The Catholic University of America

Kenneth Pennington

Ken Pennington received his Ph.D. in Medieval History from Cornell University in 1972. In 1971 he moved from Ithaca even deeper into the snow belt and began teaching at Syracuse. In the fall of 2001, he moved his home to the Catholic University of America. He holds the Kelly-Quinn Chair of Ecclesiastical and Legal History in the Columbus School of Law and The School of Religious Studies. His areas of interest are ancient, medieval, and early modern legal history, the history of constitutional thought, political theory, church history, history of universities, and paleography. Ken has the misfortune of coming out of a Scandinavian gene pool but attempts to correct this biological problem by spending as much time as possible in Italy. He directs a school in Sicily each October at a place called Erice where a faculty and a student body from Europe and North America look at the history of law in a magical setting on a mountaintop next to the Mediterranean. During the summer when he is sailing on Lake Ontario and the Chesapeake, he responds very well to being called "captain." He is the author or editor of twelve books and over seventy articles. Over the past four years, he has used the the internet as a tool to teach history in the classroom and is now convinced that just as pasta should be a part of every meal the web should be in every classroom.

In his research he has been particularly concerned to illustrate how the norms created by the medieval Ius commune shaped medieval institutions, thought, and society. This page will provide links to his curriculum vitae and publications, the syllabi of his classes, the International School of the Ius commune at Erice, Sicily, and edited texts of medieval legal works.            


Research and Writing

Please visit Professor Pennington's homepage for a complete list of his scholarly publications, including books and book reviews, editorial projects and series, journal articles, and encyclopedia and dictionary articles.  

In His Words ...

"A good lawyer is a good historian.  No principle of jurisprudence can be understood without understanding its history.  History can be an antiquarian pursuit. For a lawyer it never is.  To adapt Oliver Wendell Holmes’ maxim slightly, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the history.”

– Kenneth Pennington



Office: 416 Law School
The Catholic University of America
3600 John McCormack Rd., NE
Washington, D.C. 20064

Phone: 202-319-5150


Class Web Site


  • History of Canon Law
  • History of Roman Law


Medieval History, Cornell University, 1972

Medieval History, University of Wisconsin, 1967
History and Art History, University of Wisconsin, 1965



Areas of Expertise

  • History of Procedure
  • History of Due Process
  • History of Torture
  • History of the Ius commune
  • Constitutional Thought and Political Theory
  • Jurisprudence
  • For additional information about our professors' areas of speciality, see the Catholic University Experts page.


  • Director, International School of the Ius commune, Erice, Sicily
  • Editor, Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law
  • Visiting Professor, University of Catania Law School