Category Archives: Exhibitions

Legal history on display

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

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 Books, historical documents and records are the main items shown in these online exhibitions as objects of interest and importance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pirates, a sequel

You could have placed a bet on it: a post on pirates mentioning pirate movies inevitably will get a sequel! Just creating a postscript to last week’s post would have been a possibilty but for the length of that post. Here I offer only some additions to restore a certain imbalance and to bring some information about a few obvious gaps.

  • Esquemelins De Americaensche zee-roovers (Amsterdam 1678), the first edition in Dutch of this classic book, can be consulted online at the library of the University of Virginia.
  • Spanish resources were scarcely mentioned in my post. Using for instance the Hispana portal to digitized sources from the Spanish cultural heritage brings already substantial results. Old and modern books on pirates are abundantly present in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.
  • Pirates have different names in European languages. In English one encounters for example privateers, buccaneers, filibusters and pirates. Germans write about Piraten and Kaperei. The Barbary corsairs are in German Rifpiraten. The French words corsaire and piraterie come as no surprise. The Dutch word kaper stands also for a kind of cap, a rather different thing. When searching in the Memory of the Netherlands you will meet both kind of kapers. You will find these caps also in the database for Dutch probate inventories between 1600 and 1900 of the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam.
  • I did not at all mention pirates in classical Antiquity. Fik Meijer, not only a renown historian of antiquity but also a maritime archaeologist and an avid diver, writes in De Middellandse Zee. Een persoonlijke geschiedenis [The Mediterranean, a personal history] (Amsterdam 2010) also about piracy. Meijer is also one of the editors of the 2010 exhibition catalogue Sail Rome! De koopvaardij in de Romeinse tijd [Sail Rome! Naval commerce in Roman times] of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. Medieval images of ancient pirates, in fact medieval views of pirates, are for example present in manuscripts at the Dutch Royal Library and the Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, both in The Hague. Their combined image database can be searched using Iconclass. You will find for example an image in a manuscript with Plutarch’s life of Pompey. Manuscripts of both institutions can also be seen at a second manuscript website.

Writing about illuminated manuscripts and their digital presence  is tempting, but you can find wonderful online guides to them. Clearly much more can be said about pirates: more is present online, more can be found in print, but let’s leave the pirates for today. Good luck in following the traces of pirates in history!

A postscript

Karen Tani points at the Legal History Blog to a review by Bruce Buchan of several recent books on law and empire, among them Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations (New York 2009).

Pirates in past and present

Searching for subjects to write about on this blog and looking back at the themes I have chosen until now it might seem I prefer the sunny side of legal history. My post on the inquisition can be regarded as an exception. The question of themes is more poignant when I consider what I can write about or add to subjects like slavery, genocide, discrimination, child abuse and abuse of political power. Do these themes not also have a substantial importance for today? Is it not very justifiable to show connections between the past and the present in the field of legal history?

Just when I wanted to ponder this question in more depth I found a subject that nicely shows two sides of the same coin, the perennial attraction and fascination of a subject, and its very real importance for the world’s economy and the international legal order. Who has not been all ears and attention when reading about pirates or seeing a movie about them? Every generation finds in books and on screen its own image of the age of piracy. No doubt a lot of Dutch readers share with me the memory of Paddeltje, de scheepsjongen van Michiel de Ruijter by Johan Been, and some might remember my favourite, Pieter Straat, scheepsjongen van De Halve Maen by Anthony van Kampen. Cabin-boy Paddeltje met both the Dunkirkers and the Barbary corsairs. Pieter Straat sailed aboard the ship of a pirate captain who could have been the archetype for the Flying Dutchman. Of course the subjects of intellectual property and radio pirates could make their appearance here, but let’s stick here with the original pirates.

Digital collections and pirates

When I blogged in December about early editions of works by Hugo Grotius I mentioned De iure praedae, Grotius’ commentary on booty from 1608, however without any comment on the practice of pirates, privateers, buccaneers and filibusters nor paying attention to the fine distinctions between self-made pirates and those privateers working with letters of marque, not to mention the regional variants. The pirates of the Caribbean are a different stock than the pirates who thrived in the Channel or the Mediterranean. Doing research on them is not made easier by the way their names differ radically according to the language one speaks and reads.

