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Course Details

Topics in Legal History - Risk
(no number)




2 cr.

Senior Writing

With Professor Permissison

Student Year



The concept of risk is fundamental to law and to modern life more generally. Ideas of risk underlie tort law, contract law, corporations, bankruptcy, criminal law, evidence, and insurance in all its manifestations—€”health, life, and disability, fire and home insurance, workmen'€™s compensation, unemployment insurance, social security, and pensions. The language of risk permeates our every day lives and shapes our behavior in innumerable ways, as we simultaneously seem to embrace and attempt to insulate ourselves from it: from "€œsmart" cars, to extreme sports, "€œsafe"€ sex, credit default swaps, "risk" factors for cancer, "at-risk populations"€, insurance companies that advertise, "€œResponsibility is our policy, What'€™s Yours?"€ The list goes on and on.

The goal of this seminar is to explore the history of risk in all its complexity. While uncertainty and danger have always been a part of life; risk is, relatively speaking, something new. This course offers a legal history of risk. Beginning from ideas of Providence and, in the eighteenth century, the emergence of probability, we will consider the origins of "€œrisk"€ as something that was bought and sold in the first marine insurance contracts for loss at sea; the socialization of risk in industrial societies in the twentieth century; and, current trends framed in terms of individual responsibility. We will read historical articles and monographs, theoretical literature, and a broad range of legal and non-legal primary sources. This is a two-credit seminar. Grades will be based on class participation and weekly reflection papers.


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