Centers of legal history: Paris

Perhaps writing about historical research in Paris is bringing coals to Newcastle. Is there any real need for yet another attempt to bring information together? If you want to study France and French legal history you will be able to read French. If you are convinced French scholars have said all you would like to know, just skip this post, I will not feel offended… The Portail Numérique de l’Histoire du Droit and Paolo Alvazzi del Frate’s blog Storia giuridica francese-Histoire juridique française are two of the safest points of depart for any research into French legal history, but you will soon admit they do not focus in particular on institutions in Paris.

A month ago I could point in a post on French customary law to a useful guide to legal history online created by the Bibliothèque Cujas, and it is certainly wise to use it. For the legal history of medieval France you can start visiting Ménestrel, in particular for the great sections on auxiliary historical sciences, such as diplomatics, palaeography and sigillography which are each models of its kind, as is the section on cartularies. However, the section Histoire du droit contains only a few links, albeit with full commentaries, and a few book reviews. An earlier version of Ménestrel had a section on medieval canon law, but now there is only a paragraph on the ecumenical councils in the section on religious history. The section on France offers a useful overview of institutions, libraries, archives and museums relevant to French medieval history. In this post I will give slightly more attention to medieval history than to other periods. I hope this will not be an obstacle to seeing the core of this post, Paris as a center for doing legal history.

Centers for legal history

Where to start in Paris? In view of the high degree of centralization in France the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) has a claim to take the first place. Its Institut d’Histoire du Droit (IHD) is associated with the Université Panthéon-Assas Paris-II and the Centre Historique des Archives Nationales. This spring the IHD offers a seminar led by Isabelle Brancourt on the history of the French parlements, the regional high courts, and royal justice during the Ancien Régime in an European perspective. Isabelle Brancourt blogs regularly about her research on the Parlement de Paris. At its website the IHD offers access to a large number of databases, starting with the DRoits ANTiques bibliography on ancient law. Most databases are concerned with the French judiciary. The oldest records, registers from the archives of the Parlement de Paris, can be tracked down with the help of the Olim database, an index to the registers of verdicts of the royal court between 1254 and 1319. Similar indices are provided for the fourteenth and fifteenth century, for the parlement during its period at Poitiers (1418-1439) and Tours (1589-1592), and for the parlement criminel between 1311 and 1328. The edition by Auguste-Arthur Beugnot, Les Olim, ou registres des arrêts rendus par le Cour du Roi (…) (4 vol., Paris 1839-1848) can be consulted online at Gallica. At the Hathi Trust Digital Library you can find the volume edited by Edgard Boutaric, Arrêts et enquêtes antérieurs aux Olim, 1180-1254 (Paris 1863). The IHD has microfilms of relevant manuscripts and further materials concerning French royal jurisprudence, including a refined thesaurus for defining the character and subjects of cases, and a bibliography of publications concerning the Parlement de Paris.

A second centre at the Université Panthéon-Assas Paris-II is the Centre Sainte Barbe. This center is host to the Institut de Droit Romain and its famous series of Friday lectures during every winter and spring by scholars from all Europe. Its building house also a library, the Bibliothèque Sainte Barbe. More lectures, seminars and workshops in Paris are announced by the Société d’Histoire du Droit, also seated at the Place du Panthéon. Apart from the Bibliothèque nationale de France Paris can boast a number of important libraries. Legal historians will find much at the Bibliothèque Cujas of the Université Sorbonne Paris-I. This library maintains Jurisguide, a special site with online guides to many fields of law and jurisprudence, including legal history. Some books in its rich holdings have been digitized in its own digital library, with not only French publications but also editions for medieval canon law. The online exhibition on the bicentenary of the Code civil (1804-2004) amounts to a short introduction to French legal history. Among the Parisian centers devoted to the study of modern legal history is also the CERAL, the Centre de Recherche sur l’Action Locale of the Université Paris-XIII. Slavery and its history get attention at a CNRS institute, the Centre International de Recherches Esclavages. Criminocorpus, the platform for the study of the history of justice, crimes and punishments, is another major project in which CNRS, the Centre d’Histoire des Sciences Po, the Ministère de la Justice and the Archives nationales de l’outre-mer cooperate.

Medieval canon law

Medieval canon law is one of the areas of interest at the Centre Droit et Sociétés Religieuses of the Université Paris-XI, Faculté Jean Monnet. This center, too, has its own library. François Jankowiak is responsible for GREGORIUS, an international bibliography for the history of medieval canon law. Even at home you can benefit from their list of works on medieval canon law and medieval religious institutions digitized by Google Books or presented at Gallica. Both for the history of canon law and for modern ecclesiastical law the Institut Catholique de Paris has a special library, the Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Droit Canonique. Here it is appropriate to mention the Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris and the ongoing work for Gallia pontificia, the edition of medieval papal documents in France.

