Black Tudors

In 2007, the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade within the British Empire led both to self-congratulation and blame. But it had the effect of stimulating considerable research into the British relationship to slavery. One event that year was the launch of the Oxford Companion to Black British History at a relatively lavish party at the House of Lords, hosted on behalf of OUP by Baroness Scotland, barrister and politician. Your blogger had contributed to the Companion and attended what was a rather splendid party and drank a great deal of champagne. The party was replete with the great and the good in the field, as well as many lesser mortals such as your blogger. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event, and a worthy launch of an important collection.

At that party, your blogger had the pleasure of meeting Miranda Kaufmann, another contributor, then working on her doctorate at Oxford. Miranda was clever, enthusiastic, and charming, and your blogger thoroughly enjoyed meeting her, and has met her again from time to time when she has visited Edinburgh for research or to give a paper. She has now published a book based on her D.Phil. and on further research., entitled Black Tudors: The Untold Story (London: Oneworld, 2017). In this book, many myths about black people in England in the Tudor period are refuted. The author shows explores the lives of a number of black Tudors of both sexes who were sailors, weavers, and those living quiet ordinary lives; but these were not men and women as victims, but individuals living out their lives, marrying, raising families, making wills, testifying in courts of law, and, in one instance, whipping, with impunity, a white Englishman in the hall of a manor house.

The book is accessible (ignore the fact it originated in a doctoral thesis), informative, and with significant implications. It is to be recommended. See


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AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD studentship: Private reflections and public pronouncements: Caribbean slavery in the Scottish consciousness, 1750-1834

That the Blog is interested in slavery is well known. The following advertisement should be of great interest.

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD studentship: Private reflections and public pronouncements: Caribbean slavery in the Scottish consciousness, 1750-1834

Application deadline: Tuesday 8 May 2018

The University of Aberdeen, in partnership with the National Library of Scotland, is seeking to appoint a suitably qualified applicant for a full-time collaborative PhD studentship to undertake a study of the slave trade and slavery collections in the National Library of Scotland. The studentship will commence on 1 October 2018 and will last for three years. Additional Student Development Funding (equivalent to an additional 6 months funding) will also be available to allow time for further training and skills development opportunities that are agreed as part of the PhD programme.

This is an exciting opportunity to pursue an original doctoral research project within the School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture, University of Aberdeen, whilst working closely with National Library of Scotland expertise and collections. In addition to producing an original PhD dissertation based on the National Library of Scotland collections, the project will include a six-month placement at the National Library of Scotland involving training in archival description and cataloguing of hidden collections, web content skills, and selection of sources for the Library website. There will also be opportunities to deliver public talks at the Library on research findings.

The studentship

In Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past (2015) Professor Sir Tom Devine highlighted the collective amnesia in Scotland with regard to Scottish engagement in the slave trade and the extent to which Scots benefitted from participation in it. This studentship will directly address that amnesia by charting contemporary Scottish attitudes to slavery. The doctoral research project will examine the extent to which Scotland attempted to distance itself from its participation and engagement with Caribbean slavery through the period of enlightenment up to the abolition of slavery in 1834. Research will focus on the National Library of Scotland’s extensive archival holdings and printed collections relating to the slave trade, and its peerless collection of Scottish newspapers.

The project will explore three key areas:

• Distancing strategies in Scottish literature: Much of Scottish literary output (1750-1834) acknowledges the wealth and the opportunities for Scots created by slavery but fails to engage with the practical realities of it. This is a feature in the work of Smollett, Mackenzie, Galt, and Scott. The student will investigate the papers of Scottish authors held at the Library to evaluate the ways in which slavery is obfuscated and evaded in Scottish literary discourse.
• Private responses to slavery: The Library possesses large collections of estate and family papers, for example: Melville, Chisholme, and the Liston papers, that detail the operational considerations of maintaining plantations. The collections also contain many journals and literary works of those who travelled to the Caribbean that address the institution of slavery. Many of these sources, which often reveal intricate and conflicting familial responses to slavery, remain under-researched and unpublished. The student will investigate these sources to provide analysis on how the families involved in profiting from slavery in Scotland viewed slavery and the extent to which they justified their engagement with it.
• Public responses to slavery: The Library has the most comprehensive collection of Scottish newspapers in the world, in addition to the printed works of Scots who wrote about their experiences in the Caribbean. Periodicals such as Blackwood’s Magazine included articles on slavery, and this is augmented by the Blackwood Papers giving additional context. The student will review these sources, searching for literary works on slavery such as poems and short stories, in addition to articles on the Caribbean to assess public attitudes to slavery as they were transmitted via print culture.

