Archive, Lectures

Karl Shoemaker


“Sanctuary: the protection of fugitive criminals in the Western legal tradition.”


Karl Shoemaker is a medievalist and legal historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is particularly interested in the history of criminal law and the historical development of legal and political institutions concerned with punishment, dispute settlement, and social control in the high and late middle ages. His research also ranges more broadly into the development of the western legal tradition, with an eye toward comparing developments in medieval English and Roman-canon law.


His talk placed recent sanctuary controversies within their historical and jurisprudential context. He argued that the practice of sanctuary was not simply an instrumental device arising in response to an authority structure, which lacked the ability to effectively enforce a criminal law.  Nor was the sanctuary practice merely an ameliorative response to overly harsh medieval punishments and the specter of uncontrolled blood feuds.  Instead, the historical practice of sanctuary reflected particular understandings of law, the nature of wrongdoing, and the significance and purpose of punishment. As these understandings faded, so did the vitality of the legal privilege.  In part, this project examines the implications of the death of sanctuary for modern law.

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