Open the gates! Digitized journals on legal history

Talking and writing about digital libraries can be hampered by very different views about the making, form and contents of a digital library. Nowadays we take a digitized catalogue for granted, and almost every library has a website with online access to its catalogue, sometimes even to several catalogues. Some digital libraries define themselves by the variety of social media which they use. Tweets and blog posts, presence on social networks, and even link collections on a separate site are among the possible forms of virtual presence. Law libraries have joined these activities, too. For the interest of visitors of my blog I have brought together a number of blogs by the departments for rare books or special collections of some libraries with important holdings for legal history.

I have often expressed my objective to track as many as possible digital libraries with content in the field of legal history, meaning digitized versions of books and other resources of a library. Law libraries themselves have to face multiple tasks and multiple forms of digitization, and let’s not forget the variety of presentation offered by the vendors of digital library programs. A law library typically offers a number of so-called e-resources, with primarily the major subscribers’ only databases with access to recent jurisprudence, sometimes also similar databases for historical books, an e-repository for the publications of the staff of the law school or law faculty to which they belong, and online access to legal journals, this also often using subscriptions by the library. Very often all these resources can be used also off campus. Law libraries face heavy expenses maintaining the number of journals on paper, but maintaining online access to them, too, is not cheap. Some law libraries offer a number of web guides, too, sometimes in great detail and on many subjects. Creating online exhibitions is also one of the ways of giving digitization its wide scope.  Depending on awareness of user accessibility and user friendliness, the possibilities of a given system, the funding available and the scope and range of a law library it can be clearly indicated which parts are open to all and sundry, which ones can be used only inside the library and which also at home, sometimes even through a special law portal. Those libraries marking the accessibility of their resources or simply briefly describing them instead of only listing them deserve credit for the time and trouble taken to help the visitors of their websites.

How about digital access to journals for legal history? The variety of presentation is daunting , both for the number of back issues accessible and for the wide range of their vicinity to the present. Some journals of venerable standing and a rich tradition are only offered in open access for a very limited number of years, and often only the nineteenth century issues. Other journals with a similar long history can be accessed freely thanks to the legal situation surrounding a journal: if a research institute published itself a journal less copyright issues can be expected to occur. More fundamental is the fact that articles touching legal history are not only published in the major legal history reviews but also elsewhere. It will not do to use only the mainstream journals, but you often have to get hold of a journal which you normally would not read at all.

Legal journals have flourished particularly in Germany. A very welcome selection of them has been digitized at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. The first section is concerned with journals between 1900 and 1918, a project for a second section awaited for eagerly aims at the period 1703-1830 and will hopefully be launched in 2013  in cooperation with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussische Kulturbesitz. There is more to be found in Germany. Klaus Graf has created a very useful list of websites for digitized scientific journals, one of the most often read posts on his Archivalia blog. The German Wikisource website mentioned by Graf provides a list of digitized legal journals, and similar lists of journals for other disciplines, for example for history. On the list of digitized legal journals you will find apart from the Max-Planck-Institut – which easily dominates this list – mainly a collection at the Universität Bielefeld, a project in which 160 journals from the period of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung) and other relevant periodicals have been digitized, and digitized journals at the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung of the Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung in Berlin. The general German project for the digitization of old scientific journals, DigiZeitschriften, offers only a limited number of issues in open access. Here the bulk of the journals can be accessed only at subscribing libraries or by the cardholders of such libraries. In view of the sheer number of German journals it is clear digitization is expensive, but is it not clear, too, that the phenomenon of German scientific journals dominated science during the nineteenth century, and that therefore conservation and access are important both for historians of science and for those pursuing disciplines building also on accumulated information? One has only to look at the number and variety of Jewish journals from Germany digitized at the Compact Memory website to envisage the role of journals in German society at large.

One of the main gateways to digital journals in open access is offered by Lund University Libraries, the well-known Directory of Open Access Journals. Perhaps less well-known is JURN, a searchable repository for some 4,000 journals. The accompanying blog offers guidance, lots of links to similar initiatives and relevant blogs, and a general guide to free academic search. By the way, OpenDoar, the Directory of Open Access Repositories at the University of Nottingham, is not the only website where you can look for such repositories, but certainly a very useful one. The university library at Regensburg offers an electronic journal library for both open and limited access journals with an interface iu German, English and French. The World Legal Institute has on its website an International Legal Scholarship Library with access to some forty legal journals.

Some countries have decided to create national repositories for the production of scientific journals. SEALS is a Swiss project which has started only recently. Persée is a project for digitizing not only older, but also more recent issues of scientific journals. Revues.org is a French organization offering online access to nearly 300 current scientific journals, with a substantial number of them containing articles not only in French. Some nineteenth-century journals and parliamentary documents in the field of French criminal law are available online through the services of Criminocorpus. Digitized scientific journals can appear in more general collections as well. The Digital Library of Dutch Literature is planning to digitize a number of journals which touch upon the history of Dutch literature, and not only journals dedicated exclusively to Dutch literature.

Legal history with a Dutch view is the subtitle of my blog, and maybe it is appropriate to mention it when pointing to the websites of the International Institute for Social History and of Aletta, formerly the International Study Center for Women’s History, both in Amsterdam. Women’s history is a new subject for this blog, and although I feel ashamed I have not touched this subject before, I am happy it shows up here finally. Aletta has a fine selection of digital scientific journals on women’s history. The IISH has an equally useful selection of weblinks, foremost among them the Virtual Library Women’s History maintained at the IISH, and ViVa Women’s History, an online current bibliography of women’s and gender history. There’s more than only the Women’s Legal History website of Stanford Law School, the great Women’s Legal Biography Project at Stanford, and the IntLawGrrls blog, but today journals are my chosen subject… Surely more lists of a similar kind exist. To round-up the Dutch corner of this post a reference to a journal on Dutch history: the Royal Dutch Historical Society has digitized the years 1970 to 2010 of the Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden – Low Countries History Yearbook.

Doing legal history can among other things boil down to have to consult sometimes a very great variety of scientific journals. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of ancient history. The presence of a list of digitized scientific journals touching on the whole range of ancient history, from Sumeria to the Roman Empire, including the various auxiliary disciplines – epigraphy, papyrology and much more – is a witness to the proliferation of journals, more than 900 of them available to some extent or completely in a digitized form. Charles Ellwood Jones maintains this list at his blog Ancient World Online. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, the institution where he works, has also a Facebook page for Ancient Studies with useful announcements of new digital services, such as online bibliographies. A few months ago I wrote about digital papyrology in a post concerning the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and a month ago sources in cuneiform script presented in new ways figured in another post. It can offer you food for thought how scholars doing ancient history seem to embrace modern tools more and more and often to their great benefit. As for now, it seemed useful to bring the rather scattered information on digitized journals relevant to legal history together, but I am sure more is to be found. Additions to this overview are most welcome!

A first postscript

Klaus Graf rightly points to the digitized issues of Ius Commune, the journal published between 1967 and 2001 by the MPI for European Legal History. Some articles of the journal Rechtsgeschichte founded in 2002 can be consulted online, too. It is true this post deals with two kinds of digitized journals, both older journals no longer appearing and more specific early legal journals, and with digital versions of currently appearing journals, some of them available as web-only journals – the e-journal in its purest form -, others presenting online more or less completely back issues of the paper version. There is certainly a need to distinguish between them, but all these varieties are important, either as research objects or as resources for research.

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