The old libraries and manuscripts

Let’s not forget the old libraries in Paris: the Bibliothèque Mazarine has rich holdings for the Ancien Régime. Among the digitized treasures is one of the mazarinades, the various texts from the turbulent period of the Fronde in which the policies of cardinal Mazarin were often criticized. The illuminated medieval manuscripts of this library and those of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève can be consulted at the Liber Floridus website. The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève has for the Fonds Général its own digital collection in the Internet Archive. For the Réserve there is a digitization plan for the incunables, and La Nordique, the Scandinavian department, deserves at the very least a mentioning for its 160,000 books. Speaking of manuscripts, the Bibliothèque nationale de France has its own special website for searching manuscripts, which also covers the former Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. Your research for manuscripts in Paris can be reinforced by the search functions of the Catalogue collectif de France. Calames, the collective manuscript catalogue of French institutions for higher education, searches for manuscripts in eighteen (!) other Parisian libraries.

Archival records

The French national archives are busy building a third center at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. The importance of these archival collections is beyond question. The ARCHIM database of the Archives nationales contains a wealth of digitized archival records. A few examples will have to suffice, such as the records of the 1307 interrogation concerning the Templars (J 413, no. 18) and registers of the French royal chancellary during the thirteenth and fourteenth century, a small set of key documents concerning the French Revolution and constitutions from 1791 to 1958. You will soon see that many of the sources mentioned for example in the online database guide to the history of slavery and its abolition are to be found at the Archives nationales. The municipal archives of Paris are certainly as interesting. It is not possible to make a short list of the many judicial archives of this city, including the records of several prisons. Among their digitized sources are the pre-1860 cadastral plans of Paris and annexated comunes.

Other research institutions

Approaching the great institutes for historical research means again posing the question of priority: with which institute should you begin? Fortunately legal history, and more specifically institutional history and the auxiliary historical sciences have been at the heart of the École nationale de Chartes (ENC) since its start in 1821. The ENC has been the model for institutes of its kind in Europe. The ENC, too, has an important library, with its own small digital library. Almost embarrassing is the series of websites with digitized sources: the ELEC presents such things as eight digitized cartularies from the Île-de-France, accounts of the consuls of Montferrand, a bibliography of studies on French diplomatics, a formulary book for notaries from the fifteenth century, the Edict of Nantes and earlier pacification edicts, and charters of the royal abbey of Saint-Denis. The digitized version of Ducange’s Glossarium infimae et medii latinitatis rightfully has its own website. Through the TELMA website you can gain access to actes royaux, the Cartulaire de Nesle, to CartulR, an online repertory of medieval cartularies, to editions of charters dating before 1121 in French collections, enquêtes of the last Capetian kings, and to ordinances concerning the Hôtel du Roi. In 1839 the ENC founded one of France’s oldest historical journals, the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes. Old issues of this journal can be consulted online at Persée.

The École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) is home to a large number of équipes of which at least some do touch upon legal history. I would single out GAHOM, the Groupe d’anthropologie historique de l’Occident Médiéval, founded in 1978 by Jacques Le Goff and led by Jean-Claude Schmitt since 1992. Human behavior in historical context is the research subject of this équipe, which has for instance studied medieval exempla for the perspectives these texts offer on exemplary behavior, and more implicitly about do’s and don’ts.

From GAHOM stems GAS, the Groupe d’anthropologie scolastique. A seminar on ecclesiology and politics has just been held, another seminar on concepts of hierarchy runs until April. Two members of this équipe, Charles de Miramon and Maaike van der Lugt edited an essay volume, L’hérédité entre Moyen Âge et Époque moderne. Perspectives historiques (Florence 2008), with contributions on hereditary law and heredity in its widest sense. Building on the pioneer research of Palémon Glorieux this research group has developed a database for searching theological quodlibeta from Paris in the period 1230-1350. After subscribing to Quodlibase you can find not only theological debates, but also some questions about legal problems. Norms and values and their development in time are the central themes of the well known Centre d’études des normes juridiques “Yan Thomas”. This centre regularly invites legal historians. Among the projects for databases and research tools at the Centre des Recherches Historiques of the EHESS one finds a project on the “Ars Mercatoria”, books on commerce and commercial law between 1700 and 1820, and a project on legal books in print from the fifteenth to the eigtheenth century.

