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Inception of Modern Professional Education

C. C. Langdell, 1826-1906

Bruce A. Kimball

Publication Year: 2009

As dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895, Christopher C. Langdell (1826-1906) conceived, designed, and built the educational model that leading professional schools in virtually all fields subsequently emulated.Based on meritocracy, the system’s components included the admission requirement of a bachelor’s degree, the sequenced curriculum and its extension to three years, the hurdle of annual examinations for continuation and graduation, and the independent career track for professional faculty, among other requirements that proved controversial when they were first instituted. This is the first full-length biography of the man whose educational model eventually became the standard for other professional schools.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Legal History


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xiv

In the years since I began archival research on C. C. Langdell in 1995, a great many individuals and institutions have provided invaluable assistance. Above all, I am deeply grateful to Daniel Coquillette and to David Warrington...

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A Note on Style and Monetary Values

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pp. xv-xviii

In the quotations from original sources, ampersands, abbreviations, punctuation, and capitalization have generally been converted to standard modern English. Points of uncertainty in deciphering the annotations are indicated by dashes or bracketed question marks...

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pp. 1-9

About fifteen leagues up the coast from Boston, near the border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the Merrimac River empties into the Atlantic Ocean close to the town where John Langdell was born in 1790...

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CHAPTER ONE: Boyhood and Youth, 1826–1854

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pp. 11-41

In Langdell’s youth lie the origins of his interest in education and the specific reforms in professional education that he advanced as dean of hls. His encounters with John Locke’s...

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CHAPTER TWO: Lawyer on Wall Street, 1855–1870

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pp. 42-83

Entering the practice of law in New York City in January 1855, Langdell believed that a lawyer’s “abilities, learning, or experience” would determine his professional success or failure, because law was not a matter of whim, caprice, or “private and other ‘...

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CHAPTER THREE: Scholar, 1870–1881

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pp. 84-129

In the three decades after leaving New York City and joining the hls faculty, Langdell made reforms in five distinct but interrelated areas. Each constituted a radical change; together, they initiated a revolution in American professional education...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Teacher, 1870–1881

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pp. 130-165

In addition to pursuing scholarship in the original sources, Langdell provided the faculty with new models of pedagogy while responding to several problems at hls during the 1870s. As at other law schools and at medical schools, the Harvard curriculum consisted of a cycle of elementary...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Faculty, 1870–1900

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pp. 166-192

Though elected dean in September 1870 and empowered by President Eliot to institute his vision for legal education, Langdell still needed a faculty committed to the idea of academic meritocracy: that scholastic achievement determines, or should determine, one’s merit in professional...

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CHAPTER SIX: The First Dean, 1870–1886

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pp. 193-232

Assuming his new administrative role in September 1870, Dean Langdell immediately began to extend the formal system of academic merit beyond his own classroom to the rest of the school. Though accused of arrogance and obstinacy, Langdell did believe that academic...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Students, 1876–1882

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pp. 233-263

Like the hls professors, students faced the choice of whether to make “the uncomfortable transformation of gentlemen into professionals.”1 Some were attracted to Langdell’s vision of sorting students and lawyers by their academic merit; others held to the traditional norms of professional education...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Triumph and Betrayal, 1886–1890s

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pp. 264-308

Through the mid-1880s, “the Langdell system of study had not been adopted in any other law school.”1 Then, during the late 1880s hls began surpassing even the most optimistic hopes of raising academic standards, attracting growing numbers of well-qualified students and producing well-trained graduates...

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CHAPTER NINE: Poor Old White-Whiskers, 1895–1906

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pp. 309-346

Even while betraying its fundamental meritocratic principles, Langdell’s system proliferated throughout university law schools, slowly during the 1890s and then rapidly after the turn of the century. In most schools, the system encountered opposition prompted...

APPENDIX ONE: Nicholas St. John Green

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pp. 347-348

APPENDIX TWO: Langdell's Analogies between Law and Natural Science

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pp. 349-352

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Arranged Alphabetically by Abbreviated Titles

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pp. 353-414

CASES CITED: Arranged Alphabetically by Abbreviated Titles

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pp. 415-418


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pp. 419-429

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605623
E-ISBN-10: 1469605627
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807832578
Print-ISBN-10: 080783257X

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Studies in Legal History
Series Editor Byline: Robert J. Steinfeld See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 435671127
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Inception of Modern Professional Education

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Subject Headings

  • Langdell, C. C. (Christopher Columbus), 1826-1906.
  • Law teachers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Law -- Study and teaching -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Professional education -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Harvard Law School -- History -- 19th century.
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