Codes, Communities, and Church: The Cultural Contexts of Medieval Law

Grants and Contracts Details


Our collaborative project, comprising both a book and complementary web exhibit, presents new frameworks for analyzing change and continuity in the development of western European legal traditions during the middle ages, when the fluid political configurations of the post-Roman kingdoms became consolidated into fairly stable nation-states in western Europe. We expand the context of legal developments beyond the purely institutional settings in which law is produced and used. We anchor the study of legal history in human actors, even when those actors are anonymous or collective, so that "law" is neither a disembodied abstraction nor a set of rules for which no-one is responsible. Each chapter explores the fundamental question, "who shaped the law?" and orients readers both to prevailing historiography and to recent challenges to traditional narratives. Our project shows how communities-such as monasteries, university faculties, networks of bishops, and royal courts-adapted existing, written law to their interests and needs over time, and also how the influence of the medieval church shifted some of the ideological and theoretical frameworks of secular law. We investigate the locations for the production of legal texts, and the reasons that law was produced at those locations. We explore the changing environments and techniques for teaching law. We analyse the content of major legal codes to identify notable issues addressed in legal texts at different times, at different places, and we correlate the legal interest in those issues to contemporary social conditions, debates, and political maneuvers. By looking at various communities and their knowledge, use, and "recollection" of law over centuries, we create new bridges over the historiographic chasm between the earlier and later middle ages. We also expose source material that, in the absence of scholarly editions, often must be consulted in medieval manuscripts. To complement our book, our digital gallery will bring medieval legal sources to scholars whose interests intersect with legal sources, but who do not yet have the specific paleographic, codicological, or legal background needed to work with such material.
Effective start/end date8/1/1612/31/22


  • American Council of Learned Societies: $80,000.00


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