Centers of legal history: Edinburgh

Centre for Legal History, Edinburgh

The longest running series of posts here is concerned with centers of legal history. After a long break I will continue this series, starting at Edinburgh. The Centre for Legal history at the University of Edinburgh, founded in 1992, offers a many-sided program to its students. The research done by its staff concerns several main themes of legal history, in particular Roman law and law in Classical Antiquity in the interdisciplinary network Ancient Law in Context. A university in Scotland gives of course due attention to Scots law and Scottish legal history.

The staff of the Centre publishes some of its research results in the Edinburgh Studies in Law. One of the latest volumes edited by John Cairns and Paul du Plessis, The Creation of the Ius Commune: From Casus to Regula (Edinburgh, 2010) has been presented here in a comparison of two volumes of essays introducing medieval law. Apart from Cairns and Du Plessis W.H.D. Sellar and Hector MacQueen are the other staff members of the Centre. MacQueen blogs with Scott Wortley on Scots Law News, and he is also a member of the team behind the blog for European Private Law News. It is interesting to note Sellar’s activity as the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the official heraldic authority in Scotland with responsibility for State Ceremonial in Scotland. A King of Arms is the main herald of a region or country.

On its website the Centre – notice the British spelling! – provides easily accessible information to its activities and its research. Every year a substantial number of lectures and other events is organized. The Legal History Discussion Group is one of the key elements in the yearly schedule of activities. For the annual Peter Chiene Lectures, held in memory of Peter Chiene, scholars from all over the world are invited. All this is crowned by a fine selection of links. The legal historians at Edinburgh have their own blog, edited by John Cairns and Paul du Plessis, with very regular postings, and they are also active at Twitter to provide you the latest news in legal history. The website of the Edinburgh Law School features among the podcasts also lectures on aspects of legal history. You can look in particular at or hear several lectures given during the 2007 Tercentenary of Edinburgh Law School.

Law and history in Edinburgh

The Centre for Legal History at Edinburgh is part of the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh. The Law and Europa Library is located in the Old School, home to the School of Law. Apart from the Main Library of the university it is good to be aware of the Scottish Studies Library. The University of Edinburgh has a number of virtual image collections, none of them specifically dealing with legal history or Scots law. Charting the Nation: Maps of Scotland and associated archives, 1550-1740 is probably the one with the most immediate interest for legal historians. Both the popular and scholarly imagination of Scottish and medieval history have been fueled and inspired to considerable extent by the writings and activities of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). The University of Edinburgh has a digital archive on him. The Edinburgh University Archives have created an online database for the alumni of this university. As for now substantial periods and indeed whole faculties and schools are not yet dealt with here.

In Edinburgh the National Library of Scotland has many things to offer to scholars. Just looking briefly at the wealth of presentations in the Digital Gallery brings you for example to maps of Scotland, including the 1654 Atlas of Scotland by Blaeu, Jacobite prints and broadsides – which could have figured in the recent post on riots – and the digital collection The Word on the Street with more broadsides, and these I did notice in my July post on ballads and broadsides. The Early Gaelic Book collection is worth mentioning, too, as is Scottish History in Print with digitized editions from the publications of a number of historical societies, and a number of transcriptions of historical documents. A Guid Cause…: The women’s suffrage movement in Scotland is a digital collection for educational purposes on the history of Scottish suffragettes. Among the manuscripts and collections at the NLS one should notice not only manuscripts, but also estate papers.

For images alone it is useful to turn to the project Scotlands Images. The online collection of the National Galleries of Scotland can bring you to portraits of Scottish lawyers. For searching in this database you can use the taxonomy of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus created at the Getty Institute.

The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh have as one of its particular strengths on its website the series of guides to several genres of historical records. Sources for legal history take pride of place here. Another service is the online introduction to the palaeography of Scottish documents. The NAS contribute also to the website Scottish Documents where you can find in particular digitized wills and testaments, most easily searched, however, at the website Scotlands People, with also census records and coats of arms. For Scottish charters and their presence online you should benefit from this links selection provided by Glasgow University, a reminder that you do not have to look exclusively at Edinburgh. My own selection of links for Scottish legal history can bring you more, but for seeing a wider context it is wise to visit first the selection of legal history links at the website of the Edinburgh Centre for Legal History.

The series Centers of legal history

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