[We’ve received the following announcement of the conference Key Biographies in the Legal History of European Union, 1950-1993, to take place June 21-22, 2018 at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt. It is the “annual conference of the research field ‘Legal History of the European Union’” at the Institute.]
The history of European Union law is still to a large extent uncharted territory. This conference is based on the assumption that biographical approaches are a valuable addition to this new field.
For a long time during the last century, biographies were regarded as stale and reductionist. In the field of legal history they tended to focus on prominent jurists and doctrines, to the exclusion of the broader legal and historical context. General historians were criticized for their cradle to grave approach, which stressed the continuities and coherence of life over fragmentation, and for their inclination to give too much importance to one actor over other historical factors. It is only recently that the disciplines of history as well as law have returned to the biographical approach.
At the intersection of law and history, the historiographical turn in international law has been particularly successful. Following the lead of Finnish scholar Martti Koskenniemi, many scholars used biographies to analyse international law and its discourses over time. This intellectual history has been exceptionally sophisticated with respect to analysing the nuances of how the doctrines of international law were created and further developed. However, this strand of research was foremost produced with the purpose of contributing to contemporary theoretical debate in international law. Perhaps for this reason, and also because it was mostly written by legal scholars, it has with few exceptions ignored archival sources and generally not used the broader historiography of international history, nor did it contribute to his historiography.
Biographical approaches have also made a significant comeback in international history in recent years. Here, biographies have been used to transcend the national context and capture the social practice of the new international and transnational reality that emerged during the twentieth century. Biographical approaches, in particular when using private archives, have allowed historians to tap into the informal politics of international organisations and transnational networks, but also to trace the elusive links between worldviews, ideology, ideas and political practice. This approach can also be made fruitful for legal history because systematic archival research allows to explore the social practice that produces law and thus the intricate relationships between law, interests and institutional self-empowerment.
This conference invites both lawyers and historians to use their particular methodologies with regard to biographies of key figures in the history of European law. Such biographies will contribute to the development of the intellectual history of the field, focusing on the development of ideas and doctrines. At the same time they will explore the links between social practices and the broader context of law and legal thinking.
[The program and registration form are accessible here.]