Legal and Social Change since 1750

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Michael Lobban


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course examines developments in British legal history in the two centuries after 1750. Drawing on printed and electronic primary sources, as well as secondary literature, it explores the changing nature of law in a number of areas. The course begins with an exploration of the nature of eighteenth century criminal justice, and how this was transformed in the nineteenth century. It explores issues of political crime and the concept and practice of the ‘rule of law’. In the first term, students are also given a grounding in the system of the courts and how they were reformed.

In the second term, the course explores topics relating to status, examining the attitude taken by the law to women, children, workers and slaves. A final set of topics will turn to explore the impact of law on economic change, looking at how the law facilitated the growth of a modern economy.

The course will be taught by a combination of lectures and classes in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms. 

Lecture and ClassTopics:

Michaelmas Term

The first term is devoted to an examination of the criminal and civil justice systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Topics covered in the first term include the prosecution of crime in the era of the ‘Bloody Code’, the nature of the criminal trial before and after the arrival of criminal barristers in the courtroom, the reform of criminal punishments and the rise of the prison and modern policing. In the second half of the term, the course looks at political crime and the rule of law, and the impact of war on the law. It also considers the system of the civil courts, the nature of civil litigation and the reform of the major courts.

Lent Term

The second term is devoted to exploring the impact of law on society and the economy. Topics explored include the law relating to married women and the custody of children, the law of slavery, and the law relating to workers and trade unions. The economic topics addressed include the law relating to the environment, the transformation of tort and contract law, and the law relating to business organisation.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Students who choose to be assessed by unseen examination must submit one essay each term. Those submitting a dissertation will produce outlines and drafts that will be used for formative coursework purposes.

Indicative reading

Reading will be suggested during the course.


Assessment path 1
Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Assessment path 2
Essay (100%, 12000 words) in the ST.

Students can choose to be assessed by 100% examination or 100% dissertation.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 30

Average class size 2019/20: 12

Capped 2019/20: Yes (29)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills