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Corporate Insolvency and Restructuring Proceedings: Legal Borrowing, National Tradition and Globalization (Nineteenth-Twentieth Centuries)

The session focuses on the historical analysis of institutions and their impact on economic development through the investigation of insolvency and restructuring proceedings. Restructuring and pre-insolvency proceedings were introduced in many countries over the course of the nineteenth century. They purported to lower the bars for voluntary proceedings: the debtor was incentivized to bring forward his financial problems so as to limit further decay. But also winding up proceedings underwent change. Liquidation became more professionalized, in order to safeguard the rights of all creditors and so as to prevent fraud. The session aims at comparing the economic incentives that resulted in the new legislation, and at comparing the contents of the laws and their implementation in practice. The focus will mostly be on differences across countries, in the scope and possible results of the mentioned proceedings, and on the relation between continuity in legislative actions and legal borrowing. Globalization processes since the early nineteenth century entailed that bankruptcy legislation, or components of foreign laws, migrated; since the middle of the nineteenth century, lawmakers, scholars and practitioners in Europe debated the efficiency of bankruptcy and corporate rescue proceedings. Attention will be paid to legal borrowing, and the persistence of national traditions (path dependence, lock-in, also due to cultural and religious reasons). When analyzed quantitatively and quantitatively, from a comparative perspective, it is expected that the economic constellation of different countries will be understood at a deeper level than is the case today. For this purpose, the session brings together papers of economic and legal historians. Debates for which analysis of the mentioned theme is expected to yield new insights concern the “legal origins”-thesis and the “varieties of capitalism”-approach.
The recent collapses of the economic and financial system throughout the world have put the problem of corporate insolvency on the agenda. Older studies of economic historians have only marginally addressed the theme, and mostly from the viewpoint of economic actors and as related to debt and the enforcement of debts. The analysis of bankruptcy and related proceedings from the perspective of economic growth is quite recent. Moreover, legal historians have recently re-appraised corporate rescue and composition proceedings (e.g. A. Cordes and M. Schulte Beerbühl, eds., Dealing with Economic Failure. Between Norm and Practice (15th to 21st Century, Frankfurt, 2016).


  • Dave De ruysscher, Tilburg University,, Netherlands

Session members

  • Paolo di Martino, University of Birmingham,
  • Jasper Kunstreich, Max-Planck Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte,
  • Michel Vasta, University of Siena,
  • Mark Latham, University of Birmingham,
  • Jaka Cepec, University of Ljubljana,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Thomas Telfer, Western University,