Saturday, April 15, 2023

Robert Charles Palmer (1947-2023)

I'm saddened to learn of the passing of Robert C. Palmer, the Cullen Professor of History and Law Emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center.  The most learned of the medieval legal historians I've met over the years have also been the least pretentious.  That certainly was my experience with Professor Palmer.  I first saw him when he presented a paper at a workshop at the University of Chicago Law School when I was a student there in the early 1980s.  The paper developed the distinction between two-handed and three-handed writs.  (Or at least I think that's what it did--how would I have known?)  After he finished, there was an awkward pause as the attendees waited to see who would be first to reveal how far behind Professor Palmer had left us.  Finally, then-Professor Frank Easterbrook ventured a question, Professor Palmer answered, and Professor Easterbrook replied, "So the Coase theorem did not apply in medieval England?"  I don't recall that anyone else had anything better.

As Professor Liz Papp Kamali writes, Professor Palmer has “left an immeasurable legacy to the world of English legal history:  a website with about ten million images of materials from the 12th through 19th centuries in the British National Archives!" -- Anglo-American Legal Tradition (AALT).

--Dan Ernst