Bringing texts and materials together in different languages is the great merit of the digital library on piracy trials presented by the Library of Congress. The world’s largest library has digitized not only accounts of historic trials of pirates before 1923, but also a number of juridical books on piracy and maritime law against pirates written in English, French, German and Dutch. The accounts of the trials are almost all in English. Where can one find more materials? For Dutch maritime history my thoughts turned to the project Maritiem Digitaal, a digital portal to the collection of eleven Dutch maritime museums, among them the Maritiem Museum in Rotterdam and the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam. I felt rather disappointed when their websites yielded only a few meagre results. However, the 2010 yearbook of the Maritiem Museum focuses on piracy, Kapers & piraten, schurken of helden?, edited by Joost Schokkenbroek and Jeroen ter Brugge (Zutphen 2010) .

The Memory of the Netherlands with over a hundred digital collections brought me at first only to the radio pirates of the sixties! Searching for kapers instead of piraten (pirates) is the easy solution to find more here. The British National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has rich holdings in books on piracy, but there are no books in their digital collections which do bring you to many interesting objects. The Europeana digital library yields better results, but clearly they stem not from institutions for maritime history. A nice harvest of images featuring pirates is to be found in the digital gallery of the New York Public Library. The online catalogue of the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum is called Corsair after Pierpont Morgan’s yacht, and this library has indeed materials concerning or mentioning pirates. The Morgan’s image database with 15,000 images from medieval and renaissance manuscripts accompanying Corsair brings you to just one medieval image of a pirate.

It is no coincidence that the imagery of pirates conveyed by images and movies succeeds in attracting my attention. The Library of Congress, too, definitively realized this when launching a three-dimensional presentation of one of the classic books on piracy, De Americaensche zee-roovers by Alexander Olivier Esquemelin (Amsterdam 1678) under the title The Buccaneers of America. The portraits of pirates in this volume are so wonderful, the accompanying translation so useful and the way of turning over the pages so enticing that I almost did not notice one does not have here a digitized version of the whole book. The presentation is part of a larger online exhibition on Exploring the Early Americas with books and objects from the Jay I. Kislak collection. More items on piracy from this collection are featured in an interesting online exhibition from 2002 at the Miami-Dade Public Library System entitled Reefs, Wrecks and Rascals: The Pirate Legacy of the Spanish Main.

The multinational digital libraries for the Caribbean might be a first port of call for digitized books on the history of pirates in this region. Alas the Digital Library of the Caribbean contains only a few titles on this subject. Manioc yields more books, and this library in French on the Caribbean, the Amazone regions and the Guyanas, cleverly searches also in the Digital Library of the Caribbean and in Gallica. My search attempts in the Réseau francophone numérique, a project of fourteen national libraries, and in the Pacific Rim Digital Library, a project in which 25 libraries around the Pacific work together, brought me only few results.

Digital archives and piracy: letters at Kew and sites for the VOC

The digital collections of archives seem to bring us closer to the history of piracy than digital libraries. At Baltic Connections you can search in the finding aids of archives with holdings on the Baltic heritage between 1450 and 1800. From the seventeenth until the nineteenth century English privateers captured many Dutch vessels, their cargoes and luggage. Part of the loot now preserved at the National Archives in Kew in the archival collection of the High Court of Admiralty are some 40,000 letters in Dutch. They form a mine of information on life at sea and on the development of the Dutch language. The project Brieven als buit (Letters as loot) at Leiden University aims at studying and publishing this collection of sailing letters in cooperation with the Dutch Royal Library. Roelof van Gelder’s report from 2005 on these letters informs you about the rich variety of sources at Kew awaiting  further exploration.