The successful candidate will have the opportunity to adapt the topic in consultation with their supervisory team as the research develops.


The student will be supervised by Dr Catherine Jones and Professor Patience Schell at the University of Aberdeen, and by Dr Ralph McLean and Mr Robert Betteridge at the National Library of Scotland. The successful candidate will join an established and supportive research community in the School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture, University of Aberdeen, where they will receive training in such areas as research methodology, bibliographical searches and academic writing. The student will additionally benefit from working in partnership with staff at the National Library of Scotland. The student will be encouraged to attend and contribute to national and international conferences as appropriate during the course of their study.


Applicants must:

• Have a first or upper second class honours degree or equivalent in English, History, or a related subject.

• Be a resident of the UK or the European Economic Area (EEA).

There are residence requirements for research council funding for postgraduate research. These are based on the Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 and subsequent amendments. Normally to be eligible for a full award a student must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship (with some further constraint regarding residence for education).

To be eligible for a fees only award:
Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU; in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK.

The UK Government confirmed on 21 April 2017 that Research Council studentships (including AHRC studentships awarded through the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities) remain open to EU students starting courses in academic year 2018 to 2019, and that the funding support will cover the duration of their course, even if the UK leaves the EU.

Funding details

This award is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC] through the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium. Subject to AHRC eligibility criteria, the studentship will cover Home/EU tuition fees. For those settled in the UK, it also covers a stipend towards living expenses. The value for the stipend in 2018/19 is £14,777 per annum plus a £550 additional stipend payment. In addition, the National Library of Scotland will provide up to £1000 per year to contribute towards travel and related research costs.

How to apply

Applications must be made through SRAS (Student Recruitment & Support) via the University of Aberdeen’s Postgraduate Applicant Portal:
Applicants should ensure they include all documentation required e.g. two academic references, degree certificate(s), degree transcript(s) and English language test results. The University cannot guarantee that incomplete applications will be considered. Applicants should note in their personal statement that they wish to be considered for the CDP Private reflections and public pronouncements: Caribbean slavery in the Scottish consciousness, 1750-1834.

Closing date for applications: Tuesday 8 May 2018

Interviews are provisionally scheduled for June 2018. Interviews will take place in Edinburgh, though there is provision for them to be undertaken by Skype. Only short-listed candidates will be invited to interview.

Start date: 1 October 2018

Further information

Informal enquires about the project’s scope can be made by contacting Dr Catherine Jones or Dr Ralph McLean

For information on the School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture visit:

For information on the National Library of Scotland visit:

Posted in Legal History, Slavery | Leave a comment

Winter School – Padua

Our friends in Padua have asked me to advertise their forthcoming Winter School on Roman law. Details here: LOCANDINA 2

Posted in Legal History, Roman Law | Leave a comment

Scots Lawyers, Roman law and the University of Leuven: TENURE TRACK OPENING: KULeuven, Legal History (Roman Law) DEADLINE 4 MARCH 2018

