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Tracing Brazil’s legal history

Four years ago the world championship for soccer in South Africa gave me a perfect occasion to look at some online resources for the legal history of South Africa and other African countries. Looking beyond the lines of soccer proved to be interesting indeed. Only after watching many games of this year’s championship in Brazil the idea of writing about Brazil’s legal history surfaced at long last. In this post I will present a number of online resources for Brazilian legal history, and I will comment on some existing online guides for the history of Brasil. The result is a research guide which at turns can seem too long and at other points too compact.

For everybody interested in contemporary Brasil there are several excellent online guides. I would place the Brazilian page of the Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC) at the University of Texas at Austin first. The LANIC offers a separate page on Brasil’s government, law and politics. The Library of Congress has a splendid webpage on Brazilian law and resources for research, and also a compact overview of legal resources concerning the República Federativa do Brasil. The World Legal Information Institute, too, has a very detailed overview of Brazilian legal resources. Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute offers on the page for Latin America a useful standardized links list to legal and judicial institutions, including those for Brasil. The very detailed page for Brasil at Globalex (New York University) has not been updated since 2008. The Latin American Collection of Yale University Library provides a very generous general online guide to Latin American Studies. I would recommend in particular the online guide Pesquisa no Brasil / Researching Brazil, a project of the University of Indiana, Bloomington.

Brasiliana online

Where to start for finding digital resources for Brazil’s legal history? For this post I could start with the websites I put together during the past years on the page with digital libraries of my own legal history portal Rechtshistorie. The challenge for me when creating this page was to offer not just a few websites easily found by using the world’s major search engines. Instead of just a links list I add to every link concise information about content and scope of a website. It can be a considerable effort to find relevant resources for a particular country. Some Latin American countries still do not figure at all on this page. The lacunae are made somewhat smaller by including also a number of websites and projects dealing with Latin America in general. It is useful to start with them here.

The best starting point for looking at Brazil’s legal history might be the impressive Portal Euroamericano de Historia y Antropología Jurídica, an initiative at the Universidad de Girona. This portal to legal history for the Iberian peninsula and Latin America has interfaces in Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese and English. However, the digital library at this portal has only four titles concerning Brazil, and with just two links to university departments in Brasil the links selection is distinctly meagre. The University of Maryland has created the Early Americas Digital Archive, with both its own archive of digitized texts and a gateway to online texts by authors writing about North and South America from 1492 to 1820.

The historical constitutions of many Latin American countries can conveniently be found at Constituciones Hispanoamericanas, a part of the Spanish portal Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, with also a section devoted to legal history and jurisprudence. However, Belize, Brasil, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana are excluded at this portal for Latin American constitutions. If you prefer reading the English translations of these constitutions you can quickly find the major portals for online constitutions using the same page of my website, The Constitution Finder of the University of Richmond Law School has not only the Brazilian constitutions of 1824, 1891, 1934, 1946, 1967 and 1988, most of them in Portuguese, but also the current constitutions of the estados that form the Federal Republic of Brasil. At Verfassungen der Welt you can also find the 1822 constitution of the united kingdoms of Portugal and Brasil (1815-1822). The portal Legislación Histórica de España created by the Ministério de Cultura, Madrid offers a database with digitized Iberian and Latin-American legislation, but countries outside the Spanish empire are excluded. At Bicentenario de las Independencias Iberoamericanas, a website created by the portal for Spanish archives for the bicentennials of the independence of several Latin American countries, Brasil has been included. For nearly ninety institutions information is provided about their archives and the resources concerning the Brazilian independence (1822).

Let’s not be deterred by some projects which were only less useful for this specific subject, and continue this overview. The Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano is a project of the Biblioteca Nacional de España and several national libraries in Latin America, with mainly manuscripts, drawings and old maps; Brasil’s Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro contributes some 19,000 items. This portal can be viewed in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The German gateway Cibera, Virtual Library Latin-America/Spain/Portugal, is very useful for any research on Latin American subjects; here, too, you can choose your language, German, English, Spanish or Portuguese. Its subdomain Iberolinks offers a guide to relevant websites, with some 260 websites for Brasil. The Latin American Pamphlet Digital Collection of the Widener Library, Harvard University, is one of the few digital collections presenting digitized pamphlets from this region.

With the portal Memórias de África e do Oriente we are finally sailing directly into the history of the former Portuguese colonial empire. Alas the project team could not get a specialist for Brazil, which clearly led to a rather thin Brazilian presence. Africa is the focus of this project at the Universidade de Aveiro. At this portal you will have to search for Brasil among the more general resources. A notable exception are the five volumes of the Monumenta Brasiliae, Serafim Leite (ed.) (5 vol., Rome 1956-1968), a source edition for the history of the Jesuits in sixteenth-century Brazil. Of course the Biblioteca Nacional Digital of the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal in Lisbon should not be forgotten, if only already for the digitized maps and images. Among the several Portuguese digital libraries the website Ius Lusitaniae of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa offers a relatively small but useful selection of historical legislation and other legal works which also touch the Portuguese overseas empire.

Digital collections in Brasil

Logo Biblioteca Nacional DigitalThe Brazilian Biblioteca Nacional has created a large Biblioteca Nacional Digital. Apart from digitized books you can also follow themes in a series of dossiers, in particular A França no Brasil / La France en Brésil. The cultural heritage portal Rede da Memória Virtual Brasileira is a general portal for digitized heritage, with initially only among the political items some subjects related to law and justice. As a Dutchman I was nicely surprised by the page on the Dutch period in Brasil centering on Pernambuco Holandes. You can find here a digitized copy of Caspar van Baerle ‘s (Barlaeus) illustrated book Rerum per octennium in Brasilia (…) gestarum (Amsterdam: Blaeu, 1647) about the Dutch presence in Brasil during the second quarter of the seventeenth century, one of the most important early historical accounts by a European author. Together with the Brazilian national library the Library of Congress has created the bilingual portal United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures / Brasil e Estados Unidos: Expandindo Fronteiras, Comparando Culturas which brings you to digitized books, maps, prints, and much more. Here, too, the Dutch period comes into view. The Universidade de São Paulo has created Brasiliana USP, a general digital library with some juridical works, but you can also use Obras Raras e Especiais, the digital library for rare and old books of this university. You can find here for instance the issues for 120 years (1893-2013) of the legal review Revista da Faculdade de Direito de São Paulo.

Several Brazilian parliamentary and judicial institutions have created digital libraries, too. The Câmara dos Deputados has got a Biblioteca Digital with a section for obras raras, rare books. The Suprema Tribunal Federal, the Brazilian constitutional court, has not only its own digital library, but also the Julgamentos Históricos, a selection of verdicts pronounced by this tribunal starting in 1891, and also for the Supremo Tribunal da Justiça (1829-1891) and the Casa da Suplicação (1808-1829). The Supremo Tribunal da Justiça is the supreme Brazilian court for non-constitutional matters, with again its own Biblioteca Digital. Another digital library, the Biblioteca Digital do Superior Tribunal de Justiça, contains also information from its own museum. The Senado Federal, Brazil’s senate, has a digital library and a digital collection of its debates; unfortunately the digitized series of the Anais do Senado Federal has got lacunae.

Header Códiigo Brasiliense

Outside Brasil some libraries offer very substantial digital collections concerning the history of Brazilian law and government. The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University has digitized its copy of the rare Código Brasiliense, a three-volume collection of Brazilian laws printed between 1811 and 1822. In the Internet Archive this library has placed some 1,600 titles of their Portugal and Brasil collection. The ordering at the Internet Archive of the collections from the John Carter Brown Library is very practical. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago has created the collection Brasilian Government Documents, with provincial and presidential reports, presidential messages and the Almanak Laemmert, the yearly guide of the Brazilian government. The CRL has more materials for Brasil’s legal history. Within the LAMP project (formerly known as the Latin American Microform Project) materials concerning Brasil take a large place. The guide to LAMP collections mentions the Abdias Nascimento Collection. The archival collection of this artist, scholar and politician has been digitized at Ipeafro, the Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro-Brasileiro at Rio de Janeiro.

A grim note is struck by the project Brasil-Nunca Mais (Never Again) which documents in 538 microfilm reels court documents about the trials against civilians at the Superior Tribunal Militar, the Brazilian Military Supreme Court, between 1964 and 1979. During detention torture was used among other humiliating and inhuman forms of treatment which violated human rights. The project website gives access to a substantial number of digitized records about these trials and violations.

The Brazilian digital libraries mentioned until now are almost all present at my website. On the page for museums and legal history I included the Museo do Crime at the Academia de Policia in São Paulo. At the moment of creation of that page I could not find a functioning website for this museum. In fact there are both a Museo do Crime and a Museu de Policia Civil, with alas for both no website. However, the Museo do Crime is present at Facebook.

At this point it is wise to note that more than hundred Brazilian digital libraries and repositories are harvested by BASE, the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine with now well over 3000 contributing institutions. You will forgive me my smile when I visited a website with the proud title Guide to the legal history of Brasil, an offspring of Law of Brasil. The guide with just one page gives only an overview of the distinct periods of Brasil’s history since the Independence of 1822, without any reference to sources in print or online. The mobile app LookHistória gives you nearly more. The constitutional changes in Brasil, starting with the constitution of 1824, are very important. Brasil changed from an empire into a republic, followed by a military dictatorship after the 1964 coup, and again a republic.

