Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia

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Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia

Preface to Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia

“The content and spirit of Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia, second edition,
reflect the blend of popular interest and specialized attention recently paid to American
law. The volume is designed to serve both the student and layperson interested in
learning about important American court cases as well as the legal specialist looking for a
convenient repository of case information, analyses, or references.

The original edition of Historic U.S. Court Cases, published in 1992, was compiled
between 1987 and 1991, a period bounded by the bicentennial celebrations of the U.S.
Constitution and the Bill of Rights. During these years a media spotlight was focused on
America’s founding legal document and the first ten amendments. This provided a
welcome civics lesson to the nation and offered encouragement and visibility to those of
us who teach and write about American law. The revised edition of this volume was
assembled in the late 1990s, at a time when much of the nation’s attention was fixated on
less lofty legal events than in the 1987-91 years. The scandals of the Clinton
administration and the ensuing impeachment crisis, depressing as they were, also focused
attention on the rule of law.

This volume, like the 1992 edition, is not an “encyclopedia” in the most common
sense of the word. Generally, when we think of an encyclopedia, we think of a
comprehensive, exhaustive, or complete compendium of information on a subject. No
single volume, no matter how large, could present a comprehensive, exhaustive, or
complete treatment of the thousands of U.S. court cases that experts might call “historic.”
However, there is another level for understanding the term “encyclopedia.” Dictionaries
and thesauruses note that an encyclopedia may also be a volume that offers an extensive,
thorough, or sweeping treatment of a subject. Readers familiar with the old International
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (IESS), published in 1968, and the even older
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (ESS), published in 1930, will understand this
meaning of “encyclopedia.” The essay/entries in the IESS and the ESS offer extensive
treatments of important social scientific concepts, written by experts. Obviously not all
social science concepts could be defined even in a multivolume set, so the editors of the
two projects selected some of the most important concepts in the social sciences and
commissioned the entries. The results are two sets of volumes that, although now dated,
are remarkably readable and provocative. They remain classic reference tools in
academic and public libraries.”

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