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Abstract

Since long before the settling of the American colonies, property boundaries were described by the “metes and bounds” method, a system of demarcation dependent on localized knowledge of movable stones, impermanent trees, and transient neighbors. Metes and bounds systems have long been the subject of ridicule among scholars, and a recent wave of law-and-economics scholarship has argued that land boundaries must be easily standardized to facilitate market transactions and yield economic development. However, historians have not yet explored the social and legal context surrounding earlier metes and bounds systems—obscuring the important role that nonstandardized property can play in stimulating growth.

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