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News and Announcements: Calls for Papers

Call for Papers: Prefaces, Prologues, and Preliminaries (ASLH Chicago 2020)

Thursday, February 6, 2020  
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We welcome abstracts for our proposal to be submitted to the American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, November 11–14, 2020.

Foundational documents such as charters, constitutions, law codes, or treaties often begin with introductions that infuse legal orders with moral and historical authority while also constructing a framework for interpreting the document itself. Despite the ubiquity of such prefaces in legal history, these framing apparatuses remain understudied in a cross-disciplinary fashion. They deserve collaborative treatment given the heavy workload they bear in defining social, political, and moral norms for their contemporary audiences as well as the impact they have on subsequent interpretations, uses, and understandings of them by those far removed from their original time and contexts.

Preambles, prologues, and preliminary remarks in legal, social, religious, and political texts and documents define populations, their identities, and origins. They crystalize ideologies, prescribe the jurisdiction of laws, and situate legal orders in history. Above all, they frame the legal norms outlined in the body of the text and how they are to be understood. Moreover, a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary scope is justified by the interrelationships of these framing devices across time and space, as they are often composed by drawing upon other prefaces.

Therefore, we seek a wide range of submissions that focus on historical contexts from the ancient world to the 21st century and a range of genres (didactic, literary, philosophical, and religious) and themes (e.g., culture, ethnicity, gender, race), in the form of both narrative and analytical essays. Our aim is to propose a series of multidisciplinary panels that engage with these themes:

  • Methodological strategies for interpreting prologues, prefaces, and preludes, whether historical, legal, social, philological, et cetera.
  • The ancient Near East, including cuneiform traditions such as but not limited to law collections or treaties, and including the Hebrew Bible.
  • Classical Traditions, including Greek and Roman law.
  • Non-Western Traditions, Medieval and Early Modern (religious and/or secular), including Islamic law.
  • Western Traditions, Medieval and Early Modern (religious and/or secular).
  • Modern Constitutions, Jurisdictions, and Socio-political orders.
  • Transnational, International, and Global Treaties, Institutions, and Arrangements.

Depending on the number of responses, we may submit a proposal for a one-day symposium. Long term, we plan to develop an edited volume or compendium that will extend beyond the initial meeting in Chicago.

Please submit an abstract (200–300 words, including a title and keywords) and a very short cv (one page) to by Friday, March 6, 2020. Please feel free to circulate this call widely.

Further information on the call for papers:

Please direct questions to the panel/symposium proposal organizers: Laura Culbertson (, Susan Longfield Karr (

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