Palaeography Classes

Palaeography is an important skill for legal historians, and indeed all historical researchers in records. The National Records of Scotland have just advertised their new palaeography course, starting 25 September. See

Reading Scotland’s Records

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Slavery and Imagery

One of the most successful books of the nineteenth century was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published in 1852. It is not a subtle work, and to modern tastes its sentimentality makes it rather unreadable. I suspect it is read nowadays only by a few specialists, or perhaps by students for projects. It is not without power; for example, the cruel, but Christ-like, death of Uncle Tom is very affecting if simultaneously risible. It was an overtly campaigning book, and indeed Harriet Beecher Stowe also visited Scotland as part of her campaigning in the fight against slavery in the U.S. south.

On a steamship journey down the Mississippi, Tom rescues Eva from drowning. She persuades her father to purchase him. Eva is somewhat nauseatingly angelic, and eventually falls ill and in the course of dying has a vision of heaven. The relationship of Eva with Uncle Tom obviously attracted the Victorians, and the commercial possibilities were exploited. Thus, there were a number of different Staffordshire figures of Eva and Uncle Tom, mass-market ornaments for fans. Here, for example, are photographs of the example owned by your blogger:

Your blogger was recently gifted a biscuit tin from the later nineteenth century. This was the century of the start of consumerism and mass markets in prepared foods. This biscuit tin contained biscuits from the well known Edinburgh firm then known as McVitie and Price. It is an ornamental object, decorated with scenes from Uncle Tom’s cabin. presumably it was produced with the idea it should be given as a present. There is the inevitable scene of Uncle Tom with Eva; but there are also depictions of other scenes, all named: the sale of Uncle Tom; the flight across the ice; and Tom with Haley. The image on the lid is unlabelled, but it must be Eva with Topsy:

Of course, Uncle Tom is now seen as an overly passive and subservient figure, and your blogger believes it was James Baldwin who first used the term “an Uncle Tom” in a pejorative way; but in Victorian times he served as an image of the evil of slavery, and the novel undoubtedly contributed to the campaign against it.

Reflecting his scholarly concerns, your blogger owns other objects that depict black people in ways that are undoubtedly much less acceptable nowadays, though interesting in themselves. To avoid offending delicate sensibilities, he will not reproduce them. These objects all draw on the nineteenth-century imagery of the black minstrel. The first is your blogger’s childhood golliwog (whom he named Gilbert); the second is a quite grotesque mechanical bank, consisting of the head and shoulders of a man who “eats” a coin put in his hand; and the third is a rum advert consisting of a statuette of a black man rolling a barrel.

The Staffordshire figures, the biscuit tin, and other other objects all indicate how images of black men and women were used in the past for a whole variety of purposes, both commercial and campaigning.

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New Honorary Professors

The Centre for Legal History is delighted to announce that the University of Edinburgh has appointed two of the United Kingdom’s leading legal historians as Honorary Professors in the School of Law with effect from 1 September, 2018. These are Professor Norma Dawson CBE of the Queen’s University, Belfast and Professor Catharine MacMillan of King’s College, London. Neither will be strangers to regular readers of this Blog; both have a distinguished international reputation and profile.

Professor Dawson has served as President, Vice-President, and Literary Editor of the the Irish Legal History Society, and has published extensively in the area of legal history, while she is also a distinguished intellectual property lawyer. Her modern and historical interests converge. She is in the process of completing a modern history of the Law of Treasure. She has had extensive experience of postgraduate supervision, and is much in demand to serve in panels and bodies concerned with legal education and matters of intellectual and historical significance. She has also had extensive community involvement  She has held research grants and fellowships from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. A graduate of the Queens’ University she has passed her academic career in her alma mater. An Honorary Bencher of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland, she had the honour of CBE conferred on her by Her Majesty in 2017.

Professor MacMillan is a graduate of the Victoria University and the Queen’s University, both in Canada, and of the University of Cambridge, England. Her work has hitherto had three-interlinked main themes – the law of contract, the history of the law of contract, and the life and work of Judah P. Bejamin. The latter was a lawyer in Louisiana, who became Attorney General and then Secretary of State of the Confederacy, and then had a distinguished career at the English bar. She has an interest in colonial and transatlantic issues. With extensive experience in PhD supervsion, she has taught in England at Queen Mary, London, and the University of Reading, before taking up her current chair. She has been in much demand and has given extensive service and professional engagement related to her research fields.

