Monthly Archives: April 2012

Protecting manuscripts in Mali to save cultural heritage and history

This month armed groups have been fighting in Mali. In a number of towns in this West-African country manuscripts are kept, sometimes in regular libraries, sometimes in the homes of families who try to preserve valuable sources for the history of their country. Timbuktu is the almost legendary town, the capital of a region with the same name. As for its name, the French spelling Toumbouctou can be found, too. Recently Tuaregs have tried to conquer Timbuktu in order to add it to a new Touareg state. The importance of the manuscripts present in Timbuktu and other cities in Mali has long been recognised. This week an appeal has been launched for the protection of these irreplaceable sources for the history of Mali, and more generally for West-Africa. The West African Research Association of the African Studies Center at Boston University is most active in promoting this urgent appeal. The IFLA, too, backs the appeal. Before more ruthless acts of violence take place with possible damage to people, their homes and belongings action is needed.

In this post I will look at research projects and digitized manuscripts from Mali. These projects might well preserve at least a part of the manuscripts and records that have survived sometimes for centuries, but are now closer to destruction than ever before.

The manuscripts of Timbuktu

The UNESCO has recognized the importance of the manuscripts in Timbuktu. Timbuktu itself was added in 1988 to the World Heritage List. Timbuktu has been home to a university since the fourteenth century. The manuscripts have been added to the Memory of the World register. With some disbelief I found only ten images in the UNESCO’s photobank for this project. Despite all efforts to study manuscripts in and from Mali the results to translate, edit and preserve them are still relatively meagre. The website of the Timbuktu Educational Foundation in Alameda, Ca., is one of the sites providing basic information on Mali and Timbuktu.

Today it was perhaps in illustration of this situation that even information on one of the largest relevant projects at the University of Oslo seemed at first to have disappeared. Between 2000 and 2007 Norwegian scholars have worked in a project for the preservation and promotion of the African literary heritage which led to an article and a provisional list of the manuscripts in the Ka’ati Library. More publications have resulted from the Toumbouctou Manuscripts Project sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the University of Cape Town. You can download three publications from the website, including a guide to the script used in these manuscripts. After registration you get full access to the database with transcriptions of manuscripts.

The African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress has digitized 32 Islamic manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, both in Timbuktu. The manuscripts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century are accompanied by presentations about Timbuktu and the history of Mali. The manuscripts can be searched in various way. Among the subjects are jurisprudence and Islamic law. The Library of Congress has also created an online exhibition on the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu which covers much the same ground. In view of the current situation in Mali it is helpful to use the guide to web resources on Mali at the website of the Library of Congress.

The World Digital Library has within its collections eight manuscripts from Timbuktu, all from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library. The Center for Research Libraries has created a digital library on the theme Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu with 209 documents from the nineteenth century, again from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu.

At Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the Melville J. Herskovits Collection with Arabic manuscripts from West Africa contains a number of manuscripts from Mali. The catalogue to this collection can be searched online. Northwestern University has a digital collection Maps of Africa with some 100 maps. Stanford University provides a fine list of web resources on Mali, but apart from the projects already mentioned no other project for Mali’s manuscripts is included. Even the Internet Library for Sub Saharan Africa, a meta-catalogue and portal maintained by a number of German institutions, does bring only few projects relevant for Mali not yet mentioned here, but for anything else this portal can help finding answers or paths to answers on many subjects. The first project is based at Timbuktu, the Sauvegarde et Valorisation pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique. It has in particular helped renovating three libraries, and in creating a digital collection of manuscripts at Timbuktu, to be found at the Aluka portal with some three hundred manuscripts. Being accessible only to paying licensed users is a major drawback to view these digitized manuscripts at Aluka. The second project is La Bibliothèque des Manuscrits Anciens de Niger at the University of Niamey in Niger. This library holds manuscripts with texts from several countries in West Africa. Plans for digitization are announced in the library calendar.

Initially I did not find the actual location of the West African Arabic Manuscript Project, but in the end the URL itself is clear enough. This bilingual website (English and Arabic) offers a database with descriptions of some 23,000 manuscripts in several West African countries, including Mali. The introduction to the Timbuktu records explains that now some 9,000 manuscript descriptions from Timbuktu have been entered into the database. Between 1990 and 1998 five volumes of the catalogue of manuscripts in Timbuktu have appeared which have been used for the database. These manuscripts constitute a third of all manuscripts presently entered. This fact shows the importance of Timbuktu very well. A first simple search in the database – approachable in English, French and Arabic – for law as a subject yields already more than 900 results. Much more manuscripts have still not been recorded.

The National Library of Mali in Bamako is mentioned as one of the partners of the Réseau francophone numérique, a consortium of a number of national libraries in France and francophone countries around the world, but alas no item from Mali is included in this digital library.

