property-owning adult male) does not encompass slaves, serfs and outlaws who have a particular experience of the legal system, including as victims and perpetrators of criminal offences.

Ownership, Government/State organisations and Constitutional Developments

In this theme we will examine property ownership and economic power and the ways in which they impact on the legal system. We will also examine the role of government and state organisations in the law, including in its implementation, enforcement and apparent suppression of organisations challenging the status quo.

We may consider specific constitutional developments such as the Bill of Rights; and the struggle between the Crown, the Common Law and Parliament.

How will I learn on this module?

On this module you will learn through a combination of lectures/podcasts, seminars, tutor guided independent learning and student independent learning.

Use of Large Group Sessions:
The large group lectures and podcasts are intended to introduce you to the key topics of legal history. You will also be expected to undertake independent learning in consolidation of the lecture programme.

Use of Small Group Sessions:
The small group seminar discussions will develop your analytical abilities. Sessions will cover a range of activities. Seminars will also require you to demonstrate your ability to locate and make effective use of legal source materials. You will be expected to engage in independent and, at times, directed learning in consolidation of work done in preparation for and during seminars and for other activities. You will also learn how to effectively organise and communicate information orally.

Independent learning:
This is an important aspect of the module which will centre on you identifying further reading and research to provide deeper/broader knowledge and understanding of the chosen topics of legal history.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

The University supports you in learning and research with an excellent library and teaching facilities, access to on-line legal databases and resources and appropriate software.

This module is designed and will be managed by your designated Module Tutor who will be responsible for guiding you in your engagement and learning on the module. Material will be delivered to you by lecture/podcast and through the eLP. The eLP site will contain the following resources: lecture notes; Powerpoint slides; the module handbook, which contains seminar exercises; advice on assessment. The comprehensive online reading list includes books, articles, television and radio programmes. As well as contact with the lecturer you will also be taught by your seminar tutor. Should you have queries you may approach the lecturer or your seminar tutor or e-mail your query to either member of staff. You may communicate with your Module Tutor by e-mail or telephone and are encouraged to make contact if you encounter any difficulties relating to any aspect of the module.
Academic support is also available to you through summative and formative feedback on assignments.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:

At the end of the module you will have:
• Become able to recognise and apply some of the current theories and critical scholarship at the forefront of specialist subjects within the area of legal history

• Developed a systematic and in depth knowledge and understanding of key aspects of the area of legal history and be able to demonstrate detailed and coherent understanding in that area

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:

At the end of the module you will have:
• Developed your abilities to conduct self –directed research including accurately identifying issues which require researching, retrieving and evaluating accurate, current and relevant information from a range of appropriate sources including primary sources

How will I be assessed?

Formative assessment
You will deliver an oral presentation on your chosen research area, on which you will receive individual feedback from seminar tutors and peer feedback from students in the seminar group, based upon agreed assessment criteria.

Summative assessment
This will be undertaken on an individual basis by way of written coursework which constitutes 100% of the marks for this module. This assignment aims to encourage a deep and critical approach to learning, developing an ability to think widely about the issues presented within the module and to explore these with directed and independent learning.

Assessment criteria are provided to enable you to understand what is expected of you and how you will be judged on your performance.

Feedback will be given in accordance with the Law Schools’ Undergraduate Feedback policy currently in force.
You will receive feedback on the formative assessment, as detailed above. Summative feedback will be available in written form on scripts and orally from module tutors. In addition, there will opportunities for feedback to your questions in seminars.





Module abstract

This module includes the history of English law, the legal profession, the courts and legal institutions, judges and lawyers, legal literature and records, trade, commerce and business, , and specific crimes such as witchcraft and treason. It looks at the history of the characteristics of the unique English common law and legal system.

You will enjoy a large degree of choice in this module: each student chooses their own assessment topic from a range of possible options; with help and advice from your tutors, you will then devise and independently research your own coursework question. You will be assessed by this researched assignment (100%), which will consolidate your understanding of legal history, and develop your skills of critical analysis. You will critically engage with research outputs as part of your research-rich learning, drawing from Northumbria’s extensive on-line databases and library facilities.

Course info

UCAS Code M101

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years full-time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Northumbria Law School

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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