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Monday, April 30, 2012

Updated: Pilarczyk on Infanticide in 19th century Montreal

Ian C. Pilarczyk of Boston University has an article in the May 2012 issue of Law & History Review, entitled ‘So Foul A Deed’: Infanticide in Montreal, 1825–1850.

UPDATE: Ian advises the paper is available on SSRN and also his website: and also on my website here:

From the introduction:
Yesterday morning the bodies of two infants, supposed to be twins, were found in the Canal firmly enveloped in a linen bag, in which were also two bricks. There was also a shawl round the bodies, which it is to be hoped may lead to the discovery of the unfeeling mother. The Police are on the alert, and we are confident that no exertions on their part will be wanting to discover the perpetrator of so foul a deed. The bodies were interred, and the shawl may be seen at Police Station B.1
The preceding narrative is, in many ways, illustrative of the complex and contradictory phenomenon of infanticide in the district of Montreal during the first half of the nineteenth century. Although notices regarding the finding of infant bodies were frequent, discovery of twin infant bodies was not. This account was also unconventional in its tone: lacking the usual sterile narration typical of newspaper coverage of that topic, it cried out for the apprehension of the “perpetrator of so foul a deed.” Although the call for justice might have appeared strong, infanticide prosecutions were fairly rare and convictions rarer still. The prevalent view might have been to characterize the responsible party as an “unfeeling mother,” but the reality surrounding infanticide was altogether more complicated, yet fully as tragic.

This article argues that infanticide, and the legal and social responses thereto, exhibited a compromise between conflicting sentiments, realities, and paradigms. As a result, the actions of defendants, prosecutors, judges and jurors, and the public at large were characterized by competing motives and countervailing sympathies. The infant victims were nominally the focus of the law, but in reality these acts were viewed as crimes against social conventions. The issue of infanticide during this period therefore presents a fascinating study in this heavily gendered area of nineteenth-century criminal law, reflecting stark differences between law and custom. This article will provide a brief discussion of the historiography and underlying methodology, followed by the political and historical context for the Montreal experience, before moving on to the issue of infant abandonment, coroner's inquests, and the legal mechanics of infanticide prosecutions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is auditing a species of low law?

I think so.

In any event, "Law & Legislation" are among the keywords listed for an article entitled "The First External Auditors of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1866" by Gary F. Spraakman of York University, the notice for which flitted across my screen a couple of days ago. It appeared in the Accounting Historians' Journal last spring. In my innocence  ignorance stupidity, I had no idea there were accounting historians and that they had a journal, but both are obvious and wonderful phenomena. There is an association too, The Academy of Accounting Historians (American, natch) the useful website for which advises that the association has been in existence since the 70s.

Admittedly I don't know a lot about the subject, but I am advised by those who do that accounting practices are not highlighted often enough in business history. When they are they can be quite key. I recall, for example, many years ago Michael Bliss attributing some of Joseph Flavelle's rise to prominence to the latter's innovation in accounting practice in the pork packing industry (note: not a snarky reference to war profiteering.)

Accounting history is certainly something Canadian legal historians would be well to consider, especially when studying issues of corporate law and governance. I haven't yet looked at any of the issues of the AHJ, but the abstract of Spraakman's article sounds as though it is something that would be very relevant to historians interested in the HBC, of whom there are now quite a number.  Spraakman has also written on internal audit at the UBC.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Law Books in Action: Essays on the Anglo-American Treatise now available

I was excited to hear yesterday from Angela Fernandez that the wonderful volume of collected essays on the history of legal treatises in the Atlantic world she has co-edited  with Markus Dubber, her colleague at the Faculty of Law, U of T, is now available from Hart Publishing.  I've been looking forward to it--this is an important subject, which has been neglected by legal historians far too long.

The Introduction is available free (for now) online at the Hart webpage, and also posted on SSRN.

Here's the publishers' blurb:

'Law Books in Action: Essays on the Anglo-American Legal Treatise' explores the history of the legal treatise in the common law world. Rather than looking at treatises as shortcuts from 'law in books' to 'law in action', the essays in this collection ask what treatises can tell us about what troubled legal professionals at a given time, what motivated them to write what they did, and what they hoped to achieve. This book, then, is the first study of the legal treatise as a 'law book in action', an active text produced by individuals with ideas about what they wanted the law to be, not a mere stepping-stone to codes and other forms of legal writing, but a multifaceted genre of legal literature in its own right, practical and fanciful, dogmatic and ornamental in turn. This book will be of interest to legal scholars, lawyers and judges, as well as to anyone else with a scholarly interest in law in general, and legal history in particular.

As you can see from the table of contents, Canadian treatises are included and Canadian historians are well represented: in fact, the majority of the contributors are Canadian.

Introduction: Putting the Legal Treatise in Its Place
 Angela Fernandez and Markus D Dubber

1. Historicising Blackstone’s Commentaries on The Laws of England: Difference and Sameness in Historical Time Kunal M Parker

2. ‘Of Institutes and Treatises’: Blackstone’s Commentaries, Kent's Commentaries, and Beamish Murdoch's Epitome of the Law of Nova Scotia Philip Girard

3. Tapping Reeve, Coverture and America’s First Legal Treatise
Angela Fernandez

4. Story’d Paradigms for the Nineteenth-Century Display of Anglo-American Legal Doctrine
G Blaine Baker

5. A Province of Jurisprudence?: Invention of a Law of Constitutional Conventions
Roman J Hoyos

6. Nineteenth-Century Treatises on English Contract Law
Stephen Waddams

7. Of Treatises and Textbooks: The Literature of the Criminal Law in Nineteenth-Century Britain
Lindsay Farmer

8. Truth and Privilege: Libel Treatises and the Transmission of Legal Norms in the Early Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American World
Lyndsay Campbell

9. Renovate or Rebuild? Treatises, Digests and Criminal Law Codification
Barry Wright

10. A Low Law Counter Treatise? ‘Absentees’ to ‘Wreck’ in British North America’s First Justice of the Peace Manual
Jim Phillips

11. Commentary: Effects of Scale: Toward a History of the Literature of Law
Christopher Tomlins

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reviewer needed for John McLaren, Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered

The Canadian Journal of Law and Society/Revue canadienne droit et societe is looking for someone to review John McLaren's Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered: British Colonial Judges on Trial, 1800-1900 (Osgoode Society/UofT Press, 2011). Anyone interested should contact English language book review editor Diane Crocker, at