Why did the Spanish crown send notary Rodrigo Escobedo to travel with Christopher Columbus on board the Santa María, the ship that brought the Spaniards to America for the first time? And, perhaps more importantly, how is the presence of a notary on board the Santa María important to our own world and our current time?
One of the most intellectually daunting and yet rewarding tasks of any kind of historical research consists in identifying long-term continuities and suggesting how they help us to understand our present. The challenge faced by researchers involved in this intellectual enterprise is to avoid understanding the past in terms of the present, substituting their worldviews for those of historical characters. However, the rewards of this effort are substantial. After all, uncovering long-term historical continuities can help us realize the deep obstacles to — and thus also the real possibilities for — social and cultural change. Uncovering only discontinuities, and highlighting exceptional events like revolutions and other major social breakdowns, on the other hand, may just create illusions about the possibilities for change.
In the presentation of their new book Plunder: When the Rule of Law Is Illegal, Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader maintained that though the rhetoric of the law has undergone constant changes to adapt to the various social and cultural changes that have occurred during the last 500 years, its complicity in plunder has remained constant.