It is worth noticing some interesting parallels and differences between the universities of these two new Honorary Professors. The Queen’s University of Belfast was once a constituent College of the Queen’s University of Ireland, founded in 1845 to promote the education of Catholics and Presbyterians in Ireland, who could not attend Trinity College, Dublin, because of its religious requirements. The Queen’s University of Ireland also included the Queen’s Colleges of Cork and  Galway. In 1908, by Act of Parliament, the two latter became colleges of the new National University of Ireland, and Queen’s, Belfast became an independently chartered, still non-demoninational, university. The Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (where Professor MacMillan gained her law degree), was chartered in 1841, in what was then Upper Canada, as Queen’s College, to provide an educational institution for Presbyterians in the area. Earlier, Upper Canada had been officially Anglican, and the many Scots Presbyterians in the Province sought a college for the education of their future ministers and youth more generally. Queen’s remained linked with the Presbyterian Church until 1912, when, like its Belfast cousin, it became non-denominational and was renamed Queen’s University at Kingston.

The creation of these two institutions is part of the complex story the spread of university education in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century (one thinks of the great English civic universities, notably the London Colleges),  some of which were also once constituent parts of a federal Victoria University, though they tend to have been founded somewhat later than the two Queen’s Universities. There are some institutions in Canada that can claim much earlier heritage, of course. Similar patterns can be found in other major colonies or dominions of the former British Empire.

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Loyal Dogs, and Dogs and Law

Dogs are proverbially loyal. Many traditional stories emphasise this. Odysseus’ dog Argos recognised his master after all his years away, after waiting for him to return to Ithaca. In Edinburgh, major tourist attractions are the statue and grave of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier that visited his master’s grave every day for fourteen years. The same story of the dog loyal after death is found all around the world in many versions. For example, it recently found a film representation in the Australian movie, “Red Dog” (the novel that influenced the movie is rather different).

The Japanese “Greyfriars Bobby” is Hachikō, an Akita. Hachikō was the dog of Professor Hidesaburō Ueno, Professor of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo. Professor Ueno commuted to work by train, and the dog developed the practice of going to meet him at the railway station on his return. One day, however, Professor Ueno died suddenly on campus and did not return. Thereafter for the nine years until his own death Hachikō would go to the station to wait for the Professor. While Greyfriars Bobby has but one statue, commissioned by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Hachikō has had several. One was commissioned during his own life; though destroyed for the metal to support the Japanese War effort, a replacement was commissioned after the War, and it stands at the station. Another statue stands outside the Akita dog museum, and, as the dog was born in Ōdate, a further outside its station. An American film version of the story led to a copy at the US railway station where the American movie was filmed. Photographs of photographs of Hachikō also survive, as even does a recording of his bark. And a statue of Hachikō, this time with the Professor, was unveiled by the Tokyo Faculty of Agriculture in 2015, to mark the eightieth anniversary of the death of the dog. The statue stands just inside the No-seimon (gate) of the University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus, in which the Faculty of Agriculture is situated.

But the fidelity of the dog has a legal-historical interest. The study of legal iconography shows how the fidelity of the dog has been harnessed for a wider significance in law. In Dutch art of the Golden Age dogs feature regularly, fulfilling a variety of symbolic functions, depending on their role in the picture, again, for example, often as symbols of faithfulness. Dogs are also regularly depicted in court rooms in seventeenth-century Dutch art. According to M. A. Becker-Moelands, these portrayals can have two purposes, depending both on where the dogs are situated, and with whom they are associated in the image. They can serve as a symbol of fidelity and reliability, or they can be a symbol of the openness of justice, as they have been able to wander into the court room.

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Legitimacy of Mary Queen of Scots

It is interesting to see that today, 10 May 2018, The Scotsman (p. 3) has an astonishing scoop: James V was not the father of Mary Queen of Scots, but instead it was Murdo Mackenzie! Ilona Amos has written that Fairburn Tower “was built in 1545 for Murdo Mackenzie, a close aide of King James V and father of Mary Queen of Scots.” Given that her current Majesty’s right to the throne derives from the legitimacy of Mary, Queen of Scots as great-grandmother of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, this revelation potentially rocks the foundation of the throne. Could this be a treasonous allegation? Or is it simply poor editing?

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VE Day

Today, 8 May, is VE Day, which seems to be being generally ignored in the British media. Of course the war against Japan continued. There is a major commemoration in Paris.

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A change for the better?