The Institute for Dutch History in The Hague has created the database Dutch Asiatic Shipping with information on more than 8,000 voyages by ships of the Dutch East India Company (abbreviated as VOC). A first search in this database brings you to the story of six voyages on which encounters with pirates happened, but here surely more can be retrieved. The Atlas of Mutual Heritage presents thousands of images on the history of the Dutch East and West India Companies, including pictures of ships. On the Tanap website one can search in VOC documents, in inventories of archival collections concerning the VOC and in documents of the Cape of Good Hope, the supply station of the VOC. More websites on the VOC are listed at the VOC site.

Digital exhibitions

Some online exhibitions merit your attention as well, and even if some of them are rather small, their quality counts. Peddlers, Privates and Prostitutes. Subaltern Histories of Southeast Asia, 1800-1900 (Cornell Southeast Asia Program and Echols Collection, Cornell University Library) brings you to a journal kept by a pirate, On the Water (Smithsonian Institution) has a section on pirates in the Atlantic world, and Spoils of War. Privateering in Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management) presents digitized log books of three privateers. Written on Water. Literature of the Sea in the Age of Sail (Lilly Library, Indiana University) presents a small section on piracy with images of the first English translation from 1684 of Esquemelins book. Bucaniers of America gave birth to the English term buccaneer. The Lilly Library has a much larger online exhibition on Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. The National Geographic has created an online exhibition with further links on the wreck of the Whydah, a ship of pirates sunk in 1717. Piraten: Die Herren der Sieben Meere is an online exhibition of the Übersee-Museum in Bremen with navigation using a treasure chart which shows this site aims mainly at children, but the information is sound.

Songs about pirates

Since letters show up already in this post, literature and music should not remain behind. The popular imagination of pirates was not only propelled by images and stories, but also by songs. In particular popular ballads featured pirates. At Revolution and Romanticism, a private collection of street literature held in Edmonton, Alberta, you can find a parody on Lord Byron’s The Corsair. The English Broadside Ballad Archive (University of California at Santa Barbara) contains ballads from the Pepys collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and the Roxburghe collection of the British Library; as for now I found already some ballads about pirates. I did not find yet anything relevant in the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads database. The Dutch song database of the Meertens Institute for Etnology and Folklore in Amsterdam contains at least ten items on pirates (kapers). One post cannot contain everything, so let me just remark in passing that when you search for pirates in image databases such as the one for French emblem books at Glasgow you should use the Iconclass code 44G56 to find your corsair or pirate.

Further sailing with pirates…

It’s time to end this voyage and to find harbors with more information on the history of piracy, both archival records and books. The Louisiana Digital Library attracted my attention with their records and documents on several pirates. The digital collections of the State Library of North Carolina contain among other documents a letter of marque from 1776; note also the collection of links. Stories that fired the popular imagination were printed in books with various titles commonly referred to as The Newgate Calendar. Trials of pirates supplies a nice number of piracy stories. There exists also a digitized version of a five-volume compilation of the Newgate Calendar edited in 1926, but the link to this edition at the Tarlton Law Library of the University of Texas at Austin has recently been removed, hopefully just temporarily. CityArk is a project of the Medway Council Archives Service which brings you to gifts by the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral to victims of the Barbary corsairs in the eighteenth century.

And now piracy in the present: the Digital Library of the Combined Arms Research Library in Fort Leavenworth offers not only digitized books and reports on modern pirates, but also on the history of piracy. The International Chamber of Commerce has established a piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the International Maritime Bureau. When finishing this post it was not by chance but really fitting to find a piracy research guide at The Competitive Edge, the blog of Cornell Law Library. That post mentions books and articles, something I did not include here, and I gladly refer you to it.

Since its launch in August 2010 many blogs have mentioned the digital collection of piracy trials at the Library of Congress , but I only noticed it this week at the Dutch forum for archives maintained with such zeal by Eric Hennekam. Not every item of interest for legal history is tagged at this forum, and thus I had overlooked it. I found a book review at the Steamthing blog of Caleb Crain very interesting, also because of his well stocked blogroll. After such a long post it is good to know the Dutch television broadcasts tonight one of this century’s favorite pirate movies!