A double challenge

When writing this post it became soon clear I face here two challenges, dealing with Africa and with Islamic law from the position of someone trained in European history and law. At my website and here I try to present subjects and themes from all over the world. Until now Asia, Africa and Latin America have been almost absent here. This post will certainly not redeem these gaps. In fact you might agree that slavery is another subject painfully avoided here, as is colonial history. In my latest post I did mention slavery in medieval Italy, not exactly the time and place where I had most expected to detect traces of slavery. It is only sensible not to put several major themes or subjects into one post, but I promise my readers that I will every now and then try to put an Eurocentric and anglophone approach aside.

Having made thus a solemn promise to present here a wider variety I will not hesitate to return briefly to this post’s subject. I would like to point you to a very useful list of digitized Islamic manuscripts at Archivalia, and to the website of the Islamic Manuscript Association. For this post I could use my notes for pages with relevant links on African law and Islamic law that I will eventually add to my legal history website. Writing about subjects stemming from every era, country and civilization need preparation if you want to create a result worth reading.

A postscript

Both for the background of Mali’s history, the importance of the Timbuktu manuscripts and the actual situation an article for The Root, ‘Fabled Timbuktu in Peril from Malian Coup’, by Michael Gomez of New York University will tell you much more than I was able to do here. The Africa department of Radio Netherlands Worldwide brings more details on the capture and current situation of Timbuktu and civil war in Mali.

A mosaic of digitized medieval legal manuscripts

On this blog the twin brother of the walking historian is the armchair historian, comfortably seated at his desk in front of a computer screen, with access to a multitude of digitized sources online. Among these sources medieval legal manuscripts, too, are present. The ability to see a source in its original form can be fascinating, although at the same time you need to know about old scripts to read and interpret them correctly. On my website for legal history I mention a number of websites with digitized legal manuscripts, both for medieval law as a general subject and more specifically for medieval canon law. Some of the websites indicated offer solely digitized medieval legal manuscripts. In this post I will look at two digitization projects at the Università di Bologna, Europe’s oldest university, where the teaching of law was for centuries at the very heart of the university.

Progetto Irnerio

Logo Progetto Irnerio

The first project to be discussed is the Progetto Irnerio in which the legal manuscripts at the Collegio di Spagna (Real Colegio de España) in Bologna have been digitized. The collection of manuscripts was started by cardinal Gil de Albornoz (1310-1367) who founded this college in 1364 and gave 36 manuscripts to the library of his new foundation. The college has illustrious people such as Ignatius of Loyola and Miguel Cervantes among its students. In 1992 a team of scholars published a detailed catalogue of the sizeable manuscript collection, I codici del Collegio di Spagna di Bologna, Domenico Maffei, Ennio Cortese, Antonio García y García, et alii (eds.) (Milan 1992) which stressed the rich value of the nearly 300 manuscripts for the study of the history of medieval and early modern law. In 2002 the CIRSFID, the center for the history of law, philosophy and sociology of law and legal information at the Università di Bologna, started the project for the digitization of these manuscripts.

On this project the images of the manuscripts can be viewed in two ways. Subscribers to the project get access to high-resolution images. The snag for non-subscribers is that even when you try to enlarge images the resolution is so low that they are almost useless. The registration includes the signing of a full contract with all kind of stipulations. A restricted number of images can be viewed freely, for anything more one has to pay. It creates the distinct impression one will get access to documents with a priceless value or at least value to create a considerable sum of money out of them. The project was founded with money stemming partially from a foundation created by a savings bank in Bologna, the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio. The difference between the liberality with which information about the manuscripts is available and searchable at this project, and the strictness of the access to images which can be used for study is questionable.

Progetto Mosaico

Logo Mosaico

For the second project the same center at Bologna cooperates since 2008 with a number of libraries, initially with the Università di Roma Tre and the Università di Napoli, but now also with institutions outside Italy such as the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich and the ENRICH project for a European digital library of manuscripts, an offspring of Manuscriptorium. In the Progetto Mosaico you will find both descriptions of medieval legal manuscripts and a number of digitized relevant manuscripts. The number of manuscripts with images currently shown is surely not very high.

The first main difference between the Irnerio and Mosaico projects is the presentation of high quality zoomable images at the Progetto Mosaico. Progetto Mosaico offers immediately full access to the manuscript images after agreeing online with the terms and conditions of use. A second substantial difference is the grouping of the manuscripts around a number of subjects. Let’s look at the largest of these groups which focuses on the Authenticum, the medieval collection of Justinian’s Novellae. Not only the Digest but also these constitutions from the sixth century became the object or study only from the twelfth century onwards. At Mosaico 28 descriptions of manuscripts are given and their contents are compared. A further overview graphically shows the slow way the manuscripts with these constitutions were taken into account and described in the first half of the nineteenth century. For four manuscripts images are available (Angers, Bibliothèque Municipale, 333; Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio, A 132; Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, sin.7 plu.9; Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek, Haenel 5).

