Monthly Archives: April 2011

A royal liberty: the Dutch free markets on Queens’ Day

Today is a day on which The Wedding inevitably seems to dominate the news. Royal affairs take pride of place for at least one day. Tomorrow Dutch people will continue creating a royal atmosphere on Koninginnedag, Queens’ Day, the birthday of the late Queen Juliana. When Queen Beatrix ascended to the throne in 1980 she decided to maintain April 30, her mother’s birthday, as Queens’ Day. Since her own birthday is on January 31, in midwinter, it was very sensible to keep this holiday fixed in springtime.

To the best of my knowledge the vrijmarkten, the free markets on Queens’ Day, have gained any importance only after 1980. Before that time this kind of flea market was not a large element of the activities on Queens’ Day organized by the Oranjeverenigingen, the local societies which honor the Dutch royal house. A pageant with music by a brass band, hoisting the national flag and the orange-colored pennon, all kind of games, folklore activities such as traditional dances and music, sport and activities for children used to be the main elements of Queens’ Day. The royal family maintains since 1980 the tradition of visiting on April 30 a village and a town to participate in these activities, which can be rather home-made and for teenage princes even outright boring. Perhaps they were painfully aware of the character of these visits, an invented tradition. The late Queen Juliana had established the tradition of a pageant of loyal citizens parading to the palace at Soestdijk presenting the queen with all kinds of presents. Some young princes found even that difficult to digest.

However, since the introduction of the free markets on Queens’ Day this new custom clearly outstripped other activities in scope, scale and importance. In particular the free markets in Utrecht and Amsterdam have become mass events. A few days before the official start the local councils mark the area in which the free market will be held. On the eve of Queens’ Day, and in fact already hours before the Queens’ Night as it has been named, people show up with the things they would like to sell. At the start the whole things still resembles the original intention of the free market, a market where you can wander around at ease and wonder about the things on sale, strike a bargain with someone and go home with a funny object for a very nice price. Tomorrow you will find yourself back in the midst of an enormous crowd, people tend to a bit be less likeable, and you will probably look in vain for something worth all your efforts to enter Amsterdam or Utrecht at all.

Entering the Utrecht free market zone

Entering the Utrecht free market zone

My problem is not with the free market as such. The city council of Utrecht has restricted the area of the free market to the northern part of the old city, leaving the other more beautiful parts in quiet and peace, and it is wonderful to enjoy them. In Amsterdam the Vondelpark has been delineated as the children’s area who can perform music or funny acts for some money in exchange, adult people can bring their stuff and merchandise to the other streets and squares of the free market. How to approach the subject of the free market, as an anthropologist or as an ordinary citizen, as an economist or as a political theorist? How to avoid easy jesting and tradition bashing? And maybe the most obvious question, what does legal history have to do with the free market?

To some extent this one day free market seems to encapsulate the virtues and vices of the concept free market. For me the traffic signs used to mark the areas seem to signify both the geographic and the conceptual limits of the free market.

No free market at this side

"No free market at this side"

What started as a funny imitation of a flea market has grown to an oversized real open air market. Instead of people willingly bringing things from their attics to the street and behaving like one day merchants they behave like real merchants, claiming the best spots, pushing away others and setting themselves the goal of getting profit out of it. If ordinary and would-be merchants can try to claim a spot, the inhabitants of the streets within the official areas have reacted the right way by putting signs at their windows, and using even a kind of semi-official looking poster showing the queen saying “Reserved for occupants”.

Only for occupants

For occupants by royal consent...

A second thing to note is the sheer scale of regulations needed to ensure safe proceedings. According to the local news station RTV Utrecht 220 traffic signs are needed to mark the zone free market. In the past providing food and drinks to visitors of the free market turned out to be the weak spot of the whole concept.

A road sign for permit holders

An area designated for permit holders

Merchants entered the areas with dozens of booths and occupied the places meant for the one day free traders. The number of permits has been lowered to just 55 stalls. With the permits and the traffic signs come hundreds of volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Today I was at first slightly bewildered because of a road sign about permits, but its explanation is clear.

When an estimated half million people are going to visit Utrecht – and even more Amsterdam – police regulations are clearly needed. Let legal history enter! In medieval times a free market, a vrijmarkt - Freimarkt in German – was a market to which merchants and traders could freely come. They did not have to pay the normal entrance fees, they enjoyed protection against juridical actions, in short they only had to show their skills as merchants and to obey the proverbial laws of the market: selling their ware honestly, paying with good currency, and guaranteeing the quality of the products sold insofar as indicated by law. The rules of the present day free markets in Utrecht and Amsterdam are pretty straightforward. One can view them as extensions of the normal general police regulations (Algemene Politieverordening). Most salient is the strict prohibition for private persons to sell drinks.

