The accountability expected of medieval law with respect to racism or abortion was contingent upon a wide array of ideological beliefs rooted primarily in religious, political, and scientific principles. This panel will expand the more traditional focus on doctrine and ideology to address the immanent operation of the law that occurred through the manipulation of its toolkit. In their exploration of the mediated character of medieval law, of the means by which it was disseminated and took effect, panelists will analyze the law’s ‘writtenness,’ diagrams, images, inscriptions, lists, citations, all of which formed chains of references that established and constituted legal norms as authoritative within medieval culture. They will argue that, in addition to the impact of their practical implementation, such legal norms were responsive to their own representational modes, modes which were thus instrumental in effecting change in and fostering new uses of the law. In approaching medieval law from a medial perspective, the session will analyze the role of ‘writtenness’ in the codification of the law, the transformation of canon law as it entered the contexts of health care and personal conscience, and the use of charts and diagrams of kin to create proto-racial classifications.
The panel will consider the dynamics of legal formulation and its potential for promoting changes in legal thought and practice. The methodological dimension of this approach should attract legal historians of all stripes as well as historians concerned with the formative impact of discourse and its inscription. Medievalists and early modernists will find in the panel a sustained analysis of pre-modern notions of human rights in the context of infanticide and abortion, and also of racism and the classification of human beings as monogenism transited to polygenism. These issues should be of interest to historians of gender, the family, and early colonialism.
Short Abstract (did not upload in its own section):
This panel will examine internal operations of medieval law, specifically the extent to which existing legal toolkits and modes of representation inflected the construction and application of laws regarding abortion, infanticide, incest, and racism.