It is good to have here detailed descriptions of the manuscripts and the texts included in them. It reminds you the text of the Authenticum was transmitted together with other legal texts. Most of the manuscripts described here contain also glosses. In the study by Charles Radding and Antonio Ciaralli, The Corpus Iuris Civilis in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts and transmission from the sixth century to the juristic revival (Leiden, etc., 2007) the earliest medieval manuscripts of the Authenticum figure, too. One of the arguments Radding favors is to consider the possibility of new datations of these manuscripts. In the nineteenth century many manuscripts were ascribed a date which according to the modern knowledge about palaeography and codicology might strongly differ, a century or even more. In principle this could place the start of the renewed interest in Justinian’s compilations and constitutions much earlier, and also in other places. In order to localize and date manuscripts it is very useful to have them together. The online presentation of manuscripts held at many different cities across the world is a most welcome tool to facilitate such inquiries and to probe Radding’s hypotheses.

Among the other manuscripts presented at Mosaico is a focus on legal procedure. One of the results of the study by twelfth-century lawyers of the actiones in Roman law was the creation by Giovanni Bassiano of the so called Arbor actionum, the “Tree of Actions”, a kind of didactic scheme to explain the main differences between legal actions. On the Mosaico website the design of this tree is explained, and two different versions of it are presented. Images are provided from two manuscripts with the vulgate – most common – version, Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, ms. Can 23, fols. 270v-271r, and Bern, Burgerbibliothek, fols. 61v-62r. A different version has been preserved in three manuscripts, of which Admont, Stiftsbibliothek, 234, fols. 179v-180r, and Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, ms. Jur. 13, fols. 1v-2r can be viewed at Mosaico. The third manuscript, Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek, 921, fol. 187v-188r, can be seen at Manuscripta Mediaevalia. In this section you will find also ample references to earlier literature about the arbores actionum.

Mosaico shows that medieval lawyers did not only know the arbores consanguinitatis et affinitatis, about which you can read in two recent blog posts, the first by Jolande Goldberg at In Custodia Legis, the blog of the law librarians of the Library of Congress, the second at Interfaces/Livres anciens de l’Université de Lyon. At this French blog a comment guides you to an online exhibition of the Bibliothèque nationale de France about the symbolic value of the tree in medieval thought with an analysis of the genealogical uses.

The other manuscripts presented at Mosaico concerning medieval legal procedure are Olomouc, Státni árchiv, C.O.40 with the Tractatus quaestionum attributed to Giuliano da Sesso, introduced and transcribed by Lucia Sorrenti, the author of Il “Libellus Quaestionum” di Giuliano da Sesso. Un giurista ghibellino a Vercelli (Messina 1992), and Prague, Knihovna Národního Muzea, XVII.A.10, with the glosses of Roffredus Beneventanus on the Codex Justinianus. For the manuscript Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 8011 an introduction and summary description is lacking. In fact only a part of this manuscript is shown (fols. 86r-107v) with quaestiones disputatae in iure canonico by Aegidius de Fuscariis and other jurists.

Presenting medieval manuscripts and texts

One of the interesting aspects at Mosaico is the use of different models for presenting the images and creating space for transcriptions and comments. This makes the project a kind of laboratory for editing manuscripts using online tools. In the absence of agreement among scholars about a general way of describing medieval manuscripts along standards which are also consistent with presentation online using XML, and dealing with both data and meta-data concerning manuscripts, any initiative showing different approaches for one very wide manuscript genre is valuable in itself. The model Susa – after Henricus de Segusio (1190/1200-1271), often nicknamed Hostiensis because he ended his life as cardinal of Ostia – is a simple database for searching manuscripts, with for now perhaps not enough data to consider its functioning properly. The model San Pietroburgo presents data and meta-data in a series of windows with information for each manuscript page.

The model with the tempting name Processo di Satana offers a viewer in which you can compare two manuscripts and add comments and transcriptions. In the late Middle Ages several texts presented the story of a trial of the devil against God claiming human souls. These treatises offer a kind of nutshell guide to forms of procedure at court, and at the same time also a guide to a number of theological matters. At Mosaico you will find the Processus Sathanae contra genus humanum ascribed to Bartolo da Sassoferato (1313-1357). The manuscript tradition of this treatise is the subject of another section, which alas is not complete, but at least you will find an introduction and a provisory list with 43 manuscripts. The list is certainly not complete, but has the distinct merit of noticing the context of the transmission in both juridical and theological manuscripts. You can view images of four manuscripts of Bartolus’ text. Readers of an earlier post here might remember that Bartolus’ treatises have been preserved in many manuscripts. The fourth model Bertram offers images, a classic transcription and commentary by Martin Bertram of the manuscript Montecassino 266 of Goffredo da Trani’s Apparatus decretalium, one of the earliest and most original commentaries on the Liber Extra, the major official decretal collection published in 1234.

