Mémoire on case involving enslaved individuals

This blog has long been interested in the law and court cases concerning enslaved men, women, and children. The well-known cases tend to be those that concern freedom or claims of freedom, such as Knight  v. Wedderburn or Somerset v. Stewart. All European countries had such cases, and similar became important in “free” states in the USA. 

An important source of information for legal historians can be the catalogues of rare book sellers. This blog has a number of entries that derive from such catalogues. A recent Catalogue of the Lawbook Exchange was categorised as dealing with “Apparently Unrecorded” works. It contained a Mémoire produced during litigation in a pre-Revolution French Court concerning the Estate of a deceased individual, namely M. Garnier, who headed the Cape High Council in St Domingue. Unsurprisingly the estate included enslaved individuals as well moveables and land. It refers to the famous Roman ruling that the children of enslaved women were not counted as “fruits”.

Such mémoires resemble the printed Scottish Session Papers.

Roman Law discussed in the House of Commons, 13 May, 2024

In a debate about restricting the access to the House of Commons of M.P.s arrested or charged with certain offences, Sir Michael Ellis, K.C., former Attorney General, referred to Roman Law. See Hansard vol. 750, col. 95. He cited the Digest of Justinian as well as the Emperor Antoninus Pius to support the principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. He quoted in Latin the well known Roman maxim about proof generally: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. This is a text of the jurist Paul in his commentary on the Edict. One would hope that the principle is generally well-enough established in modern legal systems; but it is nice to see that Roman Law is thought to give some extra weight to an argument in a Parliamentary debate. Sir Michael also referred to the Talmud, Islamic law, and Blackstone to support his argument. Sir Michael refers to this as the general rule of evidence he was taught in his law degree (taken at Buckingham), but has undertaken some comparative research to support his argument.

Chiene Lecture 10 May. Change of venue to St Leonard’s Hall

The Centre for Legal History apologises, but it has proven necessary at the last moment to change the venue of Professor Prévost’s lecture. This will now take place in the St Trinnean’s room in St Leonard’s Hall in Pollock Halls of Residence, best approached by Holyrood Park Road. This is just behind the Commonwealth Swimming Pool. You need to enter Pollock Halls by the Main Gate and it is the second of the two huge mansion houses. Starting off from around Waverley Staton it takes by 5-10 minutes by taxi or around 25 minutes by bus. For the latter the 30 or 31 to the Commonwealth Pool takes about 25 minutes, starting from Princes Street opposite the Scott Monument. There are many buses that go down Newington Road, one block over four the pool, so a short walk is necessary at the end(37, 3, 21 etc). If it suits, all of these buses can be picked up on the South Bridge.

A brisk walk should get you there from the station in 30 minutes.

If you have any queries, please contact J W Cairns at john.cairns@ed.ac.uk

W. G Hart Workshop: Historicising Jurisprudence, 26-27 June 2024

Many readers of this Blog will be interested in this year’s W. G. Hart Workshop. There is a varied an interesting programme on the theme. For details, see here

This year’s topic is Historicising Jurisprudence: Person, Community, Form. While recognizing the universal and impersonal aspirations of jurisprudence, the 2024 Hart Workshop seeks to explore its historicization in particular times and places. The Workshop thus invites participants to take an alternative view of jurisprudence: as a human, all too human, practice, which is deeply personal while also being deeply social, and one that is shot through with historically-situated politics and culture. By digging deeply into its situated ethics, politics, and aesthetics, this Workshop will explore different ways of historicising jurisprudence.

The Workshop aims to open up a new interdisciplinary research agenda for the history of jurisprudence. It seeks to animate the historiography of jurisprudence, connecting it to historiographical developments in other disciplines, including history of science and knowledge, history of literature and rhetoric, history of emotion and the body, intellectual history, social history, and history of political geography. The conference will pursue these aims by probing three themes: person, community, and form.

