Law Books: the Formation and Transmission of Western Legal Culture

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Naoko SeriuBy Naoko Seriu, Max Weber Fellow 2008-2009

The history of books appears to be one of the most innovative areas in contemporary historiography. Historians of books have challenged the views of historians of ideas, which centred on the thoughts of authors, and have paid close attention to books as material objects. An understanding of this is indispensable to be able to approach the question of how books are received. In doing so they have shed light on the various and sometimes surprising ways in which books have been read or appropriated by collective and individual “readers”.

A new project at the University of Lille 2 (S. Dauchy) in collaboration with the University of Gent (G. Martyns), the University of Exeter (A. Musson) and the University of Helsinki (H. Pihlajamäki) aims to promote awareness of law books from the early modern period to the 20th century. The research agenda involves constructing a selected corpus of important law books that have had a trans-national impact in Europe and beyond, and analysing the circulation of legal knowledge, without omitting the authors’ biographical and intellectual trajectories.

Supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the project will mobilize a large network of historians of law, who will come together, in particular, to publish a collective work dedicated to the Books that made Law in the Western World. The project will also provide an occasion for renewing historiographical discussion of topics such as the transition between medieval manuscripts and books, the significance of the “printing revolution”, and the question of censorship.

The three-year project is coordinated by Naoko Seriu, Max Weber Fellow 2008-2009.