Online guidance for pesquisadores no Brasil

Header Nuevo Mundo

From an earlier post here I remembered an online guide for doing Latin American research in Paris. The online journal Nuevo Mundo / Mundos Nuevos exists since 2001. On its website, accessible in four languages, much more is offered than just a regular online journal. The Guia del investigador americanista, the section with online guides started in 2006. Here I will focus on those guides directly relevant for Brasil. Of course it is wise to look also at guides to resources in major European and American cities, but including them here would take too much space. When you choose the guide for research in Amsterdam (2009) you should remember that you can find much at Leiden, too. After the first guide for Brasil in 2009, Fuentes para la historia colonial de Brasil en los archivos españoles by María Belén García López, a second guide edited by a team of authors, the Guia do pesquisador americanista no Brasil appeared in 2011,

NuevoMundo’s guide to resources for Brazilian history in Spanish archives is all that you can wish for such a guide. It offers lots of information about the fondos of a great number of archives, with an additional bibliography of guides and archival inventories. The links to the websites of these archives are not included, but you can find these and much more rapidly at the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES). PARES offers also online access to digitized archival records held at a number of major Spanish archives.

Logo Centro de Memória Amazônia

The 2011 guide at NuevoMundo gives a full treatment of a wide variety of cultural institutions and their holdings, including information about their virtual presence. A quick scan of its contents leads you to a small number of digital libraries and archival collections. The Centro do Memória de Amazônia in Belém has digitized documents from some 130 inquisitorial procesos held between 1536 and 1821. The second digital library with historical resources has been created by the Biblioteca Octávio Ianni of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). The section Obras Raras of the Biblioteca Digital da UNICAMP contains 44 titles of travel accounts and historical works, among them Barlaeus’ book from 1647.

A third guide at NuevoMundo focuses on research facilities in Rio de Janeiro. In 2012 Sílvia Capanema P. de Almeida and Anaïs Fléchet published their online guide in French, Guide du chercheur américanista à Rio de Janeiro. A single example should show the merits of this guide: the Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa focuses on the Brazilian lawyer, politician and author Rui Barbosa (1849-1923); a number of his manuscripts is kept at the Academia Brasileira de Letras. The foundation’s website has a section with the Obras Completas of Rui Barbosa, but you can find here much more.

Logo Memórias Reveladas

NuevoMundo puts you even more in debt with their Americanist Links selection, with a generous variety of archives, libraries, research institutions, journals, blogs and other websites. Here I spotted the website Memórias Reveladas (Memories revealed) documenting political strife in Brasil between 1964 and 1985. Its database is hosted by the Arquivo Nacional. The Brazilian national archive has also created the base de dados Acervo Judiciário do Arquivo Nacional. The Dutch period in Brazilian history will eventually be covered by the Arquivo Nacional in an online Guia de fontes para a história da Holanda e dos holandeses no Brasil, which you can consult in five languages, including Dutch. Alas this project seems not yet to have left its infancy. Anyway, the website of the Arquivo Nacional brings you at least to many other relevant links. Among the links listed at Nuevo Mundo I would like to mention the virtual exhibition Os Índios na Historia do Brasil and the REDIAL (Red Europea de Información y Documentación sobre América Latina). At the website of The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record (University of Virginia Library) you can find numerous images of slavery in Brasil.

Looking for more resources

How wide can you cast your net to find anything relevant and useful? The results of further searches for digital resources concerning Brasil surely do not fit in this post. The journal NuevoMundo has a companion blog, Nuevo Mundo Radar, with regular alerts to new projects and websites. An example to make you curious: at the Vanderbilt University the portal site Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies covers four countries. It has a substantial section with documents and maps from Brasil, and of course links to more projects, for instance within the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library.

Nuevo Mundo Radar gives me a welcome metaphor to describe the way it is possible to detect new digital resources. By the way, legal historians should know another radarlike web harvester, the Criminocorpus Radar for French criminal history. Actually both websites contain posts written by scholars. Only in sections with continous updates some automated functions (“bots”) bring you the latest information. By combining forces and by breaking through linguistic barriers it becomes possible to have a more global view of matters on a local, regional and national scale. Brasil is not far away anymore. Its history is in many ways connected to and influenced by Europe. The largest country of Latin America has a history and importance that deserves more attention.

A postscript

I received some nice reactons to this post. Some of them brought me back to soccer. The German law portal Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Recht at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz send out a tweet – @vifarecht – with the witty description weltmeisterisch for my words! During the championship Germany and my country triumphed over the Brazilian eleven. The Dutch proverbial saying goes that soccer is a play of eleven against eleven, and in the end Germany wins. I should honour German scholars by pointing to the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt and their graduate school for Ibero-American legal history, with its own newsletter, list community, and to start a webpage available in five languages. In the graduate school the institute works together with scholars from Argentina and Brazil. This year’s summerschool of the International School of Ius Commune at Erice (September 30-October 4, 2014), organized by the Università di Catania, has as its theme Spanish and Italian jurists and their work in the New World.

A panoramic view of English criminal law

Image of the country-house Oog in AlAs a child and teenager I visited weekly the branch of the public library in Utrecht in the old country-house Oog in Al, beautifully situated along the Leidsche Rijn. Reading books on all kind of subjects in a library with its round tower offering a wide view of its surroundings is a great source of inspiration to look around you as widely as possible. Everard Meyster (1617-1679), the nobleman who had built Oog in Al in 1666, gave a very particular name to his manor. Oog in Al means panorama, a spot with a 360 degree view of things. Meyster wanted to have a good look at his project for the extension of Utrecht with new suburbs. He also launched a plan to build a canal connecting Utrecht with the former Zuiderzee. Some of his more funny projects earned him the nickname “De Dolle Jonker”, the mad nobleman.

Logo The Digital Panopticon

Being able to view things from every direction is a dream of historians, too. Creating a histoire totale, a complete history of persons and events, aims at transcending the traditional borders of academic disciplines by posing questions from several angles, and by using not just one method to approach problems. The name The Digital Panopticon was chosen on purpose for the ambitious project to look in more depth and detail than ever before at British criminal history. The subtitle of the project, The global impact of London punishments, 1780-1925, shows the two focus points, local history on one side, global history at the other side. Five universities, four in the United Kingdom and one in Australia, cooperate in this four-year project (2013-2017).

The Digital Panopticon is at the heart of this post. The project itself is connected with a number of other digital projects which will figure here, too. Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield), the project manager and webmaster of The Digital Panopticon, has more cards up her sleeves. She has created a whole range of websites and blogs which merit attention here if only already for their own quality and range. Legal history might not always be the main subject of these initiatives, but you can benefit indeed from them for doing legal history.

Looking at The Digital Panopticon makes you think about other subjects in legal history as well. How about creating projects for other countries and fields of law following this example? Do current or past projects exist which resemble The Digital Panopticon in some aspects? These questions deserve an answer, but if I added my first thoughts about them this post would simply get too long.

Getting a complete view

The global nature of The Digital Panopticon is not something you can take for granted. You might as well guide your efforts solely to an analysis of the data available at the website of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the core of this project. By choosing a narrower period, 1780 to 1925, the project can deal in particular with those convicts sent into exile to Australia, hence the global dimension alluded to in the subtitle. The project team has developed three central questions touching first on the role and position of digital data for scientific research, secondly on the impact on people of incarceration and involuntary transportation, and thirdly on the impact and implications of digital history on public history and its ethics. These questions are being researched for seven main themes, starting with searching for patterns within digital data; noting the voices of men, women and children in the surviving testimonies; the relations between punishments and the course of ordinary life, the difference between convicts, free men and their offspring in committing offences; the interplay between nutrition, the general health situation and individual height and body mass and other factors dealt with by biometrics; the ways of representation of the criminal past in museums and in those institutions catering for a kind of dark tourism and heritage industry at former prisons and other places of the judicial system, and last but not least the ethics behind the massive digital presence of data concerning persons who lived in past centuries.

Linguistics, biometrics, the history of health, sociology and criminology are clearly present in the approaches and themes chosen for this major research project. As a legal historian I am glad the testimonies given by ordinary people get attention, too. Research into intergenerational patterns of behavior sounds also very interesting, as does research into the impact of offences and punishment on life course events. Giving attention to dealing with data sets with sometimes very personal information about members of still existing families links the past with the present where freedom of information, the access to personal files, and the protection of this information form a vital part of current public debate in many countries.

Logo First Fleet

However rich this variety of themes and subjects already is, you can probably do even more. For example, some time ago Frederik Pedersen (University of Sheffield) wondered about seasonal variations in litigation in ecclesiastical courts in the sixteenth century, more precisely in the York Cause Papers, but you can also ask this question for seasonal variations in punishments. The sheer mass of data in the Old Bailey Proceedings offer an opportunity to ask such questions. One of the obvious things to ask is which trends, variations or invariable outcomes you can distinguish when comparing offences for which people were not banished from England with those offences that led to other punishments. Even when you assume the punishments prescribed by laws or statutes did not change over long periods, the actual verdicts might have changed considerably. Can we detect change in judicial regime? What about the various prisons in London and their inmates? People sentenced by the Old Bailey formed only a minority of the people shipped to Australia. In December 2013 Sharon Howard wrote ‘Thinking about dates and data’,  a posting on the blog of The Digital Panopticon in which she reflects on the possibilities of using the various data sets to get a reliable picture of the people exiled to Australia, in particular those coming with the First Fleet in 1787.

It is easy to gather from the summary of the main research themes that researchers obviously can use resources which are already more or less ready for use. For example, at the University of Giessen a digital text corpus has been created from the data of the Old Bailey Proceedings which makes it possible to do linguistic research within the proceedings. Research into the health of convicts transported to Australia is facilitated by the project Founders & Survivors: Australian life courses in historical context, 1830-1920 created by historians, demographers, genealogists and population health researchers.

