Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory

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Dr Stefanie Rüther
Research Coordinator

Hansaallee 41
60323 Frankfurt am Main

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.

Research Areas

Department Marietta Auer

Department Marietta Auer is dedicated to the research and formulation of multidisciplinary theory of law. The profile of the research pursued in the department consists in the multidisciplinary approaches to questions, in particular, of private legal-theoretical and private legal-doctrinal nature, which take into consideration the sociological, philosophical, historical, economic, cultural and natural scientific research dimensions on the law and theoretically reflects on them.

  • Law in Modernity
  • Multidisciplinary Theory of Law and Private Law Theory
  • Theory of Legal Science and the History of Legal Scholarship

Department Thomas Duve

Department Thomas Duve investigates regimes of normativity in the European Middle Ages and the early modern and modern periods. Its work is based on a broad conception of normativity, and it understands the history of law and of other normative regimes (for example, religious ones) as a continuous process of the translation of normative knowledge. The Department sees the theoretically informed reconstruction of these processes as a particular challenge of current legal historical research that critically develops its national and transnational traditions. A focus on ‘regimes’ of normativity permits it to analyze historical constellations of norms, institutions and practices in their dynamic interaction and in a way that is open to global historical perspectives. Its research on historical regimes of normativity builds on the findings of the earlier research foci on ‘multinormativity’, ‘translation’ and ‘legal spaces’, on research projects studying historical regulatory regimes and, last but not least, on the reflections regarding legal histories in global historical and knowledge historical perspectives that have been developed at the Institute in recent years.

  • Religious and Secular Legal Cultures of the European Middle Ages
  • Curia, Canon Law and Moral Theology in the Modern Era
  • Iberian Worlds
  • The History of Criminal Law, Crime and Criminal Justice
  • Special Legal Orders
  • Historical Regimes of Normative Knowledge

Department Stefan Vogenauer

Department Stefan Vogenauer explores the European and comparative dimensions of legal history. With regard to the former, it currently has a particular interest in the Legal History of the European Union. With regard to the latter, its present focus is on Legal Transfer in the Common Law World, ie the interaction of English law with the laws and customs of the various parts of the British Empire from the 18th to the mid-20th century.

European and comparative legal history cannot be neatly separated, as is obvious from a third research field of the Department which explores private law and dispute resolution in a historical, comparative and transnational perspective. This builds on the Institute’s previous work and adds to the doctrinal history of European private law, particularly during the ius commune and thereafter. In a similar vein, the Department retains a strong interest in the history of sources of law and legal methods across different legal systems and traditions.

Another distinction that is difficult to maintain is that between legal history and contemporary law. Research projects in Department Stefan Vogenauer therefore approach historical phenomena with a keen interest in their contemporary relevance.

  • Legal History of the European Union
  • Legal Transfer in the Common Law World
  • Private Law and Dispute Resolution in a Historical‚ Comparative and Transnational Perspective
  • Sources of Law and Legal Methods

Research Highlights

Joining the Institute

Each year the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory welcomes numerous researchers and stipend-holders from around the world who wish to take advantage of the excellent working environment, come into contact with other researchers, as well as access to the Institute’s library and its specialist literature.

Beyond the visitor’s programme, ‘support contracts’ offer employment at the Institute for a period of three years to work on a doctoral dissertation. We also offer postdoctoral fellowships to enable highly qualified foreign researchers holding a doctoral degree to pursue budding research projects in a stimulating environment.

For further information and application please visit the Insitutes’s website: