Trends in Law

Here I was, looking for any way to procrastinate and not grade more exams.  Problem solved.  You can now search 10% of the books ever published through google, looking at trends over time. Here, for example, is an argument for, and against, Grant Gilmore’s the Death of Contract.

“Promissory estoppel” over time:

But now, let’s mix in “contract”.

Yup, promissory estoppel hasn’t been talked about even one hundredth as often as contracts are. You can see a similar dominance in the cultural life of tort law:

I’ve got to say, this is an incredibly cool toy. Some more flashes in the pan follow, after the jump.

The decline of real property, in one figure:

Where civil libertarian energies are directed:

This one looks bad for a certain kind of state-centered view of international law:

And, finally, here’s my old property professor’s view of the world, in one pretty picture:

I’m guessing that there are going to be tons of articles written in the near future, using tools like this to study how people thought about legal concepts over time.  Why don’t we use the comment thread to preempt all those articles with some placeholder ideas?

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3 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    The Google feature really cannot be used for most of the points you are trying to make, because it searches a wide range of books, not just law books. Words like “contract” are much more likely to appear in civilian discourse, while “promissory estoppel” is relegated to the arcane ramblings of lawyers. There simply cannot be any comparison. The same is true of “rights” versus “duties,” or “treaty” versus “human rights,” both of which have popular meanings that are dramatically different from the specific meanings you reference in this post. The “First Amendment” is popular, but it’s also probably the only amendment 90% of Americans can name without looking it up. A similar point is true for “negligence.” To do this kind of comparison, you would have to find a way to control a countless number of variables, including filtering out layperson writings. Perhaps running an analysis on just law review articles, or briefs filed in the United States Courts of Appeal.

  2. Neal Goldfarb says:

    Another, more fundamental, problem is that the frequencies for single words like “contract” and “property” include uses of the words in all their various senses. So for example, the chart for “contract” includes uses like “contract a fever” and “contract in size,” as well as misspellings of “contact.”

  3. Unsurprisingly, Due Process peaks in the late 1970s. Somewhat more surprisingly, the trend is pretty much straight down ever since.

    I wonder, though, given that more books are published every year if part of the effect is that the number of non-law books is just growing more quickly than law-related books?