Friday, April 10, 2009
This semester I taught a seminar on the history of the physical development of Lexington, Kentucky, the town where my law school is nestled. I stole the idea whole cloth from Bob Ellickson, who has offered a similar course at Yale for the last fifteen years. In the class, titled Urban Legal History, we began by examining the founding of Lexington in 1779. Then, we traced the city’s growth from a wilderness trading post to the world capital of bourbon and horses, paying particular attention to local politics and municipal regulations (zoning, building codes, etc). After wading through the rough drafts of 17 seminar papers, I would say that every PropertyProf looking for a new course should think about crafting a syllabus from the history of their local municipality. Personally, I’ve learned a ton about the greater Lexington area (balancing the demands of growth versus the desire to preserve the area’s rural heritage creates all kind of thorny land use problems). The students, for their part, have responded well to the opportunity to dig through our local libraries and government records for original source material. I also think the course provides a nice counter balance to the heavy dose of federal law they receive in the rest of their time here. And, from a teaching standpoint, it can’t be overlooked that the seminar papers have been (more or less) a joy to read - I've had projects covering everything from postcard to ferries. For anyone that might be interested, I found a copy of Ellickson's inventive syllabus online.
pic: The original subdivision of land in Lexington, KY