InfoLaw Colloquium


Writing legal history in the information age

Centre of Excellence in Law (Eurostorie), Helsinki, 16 September 2019



Is the information-age changing the traditional ways of thinking about the legal past? The colloquium examines this question beginning from a broad historical-theoretical premise. Seen from a long-term perspective it is apparent that legal historiography recurrently changed its focus. An argument could be made that 19th century historiography, led by Savigny and his school, focused on texts. And the 20th century turned that legacy upside down with an uncompromising concern with language, best evidenced in L Wittgenstein’s work, and in its deep impact on understanding the (legal) past from H Kantorowicz to the Cambridge School up to ongoing linguistic concerns that have been animating large sectors of legal-historical research.

It is the time to think about the place of legal history in the 21st century: are we legal historians silently shifting our research focus to information?

One of the main suggestions comes from HP Glenn who saw legal traditions as carriers of information (Glenn 2014: 13-16). But it is perhaps the case that the awareness for today’s information-dependent legal systems makes legal historians increasingly sensitive to the dynamics by which information is produced, managed and transmitted. And jurists are more inclined to see legal systems as communities that organise, store, communicate and process information.

This approach opens a cluster of questions in a framework that benefits from a variety of approaches, from the broad theoretical-epistemic insights developed by the philosophy of information (Floridi 2011), to comparative law investigations on diffusion and reception, to the history of the book and of institutions.

Some questions, indicatively, could be framed as follows, but the colloquium is open to any relevant contribution to the general research question:

  • What is information, and how is it related to 20th century philosophy of language (Floridi 2011)?
  • What counts as normative information (Glenn 2014: 13-16)?
  • What was actually transmitted by book circulation (Osler 2009, Wijffels 2012)?
  • What was the impact of printing on legal doctrine (Ibbetson 2000)?
  • How did historical communities respond to information constrains or overload of information (Blair 2010)?
  • What are the consequences of written judicial procedure, or of bureaucratic administration based on writing (Vismann 2008, 2012)?


Some bibliography:

Blair, Ann, (2010) Too much to know: managing scholarly information before the modern age, New Haven [Conn.]

Castells, Manuel, (1996) The information age: economy, society and culture, Oxford: Blackwell

Duve, Thomas, (2018) ‘Legal traditions: A dialogue between comparative law and comparative legal history’, Comparative Legal History, 6, pp. 15–33

Floridi, Luciano, (2013) The ethics of information, OUP

Floridi, Luciano, (2019) The Logic of Information: A Theory of Philosophy as Conceptual Design, OUP

Floridi, Luciano, (2011) The philosophy of information, OUP

Glenn, Patrick H, (2014) Legal Traditions of the World: Sustainable Diversity in Law, 5th ed., OUP

Halperin, Jean-Louis, (2009) Profils des mondialisations du droit, Paris

Ibbetson, David, (2000) ‘Legal Printing and Legal Doctrine’, Irish Jurist, 35, pp. 345–354

Osler, Douglas, (2009) The Jurisprudence of the Baroque, in ‘Jurisprudence of the Baroque. A Census of Seventeenth Century Italian Legal Imprints. (Studien Zur Europäischen Rechtsgeschichte. Veröffentlichungen Des Max-Planck-Instituts Für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte, 235-237; Bibliographica Iuridica, 4-6.) Frankfurt Am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, pp. IX-XXI.

Renn, Jürgen, (2014) ‘The Globalization of Knowledge in History and its Normative Challenges’, Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History, pp. 52-60

Vismann, Cornelia, (2012) Das Recht und seine Mittel, Frankfurt am Main Vismann, Cornelia, (2008) Files: law and media technology, Stanford, Calif.

Wijffels, Alain, (2012) ‘Review of D.J. Osler, Jurisprudence of the Baroque, A Census of Seventeenth Century Italian Legal Imprints,  Tijdschrift Voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d’Histoire Du Droit / The Legal History Review 80, no. 1–2,  229–37