The Convict Transport Registers Database, accessible at the portal Connected Histories, contains 123,000 records of a total of 160,000 persons transported to Australia between 1787 and 1867 from the registers in the HO 11 series kept at the National Archives, Kew. An online research guide provided by the National Archives gives you guidance to a lot of relevant resources, some of them online. A second guide helps you specifically for researching people transported to Australia. You can either access London Lives 1690 to 1800 – Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis at its own website or use it through the portal Connected Histories. In the research guide for themes around and sources on crime and justice at this splendid portal the London bias of the resources is rightly pointed out. The digital resources of British History Online which do redress this imbalance to some extent, can be searched at Connected Histories, too. In the section Connections of Connected Histories you can find fine examples created by users of the way you can combine data on persons and connect the resources assembled at this portal. Its sheer size and variety, even after noticing some resources only to be used at subscribing institutions, is stunning, and I am hard pressed to find any digital history portal elsewhere with at least some of its contents and qualities. Linking records to a particular person depends on correct identification of people, and this makes research at Connected Histories not a straight forward affair.

One of the resources recently added to Connected Histories brings us to the very title of The Digital Panopticon. The transcriptions created by the crowdsourcing project for the papers of Jeremy Bentham, a part of the Bentham project at University College London, will become available here, too. On my blog I have written in 2011 a post about the Transcribe Bentham project. Bentham coined the use of the term panopticon for his famous model of a prison in which all prisoners can be seen by their guards from one point. However, in this new digital panopticon things seem almost reversed. You can look at prisoners from more than just one central perspective! By the way, some of the seven themes of the project have been the subject of postings here. In 2012 I wrote a post about museums and legal history in which I did question the way the history of punishment has been transfigured at some historical spots into a kind of morbid tourist attraction.

A constellation of websites

The Digital Panopticon is heavily dependent on digital data already accessible thanks to earlier projects. One of the most amazing and powerful facts about this interdependence is the role and position of Sheffield historian Sharon Howard. She was the project manager for the digitization of the Old Bailey Proceedings and she had the same function for the portal Connected Histories. For The Digital Panopticon she is again the project manager and also webmaster. No doubt things are sometimes much easier thanks to her knowledge of vital information about the data at these earlier projects and the ways they have been digitized or harvested. Last October I mentioned Sharon Howard briefly in another posting here. I recalled immediately the title of that post, ‘The galaxy of French humanism‘, when I looked at her digital presence in the second part of today’s post.

Logo Early Modern

The personal website of Sharon Howard is a veritable portal to her websites, blogs and the projects she is involved with. Early Modern history is her main research period. Legal historians will look in particular to her Early Modern crime bibliography. What this bibliography with some 500 titles maybe lacks in content is redeemed by her portal Early Modern Resources (EMR) and her blog aggregator Early Modern Commons (EMC). EMR is a treasure trove for anyone looking for historical resources for British and European history between 1500 and 1800. You can follow any particular theme or enter a free text search with always most valuable results which at the very least offer you food for thought, and more often the inspiration for and first guidance on new roads to go. A third abbreviation, EMN, stands for Early Modern Notes, Sharon’s Early Modern history blog. The websites and the blog will get a new form at the Early Modern Hub which Howard currently is constructing.

The section on blogging of Sharon Howard’s personal portal is perhaps its very heart. You can choose here from four blogs and four blog aggregators. As an aficionado of medieval history I would like to mention Medieval Broadside, a blog aggregator about medieval history, with of course a blog roll of the blogs included. The Broadside is not a website about broadsides and pamphlets, but a website which is to some extent its modern equivalent, an aggregator for messages posted by historians on Twitter about history. The New Newgate Calendar is another blog aggregator with a fine blog roll, this time as you would guess from its title dealing with news about research on the history of crime and punishment. A look at the blogs included here gives you a good idea of the wide variety of current subjects and methods in this field. The website for the original Newgate Calendar gives you the stories of English criminals imprisoned in the Newgate prison between 1700 and 1900. I leave it to you to look at the blogs and the blog aggregator with the word “Carnival” in their titles. You might do this during the coming carnival days!

In the projects section we have met already some of the projects for which Sharon Howard worked. Of the other projects I will only mention Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000 to 1500, a portal for online research on medieval manuscripts, and Locating London’s Past, the project connecting John Rocque’s 1746 map of London with texts, artefacts and information about the streets and buildings of eighteenth-century London. Is it by now still a surprise Sharon Howard has done research for an online course on Data Management for Historians?

If you are not yet satisfied with the variety and quality of the digital presence of just one researcher I can send you to two other sections of Howard’s portal. The fourth section deals with Fun, but actually some websites which started as a kind of virtual playground are not just play. Anyone thinking about creating an online – or printed – bibliography can benefit from her Zoterowiki, a guide for the popular digital bibliographic tool Zotero. You might need it when you contemplate contributing to her Early Modern crime bibliography! Based on the Old Bailey Proceedings Howard has created a tool to visualize the frequency of crimes and punishments in this data set. Her steps into visualizing hashtags used in tweets by historians brings me to the last section where she offers just links to her Tumblr blog, EMN and her own tweets. The Digital Panopticon can be followed, too, on Twitter (@digipanoptic).

If The Digital Panopticon is about viewing crime and punishment and the people involved from as many perspectives as possible, you might characterize the digital presence of Sharon Howard as a kind of virtual omnipresence! I cannot do better than express my admiration and salute the unflagging efforts of a historian doing so much to bring digital information together for the benefit of historians and anyone interested in history and law. At the end of this post I am sure you will bookmark some of the websites and blogs mentioned here or at Howard’s marvellous portal.

Inspiration for more research

At the end of this post feel mightily impressed with The Digital Panopticon and with the fleet of blogs and websites created by Sharon Howard. Comments, questions and criticism are always possible, and I have commented on some features and hinted at some questions indeed, but my main impression of The Digital Panopticon is positive, The eleven researchers of five universities cross borders in geography, time and themes. Can legal historians boast or at least remember similar projects on a vast scale? When you look around carefully and watch out for new or past projects you will surely find something which equals the scale and scope of The Digital Panopticon. Today the combination of a website, a blog and social media is common practice for many ranges of modern life.

The project that will dwarf earlier projects might well be present already, perhaps not yet visible in English or not spotted easily even by the most used web search engine. This week I have been searching for the website of an international project launched in 2013, but somehow I failed to track it with search engines. Not knowing the exact title of the project did hamper my online search severely. Luckily in the final stage of writing this post I remembered I created a bookmark in my web browser for it. History and the Law: Exchanges of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas aims at becoming a project bridging ages and continents. You can actually visit two websites presenting this project, one at Cambridge University, the other at Harvard. The presence of a webmaster in the team of any large-scale research project using digital tools is surely an essential element of its success and visibiity.

In search of the true history of the Templars

Poster Templars conference, MGHAfter four years of blogging it is truly time to bring in one of these subjects of medieval history that inevitable turn up in conversation about the Middle Ages. The rise and fall of the military order of the Templars was already a spectacular theme before bestseller authors as Dan Brown came along to give them yet another dimension. The Dutch twist in this post is surely Dan Brown’s recent visit to my country! In Munich the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, since nearly two centuries most active in editing sources on Germany’s medieval history, will host from February 24 to 27, 2014 an international conference with the title The Templars, their sources and their competitors (1119-1314). An addition in German to this title, Die Templer (1119-1314). Bilanz und Perspektiven der Forschung, underlines the need for a balanced view and multiple perspectives in researching the history of the Templars. The program of the Munich conference is impressive. In this post I will not try to do things better than the scholars presenting their work in Munich, and restrict myself to pointing out for you some online resources concerning the Templars. By the way, the MGH published recently a book by William J. Courtenay and Karl Ubl, Gelehrte Gutachten und königliche Politik im Templerprozeß (Hannover 2010; MGH Studien und Texte, 55) on learned medieval opinions concerning the Templars written at the university of Paris for the French king.

Balance and perspectives

For some reason we tend to think of the Templars as a French organization, and thus my eyes, too, looked first in the direction of France. In the ARCHIM database of the Archives nationales with digitized sources a whole section has been devoted to the trial of the Templars. In the fonds “Trésor des chartes” the numbers J 413 to J 417 stem from this trial. The great French historian Jules Michelet edited some of these sources in his Procès des templiers (2 vol., Paris 1841-1851; reprint 2 vol., Paris 1987; online for example in the Internet Archive, the Hathi Trust Digital Library (direct link), and in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich). The ARCHIM database presents in this section the following documents:

  • J 413, no. 18: the procès-verbal of the interrogation held at Paris from October 19 to November 24, 1307 – 44 parchments forming a roll with a length of 22 meter; among the Templars interrogated was Jacques de Molay (around 1245-1314), the grand-maître of the order – this document was published in the second volume of Michelets study
  • J 413, no. 20: a procès-verbal of the interrogation of thirteen templars from the bailliage of Caen (Normandy) by four Dominican friars from Caen and two royal commissioners; October 28 and 29, 1307 – 1 charter
  • J 413, no. 22: an authorized copy (vidimus) of the official royal order for the arrest of Templars in September 1307 in the bailliage of Rouen (Normandy), the official accusations, and the order of Guillaume de Paris, the grand-inquisitor of France for the inquisitors at Toulouse and Carcassonne to proceed against the Templars – September 14 and 22, 1307; the accusations are not dated; official copy October 21, 1307 – edited by Georges Lizerand, Le dossier de l’affaire des templiers (Paris 1923, reprint Paris 2007), document no. II, p. 16-29.
  • J 413, no. 23: the procès-verbal of the interrogation of five Templars from Saint-Étienne de Renneville (now département Eure) and two Templars from Sainte-Vaubourg (now département Seine-Maritime); October 18, 1307 – 1 charter
  • J 413, no. 29: an inventory of goods and men belong to the bailliage of Rouen of the Templars; October 13, 1307 – 6 charters – the goods and houses were located in the modern départment Calvados

