Comparing law professors of the past

Sometimes I feel the sad duty here to write about recently deceased legal historians. In a brief post you will read foremost about the person, but much less about his background, the places where worked as a judge, a law professor or in other professions. Today I would like to look here at some projects which bring many law professors of the past together. I will focus on a French and a Spanish project, though projects from other countries will not completely be overlooked. In some cases I will look at individual professors, too.

I was alerted to both projects thanks to a blog that started in March 2018, The Making of Legal Knowledge, a international blog with a French and Italian subtitle on legal history and its historiography.

Looking at generations in France

Screen print SIPROJURIS

The first project in this post is already a few years active, but I spotted the second one only recently. Let’s start in France with the database of SIPROJURIS, an acronym for “Système d’information des professeurs de droit (1804-1950)”, an information system on law professors between 1804 and 1950. Siprojuris is a project of Catherine Fillon (Université Saint-Étienne) with the support of Jean-Louis Halpérin (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) and Frédéric Audren (CNRS). Many other French scholars contribute to this project. The database can be approached in three ways, by looking at the professors (enseignants), at their institutions (établissements) and at the disciplines they taught (enseignements). The corner called Statuts provides welcome information on the legal and educational position of French law professors from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and thus you can find out about the differences between a chargé de cours, a chargé de conférences, a professeur suppléant, a professeur titulaire sans chaire and of course those with the fullest possible positions. There are even a few paragraphs about the rank of law professors during the Ancien Régime. The page Sources dépouillées (Sources used) looks at the kind of sources used to compile the database. Information in the Quidam database of the Archives nationales de France has been corrected whenever necessary. It is important to note that a number of dossiers kept at Fontainebleau is since 2014 not accessible.

The Spirojuris database sets 1804 as its terminus post quem, but when a person did teach already before 1804 you will find also information about this earlier period. Jean-François Berthelot (1744-1814) taught for example already in Paris since 1779. Thus this database helps you to gain insight in personal continuity between the Ancien Régime and the nineteenth century. Information about persons has been divided on seven tabs, for external life dates (élements biographiques), training and qualifications (Formation et diplômes), university career, scientific production and information on family matters. bibliographical information and an interactive map. The length of the bibliographical section with an overview of publications differs widely in length and substance.

The heading Enseignements has a few surprises in stock. First of all the number of distinct subjects taught at French law faculties is striking, more than 200. The well-known diversity of subjects in modern law schools is not a new thing. The tradition of major and minor legal subjects is another factor which explains this high number, and this division explains to a certain extent also the different kind of chairs and charges. By clicking on a discipline you get an overview which you can sort by starting and end date. You can also search for a particular discipline and filter for a particular period.

Among the qualities of Spirojuris is the fact it enables you to look beyond professors teaching in Paris. You can see much better the differences between Paris, its central place in France and its relations with other towns and regions. The inclusion of the law faculty at Algiers – from 1907 – onwards is another asset. Sadly on the days I looked at Spirojuris the section on law faculties and other institutions did not work.

The Spirojuris project is connected to the Héloïse network for digital academic history, an European for similar projects. Their website gives an overview of relevant repositories and databases.

While writing about Spirojuris I remembered two virtual exhibitions about French nineteenth-century lawyers. You can find these exhibitions on the special page for virtual exhibitions of my legal history portal Rechtshistorie. The Special Collections of the University of Missouri have created a small online exhibit on the Life of Geofroi Jacques Flach (1846-1919). Flach was born in Strasbourg. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the German army captured his native town. Flach decided to go to Paris. He became a specialist in the field of comparative law, but he also studied a wide variety of subjects in legal history. In 1920 6,000 books from his library were acquired by the University of Missouri. The second virtual exhibition, Paul Viollet (1840-1914): “Un grand savant assoiffé de justice”, Université Paris-I, is much more elaborate. It tells the story of an archivist who became the librarian of the law faculty at Paris. He led the construction of a new law library, and he became also a law professor. It is no coincidence that he was interested in legal history, publishing a number of manuals on French legal history. Viollet was not afraid to take a stand in contemporary debates. He defended the rights of indigenous people at a time this was not at all fashionable.

