The School of Salamanca

A Case of Global Knowledge Production

July 01, 2020

In the MPIeR Research Paper Series, a new paper by Thomas Duve on the School of Salamanca as a case of global knowledge production has just been published:
Max Planck Institute for European Legal History Research Paper Series No. 2020-12.

The paper is the introduction to the second volume of the Max Planck Studies in Global Legal History of the Iberian Worlds, which will be published by Brill (Leiden/Boston) later this year:
Thomas Duve, Christiane Birr, José Luis Egío García (eds.), The School of Salamanca: A Case of Global Knowledge Production (Max Planck Studies in Global Legal History of the Iberian Worlds, vol. 2), Leiden: Brill (forthcoming).

The article argues that the intellectual movement of the ‘School of Salamanca’ which developed at the University of Salamanca during the 16th and 17th centuries should be seen as a centre of the production of normative knowledge that was one node in a web of communications that connected it with numerous actors and institutions across Iberian America and Asia.

After discussing the particular late 19th- and early 20th-century historic and intellectual contexts of the emergence of the concept of the ‘School of Salamanca’ as an institution, this paper instead explores it as an early modern intellectual movement from the perspective of a global history of knowledge.

In contrast to the older historiography, Thomas Duve views the ‘school’ less as a group of ‘great’ theologians (like Francisco de Vitoria) and lawyers working predominantly in Salamanca, but rather as a community of knowledge reaching far beyond Spain. The members of this community of knowledge shared common practices (auctoritates, patterns of argumentation etc.) that were shaped also by moral theology. In many places in Spain and Portugal, but also in Mexico, Lima, Córdoba del Tucumán or Manila, we can observe the pragmatic dimension of the common legal-political language and its cultural translation into diverse local contexts. Such an understanding of the ‘School of Salamanca’ as a cultural and communicative practice that spanned the Iberian world invites a re-evaluation of a supposedly well-known intellectual phenomenon that was of global relevance for the production of normative knowledge in the early modern period.

All contributions to the research paper series are available online in Open Access at

Photo: World map, mosaic in Belém, Lisbon. © Otto Danwerth

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