1. Home
  2.  » Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Professor Dr Thomas Duve
Professor Stefan Vogenauer Mjur (Oxford)

The Max Planck Institute for European Legal History regards one of its most important tasks to be making a specific contribution to the basic research in legal studies and social sciences, as well as in historical humanities through historical research based on theoretical reflection in the field of law and other forms of normativity.

Its research focuses on historical law modi, its constitution, legitimation, transformation and practice. Particular attention is paid to the positioning of “law” in the field of other normative orders. The development of perspectives on global history enhances and extends the research tradition of legal history in Europe. The Institute can build upon a 50-year history. Whereas particular emphasis was traditionally placed on the legal history of Europe, the Institute now extends — under the direction of Thomas Duve (since 2009) and Stefan Vogenauer (since 2014) — its scope to other regions. Global perspectives should help to overcome the analytical division of areas, to critically evaluate some fundamental assumptions of European legal history and to also present Europe as a global region from a legal historical viewpoint. Both departments carry out independent research projects which are integrated into a common research profile.

Research Areas



The fundamental question when dealing with ‘law’ concerns the relationship between what we call ‘law’ and other kinds of rules that influence behaviour and coordinate expectations but are not treated as ‘law’, such as moral and religious codes as well as technical and pragmatic instructions.


Communication about law takes place in time and space, both of which are key dimensions for legal history: law is (re)produced diachronically and synchronically. But what actually happens during this transmission, this transfer, this translation?

Conflict Regulation

Conflict is not just a constant challenge for the law but also a key to access its history, because it reveals the normative options that the parties to the conflict realised. Local conditions and traditions as well as pragmatic contexts and the decisive authority of the law — that is, the living law — can be revealed through conflict.



The History of Legal Methods and Practices

Legal history cannot be restricted to a history of legislation and adjudication, of people and institutions. It must also include the methods, conventions and practices that influence, if not guide, the process of determining the law. These doctrines, conventions and practices are increasingly important to understanding the diverse processes of exchange and translation between various epistemic communities in the past and present.

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.

The History of Criminal Law, Crime and Criminal Justice

This Special Research Field includes issues and questions concerning the history of criminal law and approaches to the historical research of criminality. The development of penal law and the attendant juristic discourse is a central topic, and it is explored from the perspectives of conflict management, multinormativity, the representation of crime and justice in popular media and the delineation of expert knowledge in criminology and criminalistics.

Law as a Civilising Factor in the First Millennium

This special research field is focused on the phenomenon of law as a key element and driving force behind cultural development. By concentrating our efforts on the civilisations of the first millennium, we address a multiplicity of ideals and realities here that were created not least with the aid of law.

Legal Historiography

Every academic discipline profits from reflection on its own doings. This entails keeping up with the development of the academic system and, in the case of jurisprudence, of the legal system of which it is a part. Jurists must reflect on the history of their discipline and on the history of their research objects to build on existing analytical traditions, to identify and, if necessary, to overcome path dependencies.

The Legal History of the Church

One of the defining elements in the self-image of Western legal culture is the particular ordering process that took place between secular rule and religion from the High Middle Ages to the Confessional Age. In their mutual antagonism and struggle for supremacy, they were inseparable and interdependent. [more]

Legal History of the European Union

EU law, which is to say the law of the European Union, is very much a contemporary phenomenon. As such, it is subject to scrutiny by EU lawyers, political scientists, sociologists and others. Yet, more than 60 years after the Treaty of Paris, EU law has accrued a substantial history that has so far escaped the attention of legal historians.

The Legal History of Ibero-America

Ibero-American and European legal history have been closely linked since the beginning of the European expansion. While this – to some extent – lead to catastrophic consequences for the native inhabitants of the so-called New World, encountering previously alien cultures and religions also presented jurists from Europe with new challenges.

The Legal History of the School of Salamanca

The formation of the modern western concepts of law, politics, religion and morality proceeds as part of a long and complex on-going process of adoption, criticism and further development of traditions from antiquity and the Middle Ages. The scholasticism of the 16th and 17th centuries plays an important role here. [more]

Legal Transfer in the World of Common Law

As the British Empire expanded, English law was being introduced in very different parts of the world. Rules, principles and institutions from England were brought into force in regions and societies as diverse as Australia, Ghana, India, Jamaica and Singapore. In this Special Research Field, we enquire how this process unfolded in various places.

Regulatory Regimes

Regulatory regimes are arrangements of steering and control mechanisms that profoundly influence the operation of a particular social sector. The constitutive elements of regulatory regimes extend beyond material rules of behaviour to include the procedures by which they are created and their validity is preserved; institutions that establish, promulgate and implement norms; as well as core principles and narratives of justification.


An important part of the Institute’s research activities since its foundation has been to elaborate on and make available sources and support materials that are essential to basic research on legal history.

Joining the Institute

Each year the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History 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 the MPI library and its specialist literature.

Beyond the Guest 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:https://www.rg.mpg.de/en.


Max Planck Institute for European Legal History

Hansaallee 41 
60323 Frankfurt am Main

Tel: +49 69 789 78 – 0
Fax: +49 69 789 78 – 169


For information on the Guest Programme:


For information on support contracts ans supervision of doctoral students:


For information on the visitor’s programme:


For information on additional grant opportunities:


For information on the Summer Academy:


For information on study sessions:


To enquire about applying as a visitor, doctoral student, or postdoctoral fellow:

Dr Stefanie Rüther
Research Coordinator

Phone: +49 (69) 789 78 – 190
Fax: +49 (69) 789 78 – 169