Tag Archives: Frankfurt am Main

Revisiting Frankfurt am Main

Logo Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

One of the earliest posts on my blog in 2009 was devoted to the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt has featured here in many posts, for example in a post on a guided tour to the criminal history of the capital of Rheinland-Hessen and in the post on Savigny at 150 years. Many times I have referred here to the pivotal position of this German research institute in the field of legal history, because it is the best example of an institute showing the variety of legal history, which almost leads you to prefer the plural expression legal histories. When I visited this week the website of the Frankfurt institute I found many new things which merit attention in a new post. The new building of the institute in Frankfurt’s West End gets close to completion, but it is really worthwhile to have a look at its activities before the move from the Hausener Weg to the new location near the inner city.

From strength to strength

At the moment I wrote the caption for this paragraph I wondered whether the MPI at Frankfurt am Main has indeed a motto of its own, but this one could very well play this role! In the face of many other fields of science and law for which the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft has created institutes it is most reassuring that legal history, too, has got its place since many years. The research programs of the MPG’s institutes are comparable to any other research institute, but the main goals and aims are reviewed by the central board in Munich through the years, with as a possible consequence closure or radical change.

One of the changes has been a shift of focus from private law to other legal disciplines, and from the European Middle Ages to other periods and regions. Countries in the South-East of Europe and Latin America are new targets of research. Luckily materials brought together at the MPI such as a large collection of microfilms of medieval manuscripts are still safely in place. Quite recently the history of the former Arbeitsgruppe Legistik has been honoured with the launch of a digital version of the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) in the database Manuscripta Juridica. The original edition itself was basically a print made by Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw with their pioneering computer program of information concerning manuscripts in libraries worldwide containing texts of and commentaries on Roman law. The online version will be supplemented with data concerning manuscripts with canon law texts. Recht im ersten Jahrtausend is a new subseries of the MPI in the main series Studien zur europäischen Rechtsgeschichte. The recent publication of Andreas Thier’s study Hierarchie und Autonomie. Regelungstraditionen der Bischofsbestellung in der Geschichte des kirchlichen Wahlrechts bis 1140 (Frankfurt am Main, 2011), on episcopal elections and medieval ecclesiastical law, shows that early European legal history is not neglected.

The library of the Frankfurt MPI is really the core and the heart of the institute. Its digital library testifies to its rich holdings by steady enlargements. To the first section with digitized German law journals between 1800 and 1918 a second section has been added this year with journals between 1703 and 1830. At present you can view 31 journals, some two hundred (!) more will be added. You will not wonder that these projects dominate the field of legal history until now, and they have a special place in an earlier post on digitized journals and legal history.

The Virtueller Raum Reichsrecht is dedicated to digitized works stemming from the German Holy Roman Empire. A much larger collection is DRQEdit with digital editions of German-language legal works, a project in cooperation with the Academy of Sciences in Heidelberg and the University of Cologne. Legal literature from Germany, Switzerland and Austria concerning private law printed during the nineteenth century is another subject for a separate digital library, with more than 4,000 books. The digital library for dissertations from the Holy Roman Empire between 1600 and 1800 contains a number of digitized versions of them, but is mainly concerned with presenting a detailed description of some 73,000 dissertations. By now it should be no surprise the institute at Frankfurt participates with three other institutes of the MPG in the Digitization Lifecycle project for best practices and innovation in the field of digitization. It is only fair to indicate that for reasons of copyright the number of accessible digitized books in the field of Byzantine law is unfortunately very restricted. The overview of manuscripts with legal texts from Byzantium offers here some solace. By the way, a number of pages of the MPI website are available both in German and English.

The holdings of the library have been enriched by the collections of several scholars in the field of legal history. Among recent accessions is the library of Sten Gagnér (1921-2000) with 10,000 volumes and many offerings. It goes without mention the library offers to its visitors access to a number of subscribed databases and the MPG’s own digital library and licensed online journals. It is often very sensible to look for books on a particular subject first in the library catalogue of the MPI. This will bring you often to literature you had not yet spotted at all. The only sections recently removed from the website of the MPI – or hopefully just temporarily missing – are the links section and the selection of portals for legal history.