There have been strong historic links between Scots lawyers and the University of Leuven. Perhaps best known of those who studied law there is William Elphinstone, who became Bishop’s Official in Glasgow, and was the father of Bishop Elphinstone, the Canon Lawyer and royal judge who founded the University of Aberdeen. The Bishop’s father’s lecture notes in civil law from Leuven survive in Aberdeen University’s library. Another notable Scot who studied at Leuven was Clement Little, an Edinburgh advocate, who became one of the first Commissaries of the post-Reformation Commissary Court in Edinburgh, and whose library was the first major and founding donation to the Library of Edinburgh University. Patrick Panter, Secretary to James IV, and Abbot of Cambuskenneth, was another Scot who studied at Leuven, some of whose surviving law books have been mentioned in this blog: ;

It is therefore interesting to see the advertisement of a tenure-track post in Roman law at this fine old university, showing the continuing commitment to the foundational discipline of legal studies:


(ref. ZAP-2017-152)

Last modification : Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Faculty of Law and the Research Unit for Roman Law and Legal History invite applications for a fulltime position as a member of the Senior Academic Staff in the field of legal history. The assignment consists of teaching in an academic context, scientific research and additional duties of an academic nature, along with those to the wider society.

The assignment is comprised of research into legal history, with an emphasis on the history of European public law. The candidate has a proven interest in the reception history of Roman law and the history of the legal doctrine, in constitutional law and community development, in the history of criminal law, of procedural law, international law or human rights. Preference will be given to an adept of historical comparative law, who has a vision on the Europeanisation of legal science and for whom legal history is an integral part of legal thinking. The candidate will be expected to conduct research at an international level in an independent manner. Part of his/her assignment will be to develop – in cooperation with other members of the research unit – an international and competitive research programme, and to strive for excellent scientific results.The supervision of PhDs will also be part of his/her range of duties. The candidate is expected to add a proposal for a medium-term research programme to his/her application file.


It is expected of the candidate that his/her teaching meet the requirements concerning the standard, orientation and academic character demanded of academic programmes of study. The commitment of the candidate to the quality of the academic programmes as a whole, is considered self-evident. Teaching assignments will include the education of large numbers of students. The candidate may be required to teach at the campuses of Leuven, Kortrijk, Brussels and Hasselt. Furthermore, he/she will organize seminars for smaller groups, will provide the individual supervision of master’s theses and will allot ample time to the education of PhD students.


It is expected of the candidate that he/she be willing to contribute to the services the university provides to the community, and that he/she should also be willing, in the long term, to accept policy functions at the faculty. The candidate will also be at the disposal of the government, the society and the press for the provision of scientific services and information.


The candidate must hold a doctoral degree and at least one degree that was awarded by a faculty of law. The candidate must clearly possess growth potential. His/her list of publications must also show a commitment to international research in the field of legal history. A thorough perspective on and the capacity to acquire external funding is a plus. Preferably, he/she should have experience with teaching in an academic context and possess demonstrable didactic skills. Moreover, he/she must have mastered the techniques necessary to test the knowledge and skills of large groups. Experience with research-based education is an asset.

The official administrative and teaching-language used at KU Leuven is Dutch. If you do not speak Dutch (or do not speak it well) at the start of employment, KU Leuven will provide language training to enable you to take part in meetings. Before teaching courses in Dutch or English, you will be given the opportunity to learn Dutch respectively English to the required standard.

The candidate has to be prepared to acquaint himself/herself with new legal topics if necessary. The candidate also needs to have the social and executive skills that are necessary to work amicably and flexibly in the teams within the faculty, the research unit and the research group.


We can offer you a dynamic and international research environment. The Research Unit for Roman Law and Legal History is part of the Faculty of Law. The Faculty has a large national and international network, which is comprised of both academics and legal professionals, at its disposal.

The appointment is a tenured track with an evaluation after five years.

KU Leuven pursues a policy of equal opportunity and diversity.

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Bernard Tilleman, Dean of the Faculty of Law, or Prof. dr. Laurent Waelkens, Chairman of the Division for Roman Law and Legal History, For problems with online applying, please contact
You can apply for this job no later than March 04, 2018 via the online application tool
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
Posted in Legal History, Roman Law | Leave a comment

XXIVth ANNUAL FORUM OF YOUNG LEGAL HISTORIANS – Norms and Legal Practice: There and Back Again 14 – 17 June 2018 Warsaw, Poland

Our friends in Warsaw have requested that we circulate the following information about their forthcoming conference.