Legal History Seminar: The Origins of the Modern Criminal Trial: Evidence from the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 23 May 2024, IALS

Using evidence from computational analysis of the digitised Old Bailey Proceedings, this paper examines the major transformations in courtroom practices which took place in this influential court in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  It examines the changing roles played by courtroom participants (focusing on victims, juries and witnesses, but also with attention to defendants, counsel and judges), the evolution of the physical design of the courtroom, and changing trial outcomes (verdicts, punishments) to argue that historians have overemphasised the role of judges and counsel and the development of the written law in their accounts of the history of the criminal trial.  Changes in the courtroom roles of other trial participants, only detectable through analysis of actual trial proceedings and associated evidence, were at least as important in shaping the development of the modern criminal trial.
Professor Hitchcock and Professor Shoemaker are world leading legal historians in the common law world.  Their work is particularly interesting and important not only for its content but also for the uses to which they have put this content.  These include the Old Bailey Online and the Digital Panopticon: their projects have worked to digitise and provide direct access online to billions of primary source material.  This enables historians easy access to those sources which enable the writing of a new ‘history from below’.  

Their work is inherently cross-disciplinary, combining and enabling research in both law and history.  It is also of importance in research training.  This research has national and international appeal.  It is important that the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies hosts this lecture for all of these reasons.

Speakers: Professor Tim Hitchcock (Emeritus Professor of Digital History, University of Sussex) and Professor Robert Shoemaker (Emeritus Professor of British History, University of Sheffield).

the event is free, but booking is required

Peter Chiene Lecture: The Encyclopedism of Renaissance Humanist Jurists, 10 May 2024


On 10 May, 2024, in the Usha Kasera Lecture Theatre, at 17.30 Professor Xavier Prévost of the University of Bordeaux, will deliver the Peter Chiene Lecture, resuming the sequence of lectures after a break caused by the Covid Pandemic.

Professor Prévost’s topic will be:

‘The Encycolpedism of Renaissance Humanist Jurists”

The expression “Legal humanism of the Renaissance” refers to the movement that emerged from the full integration of law into humanist knowledge, which began at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. Starting with a critique of medieval scholasticism for the study of legal texts, this intellectual movement proposed new methods for producing legal ideas based on an encyclopedic approach. Although there were many methodological differences between the legal scholars grouped under the banner of humanism, they shared the conception of a legal science that is not closed in on itself. Thus, they applied to law the humanist idea that knowledge forms a vast body made up of elements that may be intellectually differentiated, but which remain interrelated: the understanding of one of these elements must therefore logically call upon all those related to it. Not only did these scholars master the legal sources (Roman law, canon law, customs, royal legislation, court decisions, etc.), but they constantly referred to history and geography, philosophy and theology, philology and rhetoric, literature and poetry, mathematics and architecture, agronomy and astronomy.

The encyclopedism of Renaissance humanist jurists then caused an upheaval in the understanding of law, while participating massively in the production of knowledge beyond legal ideas. Presenting such an approach can contribute to the current debate which, faced with the extreme compartmentalisation of disciplines and even a growing separation between legal branches, is calling for greater use of interdisciplinarity.

About the speaker:

Xavier Prévost is an associate of the faculties of law, associate of economics and management, paleographic archivist (graduate of the École des chartes), and a former student of the École Normale Supérieure of Cachan. He is a junior member of the Institut universitaire de France (promotion 2020) and professor of legal history at the University of Bordeaux, where he directed the Montesquieu Research Institute (IRM – UR 7434) from 2016 to 2022 and chaired the legal history section from 2021 to 2023. Since December 2023, he has been first vice-president of section 03 (History of law and institutions) and vice-president of group 1 (Law and political science) of the National Council of Universities. His research concerns law and legal knowledge during the Renaissance and questions, more particularly, the emergence of legal modernity.

Roman Law Lecture, University of Glasgow, 19th April

Prof Dr Elsemieke Daalder of the University of Münster will be presenting on the following topic:

“Between emperor and senate: the oratio principis during the Principate”

The paper will be held at 3pm on Friday 19 April in Room 207, 10 The Square, University of Glasgow.

The paper will also be available on Zoom, following this link.

All are welcome. For further information, please contact Dr Graeme Cunningham.

