Thursday, November 13, 2014

ASLH's New Honorary Fellows: Charles Donahue

[Here, via H-Law, is the citation for the Professor Charles Donahue, whose selection as an Honorary Fellow was announced at the recent ASLH meeting.]

The American Society for Legal History is pleased to elect Professor Charles Donahue, Jr., as an Honorary Fellow of the Society.

Charles Donahue (Credit: Harvard Magazine)
Professor Donahue is the Paul A. Freund Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.  He received an A.B. in Classics and English from Harvard University in 1962 and the LL.B. from Yale University in 1965.  Prior to joining the Harvard Law School faculty, he was a member of the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School.  He is a member of the American Law Institute, former Literary Director and Vice-President of the Ames Foundation, former Vice-President and Honorary Treasurer for the U.S.A. of the Selden Society, and, of course, former President of the American Society for Legal History.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Medieval Academy of America.  In 2011 the University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his scholarship.

Professor Donahue is one of the leading medieval legal historians working today.  He is widely admired and respected for the range of his scholarship, the depth of his knowledge, and his generosity toward other scholars both young and established.

His scholarship ranges widely across medieval law and history.  He has examined the place of human rights in Roman law and the roles of women in medieval litigation, as well as fundamental questions of English common law and more.  With his prodigious breadth of knowledge, he has made pioneering contributions in every area he has addressed.  But throughout his scholarly travels, he has always returned to his abiding interest, medieval canon law.

Professor Donahue has devoted much of his career to exploring the question, “What Causes Fundamental Legal Ideas?"–a question he first posed in the title of an article on marital property in England and France in the thirteenth century in the Michigan Law Review in 1979.  He has led the way in extending Roman and canon law scholarship to include the impact of Roman and canon law in real world settings.  In his most sustained exploration of the question, he asked whether the canon law of marriage and marital property was monolithic or whether it was shaped by local needs and assumptions.  To answer, he dug deeply into the records of ecclesiastical courts in England and across western Europe.  His investigations culminated in what truly and literally can be described as his magnum opusLaw, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages:  Arguments About Marriage in Five Courts, published by Cambridge University Press in 2007.

The book is a tour de force of comparative legal history.  Professor Donahue moves beyond the canonical rules governing the formation and dissolution of marriage and studies how the rules were applied.  With his profound knowledge of canon law and ecclesiastical court practices, he demonstrates that within the common application of the general canon law of marriage, there were significant differences among courts in the types of cases heard and their outcomes.  He discerns differences in practice with such a fine eye that, as one reviewer remarked, he “enables us to grasp the world views or mentalités of the men and women who brought proceedings” before the courts.  In other words, he sees the people in the records.

That Professor Donahue could see the people in the records so clearly is in no small measure due to his intimate familiarity with archival court records that he himself translated, edited, and published.  Translating and editing court records, law reports, legal treatises, and the like, has been a staple of scholarship in medieval legal history to a degree unmatched by legal historians of any other period.  Professor Donahue is the preeminent modern exemplar of this tradition.

His contributions in this area have been many, significant, and selfless.  He has edited or co-edited major volumes for both the Selden Society and the Ames Foundation.  Indeed, whether or not he was editor, every volume published by the Ames Foundation in the last twenty-five benefitted from his advice, counsel, and often direct supervision as Literary Director of the Foundation.  He has had a hand–often both hands–in making available to fellow students of the field a large swath of the sources on which their own scholarship rests.

In sum, Professor Donahue has shaped the broad discipline of legal history and influenced the work of others.  As a scholar we admire, whose work we aspire to emulate, and on whose shoulders we stand, we are pleased and honored to welcome him as an Honorary Fellow of the Society.

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