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In 1962, the corporation law scholar Bayless Manning famously wrote that “[C]orporation law, as a field of intellectual effort, is dead in the United States.” Looking back, most scholars have agreed with Manning, concluding that corporation law from the 1940s to the 1970s was stagnant, only rescued from its doldrums by the triumph of the theory of the firm and modern finance in the 1980s. This paper takes a new look at American corporate law during this time, asking why scholars believed corporation law was “dead” at the same time that the American corporation had seized the commanding heights of the world economy, and the imagination of social and political theorists. It aims to answer two questions: Why was corporation law perceived as moribund in a period when the American corporation’s image and power was at its zenith? And, What does this tell us about the historical relationship between corporation law and the operation of America’s corporate economy? In answering these questions, the paper may even point us towards a still larger question: what is the relationship between a legal-academic discipline, and the thing it studies?


2011 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop selection.