CALL FOR PAPERS: Learning Law by Doing: Exploring Legal Literacy in Premodern Societies (Turku, 14-15 January 2016)

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In many European regions, there was a gap between learned law and the largely illiterate laity. Especially where the legal language was another than the vernacular, such as Latin or Law French, this effectively helped to monopolize law and legal knowledge to learned lawyers. Yet, in the shades of what are generally called legal professionals, there were many other people who had some legal literacy, i.e., knowledge of the law and legal skills. Indeed, one may regard legal know-how as a sliding scale between what could be called true professionalism and complete ignorance. While trained legal professionals have been much researched, the legal knowledge and skills of laymen have largely been unexplored in legal history.

In this largely unresearched grey area, one finds people who had pursued some law studies, but never taken a degree or finished the required curriculum. There were also people doing some legal work or part-time advocacy such as scribes, scriveners, clerks, bailiffs and officials. Jury-members, lay magistrates and priests were legal literates in their communities and could also act as legal intermediaries between the people and the authorities. In eighteenth-century Japan even inn-keepers started to offer legal services to the people.

Legal literates had often acquired some knowledge of the contents of the law or legal skills by doing law-related work or being exposed to the practice of law in their lives. This way more marginal groups such as peasants, women and children could acquire a modicum of legal literacy. However, little research has been done on legal literacy in the premodern world, partly because of a scarcity of sources and the marginality of many common people.

This conference explores many facets of legal literacy in the pre-modern world: Europe and European colonies, but also other non-European legal cultures. Believing that cross-fertilization of different academic disciplines (law, social history, literacy studies etc.) will help research the elusive phenomenon, we invite papers on various aspects of the phenomenon, e.g.:

·         groups or individuals who had acquired some legal literacy

·         what legal skills and knowledge were acquired and how this was manifested

·         mechanisms of acquiring legal literacy

·         the uses of legal literacy

·         what legal literacy signified for individuals personally and as members of their community

·         conflicts and/or cooperation between self-made legal literates and members of the legal profession

·         sources for exploring legal literacy

Proposal Submissions and Further Information:

For more information about the conference or to submit a proposal (about 200 words), please contact Professor Mia Korpiola (mia.korpiola[at], Faculty of Law, University of Turku). The deadline for submitting paper proposals is 23 November 2015.

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