It is only fair to indicate that Mosaico offers the result of work in progress. At some turns there is little to desire, at other points progress seems to have halted soon after the start. It is certainly thoughtful of the makers to present the manuscripts from the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio in Bologna also in a separate section, but here, too, an introduction is lacking. Ms. A 34 contains the Processus Sathanae. Ms. B.1484 presents the text of Salatiel’s Ars notariae. Ms. B.2794 and ms. B.2795 are both manuscripts with various legal texts which again are concerned with legal procedure. The first has for example the Margarita legum of Alberico Galiotti, quaestiones by Azo and the Libellus questionum of Pillius and a Summula de libellis formandis atrributed to Salatinus. The second manuscript offers a Libellus de ordine iudiciorum ascribed to Pillius, Guido de Suzaria on the same subject, the Tractatus de summaria cognitione by Giovanni Faseoli, and a number of texts without a clear attribution. The best modern starting point for research on these two manuscripts is no doubt the study by Linda Fowler-Magerl, Ordo judiciorum vel ordo judiciarius. Begriff und Literaturgattung (Frankfurt am Main 1984). The genre of the quaestiones is one of the subjects dealt with by Annalisa Belloni, Le questioni civilistiche del secolo XII: Da Bulgaro a Pillio da Medicina e Azzone (Frankfurt am Main 1989), and in the proceedings of a symposium, Die Kunst der Disputation. Probleme der Rechtsauslegung und Rechtsanwendung im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert, Manlio Bellomo (ed.) (Munich 1997).

A summary of the contents of the twin manuscripts B.2794-2795 is also to be found in the catalogue of the microfilms held at the Istituto di Storia del Diritto Italiano, Sezione di diritto medievale e moderno, in Milan. For medieval manuscripts in Italy one can use online BIBMAN, the Bibliografia dei manoscritti in alfabeto latino conservati in Italia, which helps you finding literature on specific manuscripts, MANUS, the Censimento dei manoscritti conservati in biblioteche italiane, a general database for Italian manuscripts, the Nuova Biblioteca Manoscritta database for manuscripts in the Veneto, and Codex, the Inventario dei manoscritti medievali della Toscana, yet another database for manuscripts. For Lombardy a comparable censimento exists, to mention only the largest regional projects and those projects most relevant for legal history. However, musical manuscripts and Greek palimpsests (Rinascimento Virtuale) are certainly not forgotten in Italy, and you can find more projects in this list at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and at the portal Internet Culturale. The Vatican Library is anyway in a class of its own, and this is certainly the case for its manuscripts. Searching for manuscripts in Italy bearing a date is possible online with the online version of Manoscritti Datati d’Italia.

Bologna, Alma Mater Studiorum

Logo Università di Bologna

Near the end of this post it is clear that at Mosaico the door is wide open for studies in the field of medieval legal procedure. The models for presentation merit close scrutiny and further elaboration. The doors of the Progetto Irnerio remain much more closed, an alluring treasure vaguely visible from outside. It is time to put my findings in a perspective, first on the level of medieval legal manuscripts, secondly in the context of other Bolognese libraries and their services.

How do both projects compare with other websites and presentations devoted solely or partially to medieval legal manuscripts? Illuminating the Law is a fine online exhibition of beautiful medieval juridical manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. However, the exhibition shows only twenty images, almost exclusively from canon law manuscripts. The first images show the tree of consanguinity (Decretum Gratiani, ms. 262, fol. 71r) and the tree of affinity (ms. 262, fol. 71v). From a manuscript with the Volumen parvum which contains Justinian’s Institutiones and the Authenticum (McClean 139, fols. iv-iir), the arbor actionum is shown. Penn in Hand, the gallery of digitized manuscripts at the libraries of the University of Pennsylvania, contains a number of medieval legal manuscripts and records among a very large selection. The UPenn libraries offer only very short descriptions of these manuscripts. The Saint Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library of Lund Universitet, too, contains a number of legal manuscripts, with a full description of all 77 digitized manuscripts. Both Scandinavian law, and texts on Roman and canon law are present. Using the various websites which present illuminated medieval manuscripts one can easily find more images of the legal trees mentioned here.

Libraries and others institutions in Bologna offer more besides the Progetto Irnerio and Progetto Mosaico. The Biblioteca Universitaria has much to offer, including a substantial number of online databases. The link collection gives due attention to legal websites in Italy. In ALMA@DL, the digital library, a whole section is devoted to digitized historical works, AMS Historica. A digital version of the Corpus Iuris Civilis in the edition Lyon 1556-1558 is its showcase. The historical catalogue of the university library has been digitized for the Cataloghi Storici project of the Biblioteca Digitale Italiana. The university’s Archivio Storico is worth attention, too, with historic photographs and its online database in which you can find diplomas, charters, medals and much more. The various colleges are not forgotten, with for example the Collegio Jacobs, nowadays the Collegio dei Fiamminghi.

