Vignette from Pufendorf: De officio hominis et civis, Utrecht 1752.

The project is focussed on natural law as an academic institution in the period from 1625 to 1850. The ambition is to combine traditional approaches to natural law as a set of ideas with a comprehensive history of academic reception, transmission, and uses that takes into account institutional, political, and legal contexts. This ambition can only be realised by supplementing the published record of natural law – its textbooks and treatises – with a much wider range of sources. Accordingly the heart of the project is a large digitization programme of natural-law texts, commentaries, and pedagogical programs, supplemented by a bibliography and a data base.

A project of such magnitude has to be organised at a European level, with the ambition of eventually including also teaching in the colonial institutions in North and South America. We see it as a 'federal' project of participating institutions, but working to a coherent plan. Most of the institutions will want to deal with their own natural-law record, and their local web sites are or will be linked to the present site that functions as a portal for the project as a whole, including the bibliography and data bases.

The project is being directed by Frank Grunert, Knud Haakonssen, and Louis Pahlow and rests on a group of about twenty collaborators, representing the participating universities and libraries across Europe. The project has a large and growing body of members, who are scholars of natural law wanting to make use of the materials provided by the project.

Details of the four parts of the project


In its published texts, as these are commonly understood, natural law appears as a universalistic idiom for social thought. In fact it was continuously adapted to a variety of local uses — political, juridical, theological, and constitutional — with the central institution of adaptation being the early modern university. The project will thus map and document the multiple academic receptions, transmissions, and uses of natural law in a series of pedagogical contexts.

The subject is of such a nature that it is impossible to be exhaustive, but the ambition is to be comprehensive. The aim is to provide online access to the actual course materials in digitized form, including course programmes, lectures (in note form or otherwise), graduation orations, dissertations, and disputations from as many centres and regions as possible. Where relevant, faculty decisions and opinions using natural law as a subsidiary legal source will be included. This material will be linked to the published corpus of natural-law works where possible. For example, lectures posted in digitized form, or simply listed, on the project’s web sites will be marked with information of published works issuing from those lectures.

The sheer bulk of material makes it impossible to provide scholarly editing, apart from head-notes with archival details, information about authorship and possible links to published material. A central point of the project is in fact to draw attention to material that scholars may decide deserve detailed study, including editing and dedicated publication. Via a network of linked web sites the project will provide a large public resource for scholars, teachers, students and anyone interested. It will also conserve unique or rare material and open it up for wider study than ever before.


This is being created online as a cumulative bibliography of publications from the project’s period. It will provide information on any teaching background to published works, especially in the case of underlying lecture notes, and be linked to the digitized sources wherever possible. A cumulative bibliography of secondary (post-1850) sources is being planned.


A cumulative data base to accompany the digitized textual materials and the bibliography is planned. It will comprise information in standardised form of (a) individuals teaching natural law and (b) institutions providing for such teaching. The former section will give basic biographical information, including career details that can be linked to the teaching record, the bibliography, and the institutional data base.

Scholarly network and conferences

In providing new sources via the internet, the project aims to stimulate scholarly work in all relevant fields. The growing web archive is the focus for an international and interdisciplinary network of scholars who foster work, both ‘local’, comparative and international in scope. The project organizes conferences at least once a year.

Interested in becoming a member of the project?

Please, write for details of the conditions of a membership to Professor Knud Haakonssen.