From Evolutionary Functionalism to Critical Transnationalism: Comparative Legal History, Aristotle to Present

Katharina Isabel Schmidt, History

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 12:00pm
438 Robertson Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.


From Katharina: Whatever happened to comparative legal history? Once thought of as a counterweight to legal history’s most maligned qualities—its parochial outlook, academic solipsism, and lack of critical perspectives—the discipline is almost non-existent today. In my paper, I suggest that given comparative legal history's implication in a wide variety of imperial and totalitarian projects over the last two hundred years this is not so much surprising as, perhaps, a good thing. At the same time, the much longer history of comparative legal history, going back all the way to Aristotle, illustrates the extent to which the discipline speaks to objectives legal historians have in recent times adopted as their own: the provision of critical perspectives on law and legal thought, the vindication of global legal history as well as a closer alignment between history, theory, and philosophy of law. To this end, I will identify the recent “transnational turn” in history as a robust starting point for reinventing the discipline of comparative legal history for the twenty-first century.

Katharina Isabel Schmidt
Ph.D. Candidate, History
J.S.D. Candidate In Law, Yale Law School

Katharina Isabel Schmidt is a PhD student in history at Princeton University and a JSD candidate in law at the Yale Law School. Before starting graduate school, Katharina obtained law degrees from University College London (LL.B ’10), the University of Cologne (Baccalaureus Legum ’10), the University of Oxford (BCL ’11), and the Yale Law School (LL.M ’13). She is currently writing a dissertation on the German origins of the American Legal Realist Movement as well as on the resurgence of Germany’s own Legal Realist tradition as part of National Socialist jurisprudence.