Colonial Legal Biography


  • Beginn: 27.04.2023
  • Ende: 28.04.2023
  • Organisation: Stefan Vogenauer, Victoria Hooton, Victoria Barnes
  • Ort: mpilhlt
  • Raum: Vortragssaal
  • Gastgeber: Stefan Vogenauer (mpilhlt)
Colonial Legal Biography


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 England, this interest was far from global. Judicial biographies took off in American legal thought in the 1960s. With a recent resurgence in this work, new interests have now been piqued. Academics have written on figures in the legal history of Australia, Canada, Germany, France and Spain. This literature is now expanding and it recreates the stories of law students, academics, solicitors, barristers as well as judges.

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 Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In the last few years, the Institute has hosted a series of workshops which develop a scholarly agenda in the field of legal biography and push for a stronger methodological agenda with an explicit analytical framework. In July 2018, Philip Bajon and Stefan Vogenauer organised a conference on “Legal Biography in the European Union”. The following year, another workshop was organised by Victoria Barnes, Catharine MacMillan and Stefan Vogenauer. It brought together scholarship on “Legal Biography” from Germany, England, Canada and the United States. In 2020, a call for papers was issued to gather participants working on “Colonial Legal Biography”.

New Date

The new dates for the workshop are 27 and 28 April 2023.


For organisational details and updates, please contact

Image: Bench & Bar - Lagos c. 1900, CC-BY-SA-4.0 Trustees of the British Museum

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