The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. In the accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe they showed an interesting selection of manuscripts, with also a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. When I first mentioned here – in 2011 and in particular in 2012 – these documents digitized at ARCHIM I overlooked an important element of the notices, the fact that you can click on the mots clés , the keywords, to get more results. Clicking on the keyword Temple brings you forty results. To my surprise apart from the five documents already encountered here just one of them has anything to do with the Templars. It seems that the labeling here is not as perfect as you would like it to be. At first the only additional document seemed to be AE/II/213, an act of the clergy in the diocese Bourges dated April 19, 1308 sending deputies to the assembly of the French États Généraux convoked by the French king Philippe IV le Bel. However, among the mots clés added to this document are Ordre du Templetemplier and procès des Templiers. This helped me tracing three further digitized documents in the AE/II series kept at the Musée de l’histoire de France in Paris, one of the institutions under the aegis of the Archives nationales:

  • AE/II/146: a confirmation of a gift to the Templars by Guillaume, chatelain of Saint-Omer, of two churches in Flanders, in Slype and Leffinge; Jerusalem, 1137 – 1 charter – edited by André d’Albon, Cartulaire général de l’ordre du Temple , 1119?-1150 (Paris 1922; reprint Madrid 2010) no. 141, p. 99 – online at Gallica)
  • AE/II/311: interrogation of Templars in the sénéchaussée of Carcassonne; November 13, 1307 – notices on paper, 13 pages
  • AE/II/1634: the papal bull of pope Clemens V attributing to the Knights Hospitaller of St. John all goods of the Templars; May 2, 1312 -1 charter

Another series at the Archives nationales contains three digitized registers with information about the Templars:

  • JJ/35: Convocations, mandements and commissions issued by king Philippe le Bel, 1302-1305, mainly concerning the wars in Flanders; on fol. 114r-115v two acts about the redemption of goods belonging to the Cistercians and the Templars, 1304
  • JJ/36: a copy of register JJ/35 with additional material; the two acts from 1304 are here at fol. 91r-91v
  • JJ/43: Register of royal acts concerning Flanders, the Templars (fol. 45r-52v), the papacy (fol. 37r-44v) and money; 1305-1314

Of course more can be found in the various archival collections of the Archives nationales. You can search online in many inventories in the Salle des inventaires and in a second section with other inventories. Royal charters from the reign of Philip IV the Fair mentioning the Temple can be searched online in the Actes royaux database of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes in Paris with summaries (regestes)57 charters of the 4,900 charters in this database mention the Temple. They show very clearly the pivotal financial role of the Templars for the king. No. 2864 is the act about the Temple in JJ/35 (no. 203). The edition in the Corpus philippicum of the 6,000 royal charters issued between 1285 and 1314 has not yet been completed.

Is there a quicker way to find these digitized resources at the Archives nationales? Only as a second thought I used the search engine at the French cultural heritage portal Culture to look for the Templars. It surprised me indeed that I could quickly filter from the many thousand results those from for the reign of king Philipp the Fair, and arrive immediately at nine items digitized by the Archives nationales. In this post I mention twelve digitized items, and thus it seems the three items from the AE/II series at the Musée de l’histoire de France are not yet harvested by the search engine at Culture. In the ARCHIM database is a separate sections for the Grands documents de l’histoire de France where the three AE series appear online.

French regional archives

Outside the buildings of the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Paris and Fontainebleau other French archives also have records touching upon the Templars. Viewing the sheer number of regional archives – only few French towns have a municipal archive – you might consider it an impossible task to find these records. At the international portal e-Corpus based at Arles, however, you can benefit immensely from the research done to build a Bibliothèque virtuelle des Templiers – MILITES TEMPLI. In this virtual library you find extensive information on the Templar records kept in the fonds of the Grand-Prieure de Saint Gilles of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John at the Archives départementales des Bouches-des-Rhône at Marseille. With the goods of the Templars their archival records, too, came to this military order. The second part of the virtual Templars’ library are the notices assembled by Bruno Marty from the catalogues of French regional archives about their archival records for the Templars. You can view the relevant digitized pages. Marty gives a very useful overview written in 2005 of archival records in the Provence and also elsewhere, and an extensive bibliography concerning the Templars (PDF, 44 p.). The digital collection at e-Corpus for the Templars contains four digitized historical documents, among them in particular the “Authenticum Domus Militiae Templi sancti Aegidii”, a register with documents from 1139 to 1259 from Saint-Gilles-du-Gard of which the original at Arles, Archives municipales, GG 90, has been digitized. More information about e-Corpus can be found on a blog at Hypotheses. At the time of finishing this post I could not reach the e-Corpus portal to check again and give you more details. Many sources for the Grand-Prieure of Saint-Gilles are kept at Marseilles in the Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône. You can search the inventories of the various fonds online.

The Patrimoine numérique portal to digitized French cultural collections can bring you to at least four collections concerning the Templars. We have met here already the AE/II series at the Musée de l’histoire de France. Due to a broken link I could not reach at first the eighteenth-century Atlas du Petit et du Grand Saint-Jean (ADH, 55 H 3) kept at the Archives départementales d’Hérault in Pierresvives, a register with maps of possessions of the commanderie of Montpellier. At Puy-en-Velay the Archives départementales de la Haute-Loire keep a register from the seventeenth century of the Commanderie de Chantoin. The sources said to be digitized, including charters of the Templars at Larzac, are unfortunately untraceable at the website of the Archives départementales d’Aveyron in Rodez.

A multitude of books and resources

Sofar I have already a few times indicated online versions of books and editions. It is quite a feat to trace those scholarly books still worth using between all kind of other publications. Some of them can be found conveniently in L’histoire des moines, chanoines et religieux au Moyen Âge edited by André Vauchez and Cécile Gaby (Turnhout 2003), a volume of the French series L’atélier du médiéviste. Laurent Dailliez published a Bibliographie du Temple (Paris 1972) in which he followed earlier attempts by Périme Dessubre (1928) and Heinrich Neu (1965). Alain Demurger’s Vie et mort de l’ordre du Temple (third ed., Paris 1994) has a bibliographic supplement. The French guide to the history of religious orders mentions editions of the rule and statutes of the Templars and relevant studies about them. Surely the most publicized new edition concerning this military order was that of the Chinon document in 2008 [Barbara Frale et alii (eds.), Processus contra Templarios (Città del Vaticano, 2008)] and some accompanying documents kept at the Archivio Segreto del Vaticano [A.A. Arm. D 208-210, 211, 217(A), and Reg. Aven. 48]. These documents show that the investigation held between August 17 and 20, 1308 at the castle of Chinon led to the absolution by the pope of Jacques de Molay and the pope’s clear intent to rehabilitate the Templars. In 2011 Nathan Dorn told the story of the Chinon document in a fine blog post at In Custodia Legis.

A quick way to discern the scholarly quality of publications about the Templars is their presence in the online literature catalogue for medieval history of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz. Needless to say that you will eventually have to use other bibliographical resources, too, but this catalogue is most helpful. If you have found for example a digitized book in the Hathi Trust Digital Library you can easily check for it in this catalogue. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography can help you to find more recent printed and online versions of editions and translations; for the Templars you need to choose the subject “Military orders”.

One of the serious digitized modern books about the Templars is the study by Alan J. Forey, Templars in the Corona de Aragón (Oxford 1973), online at LIBRO, the Library of Iberian Resources Online hosted by the University of Central Arkansas. Forey’s book has a very valuable section on manuscript resources in Spain. Last year I published a post about Aragon with a long paragraph about the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona. The ACA is home to many archival collections (fondos documentales) which are listed rather summarily but useful in a 25-page leaflet.

Forey mentions at p. 457 registro ACA, Real Cancilleria, 291 of the 343 (!) registers from the reign of king Jaime II concerning the trial of the Templars [Jaime II. Varia 5. Processus contra magistrum militesque Milicie Templi]. This register with more than 700 pages can now be searched online at the Spanish PARES archive portal. On the PARES search screen you select the ACA from a drop down list and you can start navigating through a tree structure – admittedly a bit cumbersome – to the fondos and items within them. At PARES the actual register 291 starts at fol. 22r. You can enlarge the pages of this document very much, but the quality of the images remains less than you would want it to be. Of course much more can be found in the ACA. In the Actes royaux database I found a notice (no. 3372) about a letter of king Philip the Fair to Jaime II of Aragón, written on October 26, 1307, about the interrogation of Jacques de Molay the day before. The letter is kept at the ACA, Templarios 39, and the notice has a reference to a copy of this interrogation held at the ACA [Real Cancilleria, Pergaminos 2481]. At the ACA, too, you will find records of the Templars within the fondo of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John, the Gran Priorado de Catalunya. Forey has written also about the fall of the Templars in Aragon [The fall of the Templars in the Crown of Aragon (Aldershot, etc., 2001)].

Myths and history

Were the Templars heretics? What were the motives of the French king to act against them? Doing research on the Templars bristles with a lot of questions for which I prefer to put aside the novels of famous authors. I promised to make this post not too long. Websites do not bring everything. I have kept on purpose a safe distance from specialized websites on the history of the Templars, because it is often very difficult to ascertain the quality of the information presented on them. A second reason is simply the lack of space in a single post! There is nothing against using printed studies, editions and translations. English readers can turn with confidence to the classic account by Malcolm Barber, The trial of the Templars (Cambridge, etc., 1978; often reprinted), and to the selection of translated documents edited by Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, The Templars. Selected sources (Manchester, etc., 2002). The collection of scholarly articles edited by Jochen Burgtorf, Paul Crawford and Helen J. Nicholson, The debate on the trial of the Templars (1307-1314) (Aldershot, 2010) will give you a recent impression of the various subjects facing scholars. Dutch readers might start with Jan Hosten’s book De tempeliers : de tempelorde tijdens de kruistochten en in de Lage Landen (Amsterdam 2006) or Krijgers voor God : de orde van de tempeliers in de Lage Landen (1120-1312) by Michel Nuyttens (Leuven 2007). In this post I aimed simply at drawing your attention to some online resources which bring you to the original documents. I hope to have made you curious about the true history of the Templars which involves more than only the spectacular events between 1307 and 1314.