Bologna is home to more archives. The largest institution is the Archivio di Stato di Bologna (ASB), which has also its own Scuola di archivistica, paleogafia e diplomatica. Among the digitized sources is the Liber Paradisus, a register about the liberation of nearly six thousand slaves at Bologna in 1257. Together with the Centro Gino Fasoli per la Storia delle Città the ASB has created a digital version of the Estimi di Bologna di 1296-97, records estimating the properties of Bolognese citizens. After online registration you get immediate access to the original documents and further information on them, including an overview of similar records, a guide on the structure of the estimi and a bibliography. The Archivio Comunale di Bologna is the city archive. It participates in the initiative of a number of European municipal archives, Evidence! Europe reflected in archives. Other archives include the Archivio Storico Provinciale di Bologna and the Archivio Generale Arcivescovile.

Logo Archiginnasio

At Bologna the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio is really a jewel in the crown for everyone looking for old printed books and manuscripts. The library has several special catalogues online – for example for seventeenth and eighteenth century printed books – and a full overview of its collections. Archiweb, the digital library, presents a wealth of varieties of which I can hardly make a choice for a shortlist: the Bibliografia bolognese (1888) by Luigi Frati, the Raccolta dei Bandi Merlani with 22,000 digitized decrees and other legislative documents for Bologna from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, Il Blasone Bolognese, a database with heraldic images created between 1791 and 1795, and FACIES, 10,000 digitized portrait images, are just some highlights you might want to look at when you are going to study Bologna’s legal history. Among the online exhibitions I would like to mention Nascità di una nazione on the Risorgimento period and the creation of a unified Italy.

If you would like to search for medieval lawyers in one of Bologna’s museums, the Museo Civico Medievale, one of the four Musei Civici d’Arte Antica, would certainly live up to your expectations thanks to the collection of medieval tombs, sculptures and inscriptions. In order to find more museums, archives and libraries in Bologna and in the region around Bologna you should benefit from the online guides provided by the Provincia di Bologna. The only institution without a website which nonetheless deserves at least mention here is the Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Provinze di Romagna.

With a comparison of two projects at Bologna presenting medieval manuscripts, reference to some projects elsewhere, and two nutshell guides, both for manuscripts in Italy and for archives, libraries and some museums in Bologna this post has become rather long. It is almost too much of a good thing, but I am sure you will find something of interest. Perhaps the very length of this post is fitting when you write about medieval Bologna. The town had two nicknames, La Dotta, the learned, and La Grossa, the fat one. It’s for you and your taste to file this post in the appropriate category!

Centers of legal history: Graz

Where to look for a new city for inclusion in the series Centers of legal history? While working on other posts the Austrian city of Graz came into view. Not only the department for legal history of the Universität Graz will be presented here, but some other institutions in Graz as well.

Legal history at Graz

Logo Universität Graz

At the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz the law faculty has two institutes for legal history, first the Institut für Österreichische Rechtsgeschichte und Europäische Rechtsentwicklung [Austrian legal history and Development of European Law] and the Institut für Römisches Recht, Antike Rechtsgeschichte und Neuere Privatrechtsgeschichte [Roman Law, Ancient Legal History and History of Modern Private Law]. The websites of both institutes give mostly information about the teaching program, not about the research conducted at Graz. An icon suggests the presence of an English version but this does not show up. However, by checking individual staff members, both now and in the past, you will find information about their research. In fact the overview of activities in 2010 and 2011 is very useful.

At the department for Roman law Evelyn Höbenreich is a member of the LEDA network for gender studies and Roman legal tradition. Johannes Pichler launched in 2005 the website Europa zwischen Unrecht und Recht [Europe between Legal Abuse and Law], with articles and videos on legal developments in a number of periods in European history. Here law is seen as the most unifying element of Europe’s very existence. Markus Steppan is the moderator of the Politik Cafe at the Café Sacher, a monthly series of debates on politics, law and society. This activity is held by the Centre for Society, Knowledge and Communication which is affectionately called “die siebente Fakultät”, the seventh faculty. Martin Polaschek, another legal historian, leads this program, and is also responsible for the series Justiz und Gesellschaft [The judiciary and society] which brings this year a series of lectures on trials in Poland, Germany and Austria against crimes committed in concentration camps during the Second World War. A number of these trials has been held in Graz.

