Jonathan Rose: An Interview with a Latecomer to Legal History

August 22, 2017

In July 2017, Professor Jonathan Rose spent two weeks as a guest here at the MIPeR, giving lectures, participating in the events at the Institute, discussing questions about legal history with the researchers and other guests – not to mention enjoying some of what Frankfurt and the region have to offer.

Q: Prof. Rose, you are an emeritus professor of law at Arizona State University. What was your main research field?

A: For about 30 years, I focused on antitrust, regulation, and legal ethics as well as on law, economics, and contracts. But around 17 years ago, I started exploring medieval English legal history. At first, my activities were limited to scholarship; however, later on, I also started teaching it.

Q: Why did you decide to change direction at that point in time?

A: In 1998 while on a sabbatical, I had published an article about the history and regulation of the legal profession and I wanted to delve deeper into these topics to learn more about the history and regulation of the legal profession in medieval and early modern England. I talked to medievalists who told me that I needed to learn how to read and work with primary sources. So I embarked on that task. You can read about that experience from an article that I wrote called “Learning to be a Legal Historian: Reflections of a Non-Traditional Student”, which is available on SSRN, as is much of my scholarship.

Q: How was it working with the primary sources?

A: Since the sources are generally either in medieval Latin or medieval French, you need a range of language skills. I had learned Latin and French at school in the 1950s, and I had one more year of French at college in 1960.Then, at the age of 60, I again started learning both languages.

Q: Was it hard to deal with those languages again after such a long period of time?

A: No, actually it was fun, and I found it mentally stimulating. Of course, besides the language skills, you also need to develop a skill for paleography. Sources from that period of time are hand written and always contain a range of abbreviations that you need to know to be able to work with the sources.

Q: The extensive study of primary legal history sources was also necessary for the preparation of your recently published book, “Maintenance in Medieval England”. Can you tell us more about this title?

A: The term “maintenance” can have different meanings. However, the legal meaning is to meddle or interfere in a lawsuit, in another person's litigation. This was a source of repeated complaint in medieval England. The book reveals how some people abused and misused the legal system in medieval England. The book recounts the initial attempts of the Anglo-American legal system to deal with these forms of legal corruption. I was invited to present the book in a lecture on “Judicial Development of Law of Maintenance (1377-1485)” at the Jour Fixe here at your Institute. Anyone who would like to find out more about the title can consult the lecture announcement.

Q: Will you give any other lectures during your stay at the MPIeR?

A: I was invited as a guest speaker in the Common Law Research Seminar, where I will give a paper entitled “Maintenance and Champerty: From Medieval England to the UK and the US Today”, and I will also join the Guest Workshop on Legal Historiography to talk about doing research in primary sources in medieval English legal history.

Q: What publication projects are you currently working on?

A: Right now I am writing an article about the ethos of the legal profession, honor and loyalty. And I am writing a chapter for two other book projects: one is about the expansion of the understanding of defamation and the other is about litigating in late medieval England.

Q: We always ask our guests about the legal history books that they would recommend in order to gain insight into their research field. Which titles would you select?

A: This is difficult, but I would name J. H. Baker's “Introduction to English Legal History” and Paul Brand's “Origins of the English Legal Profession”.

Q: And what was the last title you enjoyed reading in your free time?

A: This is even more difficult! Beside what I read for my scholarly research, I read around 40 books a year, all from different genres: fiction, non-fiction, novels, mystery. I very much enjoyed reading Margaret MacMillan's “Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World”. Since I'm retired and not teaching anymore, I also like watching mystery series on TV, I enjoy going to (American) football games. I also like spending time with my children and grand-children. My wife and I also travel often.

Q: Your wife is here with you in Frankfurt. Have you both enjoyed your time here, and will you come back one day?

A: We did some sightseeing, of course, and went, for example, to see the Goethehaus (where Goethe grew up and is now a museum) and the recently re-opened Museum Judengasse. We also enjoyed the Palmengarten very much. Yes, I might come back – if I get invited again.

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