A postscript on manuscripts

By focusing on archival records in this post you would almost forget that manuscripts, too, are a very important source for our knowledge of the Templars. I will offer here a nutshell guide to French (digitized) manuscripts. The manuscripts catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Catalogue collectif de France, with its section for manuscripts, should provide a starting point. In two posts from 2011 on doing research for legal history in Paris and a post on French customary law – with a focus on Normandy – you can find more on manuscripts in some French libraries. You can tune the CCFr to show digitized manuscripts; among them is Paris, BnF, ms. français 1977Le règle dou Temple, written between 1301 and 1325. The portal Biblissima gives you further guidance to projects around medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in France. The Ménestrel portal for medieval studies, too, has a nice overview of French manuscript digitization projects. The project Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux of the IRHT has no search function for content, but otherwise you can find here many digitized manuscripts. Relevant cartularies and editions of them can be found using the online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes with for instance much on the Templars’ cartulary of Saint-Gilles; charters and cartularies were in 2010 the subject of another post here.

More on e-Corpus

A few days after the publication of this post the French portal e-Corpus was again fully visible. Apart from the virtual library about the Templars there are among the 27 virtual collections at e-Corpus digitized books about old Provencal law (Aix-en-Provence), books on (Arabic) codicology from the Centre de Conservation du Livre in Arles, the main institution behind the portal, and digitized books on Islamic law (Marseille). The portal can be viewed in seven languages, including Arabic. Apart from the collections accessible at e-Corpus the organization supports some twenty other websites, with much attention to digitization projects for manuscripts.

On revisiting e-Corpus and the virtual Templars’ library I also found a link to the very sophisticated online version at the Université d’Avignon of Guillaume Mollat’s critical edition of Étienne Baluze, Vitae paparum avenionensium [1693] (4 vol., Paris 1914-1928). It is most interesting to read Baluze’s view of the trial of the Templars. As few others in his time Baluze (1630-1718) was equipped to look deep into the legal matters of medieval history.

Pronouncing the city’s law: aldermen as judges

In pre-modern European cities the aldermen were not just members of a city council charged with deciding on city policies. Creating and maintaining policy in the more pregnant sense of daily law and order was one of their prime tasks. In many cities a number of aldermen sat regularly as the city’s judges. In the past years a number of archives has created online databases to search for cases and verdicts in the records of aldermen. Outside the cities schepenen functioned within regional and manorial jurisdictions. We will meet some of them here, too. This post aims at showing you a wide variety of online search possibilities and presentations. The main focus of my post are aldermen in the Low Countries, called schepenen or in French-speaking regions échevins, I will look at seven projects. The Netherlands and Belgium will bring most of the examples adduced here, but I am sure elsewhere more can be found that would merit as much attention as the cities mentioned here.

Pronouncing the law

Curiosity to find out about recent projects for the digitization of the records of medieval and Early Modern aldermen was my first reason to starting looking for online databases and other projects. I was surprised I did not encounter quickly somewhere a list of relevant projects, or at least some links to similar projects at the websites with a particular database. Unfortunately this might suggest such projects are developed in at least relative isolation, or in the worst cases in splendid ignorance or with complete disregard of similar efforts.

The first project I would like to present concerns the records of a number of villages situated in the very heart of the Rhine and Meuse estuary. The schepenen conveyed at Tuil, the village most to the west of the contemporary province Gelderland, now a part of the municipality Neerijnen. Tuil gives the project its name, De Hoge Bank van Tuil, “The High Court of Tuil”. Nowadays we say in Dutch parlance these villages are positioned in the Rivierenland, the Rivers’ Country. Geographically it is more sensible to say they are situated in the Tielerwaard, “The March of Tiel”, between the cities of Tiel and Gorinchem.

The website for the Hoge Bank van Tuil is a project of three historians, Peter van Maanen, Gijsbert van Ton and Marco Schelling. It presents transcriptions of some 1,300 records from 1335 to 1525, from 1631 to 1637, and a number of scattered records yet to be integrated. The team has used records from several archives and printed editions. For some records the transcriptions are accompanied by images of the documents. This project aims at a reconstruction of the activities of this high court by combining data from a large variety of resources. As for now the records are not yet part of a searchable database, but they can be searched with the normal web browser search function. It is one thing to bring these materials together, but the material still needs editing before it can become the contents of a database. Exactly the preparation of this step is probably the main hindrance to tackle for further research in these regional records. Consultation with for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem, the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland, Tiel, and the Regionaal Archief Gorinchem will surely be most helpful to start preparing a new phase for this project.

The very beginning

The Hoge Bank van Tuil came first in my post because it presents in a nutshell a number of very real questions and problems you face when you start with a project for the digitization of the records of aldermen. What period do you choose? Do you aim at a full reconstruction of archival records concerning a particular institution or jurisdiction, in this case a schepenbank? Do you restrict yourself to the records from one resource, be it records kept at an archive or records surviving sometimes only in print? Do you prepare from the start onwards for the creation of an online database, or would you like to stick with simple web pages? Sometimes you have to wait for the creation of proper archival guides and finding aids before even contemplating a project… Cities and their archival services often choose themselves for the digitization of judicial records. In the case of the Hoge Bank van Tuil three researchers decided to combine efforts for their project.

Logo Scabinatus

The project that prompted me to write about digitized verdicts of aldermen is concerned with verdicts of the échevins in Liège. The website Scabinatus 4000 was launched last autumn by the Université de Liège. The actual database contains acts from the vast series of scabinal registers kept at the Archives de l’État in Liège dating from 1409 until 1797. Some 1,750 (!) registers exist with each around 400 pages, good for some 750 acts. The registers 1 to 67 could be searched online already at a website of the Belgian National Archives, but this website with registers for the period 1409 to 1510 was last updated in 2007.

On the new Scabinatus website the registers 68 to 153 have been added, reaching now 1558. You can search for particular registers, a particular kind of acts (e.g. approbation, arbitrage, wills and witness statements), toponyms, a particular date or period, the kind of goods at stake, names, professions and social status. The website of the National Archives offered drop down lists for the kind of acts and the kind of goods. The scale of this project is clearly staggering. The functionality of the search screen is very detailed, and you are thus able to conduct all kind of searches. Comparisons in activities over long periods become here possible and fairly reliable. However, this database does not offer the complete text of acts, but only a summary with a lot of details. You will need to view the original registers for further research. This project has clear limits in time and resources which seems understandable in view of the sheer number of records to be processed.

New roads to the records of aldermen

Logo Itinera Nova

At Louvain (Leuven) the municipal record-office has combined forces with a German partner, the Universität Köln, for its joint project Itinera Nova. The city of Louvain can boast a series of 1128 scabinal registers from 1362 to 1795. The project started in 2009, and more than one million pages will be transcribed by volunteers. 255 registers are now available online, mainly for the periods 1362-1460 and 1550-1590. Knowing the difficulties sixteenth-century handwriting can pose it becomes very interesting which role the transcribing software MONK, a tool created at the university of Groningen, has played here. The MONK website presents extensive word samples from the Louvain registers. The Itinera Nova project in cooperation with the department at Cologne for Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung involves crowd-sourcing. An online tutorial helps volunteers to start transcribing pages with a basic knowledge of palaeography. On April 25 and 26, 2013, Louvain hosted an international congress with the title Itinera Nova: Tools, People & History, The blog De Digitale Archivaris [The Digital Archivist] published a series of posts in Dutch about this congress. The website of Itinera Nova can be viewed in Dutch, English and French. You can browse at will and conduct general searches, and there is an advanced search option with drop down menus. You can also restrict a search to a particular register or period. From the transcriptions you can go directly to images of the original register. Registered users can get access to the annotation screen.

One of the major assets is a search interface for annotations. Compared to the project for Liège the texts of the records seems to be the focus and very heart of the project at Louvain. The Scabinatus project allows much more the serial analysis of similar acts, but the website does not bring you to the actual records, images or transcriptions. The approach for Liège seems to have been determined by scholars, the approach at Louvain is much closer to the general public. The schepenen of Louvain served as a court of appeal for other cities following the rule of hoofdvaart. Later in this post we will meet Den Bosch, one of the cities which went to Louvain for this purpose.

Dutch projects

For those readers waiting for a regular element of my blog, commonly known as the Dutch view, I will discuss next some Dutch projects. In March 2013 the Regionaal Archief Tilburg launched the Charterbanka charter database, the result of the combined efforts of archivists and visitors of the regional archive working together in a crowdsourcing community with its own website. The Charterbank contains some 450 medieval charters mainly issued by local schepenen from Tilburg and surrounding places. The search interface has fields for place, date, record number, inventory number, and persons adding their seal. In the result view you can enjoy images of the document, read the transcription in a rather small column, consult information about the seal or seals when present, and check for relevant literature and comments. This project focuses on the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period with a regional approach. Charters until 1312 from Noord-Brabant can be found online in the Digitaal Oorkondeboek van Noord-Brabant.

At ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), commonly called Den Bosch, the regional record office, with as its current name Brabants Historisch Infomatiecentrum, has created an online database with records created by both schepenen and notaries in small towns and villages in the present-day province Noord-Brabant. With some 180,000 records the harvest seems at first rich, but only in a few cases you can study a long period, mainly for Lith and Veghel. Resolutions of the Dutch Supreme Council for Brabant, the Raad van State in The Hague, from 1629 onwards, are also present in this database. In my view they constitute a very important source, but they are in a different class, even if they deal with the villages and towns of Brabant. The Dutch description of the database emphasises the possibility to search for persons in these records. Online projects with a genealogical approach flourish at this regional record office, and I could trace many of my own ancestors using the results of these efforts, but for dealing in real depth with other records this approach is narrow. Scans of many records are available, but you will encounter many items which surely touch upon history and legal history but do not strictly concern the activities of aldermen. The useful overview of processed records and items bears witness to the wide range of records deemed fit for inclusion. However, the word genealogie (genealogy) in its URL seemed at first telling. By choosing in the left-hand menu Gescande bronnen (“Scanned resources”) you can already search directly in a number of digitized registers of schepenen, by selecting the schepenprotocollen.