Formally part of the École Normale Supérieure, but also a research group of the EHESS is the Atelier Simiand. One of its research themes are law and economic history. In the field of history the ENS cooperates with the ENC, and let’s not forget the libraries of the ENS: the Bibliothèque Jourdan-Sciences humaines et sociales and the Bibliothèque Ulm-Lettres et Sciences Humaines are worth noting. As an historian I have to mention the ENS’s Institut d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine. Among the online services is the bibliography of French history to 1958 and a bibliography of scientific works printed in Rome between 1527 and 1720. One of the projects is concerned with an edition of letters from the Archivo Datini in Prato. Seeing among the online exhibitions of the ENS an exhibition from 2006 on the Dreyfus affair, “Savoir et engagement”, reminds me of another very well documented online exhibition concerning Dreyfus – “1906 Dreyfus réhabilité” – created by Culture.fr which can be consulted in English, too.

Some breathing space…

The cornucopia of Paris has more in stock! Let’s notice halfway that I am very much aware that you can find more information in printed guides to resources for historical research in Paris. A quick check tells me most of them restricted themselves to clearly defined areas and periods, for example David Spear’s article ‘Research facilities in Normandy and Paris: a guide for students of medieval Norman history’, Comitatus 12 (1981) 40-53. If you use the World Guide to Libraries you will find perhaps too much, and on a site like Libdex not enough, at least not for Paris. Steering a middle course on the oceans of knowledge calls to mind a lot of famous quotes, including last words, and I had better wait until the end of this post before unveiling my choice.

…and continuing

With the Liber Floridus and TELMA websites we encountered in fact already the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT). The services for medievalists of this institute in Paris and Orleans are manifold. Manuscript studies are not really feasible without the IRHT. The scholars of the IRHT and their online databases support this field of research. For legal historians the Base Budé for the transmission of ancient and medieval texts, the Pinakes database of texts and manuscripts in Greek, and the JONAS database for texts in medieval French and Occitan deserve highlighting. The JONAS database gives for example information about manuscripts and studies on Philippe de Beaumanoir and his Coutumes de Beuavaisis.

For the French Revolution Paris has a special institute, the Institut d’Histoire de la Révolution Française. Anyone working on this epoch will benefit from the resources of this institute. On the website I would like you to enjoy in particular their excellent list of digital image collections. Approaching modern times it warms me to read that the library of the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris was created also with a view to the needs of the GAHOM research group. Even when law and its history is not often the focus of the MSH its research themes do bear upon them, and they offer welcome orientation. The Parisian branches – there is also a MSH Paris Nord – are part of a nation wide network of MSH’s. I was rather surprised by the library of the Cité des Sciences, one of the major late twenthieth century cultural institutions created by presidential order. Among the plethora of collections and activities is Scientifica, an interesting digital library of the Bibliothèque des Sciences et de l’Industrie, with nineteenth century books on themes such as social hygiene, mental health and phrenology, themes which were very much in the minds of lawyers in this period, too.

Au revoir!

Let’s not overdo things and stop the tour of libraries, research institutes and digital collections in Paris. I will not put everything in just one post. No epigraphy or Byzantine law, nothing on Akkadian and Egyptian law, only a few things touching politics and administration, and no museums, I have to face it. Memories of Joyce Pennings’ Wegwijzer middeleeuwse studiën te Rome (Rijswijk 1987), a guide to medieval studies in Rome, came back when writing this nutshell guide on Paris. It is a long way to repeat her achievement. Where to find more? I hope the impromptu set of links collections with which I will end here will function as a kind of preview of more things in Paris to discover and discuss:

I owe you a few of the quotes that have inspired me during the composition of this post: the first is Attempto, “I try”, the motto of the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, and the second a quote from Hugh of Saint-Victor’s Didascalicon, not by chance to be found at the website of GAHOM: Disce omnia, videbis postea nihil superfluum esse. Coartata scientia iucunda non est, “Learn everything, and you will see later that nothing is superfluous. Restricted knowledge is not agreeable”. Not everything is available in Paris: the Bibliographie d’histoire du droit en langue française is maintained by the Centre Lorrain d’Histoire du Droit. In the middle of the great wealth and variety of libraries which adorn Paris it is good to see the ENS library at the rue d’Ulm partners with the university library at Port-au-Prince in Bibliothèques sans Frontières (Libraries without Frontiers) to rebuild Haitian libraries.

A postscript

A fairly recent and most interesting guide for historical research in Paris can be consulted online: Aude Argouse and Mona Huerta, ‘Guide du chercheur américaniste: l’Amérique latine dans les bibliothèques et centres d’archives de Paris et d’Île-de-France’, Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos 2009. This journal offers every year a number of similar guides in its section Guía del investigador americanista, for example for Madrid, Amsterdam, the Archivo General de Indias, Berlin, London, Oxford and Philadelphia.

A second postscript

In 2012 I devoted an entire post to one of the libraries mentioned here, the Bibliothèque Mazarine. In this post I focused particular on the mazarinades, seventeenth-century pamphlets concerning the policies of cardinal Mazarin.

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