Posted in Calls for Papers, Legal History, News and Events | Leave a comment

PhD Studentship in Mediaeval History and Law: University of St Andrews

Currently at the University of St Andrews is a very important research programme under the director of Professor John Hudson entitled ‘Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law: Consonance, Divergence and Transformation in Western Europe from the late eleventh to the thirteenth centuries’.

This Project now invites applications to start a PhD at the University of St Andrews in September 2018, examining the development of land law within a chosen region of western Europe in the period 1050-1250. Preference may be given to candidates working on France, Catalonia, or Italy, but applications to work on other areas will be considered too.

For further information on the project, see

Applicants should have completed a taught-postgraduate degree (or equivalent) by September 2018. The studentship covers stipend and fees for UK and EU resident students. Non-EU students can also be considered for further University scholarships for international fees.

Applicants should apply for a PhD place via the University of St Andrews standard application process: In addition, they should submit a research outline of a maximum of 500 words directly to to Professor John Hudson by email to

The deadline for applications is 15 January 2018.

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Reflections on Barry Nicholas’ Introduction to Roman Law by Wolfgang Ernst

On 2 November, 2017, Brasenose College, University of Oxford, organised a Memorial Conference on Barry Nicholas, as part of a series “Great Brasenose Lawyers”. Barry Nicholas spent his entire career at Brasenose. The event was more, as it advertised itself, a retrospective view and a discussion. Professor Wolfgang Ernst of Oxford addressed the issue of Barry Nicholas as a Romanist, Professor Birke Häcker spoke of hm as a comparative lawyer, Mr Jeffrey Hackney discussed him as a tutor in Roman Law, and Professor Emeritus Francis Reynolds explored his work on international sales. For details, see

This blog is delighted to publish a revised version of Professor Ernst’s talk.

Cognitive Closure in Roman Law:

Reflections on Barry Nicholas’ An Introduction to Roman Law

by Wolfgang Ernst (Oxford)

These are remarks about Barry Nicholas as a Roman Law scholar. A talk about Barry Nicholas as a Romanist, in 2017, must focus on his ‘An Introduction to Roman Law’. For good order, however, one may note that in 1972 Nicholas took over Jolowicz’ ‘Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law’, which thus became Jolowicz and Nicholas, and that he published eight scholarly Roman law papers in a range of internationally recognized journals, between 1958 and 1983. They were state of the art contributions.

Published in 1962, An Introduction to Roman Law, was one of the very first books of the Clarendon Law Series. Tony Honoré and Joseph Raz were the general editors. Some of the other books published in that series were Hart’s The Concept of Law, Atiyah’s An Introduction to the Law of Contract, Peter Cane’s Administrative Law, and Rupert Cross’ Precedent in English Law.

Barry Nicholas’ book is a success story and a classic. Peter Birks, in his 2002 obituary for the British Academy, gave the number of 50,000 copies sold, not counting the foreign language editions. The book has been translated into Spanish and, in 2000, into Chinese. There is now also a translation into Macedonian. Peter Birks remembered that the Press had approached Barry Nicholas to work on a new edition of ‘the book, which many regard as his masterpiece’: ‘If truth be told, it needs no second edition. It is perfect as it stands It does its job as well today as it did forty years ago.’ When Ernest Metzger saw that the book got a fresh reprint in 2008, he left the text unchanged, and just added a glossary, a new bibliography and a foreword. This, indeed, is the way to treat a classic.

What is the secret of the book’s success? Let me start with a few words about the difficulty of textbook-writing, especially in the historical sciences. What we know about the past, or legal systems of the past, is the result of careful and methodological exploration of a limited set of sources. Each and every statement in a history textbook has a mostly hidden background of sources and their – sometimes controversial – interpretation. There are different degrees in our confidence that something written for the student will indeed have been the case. If we were to flag out in an introductory book all the shades of probability, our remaining doubts and the inability to rule out, once and for all, that a different narrative might be closer to the past – the end-product would be readable for the mature specialist only.

