Monthly Archives: March 2012

A new forum on ancient Greek law

Logo of the DEGRIAC Forum

This week I received information from Emiliano J. Buis (Buenos Aires) about a new platform for the study of ancient Greek law, the Grupo de Trabajo sobre Derecho Griego Arcaico y Clásico y sus Proyecciones, abbreviated DEGRIAC. The new platform for the study of archaic and classical Greek law and its influence has been launched by the Instituto de Investigaciones en Historia del Derecho, the National Research Institute on Legal History in the capital of Argentina. The objective of this research group is to study ancient Greek law in its original sources and their impact from several disciplines. Buis teaches both at the law faculty and the Department of Classics of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Theoretical aspects will get attention, too, in view of the historiography on ancient Greek law. One of the aims is to look at the laws of ancient Greek city states in a diachronic way and to study the tensions between aiming at justice and actual juridical practice in Athens and other cities. The DEGRIAC group invites scholars to participate, but first of all ideas, suggestions and help are welcome. You can reach Emiliano Buis in his function of coordinator at the mail address degriac@gmail.com. Good luck to this initiative from Argentina!

Legal history and museums: some notes

On my blog I have written about many subjects concerning legal history. Sometimes I have even tried to connect subjects from unexpected angles to it. Buildings and landscapes, archives and libraries have featured here. However, museums have only rarely figured here. A number of museums worldwide is devoted to aspects of legal history. Lately I wondered why I had not already created a list or an overview of them on my website. This week I put the first version of a list of a number of museums in this field online. When preparing it soon a number of problems and hiccups occurred that made me hesitate to complete it. These problems and aspects are well worth discussing here. Even a simple list of museums concerning aspects of legal history is not as easily created as it might seem.

Finding list or full inventory?

How can one assemble a list of museums concerning legal history? Can you find somewhere already lists or overviews of them? At first it seemed that the snowball method, just tracking them down by chance and working from incomplete lists, would not work at all. Last year I noticed the website of the Museo di Antropologia Criminale “Cesare Lombroso” of the University of Turin. This website provided me with only eight links to comparable institutions worldwide. Assuming the Netherlands have only four museums in this field did not push me to make any list at all. Another fact that slowed down my activity was the rather simple design and lack of content of some websites. I will come back to that later in this post.

When I looked again at one of these folder-only websites I decided to have a good look at Wikipedia. The classic encyclopedias do not excel themselves in all kind of lists, but the contributors to Wikipedia have often shown great enthusiasm for them, and they use all kind of tagging, which might help to find museums. This choice was rewarded when I tried to make a list for relevant museums in Germany. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Polizeigeschichte (German Society for Police History) has created a substantial overview of police museums worldwide. The German museum for the history of taxes led me to the website of the federation of customs museums which features museums in eighteen countries. The English Wikipedia has a list with museums in former prisons and jails, certainly not complete, but it did convince me to proceed with my own list. It made me face some hard questions: is it sensible at all to include all prison and jail museums? Which criteria should one use for inclusion? Should one order museums by country? Would a commented list serve any purpose, or is it wiser to create a separate database for all kind of legal history museums?

How to find museums on any subject, in any region, country or continent? Some international committees of the International Council for Museums have created databases for a particular kind of museum. At the Humboldt Universität Berlin you can check the database of the ICOM committee for university museums and collections (UMAC). It brings you to fifteen collections and museums in the field of forensic medicine. The database includes also eleven detention rooms. This category features mainly historic university prisons in Germany where students were detained after misbehavior and conviction by the rector or university court. The ICOM has a committee for the memorials in remembrance of the victims of public crimes, IC MEMO, but as for now no overview is given of actual museums and memorials.

