Meet the jury seminar: From status to contract? A macrohistory of early-modern English caselaw and print culture

24 May 2024
campus Diepenbeek


We kindly invite you to join the ‘Meet the Jury’ seminar, featuring international speakers to discuss their research on 'From Status to Contract? A Macrohistory of Early-Modern English Caselaw and
Print Culture'

This seminar will be given by:

  • Prof. Dr. Peter Grajzl (Washington and Lee University, USA)

Focusing on early-modern England, we conduct a macro-historical quantitative inquiry into one of the foremost hypotheses about sociolegal evolution: Henry Maine's dictum that progressive societies undergo a movement from 'status' to 'contract'. We examine two large-scale corpora that capture key aspects of English caselaw and print culture between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Upon conceptualizing the notions of contract and status, we train word embeddings on each corpus and use the resulting estimates to construct annual time series of emphasis on contract versus status. Resonating with Maine's conjecture, in early-modern English caselaw the emphasis on contract versus status increases over time. In contrast, print culture features a rising emphasis on status over contract. These aggregate trends reflect developments in multiple subdomains, especially real and personal property, procedure, sources of law, and families and inheritance in caselaw, and religion, skills, science, and institutions in print culture. Both common law and equity contributed to the pertinent changes in caselaw, with the relative prominence of equity growing over time. VAR estimates reveal that the applicable ideas in caselaw spurred attention to the corresponding ideas in print culture, but not vice versa. Thus, the coevolution of caselaw and print culture was unidirectional.

This is a Meet the Jury seminar. Additional information on how to apply for these seminars can be found here.


For whom?

  • PhD students and postdocs

When and where?

  • May 24, 2024 - 12:00-13:00
  • Campus Diepenbeek, Building D, Room H2


  • You can register via the following link.
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