Solvi Sogner, (Ed.), Fact, Fiction and Forensic Evidence : the Potential of Judicial Sources for Historical Research in the Early Modern Period
Solvi Sogner, (Ed.), Fact, Fiction and Forensic Evidence : the Potential of Judicial Sources for Historical Research in the Early Modern Period, Oslo, Tid og Tanke (Skriftserie Fra Historisk insitutt Universitet i Oslo), 1997,I, 2, à 144 p., ISBN 82-550-1054-8 (In English)
1In October 1996 the Department of History at the university of Oslo organised an Anglo-Norse seminar aimed at bringing together researchers on early modern court records. Fact, Fiction and Forensic Evidence is a collection of the papers delivered at that seminar. These papers demonstrate a wide variety of approaches to the subject, which is in any case a very wide one : but there is sufficient overlapping of themes and perspectives to provide intellectual coherence, and the collection is an extremely valuable one, not least because it makes the findings of ac number of Norwegian researchers available to readers of English.
2Solvi Sogner provides an introduction which serves to give an overview of the papers and raise some general themes, after which the various papers are grouped into three sections. In the first, « The rhetoric of the court room », there are contributions by two young English scholars, Tim Stretton and Adam Fox, both of whom have both produced distinguished PhD theses based on the imaginative use of judicial sources. Stretton's piece here, « Social historians and the records of litigation », is an excellent discussion of some of the wider issues, while Fox's contribution demonstrates how case studies from legal records can be employed to illustrate the relationship between oral and literate culture. The case study approach is also followed by Kari Telste, who uses an incident of 1746, which can variously be interpreted as a tale of courtship or immorality, as a means of reflecting on the use of court records as narratives. Gunnar W. Knutsen contributes a well researched and perceptive study of witchcraft trials in south – eastern Norway, while Erling Sandmo's thoughtful and stimulating paper raises some interesting problems about the history of the concept of violence.
3Part Two of the collection discusses women and the courts, with studies by Amy Louise Erickson on the probate accounts of early modern England, and Hilde Sandvik on depictions of women in court from seventeenth and eighteenth century Norwegian court records. Part Three, on financing trials and administering justice likewise contains two essays. In the first of these Bodil Chr. Erichsen discusses the problems of financing the prosecution of thefts in seventeenth and eighteenth -century Norway, while in the second Joanna Innes provides an overview of the records relating to the English justices of the peace in eighteenth – century England, and of the roles of these important officials.
4This is, inevitably, a very varied collection of essays, reflecting as it does a wide range of approaches to the legal records of two countries and ranging from finished pieces by experienced researchers to discussions of initial findings by younger scholars. This means that some papers are more successful than others in opening up wider themes from the materials they study. Understandably, a number of the contributions here are concerned with the necessary initial operations of trying to understand how the court whose records are being studied operated, and how and for what purpose the records which are under scrutiny were constructed. As Sogner points out, law and legal procedures do to some extent exist in a world of their own, and the social historian seeking to use court records must become familiar with that world. When this process of familiarisation has taken place, as the essays brought together here demonstrate, legal materials offer the historian access to an enormous number of areas of research which otherwise would remain elusive, or whose very existence might be only very imperfectly grasped. Legal records survive in bulk (frightening bulk in the English case), and many court archives have as yet only barely been investigated. But as the authors of the papers collected here remind us, if these records are approached with the appropriate mixture of caution and imagination, exciting new perspectives can be opened up on the past.
Pour citer cet article
J.A. Sharpe, « Solvi Sogner, (Ed.), Fact, Fiction and Forensic Evidence : the Potential of Judicial Sources for Historical Research in the Early Modern Period », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 4, n°1 | 2000, 143-144.
J.A. Sharpe, « Solvi Sogner, (Ed.), Fact, Fiction and Forensic Evidence : the Potential of Judicial Sources for Historical Research in the Early Modern Period », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 4, n°1 | 2000, mis en ligne le 28 avril 2009, consulté le 28 avril 2017. URL : http://chs.revues.org/880Haut de page
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