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Kent at Law: 1602, vol. 1, The County Jurisdiction: Assizes and Sessions of the Peace.

The 1970s and 1980s saw an efflorescence of social histories of crime and law enforcement in early modern England. Among the most important things this work revealed was that, in some sense, all early modem law was local law, open to the vicissitudes and pressures of local knowledge. This realization, in turn, has suggested that alongside of studies of particular crimes or courts or procedures, we need something different -- studies framed specifically to reveal the dynamics of local legal interaction.

Louis Knafla's projected seven-volume study, Kent al Law 1602, is such a study. When completed, this ambitious project will offer a full calendar of all known legal actions in Kent in 1602. With a level of detail never previously attempted, this invaluable resource will provide raw material for productive explorations of the law's social power, not only in early modem Kent specifically, but also in early modem life more generally. Through studies such as Kent al Law 1602, we will learn much about the ways in which people managed their legal options, understood legal procedures, and accepted, shaped or resisted the powers of the law.

Volume I of Kent at Law 1602 concentrates on the records related to the county-wide jurisdictions of the assizes and the sessions of the peace, more than sixteen hundred entries produced in nearly six hundred cases that involved close to thirty-five hundred people. The calendar is organized by type of record and incorporates earlier and later materials relevant to any case in process in 1602. The volume is lush -- glossy paper, large print, facsimiles, transcriptions, tables, and an elaborate index. Knafla's introduction is a solid explanation of the structures of the broader project, the surviving materials, and the jurisdictions. The material presented confirms both the editor's vision and his energy -- the stories are moving, the detail lavish, the coverage comprehensive.

But because this is an ongoing project of such enormous value, it is particularly important that t be as usable and reliable as possible. Not a finicky reader, I found that the volume made me finicky. Larger margins, better-placed footnotes, clearer facsimiles, and a more regularly-indented index would improve the ease of using future volumes.

The myriad small errors in the introduction are also frustrating; closer proofreading (especially in tables and their analyses) would encourage the confidence that this enterprise deserves. And a format that included extensive cross-referencing and that introduced types of records when they were calendared rather than altogether would help students use later volumes with increased efficiency.

This is an important first step in a valuable endeavor; imperfections in a project of this magnitude are perhaps inevitable. Louis Knafla is one of our most productive and ambitious legal scholars. The very scale of his commitment would have daunted many lesser men and women. He and the Public Record Office are to be commended on their vision and encouraged to refine it in the process of its full realization. This project is of immense benefit to anyone interested in the life of the law in early modem England.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Herrup, Cynthia
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1996
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