One-way traffic on the canals of Utrecht

One-way traffic on the canals of Utrecht

In view of the expected number of people visiting Utrecht and Amsterdam by boat, and the use of alcoholic beverages by the guests aboard, it is no surprise the traffic in the canals around the city center of Utrecht has been restricted temporarily to one way traffic. In Amsterdam this would not be as easy to propose and enforce as it is in Utrecht.

The end of the free market zone

Two signs marking the end of the free market zone

What happens to the goods not sold after the closure of the free market at 6.00 PM? Taking your things back home is one option, leaving it as garbage is perhaps another way, and anyway tons of garbage have to be cleared away, which calls for a major effort of the municipal cleansing departments. Instead of taking your stuff down from your attic or from your shed and bringing it to the free market many people prefer the virtual markets on Internet. We Dutch have our own variations on Ebay such as Marktplaats and Marktplaza. Why take the trouble of going to the vrijmarkt? What makes people connect selling your things on the street with a royal holiday? Is it just showing what seems to be an innate part of the Dutch character, being at heart a merchant? One can enjoy this feeling going to the virtual market squares, too. Perhaps even closer to the Dutchman’s most inner feelings is the penchant for free things. Nowadays this royal holiday seems to combine perfectly with an almost royal liberty to behave for just one day as a real merchant. Having the feeling you are at liberty to do what you want during such holidays goes indeed a long way. It seems Queens’ Day is a more jolly holiday than May 5, the Dutch Liberation Day. Notions of citizenship, of having to fight for freedom in order to be worthy of freedom, in short conscious efforts to make the celebrations more serious give this day an ideological load which does not weigh upon Queens’ Day, and this is enforced by the acts of remembrance of the Second World War on May 4.

Putting things into perspective is one of the goals legal historians should strive for. On the congress calendar of this blog I cannot include one day events for reasons of space. It seemed fitting to make an exception for this yearly one day event, an event starting the night before really! This week Mary L. Dudziak noted on the Legal History Blog an article citing the famous saying that the American constitution was not intended “to embody a particular economic theory”. The Dutch one day free market seems to be full of signs and symbols which merit some attention. Very ordinary things have their name already in Roman law, res cotidianae, and such common things are often the bones of contention, not only the loftiest concepts and aspirations.

A postscript

After checking the spelling and publishing this post it took me some time to realize one can spell one of the most often occurring words in several ways. I used the spelling Queens’ Day, which strictly speaking refers to a day celebrating two or more queens. April 30 was Queen Juliana’s birthday, Queen Beatrix continued the tradition, so this is perfectly correct. However, the Dutch word Koninginnedag refers to just one queen. Incidentally I remember using as a kid the more difficult way to pronounce the word koningin, and my sister loved to get me saying it... The English language provides us also with the possibility to write Queen’s Day and Queensday. The website of Queens’ College Cambridge can tell you more about “That Apostrophe”.

The voice of Hammurabi

Among the oldest existing laws are several codes of law from the Ancient Near East. Surely the most famous of them is the Code of Hammurabi. Since the stele with the text of this Babylonian law was found in 1901 at the spot of the ancient town of Susa several editions of it have been produced, mainly because of later found additional witnesses. Josef Kohler, the famous versatile scholar, first at the University of Würzburg and later in Berlin, started one of the earliest editions of the Code, written in the Akkadian language in cuneiform script, and the young Paul Koschaker worked on the edition of the sixth volume (Hammurabi’s Gesetz (6 vol., Leipzig 1904-1923)) with translated charters and a juridical commentary. This edition – except the second volume – is available online at JScholarship of the Johns Hopkins University. The stele is kept at the Louvre in Paris, and their website offers much about this famous object. Every book on the general history of mankind mentions Hammurabi’s laws.

On the web you can find English translations, for example by W.L. King at a website of the University of Evansville, and in Yale University Law School’s Avalon Project. The Online Library of Liberty has digitized the edition and translation edited by Robert Francis Harper (Chicago 1904). Jean-Pierre Morenon has digitized some French translations. A German translation from 1926 has also been digitized. The most recent edition is by Martha Roth, Law collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (2n ed., Atlanta, Ga., 1997); a transliteration is provided in Riekele Borger’s Babylonisch-assyrische Lesestücke (3rd ed., 2 vol., Rome 2006). One can use also the edition and translation provided by M.E.J. Richardson, Hammurabi’s Laws. Text, Translation and Glossary (2nd ed., London-New York 2004).

All this can be termed received knowledge, easily retrieved and quickly to find nowadays. Agnes Jonker, a Dutch archivist who contributes often to the Dutch online archival forum maintained by Eric Hennekam, posted on September 30, 2010 a notice on a message of the same date from the University of Cambridge entitled “Gone but not forgotten: Babylonian bounces back” about Dr. Martin Worthington of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and his project of sound recordings of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian poetry and literature. He and fellow Assyriologists have made some thirty recordings which are presented at the website of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. Two recordings are concerned with the Code of Hammurabi. Albert Naccache reads the prologue and a number of paragraphs, and Aage Westenholz reads the epilogue and some other fragments.

