Research focus areas
The research focus areas form the nuclei of the coordinated project work carried out at the Institute. They are devised to be of medium-term duration, mutually networked and central to our work, and are comprised of diverse coordinated research projects.
Exploring sources of knowledge
One of the focal points of the Institute’s research activities lies in exploring and preparing sources and aids that are indispensible to basic research in the field of European legal history. We search through repositories, editions and collections to address sources of medieval legal knowledge such as manuscripts and collections of consilia, of canon law in the German-speaking territories between 1350 and 1550, or the production of law books and “police” legislation in the early modern era. A project devoted to “editing and processing Byzantine legal sources” has produced a collection of around 1,000 microfilm copies of Greek manuscripts that are being systematically explored as a resource supplemented with editions of important legal texts and commentaries. Another important aspect of this research focus is the provision of sources relevant to legal history in digital form – from bibliographic indexes via electronic journals to text and image databases – through the medium of several digitization projects.
Law as a civilizing factor in the first millennium
This research area is focused on the phenomenon of law as a central feature and a driving force behind cultural developments. In concentrating our attentions on the civilizations of the first millennium, we are concerned here with a multiplicity of ideals and realities that were created not least with the aid of law. To study these we have chosen an integrative, interdisciplinary approach that spans time and place from Late Antiquity to the turn of the millennium, from the Near East to Western Europe and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The variety of individual finds, forms and functions ought not to be subordinated to a litany of the "process of civilization". This research focus area is concerned with law not as an abstract structure, but as a very real tool and building block in the worlds mankind has created for itself.
Law and religion from a historical perspective
One of the defining elements of Western legal culture lies in the ordering that took place, between the High Middle Ages and the era of what is termed confessionalization, of the relationship between secular rule and religion. Despite competing for supremacy, these two were nevertheless dependent on one another and intimately interlinked: Secular law and church law would not be what they are, had there not been an intense symbiotic relationship between them over centuries.
History of criminal law and research into historic criminality in Europe between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era
This research focus area integrates aspects and issues of "traditional" criminal law history along with newer approaches of research into the history of criminality and other cultural science disciplines. The bandwidth of individual projects spans a period from the Late Middle Ages to the early 20th century. Still of central importance are the origins and development of penal standards and the pertinent legal debate, not least in respect of the intended purpose of and justifications for (state-imposed) penal sanctions in Europe since the Late Middle Ages. In addition, individual projects are directed towards legal and penal practice, with the subjects addressed ranging from research into deviance and criminality from a historic criminological perspective to the penal proceedings themselves, the judgment processes and specific penal practices. Following newer approaches in the fields of legal iconography, the media portrayal of the law and the role of expert knowledge, we are also, in individual projects, exploring in a European context the representation of crime and justice in images and popular media, the policies towards crime in the 18th and 19th centuries and the distinction between criminology and criminalistics. One subject of study that at least in part combines these various approaches is the history of political crime and the reactions of the legal systems in Europe since the Late Middle Ages.
History of international law
The history of international law is one of those fields that have traditionally received less attention from researchers despite being a worthwhile object of scientific study. Research into the history of international law is a long-established feature of the MPIeR, where it has acquired particular momentum since the creation of the German Research Council research group in 1997. The Institute is involved in publishing the Journal of the History of International Law, as well as with the series of publications by Nomos Verlag Baden-Baden devoted to the history of international law. As part of the local excellence cluster, a Junior Research Group devoted to "International law and science, 1789-1914" has recently been established. The chronological emphasis of our study of the history of international law is on the last three hundred years.
Modern regulatory regimes
The modern interventionist state of the late 19th and 20th centuries has produced new regulatory structures for both state and society. The research focus on "modern regulatory regimes" aims to investigate this change from the legal history point of view, as well as from an interdisciplinary perspective. It would appear obvious at first sight to address this issue in the context of public law. However, to focus solely on public law would be too restrictive. Private law, too, has undergone drastic change, initially under the guise of decodification. And besides public law and civil law, criminal law should also not be overlooked. Here too, new purposes and new instruments have found their way into legislation. In fact, a selective approach ordered according to legal disciplines overlooks the point that modern regulatory regimes are typically complex amalgams that do not fit neatly into any one of the three traditional categories of law in isolation.
Age and law
The Max Planck Research Group studying “age and law” is engaged in reconstructing, from a historical perspective, the segmentation of the human lifespan into stages under the influence of age-specific norms in large areas of the law.