In July 2024, the University of Bristol Law School and the Centre for Law and History Research will welcome legal historians from the UK and the world, as Bristol hosts the 26th British Legal History Conference. This is a major gathering of those working on histories of law, held every two years at a different UK university, and returning to Bristol for the first time since the early 1980s. The academic organisers are Gwen Seabourne and Joanna McCunn, and here they are, ‘in conversation’, to share a few thoughts on the conference.
GS: Well, less than a year to go (see clock above for clunky visual allusion to passing of time): a little bit scary, but we have made quite a lot of arrangements already. I am especially pleased with the conference theme. Will you tell the nice people on the internet about it, Joanna – what it is, and what sorts of things we hope to hear about?
JM: Yes – it’s all very exciting! Our theme is ‘Insiders and Outsiders in the History of Law’, which was really inspired by the legal history of Bristol itself. Bristol has been a significant gathering place for legal ‘insiders’, like lawyers and merchants, for centuries, but it’s also been an important site for legal ‘outsiders’, who have been involved in protesting, reforming or resisting the law.
We’re hoping to bring these two sides of Bristol’s history together, and to hear about powerful legal actors as well as those who have been marginalised by the law: enslaved people, women, LGBTQ+ people and so on. We’re also interested in how the law draws dividing lines more broadly, and in whether there might be ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the study of legal history itself.