Witness as Proof in Medieval Law


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project traces the legal history of witness: the idea that seeing something is proof that it occurred and that saying you have seen it is legal evidence that it happened. While scholars have told the story of witness up to the thirteenth century, ending with the triumph of a system we now know over the irrational procedures of the past (such as the ordeal), they have left unasked the questions of how this system came to replace other kinds of evidence, how widely that replacement was accepted, and whether it was challenged. This work addresses those unasked questions, examining the way that witness came to be used to establish epistemological certainty.