Many of us teaching in Scottish law schools will have received a recent email from the Law Society of Scotland announcing a series of planned discussions with various stakeholders about the content of the law degree and the diploma in professional legal practice. On balance, a proactive Law Society is an excellent Law Society as it ensures that those undertaking legal training are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to become fully-fledged members of the legal profession in its various forms. The task of the Law Society is not an easy one, however, and, given the sheer diversity of the profession, it must be difficult selecting future priorities. In the latest round of proposed discussions, three topics are worthy of comment:

1. Legal technology. The nub of this part of the proposal is to investigate whether the current levels of “technology skills” across the degree and diploma are too “generic” and could/should be changed. Of course, this is in a sense “blue sky and apple pie”, since no one could argue against the position that the lawyers of the future will be required to make greater use of technology. But technology can never replace a sound and critical knowledge of the law, no matter which database one has access to or how sophisticated one’s word processing programme might be (not that this is being suggested of course). To understand the law, one must have the skills not only to find the law but also to process it intellectually using one’s knowledge of certain rules and procedures learnt through a period. Greater use of technology can, of course, assist with and improve upon this process but it is not an end in itself. It certainly can never replace “black-letter law” in a degree.

2. Critical non-black letter law skills. While the current configuration of the degree and the diploma deals with skills extensively, this proposal suggests that other matters (e.g. “project management”) could be added. Again, it is difficult to argue against this since skills are important. But what these “critical non-black letter law skills” are, for example, and on whose judgement certain skills will be judged to be “critical”, remain open to question. One might ask, for example, whether “project management” is something that everyone needs and whether, in light of the requirement of CPD, this could not be offered in a more targeted fashion. Perhaps rather than focusing on “critical skills”  disassociated from “black-letter law”, more attention should be given to the “critical black-letter law skills” that law students require. Based on nearly two decades of law teaching, my view is that law students need a. More time to think; b. More time to write and more opportunities to develop their writing; and c. Better research skills (not merely the use of databases). To understand the law, one cannot just learn it by rote or hope to find it by plugging some keywords into a database. Whichever belief one holds about the nature of law, it cannot be denied that law is about argumentation and that much of it plays out across the pages of books, articles, and court decisions. Critical reflection on arguments pro and contra are required. This takes time. Of course, one might argue that the aim of a law degree is to form lawyers who apply the law rather than jurists who reflect upon the law critically, but these two aims cannot and should not ever be mutually exclusive. The best lawyers are those who can reflect on the law critically when applying it.

3. Other matters. According to the email from the Law Society: “Some have suggested that as we move towards exiting the European Union that this should see an increased focus on language skills, trade law, international arbitration, private international law etc.” These topics of discussion are to be welcomed, since they represent attempts, at the very least, to maintain relations with our European neighbours post Brexit. There is, however, one topic which is sadly lacking from this list, namely legal history (both Scottish and European). In a country with such a rich history of intellectual exchange in the field of law with our continental neighbours (especially via Roman law), it is regrettable that the Law Society does not view legal history as a priority, especially during this time. Of course, a professional regulatory authority is primarily concerned with equipping lawyers with up-to-date knowledge of the law, but in an uncodified legal system such as that of Scotland, knowledge of what the law is cannot be separated from knowledge of what the law was. To any student of law, Scottish or otherwise, the past is never “… a foreign country” (L.P. Hartley). And few people today still believe that “history is just one damn thing after another” (whoever the author of this quotation may be). The past changes regularly and is therefore in continuous dialogue with the present. As such, one suspects the time has come for legal history to form a more critical part of the curriculum, rather than merely as an elective at honours level or as a few sparse comments on Institutional Authority in a first-year survey course. No one can, of course, deny that the study of history is both ideological and political. But it is precisely these features that make the study of history, and legal history in particular, so much more critical as we head towards Brexit and beyond.

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Slavery in France and its Colonies

Slavery was abolished in the French colonies in 1848. This year, therefore is the 170th anniversary of this event. As citizens of a former colonial country, the French have been conscious in recent years of the history of slavery in there colonies, and some interesting works have been written on many aspects of the topic. This blogger is very interested in the position of individuals enslaved in the colonies brought to Europe. Two excellent works on this in France are Pierre H. Boulle, Race et esclavage dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (2007) and Sue Peabody, “There are no Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (1996). (It is important to remember that slavery implicated most European states, and an interesting biography has recently been published of a runaway Danish slave who ended up in Iceland: Gisli Palsson, The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan (2016).) There are also several editions of the famous Code Noir of 1685.

