White Rose Lecture Series Comes to Leeds

The University of Leeds was pleased to welcome the final four lectures from the 'Marginalisation and the Law' public Lecture Series to campus over the past few weeks.

Marginalisation and the Law
The White Rose project 'Marginalisation and the Law: Medieval and Modern' is supported by the White Rose University Consortium, a strategic partnership between three of the UK's leading research universities (Leeds, Sheffield, and York). Maroula Perisanidi, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (University of Leeds), is the Lead Academic, and Melanie Brunner, Lecturer in Medieval Studies (University of Leeds) and Project Editor of the IMB, is also associated with the project, in addition to faculty from Sheffield and York. 

'Marginalisation and the Law' brings together four historians with expertise on medieval laws and two scholars of contemporary socio-legal theory in order to examine the key elements that have underpinned the processes of marginalisation in the medieval and early modern periods. 

Lecture topics included:

  • Law and Religious Minorities
  • Law and Gender Expression
  • Monsters and the Challenges of Law
  • Securing the Social Order
  • Law and Marginalised Professions
  • Women and the Law 
  • These lectures were held throughout the year at Sheffield, York, and Leeds.

Lectures at Leeds
Last month, the Institute for Medieval Studies (IMS) was delighted to host Peter Sarris (University of Cambridge) and Jack Lennon (University of Leicester) for their talks focused on Roman and Byzantine influence on later medieval and modern law. 

Peter Sarris presented his paper, titled 'Merchants and Bankers in Byzantium', on 17 May. The paper took an expanded look at the Byzantine Emperor Justinian's legal reforms in the sixth century. Sarris argued Justinian was looking to Christianise Roman law, ensuring a legal 'foundation' for Christianity as the single religion of the Empire. Ultimately Sarris concluded Justinian used the law as a 'rhetorical weapon', pragmatically putting finance before faith. 

Jack Lennon presented his paper, titled 'Denigration and the Law in Ancient Rome', on 18 May. Lennon explored ideas of filth and how these ideas spread across Roman society, suggesting that 'Roman people are an integral part of the marginalisation process'. The lecture noted the key role denigration played as a part of marginalisation and maintaining the status quo - even in the modern day, as the majority of extant sources are written by the male literary elite. 

The final two events in the series focused on women's access to the law in the Middle Ages, and the invited speakers were Cordelia Beattie (University of Edinburgh) and Arezou Azad (University of Birmingham). Both papers were delivered on 13 June 2018. 

Beattie's paper, titled 'Under the Rod: The Legal Position of Married Women in Medieval England', discussed the legal position of women in English courts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Beattie assessed how such a large group were effectively marginalised by the common law of coveture as if they were unfree. In addition to discussing customary, canon, and equity law, Beattie discussed 'under the rod', a legal defence women could use in criminal proceedings. 

Azad's paper, titled 'The Verve of Clever Women: Female Hadith Scholars in Pre-Modern Times', asked how women participated in the social and legal world of the Hadith, the basis of Islamic law. Azad discussed the shift from 'voiceless and invisible' women before the 1990s, to the modern view that there were opportunities for equality in the pre-modern Islamic world. The paper focused on Umm 'Ali of Balkh, a ninth century proto-Sufi mystic, who travelled and studied under male Hadith scholars, among other accomplishments. 

Lecture Responses 
Responses to the White Rose lectures have stressed the interesting and wide-ranging topics, as well as the connections between various lectures: 

Lucy Guest, IMS MA student and IMS Anniversary Intern, attended both May lectures and said that what she found most interesting was 'how the artificial barriers we put around periods sometimes hides the long-term legacy of laws'. Guest also thought 'the contrast between the two approaches of the lectures' provided an interesting and fresh perspective. 

Jarrick Van Der Biest, IMS MA student, attended both June lectures, and noted 'the lectures stressed the fact that we can actually find a valuable presence of women in sources that are generally viewed as meagre in terms of their presence'. Furthermore he was impressed by the 'incredible divergence in the interpretation of the subject matter [with]in these themes', which helped to 'generate meaningful discussions'. 

Francesca Petrizzo, IMS PG Researcher, also commented that the lectures were 'at the cutting edge of scholarship'. 

Perisanidi noted that attendance was varied, and included individuals from the History department as well as Islamic Studies. Brunner summed up the lecture series, stating 'it was good to be able to come back to similar questions over a longer period of time and from different perspectives [and] contexts'.