Medieval legal history panel at the Kalamazoo medieval conference

Cornell historian Paul Hyams and I are organizing a panel on medieval legal history at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 12-15, 2011.

Here’s the call for papers:

In the high middle ages, land in medieval Europe was the most important source of political power, social status, and material wealth. Even in the earlier centuries. control over land was a [rime goal for the ambitious, and much conflict was fought out as disputes over its control and enjoyment. So land title and the vocabulary and discourse with which it was contested occupies a rather central position in medieval culture as a whole. It is, therefore, fitting that as medieval European legal systems matured, they put a great deal of effort into developing their land law and minutely elaborating concepts like “fief,” “seisin,” “tenure,” “dominium,” and “proprietas.” The result was a transformation of the relationship between people at all levels and the land on which all depended in the last resort for their sustenance. To understand medieval society, economy, and culture, we must understand the institutions relating to land and those who directly cultivated it with the strength of their bodies, or claimed it as theirs and sought to defend their right and enjoy its fruits — lordship, ownership, and the diverse rights and interests behind our modern Western concept of property.

The technical vocabulary of land law was derived from the everyday vernacular of speech, especially Old French. Latin “feodum” and its French equivalent “fief” were familiar terms to all who witnessed charter grants or were stirred by chansons de geste or romance. In return they re-entered secular culture as metaphor and image. Men whose ancestors had “sat” upon land were in time deemed to “hold” their fees or fiefs by this or that tenure. When Chaucer said of his Man of Law that “al was fee symple to hym in effect,” his lay readers and listeners took his point.

This panel, therefore, will explore the intersection among law, economics, and culture in the particular context of medieval European land law.

Please send abstracts (as instructed by the Kalamazoo authorities) in the first instance to me, Paul Hyams, History Dept., Cornell, Ithaca NY 14853-4601 or by e-mail to prh3 at cornell dot edu.

Sorry for the late notice, but I believe Paul and I need abstracts no later than September 15, ideally somewhat earlier.