Bankruptcy Law in Germany between 1815-1870

Research Project

My work focuses on the question of how different states within the German Confederation responded to the problem of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy confronts societies with a dilemma: a law which relies on deterrence and harsh punishment might discourage business-activity. Merchants and entrepreneurs would always have one foot in prison. A lenient bankruptcy law, on the other hand, could disincline creditors from lending the necessary funds in the first place.

Germany in the 19th century constituted a legal patchwork. Different states employed different insolvency laws. At the same time the German economy underwent industrialization and market integration. The question arises whether some insolvency laws were better equipped to fostering growth and credit supply than others. Studying historical bankruptcy regimes sheds light on how notions of debt, credit, and obligation were embedded within the socio-economic context and the economic base for which they had been designed.

This research originated from my PhD project at the University of Oxford, supervised by Prof. Avner Offer (Economic History) and Prof. Joshua Getzler (Law). I’m currently working on a forthcoming book and collaborating with other historians of bankruptcy law across Europe.

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