8 September 2023

On often hear about rare earths, which are difficult to obtain and strategic in terms of their uses. We also talk about rare languages ​​in secondary education, now rare subjects in universities. A map is being drawn up by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, based on the model of a German experience.

For the history of law and institutions, the ministry took note of the disproportion between the importance of “the contribution of this discipline to the training of jurists and to the knowledge of ancient and contemporary societies” and the decreasing number of positions assigned to it. Not so different from a rare earth, to tell the truth: it is something not very available, but very useful, even essential.

Teacher-researchers in the history of law and institutions have long been aware of this disproportion between means and ends: their daily lives remind them of it. While an observation period is open, which may or may not lead the ministry to confirm this status, we believe it is appropriate to initiate a public and well-informed reflection on the role of this discipline. Basically, the whole question is how to envisage the training of current and future generations of jurists. What knowledge and skills should they have?

In a context of difficulties in the public service in general and in the university in particular, under-supervision in law faculties is a chronic problem, while the number of students is increasing (more than 220,000 in 2021-2022, including 45,000 first-year entrants).

A weakened discipline

The situation in legal history is even more worrying: among the 68 establishments where legal training is provided, slightly more than a third do not have or only have a lecturer or a teacher. From 292 teacher-researchers in 2006, the history of law will only have 264 in 2021, while the number of law and political science undergraduate students has increased by more than a third between 2005 and 2021. This general situation weakens the discipline and its future.

Why is the contribution of the history of law so essential to legal studies, and more generally to the legal and judicial culture of a country, in short to the health of the rule of law? The question shouldn’t even arise. It seems incongruous to have to plead today for the defense of a scientific discipline which is at the very origin of universities.

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