As of 1 August 2016, the Centre has a new Director. Dr Paul du Plessis, Senior Lecturer in Civil Law and Legal History at Edinburgh Law School, has taken over from Professor John W. Cairns who served as Director of the Centre for many years.
The Centre for Legal History provides a lively social and scholarly focus for the active research community – faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, and postgraduate students – in legal history, including Civil (Roman) law, in the School of Law. The University has a long tradition in the field, as the Chair of Civil Law was founded in 1710, with Civil Law taught continuously in the University since then. The Centre has a reputation for success in postgraduate study. Major interests pursued are Roman law, the learned laws in the Middle Ages, the history of law in Europe, the history of Scots law, and legal history in Louisiana. The interests of the Centre avoid a narrow focus on law as rules, and research is typically comparative and interdisciplinary, drawing on a wide range of sources. The location of the Centre in one of the world’s leading research universities, with access to excellent resources and research collections not only in the University but also in the city of Edinburgh, make it an ideal location for legal historical research.
The Centre organises a number of seminars and lecture programmes. The Edinburgh Roman Law Group, founded by the late Professor Peter B. H. Birks when he held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, presents a regular and lively programme of speakers on Roman law. The Alan Watson Seminar for Legal History, also initiated by Professor Birks, holds interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and early modern law in historical context. A more recent initiative is the programme of Ancient Law in Context organised with Ancient History (in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology). This offers an interdisciplinary research network exploring law and economic and social development, bringing together specialists in ancient law and all aspects of ancient history – social, economic, and political. The Henry Goudy Seminar meets once a month during term time to discuss works of classical literature. Finally, the Centre holds the biennial (sometimes annual) Peter Chiene Lecture, bringing in a distinguished legal historian to speak. From time to time, the Centre also sponsors and organises specialist conferences and seminars, such as those on the medieval ius commune (from casus to regula) and humanism (ad fontes).
The Centre also holds relaxed social events through the year.
The Centre seeks to engage with the wider community, and does this largely through its blog, the Edinburgh Legal History Blog, which is written by John W. Cairns, Paul J. du Plessis, Guido Rossi, Karen Baston, and guests including current legal history students at Edinburgh Law School.