Plessy v Ferguson

On 7 June 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy boarded a train of the East Louisiana Railway company, He had bought a first-class ticket, and had boarded a “whites-only” carriage. Plessy was an “octoroon”, that is of seven parts “white blood” and one part “black”. This meant that according to Louisiana Law he was black. He was descended form gens libres de couleur. He had accordingly breached an 1890 Louisiana statute requiring that blacks and whites sit in separate railway carriages, for which there had to be “separate but equal” provision. He was arrested at its station on the corner of Royal and Prest in New Orleans. The detective who arrested him had been hired to do so by the Comité des Citoyens, a campaigning body, which wished to challenge the validity of the law. The railway company also wanted to challenge the act because of its economic consequences for them.

So this was a case specially created to challenge the law segregating blacks and whites on trains. The case against the act was famously lost in Louisiana and the Supreme Court of the USA, thereby upholding legalized segregation, by 7 to 1.

Your blogger, currently in New Orleans, has been to see and photograph the historical marker where was once the station where Plessy was removed from the train.


As an “octoroon”, Plessy could “pass” as white. He had been active in social causes for some time. No image of Plessy survives; the original marker form his grave in the St Louis Cemetery no 1 in New Orleans is preserved in the Louisiana State Museum in the Cabildo in New Orleans.



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Postdoctoral researcher in Legal History – Tilburg Law School

The Department of Public Law, Jurisprudence and Legal History at Tilburg Law School is seeking a full-time postdoctoral researcher (30 months) who will be one of the main researchers in the project ‘Analyzing Coherence in Law Through Legal Scholarship’ (CLLS), funded by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant 2016). The project will start in January 2017 and will be finished in 2021.

The project will focus on analyzing legal scholarship of the early modern period (c1500 – c1800), concerning the theme of collateral rights (securities) and bankruptcy. The postdoctoral researcher will cooperate with the leader of the project, Dr. Dave De ruysscher, in establishing a methodology for tracing and assessing coherence in writings of legal authors.

Find out more and apply here

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Legal History and Empires: Perspectives from the Colonized – Barbados, 2018

This Blog is delighted to give advance notice and publish the a preliminary announcement of  the conference – “Legal History and Empires: Perspectives from the Colonized”. Jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Law and Faculty of Humanities at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados and an international group of legal historians and historians of the law, it will take place on July 11-13, 2018
at the Cave Hill, Barbados Campus, University of the West Indies.
This is a conference for anyone with an active interest in research in the areas of the legal history of empires and colonies.

Further news will also be found here when available, as well as the call for papers
If you wish to register interest or have any queries, please contact:

See also:

Barbados has a rich and complex history; it also retains many fine historical buildings, and Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison are a Unesco World Heritage Centre. The island also retains the house where George Washington lived in 1751 on his only visit outside the mainland North American Colonies.

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New Book: Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society

The Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society, edited by Paul J. du Plessis, Clifford Ando, and Kaius Tuori, surveys the landscape of contemporary research and charts principal directions of future inquiry. More than a history of doctrine or an account of jurisprudence, the Handbook brings to bear upon Roman legal study the full range of intellectual resources of contemporary legal history, from comparison to popular constitutionalism, from international private law to law and society, thereby setting itself apart from other volumes as a unique contribution to scholarship on its subject.

The Handbook brings the study of Roman law into closer alignment and dialogue with historical, sociological, and anthropological research into law in other periods. It will therefore be of value not only to ancient historians and legal historians already focused on the ancient world, but to historians of all periods interested in law and its complex and multifaceted relationship to society.


The table of contents is available here.

A launch symposium will be held on 6 December 2016 at Queen Mary School of Law. Find out more here.

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Women’s Violence Against Men in 19th-Century North America

Earlier this year, L.S.U. Press published Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America by Robin C. Sager. The blurb for what is obviously an important and interesting book states: “Sager’s findings also challenge historical literature’s assumptions about the regional influences on violence, showing that married southerners were no more or less violent than their midwestern counterparts. Her work reveals how definitions and perceptions of cruelty varied according to the gender of victim and perpetrator. Correcting historical mischaracterizations of women’s violence as trivial, rare, or defensive, Sager finds antebellum wives both capable and willing to commit a wide variety of cruelties within their marriages.”

