The most important task of the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory (formerly Max Planck Institute for European Legal History) is to engage in theoretically reflected historical research in the field of law and other forms of normativity in order to make a specific contribution to the fundamental research in legal scholarship, the social sciences and historical humanities.
The Institute’s research examines law, its constitution, legitimation, transformation and practice. Particular attention is paid to the positioning of historical forms of ‘law’ in the context of other normative orders. The establishment of a department engaged in developing a multidisciplinary legal theory in 2020 substantially expands the Institute’s engagement with issues of legal theory.
The Institute is today able to build on its over fifty-year history. While the emphasis was placed on the history of private law in Europe at the time Helmut Coing established the Institute in 1964, subsequent directors gradually extended the fields of activity to other research areas, such as the history of public law, international law and criminal law. For quite some time, a great deal of importance was attached to the evaluation of legislation and key scholarly reference texts. Today, however, the focus is primarily on working with other relevant source materials.
Whereas emphasis was traditionally placed on the legal history of Europe, under the direction of Thomas Duve (since 2009) and Stefan Vogenauer (since 2015) the Institute has increasingly expanded its scope to also include other regions. Comparative, global, and global-historical perspectives are employed to overcome the analytical divisions separating these regions, to critically evaluate certain fundamental assumptions about European legal history and legal theory, and, furthermore, to trace out Europe as a global region from a legal historical perspective. The establishment of a third department in September 2020 enlarged the Institute’s previously predominantly legal-historical focus to now also encompass research on legal theory.
Roughly sixty researchers from various regions of the world are working in the three departments—European and Comparative Legal History (Department Stefan Vogenauer) and Historical Regimes of Normativity (Department Thomas Duve) and Multidisciplinary Theory of Law (Department Marietta Auer)—and the currently two Max Planck Research Groups.