Christopher Tomlins

  • Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt Professor of Law
  • Tel: 510-642-9049 | Fax: 510-642-2951
  • 302 JSP, 2240 Piedmont Ave., Berkeley, CA 94720 MC:2150
  • Faculty Support Contact: Erika Espinoza

Christopher Tomlins joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2014. Trained as a historian at The Johns Hopkins University, his teaching career began in 1980 at La Trobe University, Melbourne, where he was successively Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and University Reader in Legal Studies. In 1992 Tomlins joined the research faculty of the American Bar Foundation, Chicago, where he remained until 2009, when he became Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine. Tomlins’ primary affiliation at Berkeley Law is to the Jurisprudence and Social Policy (Ph.D.) program, in which he teaches courses on the history and law of slavery, and on legal history. He also teaches in the undergraduate Legal Studies Program.

Tomlins has recently completed a book on the Nat Turner Slave Rebellion, which occurred in 1831 in Virginia. Published by Princeton University Press (March 2020), the book is entitled In the Matter of Nat Turner: A Speculative History. For his next book Tomlins is planning research on the history of organized labor and labor law at the turn of the twentieth century. He is also at work on the history of contemporary legal thought, particularly on the idea of “materialist jurisprudence,” and on a bibliographic project in comparative legal history.

His books include In the Matter of Nat Turner: A Speculative History (2020); Freedom Bound: Law, Labor and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 (2010); Law, Labor and Ideology in the Early American Republic (1993); and The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880-1960 (1985). He is editor, with Markus D. Dubber, of The Oxford Handbook of Legal History (2018); with Justin Desautels-Stein, of Searching for Contemporary Legal Thought (2017); with Michael Grossberg, of The Cambridge History of Law in America, 3 volumes (2008); with Bruce H. Mann, of The Many Legalities of Early America (2000); with Andrew J. King, of Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays (1992); and with Ian W. Duncanson, of Law and History in Australia (1983). He is sole editor of The Supreme Court of the United States: The Pursuit of Justice (2005). Other publications include some 200 chapters, articles, editorial essays, reviews, and working papers. Tomlins has been the editor of the Law and History Review (1995-2004), and Law and Social Inquiry (2005-09). Currently he is academic editor of two Cambridge University Press book series: Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society, and (with Michael Grossberg) New Histories of American Law.

Tomlins’ scholarly work has been awarded the Surrency prize of the American Society for Legal History, the Littleton-Griswold prize of the American Historical Association, the John Phillip Reid prize of the American Society for Legal History, the James Willard Hurst prize of the Law and Society Association (twice), and the Bancroft Prize of the Trustees of Columbia University. He has been the recipient of fellowships and distinguished visitorships from The Johns Hopkins University; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the Harry S. Truman Library Institute; The Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History, Harvard University; the Commonwealth Center for the Study of American Culture, and the Institute of Bill of Rights Law, both at the College of William & Mary in Virginia; the University of Sydney; the University of Technology Sydney; Tel Aviv University; The Institute for Advanced Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; the University of Haifa; and the University of London (Queen Mary).

Tomlins hosted the Minor Jurisprudence in Historical Key conference in December 2016.

For more information about Tomlins’ research, please click here.


B.A., Oxford University (1973)
M.A., University of Sussex (1974)
M.A., Oxford University (1977)
M.A., Johns Hopkins University (1977)
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University (1981)