What are we actually doing when we pursue scholarship in legal history? This question is often posed during times of crisis and the answers vary considerably. They were almost always confessions. Only when looking at the truly major figures of the discipline is the question historicised, and almost never answered taking up a comparative perspective. Joachim Rückert has taken up the challenge: his contribution concerning the invention of national legal histories in Europe represents a truly important overview. This contribution should not only assist German scholarship in legal history reflect upon its own work, but is also the latest in a series of articles published in this journal over the past few years touching upon questions of method – a subject of discussion in our research field »legal historiography« as well.
The images our legal histories generate and the narratives they bring forth are also the subject of the second contribution in the Research section. The Taiwanese legal historian Tay-sheng Wang offers an overview of perspectives on Taiwan’s legal history. Tracing the intensive interconnections between continental European and Chinese legal histories and, at the same time, emphasising the individuality of the legal development in Taiwan, the resulting document is an insightful reflection regarding the established legal system in Taiwan.
Instead of just one thematic focus, this year we have three Foci. All three deal with the Iberian monarchies in their historically varied spatial dimension. The contributions in Focus »Convivencias« are the result of a cooperation with three other Max Planck Institutes – Art History, History of Science, Social Anthropology – and a colleague from the United States, David Nirenberg. Legal historical perspectives on the coexistence of members of different cultures, religions and confessions are at the heart of this section. The concept of »convivencia« has again become fashionable within the past few years; it often conjures up associations of irenic, glorified images of a harmonious coexistence, which today are expressed in the plurinational and pluriethnic Latin-American constitutional experiments, as well as gives rise in Europe and other places to the hope that multiethnic and multireligious societies can work. Historically speaking, the term is above all connected with the high medieval Iberian Peninsula; in the 19th century, it was put into service in the imperial narratives in numerous ways. We have gathered together contributions about the history of the regulation of the coexistence of members of different religions in the Islamic and Catholic traditions, about the continued effects of these legal categories in the early modern period and finally about contextualisation of the debate in the Spanish constitutional history of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The second Focus also takes place within the Iberian context, and again it deals with the subject of the ›other‹: here our attention is drawn to the School of Salamanca, the intellectual centre of the Catholic early modern Scholasticism and the debates about »The Men of the New World«. One of the oldest universities in Europe, and celebrating its 800th birthday this year, significant impulses for legal thought were sent out from the University of Salamanca – which reached as far as the Age of Enlightenment and Protestant world. Only more recently, and slowly, has the School of Salamanca become more firmly embedded within the European and global contexts. As a result, alternative inceptions of the school are easier to distinguish, many of which precede the conventional account that begins with Francisco de Vitoria’s arrival in Salamanca in 1526. Three further contributions, written within the framework and context of the joint research project on the School of Salamanca (Goethe University Frankfurt and Max Planck Institute), shed new light on authors and texts that, for quite some time, did not receive much attention.
It is not uncommon that the School of Salamanca’s reflections on the order of the new world are considered its defining feature. It was in Salamanca that the justifications of European expansion, with all of its ambivalences, were discussed, and precisely these difficulties are what the more recent historical discourses on international law continually emphasise. However, even the Iberian Empires were not meant to last forever. But when did they actually come to an end? This question was the subject of the conference »The End of Empires« held in November of 2017, here again in cooperation with the Goethe University Frankfurt and colleagues from abroad. To contemplate | the end of empires is, at the same time, to ask about the rise of the nation-states. Moreover, it was not least the legal discourses, institutions and juridical practices that shaped this transitionary period; for it was in the juridical-political language that the old and new world were understood and negotiated. It is all the more astounding that the legal dimension receives so little attention in the general imperial history – just as little as the Iberian Empires and generally the early modern political formations. Perhaps the four contributions – two on the Spanish Empire, one on the Brazilian Empire, and one on the Ottoman Empire – can illustrate the legal historical perspectives and the comparative potential of legal historical analyses, that is, an approach that goes beyond the »Is it or isn’t it«-debate that occupies so much space within the study of empires.
In yet another extensive and linguistically diverse Critique section, we find quite a few works from the area of legal history treating the Iberian Empires, the regulation of diversity through law and »convivencias«. The Marginalia casts a spotlight on a territorially small and probably less well-known case of the overlapping of various legal orders: on Helgoland. The series of images, which illustrate this year’s issue, stem from the cooperation with the Florentine Max Planck Institute for Art History. The depictions portray hybridisations not least as they have materialised through »convivencia«. In their joint contribution, which also belongs to the Focus section »Convivencias«, the art historians who selected these images elucidate their significance. Moreover, they use these images to illustrate what is perhaps, as discussed at the beginning of the foreword, one of the greatest challenges facing contemporary legal historiography: an observational reconsideration – not least brought forth by postmodern theory, global studies and the transnationalisation of academic communication – of the objects (»art« and »law«), the fundamental spatial categories (national, European, global) and disciplinary limits of our work.
Before closing, I would like to make one last remark. This issue of Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History is the last one for which Karl-Heinz Lingens is responsible as head of the editorial department. He will be retiring in 2019. Without him, the Institute’s publications – the book series, the journals – would not have been the same. I have yet to meet an author who did not have anything but praise for him and his work. Demonstrating this fact are the dozens of acknowledgments and notes of thanks found in prefaces over the years. And to these I will add at least one more note of gratitude – in his Rechtsgeschichte.