Meeting of the Legal History Research Group (GRR) on 10/02/2017: European Law

On February 10, 2017, the GRR Legal History Research group at Humboldt University  turned its attention toward the history and historiography of European law. Philip Bajon (Frankfurt/M.) presented his research project on the Luxembourg Compromise, asking whether it propelled a change in decision making patterns in the Council of the European Union. He posited that although the Luxembourg Compromise was not necessarily hard law, it established an informal veto culture that shaped the constitutional practice in the years to come. Manuel Müller (Berlin; www.foederalist.eu) discussed why the Maastricht Treaty did not turn into a “constitutional moment” and argued that while the political system became more integrated, the European public sphere did not: The main frame of reference, in which European politics and policies were discussed and legitimized, remained national. Finally, Anna Katharina Mangold (Frankfurt/M.) made a plea from a jurist’s perspective for a critical turn in the historiography of European Law. From her point of view, a teleological narrative of European integration continues to shape the work of legal historians. Therefore, she calls upon them to reveal historical contingencies and path dependencies as well as their own bias in prioritizing a specific narrative or subject matter over another in their research.

The presentations served as a departure point for a more general discussion about (legal) history. While Philip Bajon argued that a historical approach can uncover source material from actors other than official personas and institutions, Anna Katharina Mangold contended that contemporary historians can be too close to the individual whose motivations and actions they want to analyze. To resolve these issues, the participants agreed that both historians and jurists need to contextualize authors and their work by situating them in a specific historical context. A lively discussion followed on the question how researchers should deal with their own positionality and political leanings: While the jurists regarded normativity as essential for a future-oriented research that suggests improvements to today’s legal system from a historical perspective, the historians in the room interjected that a political standpoint – especially if not clearly indicated – can undermine an impartial analysis of belief systems and discourses of the past. This discussion also tapped into the recent public debate on “post-truth politics” and the role of academia within it, raising the question of the meaning of factuality in (deconstructivist) research projects – a concern not just for legal historians.

Blue Plaques

At least 20 years have passed since you died and you are a notable figure of the past? There is still a building in Greater London people might associate with you? Did this building survive in a form you would still recognize and it is visible from a public highway? Finally, there is not more than one Blue Plaque at the building’s front?

If you fulfill all these requirements, then apply for your own original Blue Plaque! Or, even better: hope there is someone who recognizes you and sends a detailed proposal to English Heritage. Being British is not mandatory.

Established in 1866 by the Society of Arts, and under the direction of the English Heritage since 1984, „the London’s Blue Plaques scheme (…) celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked“1. The first Blue Plaque one was installed in 1867 and commemorated the British poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square (destroyed in 1889).

Today, there are more than 900 official Blue Plaques in Greater London trying to link buildings and people as well as history and the present. Most, but not all of them are round and blue, because the scheme has been run by four different societies since 1866.

Even a fictitious person is mentioned on a Blue Plaque: The plaque at 221b Baker Street commemorates Sherlock Holmes. Although the adventures of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock take place in the Victorian London, Mark Gatiss and Steve Moffat move the plot in BBC’s series Sherlock into the present London. So he is also the only person on a Blue Plaque who could still be alive.

The majority of the Plaques have been suggested by the public: if the suggestion passes all criteria, a panel of experts discusses the nomination after „thorough historical research“.

Don’t worry if your nomination fails: you can submit the proposal again in ten years’ time.

At the blog’s main sidebar you can find pictures of some Blue Plaques commemorating British and European people who lived through the London Moment.

1) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/about-blue-plaques/

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