Contemporary History of Law – an AK GRR Round Table on Valentine’s Day
Our legal history research seminar, AK GRR, co-organized by Benjamin Lahusen, Marcus Payk, Kim C. Priemel, and myself, has been running since 2014. In November 2019, the journal Zeithistorische Forschungen/ Contemporary Studies of History published our special issue entitled „Zeitgeschichte des Rechts“ (contemporary history of law). In many ways, this special issue had been the outcome of our discussions over the last four years within AK GRR. On February 14th 2020, we launched the publication by inviting a panel of three legal historians to discuss the issue and their understanding of contemporary history of law.
As always, the panel represented both disciplines, featuring Clara Maier (HU Berlin) and Guillaume Mouralis (Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin / CNRS Paris) as historians and Boris Burghardt (Fritz Fischer Institut / HU Berlin) as representative of the jurists. Clara Maier focused on the triangular relation between history, law and politics and the question of increased legalisation (Verrechtlichung). She also called for legal history to explore new fields, such as economics. Boris Burghardt examined the gap between the sometimes idealistic academic contemporary history of law and a sometimes more onedimensional history of law dominating juristic education (systemimmanent). He also made a strong case for a better institutionalisation of legal historical research. Guillaume Mouralis reflected on differences between the academic systems of Germany, France and the US. He promoted a stronger integration of the sociology of law in order to to go beyond descriptions of what is happening and explain who promoted change, why and how.
The following discussion brought together thoughts both on possible research topics as well as research realities of legal history scholars. With regard to research realities, all present testified to a lack of institutionalisation and research-focused academic positions, as there are no chairs for legal historians in history departments, and those within the legal departments are usually tied to a speciality in applicable law. The gap between research and practice was bemoaned concerning content, too. Findings of legal history could enrich the training of practitioners, but are currently mostly neglected. On a more general note, the discussion engaged with how both, law and history, could assist the development of the respective other discipline and in how far it should even desirable to do so. Current examples of public interest, such as the Hohenzollern restitution dispute were raised. The session was concluded by collecting expectations and wishes for the future of a contemporary history of law, some of which hopefully will be picked up by our continued discussions.