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July 18-29, 2005


Conflict and the Law in Medieval Europe


Director of the course:
Warren C. Brown (California Institute of Technology) & Piotr Górecki (University of California, Riverside)


The course addresses several issues that are currently especially important in the study of conflict and the law in medieval Europe. Conflict is here understood not as warfare, but as a range of interpersonal tension and related behavior encompassing disputing, threats, uses of force and eruptions of violence, negotiation, peacemaking, and the associated range of emotions, above all fear and anger. Law is understood as an (at least partly) autonomous system of norms, or rules, or expectations, that works as one factor in conflict thus defined.

One of the currently important issues is a tension between what historians call the processual and the normative approaches to the study of conflict. Although originally formulated about thirty years ago, this distinction remains important for the study of our subject into the present. Much of this course is explicitly informed by the interplay between norms -- sometimes undifferentiated and implicit, sometimes articulated as rules or enactments -- and process, that is, patterns of strategic behavior.
A second important issue is the sheer breadth of the conflict and the law as those two phenomena are currently understood. Medievalist and others are now in the midst of intensive inquiry into each of that roster of elements in terms of which we defines conflict and the law: disputing (the originating, and in some respects still the central, dimension of our subject), violence, negotiation, threats, use of force, restoration of peace or a long-term failure to do so ("the feud"), the presence and the importance of norms and rules, the meanings and the roles of emotions, and the frameworks of communication of which all those phenomena are aspects. Moreover, the renewed interest in norms and rules is closely related to a current shift of attention, among legal theorists and by historians, to the law as an autonomous system within a broader social reality.
A third important issue is the diversity of resulting scholarship. Conflict and the law are currently being studied by several cohorts, or milieux, of scholars that are quite distinct in terms of method and specialization. Examples include: the "American school" in the United States; the "Bucknell group" and its successors in Great Britain; the generation of scholars interested in medieval networks and communication in Germany; and, for some generations now, scholars active in East Central Europe and interested in the relationship between what we here call conflict and the law, and medieval statecraft. Finally, this subject is now diverse concerning time and place. Although much of the initial thrust behind our subjects concerned an early period, and the post-Frankish heartland of medieval Europe, we have now moved later, and elsewhere with reference to our collective methods and interest: to Angevin period and beyond in England, for example, and to other regions of Europe, above all Germany in its entirety, and East Central Europe.

H-1051 Budapest, Nádor u. 9. - Tel.: (36-1)327-3024, Fax:(36-1)327-3055, E-mail:
Related Pages
Changing Intellectual Landscapes in Late Antiquity
Bookish Traditions: Authority and the Book in Scripturalist Religions