Individuals and Legal Institutions Around the Medieval Mediterranean

While there is a vast literature on medieval Jewish and Islamic law, the histories of medieval Jewish and Muslim legal institutions received substantially less attention. A relative dearth of documentary sources and a privileged position given to prescriptive texts have led to a top-down approach that views courts predominantly from the perspective of the central political power and/or the legal tradition. This situation contrasts with the study of courts and the legal arena in Christian Europe where there has been a long tradition of studying legal institutions “from below,” whether through the lens of dispute settlement, microhistory, or legal anthropology. A new approach has been recently developed by Daniel Lord Smail in his book, The Consumption of Justice. Viewing litigants as consumers who have options allows us to explore the choices they make both in terms of the venues they utilize and the strategies they pursue. This, in turn, necessitates a re-thinking of the institutions themselves as we learn to appreciate the ways they derived their power and legitimacy by structuring and accommodating consumers’ choices.

This conference will bring together scholars of medieval Christian, Muslim, Jewish and secular legal institutions to think comparatively about the study of individuals and legal institutions “from below.” In order to supply a comparative perspective, we will be joined by scholars who have tackled such questions in adjacent fields, from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman Empire. By bridging the gap between the study of legal culture and practice in medieval Europe and the Islamic world, we hope to test the limits of the ‘consumer’ model as a way of understanding legal institutions and litigants’ choices.

Some of the themes we hope to explore in the conference are:

1.      Individuals, networks and legal institutions –Networks, either based on hierarchical or horizontal relationships, have received much attention in recent years from both historians of Europe and the Middle East. How do these networks play out within the legal arena? How do litigants employ the connections they might have with judges, jurisconsults or the staff of the court to their benefits, and how institutions in turn use these same networks to guarantee litigants’ participation and compliance? To what degree such networks represent a challenge to the formal buildup of legal institutions?   

2.      The individuals within the legal institutions - Who are the people who staffed the institutions and what can prosopography tell us about institutions? To what degree are the personal interests of these individuals aligned with the interests of the institutions and what happens when they do not align?

3.      Beyond legal pluralism - In recent years we have witnessed a flurry of studies arguing the centrality of legal pluralism to our understanding of the medieval legal marketplace. On the one hand, it seems like the dividends of legal pluralism have not yet been fully exploited by historians and, on the other hand, there is a growing realization that pluralism is only one aspect of the legal marketplace. Studies challenging, developing or complementing the concept of legal pluralism in the medieval Mediterranean are will be most welcome.

4.      Legal documents as mediators between individuals and institutions – How institutions produce legal documents and what do individuals do with these documents once produced? What types of power do documents convey and from where does this power emanates?

5.      Judgments, mediation and arbitration: scholars have noted the paucity of decisive judgments in medieval court records in the Islamic world. How is such paucity to be understood and how does it compare with legal records across the Mediterranean? 



Daniel Lord Small

Harvard University

Daniel Lord Smail is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of History at Harvard University, where he works on the history and anthropology of Mediterranean societies between 1100 and 1600 and on deep human history. In medieval European history, his work has explored the social and cultural history of the cities of Mediterranean Europe, with a focus on Marseille in the later Middle Ages. He has covered subjects ranging from women and Jews to legal history and spatial imagination, which was the subject of his first book, Imaginary Cartographies: Possession and Identity in Late Medieval Marseille (1999). His current book, forthcoming as Legal Plunder: Households and Debt Collection in Late Medieval Europe(Harvard University Press, 2016), approaches transformations in the material culture of the later Middle Ages using household inventories and inventories of debt recovery from Lucca and Marseille. Smail's work in deep history and neurohistory has addressed some of the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of these approaches to the human past. His most recent article in this vein asks whether there is a history of the practice of compulsive hoarding. His books include The Consumption of Justice: Emotions, Publicity, and Legal Culture in Marseille, 1264-1423 (2003); On Deep History and the Brain (2008), and, with Andrew Shryock and others, Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present (2011).