So far it seems that for a number of museums dealing with specific subjects you can find a large number of them in the lists indicated here above. However, these lists, and even the database of university museums, do not include everything you would expect. Among the criminology museums of universities for example you would expect the Musée Testut-Latarjet de Médecine et d’Anatomie of the Université Lyon-I, because it has a department for médecine légale et anthropologie criminelle, yet it is only listed at UMAC with the museums for the history of medicine and anatomy. No doubt such omissions will always occur. Some of the links in the UMAC database have changed, and I have reluctantly decided to present also the museums without a functioning website. The departments for forensic medicine at Vienna and Berlin do hardly acknowledge the existence of a historical collection, but at least the Institut für Rechtsmedizin of the Charité hospital in Berlin provides a webpage on the history and form of this discipline in Berlin. Anyway, for now UMAC gives only for a few institutions working links, and it is rather painful to create a separate list of museums for forensic medicine. It is only fair to add that a number of these collection are only open to students and staff.

Among all these museums it is rare to find an online catalogue of objects or an online catalogue to the library of an institution. Until now I have only spotted an online catalogue at the website of the Dutch National Police Museum in Apeldoorn. A selected number of museums shows virtual exhibitions. The Virtual Museum and Archive of the History of Financial Regulation, maintained by the Securities Exchange Commission Historical Society, exists only in virtual space. This situation seems to confirm that presenting and viewing objects in person or even at the actual historical spot, a prison or a court, is the major goal of legal history museums.

I stated a number of questions which face you when you are going to create an overview of museums in a specific category, but I do not have quick answers for each question. Including all and sundry can result in an ugly list without much added value. Announcing the completeness of a list can create the false impression that indeed everything has been included, which is very difficult to achieve. With comments at each museum you give additional and hopefully useful information. The experience with the UMAC database teaches it is indeed wise to add several tags or categories to an institution. When you are dealing with a large number of records with a great variety of information it is certainly wise to create sooner or later a database. The example of A Compendium of Digital Collections, a blog of the library at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, shows that a blog with an ordinary content management system can now fulfill a number of the functions of a database.

How to find more relevant museums? Any art history department will bring you to lists of art museums, but here further searching is needed. For a number of countries national museum organisations exists. The American Association of Museums maintains on its website a list of accredited museums. This list does include for legal history the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The Old Jail Center at Albany, Texas, is a museum for modern art, with however in the Robert E. Nail Jr. Archives some legal records, and of course the historical location. No American prison or jail museum is at present listed as an accredited museum. The United States National Park Service has created the National Register of Historic Places, another gateway to museums and collections at historic locations. A search for courthouses in this database brings you a substantial number of locations. These examples should suffice to demonstrate the way a register of legal history museums can be completed using similar resources for other countries.

Learning by doing

While writing this post I involuntarily pushed the button to publish it. To me this seemed at first way too early, but on second thought I might as well stick to the description lately launched of scientific blogs as laboratories of science. On March 9, 2012 German scholars in the humanities met in Munich to debate the role of scientific blogs. A scholarly blog post allows you to look over the shoulders of a scholar to work in progress. Some ideas may be just ideas, some thoughts clearly need rethinking and rephrasing, some results are meagre or still doubtful. Sometimes you are painfully aware that you look through the eyes of just one scholar, and here, too, you will sometimes sustain this conclusion! However, science does not step into the world like the goddess Athena at her mythical birth from the head of Zeus, full-grown and armored. I can write as much as I want about my little project for an overview of legal history museums, but in the end I will need reactions from outside, my own reflections and afterthoughts to make this and other things any better.

A postscript

To give an indication of the work to be done I would like to give the example of Dutch museums for legal history: I thought only four museums existed, but I could easily add two more institutions to my list. Today I spotted even the Politiemuseum Tilburg, a private collection for the history of the Dutch police which however focuses strictly on uniforms. In the field of digital collections one can now add the collection of the Taxes and Customs Museum in Rotterdam which you can visit at the Memory of the Netherlands portal.

A short guide and a portal to legal history

Peace Palace Library
Lately the Peace Palace Library, the library of the International Court of Justice and other institutions in the field of international law in The Hague – all present at The Hague Justice Portal – has restyled its website. The Peace Palace Library (PPL) had a separate blog which has now been integrated into the new website. One of the strengths of the PPL’s website were and are the research guides, a feature which now comes more to the front. The website offers more than fifty guides in ten sections. Among the new guides is a short guide to legal history, the subject of this post. Apart from the new website the PPL is also present online with numerous tweets (@peacepalace). Last year I presented here a comparison of several portals to legal history. The PPL’s legal history guide points to a portal that somehow was not included in this comparison, even though I had spotted it and noticed some of its qualities. In this post I want to make up for this omission.