In June 2012 the Max Planck Legal Studies Network has been launched in which ten legal institutes combine forces. One of the strengths of the Frankfurt MPI has always been the support of young scholars. With the University of Frankfurt the MPI cooperates in a Graduiertenkolleg, a graduate school for comparative legal history. Every year the MPI organizes a summer school and several other courses for young scholars. The Graduiertenschule Lateinamerika is organized in cooperation with institutions in Argentina and Brazil. For reasons of space I skip other initiatives for young scholars, apart from the financial support for graduates. A link with contemporary law is provided by the new LOEWE center of excellence Aussergerichtliche und gerichtliche Konfliktlösung, a three-year project extrajudicial and judicial conflict solution, a theme dear to my Rotterdam supervisor Chris ten Raa who organized already in the nineties an international research project on the history of mediation and conciliation.

The journal Rg-Rechtsgeschichte scarcely needs introduction as the successor to Ius Commune (1967-2001) which is in its entirety accessible online in the PDF format, and also to the Rechtshistorisches Journal with an often amusing different slant on and sometimes scathing view of the practice of legal history. It is a relief drawings are again admitted to the pages of Rg-Rechtsgeschichte!

More institutions in Frankfurt

Paulskirche, Frankfurt am Main

The Paulskirche in Frankfurt am Main, the location of the Nationalversammlung in 1848

I would like to end this post with a brief look at institutions of the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. The law faculty at Frankfurt is certainly not negligible, and in particular not the Institut für Rechtsgeschichte. The university library, too, is worth visiting. 1848-Flugschriften im Netz is the digital collection with pamphlets on the German revolution of 1848. Compact Memory is a project with over 100 digitized 19th and 20th century Jewish journals from Germany, to mention only one of the digital collections concerning Jewish history and heritage. Legal texts are present among the more than 400 digitized medieval manuscripts. I pick at random from the special collections the Internet Library Subsaharan Africa, a major portal for African studies, the Flugschriftensammlung Gustav Freytag and the Sammlung Deutscher Drucke 1801-1870, the central collection of German imprints from this period. Colonial history is the focus of the Bildarchiv, the digital image collection of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, digitized in cooperation with the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, Dresden. The university library holds also the former collection of the Bibliothek der Bundesversammlung (1816-1866). The volumes of the inventory by Johann Conradin Beyerbach of Frankfurt city ordinances, Sammlung der Verordnungen der Reichsstadt Frankfurt (11 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1798-1818), have been digitized, and the university library has several thousands of these ordinances.

Let’s finish with four other institutions: the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek with for example the German Exilarchiv 1933-1945, focuses on bibliographical projects and communication. The museums in Frankfurt have created the society for Frankfurter Museumsbibliotheken. For legal history the Institut für Stadtgeschichte, too, is one of the libraries with relevant holdings. The history of criminals and punishments comes into view at the Kriminalmuseum Frankfurt am Main.

You might think I forget to mention scholars doing research and teaching in Frankfurt. I am very well aware they make the MPI and the other institutions briefly touched upon here into places with a vibrant scholarly life. Many of these scholars do deserve laurels. The very least to do is pointing to two deceased scholars, Helmut Coing, the founder of the Frankfurt MPI for European Legal History, and Marie-Theres Fögen, also many years at the head of this institute. In my experience the scholars in the service of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte do their best to honour their memory. All who visit the institute and benefit from its services should follow and debate the standards they set, for constructive debate about the fundamental questions, practices and prejudices of legal history is also among the inheritance they left to future generations.

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Following the trail of criminals in Frankfurt

Sometimes finding a subject for a blog post resembles stumbling into a theme, an event or something else worth writing about. Looking again at the congress calendar of this blog suddenly the number of events in German-speaking countries struck me as impossible low. It seems I have overlooked some of the German websites with announcements of congresses, symposia, Arbeitsgespräche and similar events. A number of events is held yearly and I am happy to point you for them to the links collection of the committee for the legal history of Austria. A few weeks ago I added the Wiener Rechtsgeschichtliche Gesellschaft to my blog roll after removing the link to a blog of another German legal society because of its apparent sleeping state. I leave it to your own discretion to figure out which society seems to have no time for blogging. The events organized at the Max-Planck-Institute für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main has a prominent place on the page of the congress calendar because of its continuity and variation. However, on this Frankfurt page you will not find anything on the subject I bumped into today, although this, too, happens on the borders of the Main.

Surely Frankfurt is not the only European city which organizes activities concerning legal history, and it is not completely new that such activities tend to focus on criminal law. Long ago I visited York and of course I passed the spot where tourists can join the daily Murder Mystery Trail. Back to Frankfurt: Frankfurt Stadtevents organizes in May 2011 an activity called “Tatort Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kriminalfälle und Rechtsgeschichte“. The goal is to create a kind of guided tour through the city in a span of one and a half hour visiting and seeing the places where murders took place, criminals were executed and famous cases happened. Some of the courts and the places where the black market flourished will also be visited, and you can imagine other interesting spots and persons. The names of Kaspar Hauser and Anselm Feuerbach are well-known indeed. The tour starts at the Hauptwache, the square named after the former main guard-house of the city, nowadays also the name of a subway station. Perhaps the mentioning on this website of a firm which teases you to taste their drink is the clearest sign that legal historians are not directly involved in the creation of this walk.

