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King Alfonso and the Wild West: Medieval Hispanic Law On the U.S. Frontier

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"Medieval Encounters" include not only interaction between cultures, but also within cultures between widely separated time periods, and even influence by a medieval past upon a present culture or subculture. This can take the form of an evolution from past technologies or mentalities into the present, or even the development of merely analogous modern patterns quite different from the medieval to surface observation. One such artifact was the massive thirteenth-century Romanized law code of Alfonso X the Learned of Castile, called the Siete partidas, that survived within and alongside later Romanized codes throughout the Spanish empire, to acquire "the widest territorial force ever enjoyed by any law book." The medieval Partidas also became a living and formative presence even within the contrasting system of Common Law prevailing in U.S. jurisprudence, particularly in large regions like California, Texas, and Louisiana. This medieval artifact has variously manifested itself during the past century and still emerges in surprising ways in our courts, a relatively invisible ghost from the ancient past inviting study by both medievalists and Americanists, with implications for environmentalism, women's rights, and resource control.

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Los Angeles

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