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date: 28 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Book history, understood broadly as the analysis of written communication, interacts with legal studies in two main areas: first, legal rules frame the production and dissemination of books or written documents (in many cultures); second, books and written documents can act as meaningful objects within the legal sphere. This chapter focuses on the second area and shows by way of examples how taking the materiality of the book as a starting point can help to uncover cultural structures linked to the law. The chapter demonstrates the potential of this approach by focusing on a period in which books with legal contents radically changed their function: the Middle Ages in Europe, with their shift from writing down customs in the vernacular as a means of preservation to actual law books used as works of reference. As can be shown, the design of legal manuscripts played an important role in this process of codification. But not only law books are elements of the legal sphere: the chapter also outlines the function of books in legal rituals with religious implications as well as the merging of “law” and “literature” in some medieval manuscripts. Finally, the chapter draws attention to the opportunities book history offers for research into intercultural relations and into the change of legal culture in the digital age.

Keywords: materiality of texts, layout, illuminated legal manuscripts, legal rituals or performance, media history, manuscript/printing culture, law and literature, codification, copyright, intercultural exchange

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