Pure Theory of Legal Festschrifts

The following is not about “basic norms”; rather it focuses on ease of access of formerly deeply buried legal theory contained in various Festschrift volumes. Festschrifts contain original work by scholars honouring a milestone in the life of a brilliant peer: Should the work be presented posthumously, it becomes a Gedenkschrift. Some of the essays within Festschrifts are so original that they fall outside the range of peer-reviewed acceptability. Festschrifts foster serendipity and are a welcome adjunct to the consensus-driven publications which mostly populate our shelves. Until recently the Anglo-American world dismissed Festschrifts as an annoying Continental affectation, a bit like Civil Codes and such. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “Festschrift” has been lexicalized in English since 1892 and Anglo-Saxon juridical tradition has internalized Festschrift practice so thoroughly that it spawned a new take on the genre: the Anti-Festschrift! As is obvious from the sound of the word “Festschrift”, the genesis of the tradition which underscores achievements of scholars is German in origin. Jurists in Germany do not stop at celebrating scholars who are very, very good: They also compile Festschrifts to celebrate milestone anniversaries of institutional establishments such as courts. French jurists also make contributions to the corpus both in form and in content: They are quite prolix at what they label their Festschrifts: liber amicorum (a genre with deep humanist roots), Mélanges, Écrits en l’honneur de, Hommage à, Études offertes à and the thanatological in memoriam… (to mention but a few). But these labels remain mere contributions of form: Since 2010, large planks of heterogeneous (but substantial) Francophone legal theory contained in Festschrifts are accessible to our users through the database Hélinia.

Hélinia currently indexes over 2,000 French language volumes, thereby giving access to over 30,000 articles. Great efforts at retrospective classification have been made and even many nineteenth century Festchrifts are covered. The interface is intuitive and its use requires no notion of French. A colleague from Lille University, Ms. Cambier Meerschman, compiled a complete pathfinder (in French) describing Hélinia.  The display and choice of pertinent information makes Hélinia an exemplar to follow should a similar compilation be undertaken in another jurisdiction. This database opens a vast field of imaginative legal theory to library users and meets hands-down the dual challenge of analytics and indexing, cutting through the static and unitary logic of our various classification systems. Fundamentally, Hélinia contributes to the return of the original scholarship contained in French Festschrifts from its banishment in the structural Saint Helenas of our various catalogues.


Daniel Boyer