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Jurists as travelers

What traveling does to legal knowledge (16th-20th centuries)

In English

Special issue of Clio@Themis. Revue électronique d’histoire du droit, n° 22, 2022.

Coord. Laetitia GUERLAIN (université of Bordeaux, Institut de recherche Montesquieu-CAHD) and Luisa BRUNORI (French national Research Center, Université of Lille, Centre d’histoire judiciaire)

Timetable for proposals and publication

Proposals are to be sent to both coordinators, before March 1st, 2021 : and

• June 1st, 2021 : a first version of the papers is to be sent to the coordinators.

• Summer 2021 : papers will be double-blind peer-reviewed by Clio@Themis.

• December 1st, 2021 : the second version of the corrected papers are to be sent.

• January-February 2021 : the corrected papers will be once again double-blind peer-reviewed.

• April 15th, 2022 : the final version of the papers have to be sent.

• June-July 2022 : release of the issue.


This special issue of the on-line legal history journal Clio@Themis endeavors to question what traveling does to legal knowledge. If this question is classic as far as science studies are concerned, legal historians have not seized this topic so far. They have rather paid attention, instead, to the circulation of texts (translations, correspondence, etc.). This is not surprising whatsoever: if traveling is essential to the work of an anthropologist, a geologist, a botanist or a geographer, its usefulness is less obvious for jurists – legal practitioners or scholars –, whose work is mainly textual and interpretative.

This issue of Clio@Themis is to be understood in the prospect of a social and cultural history of legal knowledge. It intends to contribute to the history of the making and the circulation of legal knowledge, by analyzing the influence of travels on legal innovation. To what extent does travel, whatever its end (commercial, diplomatic, learned, religious, etc.), contribute to the making or the renewal/ transformation of legal knowledge ?

The propositions of papers may concern all regions of the world, from the 16th to the 20th century, an era of birth and consolidation of nations. They may deal with the modern or the contemporary era. Papers may be written in French, English, Italian and Spanish.

Jurists as travelers in the modern times (16th-18th centuries)

At the end of the 15th century, the geography of the world is put into question due to the great geographical discoveries of those times. The opening of new trade routes in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans lead to an intense world-wide mobility, to which jurists participate on different accounts. This special issue would like to welcome papers dealing with those multifaceted travels, who (beyond the question of teaching) have born important consequences upon the legal epistemology of modernity. The articles may for instance address the following issues (only indicative) :

Law and evangelization: the epistemological consequences of the travels of jurists. The often long and difficult travels of missionaries (sometimes bearers of a deep legal knowledge) led to the early introduction of canon law in a number of territories outside Europe. One must not underestimate the fact that the impact has been reciprocal : the contact with peoples and cultures outside the Christian world forced legal European systems to address radically new questions, thus leading to the modification of both canon law and the secular laws of the emerging European nations. The figure of the tireless traveler Bartolomé de las Casas is emblematic : his travels have been the basis of his studies on the status of indigenous people, on administrative, rural or labor law and his proposals led to the modification of the imperial legislation. His case is not isolated: many religious jurists, who traveled to America, Asia and Africa, fed their thoughts and modified their reflection due to their travels, thus becoming the actors of deep changes in the legal epistemology of the modern times.

Long distance trade and restructuration of commercial law. “ Medieval Europe had lived leaned to a wall: the Atlantic Ocean ”, wrote Jean Hilaire to describe European trade before the 16th century. When this wall fell down, the powerful merchant class, always looking for new borders to cross, was immediately responsive. If the merchants were the first actors of a now global commercial law, they needed jurists to provide them with adequate legal tools that could help them with transatlantic trade. Among those jurists, a few had traveled to those far-away lands and had a good insight about the commercial reality of those territories. Tomas de Mercado or Bartolomé de Albornoz are a few examples of those more or less learned jurists, whose legal thought has been shaped by their travels, and who proved capable of inventing new commercial law tools adequate to modernity.

Traveling legal practitioners. The modern times have also seen the existence of a great number of jurists (lawyers, notaries, judges, experts, administrators, etc.) who traveled extensively for different professional purposes. They all practiced a law-related profession in another territory, which led them to apply, adapt or translate the law of their country in a very different context. As unconscious pioneers of legal transplants, those jurists would use a wide range of intellectual and cultural tools during their travels. Thanks to their writings, whatever their nature, the return to their homelands has proved enriching and fruitful. If legal historiography has had the intuition of this immense horizon of research, those traveling jurists (Malagòn Barcelò, Tau Anzoátegui) await to be studied in depth.

Jurists as travelers in the contemporary era (19th-20th centuries)

The 19th and 20th centuries have been a time of consolidation of the national identities that emerged in the modern times. Despite this fact, they also have been a time of intense curiosity for other countries and of travels between nations. Legal practitioners and scholars participated to this trend, by traveling a lot, even if we do not know yet to what extent exactly. To learn more about this phenomenon, we are seeking case studies about one jurist/lawyer in particular, as well as broader studies on a given cohort of jurists/lawyers. The proposals may fit into one of the following – non exhaustive – suggestions :

Links between travel and legal innovation. In the prospect of a material history of law, papers may want to address the following questions : to what extent is traveling the very condition of the jurists’work ? (Let us think, for example, of the travels of legal historians in search of new manuscripts in all the European libraries) To what extent is the legal knowledge of a given country transformed by the visit of a foreign jurist ? To what extent does traveling lead to a hybridization of legal knowledge ? Is it possible, in given fields (legal history, commercial law, comparative law, international law, legal anthropology, etc.), to spatialize the activities of the jurists ? The papers could shed some light on the spaces of circulation of the 19th and 20th centuries jurists, in the prospect of a “ historical geography of the dynamics of science ” (D. Pestre).

Typology and material conditions of the travels of jurists. The papers may also want to investigate the circumstances and the material conditions of those travels. With what financial, diplomatic, institutional resources do jurists travel abroad ? In France, for example, many jurists would ask the different state departments to fund (or at least support) their travels (Colonial Office, Ministry of Fine Arts, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, etc.). Some jurists were also going abroad thanks to the research programs of learned societies or academies (Academy of moral and political science, Musée social, learned societies of geography, ethnology, colonial learned societies, etc.). Furthermore, jurists would also travel thanks to the support of a few higher education institutions such as the Collège libre des sciences sociales, the Ecole libre des sciences politiques, the Ecole pratique des hautes études, etc. Some law students benefited from scholarships dedicated to travel studies (Rockefeller Foundation, Albert Kahn Foundation and its “ Autour du monde ” scholarships, etc.). Last but not least, jurists and lawyers were sometimes forced to emigrate to flee their homeland, in authoritarian contexts such as fascism or Nazism. In such cases, to what extent do those situations have in impact on the legal thought of those émigré lawyers ?

Jurists on the field: methodology and writings. Since jurists’ work is usually mainly textual, it may be presumed that traveling has an impact on their working habits. The papers may address the question of methodology: do traveling jurists change their methods to adopt those of the social sciences (fieldwork, interviews, etc.) or do they work just the same ? When they return from their travels, in what kind of publications and with what financial support do they publish the result of their enquiries ? Apart from their legal writings, do they produce another form of literature, such as travelers’ tales, as anthropologists used to do in the 20th century, for example ?


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