It is inevitable, therefore, that an introductory textbook is twice removed from the realities of the past: It sums up today’s state of research, ironing out some of the unevenness of our scholarly controversies, and the state of research thus reported in turn is but an imperfect, fragmented, and necessarily unsystematic set of insights, in our case regarding the law of the Romans, as it evolved over a millennium. Compared to the ragged state of historical research, an introductory textbook will almost inevitably give a too polished view of the field.

A textbook for a historical subject, the approximation of an approximation, should of course also hold up when critically scrutinized by the expert in the field. It is a balancing act. Balancing acts often end in a state of indecision, an unsteady wobbling between conflicting ideals. You get neither fish nor fowl. The greatness of Nicholas’ book, in my view, lies in the decision, vigorously carried out, to uncompromisingly prioritize the didactic purpose. Based on expert knowledge of Roman law, Nicholas introduces, without tripping-hazard, the student to the basics of Roman law, pure and simple, presenting the private law of the Romans, which so often was the product of contingent developments, as a web of intelligible narratives. A coherent picture of Roman law emerges, untroubled by the doubts and controversies which accompany the lively progress of our research.

An especially striking feature may highlight this point: The book is devoid of any specific reference to a fragment of the Institutes, the Digest or of whatever pertinent sources the reader could be referred to. I know of no other introductory textbook which has been so radical in this respect. It is not difficult to see why Nicholas pursued this policy. When you give a reference to a bit of the Digest, to back up what is stated in your text, and the young reader looks it up, she or he may well find that the bit of the Digest does not in fact say this in the very same words. Rather, he or she will find a specific case and a proposition as to how it should be decided; the case may involve a number of elements in a legal interplay, not that easily dissected and understood. Yes, the abstract statement which the Digest-text is assumed to back-up, seems to be there, but intermingled with other statements of law, and doubts may remain, whether the Digest-bit could not perhaps be read differently altogether, depriving it of its evidentiary value for the passage of the text it is meant to support. In order to protect the student from the risk of getting confused, better not have references at all?

Here the book’s ‘secret of success’ becomes apparent: the book offers cognitive closure. A highly dedicated teacher, like Nicholas, gifted with empathy for the beginners and their woes, must know how many students indeed crave cognitive closure. And this is what the ‘Introduction’ provides the reader with.

Cognitive closure is a sweet drug. Sooner or later, the good student will have to be confronted with the complexities and riddles of historical research, the fragmented nature of our knowledge, and the tools to critically handle sources. We expect and hope that our students will acquire a sufficiently confident command of their subject, asking and pursuing questions of their own, discerning reliable findings and still unproven hypotheses, thus deserving their swimming badge in the stormy seas of research.

The author of an introductory work is, of course, fully justified in saying that these problems are to be tackled once the student has progressed beyond the stage of a beginner, and that the care for the young students requires setting up, temporarily, a systematized and intelligible world, letting problems recede into the background. Some dry run before you go into the water. Assuming that we can get (all or most) students to sometime leave the safe port, this may come with a serious risk of ‘cold turkey’. And that risk may even be the greater, the better the introduction has been.

There is, of course, a radically different school of thought. Some teachers hold that the student, from her or his very first day, needs to be taken to the uncertain frontiers of research, with conflicting evidences and open questions: ‘Throw them into the water, may she or he swim or go under! Don’t give them a false sense of security!’

This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of these two approaches. It is sufficient to say that if one followed the concept of getting students going in a more gradual manner, showing them some secure signposts and leaving the controversies and unknowns to a later stage, for the field of Roman law, one could not find a better work than Nicholas’ Introduction.


Nicholas as Romanist:

‘The Form of Stipulation in Roman Law’, LQR 69 (1953), 63-79 and 233-52.

with P. M. Fraser: ‘The Funerary Garden of Mousa’, JRS 48 (1958), 117-29.

