(English) Taking Stock of Our Research Activities: The School of Salamanca in the Activity Report of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, 2015-2017

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Activity Report 2015-2017.

Every three years, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt a.M. presents a report of its activities, and this year’s report is brandnew:


As associated researchers, SvSal team members José Luis Egío and Christiane Birr are also part of the institute’s activities: you can find their report on the research field Legal History of the School of Salamanca (pp. 58-60) and their personal research summary The School of Salamanca. A digital collection of sources and a dictionary of its juridical-political language (pp. 88-91), as well as detailed information about all the research going on in this vibrant community of scholars.

(English) The School of Salamanca: A Case of Global Knowledge Production? Conference, 24-26 October 2018, Buenos Aires

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by Christiane Birr

In 2018, the university of Salamanca celebrates its 800th anniversary, an event not only of Castilian or Spanish importance, but with world-wide reverberations. From the beginning of the 16th century until the 18th century, the so-called School of Salamanca shaped the juridical-political discourse and language of the two great Iberian empires, with its characteristic intertwining of science, jurisprudence, religion, and politics. Theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, natural sciences owe substantial innovations to this group of Spanish, Portuguese and American thinkers whose impact was never limited by frontiers of countries, continents, or religious denominations. In East and West traces of their thinking and teaching can be found. Universities followed the Salmantine curriculum; in America and Asia, texts from Salamanca were studied, excerpted, copied, and new works were written, based on the principles, content and scientific practices of this school. Without the American and Asian experiences and voices, modern jurisprudence, philosophy and theology, as we know them, would not exist.

For a long time, this world-wide significance of the school of Salamanca was understood as a phenomenon of the reception, in which the American and Asian actors appeared only as passive recipients of European knowledge and normativity. However, processes of global interactions are brought into focus by recent researches in the fields of legal history, philosophy, and history of knowledge. “Salamanca“ thus becomes a point of intersection in a world-encompassing network of normative knowledge production.

Normative systems which had deep roots in European history and traditions were replicated, complemented, changed, and adapted to local needs – and then reflected back to Spain, to Europe.  In the American context, the production of knowledge had to face new challenges: the encounter with hitherto unknown peoples and religions, the geographical distance to Europe and the enormous dimension of the American continent itself were only a few of them. Such external factors enabled and forced Spanish and Portuguese jurists, theologians, and philosophers to leave the well-trodden paths of medieval tradition and to find new answers for the new questions of a new time. Authors, books, and ideas then found their way back to Europe, into the lecture halls of the universities as well as into the session chambers of political bodies. The discourse about a law of nations and universal human rights began in the so-called School of Salamanca and is only the best-known example for the fundamental role the American experiences played in the development of a modern Europe.

The Conference shall provide an opportunity to reflect about how this normative knowledge was produced, with an especial attention on the American parts of the Iberian monarchies of the 16-18th centuries: in university lectures and writings, but also in political and/or juridical decisions. What was the institutional framework of knowledge production, and how did it influence the results? How to analyze the process of knowledge production under the perspectives of cultural translation and textuality? – Such questions can only be answered on a broad fundament of microhistorical studies of actors, practices, knowledge reservoirs, and institutions. As a result, we may expect a new, richly shaded image of the School of Salamanca’s global significance.

In preparation for the discussions and the conference, Thomas Duve has presented some ideas in his working paper “La Escuela de Salamanca: ¿un caso de producción global de conocimiento?“, SvSal WP No. 2018-02.


For further information, please contact us at salamanca@rg.mpg.de

(Deutsch) #wonachsuchstdu: Podiumsdiskussion am Max-Planck-Tag 2018

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Am 14. September 2018 war Max-Planck-Tag, eine Feier der Wissenschaft in allen ihren Facetten. Thomas Duve war mit anderen Frankfurter MPI-DirektorInnen zu einer Podiumsdiskussion über Fragen und Facetten von Grundlagenforschung in die Evangelische Akademie eingeladen. Das Gespräch wurde von der Wissenschaftsjournalistin Regina Oehler geleitet.

Die Gesprächsrunde war gut aufgelegt, und das Publikum hat viel gelernt – wie man Max-Planck-Direktor wird, was ein Rechtshistoriker eigentlich macht und welche Fragen die Gesprächsteilnehmer schon immer gern mal ihren Kolleginnen und Kollegen gestellt hätten. Das Gespräch ist für hr-info aufgenommen worden und wird zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt im Radio gesendet.

(English) “Before Vitoria. Early Theological and Juridical Responses to the Spanish Expansion“ – New Publications

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by Christiane Birr

We are happy and proud that our «Before Vitoria» focus in the latest edition of Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 26 (2018) are out now.

