P10 – Colonial Policy and Culture in Legal Periodicals

24.05.2017, 12.00-13.20, Room 2.13 , FLUC

Sebastian Vandenbogaerde – Ghent Legal History Institute, Belgium, 

Nathalie Tousignant  – Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles, Belgium

Romain Landmeters – Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles, Belgium

Genevieve Warla – Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Abstract: Periodical studies bloom in social sciences, but the study of legal periodicals received little attention. However, these titles are an inspiring and rewarding object of study enabling researchers to document and reconstruct legal cultures and to sketch professional networks supporting the review, as a material component.

Hobsbawn called the late nineteenth century the age of Empires, wherein the West dominated the world through its colonial system. The Scramble for Africa but also other colonial test cases gave legal scholars all over the world the necessary food for thought. The case of Belgium and its colony Congo Free State is an excellent example. Both foreign – especially English and French – as well as national jurists shed a light on the legal implications of Congo’s annexation to Belgium. They shared their opinions in legal periodicals such as the internationally renowned Revue générale de droit international public or the Belgian Journal des Tribunaux and its spin-off Journal des Tribunaux d’Outre Mer. Another point of view is the introduction of metropolitan law into the colony. How conceived British, French or other ‘imperial’ jurists the relation between several legal traditions (international law, national law and indigenous customary law). This proposition intends to be interdisciplinary, uniting (legal) historians, literature scientists and lawyers. It focusses on the content and actors of colonial legal periodicals.

Keywords: Law, History, Periodical Studies, Colonial Studies

1. Genevieve Warland – Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

The Congo Free State in the mirror of Belgian periodicals

Since the acquisition at the Berlin conference in 1885 of the territories which constituted the Congo Free State (État indépendant du Congo, EIC), ruled by king Leopold II, the new Belgian ‘private’ colony was a topic of interest in Belgian periodicals. The contribution focuses on the debates about Congo in two Belgian leading periodicals between 1885 and 1914: the Catholic Revue générale and the Liberal Revue de Belgique. Which issues were linked to Congo? Who were the authors who tackled these topics? More precisely, how Belgian public opinion reacted to the establishment of Belgium as a colonial State through the fact that the Belgian king was also king of the EIC? How were the English charges (Casement’s report, 1903) against the very hard work conditions of the black population perceived and narrated? How were the parliamentary and public debates around the annexation of Congo by the Belgian State discussed and reported (1904-1908) in the periodicals? How was the situation described after the cession of EIC to the Belgian State?

On all these aspects I will try to bring a comparative insight using the Dutch, English and German literature related to the topic of Belgian Congo before the First World War.

Keywords: Congo Free State, Belgian periodicals, colonialism

2. Luís P.L. Cabral de Oliveira – CEDIS-FDUNL/ESTG-IPLeiria, Portugal

O Foro Indiano: law, politics and New Conquests

‘The history of juridical periodicals constitute, in its most deep significance, history of culture’. Moved by these considerations of Luís Bigotte Chorão, I propose the analysis of a periodical that I consider to have left marks in Goa: the O Foro Indiano, newspaper that in its subtitle (apart from guaranteeing ‘the collaboration of prestigious jurists’) promised to be a ‘defender of all judicial and administrative classes’. In a land of jurists and periodicals, what makes the newspaper special?

On one side, it represents the voice of a minority. The application of law was in the hands of the metropolitan elites and, above all, of the native catholic elites. But the O Foro Indiano was edited by Lingu Roguvir Dolvi, ‘provisionário’ lawyer and notary. On the other side, it has a relatively long life (it was published between 1909 and 1915), a rare case in this area. That means that it is contemporary to the republican revolution, time of profound legal and social changes – and of great hopes for the Goan Hindus (as it may be confirmed in its pages). Furthermore, it was published in the New Conquests, more concretely Quepem, where the judicial organization of Portuguese base was much more insipient than in other parts of Goa, such as the Islands, Bardez and Salsete. Finally, it deserves attention both the internal structure of this publication, with different thematic sections, and the focus given to Hindu juridical-social reality, at the time much more conditioned by the local codification of their customs.