Patrick Polden: Memorial Event

Patrick Polden Memorial Event: A history of law, courts and judging – Brunel University
9 April 2024, 2-5pm; Reception 5-6.30pm

Your blogger did not know the late Patrick Polden at all well. But no one interested in the history of courts could ignore his work. When I was asked to write a short study of courts and procedure in Scotland and England in the nineteenth century, his work on the English courts was the major source for that. Using it made me appreciate the depth of his knowledge and his ability to explain. I quote below a recent invitation than event to commemorate his life and scholarship:

“This is to invite you to an event to commemorate the life and scholarship of Patrick Polden. Leading legal historians will present new work linked to Professor Polden’s work. His work touched on many topics in legal history that are central to debates about the shape and structure of law today. We hope also to use the occasion to celebrate Professor Polden’s life and his contribution to the legal academy over the years. We have invited a number of his former colleagues and collaborators to present papers and to say a few words at a reception after the workshop.”

Programme of events as follows: –
Beldam Main Room, Ground Floor, Eastern Gateway Building

14:00 – 15:30 Lives, life stories and the law
Judith Bourne (Roehampton University) – title tbc
Ray Cocks (Keele University) – title tbc
Philip Rawlings (Queen Mary University of London/University College London)
“The Founder of the Present State of PERJURY”: William Wreathock (1693-1764) – Lawyer, Robber, Spy

15:30 Coffee

16:00 – 17:00 Law in legal history
Richard Ireland (Aberystwyth University)
On the beauty, and the morality, of Legal History
Michael Lobban (Oxford University)

17:00 – 18:30 Wine Reception
Anne Polden – Thanks
Felicity Kaganas (Brunel University London) – Patrick Polden: A colleague
Keith Smith (Cardiff University) – Patrick Polden: Reflections and toast to Patrick Polden

In order to book your place or should you have any questions about the event please contact felicity.kaganas@brunel.ac.uk

“Citizens of ‘black race’ in Portuguese legal doctrine from the twentieth century”

The next Helsinki Legal History Series seminar is approaching, and this time they will host guest lecturer Cristina Nogueira da Silva from the NOVA School of Law. All warmly invited to join her intriguing seminar talk titled “Citizens of ‘black race’ in Portuguese legal doctrine from the twentieth century”

Abstract: This paper aims to discuss the impact of racial criteria on access to citizenship and its influence on the identification and self-identification of local elites of native origin within the 20th-century Portuguese Empire. The focus will be on how this local elite countered the racialization of citizenship by invoking 19th-century universalist and color-blind legal principles that enabled them to define both themselves and the entire population of African origin as full Portuguese citizens.

When: Tuesday, 26 March 2024, 3:00pm – 4:30pm (UTC+2).
Where: Porthania Building, Room P545, University of Helsinki. You can also join us online via Zoom

Meeting ID: 637 3244 0554
Passcode: 331089

Cristina Nogueira da Silva is an Associate Professor of NOVA School of Law, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (NSL-UNL), an integrated researcher of CEDIS, the NSL Research Instituto, and associated researcher of Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa (ICS-UL). She has a PhD in History of Law at NSL-UNL (2005).
Her primary research areas include 19th-century liberal political cultures, imperial citizenship, constitutionalism, and the legal dimensions of colonialism in America, Africa, and Asia. Her recent projects focus on exploring the legal status of individuals and territories in contemporary Portuguese Overseas dominions, colonial legal pluralism, and the use of law and legal institutions by both the ‘colonizers’ and the ‘colonized’. Some of her publications are Constitucionalismo e Império. A Cidadania no Ultramar Português (2009); ‘Universalism, Legal pluralism and Citizenship: Portuguese Imperial Policies in the Nineteenth Century’, 2016); ‘Colonial Justice in Mozambique (1915-1954): Preserving and Changing Indigenous Customary Law’ (2023); Imperios Ibéricos y Representación Política (siglos XIX-XX), (ed. with Inés Montaud, 2021), Slave Subjectivities in the Iberian World (ed. with Ângela Barreto Xavier and Michel Cahen, 2023).

This seminar is part of the Helsinki Legal History Series in collaboration with the CoCoLaw project. In 2024 the Helsinki Legal History Series runs under the theme of “Identities and Legal Histories”. We are focusing on the questions of how have collective identities shaped law, and how has law been used to affect, change or protect common identities? Does law recognize marginalized identities or is the history of law a narrative of exclusion?

For more information on the speaker and on upcoming seminars, please visit their website.

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