Verena Kasper-Marienberg

University of Graz

Dr. Kasper-Marienberg is an Assistant Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Graz, Austria. She earned her PhD there in 2009 in history and historical museology. Her first book focused on the defense of Jewish autonomy at the Viennese imperial court during the reign of Joseph II. It won the the highest prize in Jewish Studies in Germany in 2012. Currently she is working on a new project about the relation between nobility and rural Jewries in 17th century Bohemia.

Mathieu Tillier

Université Paris-Sorbonne

Mathieu Tillier is currently professor of Medieval Islamic history at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and a member of the research unit “Orient et Méditerranée” (UMR 8167) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Previously, he was associate professor at Aix-Marseille Université (2005-2014). He spent two years in Oxford as a Marie Curie research fellow (2008-2010) and four years in the Middle East (Damascus, Beirut) at the Institut français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo, 2010-2014). 

His research focuses on justice, on the formation of Islamic law, and on the institutions of Christian communities in the first centuries of Islam. He is the author of Les cadis d’Iraq et l’État abbasside(132/750-334/945) (Damascus: Presses de l’Ifpo, 2009), and translated into French the works of Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī and al-Kindī devoted to Egyptian qadis: Vies des cadis de Miṣr, 237/851-366/976. Extrait du Rafʿ al-iṣr ʿan quḍāt Miṣr d’Ibn Ḥaǧar al- ʿAsqalānī (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale [Ifao], 2002); al-Kindī, Histoire des cadis égyptiens (Cairo: Ifao, 2012). He is the editor of Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī’s book Le Livre des califes qui s’en remirent au jugement d’un cadi (Cairo: Ifao, 2011) and has recently began editing documents on papyrus and paper related to judicial institutions in medieval Egypt.

Marina Rustow

Princeton University

Marina Rustow is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and Professor of History at Princeton University. She directs the Princeton Geniza Lab, which brings together students and specialists to identify, transcribe and translate unpublished Geniza documents, and is currently PI and co-PI (with Eve Krakowski) of the project Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East. She is the author of Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Cornell, 2008) and is currently working on a pair of books on what Geniza documents can tell us about the relationship between state and society under the Fatimids and Ayyubids. In September 2015, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.

Flora Cassen

UNC- Chapel Hill

Flora Cassen is an assistant professor of history and a JMA and Sonja van der Horst Fellow in Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina. Her 2008 NYU dissertation, a study of discriminatory marks that the Jews were compelled to wear in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy, probes the roots and consequences of anti-Judaism and is being prepared for publication as Identity or Control: The Jewish Badge in Renaissance Italy. A second project studies Italian Jews who were spies for the king of Spain, records of which she discovered in Italian archives and further documented in Spanish archives. Philip II professed a deep suspicion of the Jews and ordered them to wear a humiliating yellow hat, yet welcomed their intelligence information; some Jews were eager to provide it. Intriguingly, Italian Jews spied on the Turks, thereby playing a role in the Spanish-Ottoman wars, and providing information on the Ottoman empire, which was commonly seen as the Jews’ ultimate protector and refuge from Catholic intolerance.

Sarah McDougall

City University of New York

Sara McDougall is Associate Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and is a member of the doctoral faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Her research focuses primarily on marriage and law in medieval Europe. She is the author of Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne(Penn, 2012) and has also published on adultery, marriage, illicit sex, and the role of gender in canon law. She was a Mellon fellow in Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2014-2015, a Golieb fellow in legal history in 2009-2010 and obtained her doctorate in medieval history from Yale University in 2009.

Timur Kuran

Duke University

Timur Kuran is Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. His research focuses on (1) social change, including the evolution of preferences and institutions, and (2) the economic history and thought of the Middle East.  His current projects include a study of the role that the Middle East’s traditional institutions played in its poor political performance, as measured by democratization and human liberties. Among his publications are Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (Harvard University Press); Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton University Press); The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton University Press); and a tri-lingual edited work that consists of ten volumes, Socio-Economic Life in Seventeenth-century Istanbul: Glimpses from Court Records (İş Bank Publications).