Very much city-centered are the efforts at the Stadsarchief Den Bosch for the analysis of and access to the series of aldermen’s charters and registers starting with the famous Bosch’ Schepenprotocol. In this massive series running from 1360 to 1811 the schepenen of Den Bosch dealt with matters concerning voluntary jurisdiction, passing acts on the purchase and sales of real estate, probate inventories, acts concerning guardianship, etc. I must strike a harsh note: to my surprise there is here no online database. The information for a database concerning the criminal jurisdiction has been assembled in the project Dataschurk (“Data Villain”). You can download all relevant inventories, an inventory of criminal dossiers and summaries of the dossiers themselves, and there are indexes on record number and name.

Decades of painstaking research have resulted in a rich harvest of materials. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol itself can be consulted on microfiches. It will certainly take courage to create a workable database which brings all information together and makes them accessible in a most reliable way. Luckily archivist Geertrui van Synghel can guide your research with her guide Het Bosch’ Protocol: een praktische handleiding (‘s-Hertogenbosch 1993), and her study “Actum in camera scriptorum oppidi de Buscoducis”: de stedelijke secretarie van ‘s-Hertogenbosch tot ca. 1450 (Ph.D. thesis Leiden 2006; Hilversum 2007) with a cd-rom containing 5735 scabinal charters and acts written by the city’s secretaries until 1450. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol transcends the city borders with the letters of surety enabling the confinement of psychiatric patients, even at institutions as far away as Liège. In his comment Christian van der Ven (Den Bosch, BHIC) announces that preparations for a digital version of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol are in a final phase.

Making choices about periods and subjects

Logo Stadsarchief Amsterdam

Last week The Guardian included the city archives of Amsterdam in a survey of Europe’s best free museums. The building of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is surely imposing, but the reason for being featured here are the archival records kept here and the way their contents are disclosed more and more online. When I look at sources with a relation to legal history you can choose from a substantial variety of resources. The example I present here is restricted to a particular class of verdicts, those concerning “averij grosse“, general average or in German “Grosse Haverei”, cases in maritime law in which either a ship, a cargo or both had suffered unavoidable damage in emergency situations, and costs thus made or yet to be made or recovered had to be divided in an equal way [Archief van Schout en Schepenen, nos. 2806-2924, Vonnissen terzake van averij grosse, 1700-1810]. A separate chamber of the schepenen for “Assurantiën, Averijen en Zeezaken” dealt with relevant affairs.

Two splendid overviews of the history of European private law, Helmut Coing’s Europäische Privatrecht, I: Älteres Gemeines Recht (1500 bis 1800) (Munich 1985) 554-555, and Reinhard Zimmermann’s The law of obligations. Roman foundations of the civilian tradition (Oxford 1996) 406-412, provide you with basic information about the legal principles at stake, the role of the Lex Rhodia de iactu (D. 14.2.2), and references to important commentaries, including those issued in the period of the Roman-Dutch law. Zimmermann gives the date of publication of the first edition of Quintyn Weytsen’s early treatise in Dutch on general average as 1651. According to the information in the Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands this can be corrected to a first appearance in print in 1617 as an appendix to Cornelis van Nieustad’s Curiae Hollandiae, Zelandiae & West-Frisiae decisiones (…) Item een tractaet van avarien gemaeckt door Quintijn Weytsen (…) (Leiden 1617), and a first separate edition in 1631 [Een tractaet van avarien, dat is Ghemeene contributie vande koopmanschappen ende goederen inden schepe bevonden (Haarlem, 1631)].

Quintyn Weytsen (1518-1565) became a councillor in the Court of Holland only in 1559, and in 1561 and 1562 he was also charged with hearing accounts in the province of Zeeland, information easily gathered from resources such as the Dutch Biografisch Portaal and the Repertorium van ambtsdragers en ambtenaren 1468-1861 (The Hague, Huygens Instituut). Some of the later editions of his work, specifically Adriaen Verwer’s Nederlants see-rechten, avaryen, en bodemeryen (editions e.g. 1711, 1716 and 1730) contain also two ordinances concerning general average from 1551 and 1563 which no doubt prompted him to write his treatise. The lapse of half a century before a printed edition was published is remarkable. The 1617 edition gives no introduction at all for Weytsen’s text, and therefore his short text (from p. 226 onwards) might have been circulating already in manuscript – or perhaps a much read pamphlet? – long before.

The pages on general average at the website of the municipal archive of Amsterdam were launched in Autumn 2013. They offer a succinct introduction to the doctrinal side of things, and introduce you to the procedure before the bailiff and schepenenOne of the important things stated is that both the Dutch East India Company and the West India Company did not use the services of this court, because the administrators took care of freighting and transport. Statements confirmed on oath before Amsterdam notaries about cases of avarij formed the starting point of the procedure; you can find them using an index of these scheepsverklaringen (PDF), some 5,400 cases. The hint to check the Amsterdamsche Courant for its notices about shipwrecks and averages in its scheepstijdingen is most useful. You can check this newspaper in digital format at the new Delpher portal of the Dutch Royal Library. Do reckon with variant spellings such as avarieavary, avarij and averij! The suggestions to look in other record series for further information are most helpful. In the database of the Amsterdam city archives you find a digital version of the index created in 1980. The search interface allows you to search for the names of shippers and ships, harbours of depart and arrival, and dates. Two examples of cases from 1726 and 1780 help you to prepare your specific search actions. A search action leads you to further information on a particular case, often supplemented with thumbnail images of the documents.

Can I mention anything negative about this project in Amsterdam? With just two titles about general average this information is rather to short, and the reference to the article by Ivo Schöffer lacks the page numbers (pp. 73-133). Elsewhere on the website a treasure page has been dedicated to the case of the vessel St. Antonio di Padova which was attacked by pirates off La Spezia in 1704. The ship commanded by Jan Lens suffered a lot of damage during a four-hours fight. Repairs were made in Genua. The page shows a part of the notarial statement on this case. Somehow the section on general average does not link directly to this showcase, the only relevant page translated completely into English. In view of the international standing and importance of this archive the maIn point to criticize is alas the absence of a page-to-page translation into English of its marvellous website. The Amsterdam city archives ask people to pay for full-scale images of scanned documents, but before deploring this you must realize they offer a very rapid scanning on demand service.

Different situations, different approaches

In many fields awards and prizes are given yearly for the best project. Is it possible and sensible to do this for this group of six random picked projects? In a bird’s-eye view we saw:

  • transcriptions from the Rivierenland in the Hoge Bank van Tuil
  • large-scale indices and an analytical approach in the Scabinatus 4000 project for Liège,
  • crowdsourcing, transcriptions and images, with even an annotation tool for Itinera Nova at Louvain
  • images and transcriptions of charters at Tilburg
  • indexes for both scabinal and notarial registers, and a growing number of scanned registers for the province of Noord-Brabant
  • inventories, indexes and finding aids concerning the wide judicial functions of the schepenen of Den Bosch – with a printed guide and a cd-rom of the earliest records but without a database -
  • finally the verdicts from Amsterdam concerning maritime law from a distinct period, with an online searchable index and scanned images which have to be paid for.

If you put these seven projects into a grid you can probably more easier see which qualities they share or lack. What makes these projects successful or not? I cannot predict what visitors of these websites will want to know nor what they would like to have at hand on the screen of their computer or tablet. Some researchers might want to start making grand analyses as quickly as possible and therefore applaud transcriptions and online indices, others prefer painstaking transcriptions of the originals or of images provided by an archive. The pioneers for the Rivierenland have not yet reached the phase of building a database. One archive, the city archive at Den Bosch, does not provide a database, and I suppose this is a policy decision, because so much energy has already been put into the resources in question during more than twenty years. For other cities printed critical editions of the verdicts of schepenen exist, and thus the need for an online database might be less urgent.

Even though this is a rather long post I still feel I have treated all projects presented here rather briefly. It is wise not to judge their qualities too quickly! A stronger objection is the choice of examples which is very much personal, but at least also for a part guided by the lack of an easy overview of relevant digitization projects for this particular kind of resource. I would not feel ashamed if this post serves as a stepping stone for more and better.

A postcript

In his comment Christian van der Ven of the BHIC at Den Bosch stresses the actual cooperation of Dutch archives for this kind of projects. I have taken over his factual corrections, and the important information about online access to a number of registers of schepenen already avaiable now at the BHIC, and the appearance of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol in digital form in the near future.

Searching Aragon’s royal history

Logo International Archives Day

This year’s International Archives Day, an initiative of the International Council on Archives, took place on June 9. In many countries archives organized activities, among them also Spanish archives. Lately I noticed the substantial number of websites devoted to the history of Aragon, and when preparing this post it became clear how many resources you can find online. On my blog I wrote in 2011 and 2012 about the project Europeana Regia which aimed at reconstructing three medieval royal libraries with digitized manuscripts. One of them was the library of the kings of Aragon and Naples. In his acclaimed study Vanished kingdoms: The history of half-forgotten Europe (London-New York 2011) Norman Davies devoted a chapter to Aragon. In fact he had to deal with two kingdoms, both the Reino d’Aragón (1035-1715) and the composite kingdom of the Corona d’Aragón (1162-1716), a confederation of monarchies including in Spain the county of Barcelona and the kingdom of Valencia, and outside Spain Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and Majorca, to mention only its largest parts.

