Please write a bit about your background.
I grew up on Wirral (the jutty out bit between Liverpool and North Wales), and went to a grammar school there. I went to Trinity College, Cambridge to study Law, and decided pretty early on that being paid to sit in an armchair and talk about Roman Law sounded pretty fantastic. In my second year I was taught English Legal History and Civil Law II (a mix of Roman Law and European Legal History) by David Ibbetson, and he suggested I might be interested in staying on for a PhD. And here I am, though the armchair is currently waiting for me in Magdalen.
What led you to a career in academia?
When I was trying to decide what degree to do, Law seemed like a good opportunity to combine my interests: some history, some philosophy, some sociology, and lots of rules. As an undergraduate I would cycle through a dizzying range of topics – I think I remember one two-week cycle having state responsibility, 17th century natural law, mortgages, assumpsit and misrepresentation. Staying on for a PhD felt like the best way to continue exploring a wide range of academic interests, and by the end of that I was hooked on the mix of exploring whatever I liked and teaching brilliant undergraduates that are the privileges of an academic career.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
Most of what I do has focused on a group of early modern theologians who sought to reframe private law according to essentially philosophical ideals, borrowing from and comparing with Roman and local law as they went. I’ve mostly worked on delict thus far, but have started looking into their treatment of property and procedure. Theirs was a primarily intellectual approach to legal doctrine that is different to the sorts of things legal historians ordinarily encounter, though there are clear efforts at ensuring their doctrines are compatible with the expectations of legal practitioners. For someone who has difficulty focusing on one topic for too long, it provided a nice mix of disciplines. I also do the odd bit on classical Roman law and English legal history, though feel considerably further out of my depth with these.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in a bits-and-pieces phase at the moment. I have a few old things to polish off before I can get to work on something more substantial. One is on restrictions on alienation in the Roman law of property, another is on the development of the idea of “restitutio” in early modern natural law, beginning with the theologians referred to above and how it was adapted when removed from its theological context. I also have ideas for a pair of pieces on obligations quasi ex delicto (one Roman, one on their use in later institutional works), though suspect only the latter will ever actually come to fruition, and probably not for a while. When I have the time to sit down and do some sustained research, I plan to try to get to grips with the procedural dimension of the legal-theological texts above.
Do you have any pets?
I can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about Katsu. She’s the shiba inu in the photo (looking concerned as another dog – my mum’s spaniel – gets some attention), and spends most of her time interrupting tutorials by trying to climb over my shoulder, or whacking me with a toy dragon to tell me it’s time to play. I got her in March (in the same two week period that I bought a house, became Dean in Magdalen and the first lockdown began – that was fun) and she’s done a lot to keep me sane in the last few months. She’s a bit bigger now, but I’ve not had a haircut or been to the gym since November, so there’s no way you’re getting a more recent photo. Her official title in Magdalen is the Decanal Hound, and during the Michaelmas lockdown she was the star of a series of weekly Teams sessions called “Katsu fights…” (a dragon, an octopus and a crocodile) where students could tune in to watch her play. Attendance was poor, but she still had fun.