Legal History
​A public shaming punishment for thieves and traitors. The bald shaven offender is being dropped into water while others mocking him. Das Soester Nequambuch from 1315 (Wolfgang Schild: Alte Gerichtsbarkeit, Callwey 1985, original Stadtarchiv Soest).

Legal history investigates the nexus of law and society in a historical perspective and with a global viewpoint. In legal history, law is always seen in its historical context and it is studied using the methods of history, but its topics are always legal in the broad sense. This includes various legal norms, legal concepts or institutions, as well as legal thinking and practices. Similarly, legal work and professions, legal artefacts, and legal culture are valid research topics in legal history.

Law is always a product of its time, society and culture. Consequently, one of the main aims of the legal history teaching and research is the analysis of legal change: how and why law has changed over time. Alternatively, the reasons for legal continuity or failed legal reform attempts can also be relevant topics.

Comparisons in time and place are central in the analyses of legal change or stability. The mobility of legal norms, institutions, and thought from one region to another in Europe and globally, i.e., legal reception, is a classical topic in legal history. Nevertheless, the reception of foreign law is not automatic, but rather, the result of different societal – sometimes even contradictory – needs and the activity of interest groups. This perspective emphasizes the relevance of legal actors and societal circumstances, which supports a whole-sale perception of past law as an inseparable part of society and culture. In the past, law was a result of political and societal processes just as it is today.