Tamar Herzog

Tamar Herzog

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Harvard Visiting Professor
Registering Rights in Late Medieval Portugal
2022-2023 (February-April)
Tamar Herzog


Tamar Herzog (https://therzog.fas.harvard.edu/) is the Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs at Harvard and an affiliated faculty member at the Harvard Law School. A legal scholar and historian by training, her work engages with early modern European history, colonial Latin American history, Atlantic history, and Legal history. She is the author of six monographs that examine the working of European and colonial legal processes in everyday situations, including the administration of justice, citizenship and belonging, and territorial formation. Her latest book is an extended essay on the history of European law, spanning from Roman times to present- day debates on the European Union and the globalization of law. Her work is published in the USA, Canada, UK, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.

Project Summary

During the late Middle Ages, the Portuguese monarchs sent delegates throughout the kingdom to record on paper what they possessed. These campaigns, which produced thousands of texts describing properties, revenues, rights, and vassals, were soon taken up also by municipal bodies, corporations, and lords, who elaborated their own lists. Overtime, these lists became incredibly powerful tools, which helped kings, communities, and individuals to advance claims that were otherwise impossible. Actors insisted that the lists were an authentic and trustworthy reflection of their rights and could thus serve as an unquestionable proof of their entitlements. Jurists, however, disagreed. They expressed doubts as to whether the writing down of rights transformed them, they stressed the complexities of the processes that led to registration, they asked what constituted an irrefutable proof, and they insisted on the need for constant update. These silent dialogues between historical actors looking for certainty and jurists, mostly from Italy and Iberia, refusing to support it, allow us to ask how contemporaries imagined their rights, how they sought to secure them, and how jurists responded. They reflect hopes regarding the role of law, and (often) disillusionment with what it can or cannot do.