Call for Papers: Colonial Legal Biography

Victoria Barnes, Stefan Vogenauer & Emily Whewell

27. August 2019


How do people and personalities influence the law? There is a growing body of literature which answers this question, and it is written in the style of legal biography. It shows that early life, background and experience had an impact on law-making. While there was a long history of examining the lives of judges in England1, this interest was far from global. Judicial biographies took off in American legal thought in the 1960s.2 With a recent resurgence in this work3, new interests have now been piqued. Academics have written on figures in the legal history of Australia, Canada, Germany, France and Spain.4 This literature is now expanding, and it recreates the stories of law students, academics, solicitors, barristers as well as judges.5

While this work is now global in nature, this workshop seeks to emphasise the importance of the international and global connections. It does so by focussing primarily on colonial lawyers. Colonial judges in the British Empire, for example, were often trained in England but worked outside of it. They dispensed justice and worked with litigants and a community they were not necessarily familiar with. Yet, given their international movement, these officials often took knowledge of one society or another with them. This workshop is not intended to focus on the British Empire only and calls for papers in other imperial contexts. Among many different aspects of colonial and post-colonial life, the workshop examines the formative experiences as well as legal knowledge that was created in one jurisdiction and taken to another within a colonial context. It considers how these understandings, capabilities and habits travelled internationally through empire.


The workshop will be held at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main, Germany on 27-28th April 2020. Those interested in participating should send an abstract to Please contact Dr Victoria Barnes () or Dr Emily Whewell () to discuss whether their project might be suitable and for other informal queries.

The deadline for abstracts is 11th October 2019.

1 See the many volumes of John Campbell Baron Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England, from the Earliest Times Till the Reign of King George IV.

2 Otis P Dobie, ‘Recent Judicial Biographies: A Composite Review’ (1956) 10 Vanderbilt Law Review 403; Robert M Spector, ‘Judicial Biography and the United States Supreme Court: A Bibliographical Appraisal’ (1967) 11 The American Journal of Legal History 1; Ellyn C Ballou, ‘Prentiss Mellen, Maine’s First Chief Justice: A Legal Biography’ (1976) 28 Maine Law Review 317.

3 G Edward White, ‘The Renaissance of Judicial Biography’ (1995) 23 Reviews in American History 716; David Sugarman, ‘From Legal Biography to Legal Life Writing: Broadening Conceptions of Legal History and Socio-Legal Scholarship’ (2015) 42 Journal of Law and Society 7.

4 James A Thomson, ‘Judicial Biography: Some Tentative Observations on the Australian Enterprise’ (1985) 8 University of New South Wales Law Journal 380; Barry Cahill, The Thousandth Man: A Biography of James McGregor Stewart (University of Toronto Press 2000); Philip Girard, ‘Judging Lives: Judicial Biography from Hale to Holmes’ (2003) 7 Australian Journal of Legal History 87; Mark Fenster, ‘The Folklore of Legal Biography 2007 Survey of Books Related to the Law: Reviews: Lives in the Law’ (2006) 105 Michigan Law Review 1265; Sarah Burnside, ‘Griffith, Isaacs and Australian Judicial Biography’ (2009) 18 Griffith Law Review 151; Sarah Burnside, ‘Australian Judicial Biography: Past, Present and Future’ (2011) 57 Australian Journal of Politics & History 221.

5 Rosemary Auchmuty, ‘Early Women Law Students at Cambridge and Oxford’ (2008) 29 The Journal of Legal History 63; Catharine MacMillan, ‘Judah Benjamin: Marginalized Outsider or Admitted Insider?’ (2015) 42 Journal of Law and Society 150; Fiona Cownie, ‘The United Kingdom’s First Woman Law Professor: An Archerian Analysis’ (2015) 42 Journal of Law and Society 127.

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