Law, land and art

Law and the humanities, a subject likely to show up on my blog. However, this post has not as its first objective praising seminars on Law and Humanities, nor is it my goal to push anybody to start reading Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, though this is certainly a good idea. I hesitated myself when art came into my view for a post on legal history, but in fact a work of art was already a central element of my latest post.

This time I want to write about art objects with legal power. Kings and emperors had their sceptres, often beautifully crafted, and now often on display in museums around the world. However, the art objects to be discussed here empower people. They express their claim to lands that in times beyond written memory belonged to them.

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht at the Oudegracht

In 2001 the Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht (AAMU) was founded, the only museum in Europe which specializes in works of aboriginal art. Apart from its own collection the AAMU houses an art gallery. The AAMU held in 2005 an exhibition titled Law and Land. Art of the Spinifex People, which until then had been on tour through Australia. The Spinifex People who live in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia decided in the nineties of the last century to put forward a land claim. To support it they created in 1998 two Native Title Paintings, interestingly one by men and one by women. In 2001 the Western Australian Government accepted under the Spinifex Land Agreement the claim of the Spinifex People as decided by the Federal Court of Australia (FCA 1717; November 28, 2000).

Exhibition catalogue "Law and Land"

A fragment of The Women's Native Title Painting

The area of land to which the Spinifex Land Agreement applies covers 55,000 square kilometers, almost twice the size of The Netherlands. The concept behind the native title paintings is well-known thanks to Bruce Chatwin’s novel The Songlines (1987), a masterful evocation of the Australian landscape, Aboriginal culture and its struggle to survive in modern Australia. The Aboriginal people described in songs kept secret to outsiders in sometimes minute detail the landscape of their country. Perhaps one should think of the title paintings more as evocations than of straightforward representations of geographical elements. The Spinifex Native Title Paintings lead in 2001 to the start of the Spinifex Foundation which promotes the arts.

The Spinifex people had to leave the northern part of their land in the fifties because of British nuclear testing. This made it difficult for them to show continuous habitation following normal procedures for land claims. The 2000 agreement does not apply to the natural resources found in the region during the twentieth century, and thus for instance the rights of mining companies are not touched by it.

The Spinifex Native Title Paintings form a landmark in Australia’s legal history equal to the first admission of aboriginal documents in 1963, the Yirkalla bark petitions. In the late eighteenth century the view came into existence that Australia was terra nullius, land belonging to nobody, and this doctrine held sway for over two centuries. Only in 1992 the Mabo Case put an end to this doctrine (HCA 23; 175 CRL 1 (June 3, 1992)) in which verdict the concept of native title was recognized.

Much more can be said about the rights of the Aboriginal people and other indigenous Australian people. When I added some Australian addresses to my link collection of digital libraries it dawned upon me that some Australian things just happen to be in Utrecht, near at hand. The AAMU is worth a visit, although I could not help remembering immediately Chatwin’s description of Australian artists because of the presence of an art gallery. While musing about Chatwin’s view it would do more justice to say that people can be as versatile as the Australian Spinifex plant (Triodia pungens) which can be used in several ways. In order to survive in a desert, and more specific in the Nullarbor region, you simply have to be able to cope with different situations in different ways. Making traditional culture and land survive can call for unorthodox methods. Using art as an argument in law calls for fresh thinking, and this post is only meant as a glimpse of more. Anyway, today I liked to think about the desert on a particular rainy and stormy day.

Young and old

How can one bring life to legal history? How to find young people able to develop an interest in a subject is a perennial question for any discipline. Some people happen to know at a very early stage in their life what profession they will choose, others find their specialism with more difficulty. At school and university it is not just the subjects taught that will ignite a sparkle, but more often just one teacher or professor whose approach and personality makes you happy to go for one particular subject.  Thinking about your initial choice, even after many years, you will remember her or him, and smile because of memories rekindled. The sheer enthusiasm, the inimitable gestures, the way of putting questions to you, and so much more influence you for the rest of your life.

