Museums and legal history

Legal history does get attention in some of the world’s general museums. However, worldwide a number of museums is devoted to subjects from legal history. In particular criminal law is well served. Some museums focus on a particular subjects, for example taxes, customs, courts, forensic medicine, police forces and barristers. Old prisons have been reopened as museums. Some museums are rarely open, others can be visited only on appointment. HistorIcal buildings and sites, objects and artefacts create a telling image of law and justice, and this influences also our contemporary perceptions.

Here museums have been categorized mainly alphabetically by country. When possible and sensible some museums have been grouped under a special subject. Whenever present online catalogues, virtual tours and digital collections have been noted. I have added links to a number of relevant associations and societies. The list is certainly not complete. Any adjustments or additions are welcome. At the end of this overview I point to a number of museal federations.


  • Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA, Buenos Aires – the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada had become the torture centre of the Argentine dictature











Hong Kong






New Zealand


South Africa


United Kingdom

United States of America


Custom and tax museums

Money and finance museums

Banking museums

More can be found starting with the links of Roy Davies, Exeter

Ensurance museums


  • Papyrussammlung, Lehrstuhl für Antike Rechtsgeschichte, Universität Frankfurt – a digitized selection from the collection at this institute for legal history, with 100 papyri, mainly Greek, but also some demotic and Coptic papyri

At the portal Numismatik created by Benedikt Zäch many money museums are mentioned, and at Hendrik Maekeler’s website you will find even more. The former Dutch Geldmuseum in Utrecht had a central role in the International Numismatic Libraries Network (INNL).

The English Wikipedia features a list of jail and prison museums worldwide, with however mainly museums in the United Kingdom and North America. In the National Register of Historic Places, a website of the U.S. National Park Service, you can search for museums in historical buildings, including former court houses, jails and prisons.

The International Commission for University Museums and Collections of the International Council of Museums has a database in which you can find a number of museums for criminology, collections for the history of forensic medicine, and a number of former university prisons, in particular in Germany.

In the Federation of International Human Rights Museums a number of museums worldwide are represented which are dedicated to the history of human rights, the abolition of slavery and the memory of genocide. A number of similar institutions is to be found at the website of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (interface in four languages). The website Gedenkorte Europa 1939-1945 offers links to more places of memory in Europe.