Carolingian Canon Law Project: A Collaborative Initiative

Grants and Contracts Details


In his prizewinning book Law and Revolution: the Formation if the Western Legal Tradition (Harvard, 1983), the late Harold Berman argued that the development oflaw in the medieval church constituted a "revolution" in the long history of multiple legal traditions (Roman law, feudal law, manorial law, urban law, royal law, mercantile law, etc.) that coalesced into a recognizable "western legal tradition." The idea that western legal systems, whether European or Anglo-American, share a common orientation around fundamental principles is also driving much current scholarship in medieval legal studies. Prominent scholars are embracing the concept of a ius commune: a deep stratum of common legal thought that underlies the apparent variety of national laws, and that was established in the medieval period, when jurists worked in a truly international environment, largelybecause of the existence of a single, powerful institution that extended its influence across all of Europe and the British Isles: the medieval church. The legal inheritance from the church was not simply religious, however, because canon lawyers were trained in secular law (especiallyRoman law) as well as canon law. Hence, the study of medieval canon law illuminates crucial premises in western law with regard to accusations, witnesses, investigations, and judgments -- premises still embedded in modern legal codes. The Carolingian Canon Law Project (CCL) gives access for the fIrst time to a vast quantity of important medievallegal material, hitherto known only partially, and only by scholars who have been able to consult manuscripts in repositories scattered across Europe, or who have used texts published before the twentieth century. Modern methods of presenting the texts proved infeasible until the advent of digital technology. This project initiates digital presentation that matches the dynamic nature of the material, which varies in each manuscript. The dynamic interface will supply extraordinary capacities for manipulation of the data by users. This reflects the now widespread recognition that it is important to understand the changes in "living texts" in different moments and places of reception, a need which is not served well in traditional "critical" editions. This project thus will offer a model for any venture in the Humanities that involves study of multiple versions of a text. It also will establish basic "industry standards" for encoding transcriptions of medieval legal manuscripts, standards that can be sensibly adapted for other manuscript transcriptions. Using these protocols, it will be possible for the fIrst time to search across a large number of transcriptions, despite the frequent variations in spelling,word order, and phrasing, and to collate selected transcriptions. Because this material is so difftcult to access, the CCL also supplies vital bibliography, annotations, and translations into English of these Latin texts. Presentation in a digital environment allows users to investigate efficiently particular statutes, specifIc principles or concepts, and the transmission of individual canons in a large corpus. Digital presentation will permit continuous updating and revision of the information; for this reason it is on a woo to which scholars all over the world can contribute. This project is intensively collaborative, and is designed to sustain collaboration among future as well as present scholars. The initial team is international, with experts from the U.S., Germany, England, and Canada participating in its development. It will have international recognition and use.
Effective start/end date9/1/0812/31/09


  • National Endowment for the Humanities: $49,133.00


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