About the Institute
The Max Planck Institute for European Legal History is among the world's leading establishments for legal historical research. Through its orientation towards the complex structures of law in Europe, it has, since the earliest days of its foundation as an establishment for basic research, been very closely bound up with the process of European integration.
The Institute conceives of legal history as an aspect of the history of society, in the present case of the social history of Europe. It is accepted as an axiom that from the Middle Ages onwards European societies have defined and regulated individual and social relations to a significant and ever increasing degree with the assistance of norms. Norms may be defined as all statements which have the function of assuring future expectations and regulating behaviour, irrespective of their origin. The object of research is to describe historical communication about the producers of norms, the degree of power they have in this communication, and their effect on the organisation of social entities. This further includes a detailed description of the normative product itself and the communication strategies and successes which have accompanied their enforcement or non-enforcement. It is clear that all these aspects must be treated in a comparative European context from the Middle Ages onwards. Deeper strata will be revealed only after comparison of the European results with the legal history of earlier and non-European societies.
Legal history, as a basic subject in legal education and as part of general history, has the function of providing long-term memory in a legal culture. Insofar as it reveals the normative structures of older societies, it is indispensable both for the awakening of this memory and for any sophisticated theoretical construction of legal science. The Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, founded in 1964, was and is devoted to research in the Roman-Medieval “ius commune” up to the 19th century. In the intervening years the focus of research has widened both geographically and chronologically. Research into antiquity, Byzantium and East European legal history has been added, as has also the history of criminal law, international law, public law and contemporary legal history. In addition to the pure history of norms, the focus today extends to the actual enforcement of norms, that is to say the interpretation and implementation of norms, in a real world which is already normatively structured. In this respect the social function of law in interaction with other normative systems is of central interest.
The Institute has 2 directorial and 16 full-time academic posts. Backed up by a highly modern infrastructure, the researchers cooperate with the University of Frankfurt, where legal history is particularly well represented, as well as with national and international guests who make use in large numbers of the Institute's research facilities all year round (in 2004 there were 48 foreign stipendiary researchers). Numerous instances of international collaborative and networking projects which the Institute has accomplished since its foundation testify to its consistent international orientation. Of particular importance, too, is the library of the Institute, the holdings of which are of international renown. The library has around 260,000 volumes, in addition to a number of special collections. The catalogue can be accessed worldwide via the Internet. There are in addition numerous digitalised sources which permit a new form of research and a new framework for historical questions. This digital library exhibits the full text of 4,300 volumes (with over 1 million pages) of 19th century German-language works on private law and civil procedure in addition to the full text of numerous 19th century legal reviews. There are also 30,000 descriptions and more than 47,000 images of the title-pages of legal dissertations from the 16th to 18th centuries.