Legal history at the Peace Palace Library

The history of international law is the main reason for the PPL to devote time, space and attention to this subject. Thus the field of international law is not entirely absent in the new short guide to legal history, but it does not figure too prominently in it. The presence of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in the guide is only natural for the PPL with its rich holdings in editions of Grotius’ works. The Grotius collection is now substantially better shown on the website, with an updated version of the guide on Grotius.

The guide to legal history of the PPL is a guide in a nutshell. Before I will comment on this guide I want to express my admiration for the courage to create a short guide, because in a way it is easier to write a more ample guide. Its five sections present an introduction, a short bibliography, a presentation of a number of selected books as a librarian’s choice, a short links section with at present only six links, including the portal covered in the second part of this post, and a section with links to a number of related research guides, and a nifty link to all items in the category “Legal history” of the PPL’s catalogue. In this guide and in other guides as well the PPL has added consistently links to social media, a print button and a link to a PDF version of the guides. For the legal history guide the PDF function gives you only the librarian’s choice, certainly a bug but one without grave consequences. More awkward is the fact that the French version of this guide on this bilingual website is only partially in French.

The librarian’s choice at the moment of writing this post shows three books, including their covers. The first book is the collection of essays edited by Tracy A. Thomas and Tracey Joan Boisseau, Feminist legal history: essays on women and law (New York 2011). The second item is the chapter by Randall Lesaffer on ‘The classic law of nations, 1500-1800′ in the Research handbook on the theory and history of international law (Cheltenham 2011) 408-440. The third book shown is Law codes in dynastic China : a synopsis of Chinese legal history in the thirty centuries from Zhou to Qing by John W. Head and Yanping Wang (Durham, N.C., 2005).

The very brief introduction on legal history stresses the many sides of legal history. The two paragraphs can be summarized in two sentences. Laws, institutions, individuals and the relation of law to society are all aspects of legal history. Law both reacts to developments in society, but also actively shapes society. The French version tells you only that legal history is concerned with the development of law in history and the question why it changed. The French version continues with the explanation of the aim of the guide, to introduce people to the subject and to the holdings of the PPL in this field.

The bibliography is substantial, but some elements do raise an eyebrow. In particular the choice in the section with reference works is just that, a choice. Thoughtfully all titles have been directly linked to the library catalogue. Three books – with as a nice feature again their covers – are mentioned. I have no problems with the Oxford international encyclopedia of legal history, Stanley N. Katz et alii (eds.) (Oxford 2009), but the two other books have been chosen more arbitrarily. John Hamilton Baker’s An introduction to English legal history (4th ed., London 2002) is certainly a classic, but it inevitably focuses on England. The third book is a collection of essays by William Morrison Gordon, Roman law, Scots law and legal history. Selected essays (Edinburgh 2007), and this choice alerts to the existence of mixed legal systems. However, these choices center around the United Kingdom. Adding a book on for example the European legal tradition or about legal history in one of the world’s major countries or continents would be most helpful.

I cannot help pointing to some other defects in the selection of titles. Why just one issue of the ‘Bibliography of Irish and British legal history’ from the Cambrian Law Review? The link to the online version of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis brings you to the journal Legal History, the sequel to the Australian Journal of Legal History. The choice of books is more balanced, but it is odd to find here again Gordon’s volume of essays and the Oxford encyclopedia of legal history, both already present in the reference section. The other titles are concerned with the legal history of Europe, the United States, China and Rome, with sources for English legal history and with women’s legal history. Under “Documents” only one title is given. Far better is the choice of recent articles and papers about legal history, which range from a discussion of research methods, Islamic jurisprudence and thoughts about the legal history of the twentieth century to a comparison of legal history and comparative law, and the history of the law of nations. Of course it is difficult to create such lists as presented here, but with a relatively small number of corrections and additions it can become more useful. The list of journals on legal history is short and excludes e-journals.

