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GSAS Alumnus' Creative Research Sheds New Light on the Origins of Legal Reasoning

Anders Winroth

Anders Winroth, GSAS '96, was one of 12 men and 12 women chosen for a $500,000 "genius award", announced on October 5 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In making the announcement, the MacArthur Foundation noted "the [fellowships] recognize creativity and are designed to encourage talented people to pursue their own intellectual and professional inclinations."

Winroth has done extensive research tracing the development of medieval canon law, raising new questions about the history of law and modern legal reasoning. His work on "Gratian's Decretum," a 12th century collection of church law, and the first scholastic canon law textbook produced in the Middle Ages, produced startling discoveries.

Winroth authored "Making of Gratian's Decretum" in 2000 and opened new avenues for interpreting the origins and development of Gratian's medieval texts. In the monograph, Winroth proves that manuscripts previously thought to be abbreviations of the standard text are actually early versions, and that there existed a shorter and more coherent document. "Decretum" is considered a seminal book of European history and a basis for the development of Western law from the medieval to the present.

His theories inspired and astonished the academic community and medieval canon law scholars. A Chronicle of Higher Education article on his work (August 2000), noted that for "[fellow medievalists] Mr. Winroth's reconstruction of Gratian's texts is thrilling enough, casting, as it does, a new light on the medieval renaissance of the 12th century, and ultimately on Gratian himself."

"The basis of Gratian's law eventually made its way to 17th century parliamentary procedure, later adopted by Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of the United States," Winroth told the Associated Press on October 6. "It's really a pivotal work in the history of law."

Winroth received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia in 1996 and is currently an associate professor of medieval history at Yale. He was the Sir James Knott Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1996-1998. In addition to his "Making of Gratian's Decretum," Winroth is the co-editor, together with Columbia associate professor of history Adam Kosto, of "Charters, Cartularies, and Archives: The Preservation and Transmission of Documents in the Medieval West" (2002). His research focuses on the cultural, intellectual, and legal history of the European High Middle Ages and on the economic and social history of Early Medieval Scandinavia. Winroth will receive $100,000 annually for the next five years to pursue his interests and creative research.

Published: Oct 07, 2003
Last modified: Oct 08, 2003

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