I have a soft spot for the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Mike Widener, its librarian and chief contributor to the blog, published on May 4 a post about letters with questions and remarks from children who had recently visited the library with their school class. Earlier this year Widener received a number of medievalists who visited the exhibition on reused fragments of medieval manuscripts used as bindings in old legal books. The Yale blog presents the items put on exhibition. Some of the fragments need further identification: sometimes the exact nature of the text is not yet fully clear, and for other items the provenance poses riddles. If you like you can help solving questions of this kind.

Of course showing young children historical materials is not the only way to kindle historical interest. The story of this visit is very much also a story of curiosity, of questions asked without any educational or professional blockades, of remarks which make you think again. In my opinion confronting people with a rather different world than their own, a world that partly belongs to the past, and yet a world with real people, is one of the major tasks of history. It can set us free to look again at what seems unchangeable, at what seems modern, at what seems dead or forgotten. It can indeed show us our prejudices and other weaknesses. Any sensible contribution to fulfill this task is very much welcome.

Lex scripta

Lex scripta, “written law”, a thing you would almost take for granted. Our medieval ancestors coined the phrase quod non est in actis, non est in mundo, “what is not noted in acts, does not exist in the world”. Written evidence started to become the only evidence admitted in court, yet oral proceedings and oral pleading exist until today. I could continue musing on this theme, but today I would like to bring something else to your attention. Thanks to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, affectionately abbreviated to Penn Libraries, you can now find the digital proceedings of the second Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, held October 30-31, 2009, under the title Lex Scripta: The Manuscript as Witness to the History of Law.

In the proceedings of this two-day symposium edited by Lynn Ransom you will find papers by Abigail Firey, Edward Peters, Kathleen E. Kennedy and Susan L’Engle on medieval manuscripts. Jonathon Brockopp discusses early Islamic legal manuscripts -alas there is not yet a PDF of his and L’Engle’s presentations- and Georg Vogeler writes about the forms of presenting charters online. Timothy Stinson reports on the concluding panel discussion concerning the digitization of medieval legal documents. Hugh Cayless addresses the subject of open licensing and images of medieval manuscripts.

The symposium last year was also held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Henry Charles Lea, the great historian of the medieval inquisition, whose library has been held since 1926 by Penn Libraries. At the symposium Edward Peters discussed Lea’s early work and his views on medieval canon law. Speaking of medieval canon law: it is never too late to visit the new website of ICMAC, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio or International Society of Medieval Canon Law, launched last February at the University of Toronto!

Another vast subject of legal history is touched upon by many of the digital exhibitions also presented on the website of Penn Libraries at their Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Jewish law is one of the main subjects in the Judaica Online Exhibitions. This last section, too, helps to confirm the merits of the plural name Penn Libraries. Let’s not forget to mention the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) with information on manuscripts from the Schoenberg collection and the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, the enterprise to bring together information on the sales and presents whereabouts of medieval manuscripts.

An addendum: these digital proceedings are really not the only materials concerning medieval canon law now available online. In particular The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is worth visiting.

A second addendum : Jörg Erdmann wrote a study called “Quod est in actis, non est in mundo”. Päpstliche Benefizialpolitik im sacrum imperium des 14. Jahrhundert (Tübingen 2006) published by the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome. At the DHI website you can find statistical appendices to his book.

Yet another postscript: some images accompanying Kenneth Pennington’s lecture Legal Manuscripts and Books in Cyberspace can be found at his own website.

Centers of legal history: the Robbins Collection

First of all an apology: I have been just too busy this month with other activities and duties, including work on my new website, to publish new posts on this blog. Today’s post might offer you some solace…