Hearing a text being read can radically alter your perception of a text. Lately I was asked to give my opinion about the inclusion of biblical texts in booklets for liturgical use. I am inclined not to include them, except when these texts are really difficult to follow, for example because of unclear references to persons in a story or because of an unfamiliar word order in a less often used translation. Reading aloud from the Bible or from a law code is not just presenting information by mouth like in a lecture, but part of a ritual. It is ritual reading, and reading aloud enforces the text and what it represents. Yesterday I saw on the website of the Swiss journal Ancilla Iuris an article from October 2010 by Fabian Steinhauer, ‘To Order Observation – Beobachterin weiter Ordnung’, written in memory of Cornelia Vismann. She would have been the person to expand on this notion. Reading aloud the law gives it a viva vox. Hammurabi’s stele gives a very powerful image of a mighty ancient king, and this is reinforced, even doubled, by listening to the readings from his law. I agree completely with Martin Worthington in giving the pages with the recordings an additional URL, www.speechisfire.com.

Am I right in guessing this news from Cambridge somehow escaped legal historians? Even if I have simply been unaware of it last year I do like to write about it today. Hat tip to Agnes Jonker! When I first read about it on the Dutch archival forum I initially thought about a Fools’ Day joke, but this is definitely serious. Anyway, the website of the SOAS in London provides a lot of supplementary information, including the link to the website Knowledge and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire of the Higher Education Academy and the British Museum, where you can learn more about the Akkadian language and cuneiform script, with Hammurabi’s code among the exercises.

Hammurabi’s code in three dimensions

The audio sources for Hammurabi are not the only new form of presentation of this legal text. At Digital Hammurabi, the website of a project of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., a tool is presented which would indeed fit in the series from a well-known Californian company which in fact graciously supports iClay, a tool for three-dimensional representation of cuneiform tablets. Depending on your browser and the capacities of the graphic card of your computer you can look at such tablets from many angles. Epigraphy, the auxiliary historical science for the study of inscriptions, could benefit, too, using this kind of tool. One of the results of the project is a standard for computer encoding of Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, included in 2006 into Unicode 5.0. The Electronic Tools and Ancient Near East Archives (ETANA) with its own digital library is one of the best websites to look for more information about Hammurabi and his laws. The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, will help you to learn more about the cuneiform script.

Legal history on display

Rare books, digital libraries, legal iconography and landscapes are among the subjects about which I have written most of my postings. A series of contributions on centers of legal history is also one of the backbones of my blog. Only a few postings have been concerned only with one or more exhibitions. Some of these exhibitions – at museums, archives, libraries or in the form of online exhibitions – really merit attention because of the great care with which the items on display have been selected, their interesting features and the judicious commentaries added to them. Some exhibitions succeed in presenting a familiar history with unknown objects and add a new narrative to well-known facts. Such exhibitions might challenge existing views or stick too close to prevailing opinions, they might in your opinion put undue emphasis on certain aspects of a subject, but you seldom come away from them without food for thought. Very often they succeed in presenting important items from collections in a new way.

The motive for looking at exhibitions concerning legal history comes from the congress calendar at this blog. Among this year’s workshops is a workshop on rare legal books to be taught by Mike Widener of the Lilian Goldman Law Library at Yale University. From June 13 to 17 he will teach for the Rare Book School at Charlottesville, Virginia, a course entitled Law Books: History & Connaisseurship. To my happy surprise Widener mentions in his preliminary reading list for the participants of his course a number of online exhibitions created by five American law libraries, the Harvard Law School Library, the Tarlton Law Library of the University of Texas at Austin, the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room of the Boston College Law Library, the Robbins Collection at Boalt Hall of the University of California at Berkeley, and the Rare Book Room of the Lilian Goldman Law Library. I had already encountered a number of these online exhibitions, but I had not thought yet of bringing them together. Widener shows his knowledge in particular by having traced the Robbins Collection’s exhibition Milestones in Legal Culture and Traditions, but more probably I simply succeeded earlier on in overlooking the link to the exhibits on the website of this fine library. Books, historical documents and records are the main items shown in these online exhibitions as objects of interest and importance.

Anyone looking for online exhibitions created by libraries or archives can benefit from the database for Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web, maintained by the Smithsonian Institution. American and British examples are surely overrepresented at this website, but the services it renders are most welcome. However, sometimes even this database cannot help you, for example when an online exhibition has moved to a new URL, or worse, has been removed from the web, due to reconstruction of a website or to sheer misfortune. The Jacob Burns Law Library of the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., organized in 2005 an exhibit called “The Duel“, but you cannot find it anymore at the URL provided. Luckily the Internet Archive enables you to retrieve it almost completely, only a number of images are missing. The article by Jennie C. Meade in the Fall 2005 GWMagazine, too, gives some impressions of this exhibit. Perhaps one day the online exhibition can be recovered. Meanwhile legal historians can view online back issues of the newsletter of the Friends of the Jacob Burns Law Library, A Legal Miscellanea. Miscellaneous, too, are the subjects of exhibitions I will mention here.