What prompts this blog entry in the announcement today by Emmanuel Macron of the establishment of a “Fondation pour la mémoire de l’esclavage”, which will be situated in the Hôtel de la Marine, where the decree abolishing slavery was signed. The body will have a wide remit, both scholarly and otherwise. There was also a special ceremony at the Panthéon. A special memorial will be erected in the gardens of the Tuilleries, in Paris. Some groups have also called for a museum of slavery.


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Some curious Scottish Legal MSS

The Law Book Exchange is currently offering for sale two Scottish legal MSS. Both reveal something about the nineteenth-century lives of Scots from different social backgrounds

The first consists of papers from H.M.A. v. Hunter & Mackie. These were papers from a trail at a Circuit Court at Glasgow in 1818 before David Douglas, Lord Reston, best known to history as the heir of Adam Smith, who supervised his education, and whose splendid library Douglas inherited. The panels were prosecuted for theft and reset of wheels of cheese. The descriptions states there were three horizontal fold lines – no doubt indicating these had been the papers of one of the lawyers involved, who had fielded then the traditional way and tied them with red tape! At some stage someone has bound them together. Search through newspapers and the NRS might cause more information to emerge. 1818 is an interesting year, however, because of anxieties about combinations and sedition.

The second MSS was prepared by lawyers for the trustees of a complicated estate. The estate was that of a Scot, Major General John Ogilvie (1783-1847), who had served in the Madras Army of the East India Company. He died without issue but leaving a widow and several siblings. A fight then commenced over the property left. This is not an unfamiliar story for any lawyer; but the papers contain considerable detail about the financial affairs of a Scots officer in India, and his progressive accumulation of wealth through his career, investing, for example, in the shares of banks in Bombay. They must contain considerable insight about the history of Scotland and the Empire in the nineteenth century. The litigation concluded only in 1870 in the Inner House of the Court of Session.


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What’s Happening in Black British History VIII

The Agenda has just been announced for “What’s Happening Black British History VIII”, to be held at the University of Huddersfield on Thursday 10th May, jointly organized by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and the University. The agenda is as follows:

What’s Happening in Black British History? VIII
Workshop Agenda
10:00 Registration

10:30 Welcome
Sue Onslow Acting Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

10:40 Session One Black ‘visitors’ to Britain

Chair Miranda Kaufmann

‘The Honour of the Nation’: Black Prisoners of War at Portchester Castle, 1793-1814
Abigail Coppins (English Heritage)
‘With Almost Electric Speed’: Mapping Black Abolitionists in Britain
Hannah Rose Murray (University of Nottingham)
The “English Inning” of Claude McKay, Transnational Writer and Socialist
Owen Walsh (University of Leeds)

12:00 Coffee Break

12:15 Session Two Black British History on stage

Chair Michael Ohajuru

Reflections on Black Men Walking
Testament (writer, rapper and world record holding beatboxer)
Movement of the People: A journey through the development of Windrush: Performance and people
Sharon Watson (Phoenix Dance Theatre)
Pablo Fanque: pomp, pageantry and race in Victorian Circus
Joe Williams (University of Leeds, Heritage Corner, Leeds)

13:30 Lunch

14:30 Session Three Black British History in Yorkshire
Chair Tosh Warwick

Here From Time: Stories from Yorkshire’s Black History.
Audrey Dewjee (Independent researcher, Diasporian Stories Research Group)
Soldiers of African origin in British Army Regiments in England and Yorkshire, 1700s to 1840s.
John Ellis (Historian and Teacher)
British-born African Caribbean descendants in West Yorkshire, navigating race and identity from the 1960s to present
Milton Brown (University of Huddersfield, Kirklees Local TV)
My Search For Black British History: Black Americans In Victorian Huddersfield
Jeffrey Green (Independent Historian)

16:00 Coffee Break

16:15 Colonial Countryside: Reinterpreting English Country Houses
Corinne Fowler (University of Leicester)

Session Four The musical legacies of slavery in Britain
Chair Paul Ward

Blackface minstrelsy and Black Studies
Rachel Cowgill (University of Huddersfield)
The Use of the Profits of Slavery to Support Musical Activity in Eighteenth-century Britain and its Colonies
David Hunter (University of Texas at Austin)
Tiger Bay and the roots/routes of black British Jazz
Catherine Tackley (University of Liverpool)

17:40 Reception/ Opening of Let’s Play Vinyl Exhibition

For registration:

See also

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