Katharina Isabel Schmidt

Senior Research Fellow under Prof. Dr. Ralf Michaels

Main Fields of Research

Modern German legal history; global, transnational, and comparative legal history; history of science and knowledge-production; cultural history; intellectual history; comparative law; legal sociology and anthropology; critical legal theory; law and sexuality.


I study the relationship between knowledge and normativity in German-speaking central Europe and beyond. I am especially curious to learn more about what jurists mean when they talk about law as “science.”

I trained in both the Anglo-American common law and the continental European civil law tradition, completing undergraduate degrees at University College London and the University of Cologne. Following graduate-level study at the University of Oxford and the Yale Law School, I embarked on a PhD in history at Princeton University, which I completed in September 2021.

My doctoral dissertation, “The Law That We Feel Living Within Us:” German Jurists and the Search for “Life” in Modern Legal Science, 1900-1946, tells the story of “life” as a source of law from Wilhelmine free lawyers like Hermann Kantorowicz to Nazi jurists like Carl Schmitt. Highlighting jurisprudential continuities across monarchical, republican, and dictatorial forms of government, my project challenges received narratives of rupture in German legal history. I am currently in the process of turning this dissertation into a book.

Concurrently, I am working on a series of articles: on law’s relationship with the natural sciences, especially chemistry, around 1900; on Carl Schmitt’s engagement with free law texts in his 1912 Statute and Judgment; on curious synchronicities between utopian socialist and early “völkisch” sexological jurisprudence before World War I; on American legal realists’ engagement with German and French legal modernism in the 1910s and 1920s; and on law and visual culture in a 1936 Nazi exhibition on “Aryan” legal history.

For my next project, I plan to write a global history of the German Civil Code with particular emphasis on the conspicuous absence of colonial themes in nineteenth and early twentieth-century civil law discourses.

Please feel free to contact me about my research. In my role as external postdoc representative, I also welcome inquiries from researchers interested in working at the Institute.


  • JSD (Law), Yale Law School, in progress.
  • PhD (History), Princeton University, September 2021.
  • MA (History), Princeton University, May 2017.
  • LL.M (Law), Yale Law School, May 2013.
  • BCL (Law), Oxford University, July 2011.
  • LL.B (Law), University College London, August 2010.
  • Baccalaureus Legum (Law), University of Cologne, August 2010.
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