There is a consensus among historians that the School of Salamanca brought something new to the development of early modern European legal thinking and methodology. Francisco de Vitoria is considered, not only by modern researchers but also by his contemporaries (from Melchor Cano onward), the origin of the school and its founding figure. He is famously claimed to have introduced Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae as the fundamental  text  for  theological  lectures  at  the  University of Salamanca and so prepared the ground for the upsurge of academic activity and intellectual brilliance of late or modern scholasticism at Spanish, Portuguese, and American universities. Regardless of the differences in the assessments of the late scholastics’ political stance (whether viewed as trailblazers on the way to human rights and a modern law of nations or as conservative imperialists, whose sole intent was the perpetuation and legitimation of the Spanish rule in the Americas), Vitoria and his followers are seen as intellectual innovators, opening the restrictive traditions of medieval scholarship to the modern exigencies of a globalized world.

This almost universal image has recently been called into question, with Jacob Schmutz showing that Vitoria was not quite the first to introduce Aquinas’s Summa into the teaching of Salamanca’s theological faculty, and Thomas Duve recently asking outright: Did everything actually start with Francisco de Vitoria?

Far from being a homogenous group, the School of Salamanca developed incredibly rich debates about juridical, theological, and philosophical ideas, bringing together traditions of medieval scholarship and the new historical dilemma arising from the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the ›discovery‹ of  new  pagan peoples.  Nevertheless, the innovativeness of those debates can only be gauged by studying them from a broad perspective that takes into account not only the well-known medieval traditions but also debates that took place between the authors of the 15th and early 16th centuries, who also saw themselves confronted with the problems of an ever-growing Spanish presence in the Atlantic world.

The following three contributions undertake to shed light on this constant and problematic evolution of the reflection about dominium and in fidelity among  Spanish  theologians and jurists, showing how dramatically the significance of a given juridical or theological topic can change in light of new historical circumstances. They offer glimpses into a close-knit network of personal contacts and academic debates in which important revisions and reconceptualizations of medieval concepts were shaped, both before and after Francisco de Vitoria took up his chair of theology at Salamanca’s university in 1526. The ideas offered here were first presented at the XIV International Congress of the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale, Homo – Natura – Mundus: Human  Beings  and  their  Relationships, held at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, July 24–28, 2017. They were read and discussed in the congress’s special session, The Men of the New World in the Works of the Salamanca Jurists and Theologians / Os  homens  do  Novo  Mundo  nas  obras  dos  juristas  e dos  teólogos  de  Salamanca, proposed by Matthias Lutz-Bachmann from the Institute for Philosophy at Frankfurt’s Goethe University. These papers have been considerably re-worked and expanded for publication.

Check out our three articles:

Marco Toste: Invincible Ignorance and the Americas: Why and How the Salamancan Theologians Made Use of a Medieval Notion

José Luis Egío: Matías De Paz and the Introduction of Thomism in the Asuntos De Indias: A Conceptual Revolution

Christiane Birr: Dominium in the Indies. Juan López de Palacios Rubios’ Libellus de insulis oceanis quas vulgus indias appelat (1512–1516)

(Deutsch) Snapshot-Praktikum bei der Schule von Salamanca

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Die Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz, bietet allen StudentInnen, AbsolventInnen und Promovierenden der Uni Mainz die Möglichkeit zu einem Snapshot-Praktikum: Eine Woche lang kann man den Forschungsalltag im Projekt «Die Schule von Salamanca: Eine digitale Quellensammlung» live miterleben.


Im August haben wir Laura Kopp von der Historischen Fakultät bei uns begrüßen dürfen. Editionsarbeit, Digital Humanities, Aufbau und Pflege einer Webanwendung für Forscher, die Arbeit in einem internationalen und interdisziplinären Forscherkreis, fachliche Gesprächsrunden über historische Fragen, viel Spaß und Spundekäs – wir haben nichts ausgelassen!

(Deutsch) Die SvSal im Frankfurter Städel

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Im Juli dieses Jahres hat unser Projektleiter Thomas Duve einen Ausflug ins Frankfurter Städel-Museum gemacht und über seine Sicht auf ausgewählte Werke dort gesprochen, unter anderem über den „Stammbaum der Dominikaner“ von Hans Holbein d. Ä. Am Beispiel von Johannes Vermeers «Der Geograf» blickt er auf das Delft des 17. Jahrhunderts und die Ausbildung von informellen Imperien. Für alle, die nicht dabei sein konnten, gibt es ein kurzes Video:


Der „Stammbaum der Dominikaner“ im Städel-Museum: