Development of Legal Systems: Historical Context

Course Description: 

This introductory course aims to provide basic historical background for understanding influences in the development of major legal traditions. The relationship between history and law is analyzed through active engagement with legal and historical sources from formative periods of constitutionalism. Pivotal documents of English legal history from Magna Carta Libertatum to Habeas Corpus Act and their influence on constitutional debates in the United States are seen in light of their historical context. Connections between the American and French revolutions are analyzed through the great Declarations that came to symbolize them. In addition to analyses of phenomena of order and revolution, the course covers ideological developments and their influences on state and nation-building. Different legal traditions of 19th century Europe are scrutinized with a particular emphasis on France and Germany, from the Empire, through the Weimar and Third Reich to the post-War period. Lastly, the emergence of international humanitarian law and human rights law are tracked through the 20th century, against the background of the totalitarian experience of the same period. Scrutiny of the revival of international criminal law through the activity of international tribunals (ICTY, ICTR, ICC) presents an exit point of the course, connecting historical background with present and future concerns.

Combining the forms of lecture and seminar, the course rests on required readings and sources supplemented by recommended readings. Readings can be found in the reader (R), on the moodle (M) or in the library (L). Alongside with the required readings, students are expected to work with the assigned material, pursuant to the small research tasks outlined below. Recommended readings related to the topics should be consulted, and the lecturer is available for consultations on further readings.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students are expected to demonstrate the ability to actively engage with interpretations of texts as legal and historical sources. They are trained to contextualize legal documents within the frame of historical events and to identify their dual nature of outcomes and creators of historical processes. This approach aims to help students understand the complex nature of legal texts and to cope with their equally complex contexts.


The course will be conducted through seven double-classes (2x50min). Attendance is mandatory except for those who demonstrate solid historical knowledge by passing the selection test in the first class. For those who do not take or do not pass the test, a roster will be used. Consulting the required readings in the reader or handouts distributed in advance is compulsory. Reading ahead is highly commended, and consulting the recommended literature is also advised. Active participation from students is required, and questions and comments are welcome. The course ends with an exit exam, which alongside with evaluation based on class activity constitutes a pass or fail mark.