May the best win! A look at legal history prizes

Some subjects on this blog come into view view thanks to kind alerts of scholars and institutions. Earlier this year the American Association for Legal History asked me to include a notice about one of its book awards in my congress calendar. Last week I received a message about an Italian premio in remembrance of Tullio Ascarelli and Domenico Maffei. The kind message of Paola Maffei prompted me to create a section in my congress calendar for the main prizes and awards in the field of legal history. Inevitably I will have overlooked some prizes in the first version, and hopefully you will inform me about other awards and prizes. Of course this offers me a chance to look here briefly at those prizes which I did find.

Prizes and awards

Banner Trinagle Wen Legal History, Duke UniversityLegal history portals are the obvious starting point for searching prizes and awards. One of the oldest still existing portals is Legal history on the Web of Duke University Law School. Its list opens with the prizes of the American Association for Legal History. The list of Duke University mentions two awards of the Law and Society Association, and the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition offered by the Legal History and Rare Books section of the American Association of Law Libraries.

The list of the prizes offered by the AALH is rather long, and the number of themes and subjects is wide. In the list of Legal History on the Web one recently created prize is missing, the Peter Gonville Stein Book Award which is offered for the best book outside the field of American legal history. The Squire Law Library of Cambridge University has a page with a tribute to Peter Stein (1926-2016) by Lesley Dingle and Daniel Bates.

The Law and Society Association, too, offers a number of awards, two of them can be awarded for work in legal history, the general dissertation award and more specifically the J. Willatd Hurst Prize for a study in the field of socio-legal history.

The prize named after Morris Cohen is awarded for an essay dealing with matters touching legal history, rare books and legal archives. Cohen taught at several American law schools. His magnum opus is the Bibliography of Early American Law (6 vol., Buffalo, NY, 1998; supplement 2003). Morris Cohen (1927-2010) worked as a law librarian at several American universities. His obituary and the comments of colleagues show his importance as an inspiring scholar, teacher and book collector.

An international prize named after a scholar who died very young is the Premio Gérard Boulvert awarded at the Università degli Studi di Napoli by an international jury. Gérard Boulvert (1936-1984) did research in the field of Roman law. Mainly works on Roman law are entered for this competition. The interesting thing here is the presence of other smaller prizes.

One of the questions you face in creating a list of relevant prizes and awards is the choice between national and international prizes. At least two prizes deserved inclusion right away. The Deutsche Rechtshistorikertag, a biannual event, is open to scholars from all over the world, though scholars from Germany, Switzerland and Austria form a numerical majority. The Preis des deutschen Rechtshistorikertages is for young scholars. The Hermann Conring-Preis is an award for work in the fields of legal history, legal philosophy or legal theory. Hermann Conring (1606-1681) was a most versatile scholar who taught rhetoric, philosophy, medicine and political science. In one of his works, De origine juris Germanici (1643) he laid the foundations for academic research into German legal history.

So far we have already seen a few examples of multiple prizes. The Premio Ascarelli-Maffei consists of three prizes, the first for lyrical chant (Marcella Ascarelli Ziffer), the second for commercial law (Tullio Ascarelli) and the third for legal history (Domenico Maffei). Franca Ascarelli put some articles, a full bibliography and a curriculum vitae of her husband Domenico Maffei (1925-2009) on Academia, and also a PDF of a manuscript catalogue to which he contributed, the Catálogo de los manuscritos jurídocos de la Biblioteca Capitular de La Seu d’Urgell, Antonio García y García (ed.) (La Seu d’Urgell 2009). The first recipient of the premio for legal history is Manuela Bragagnolo (Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main). She received the prize on October 5, 2019 in a ceremony held at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati in Siena, a most fitting surrounding for this event.

Looking back I realize the research for my Ph.D. thesis on Nicolaus Everardi was certainly written under the impression of Maffei’s first book, Gli inizi del umanesimo giuridico (Milan 1956). His first book has become a classic study. Among his book-length studies are works such as La donazione di Costantino nei giuristi (Milan 1964) on the Donation of Constantine, Giuristi medievali e falsificazioni editoriali del primo Cinquecento : Iacopo di Belviso in Provenza? (Frankfurt am Main 1979), and with Paola Maffei Angelo Gambiglioni giureconsulto aretino del Quattrocento. La vita, i libri, le opere (Rome 1994). He edited also the massive catalogue of the I codici del Collegio di Spagna di Bologna (Milan 1992). Maffei’s deep knowledge of juridical manuscripts and old legal books, and his wide interests made him into a legal historian who pointed to roads for doing comparative legal history.

Let’s end this post with another prize which owes its name to a towering figure in the field of comparative legal history, The Van Caenegem Prize created in 2014 by the European Society for Comparative Legal History, and awarded every two year to a young legal historian for an article in this field. Last year I wrote her my personal tribute to Raoul van Caenegem (1927-2018). Seeing his very name helps me to remember also the David Yale Prize and the Sir James Holt Award offered by the Selden Society. The existence of a substantial number of prizes in the field of legal history should work as an invitation, in particular for young scholars, to put your very best work under the scrutiny of the juries, and to make your research benefit from these awards. Hopefully the list of awards and prizes can help a bit to push aside hesitations to enter one of these competitions.

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