Legal Modernism

American legal history through computational methods

Kellen Funk, Columbia Law School <> ORCID logo

Lincoln Mullen, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media <> ORCID logo

Law and legal practice modernized in the nineteenth-century United States. We are studying and visualizing the history of the modernization of American law.

Oral pleadings and oracular judges gave way to published decisions and codified statutes. Local customs and agrarian rhythms were exchanged for nationally uniform creditor remedies in sync with fast-paced merchant finance. Jurists systematized law into hardened categories of public and private, learned and lay, independent white men and dependent, women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities.

The textual record of legal modernization is vast. Hundreds of volumes of regulations were formulated, copied, and re-formulated by legislatures. Millions of case reports became the authoritative building blocks for the thousands of treatises from which modern American law was constructed. Our projects analyzing legal modernism’s textual history are gathered here.

To date, we have traced the diffusion of New York procedure codes and creditor remedies across the United States during Reconstruction. We are in process of merging corpora from Harvard Law School’s Caselaw Access Project and Gale’s Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises datasets, for which we have developed preliminary analysis and visualizations.

Publications, visualizations, & talks

Kellen Funk, “Making American Law Modern: Digital Computation and the Search for U.S. Legal Modernity,” plenary talk at Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History, Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1 March 2021.

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Kellen Funk and Lincoln Mullen, “The Spine of American Law: Digital Text Analysis and U.S. Legal Practice,” American Historical Review 123, no. 1 (2018): 132–164,

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Kellen Funk and Lincoln Mullen, “A Servile Copy: Text Reuse and Medium Data in American Civil Procedure,” in Forum: Die geisteswissenschaftliche Perspektive: Welche Forschungsergebnisse lassen Digital Humanities erwarten? [Forum: With the Eyes of a Humanities Scholar: What Results Can We Expect from Digital Humanities?], 24 Rechtsgeschichte [Legal History] (2016): 341–43,

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Kellen Funk and Lincoln Mullen, “The Migration of the Field Code” (working paper), 7 February 2016,

Source code and datasets

We are commited to publishing our source code and any datasets that we generate as open access, open source resources.

The source code for our ongoing work is published in a GitHub repository.

Our article on “The Spine of American Law” featured a research compendium with the datasets that supported the article. The entire compendium can be download at the American Historical Review.

That article featured clusters of sections from the state codes of civil procedure derived from Field Code. We believe those clusters would be useful to researchers seeking to understand the development of procedural law. Those procedure code clusters can be downloaded from this website. They have been assigned the following DOI:

Project news

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Kellen Funk, lead researcher, Columbia Law School

Sean Kwon, research assistant, Columbia Law School

Lincoln Mullen, lead researcher, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Jay Zern Ng, research assistant, The Data Science Institute at Columbia University

Conor Regan, research assistant, Columbia Law School

Samier Saeed, research assistant, Columbia Law School

Suggested citation

If you would like to cite this project, we recommend the following citatation.

Kellen Funk and Lincoln Mullen, Legal Modernism, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (2022–):