Law is a central element of social and political order - with it, power is institutionalized, actions are structured and sanctioned. Fundamental concepts of order are expressed and legitimised by law. This is especially true of gender difference. Until equal rights won out as the norm, differentiating legal capacities of persons by their gender meant assigning distinct forms of legally defined agency to men and women and fixing gender hierarchy. Nevertheless, even while formal equality is established throughout Europe since the 20th century, gender difference in law remains a precarious question.
The international research network "Gender Differences in European Legal Cultures" aims at bringing together scholars who analyse in historical perspective the significance and function of gender differ-ences in European legal cultures. This will help widen the possibilities of interdisciplinary and com-parative work. The network is concerned with all fields of law - such as criminal, public, civil and procedural law - although focusing especially on civil law. Our intention is a gendered history of law which not only increases our knowledge of legal norms explicitly concerning women or men, but also questions the construction of law itself. In addition, the network directs its special attention to legal practice inside as well as outside the court and to relations of legal and social norms. Legal pluralism, the subsidiary of legal norms and competitive jurisdiction of different institutions concerned with the administration of justice are analysed as to the agency they grant women and men and to their influ-ence on shaping gender difference.
Following up the conferences „Time and Space in Women’s Lives in Early Modern Europe“ (Trento, Italy, 1997) and „Geschlecht und Recht in der Geschichte“ (Innsbruck, Austria, 1998) the research network was founded at the conference „Geschlechterdifferenz im europäischen Recht“ (Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2000), organized by Prof. Dr. Heide Wunder at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte. It gathers scholars from history, legal history, European anthropology, sociology, political science and others. On a two-year cycle (roughly) the network meets at international conferences organized by one or more of its members.
After the network's founding conference in Frankfurt am Main 2000, Prof. Dr. Silvana Seidel Menchi organized the next meeting in Trento in October 2002 at the Centro per gli studi storici italo-germanici, entitled „Il Costo delle Nozze - Der Preis des Heiratens. Trasferimenti patrimoniali connessi al matrimonio. Europa XIII-XIX secolo“. In September 2004 we met in Copenhagen at the Royal Library, where Dr. Grethe Jacobsen und Prof. emer. Dr. Inger Dübeck hosted the conference „Less favoured/ more favoured in Law and Legal Practice. Gender, Power and Authority 1200-1900“. Making a big step southwards, the next conference took place in September 2006 in Crete (Rethymnon). At the Institute of Mediterranian Studies Prof. Dr. Aglaia Kasdagli organized our fourth conference entitled „Gender, family and property in legal theory and practice: The European perspective from 10th to 20th century“. The fifth conference in April 2009, „New Perspectives on Gender and Legal History: European Traditions and the Challenge of Global History“, will again take place in Frankfurt am Main, this time hosted by the Goethe University.