For clarity’s sake I use in this post the Castilian and Aragonese spellings of locations in a multilingual kingdom. The Catalan name of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona is Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó. You can view this website also in Galician, Basque and Valencian. Legal history is certainly present at the websites I mention in this tour of institutions digitizing Aragon’s history.

Digitizing the history of Aragon

In my earlier post concerning Europeana Regia I had tried to make a preliminary list of manuscripts touching on legal history. I found some thirty manuscripts among the more than thousand manuscripts brought together in this project. From the library of the kings of Aragon 294 digitized manuscripts are presented. In 2011 I had found for Aragon only one work touching legal history, a treatise on the genealogy of the Aragonese kings (Paulus Rossellus, Descendentia dominorum regum Sicilie, after 1438; Valencia, BU, ms. BH 394), but luckily there is more. In 2012 I tracked a well-known source in Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4670 A, the Usatici et Constitutiones Cataloniae, a manuscript written at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, and I could also point to Paris, BnF, ms. Italien 408Ordinacione fate per lo S.re Pere Terzo Re d’Aragona supra lo regimento de tuti li oficiali de la sua corte, a manuscript from the 15th century.

On closer inspection, after the closure of the Europeana Regia project, more can be found. Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 63 is the Latin and Catalan version of these ordinances of Pedro III, the Ordinacions de Pere III d’Aragó. A Spanish version of royal ordinances of Pedro IV of Aragon can be found in Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 62. Yet another manuscript at Paris (BnF, ms. Italien 958; written around 1477) contains the text of Orso Orsini’s Del governo et exercitio de la militia. Correspondence of king Ferdinand I from 1458 to 1460 in Latin, Catalan and Italian has been preserved in the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 103. A copy of Guillelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4254) was both owned by the French king Charles VIII and later by the kings of Aragon, but eventually it returned to Paris. An illuminated and glossed Bolognese copy of Justinian’s Institutiones and the Authenticum at Paris (BnF, ms. Latin 4436) belonged once to the royal library in Naples. It is intriguing to note that only one of these nine manuscripts with legal texts is now at Valencia.

Behind the doors of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón

Logo Archivos Estatales

Jonathan Jarrett (Oxford) gave in 2011 at his blog A Corner of Tenth Century Europe a nice description of the building of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona and its workings. The ACA traces its history back to 1318 and offers its own virtual tour. Among the many Pedro’s in Spanish history Pedro el Gran (1240-1285) stands out. The ACA organized in 2012 an exhibition on this king; some information on it can be downloaded (PDF). The ACA shows several virtual exhibitions on its website, for example on its own history, historical maps, and especially on Los Libros de Repartimiento of king Jaime I on his possessions in Mallorca and Valencia.

The first initial in Gratian's Decretum - Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 7, fol. 17 recto - image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

The first initial in Gratian’s Decretum – Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78, fol. 17 recto – image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

In the online exhibition of illuminated medieval manuscripts at the ACA figure a Liber feudorum major from around 1180, the oldest document kept at Barcelona (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 1), a Liber feudorum Ceritaniae (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 4), and a Decretum Gratiani (ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78), actually one of the very few sources for the first version of Gratian’s Decretum. The progress of the project led by Anders Winroth at Yale University for the edition of this version can be followed online. Winroth described Ripoll 78 in his study The Making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000) without mentioning the illuminated initials. The ACA provides links to several databases with guides for archival research. At PARES, the Portal de Archivos Españoles, you can search for digitized archival records from Spanish archives. The ACA gives you at its website a brief list of items and records present at PARES. Ripoll 78 is among the digitized manuscripts at the ACA which you can view at PARES.

Apart from archival records you will also find digitized manuscripts from the monasteries of Ripoll and San Cugat now kept at the ACA. At PARES you can find resources using the Inventario Dinámico by selecting the ACA and searching the tree-like representation of the various collections. With the more normal search function you can simply type your preferred term and get a result list. In the winter of 1991-1992 I participated at Leiden in the yearly seminar on juridical palaeography. We read some treatises contained in San Cugat 55, in particular at fol. 92 and 93. I suppose you will forgive me for choosing the 87 digitized medieval manuscripts from this monastery as an example of a result list with items at the ACA. Alas the images are disfigured by a watermark of the Archivos Estatales. On the legal manuscripts from both monasteries more information is available online in the Manuscripta Juridica database of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main and in Giovanna Murano’s incipitario of medieval manuscripts with canon law texts. Due to the move to a new building the library of the institute at Frankfurt am Main is temporarily closed, and thus it is really useful to know that you do not have to wait for all of its microfilmed manuscripts if you want to study them.

Among the digitized archival records are ninety registers of the Real Cancilleria from the thirteenth century – a project briefly described here -, registros of other kings, and several trial records (procesos). A large number of records from the Consejo de Aragón and the Real Audiencia have been digitized. It is difficult to choose examples from the digitized riches at the ACA. Surely I would single out in the section Diversos y Colecciones the nearly 200 cartes árabes and the 126 autógrafos of Spanish kings and queens. Trials in civil law, pleitos civiles, are being digitized from the Real Audiencia de Cataluña where some 22,000 trials survive. Archival records for the Gran Priorato de Cataluña del Orden de San Juan de Jerusalén the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, have been digitized, too (ACA, ORM, Gran Priorato, Volúmenes y Legajos).

One of the highlights at the ACA are the socalled Capitulaciones de Santa Fe, which bear also the name of Capitulaciones del Almirante don Cristóbal Colón, the agreement between Christopher Columbus and the Reyes Católicos, signed on April 17, 1492. Some of these documents are kept at the ACA (fondo Real Cancilleria, Diversorum, registro 3.569; PDF, 3,2 MB) and elsewhere in Spain. In 2009 the Capitulaciones were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register. However, the UNESCO photo database shows just two images, and I therefore like to point also to information on an exhibition concerning the Capitulaciones provided by PARES.

Muchos libros digitizados

A particular motive to write about Aragon is the proliferation of digital libraries. Last week I encountered yet another digital library, at the Cortes de Aragón. On my website I listed already some twenty-five Spanish digital libraries! The Biblioteca Virtual de Derecho Aragonés is maintained by the Gobierno de Aragón. The Gobierno de Aragón at Zaragoza maintains also its own Biblioteca Virtual. I did know about the Biblioteca Valenciana Digital and the SOMNI, Fondo histórico of the Universidad de Valencia. The Biblioteca Municipal de Zaragoza has its own digital library, too. Some 1100 rare books have been digitized at the Biblioteca Virtual de la Diputación de Zaragoza. You will find manuscripts, incunables and other early editions among the Tesoros of the Biblioteca Universitaria de Zaragoza, a selection from its Biblioteca Digital del Fondo Antiguo. The ACA, too, thoughtfully provides a bibliography of the main publications concerning this archive, with links to digitized resources, some of them available at the Internet Archive.

In the Fondo Documental Histórico of the Cortes de Aragon you can find digitized manuscripts, drawings, maps and books. Among the manuscripts is a fifteenth-century legal treatise, and you will find also manuscripts of the Coran. Fuentes, source editions for Aragonese law, are to be found in the section with printed materials. My interest was guided to the sixteen printed allegaciones, legal pleadings, and the nine volumes with ordinaciones. I found a Dutch twist, too: Blaeu and Hondius figure among the digitized maps.

In 2012 a portal was created around the life and historical works concerning Aragon of the Jesuit Jerónimo Zurita (1512-1580) who became in 1547 the Cronista del Reino, the official historian of the kingdom of Aragón. The portal brings you not only to digitized editions of his books, foremost among them the Anales de la Corona de Aragón (1562-1580), but also to other chronicles, documents showing Zurita’s activities, and digitized studies on this scholar.

A proud heritage

Arragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu,1647

Aragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu, from: Le Theatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas (Amsterdam 1647) – image Cortes de Aragón, Fondo Documental Histórico

Let’s not overload this post with too much digitized materials from Aragon! At PARES it is wise to look for the history of Aragon not just at the ACA, but also in Madrid and Simancas. The DARA website for the Documentos y Archivos de Aragón is one of the places to look for further guidance. In fact the PARES portal guides you also to the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España y Iberoamérica, an online guide to Spanish and Ibero-American archives. The Gobierno de Aragón gives an overview of Aragonese culture and heritage at the portal Patrimonio Cultural de Aragón. It is possible to mention here a number of archives, but I will restrict myself to the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Zaragoza, with in its holdings records of the Tribunal de la Inquisición de Zaragoza between 1440 and 1621. The ACA is an institution in Barcelona, within Catalonia. The Memòria de Catalunya portal brings you to many collections. One of these collections is specifically concerned with Aragon and contains some 1700 allegaciones, pleadings by barristers who were members of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. I could not help noticing the library of this college has also digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya. A very interesting and detailed online bibliography on Aragonese law in past and present is offered at Standum est chartae, the website of the department for derecho civil aragones of the Universidad de Zaragoza.

Of course other Spanish digital libraries offer online access to books and other documents concerning Aragon. It is in particular useful to look at the portal Legislación Histórica de España. The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid yields many hundreds results after a simple general search for Aragon, among them nearly 200 manuscripts. At Hispana, the general portal for Spanish digitized heritage, it is not only possible to access digitized items, but you can benefit also from the indications found in the directory of digital collections. Similarly the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico helps you to search for materials in many Spanish libraries and archives. A number of Spanish archives, including the ACA, the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, and the general archives at Madrid and Simancas, have created a network for their library catalogues, the Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales. At the end of this post I feel confident that you will find something useful here when you start to study Aragon and the many sides of its legal history. A number of websites mentioned here is also accessible in English. Digitization projects provide in a very real sense a royal road to many valuable resources concerning the kingdoms of Aragon.