While not attempting to minimise the horror or significance of marital violence, it reminded your blogger of a pencil drawing inside his copy of Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, the eighth edition of 1854, a copy that had spent much of its life in the USA, being sold at one stage by Dixon, a law publisher and bookseller on Walnut Street, Philadelphia. On page 104 of volume II, Kent writes: “but the English ecclesiastical law makes no such distinction, and divorces are granted, on a bill by the husband, for cruel usage by the wife”. Kent provides a footnote to a case in Haggard’s Consistorial Reports. A 19th-century reader has added another footnote by an asterisk, the footnote consisting of a pencil drawing of a woman brandishing a typically North American broom, at a cowering man. Though in modern eyes, an image that essentially mocks women or “hen-pecked” husbands in a way we find uncomfortable, it is revealing about the social attitudes of the day.


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Cicero’s Law: Rethinking the Roman Law of the Late Republic


A fundamental re-assessment of Cicero’s place in Roman law
Ed. Paul J. du Plessis
Edinburgh University Press

This volume brings together an international team of scholars to debate Cicero’s role in the narrative of Roman law in the late Republic – a role that has been minimised or overlooked in previous scholarship. This reflects current research that opens a larger and more complex debate about the nature of law and of the legal profession in the last century of the Roman Republic.


Benedikt Forschner • Catherine Steel • Christine Lehne-Gstreinthaler • Jan Willem Tellegen • Jennifer Hilder • Jill Harries • Matthijs Wibier • Michael C. Alexander • Olga Tellegen-Couperus • Philip Thomas • Saskia T. Roselaar • Yasmina Benferhat


1. Introduction, Paul J. du Plessis
Part 1. On Law
2. A Barzunesque view of Cicero: from giant to dwarf and back, Philip Thomas
3. Reading a dead man’s mind: Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric, and Roman law, Olga Tellegen-Couperus and Jan Willem Tellegen
4. Law’s nature: philosophy as a legal argument in Cicero’s writings, Benedikt Forschner
Part 2. On Lawyers
5. Cicero and the small world of Roman jurists, Yasmina Benferhat
6. “Jurists in the shadows”: the everyday business of the jurists of Cicero’s time, Christine Lehne-Gstreinthaler
7. Cicero’s reception in the juristic tradition of the early Empire, Matthijs Wibier
8. Servius, Cicero and the res publica of Justinian, Jill Harries
Part 3. On Legal Practice
9. Cicero and the Italians: expansion of Empire, creation of law, Saskia T. Roselaar
10. Jurors, jurists and advocates: law in the Rhetorica ad Herennium and De Inventione, Jennifer Hilder
11. Multiple charges, unitary punishment, and rhetorical strategy in the quaestiones of the late Roman Republic, Michael C. Alexander
12. Early-career prosecutors: forensic activity and senatorial careers in the late Republic, Catherine Steel
Postscript, Paul J. du Plessis

Available from Edinburgh University Press

  • Hardback: 9781474408820
  • eBook (PDF): 9781474408837
  • eBook (ePub): 9781474408844
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Our students win prizes!

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Following the good news of Dr. Karen Baston’s nomination for a book prize, this blogger is delighted to congratulate Mr Kenneth Young and Mr Glauco Longoni. Mr Young won the Muirhead prize for the best overall performance in Civil law ordinary, while Mr Longoni won the forensic essay prize. Unfortunately, Mr Young could not attend the ceremony, so here follows two pictures of Mr Longoni accepting his prize.

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Karen Baston, Charles Areskine’s Library – nominated for prize

Readers of this Blog will be delighted to hear that Brill have nominated Karen Baston, Charles Areskine’s Library: Lawyers and Their Books at the Dawn of the Scottish Enlightenment for the De Long Book History Prize (see

This important monograph is based on the author’s excellent Edinburgh PhD thesis in legal history, which was funded under the AHRC’s collaborative doctoral research scheme, which involved cooperation between the University and the National Library for Scotland.


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Slavery: MOOC

Readers of this Blog will know of its interest in the history of slavery and its modern consequences. It may be of interest to readers to note that professor Kevin Bales, author of, for example, Disposable People, will, with others be offering what promises to be an interesting and informative MOOC, entitled, Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition. See

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Codex of Justinian

Today marks the publication of the eagerly awaited new translation into English of the Codex of Justinian by Bruce Frier et al. This new edition, the first since the rather flawed translation into English by Scott, consists of the Latin and Greek texts with the English facing. It is loosely based on the translation by Fred Blume. Although the price is horrific, it will no doubt be a welcome addition to many libraries:

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