Our Scholar Spotlight series continues with Susanne Pohl-Zucker, independent scholar. In our earlier interviews, we noted that only three of the fifty contributors to the recently published Oxford Handbook of European Legal History were women. Like Women Also Know History, this Scholar Spotlight series aims to showcase female scholars and their work. Its special focus is scholars of European legal history.
Susanne Pohl-Zucker is an independent scholar who lives in Oppenheim, Germany.
Alma mater: MA 1991, Ph.D. 1997, University of Michigan
Fields of interest: History of premodern criminal justice in Europe, legal procedure, ius commune, dispute resolution, law and emotions, disability history
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? My fascination with premodern history started when I read the novel "The Name of the Rose" as a teenager. I subsequently became a history major at the University of Tübingen, Germany, although an exchange program offered me the opportunity to move to the US and study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I loved the different teaching methods in the US, and I was excited about my first exposure to anthropological and cultural approaches towards medieval and early modern European history. Courses with Diane Hughes, Thomas A. Green and William I. Miller awakened my interest in legal history, especially the development of centralized criminal legal systems during the course of the early modern period. I applied to stay in the program and after obtaining my Ph.D., I first taught as a lecturer at Eastern Michigan University and then as an assistant professor at Cornell University in the field of early modern Europe. Family reasons led me back to Germany in 2003. After teaching as a lecturer at the universities of Tübingen and Frankfurt for a couple of years, I needed to find ways to adjust my work schedule to circumstances at home. I am now a part-time member of the pedagogical staff at a local learning center for people with cognitive disabilities and write about history as an independent researcher.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? The town in which I live is small, but the larger cities of Mainz, Frankfurt and Mannheim are close by. I often take advantage of the research opportunities that the universities and archives of these cities offer. I enjoy living in a rural area and like cycling through the surrounding vineyards or taking walks along the nearby river.
What projects are you currently working on? I am in between projects, but I have started thinking about and reading for a research project focusing on the parameters of an administrative and legal culture that both produces and restricts the implementation of inclusive education in Germany. I am also hoping to find the time soon to explore the early modern criminal trial records in the archive in Mainz.
Have your interests evolved since finishing your studies? For years, my research has centered on the legal settlement of homicide in premodern Europe. In my book Making Manslaughter: Process, Punishment and Restitution in Württemberg and Zürich, 1376-1700 (Brill 2017), I focus on the indeterminacy of legal practice and analyze the impact of governmental policies and disputants' strategies on judicial outcomes. While I was tracing among other things the ways in which expert legal discourse was appropriated by disputants at court and adapted to governmental aims, I was simultaneously struggling in my everyday life with current legal decisions and the political interests that inform them, concerning the education and work condition of children and adults with disabilities. The desire to contextualize and understand the origins of medical and legal arguments that propel and fuel the controversies surrounding these decisions sparked my interest in disability history a few years ago.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives? During the course of my research, I was looking for sixteenth-century Swiss records of extrajudicial settlements in homicide cases. In most of these cases, only a copy of the final agreement survived. But once I got lucky and found records that documented the various stages of the negotiation between the disputing parties. There was even a letter containing the slayer's indignant complaints about the dishonoring stipulations that the victim's father wanted to impose on him.
Is there an article, book, film, website, etc. that you would recommend to LHB readers? I highly recommend Dana Rabin's recent book Britain and its Internal Outsiders 1750-1800: Under Rule of Law (Manchester University Press, 2017). Her thoughtful and inspiring analysis of court cases in imperial Britain traces how an ideology of rule of law produced and maintained categories of difference based on gender, religion and race.
What have you found to be the most surprising thing about scholarly life? I never cease to be excited and surprised at how easy it is to connect with historians from so many different places with the simple question: "What are you working on?"