The Robbins Collection

Perhaps you know already about the Robbins Collection at Boalt Hall, the library for legal history of the University of California at Berkeley. This library started in 1952. In 1970 Stephan Kuttner, the founder of the Institute of Medieval Canon Law, now in Munich, became its director. The Robbins Collection with over 300,000 volumes is not just one collection, it brings together collections on civil law, religious law and comparative law. One of its strengths is the collection of European law books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. In the field of religious law you will find not only works on canon law, the law system of the Catholic church, but also on Jewish and Islamic law. The Robbins Collection offered from 1970 a fitting surrounding for David Daube, the most versatile scholar of legal history of his generation. For Daube no boundaries existed between research on history, law systems and religions: the essays in the commemorative issue from 2004 of the online journal Roman Legal Tradition will give you some idea of the sheer width of Daube’s research. The Robbins Collection has its own publication series in which the collected articles of Daube have been published. On the website of the library you get an impression of some of the books in the rich collections: there are online exhibitions on The Medieval Law School and The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition; you can also consult the manuscript and incunables catalogue online. Manuscripts from the collections can be seen on the Digital Scriptorium, a website originally at Berkeley but recently moved to Columbia University, New York. The Robbins Collection organizes regularly conferences and lectures on legal history.

An addendum: thanks to Mike Widener I was alerted to another online exhibition at the website of the Robbins Collection, called Milestones in Legal Culture and Traditions which offers a general introduction to the various collections at Boalt Hall. It seems now I had simply overlooked the general link to the exhibits on the Robbins Collection website. A fourth exhibit from 2008 was held on Famous Trials and their Legacies.

Byzantium and law

Choosing a subject for the first post in 2010 took some time. It had to be connected in some way to Roman law. After some reflection Byzantium came to my attention, and again a exhibition forms my point of departure. The Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn presents “Byzanz: Pracht und Alltag” (Byzance, Luxury and Daily Life) from February 26 to June 13, 2010. If you have read for instance Judith Herrins Byzantium. The surprising life of a medieval empire (2007) you will realize once more the great historical importance of Byzantium and of Istanbul, the former Constantinople.

Those familiar with legal history will no doubt remember that thanks to Justinian, a Byzantine emperor, the Digestae was compiled, the great anthology of classical Roman law. Several online versions of it exist, including a version with several search functions at IntraText. The most important Byzantine legal book, the Basilika from the tenth century, is a translation of texts from the Digestae and the Codex Justinianus. A Dutch scholar from Groningen, Herman Jan Scheltema, published a critical edition of it (Basilicorum Libri LX (17 vol., Groningen 1953-1988)). The department of legal history at Groningen University has a proud tradition of research in Byzantine legal history. On their private (!) website for Byzantine law you can find out more about their scholarly and other activities, such as a small publishing company. Let me just mention that in 2009 the eight volume of the journal Subseciva Groningana has appeared. In the field of Byzantine law international cooperation is necessary. The Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte at Frankfurt am Main does not only publish its own Forschungen zur Byzantinischen Rechsgeschichte – and useful preprints of the second volume of the repertory of Byzantine legal manuscripts – but is with Groningen and other institutions active in an European network of scholars active in this discipline. Byzantine studies and Byzantine legal history are somewhat separate disciplines, and while recognizing their independence it would be wise not to let them drift too far from each other. Anyway, you can search for manuscripts with both legal and other texts in Greek using Pinakes: textes et manuscrits grecs, an online database of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes in Paris.

A postscript: at Frankfurt a number of sources for and books on Byzantine law have now been digitized, among both volumes of the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts (2005 and 2011).

Once in a life time…

As an historian I have been trained to regard the word unique with the greatest possible mistrust. Uniqueness in the past cannot be verified, and in the present too many things and events share the epitethon “unique”. Bearing this in mind I would like to write about a rather special exhibition at Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The fifteenth century book of hours of Catherine of Cleves, the duchess of Guelders, kept at the Pierpont Morgan Library of New York, has been lifted from its bindings. Thus it is possible to show several of the 158 surviving miniatures at the same time. It will not be an unique exhibition, because from Februay 5, 2010 on this beautiful manuscript will be shown in New York after its return. The uniqueness of the Nijmegen exhibition is the accompanying exhibition at the same museum near the Valkhof, a former Pfalz of the dukes of Guelders where the old chapel is said to date from the Carolingian age. It shows the duchess at her table. Her husband, Arnold of Egmond, made in 1451-1452 a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; a Venetian safe conduct for him has been preserved. Luckily accounts survive which show how and where the duchess lived during her regency, and in particular her expenses for food and cookery, registered by the ducal toll of Lobith. The price of her book of hours must have been an immense sum, surely the greatest expense of Catherine’s life. In the Stratemakerstoren near the river Waal, a sixteenth-century former rampart, a small exhibition is held on Catherine’s travels through the duchy of Guelders.