Tamer el-Leithy

Johns Hopkins

Tamer el-Leithy was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. After studying economics (American Univ. in Cairo), and a brief stint as an economist in the oil industry, he read a historical novel and turned to studying medieval history at Cambridge University (MPhil.) and Princeton University (PhD). A former Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows (2003-06) and professor at NYU (2007-14), he currently teaches medieval history at Johns Hopkins University. 

His forthcoming book, The Last New Arab Muslims: Conversion and Religious Difference in Medieval Egypt examines the late-medieval mass conversions from Coptic Christianity to Islam—most likely the moment when Egypt became a ‘majority’ Muslim region. The conversion wave involved many converts who changed their personal religious identity—but more importantly, it also had deep and long-term effects on the religious traditions of Coptic Christianity and Islam.

He is currently working on two projects: (1) Arabization and the Deep Grammar of Religious Transformation, and The Biography of an Alley in Late-Medieval Cairo: Coptic Family, Urban Property, and Legal Acculturation.

Andrew Berns

University of South Carolina

Andrew Berns is assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina.  His research investigates the intellectual and cultural history of Jews in the medieval and early modern Mediterranean, especially Italy.  Last year he held the Rose and Henry Zifkin Teaching Fellowship at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has been the Melville J. Kahn Fellow at Villa I Tatti: the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, as well as Viterbi Visiting Professor in Mediterranean Jewish Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His book, The Bible and Natural Philosophy in Renaissance Italy: Jewish and Christian Physicians in Search of Truth, was published last year by Cambridge University Press.

Rena Lauer

Oregon State University

Rena Lauer (PhD Harvard, 2014) is an Assistant Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Oregon State University, where she is also affiliated faculty in Religious Studies. Lauer studies minority life and cross-cultural contact in the late medieval Mediterranean, with a particular focus on Jews, Jewish communities, and the social history of overlapping legal systems. Her current book project investigates the ways in which the Jews of late medieval Venetian Crete utilized the colonial courtroom, particularly as a site for intra-Jewish disputes, from unhappy marriages to leadership battles. Related pieces have been or will soon be published in, among other venues, Mediterranean Historical Review and Critical Analysis of Law (forthcoming). Lauer can be reached

Rachel Furst

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Rachel Furst is a post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Freie Universitaet Berlin. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. from Hebrew University and her B.A. from Barnard College of Columbia University, New York. She is currently working on a monograph that examines women's litigation and legal activities in the Jewish courts of medieval Ashkenaz. Other research projects concern medieval Jewish archival practices and the construction of credibility in medieval legal discourse.

Pinchas Roth

Bar Ilan University

Pinchas Roth is a senior lecturer in the Talmud Department at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2012. His main research interest is the history of Jewish law in medieval western Europe. He is currently working with Prof. Rami Reiner on a critical edition of medieval responsa by Isaac of Dampierre (d. 1189), and is also writing a book about Isaac ben Mordechai Kimhi, an important rabbinic decisor in 14th century Provence.

Oded Zinger

Duke University

Oded Zinger (PhD Princeton 2014) is the 2014-2016 Perilman post-doctoral fellow at Duke Center for Jewish Studies. He is currently turning his dissertation into a book tentatively titled: Law, Gender and Community: Marital Strife and Legal Institutions in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt. His Research has been or will soon be published in, among other venues, Medieval Encounters and Arabica: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Next year Zinger will be a member of the “Jewish Women’s Cultural Capital from the Late Middle Ages Through the Early Twentieth Century” research group in Israel Institute for Advanced Studies.

Individuals and Legal Institutions Around the Medieval Mediterranean
Mon, 03/07/2016 to Tue, 03/08/2016
Duke University