Remembering Chris ten Raa

Two years ago, on December 15, 2007, Chris ten Raa, professor emeritus in legal history at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, died at the age of 81 years. Together with Alain Wijffels (Leyden/Louvain-la-Neuve) Chris supervised my Ph.D. thesis.  Chris was born August 16, 1926, at the village of Bakkum in the province of North Holland where his father worked as a psychiatrist. Chris’ life was really eventful. He had to hide himself during the German occupation of the Netherlands. After he started in 1945 at Leyden University with the study of Indology, Indonesian law and customs, he had to change his studies to the field of law when the Dutch government finally acknowledged Indonesian independence in 1949 with the Treaty of Lingadjatti. In 1952 he started as a barrister, first in Rotterdam, later in Zutphen, where he became also associated with the local court. Only in 1964 he arrived at the new university of Rotterdam. In 1970 his thesis, De oorsprong van de kantonrechter (The origin of the juge de paix), appeared in print. The roaring seventies were a difficult period for this devoted scholar. He worked on the project concerning the Great Council of Malines, tried to start teaching and living in Suriname, but eventually he returned to Rotterdam, first as a lecturer and from 1986 until 1991 as a full professor of legal history. Creating a new section at the Law Faculty for both legal history, comparative law and computer law shows the width of his interests.

His research into the juge de paix and the creation of a new legal system in the Netherlands from 1811 onwards led him to foster a project on the history of conciliation and mediation that crossed national borders. Many students from Lille and Rotterdam did archival research and wrote papers on the juge de paix, and he supervised a number of graduate students. The Great Council of Malines was not forgotten: he published articles on Nicolaus Everardi, his consilia and his family, and he magnanimously supported my research on Everardi’s book on juridical argumentation. I can picture him vividly at his office with the city plan of Paris on the wall, hosting a New Year’s party at home, talking about his trips to archives and libraries, his love of classical music, and especially meeting people and getting acquainted with them in no time. Chris helped bridging the gaps between modern legal practice and legal history. We buried him on a cold winter day at the snow covered cemetery of Kralingen, a suburb of Rotterdam, and we felt and feel our gratitude for Chris whose joie de vivre, his friendship and his example as a keen and tenacious researcher I remember fondly.

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