Legal history for kids

An educational project

Gujarat National Law University (India), August 2019

Legal history teaching is increasingly difficult. Some decades ago it was animated by the compelling narratives of the European ius commune and the Western legal tradition,  which nicely shaped the subject with a clear “before and after” and “here and there”. 

That world is gone, and that disappearance left teaching with some shyness and the tendency to retreat into small questions, accompanied by the doubt whether this discipline has any role in dealing with properly legal questions (Whitman 2018, Giuliani 2017 2021).  

This project begins from the awareness of vastly changed ways of thinking the law. It  seeks a way of teaching that reformulates the connection, which in my opinion has weakened, between legal history and legal theory. 


The first outcome to be delivered is the chapter “1500-1650” which I prepared for a multi-authored legal history handbook (van Rhee and Masferrer 2021). This sub-project is structured around the the following guidelines: 

  • The text is aimed not at academics but at undergraduates with no previous legal background. The purpose is to produce a legal history explained in simple, but not simplified, words.
  • The chapter offers an explanatory key to the period focused on (i) tradition (ii) information (iii) normativity (Glenn 2014).
  • The chapter’s theoretical basis is recent research on normativity and maker’s knowledge (Duve 2017 2020, Moellers 2020, Floridi 2019).
  • The educational foundation is the idea of constructive alignment: engaging the student with some simple generative ideas (Biggs 2014).
  • The main idea is that humans are builders: they construct their dwellings, cities and states; but they also produce their knowledge to produce those artefacts, and the normativity to keep them running (Renn 2012).
  • The text is written in three levels of difficulty: (i) understandable by newbies (ii) informative for interested students (iii) relevant in offering a historical contribution to current philosophical discussions of normativity.

Cited research


Biggs, James, ‘Constructive alignment in university teaching’ (2014) 1 HERDSA Review of Higher Education 5–22.

Duve, T., ‘What is global legal history?’ (2020) 8 Comparative Legal History 73–115.

Duve, Thomas , ‘Was ist ›Multinormativität‹? – Einführende Bemerkungen’ (2017)  Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 088–101.

Giuliani, A., ‘After comparative legal history’, in: E. Calzolaio (ed.), Liber amicorum Luigi Moccia[forthcoming 2021]

Giuliani, A., ‘The Western Legal Tradition and Soviet Russia. The genesis of H. Berman’s Law and Revolution’, in V. Erkkilä and H.-P. Haferkamp (eds.), The Socialist Interpretations of Legal History(Routledge, 2020)

Glenn, H. Patrick, Legal traditions of the world: Sustainable diversity in law (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Floridi, L., The logic of information: a theory of philosophy as conceptual design (Oxford University Press, 2019).

Möllers, Christopher, The Possibility of Norms , 1 ed. (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Renn, Jürgen,  ‘The Globalization of Knowledge in History’ (2012).

Rhee, Remco van and A. Masferrer (eds.), Western Legal Traditions (series Ius Commune Casebooks, Oxford, Hart 2021)

Whitman, James, ‘The World Historical Significance of European Legal History’ The Oxford Handbook of European Legal History (2018).