The Vereniging Gelre, the society for the history of Guelders, has been very active since its foundation in 1897. Its journal, de Bijdragen, and the Werken, its publication series, contain many contributions for the legal history of the duchy of Guelders and the province of Gelderland. The links page of this society’s website guide you to information on the parts of Guelders which are situated now in the province of Overijssel and Limburg, and also in Germany. The Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis has published a research guide to the archival records concerning the administrative, economic and social history of the counties Holland, Zeeland, Guelders and the diocese Utrecht by Michel van Gent and Marie-Charlotte Le Bailly, Gids voor de landsheerlijke archieven van Gelre, Holland, Zeeland en het Sticht. Bestuurlijke, economische en sociale geschiedenis voor 1500 (The Hague 2002). Many records for the history of Gelre are kept at the Gelders Archief in Arnhem. At the site of the Institute for Dutch History you will find an online database on the landdagen (diets and official meetings) of Guelders from 1423 to 1584, with digitized images of the records. Charters have been carefully edited in the eight volumes of the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, edited by E.C. Dijkhof, E.J. Harenberg and M.S. Polak  (The Hague 1980-2003).

For those unable to visit either Nijmegen or New York  a popular book has been published on the Catherine of Cleves Hours (available in Dutch, English and German), together with a book on her table expenses and travels – Ruud Priem (ed.), Op reis en aan tafel met Katherina van Kleef 1417-1476 (Nijmegen-Antwerpen 2009); only in Dutch – , and a splendid full catalogue on the exhibition (Rob Dückers, Ruud Priem (ed.), The Hours of Catherina of Cleves. Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (Antwerpen 2009); only in English). For some reason no images of this famous manuscript are shown on the remarkable Corsair website of the Morgan Library. Instead there is now a complete online digital version of the Catherine of Cleves Hours on the main website of the Morgan Library.  Among the over twenty thousand images from medieval and renaissance manuscripts on the Corsair website surely some will be of interest to you. You will find in the Morgan Library legal manuscripts and documents, too, for instance a Codex Justinianus, a Summa Institutionum, the Decretals of Gregory IX and the Clementinae, a Bolognese register of creditors, a Livre de gouvernement des rois et princes, Italian city statutes and a register of writs.

Books on medieval manuscripts are often announced on the e-journal Bifolium. The earlier printed version was founded by the late Jos Hermans, professor of paleography at Groningen University.

Spanning centuries, cultures and continents

The nice alliteration “a blog on this subject that spans centuries, cultures and continents” in my first post made me worry a bit to fall dreadfully short of my promise. However, when I saw the web presence of the Harvard Law School Library I guessed my confidence would be rewarded. In fact, one can select interesting subjects at random. Let’s make a short tour and restrict it to the digital collections. The partnership with the Ames Foundation for Bracton Online and the English Year Books is perhaps the best known digital activity of the HLSL. I was genuinely surprised by the twenty digitized scrolls from the Japanese manuscript collection that spans the period 1158-1591, acquired in 1936. Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. is present, too, of course. By far the greatest project here is the collection of documents of the Nuremberg Trials Project. Those looking for images will applaud Legal Portraits Online, a 4,000 picture collection of lawyers and political theorists. When I saw the link to the French coutumes I knew for sure my own interest in medieval history and law would be satisfied: the HLSL has 600 editions of coutumes and twenty manuscripts. The digitized manuscript from around 1300 of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie is wonderful indeed! British crime broadsides from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, materials on the American Red Cross at work after the First World War, old library catalogues and a series of HLS class photos from 1875 to 2007: one post is just too short! I am sure to return to the HLSL’s website, and I will use alliteration more carefully.