‘Liability for Animals in Roman Law’, Acta Juridica [1958], 185-90.

Dicta Promissave’ in Studies in the Roman Law of Sale in Memory of Francis de Zulueta, ed. D. Daube (Oxford, 1959), 91-101.

with P. M. Fraser: ‘The Funerary Garden of Mousa Reconsidered’, JRS 52 (1962), 156-9.

Videbimus’ in Synteleia Vincenzo Arangio-Ruiz (Naples, 1964), vol. 1, 150-4.

Videbimus II’ in Studi in onore di Edoardo Volterra (Milan, 1971), vol. 2, 577-604.

F. Jolowicz and B. Nicholas, Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law, 3rd edn., ed. B. Nicholas (Cambridge, 1972).

‘Theophilus and Contrectatio’, in Studies in Justinian’s Institutes in Memory of J. A. C. Thomas, ed. P. Stein and A. Lewis (London, 1983), 118-24.

[1] Peter Birks, ‘John Kieran Barry Moylan Nicholas, 1919-2002’, in: Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 124: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows III (2004), 219-242, at 229.

Posted in Legal History, Wolfgang Ernst | Leave a comment

ERC-project REDHIS – position for a post-doctoral researcher: “A study of Roman legal writings in Late Antiquity: manuscripts and papyri”.

From our friends in Pavia:

Deadline for application: November 27th, 2017

The research project REDHIS (“Rediscovering the Hidden Structure. A New Appreciation of Juristic Texts and Patterns of Thought in Late Antiquity”) is opening a position for a post-doctoral researcher. The appointment will be for two years.

REDHIS is an interdisciplinary research project hosted by the Università di Pavia (Italy) and funded by an ERC-advanced grant (Principal Investigator: Prof. Dario Mantovani; Senior Staff: Prof. Luigi Pellecchi). The project studies the continued existence of a high-level legal culture in Late Antiquity, as shown among other things by the copying and continued use of the writings of the classical jurists. A comprehensive understanding of legal culture includes, therefore, the study of the transmission of these texts and the reception of their contents. To learn more about the REDHIS Project, visit our website at

In line with the goals of the project, the appointee will be asked to contribute several well-researched chapters, written in English, to an extensive collaborative volume on the circulation, use, and reception of Roman juristic writings in Late Antiquity. Depending on her/his precise qualifications, the appointee may also be asked to contribute to the project’s annotated corpus of juristic papyri.

In pursuing her/his research, the appointed applicant will be supervised by the Principal Investigator. She/he will collaborate with other staff and post-doctoral researchers in an interdisciplinary working group. Place of work: the University of Pavia, Pavia (Italy).

Preference will be given to applicants who hold a PhD awarded by a University from outside Italy, with a doctoral dissertation in one of the following scholarly areas: Classical Philology, Palaeography, Papyrology, Ancient History, Latin, and/or Roman law. The doctoral dissertation has to show that the applicant is competent in and comfortable with applying a philological approach to the study of Roman legal texts, in Latin and Greek, in order to contribute fruitfully to the research objectives of REDHIS. We are looking for someone with experience in writing in (and translating into) English.

The closing date for applications is 27 November 2017. Applicants are advised to make sure that their applications comply with Italian regulations as laid out in the official “bando” of this post, which can be found in Italian and English at

In case you have any questions or require the assistance of any kind with the formalities, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Matthijs Wibier (

Further informal enquiries may be directed to Prof. Dario Mantovani (

Posted in Legal History, Opportunities, Roman Law | Leave a comment

Doctoral and post-doctoral positions in Legal History

We have received the following notice from our friends in Helsinki:

We are excited to begin work with the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence that will continue to work of the “Revisiting the Foundations of European Legal Culture 1934-1964” project (found The CoE will begin its activities on January 1st, 2018, but we will begin recruitment for researcher positions already now. In the first phase, we are hiring 3-4 postdocs for a period of four years each and three doctoral candidates also for a four year period. For the postdocs, the main rule is that one should not have more than five years of research activity behind her or him. The doctoral student positions will be opened next month.