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.

Historical British newspapers at a price

Logo The British Newspaper ArchiveIn the midst of all activities around Christmas the British Library has launched a massive digital collection, the British Newspaper Archive. You might think that in 2012 I would have found a message about its launch in a tweet, but I stumbled upon it without using the digital tool for this virtual activity. Within a minute it became crystal clear that you can have here “history at your finger tips” as the blurb on the site puts it, depending of course on your specific search, but then the signs appear that you have to pay to view the contents you have just found. As for the search possibilities, the advanced search mode should satisfy the most exacting scholars. The free trial is very meagre, just a few pages, so you might grudgingly decide not everything valuable comes free. You have to pay to use this wonderful Christmas present to its full extent. The British Library has licensed a commercial firm to receive money for this project which surely has costed a lot of money, for you will find scores of newspapers, some of them starting in the early eighteenth century, up to more recent times. For £ 79,95 a year you can have your own private subscription. Having the riches in front of you as colourful thumbnails but not being able to view them in full size is a tantalizing experience.

Lately I had the chance to use a number of digitized Dutch newspapers, for instance in the post on the Hoorn Pie Trial. It made me more aware of the uses you can make of these sources both as a general historian and as a legal historian. I take the example of these Dutch newspapers not only to give this post a Dutch flavor, but to show you more closely what you can find using digitized newspapers. The British Library and this new digital archive stand out from other digital newspaper archives, because it is really rare to find paying digitized historic newspaper websites.

Paying for digitized British sources

In fact more British examples of paying historical websites can be given. Last year I wrote in a post briefly about the project 19th Century British Pamphlets Online, where you are allowed to search the catalogue with more than 20,000 items from seven British research institutions. The pamphlets themselves, however, can be only be viewed at subscribing institutions. At the British Cartoon Archive, an example closely associated with newspapers, £ 25 is charged for each image that you want to get in its full quality. Some English archives with digitized collections from their medieval holdings charge you for the use of digital images. An example for medieval canon law are the Cause Papers in the diocesan courts of the archbishopric of York, 1300-1858. The University of York has finished the digitization and is now adding them to the inventory. Perhaps this will bring a change in the way one can access these materials.

Is it the sheer scope and scale and the investments involved in these admittedly large projects that led the institutions involved to choose for commercial or semi-commercial solutions? I would have to be more familiar with current English copyright law, but to me it seems that newspapers before 1900 at least are out of copyright. For me it is clear that a convincing explanation is needed why a national library allows you to use many digital sources freely, but makes an exception for newspapers. If the answer is a plain need of money, this would be the start of an honest and full response.

Historical newspapers online in Britain and elsewhere

As my point of depart in this post I will take the overview of online old newspapers at European History Primary Sources, a portal to commented online sources for European history maintained at the European University Institute in Florence. The most simple general search for newspapers yields some ninety digital collections, almost all of them in public and free access. Luckily the overview indicates also some British websites with historical newspapers which can be viewed in open access. At first a surprise is British Newspapers online, a project again at the British Library where you can use four newspapers freely for at least a limited time span, to be more precisely, the Manchester Guardian (1851, 1856, 1886), the Daily News (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), the News of the World (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), and the Weekly Dispatch (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918). Here you might at least try to compare the coverage of events in some particular interesting years. The four newspapers are also available through British Newspapers 1800-1900, the earlier subscribers’ only project of the British Library with 49 historical local and national newspapers. However, the Penny Illustrated Paper and The Graphic can be viewed free of charge. The websites Gazettes Online brings you to the London Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette, but their official character sets them apart from normal newspapers.

Some British newspapers have made a selection from their historical archive. Guardian Century is not a complete archive of the period 1899-1999, but merely a selection of the main new items from each year. The digital archive of The Scotsman for the period 1817-1950 gives you full search possibilities, and a number of short – even for one day – and longer subscription options. To set the record straight for the British isles, the Irish Times offers a digital archive for the period 1859-2009 where you get the first lines of each result, but for more you have to pay four times as much for a yearly subscription at the British Newspaper Archive. For such an amount of money you had better subscribe to the services of the Irish Newspapers Archives with fourteen newspapers. At a server of the Lafayette University, Louisiana, is the index to the Belfast News-Letter from 1737 to 1800, which can help your searches on Irish matters.

The thirst for in-depth knowledge of a city as important as London is of course stronger than ever, not just for lovers of London and visitors to the 2012 Olympic Games, but also for legal historians since the appearance of London Lives 1690 to 1800. Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, a website with a very large number of digitized documents, among them a substantial number of criminal records and coroner records. The coroner was and is the official charged with inquiries into unnatural deaths. A prime example of a recent British history project which should hold great interest because of the way various kinds of records and perspectives are combined is Connected Histories, a portal with sources for British history between 1500 and 1900. The York Cause Papers are according to this website freely accessible, but the restriction on the images is noted in the main text. London Lives, too, is a part of Connecting Histories, as are the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913. By chance I misremembered the title of this gateway and thus found the website Connecting Histories, an educational project on the history of Birmingham.

Connected Histories gives also more information about British Newspapers 1600-1900. This project consisted of two subprojects at the British Library of which we already met the first. The other project concerned the digitization of newspapers from the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the Burney Collection.

In the project Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (NSCE) of Kings’ College London, the British Library and other institutions you can consult freely six English periodicals from the nineteenth century, which will help somewhat to redress the balance between subscribers’ only and freely accessible digital newspaper archives in the United Kingdom, as do the six journals digitized by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The links and projects selection at NCSE is particular useful. The project Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical helps you to find views on science in a large number of general periodicals from Victorian England. For both newspapers and periodicals the Waterloo Directory to British Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900 offers online guidance.

A page of the Dutch Startpagina web directory is concerned with historical newspapers and gives an overview of online newspaper archives from many countries. Most of the British examples mentioned here figure in this overview, and these from also a section on a similar page of this directory about current British newspapers.

Dutch historic newspapers

Getting access to digitized old Dutch newspapers is in all cases I have seen until now a free service. Current newspapers do charge a fee for full access to the digital version and to their archives, but older editions are available for free at an increasing number of special websites. The largest project is an initiative at the Dutch Royal Library, Historische Kranten. Here appears gradually a large selection of national, regional and local newspapers from 1618 to 1995. At this moment you will find already a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century newspapers, and much more from later times until 1945. For some national newspapers the regional editions, too, have been digitized, mainly the issues during the Second World War. The Royal Library give a useful overview of major initiatives in countries such as Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and the United States, and a selection of Dutch regional projects. For Dutch colonial history one has to single out the Indonesian Newspapers Project at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies for the digitization of newspapers in Malayan from the former Dutch Indies.

Dutch regional and local newspapers are being digitized by a number of archives. This approach is completely absent in the United Kingdom. You must forgive me not to include here a full list of digitized newspapers because the number is very large. The overview of digitized historical newspapers at Startpagina puts Dutch newspapers in order by province. The Gazette de Leyde made available at the French website Gazettes européennes du 18e siècle is by mistake listed as the “Leiden Staatsblad”, but this gazette was not an official publication. Newspapers from the Second World War are mentioned separately, and there is even a list of not yet digitized newspapers. The reference to the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant is to a website concerned with the announcements in this seventeenth-century newspaper which refer often to the Dutch book trade.

A few examples: the archives in Utrecht have for example digitized the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad for the years 1893 until 1897. You can view in detail the pages of this newspaper, but you cannot download them due to an agreement with its publishers. For Leiden the Digitaal Krantenarchief of the Regional Archives Leiden gives you access to twelve newspapers, including the local version of the national newspaper Trouw and the short-lived Zuidhollandsch Dagblad. The Leidsche Courant (1720-1890 and from 1909 onwards) and the Leidsch Dagblad (1860-) do refer of course very often to Leyden University. I found even notices celebrating the anniversaries of doctoral degrees.

The value of old newspapers and the costs of historic culture

Is the current debate about the costs of digitization really the debate it should be? Is it sensible to restrict it to matters like the role of subventions by the government to relevant projects, the wish to establish national cultural institutions as independent players in the culture market with a duty to find their own sponsors and sources for income? Is it perhaps also a debate which you cannot restrict to claims for free access to the national and international cultural heritage at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end claims on property rights to digital images created by photographers and media departments? In my view this issue raises also questions about the freedom to get information from the government and governmental institutions. Which values do we cherish when we talk about history or cultural heritage? Who are to benefit from digitization projects, be it fur current official information and digital records management for administrative purposes or for historic records: the general public, the exasperated taxpayers with their respective national nicknames, children receiving education, scholars doing research?

The British Library tries to give its British Newspapers project a new lifespan with the British Newspaper Archive. I cannot help noticing that this same library has belatedly made available online in open access a fair number of its priceless manuscripts, but asks a price for old issues of a medium of which the proverb says that today’s newspaper will serve next day to pack fish and eggs. Historic newspapers offer a fascinating perspective on views, opinions and blind spots, and shows both the conventional and the seemingly irregular. What once seemed ephemeral can become invaluable for the historian, and for anyone wishing to understand humans and their lives in past centuries. My hat tip for giving on December 23, 2011, a very early and extensive notice about the British Newspaper Archive goes to the website of an Italian encyclopedia.

A postscript

In this post I made a short remark about the presence of images at the website for the York Cause Papers. Images are now indeed being added to the cases in the database. Until now I saw only images for cases from the sixteenth century. Here open access has got the upper hand.

When revisiting the digital newspaper archive of the Regional Archives Leiden (RAL) it came to my notice that this project has a conflict with an organization representing the rights of authors. In September 2011 the RAL decided to remove newspapers printed from 1941 onwards as a perhaps all too submissive precautionary action. I had yet not been aware of this conflict, because in early January I could check newspapers after 1945.