In 1996 the Association of Young Legal Historians held its third meeting at Graz. Not only the younger generation is very active. Perhaps the best-known legal historian at Graz is Gernot Kocher. Apart from his teaching and research on more common themes he is one of the most active scholars in the field of legal iconography. One of his efforts is the Rechtsikonographische Datenbank [Legal Iconography Database], not only the first but still one of the very few databases in this field in open access. in 1992 he published Zeichen und Symbole des Rechts : eine historische Ikonographie (Munich 1992). He is one of the editors of the volume Römisches Rechtsleben im Mittelalter. Miniaturen aus den Handschriften des Corpus iuris civilis (Heidelberg 1988). Together with Dietlinde Munzel-Everling he wrote the commentary (Kommentarband) to the facsimile edition Sachsenspiegel : die Heidelberger Bilderhandschrift Cod.Pal.Germ. 164 (Graz 2010). The publisher of this book is well known for its facsimiles and reprints of scientific monographs and source editions, with due attention to works for legal history. With Heiner Lück and Clausdieter Schott Kocher edits since 2008 the journal Signa Ivris. Beiträge zur Rechtsikonographie, Rechtsarchäologie und rechtlichen Volkskunde, the continuation of the earlier Forschungen zur Rechtsarchäologie und rechtlichen Volkskunde (1978-2007). The addition of legal iconography to the title of this journal is significant.

Kocher published also about the first Austrian professor of criminology Hans Gross (1847-1915). Gross’ collection of objects is the core of the Hans-Gross-Kriminalmuseum of the Universität Graz. It is again Kocher who took the initiative for an exhibition in 2011 at the university museum of Graz on the unification of law by the Habsburg emperors. The committee for university museums and collections of the ICOM lists nine collections at Graz, including a collection on forensic medicine.

Looking for more at Graz

Other institutions at Graz deserve mentioning here. The Universitätsbibliothek Graz was probably the first to launch an online version of its catalog of medieval manuscripts. A number of manuscripts has been digitized in a digital library. It is no surprise, but certainly a useful service to find even an online bibliography of manuscripts in facsimile editions, in which you can search freely but also for locations. Clearly the presence of the firm referred to above has proved to be a stimulus for scholars to study both manuscripts and images. You can also view a presentation of the 42 papyri held at Graz. The university library in Graz participates in the Österreichische Verbundkatalog der Nachlässe, Autographen und Handschriften, the Austrian national catalogue for literary papers, autographs and manuscripts.

Graz is also home to the Steiermärkische Landesbibliothek with for example the Munzinger Archiv with some 27,000 biographies, and digitized catalogues for a number of historic Austrian libraries. The Steiermärkisches Landesarchiv holds many archives from the region. I would like to single out the monastic archives of such famous monasteries as Admont and Vorau. It is helpful to be aware, too, of Kirchenarchive, a consortium for ecclesiastical archives in Austria. No archives held at Graz are represented in the Monasterium project for the online presentation and edition of medieval charters. When you think all this is much too serious you might consider visiting the Österreichisches Kabarettarchiv, the archive for the history of cabaret and satire in Austria. Culture in its widest sense is also present at the host of museums under the aegis of the Universalmuseum Joanneum. Graz seems to have a particular sensibility for visual perception. The Museum der Wahrnehmung is a museum for modern art which is even dedicated to the art of perception.

I will not exhaust any longer those readers waiting for an explanation why Vienna is not mentioned in this post. You could have guessed I would eventually not forget the Austrian capital, because Café Sacher already figured in this post. It is at Vienna that this year’s Annual Forum of the AYLH will be held. It is the Wiener Rechtsgeschichtliche Gesellschaft which gives a fine overview of weblinks on Austrian legal history. The Kommission für Rechtsgeschichte Österreichs of the Austrian Academy of Sciences will guide you on its website to even more. In the near future the Universität Wien will take over this institute. Apart from all scientific institutions, the cultural ambiance of Vienna needs no laurels. Graz does merit attention for its own qualities, and hopefully enough has been shown here to give you a more or less rounded picture of legal history in this city.

Earlier posts in the series Centers of legal history

Sailing letters, the sequel

Logo Sailing Letters

A year ago I wrote two posts about the history of pirates both from Antiquity onwards and nowadays. One of the projects related to the history of piracy I mentioned briefly in 2011 is the joint project Sailing letters: letters as loot of the Dutch Royal Library, the Dutch National Archives, the National Archives at Kew and Leiden University. Last year the Dutch television made a series of documentaries about these letters which were detected thirty years ago in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty. On Thursday April 5, 2012, the Dutch KRO television started a second series featuring stories around selected letters, called Surfaced letters (“Brieven boven water”) (TV 2, 20.25 h.). The new series is worth attention. As a matter of fact some links in my 2011 post have changed, and this is an opportunity, too, to present the new links, and to expand on this international research project.