What we would like to ask you is to distribute the job ad to your networks and especially to people who would be suitable candidates. For more information about the CoE and its different subprojects, check out our fledgeling website at

Each of the subprojects (Law and the uses of the past, Discovering the limits of reason and Migration and the narrative of Europe) has a different focus, but they are tied thematically. Legal historians, lawyers, intellectual historians, philosophers, anthropologists, political scientists and the like are strongly encouraged to apply! The ads are here:

Thank you very much for your help! We look forward to having you as our guest in one or more of our events.

With all the best,

Kaius Tuori, Reetta Toivanen and Pamela Slotte
Directors, CoE for Law, Identity and the European Narratives

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Law’s Picture Books (2017)

Your blogger recently mentioned the paintings in what was once the consistory court room in Dunkeld Cathedral. Such matter is very important for legal historians, as the material relics and material culture of the law an be very informative. For example, though one does not want to enter into the complexity of editions of the Scottish statutes by Sir Thomas Murray of Glendook, some imprints of his folio edition of the Scottish statutes of 1681 (see Wing S1265) have a title page with the royal coat of arms, and medallions depicting the Stewart monarchs from James I to Charles II (at the top), the latter with depictions of “Majesty” and “Justice” on either side. The statutes are presented as made by the kings, and as the foundations of Scots law. The whole is supporting the divine right of monarchs, and underscoring the importance in the law of the Stewart monarchy. Unfortunately, such iconography and imagery rarely occurs in Scots law books, though it would be valuable to study what there is, as indeed to examine court rooms, mercat crosses, portraits and the like. Other legal printing and manuscript traditions are, however, much richer.

The Grolier Club in New York is currently hosting an exhibition, “Law’s Picture Books”, which explores images in legal books, and manuscripts of all types, ages, and origins. Curated by Michael Widener of of Yale Law School with Mark S. Weiner of Rutgers Law School, the Exhibition (17 September to 18 November), draws on the riches of the Yale Rare Law Book Collection to explore imagery in legal texts. The exhibition displays not only rare historic texts, but also modern ones. For example, there is a splendid and witty graphic-art depiction of the terms and conditions of iTunes. Not all the illustrations present the law and its practitioners as noble; many provide a critique, obvious or concealed.

The Catalogue of the exhibition has recently been appeared under the imprint of Talbot Publishing. it is splendidly illustrated. It contains essays by Widener and Weiner, respectively on the formation of the collection at Yale and the choices made for the exhibition, as well as one on “Ars Memoria in Early Law: Looking beneath the Pictures” by Yolanda E. Goldberg of the Law Library of Congress”, which explores the world with the issue of memory in mind, and one on “Laws Picture Books and the History of Book Illustration” by Erin C. Blake of the Folger Library, contextualising and explaining the images in the history of book illustration. The Catalogue, like the exhibition, is divided into topics, with some introductory and explanatory matter; this does not overwhelm and the reader/viewer can reflect on the images splendidly reproduced. Images are interestingly juxtaposed to promote questioning and new readings, such as the normative hierarchy of law from a contemporary German textbook, with older “trees” to set out norms and rules on affinity.

The modestly-priced Catalogue, Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection, is comprehensive enough to be used with classes to help them reflect on the iconography of the law. Two of the images of court rooms have dogs in them. The common appearance of dogs in court rooms scenes from the Dutch golden age has always provoked the curiosity of this blogger. Why are they there? Contemporary paintings of the vast, empty, Dutch protestant churches also often have dogs in them. Of course, dogs are traditional subjects for art form the ancient world to the modern; they can carry many meanings. But in a court scene they presumably symbolise fidelity, loyalty, and truth. Readers and students could reflect on the differing images of justice. There is much here.

Images below are courtesy of Talbot Publishing: ISBN-13: 9781616191603. ISBN-10:1616191600. Paperback. New. $39.95


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