For any wishes and remarks on the quality of the bibliography the links section and the section with other guides go some way to fulfill them. The links show not only some portals – including the portal in the spotlight of this post – but also a blog, the website of a society for legal history, and the research guide for legal history of an American university. This guide at the University of Minnesota Law Library neatly shows the imbalances in the PPL’s guide. However, the PPL redeems the deficiencies of its legal history guide by its own guides in related fields. You will be pressed hard to find any website which features guides on all these subjects: diplomacy, Antarctica, comparative law, Islamic law, philosophy of law and the use of force, not to mention Hugo Grotius. A number of websites do offer links on these subjects, but not similar guides. More extensive guides certainly exist, and in fact you will find them often using these research guides at the PPL. It might seem that in view of the sheer number of research guides provided by the PPL only some tuning – and translating – of the website is needed. Part of the tuning will be adding the research guide for the League of Nations to the related fields section of the guides.

A portal for legal history?

History of Law website

The portal for legal history I want to discuss here briefly is History of Law. Looking at it again in 2012 some reasons why this website can only in a restricted sense be called a portal are immediately clear. The website lacks links sections, presents no sources or articles, nor is there an events calendar or an overview of research institutions. Yet the PPL alerts to this website in its short guide to legal history. The most obvious reason for the inclusion is the page at History of Law on Hugo Grotius. When I first read it I was charmed by the narrative of Grotius’ life, and only somewhat amazed by the retelling of his escape from the Loevenstein prison in 1621, a story belonging to the heart of the canon of Dutch history. No sources are indicated for this story. A quick search using for once the eponymous search tool which conjures its results by unfathomable stratagems and axioms leaves no doubt which source has been used, Charles Butler’s The Life of Hugo Grotius (…) (London 1826). You can check the book online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and even choose which digitized copy you are going to look at.

Not only at the Grotius’ page of History of Law the original source is not acknowledged, the same is true for other pages. The text on the page on the history of Greek law comes from Martin Ferdinand Morris (1834-1909), An introduction to the history of the development of law (Washington, D.C., 1909). A reprint from 1911 of this work has been digitized for the Hathi Trust. The title “Roman canon law” for another webpage at History of Law should ring a bell with its anachronistic title, if not already the URL http://www.historyoflaw.info. I will not spoil the game of tracking the sources of the other pages of this website which is a nice exercise in source criticism for which you can use facilities available online. If you read the page on testamentary law it is worthwhile to establish who originally attacked the views of Blackstone on the introduction of testaments in England. For tracing the source of the page on Greek legal history I used deliberately the following phrase: “thousand other improvements and inventions of our wonderfully inventive age”!

At History of Law no name can be detected, but in the banner of this website a young man gazes at you. I mailed to him asking for his name, but he has not yet identified himself. Anyway, be it a student hoax or just a fruit of plundering the Internet, it has little to do with modern research on legal history, apart from pointing to the laziness of those thinking you can rely on old works without any consideration, as if the facts of – and the views on – legal history are immutable. The History of Law website is a plain case of plagiarism. Its chief merit is alerting to the works of Butler and Morris. Instead of writing about the views on legal history of Morris, one of the founders of the Georgetown Law School and at the end of his career associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, our anonymous could only copy and paste from this book. Charles Butler (1750-1832) was an English conveyor and lawyer, the first Roman Catholic since 1688 to practise in England as a barrister. In fact he prepared the very legislation making this possible, the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791 (31 George III. c. 32). It is yet another subject worth real study instead of mock history.

A few conclusions

Instead of spending more time with this portal it is better to return to the research guides of the Peace Palace Library. Luckily the authors of the online guide on Grotius do not mention the History of Law website. The authors at the Peace Palace Library of the short guide to legal history should not hesitate to repair things as quickly as possible, and create a guide that is as trustworthy as the other guides of this important library. Was it the wish to include a website with the story of Grotius in English that misguided the creators of this guide when they added a link to History of Law? Whatever the answer is, it pinpoints the need to approach websites carefully. It is easy to find guides for evaluating web pages.