An unexpected letter collection

Britain and the Dutch Republic fought a number of wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. English privateers got letters of marque, licences from the High Court of Admiralty to capture Dutch vessels and everything aboard. The American War of Independence was another pretext for this looting activity. The High Court of Admiralty, more specifically its Prize Court, had to judge whether the capture had been done rightfully. Appeals from this court were heard by the High Court of Appeal for Prizes. The privateers were especially keen on getting log books and letters with information that might be of use to fight the Dutch enemy. The National Archives have created a fine research guide to the materials held in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty, including a very useful glossary of selected terms.

After the verdict on the cases the letters remained with the High Court of Admiralty, where some 38,000 letters gathered dust. A scholar in the field of maritime history detected the collection in the early eighties. In 2005 Roelof van Gelder started making an inventory of the letters. His report from 2005 – with a summary in English – has vanished from the Royal Library’s website, but can now be found at the website of the Dutch National Archives. Van Gelder published the book Zeepost: nooit bezorgde brieven uit de 17de en 18de eeuw [Seapost. Undelivered letters from the 17th and 18th century] (Amsterdam 2008; third edition, 2010) with a general introduction to the letters and a number of letters (in modified Dutch). The progress of the project and news are documented in the Nieuwsbrief Sailing Letters.

15,000 letters deal with private matters, and in particular these letters are used by the project team to study the development of the Dutch language, and to get a much more detailed insight into the language used by ordinary people. On the project website – both in Dutch and English – every month a letter is put in the spotlight. A number of books have appeared with either letters around a particular theme or studied from a specific angle. At Leiden a webpage of the project contains an overview of these publications. The National Archives in The Hague have put together a more recent list of relevant literature.You might check for more in the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History. The database for the sailing letters has recently moved from a server at the Dutch Royal Library to a server at the Dutch National Archives, in The Hague literally located next door to each other. A selection of remarkable letters is presented and commented on online.

A television series around captivating letters

Both series by KRO television are presented by Derk Bolt, in my country known as the anchorman of a very successful program in which he helps people to find lost relatives and relations. Almost inevitably something of the somewhat romantic – at its worst sometimes outright melodramatic – atmosphere of that program is present in both historical series, too. This is reinforced by the choice in the program to try to deliver the letters to present-day relatives of the original letter writers or addressees, and to trace their lives. The main objective seems certainly to bring in a way a historical version of the contemporary program. However, it is to the credit of Derk Bolt that he remains as calm and clear as ever. The drama is in the eyes and mind of the public. If you have missed the two installments of the 2011 series or the new series, you can view them at the KRO’s special website for the program.

In the first installment of the 2011 series the very discovery of the letters in 1980 by S.P.W.C. (Sipke) Braunius is briefly narrated. Braunius did research on the history of corporal punishments as a part of maritime law. Looking for documentation about the cruel punishment of keelhauling on Dutch navy vessels he went to the Ashridge Estate near London, where he found an immense unordered mass of letters, some of them damaged but for the most part still unopened. A few years later this find was transferred to the National Archives. Thus a legal historian was responsible for finding materials which are viewed mainly as the dream of linguists, a centuries spanning corpus of primary materials for the colloquial use of a language.

It is clear the letters shed lots of unexpected light on daily life from the second half of the seventeenth century until the end of the eighteenth century, but it is also possible to combine them with the records about the captured vessels. The detective work needed to accomplish studies using both these letters and the fate of the ships, their crews and cargos is surely a challenge, but it is so much more rewarding than viewing them only as a source only of interest for linguists and genealogists. They are right to rejoice about this massive collection, but others have every chance to get their rewards from the use of these sources.

Legal historians wanting to go this path will have to make themselves familiar with maritime law and history, and to find the way in the particular journals and monographs of these disciplines. I will not try here to present a guide to Dutch maritime law in a nutshell, but the least I can do is point you to the online catalogue of the materials in eleven Dutch maritime museums at Maritiem Digitaal. At this portal you will also find links to three blogs on maritime history. The links selection on this website with an interface in Dutch, English, French or German is very generous.

A postscript

On April 12, 2012, the second installment of the new television series did redress the balance a bit between the focus on genealogy and the context of the people at sea. The second part of this installment featured the story of Martinus Bruno, crew member of the ship Het Wapen van Hoorn, whose deposition in 1672 for the High Court of Admiralty was commented upon by Anne Goldgar (King’s College London). Bruno stayed in England. The second tv series consists of six installments (Thursday, Nederland 2, 20.25 h.).

A second postscript

On October 8, 2012 the Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology (Amsterdam) launches the website Gekaapte brieven, www.gekaaptebrieven.nl (Looted Letters) with a few thousand transcribed letters. Dr. Nicoline van der Sijs, a renown linguist, has guided 110 volunteers in transcribing the letters. The online database and images will also facilitate research for legal historians. Interestingly, not only letters in Dutch will be published online. Letters in English, German, Danish, Spanish and Italian are announced as well.

