Alumni Spotlight: Dag Michalsen
The idea and practise of legislation is something that fascinates former CAS project leader and Professor of Law Dag Michalsen. This autumn he is returning to CAS.
Dag Michalsen is a professor of law at the University of Oslo (UiO) and will be a participant in the CAS project Social Governance Through Legislation, led by Erik Opsahl and Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde.
The project is due to start in August 2021 and will investigate how politics, law and society changed with the introduction of legislation as an instrument of governance in the High and Late Middle Ages.
Michalsen already has experience as a CAS Fellow from 2012-2013, when he led the CAS project The transformation of international law and Norwegian sovereignty in 1814 together with Ola Mestad.
We spoke with the professor about his return to CAS and his engagement in legal research and the history of legal science.
What makes you want to come to CAS for a second time this autumn to join the project Social Governance Through Legislation?
Well, I could not resist accepting the invitation from Jørn and Erik, remembering the very good time I had some 10 years ago at CAS. For any legal historian, the Norwegian Code of the Realm of 1274 is ‘a must,’ and as it is approaching 750 years, there will be a host of new research, new debates and new publications in the years to come. I really wanted to be part of that research process.
Jørn and Erik have assembled an outstanding international team whose research will shed new light on the international contexts of the Code and bring new levels of comparative understandings of codes and legal orders from across Europe around 1300. My own research will be more on 19th and 20th century historiography and debates on legal historical methods, and I am very happy that the project leaders have included this dimension into the project. Together with my colleague Johannes Liebrecht from Zürich, I am now working on a more detailed plan for the year concerning these issues. How and why did the legal historians and historians of the past two centuries work on the 1274 Code or similar codes around Europe, and to what end did this work become part of and were reflections of their legal and historical thinking?
The project will investigate how legislation as an instrument of governance in the High Middle Ages changed politics, law and society. Why is this interesting to study, and how will you contribute to the project?
Many aspects of this project are fascinating. First, there is the problematic issue of the historical sources themselves. Based on often rather rudimentary sources, what is possible to say about the practice of law in Norway at the time? Another aspect is the complicated relationship between kingships, church, different jurisdictions, legal texts and legal ideology as to what was ‘really’ law, politics, social norms and much more. From a legal historian’s point of view, the role of legislation in Norwegian history is always interesting, and I would very much like to contribute to this issue in light of the manifold international contexts. The idea and practice of legislation is overall something that fascinates any lawyer as to its character and its many functions in society. Here one can make interesting conversations between history and contemporary law.
The idea and practice of legislation is overall something that fascinates any lawyer as to its character and its many functions in society. Here one can make interesting conversations between history and contemporary law.
As a dean at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo (2016-2019), you worked to promote legal research in general. What can we learn from studies of European legal history, and why is such research important?
As dean, I discovered very fast the fundamental lack of understanding for legal research both among nonlawyers and among the legal practitioners. The idea is that legal education is a cheap education that does not need research-based education. That is in effect what is being said these days by those institutions that now want to start legal education and thus continuing the appalling conditions of past legal education for the sake of making money go to other disciplines.
Here’s an example: All education in Norway is regulated by a complex set of laws, and the rectors have stated in surveys that coping with these legal regimes is the most difficult part of their job. However, there is not one legal professor handling the laws of the educational sector, quite simply because there is no money. Today there are two professors in tax law in all of Norway. It is quite simply absurd. Similarly, the Norwegian Research Council systematically neglected legal research — they even admitted it. As opposed to other countries, the private legal sector in Norway is not willing to contribute to solving these issues. So, yes it was something to learn as a dean. As a legal historian, I lecture on the history of legal science, and there is a rather paradoxical knowledge to be drawn from that history: As society is ever more regulated by law, and as the legalization processes are taken to extremes, the relative number of law professors is declining. I suppose this issue is in itself a good research project.
As society is ever more regulated by law, and as the legalization processes are taken to extremes, the relative number of law professors is declining.
What do you remember best from your stay at CAS as one of two project leaders of the project The transformation of international law and Norwegian sovereignty in 1814 back in 2012-2013?
From around 2008, the legal historical research group at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo was working on different aspects of constitutional history. As the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution was approaching, we developed three large projects that ran at the same time. At CAS we were specifically working on the complicated relationship between international law and constitutional law around 1814, and what I remember in particular was the focus and concentration unfolding in the basement at CAS and how we were able to discuss, write and reflect. However, as the two other projects demanded attention as well, at times we were perhaps a little too busy. Still, without the year at CAS, we would not have managed to complete what we actually did by 2014. The year 2012-2013 is something that we still talk about and remember, and we have always encouraged people to apply for such a year.
...what I remember in particular was the focus and concentration unfolding in the basement at CAS and how we were able to discuss, write and reflect.
What are you looking forward to when returning this autumn?
Happily, this time I am not a project leader, so I can focus on my own work. However, what I am really looking forward to is certainly the social and scholarly interaction that I remember so vividly from 10 years ago. Normally I sit in the university buildings in the centre of Oslo, a 15-minute walk from CAS, but the moment you enter the Academy building, it feels like that you are far away from normal university life. Yes, I really look forward to this year.
Normally I sit in the university buildings in the centre of Oslo, a 15-minute walk from CAS, but the moment you enter the Academy building, it feels like that you are far away from normal university life.
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