American Legal History Research Guide

This research guide in American legal history includes materials dealing with settlement through the twentieth century.

Secondary Sources, General Overviews, & Miscellaneous Resources

Researching legal history requires a different set of skills and materials than traditional legal research. The books in the general overview section are useful both as substantive accounts of American legal history and examples of seminal works in the field, demonstrating strong methodological approaches to their subjects. Some of the resources in this guide may be familiar. There are useful legal history resources in both LexisNexis and HeinOnline. However, you should not end your research there. Make sure to check the section on Historical Research Databases, which contains abundant resources less familiar to many law students. 

General Overview

Encyclopedias and Biographical Resources


Historical Research Databases

  • America: History and Life is an index to research in US and Canadian history.
  • JSTOR is a digital archive containing 6147 history journals (as of August 8, 2013), including: The American Journal of Legal History, the American Historical Review, and the Law & Society Review.
  • Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1620-1926 - The materials here are primarily from the Harvard and Yale law libraries. The Harvard collection contains a vast number of popular printed accounts of sensational trials for murder, adultery, and other scandalous crimes.

Academic Sites

  • Avalon Project. Yale University's Avalon Project contains documents dating back to the 1800s, covering subjects such as law, politics, history and economics.
  • LLMC (Law Library Microfilm Consortium).  From their Mission Statement: "LLMC is a non-profit cooperative of libraries dedicated to the twin goals of, preserving legal titles and government documents..."  See their digital collections for preserved materials.
  • DigitalGeorgetown. "DigitalGeorgetown is the unified portal for Georgetown University’s institutional repository and digital collections, providing online access to scholarly academic resources, rare and unique digitized special collections, and more."


Presidential Papers

The New Deal

For a good general overview of the New Deal, see Eric Rauchway's The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction. Rauchway includes a very helpful table of the Major federal acts of the Great Depression and the New Deal.