Making an impression: more about museums and legal history

Last month’s post about museums and legal history cried out for a sequel, and not only because I launched the post at first in a rather unfinished state. Since that moment I have tightened some loose ends, and even better, I have added some institutions to my list in statu nascendi of museums for legal history. While working on it and by chance also at other moments it became clear that these museums suffer competition from commercial organizations which simply want to attract as much public as possible and to get money out of the appetite for sensational objects. A news item helped to get a better focus for this side of the subject.

Law and sensation

Any quiz master would rule the question “Which kind of law will attract attention most easily?” out of court, because the answer will come too readily. The additional questions “Specify a particular period” and “Can you mention at least one aspect?” go the same way. Criminal law, medieval law and torture are a kind of eternal golden braid. I bumped into this silly wisdom when I wanted to add a number of museums which show instruments of torture. In fact a number of more general museums concerning legal history, in particular old prisons, do show them also, but a select number of museums is devoted solely to these instruments of terror. It dawned upon me all of a sudden my own country does indeed have not four, but five museums for legal history. I had forgotten about the Torture Museum in Amsterdam. While searching for more museums devoted to this subject I ran into the Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum at Rüdesheim am Rhein, but also into the travelling exhibitions of the Museo della Tortura in San Gimignano.

Showing the history of torture is something else than showcasing the most hideous objects, and even presenting a selection of them on tour. In my March post I benefited from the use of the English Wikipedia to find more jail and prison museums, but the people’s online encyclopedia does not stop at that point. To the torture museums listed the English Wikipedia adds references to articles on a number of torture museums which do not rank in the same league. The Dungeons firm is a chain of tourist attractions at Amsterdam, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London and York with historical objects with more or less pertinence to criminal law from several periods, mainly aiming at children and their parents who are willing to have a ghastly experience or even a scary day! History is here a pretext for gloating over the terrors of the past with on the back of your mind the firm conviction that our times know better, and telling the kids it is only a museum with rewards afterwards for their perseverance.

At least one museum seems to bring together the best of two worlds. The Galleries of Justice Museum at Nottingham presents its fair share of tours with actors playing out stories of crime and punishment, but its educational department cooperates also with the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law for more serious forms of education. By all means I do not want to spoil the joy of a family going to a place with more or less grisly aspects, almost poking fun at terrors long tamed, but it is not as innocent as it once could have seemed.

Facing the history of human rights and violence

The very opposite of these attractions, however, too, are not completely museums presenting objects and stories in a detached and objective way. Human rights are the unifying theme at a surprisingly large number of museums. There are at least two worldwide federations of them, the Federation of International Human Rights Museums and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and IC MEMO, the ICOM committee for museums and memorials for the victims of public crimes, should be added to them. Political correctness can be a strong force at work in these institutions dedicated to document some of the greatest crimes that have been committed in recent history. How to choose a particular subject avoiding a too general approach? How to avoid choosing a subject which excludes too obviously other subjects that would merit a museum? How to avoid sterile musealisation, the false objectivity and alienation of objects and a story, and showing instead the often confusing realities in which very different people lived? These questions arise around the project for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but they apply of course elsewhere, too.

The sting is indeed in the adjective recent. Violation of the integrity of humans, grave disrespect to the rule of law, indiscriminate acts of violence still happen. Today four French organizations, among them Amnesty France, published a joint press statement expressing their satisfaction about the prohibition of a proposed auction of the collection of torture instruments collected by Fernand Meyssonier, a former executioner who had been active in Algeria between 1957 and 1962. The organizations held a plea to buy this collection for a national museum or similar institution. Meyssonnier executed nearly 200 people. ACAT France, a French Christian movement against torture and the death penalty, states flatly that in every second country of the world torture is used. In 2011 ACAT France published a grim report on torture in 23 countries called Un monde tortionnaire, a world of torture.

Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer published last year their study Soldaten : Protokolle vom Kämpfen, Töten und Sterben [Soldiers. Protocols of fighting, killing and dying] (Frankfurt am Main, 2011), already translated into Spanish, Finnish and Dutch, about the tapes of German soldiers imprisoned in England during the Second World War talking about their war experience and doings. From these materials the authors come to a devastating conclusion: ordinary people can become killing machines. This conclusion goes a long way to rebut answers pointing to other times, other countries and other cultures or solely to those in command. The beast is asleep within us.

Therefore I can resist the temptation to add any image to this post, even if imagination really does not totally capture the reality of an aspect of legal history that is also today’s reality in too many places around the world. The connection of violence with law is perhaps the most compelling argument for lawyers and historians, and in fact for anyone with a mind for real life to see legal history as a vital component of their disciplines, to be neglected only at their own peril. Violence is part of the image of law. Museums and institutions which try to document and to portray the most appalling stories of mankind can help us to face these stories, and not those places which make only attractions out of them.