Keywords: Press, Goa, Law, Local jurists

3. Sebastian Vandenbogaerde – Ghent University, Belgium

Belgium’s Journal des Tribunaux at the centre of Belgium’s colonial law 

In 1885, the central African Congo Free State (1885-1908) was established as an independent state under the personal reign of Leopold II, King of the Belgians (1935-1909). Belgium’s Parliament kept itself aloof from the King’s ambitions, but some lawyers hailed the colonial project and propagated their vision through legal periodicals. At that time the renowned Journal des Tribunaux became the leading lady amongst legal titles. Remarkably, the editors, Edmond Picard and later Léon Hennebicq, and collaborators of this journal were also heavily involved in other colonial periodical titles. This paper wants to unearth the networks between several periodicals working on the Belgium’s colony. On which aspects of the Belgian colony did the Journal des Tribunaux focus? What was reported and by whom? As some articles were anonymously it is not always known who stood for which idea, but researchers assume that all published articles have been approved by Picard or his successor and hence were in support of their ideology. Three distinct phases will be taken into account: the era of Congo Free State (1885-1908), Belgian Congo in times of crisis (1914-1944) and towards Congo’s independence (1945-1960). It was also in that latest period that Journal des Tribunaux d’Outre Mer was published: a spin-off of the Journal des Tribunaux.

Keywords: Periodical history, colonial history, legal history, Belgium

4. Romain Landmeters – Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles

Vector of the doctrinal construction of customary law in 1930s Belgian Congo? Bulletin des juridictions indigènes et du droit coutumier congolais

This paper analyses Congolese customary law during the interwar period seen through the prism of the Bulletin des juridictions indigènes et du droit coutumier congolais (BJIDCC, 1933-1964). Antoine Sohier, a magistrate in Elisabethville from 1910 to 1935, created this colonial periodical. Three main questions drive the analysis: what is the significance of customary law in the interwar context and how is it defined in the BJIDCC? How was customary law codified? How was the journal used to disseminate the on-going codification of customary law and develop a new judicial knowledge/branch?

Although many researchers of colonial African history paid attention to customary law, there is a gap that still needs to be filled in the Belgian colonial historiography. During the interwar years in Belgian Congo, codification of customary law appeared to be a way for the authorities to interfer with the very existence of the local populations to cope with troubles threatening colonial society. By the transcription and translation of the customs, the colonial administration tried to develop a new native policy (politique indigène) based on a constructed legal culture. Against this background, this paper analyses and discusses whether or not the BJIDCC might have been a vector of doctrinal construction of customary law. It also questions the role and influence of his editor, Antoine Sohier, in the shaping of that doctrine.

Keywords: Periodical history, colonial history, legal history, Belgium


Luís Cabral de Oliveira holds a PhD from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa Law School. His thesis examined the role of the Goan catholic elite between 1780 and 1880 focusing on law and politics. He is professor of Law at Instituto Politécnico de Leiria, visiting professor at the département d’études portugaises et brésiliennes of the Aix-Marseille Université and researcher at CEDIS/FDUNL. The primary focus of his research is colonial law with an emphasis on Goa.

Geneviève Warland is Research Assistant and Guest Lecturer in History at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL). Masters in History and in Philosophy (Université catholique de Louvain, UCL) and in French as Foreign Language (Université Stendhal Grenoble III). Her PhD (USL-B 2011) dealt with the public role of history and the conceptions of nation and Europe. A monograph on this last historiographical part will be published by P.I.E. Lang: Le rôle public de l’histoire. Nation et Europe chez Blok, Lamprecht, Lavisse et Pirenne (2018). She has worked as guest lecturer at the Goethe Universität Frankfurt/Main and at the University of Paderborn. She is currently coordinating the project “Recognition and resentment: experiences and memories of the Great War in Belgium“ with Laurence van Ypersele. Her main research focus is on history of historiography and theory of history in a transnational perspective (19th-20th centuries).

Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde is historian (Ghent University, 2006), lawyer (Ghent University, 2010) and doctor at laws (Ghent University, 2014). He graduated on the thesis Vectors of Law. History of Belgium’s legal periodicals in which he posited that legal periodicals not mirror a legal culture, but help to shape it. In 2016, he obtained a post-doctoral scholarship at Ghent University on the topic of fascist and Nazi legal periodicals in Western-Europe (1923-1945). His other fields of expertise are legal history of World War I and World War II and gender and law.

Romain Landmeters is a Research Assistant in Contemporary History at the Centrer for Researches in History of Law and Institutions (Saint-Louis University, Brussels). His research areas are History of European Integration and Colonial History. He is currently working under the direction of Professor Nathalie Tousignant on the project « Belgian Magistrates Social Networks » [IAP (VII) BeJust 2.0] in witch he focuses on Magistrates of Congo in the Interwar Period

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