From Tavern to Courthouse
Architecture and Ritual in American Law, 1658-1860
During the formative years of the American republic, lawyers and architects, both eager to secure public affirmation of their professional status, worked together to create specialized, purpose-built courthouses to replace the informal judicial settings in which trials took place during the colonial era. In From Tavern to Courthouse, Martha J. McNamara addresses this fundamental redefinition of civic space in Massachusetts. Professional collaboration, she argues, benefitted both lawyers and architects, as it reinforced their desire to be perceived as trained specialists solely concerned with promoting the public good. These courthouses, now reserved exclusively for legal proceedings and occupying specialized locations in the town plans represented a new vision for the design, organization, and function of civic space.
McNamara shows how courthouse spaces were refined to reflect the increasingly professionalized judicial system and particularly to accommodate the rapidly growing participation of lawyers in legal proceedings. In following this evolution of judicial space from taverns and town houses to monumental courthouse complexes, she discusses the construction of Boston's first civic building, the 1658 Town House, and its significance for colonial law and commerce; the rise of professionally trained lawyers through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and changes in judicial rituals at the turn of the century and development of specialized judicial landscapes. A case study of three courthouses built in Essex County between 1785 and 1805, delineates these changes as they unfold in one county over a thirty year period.
Concise and clearly written, From Tavern to Courthouse reveals the processes by which architects and lawyers crafted new judicial spaces to provide a specialized, exclusive venue in which lawyers could articulate their professional status.
About the Author
Martha J. McNamara is an associate professor of history at the University of Maine.
In this compact but generously illustrated study, Martha J. McNamara puts the study of public space in early America on an entirely new plane. Charting the architectural transition from town houses to courthouses, she argues that attorneys needed architects as surely as architects saw a new market for their skills in innovative courthouse designs. Never before has the dynamic dependence of a new occupational class and its material culture been opened to view. This book offers an argument of power and subtlety, and it will be widely read.
From Tavern to Courthouse brings American studies scholarship to bear on the ways in which lawyers gained hegemony over legal matters as they professionalized their services, in part, through the construction of purpose-built courthouses, prisons, and related commerce-free townscapes. Martha McNamara draws together a number of surprising cultural strands—everything from the relationship of legal landscapes to matchmaking and the role of coffeehouses to the parallel track of professionalization among architects and the effects of fugitive slaves on courthouse life—to support her richly-textured reading of this transformation.
McNamara embeds an architectural history of the transformation of civic space in an argument that stresses the causal imperatives of professionalization... From Tavern to Courthouse is to be recommended.
McNamara's thesis... is convincing.
An excellent work that expands our understanding of public space and professionalization in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Massachusetts.
McNamara's explication of legal and architectural change, adroitly employing the history of professionalization, rituals, landscapes, and the law, deserves a wide readership.
Will remain as a highly valuable resource for those studying early American law.
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