Before we might start quibbling about the academic level of this proposal in Frankfurt I would like to ask a few questions. What if professional legal historians did organize an outdoor event in a city with a rich or eventful past? How about leaving your department or research institute, and trying to present a subject to people who are willing to listen and to be informed about something which obviously interests you? Why not make people happy with your hopefully evident enthusiasm about, knowledge of and involvement with legal history? Those within the trade know about the importance of this scientific discipline, but any try to explain it yet again or to present it in a new way or to a different public offers you a chance to develop skills in presenting and guiding, in creating a kind of script which you can quickly tune to your actual public, or even to the weather and your own stamina! And speaking of academic audiences, should one not be aware of the specific challenges to communicate truly with them? Does this not involve at least some of the same qualities a city guide or a museum staff member must have? Anyway as a visitor of a scientific events I really hope speakers have prepared themselves not just to present a paper, but to invite reactions and discussion, and first of all to keep people interested.

What strikes me is the apparent ease in creating this tour in Frankfurt, which in the short description on-screen seems to succeed in taking examples not exclusively from the history of criminal law, to mention only one obvious thing. Some German legal historians have not hesitated to write also for the proverbial general public, and these publications have certainly been used in preparing this tour, and if not, I am sorry to be mistaken. The resources for doing legal history in Frankfurt are not restricted to the wealth of information and materials at the Max-Planck-Institute for European legal history, and getting to know Frankfurt’s history is really worthwhile. I simply refuse to believe you cannot try to create something either similar or even more attractive elsewhere, nor do such tours only qualify as misguided forms of tourism and a waste of time for people with higher education.

For anybody wondering about finding information about current academic events in Germany and surrounding countries, and more particular in the field of legal history, I have to point first of all to the website of HSoz-u-Kult at the Humboldt University, Berlin. The section with Termine (literally appointments or deadlines) has a events calendar showing a relatively restricted number of upcoming events in Germany. Zeitgeschichte-Online is a website with many facets but without a Terminkalender. Clio-Online ia a very useful portal for historians, but alas also without a congress calendar. I have spent several periods in Germany, I have visited Switzerland and Austria, too, but it took me some time before hitting upon the word Wissenschaftskalender. The Informationsdienst Wissenschaft has a website with an interface in German and English with a calendar of scientific events. Austria has its own Wissenschaftskalender. Because of the advanced hour I will not add any events concerning legal history from it to my blog today, but I do like to single out among the news items on the IDW website the news on the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Among the winning young scholars of this year who received their prizes in Berlin on May 9, 2011, is a historian, Henrike Manuwald from Freiburg, who crosses the borders between the history of medieval literature and law. Let’s hope her example invites other scholars as well to find new approaches, to walk unfamiliar roads and to handle both classic sources and newly found materials with fresh inspiration!

A postscript

Only a year later I became aware of a painful omission in this post: the quality of the tour described here cannot be qualified properly without including the Kriminalmuseum Frankfurt am Main. In two posts on museums and legal history I discuss the role and position of these institutions.

Centers of legal history: the Frankfurt MPI

Sooner or later you will notice in the field of legal history the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte at Frankfurt am Main. The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is for most scientists and scholars a German institution known for institutes devoted to fields like molecular biology, but there exists MPI’s – the common abbreviation – for art history, the history of science, and for European legal history, too. The Frankfurt MPI is the home of a very well equipped library for its field. Its digital library offers many things, apart from the very detailed catalogue which yields more details than your average library catalogue. The Virtual Reading Room contains German books on civil law from the nineteenth century, a most important period for German law, and scores of law journals from this period. Many thousand old dissertations from the German Reich have been digitized. Of its own publications one can consult and download all issues of Ius Commune (1967-2001), and this is not the only journal published at Frankfurt: Rg-Rechtsgeschichte is the newest. Add to all riches (for example, the microfilms of manuscripts for both medieval and Byzantine law) of course a well organized and very useful link selection, and you will either visit often their web site or consider visiting Frankfurt.

In my post Revisiting Frankfurt am Main (September 2012) you will find a much more detailed and uptodate portrait of this institute.