I feel lucky I did not include the History of Law website in last year’s comparison of legal history portals. With pages on Phoenician law and the laws of Pythagoras a portal on legal history can certainly attract attention, but it should make you wonder when you find also the history of maritime law and Egyptian legal history, too much of a good thing! It is more rewarding to go to the sources, to use and indicate them carefully, to struggle with them honestly and to report your findings in your own words and to put your name at the end. You will not find any legal history portal with a full coverage of all main subjects, nor a website with full-length research guides about each separate subject in legal history.

From an orphanage to a house for children

The former Weeshuis in LeidenAfter a long absence on my blog the walking historian has returned! Lately I visited Leiden, in particular for making pictures of several buildings in the old city. This post is about a very particular building, the former Weeshuis (orphanage) at the Hooglandse Kerkgracht. In this house orphans lived for many centuries. After extensive restoration between 2007 and 2010 this large building has not lost the historic connection with children. Law is the link between the old and the new use of the premises. Later this year I will write more about Leiden.

Protecting orphans

In 1403 the Our Lady’s Hospital in Leiden was founded. After the coming of the Reformation this hospital became in 1583 an orphanage, the Heilige Geestweeshuis [Holy Spirit Orphanage]. The buildings of the orphanage occupied a quite large spot in the heart of the city. In 1961 the last orphans left. Afterwards the Museum for Natural History, now Naturalis, found its home here until 1990. In that year a period of insecurity started. A number of plans was launched, but none of them was adopted by the city council. The orphanage had been owned by the national government. For the removal of the Naturalis it had been exchanged with the city for another building. In 2007 a foundation could buy the buildings for just € 13,000,- under the condition of starting large-scale restoration which costed 14 million. It is interesting to note the regents of the former orphanage still exist and even hold the keys to the lavishly decorated board room.

The foundation buying the buildings in 2007 was the Stichting Utopa, a chartered foundation funded by a number of transport packaging companies. The name Utopa deliberately evokes Thomas More and his Utopia (1516). The foundation supports a number of cultural and social initiatives in the Netherlands. For the former orphanage it was decided to create space both for the archeological center of the city of Leiden, which actually had already used part of the buildings between 1990 and 2007, and for an initiative linked with children, the Kinderrechtenhuis [Children's Rights House].

Children’s rights in a historical perspective

Do the rights of children find indeed a home in modern society? In 1989 the general assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This UN treaty stands out among modern international treaties for a number of reasons. Its preamble states that one should recognize “that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”. Probably no other treaty in vigor mentions love. The CRC was preceded by the Minimum Age Convention from 1973 in which member states are called upon to protect children from work, and followed by two optional protocols, on child traffic and abuse, and on child soldiers and the position of children during armed conflicts. In 1999 the general assembly voted for the Worst Forms of Labor Convention. A third optional protocol enabling children to file complaints with the UN Committee for the Rights of Children was adopted by the United Nations in December 2011, and ratified by twenty countries in Geneva on February 28, 2012.

The CRC has been signed by more than 190 countries. No other UN treaty has been ratified so many countries, even when a number of them has done this with restrictions and interpretations.On totally different grounds two countries have not adopted the CRC. The United States of America has signed, but not ratified the CRC. Several explanations have been offered for this fact, among them a tradition of cautiousness in ratifying international treaties, but also the possibility in a number of U.S. states – at least until 2005 – to condemn youths to the death penalty. Somalia simply cannot yet ratify the treaty because of the lack of state institutions. A third country that has not yet signed or ratified the CRC is probably South Sudan.

Countries ratifying the CRC have to report regularly to the United Nations about the protection of children’s rights. Nongovernmental institutions accredited at new York or Geneva and civil society organizations, too, publish reports about the compliance of countries with the CRC.

The entrance to the former orphanage in Leiden

Civil society and children

When contemplating the former orphanage at Leiden and thinking about modern protection of children it struck me that in this context the word institution has very much changed in meaning. In Western Europe hospitals and orphanages were often already founded during the Middle Ages. Both city councils and religious institutions founded and governed them. In the field of medieval canon law one can point in particular to studies by Gisela Drossbach, her monograph Christliche caritas als Rechtsinstitut: Hospital und Orden von Santo Spirito in Sassia (1198-1378) (Paderborn 2005) and a volume of essays edited by her, Hospitäler in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Frankreich, Deutschland und Italien. Eine vergleichende Geschichte (Munich 2007). She prepares an edition of a number of statutes of medieval hospitals. The care for orphans in these institutions was institutional care which could vary very much depending on the persons actually charged with daily care for them. The facade of the Leiden orphanage show a relief with children looking up to a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Among the texts at the top of the facade are words from the Bible, “God is der weesen helper” [Thou art the helper of the fatherless] (Ps. 10,14) .