Teaching law in Spain

Header Diciconario de catedráticos

The second project in this post is duly noted at the Héloïse platform. For Spain the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid is home to the Diccionario de catedráticos españoles de Derecho (1847-1943). Scholars from twelve Spanish universities helped to create this online dictionary; you can find under Miembros information about them and a list of the entries they contributed. The rather special time period, 1847 to 1943, has its own explanation. In 1847 the first ranking of catedráticos (professorships) was established, and in 1943 the regime of general Franco issued the Ley de Ordenación Universitaria which led to the expulsion of some seventy law professors, here found under the heading Depurados. The methods followed for creating this biographical dictionary and the main sources used are explained under Metodologia. You can easily go to the lists of professors for sixteen universities.

The overview of subjects (Materias) shows fifteen main subjects, but for example for Historia del derecho, legal history, you will find also the specific names of variant titles and adjacent subjects. Among the subjects I saw Oratoria forense, “legal rhetorics”. Perhaps French students did not need lessons to speak eloquently, or is there indeed a connection with views about the rational and scientific against a more theatrical way to present facts? Apart from the expelled professors there is also a section on professors who went into exile (Exilio) at other moments and for other reasons.

The main difference between the French and the Spanish project is the fact that Spirojuris has a searchable database. Of course the pages for a particular professor have great similarities. Instead of tabs for different aspects the Spanish website has made anchors enabling you to jump immediately to the things you want to know. For many professors the Spanish project provides also a portrait photo. The Spanish project is far more detailed than its French counterpart. The French project clearly aims at providing information with a standard format, something surely necessary when you want to create an effective database. The section Documentación gives a chronological list of recent publications around the project or concerning a particular law faculty, a scholarly field or a school of thought and its impact.

Beyond France and Spain

The overview of resources at the Héloïse platform is the natural place to start when you look for other projects with similar aims for other countries. In the overview at Héloïse he closest to the two projects discussed here above comes the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum (RAG) for graduated scholars in the Holy Roman Empire between 1250 and 1550, but this resource offers you not only professors, let alone only law professors. The links section of the RAG is rich and varied, but it does not contain something akin to Spirojuris and the Diccionario. For France you will certainly want to know about the databases in the Pool Corpus of the Institut Nationale Universitaire Jean-François Champollion, but the university databases deal either with individual universities (Paris, Caen, Toulouse) or with foreign students in Early Modern France.

A few years ago I looked here in other posts at legal portraits, at medieval prosopography and at medieval tombstones. I hoped to find something among the links in these posts, but alas they do not bring me further for today’s subject. I thought there was a similar resource for Belgium at the Belgian Digithemis platform, but you will find there a database for Belgian magistrates. The links section of Digithemis brought me to another French project, also concerning magistrates, the Annuaire rétrospectif de la magistrature, XIXe-XXe siècles (Jean-Claude Farcy and Rosine Fry, Université de Bourgogne),

For Italy I checked the links section of the Centro interuniversitario per la storia della Università italiane (CISUI, Bologna), but you will find apart from a project on the arts and medicine faculties and a project for medieval Siena and Perugia only projects for individual universities. CISUI strangely does not mention the bilingual project at Bologna with the colourful title Amore scientiae facti sunt exules (ASFE), “Love for science made them exiles”, with databases giving for the Early Modern period the names of students at Bologna (Onomasticon Studii Bononiensis), for all Italian universities doctoral degrees conferred (Italici Doctores), and Iter Italicum, the presence of foreign students at Italian universities between 1500 and 1800.

However, there is one resource for German-speaking countries indeed worth mentioning. Using a very simple web design Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) succeeds in publishing a legal history portal with many sides. A major feature is the section for the biographies of contemporary jurists, Wer ist wer im deutschen Recht, and a similar section Wer war wer im deutschen Recht for deceased German lawyers. Koebler brings us succinct standardized biographies, without sacrificing important details. For twentieth-century lawyers he is keen on noting their whereabouts and role(s) during the Third Reich. Koebler does not restrict himself to law professors, but includes also persons with other roles in the legal world of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Koebler helps with references to biographical publications, too.

I suppose you should see my notes on Italy and Germany as an embellishment of a post focusing on France and Spain, but making comparisons is after all the theme of this post. The two projects have different qualities, and it is interesting to see how the French and the Spanish team approached their goals, set limits and designed a structure for the online presentation. Both projects made me curious to look at other countries. Hopefully you enjoy looking in these resources as much as I do. If you know about other projects well worth presenting here, do not hesitate to contact me about them!

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