Exhibitions in America concerning legal books and legal history are announced in the newsletter of the Rare Books and Legal History section of the American Association of Law Libraries. An exhibition understandably not mentioned in the Fall 2010 issue has been redesigned and updated at Cornell University. Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire 100 Years Later, 1911-2011 is an exhibit created by Cornell’s International Labor Relations School and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library. The exhibit does not only contain records of eye witnesses and survivors, and documents of the investigation and subsequent trial, but also materials concerning relief work and protest, and much more. When you check Cornell UL’s list of online exhibits you will soon find more legal history, for example in the Lafayette Collection and the Maurepas Collection, in an exhibit on the abolition of slavery and an exhibit on pirates in South East Asia, which I had already dutifully noted in an earlier post on piracy. Even if it does not touch directly on American legal history I would not skip looking at the Cornell copy of the Gettysburg Address. The web-only exhibit 25 Years of Political Influence: The Records of the Human Rights Campaign from 2006 definitely has an impact for legal history.

What about online exhibitions elsewhere? On my webpage for digital collections and legal history I have so far put together just a relatively small number of exhibitions, mainly image collections, because I have not really been searching for them. Searchable databases have received more attention than online exhibits. In Italy I have spotted the online exhibition I libri antichi di Angelo Sraffa of the Università Bocconi, Milan, on the sixteenth-century lawyer Benvenuto Stracca and his treatise De mercatura and other early works on commercial law. Until that time commercial law had not been a separate field of law, worthy of treatises for its own sake. The accompanying bibliography will help you to explore this theme further.

Online exhibitions are often created for educational purposes. When you consider carefully the amount of research involved, the care bestowed on clear presentation and insightful writing, and the often beautiful design of special websites, you should not hesitate to admit their value for research and academic teaching. Sometimes individuals create websites around themes, without the help of a back-office team, and it is tempting to criticize the results in one way or another, but would you have taken the trouble to create them? Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, creator of the Famous Trials website, is right to stress the fact that you need to consider the background of such websites. It is one thing to use his in my eyes very interesting set of pages on the Scottsboro Trials, and another to be aware of Cornell University Law Library’s special collection on these trials. Institutions such as the American National Archives, the Library of Congress, the British Library and the National Archives at Kew deliberately create different presentations for different groups within the public; the links lead you to overviews of their online exhibitions. Taking Liberties: The struggle for Britain’s freedom and rights is an example of an exhibition within the online gallery of the British Library. This section is clearly different from the corner with the research guides and the catalogues. No doubt readers of Paul Halliday’s Habeas Corpus. From England to Empire (Cambridge, Mass.-London 2010) will find the treatment of habeas corpus in this exhibition incredibly brief and not up-to-date, but at the very least it is not given undue prominence. Other themes concerning liberties and freedom deserve attention, too, and there is no denying the judicious use of sources and images in this exhibition.

Anyone who thinks his or her institution can do a better job, should try to follow the arduous road from initial enthusiasm through hard work to a captivating and interesting website well worth visiting. Some libraries do not only create online exhibits, but also small dossiers. In past years the Dutch Royal Library has created such dossiers on the abolition of the death penalty and on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Links to important websites or a congress ensure that you are invited to look beyond these dossiers. To compensate for the Dutch only version at this website I offer you the overview of online exhibitions of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. From the almost embarrassing wealth of archives, digital collections and three (!) Virtual Libraries at the IISH I will only mention the History of Work Information System with occupational titles from five centuries accompanied by contemporary images, and the digital version of two economic enquêtes from medieval Holland, the Enqueste from 1494 and the Informacie from 1514, with a bibliography on both documents.

At the end of this post I would have liked to end with giving the link to a worldwide register of online exhibitions that emulates the functions for the Anglophone world of the site created by the Smithsonian Institution. As for now I have not yet found it, but writing this post has convinced me it is really worth searching for. The History Guide of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen will lead you to some virtual exhibitions, for example on the German Holy Empire, but Clio Online-Fachportal für die Geschichtswissenschaften – with an interface in German, French or English – will bring you more. Surely similar sites exist which enable you to search for online exhibitions and much more, and if you know about them, please share your information with me. I guess the circle is round for today with finding thanks to Clio Online the online exhibition Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress 1789-1791 at the George Washington University. And if you prefer knowing more about rare legal books there is Mike Widener’s reading list, or even attending his course in June.