In the field of children’s history the role of law has not always received due attention. Among studies which take into account the differences between England and continental Europe, between cities and rural surroundings, and do take notice of the impact of law are the fine books by Barbara Hanawalt,The Ties that Bound. Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) and Growing Up in Medieval London. The Experience of Childhood in History (Oxford, etc, 1993). For The Ties that Bound Hanawalt used medieval coroner’s inquests as a major source. In her book on children in London she is well aware of the typical situation of this city. Hanawalt does not close her eyes for example for abuses of guardianship. She dispels the myth that ordinary medieval people did not care for children. Institutional care for children does not get much space in these studies, because in medieval England orphanages were exceptional.

Let’s return briefly to the Leiden orphanage. Its archive is kept at the Regional Archives Leiden. Two years ago a book about the history of the orphanage appeared, Dit kint hiet Willem : de Heilige Geest in Leiden, 700 jaar vondelingen, wezen en jeugdzorg [This child is called Willem: the Holy Spirit in Leiden, 700 years foundlings, orphans and youth care], edited by Kees van der Wiel and others (Leiden 2010). Antoinette Frijns has published a series of articles in several historical journals, which can be tracked using the online bibliography for Dutch history.

Applying children’s rights

The presence of a Children’s Rights House in the Netherlands might cause some amazement. After all this country is already blessed with a plethora of organizations for the protection of children, such as Defence for Children, now also located at the Kinderrechtenhuis, and the Kinderrechtencollectief [Children's Rights Collective], not to mention the host of supporting organizations behind this collective. Alas it is common knowledge that for instance for children who need to be protected against their parents the very large number of institutions, agencies and ministries involved with child care can cause much delay in deciding and applying the right solution, in particular since it is not clear which institution, not even the judge deciding a case at court, is responsible for creating and holding an overview of all necessary actions and steps. The central role of the Bureau Jeugdzorg (Youth Work) can be a blessing, but also a bane when this office fails to do proper research and to take real responsibility for the welfare of children. Instead of ensuring institutional care this situation is first and foremost a bureaucracy, the main obstacle to the purpose for which it is meant to work.

More fundamental at the level of the rule of law is the question in the Netherlands and elsewhere about the desirability of the superior position of international treaties to national law. Some politicians see this as an infringement upon sovereignty. One has to take into account here the possibility of judicial review in the sense of comparison with a constitution. Under Dutch law this not possible (article 120 of the Dutch constitution). Since 2002 a proposal accepted by the Dutch parliament for making some exceptions to this rule awaits the long route necessary for any change of the Dutch constitution. In a situation of economic crisis in which countries are affected by forces coming from beyond their borders a tendency to close off from external pressure might seem natural, yet the same economic forces are working to unify economic life and the organization of society. Reports on the actual appliance of and compliance of the CRC, the earlier treaties and the optional protocols will continue to show that these rights do not descend automatically from a heaven of law and justice upon those most entitled to it. When you pass the entrance of the former Leiden orphanage you can read an inscription with a text by Janusz Korczak (1872-1942): “Children are not the humanity of the future, but today’s people”.

Bridging the gap between lofty aspirations of law, be it international or national law, and day-to-day reality will remain a perennial task, a duty and a challenge. Even when not actually actively supporting this aim historians can at the very least ask the right questions about law, its blessings and pitfalls, and document its manifold history. Surely this post does not more than just bring together some matters from past and present. A blog might be just the place to offer a look on the long road between some more or less casual observations and a more substantial treatment of issues and questions. No doubt others can tell you more about the history of orphanages and the history of children’s rights, and I hope to have made at least some of my readers more curious about these themes.