woensdag, mei 22, 2013

19th European Forum of Young Legal Historians

Originally uploaded by Frederik Dhondt
Last week, the legal historians from Ghent University and its French partner Lille-2 (CHJ) jointly organised the 19th European Forum of Young Legal Historians.

This annual conference started in Germany, but travelled every year on the continent (2007: Seville; 2008: Pécs; 2009: Firenze; 2010: Frankfurt; 2011: Maastricht; 2012: Vienna; 2013: Ghent/Lille; 2014: Cambridge). The Forum serves as a low-threshold opportunity for Ph.D.-candidates to present their work in their own, or another language, to a European audience. Personal bonds are easily constructed during four days of conference. Organising one of the editions implies winning an election at the Association of Young Legal Historian's general assembly, and thus active networking.

Over 60 papers were presented, clustered around the central theme of "(Wo)Men and the Law". The latter should not be seen as a rigidly applied paradigm of discourse analysis. Instead, almost all presenters seized the opportunity to approach their research object from a gendered perspective, with all the due caution applicable to their respective historical cases.

The keynote lecture, given by prof. Alain Wijffels, showed how a 1605 pamphlet against Henry III (King of France, 1574-1589), L'Isle des hermaphrodites (fulltext on Gallica), was framed in gendered terms. The King's predilection for male "mignons" was used to create a hermaphorite utopia. Inverting the normal gender structure of society implied inverting all moral order in society. The satirical work listed a catalogue of ficticious legal norms and values, portraying inter alia a blindfoldless (and thus corruptable) Themis.

Traditionally, professors are expelled from the conference on the first full day, as Ph.D.-students and young post-docs take the floor. Inevitably, the focus on gender representations took many presentations to foray into the context of legal norms, rather than on formal sources of the law. My own intervention on Elisabeth Farnese ("Bring this mad woman to reason!"), dominant queen of Spain (1714-1746) was built on impressions in diplomatic correspondence, and thus on subjective impressions that are only relevant at a meta-level, in the sense that they can have legal norms as a conversationial object. In the ferocious Queen of Spain's case, he fact that a woman could use the legal means normally at her husband's disposal, was seen as a transgression. Elisabeth made an impossible hodgepodge of legal argumentation herself, relying on treaties she failed to comply with, or putting forward succession claims contrary to imperial law. In the end, however, she managed to maintain the status of her own house, the Farnese, by installing her Bourbon-Farnese offspring as sovereign rulers in Italy.

Pictures of this years' conference can be found on flickr.

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