History of Private Law

Research into the history of private law has a long tradition in Frankfurt. For Helmut Coing, our Founding Director, it was the key task of the Institute, for he considered this area of legal history to be ultimately the ‘direct foundation of the contemporary system of private law’. Thus the Institute’s first flagship publication, an extensive handbook, was entirely devoted to the sources and literature of the modern history of private law (Handbuch der Quellen und Literatur der neueren europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte). Even then the 19th century in particular was presented not only as an era of unification, systematisation and ‘scientification’ of the law, but also as a period in which a new plurality of legal phenomena emerged.

Subsequent Institute projects emphasized this approach, e.g. by studying the modern civil codes and the glosses added to them by creative judicial interpretations or by researching the multitude of normative phenomena emerging from the industrial revolution which could not be shoehorned into the traditional categories of ‘law’.

Today, the Institute’s research of the history of private law has become even more ambitious. ‘Legal’ history is analysed in close dialogue with social, economic and political history. Moreover, ‘European’ legal history is no longer confined to the continental ‘civil law’ tradition but includes, as a matter of course, the history of the common law; moreover, the Institute increasingly focuses on legal developments in East Asia, South America and the Commonwealth which are intimately connected to the legal history of Europe, but transcend it and are seen in the context of global history.


Research Projects

Unification of private law in the German Confederation
Research Project | Luca Alexander von Bogdandy

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