Not available in 2022/23
Legal and Social Change since 1750

This information is for the 2022/23 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 seminars in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms. 

Lecture and Seminar Topics:

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 will have a minimum of two hours of teaching content each week in Michaelmas Term and Lent Term, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

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.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2021/22: 28

Average class size 2021/22: 11

Capped 2021/22: Yes (30)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills