Tag Archives: Criminal law

The dog, the cat and the mouse: animals and legal history

Monkeys playing slaves - sculpture in wood - source: Kommissio für das Deutsche Rechtswörterbuch, Heidelberg

Man and animals live together since the domestication of a number of animals many thousand years ago. Through the ages they often got along quite well, but sometimes man needed the law to deal with the unexpected behaviour of animals. The company and companionship between women, men and animals is not completely harmless or effortless. Relationships ranged and range today from animal worship and sometimes almost human care for pets at one end to harsh treatment as mere objects and outright systematic cruelty, serving mankind in the end as food, provider of skins, cruel entertainment and other goals.

In a conference on Das Tier in der Rechtsgeschichte [Animals in legal history] at Heidelberg from April 2 to 4, 2014, legal historians and other scholars will discuss several aspects of animal and human life and the interaction between them. The program of the conference at Heidelberg has been created in cooperation with the commission for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. In this post I will look at some aspects of the interaction between animal history and legal history. This is an occasion, too, to look at the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, one of the typical German dictionary projects.

Of man and beasts

Animals are no aliens in legal history. Especially in German legal history animals come into view already early. I invite you to look for example at images from medieval bestiaries in Bestiaire du Moyen Âge, a virtual exhibition of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (interface French, English and Spanish), They are portrayed in various ways in the famous illuminated manuscripts of Eike von Repgow’s Sachsenspiegel. In April Dietlinde Munzel-Everling will discuss the animals in the Sachsenspiegel. Jacob Grimm, one of the pioneers of German academic legal history did not only study and publish versions of the medieval animal epic about the fox Renard in his Reinhart Fuchs (Berlin 1834). In an earlier post here I looked in more depth at the various versions of this much liked medieval story. His explanation of German words in his Deutsche Grammatik (first edition Göttingen 1819) often included historical explanations. The word vogelfrei, meaning literally and originally “free as a bird”, was in the context of exiled people and victims of execution who were denied a funeral narrowed to “delivered to the birds”. No doubt Grimm will figure in the contribution of Michael Frosser-Schell on animals in his edition of the Weisthümer (6 vol., Göttingen 1840-1878).

At the conference in Heidelberg a physician and a theologian will help looking at animals and legal history from different academic disciplines. Wolfgang Eckhart will look at relations between humans and animals from a cultural and medieval perspective. Martin Jung will look at animals in early French protestant theology. Apart from a section on animals in some selected legal sources the conference has sections on animals in public and private law, both in towns and rural areas, animals and their roles in criminal law, animals and law in art and language, and finally a section looking at animals in Spanish law (Marita Giménes-Candela) and animals in the German and French Enlightenment (Ulrich Kronauer). In this last contribution the change in views about the maltreatment of animals will be discussed.

Legal procedure is a subject in the contribution of Inge Kroppenberg about the damnatio ad bestias in Roman law. Peter Dinzelbacher, too, will look at Tierprozesse, criminal procedures against animals. The hanging of dogs is the theme of Stephan Meder’s contribution. Hopefully they pay due respect to the classic study The criminal prosecution and capital punishment of animals by Edward Payson Evans (London 1906; reprint London 1987), but follow also the example of historians such as Esther Cohen to look beyond cases to their context and to patterns of argumentation. For studies about animal behavior and views about animals it is worth looking at the Animal Studies Bibliography created at Michigan State University. The College of Law at this university is home to the Animal Legal & Historical Center where you can conveniently search for specific historical cases and subjects, broader themes and jurisdictions.

Animals, law, history and the German language

Logo Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch

In the second part of this post the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (DRW) takes pride of place. German scholars have a fine tradition of creating and editing dictionaries, with without any doubt the Deutsches Wörterbuch started by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as one of its major feats. The long time it takes to create such dictionaries is almost proverbial for the tenacity of German scholarship. A second association with these enterprises are the efforts of the various German learned academies. Not only academies with a budget for these projects, but also scholarly teams have the courage to start them, for example the team of 400 scholars behind the second edition of the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (HRG). The online version of the HRG gives you free access to the list of entries and keywords, some examples and to excerpts of the other articles. Paid subscription is necessary for full access to the complete online version, but you can buy PDF’s of separate articles.

The project for the DRW was started in 1897 by the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Since 1959 the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften leads and finances the project. This academy supports also the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français. The idea for a dictionary of the German legal language comes from the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. On the website of the DRW you can view the original printed version, a digital version and a summary of each article. The DRW has now reached the word Schulbuch. The website of the DRW contains an introduction in English and French to facilitate its use. For the DRW a great number of sources from Germany and elsewhere for example from the Netherlands, has been digitized on a separate website, where you can search in specific sources; you can check this overview with a list of the digitized titles. A list with externally digitized relevant sources counts some 1,300 titles. The DRW has a special text archive for full text searches. Thanks to scholars such as Grimm the scope of the DRW is not just the legal language of Germany, the former Holy Roman Empire. Grimm wanted it to cover all languages of the Western Germanic language family. Thus Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle Dutch, Old Frisian and even Lombardic, and the several medieval phases of the German language are included.

As with any dictionary created over a long time span the early parts of the DRW are not as rich as later volumes. The first volume appeared in 1914. The presence of digitized resources helps you to extend the examples adduced for early and later articles of the DRW. Let’s look for example at the cat (Katze) (DRW VII, col. 563-564). The cat figures gruesomely in a punishment dating from the Early Modern period in which someone was to be put into a sack with some living animals, among them a cat. The Katze was also the nickname of a punishment or a prison. The DRW links directly to other general German dictionaries, and indicated further textual sources, where you can even exclude certain word forms. Interestingly the ten additional textual examples from digitized sources for the cat stem all from Old Frisian law, mainly from the Westerlauwersches Recht, W.J. Buma (ed.) (Góttingen 1977). Here the cat is one of the animals which when they cause damages oblige their owner to pay only a part of the normal sum of money to be paid as a fine. The cat gave its name also to a number of following entries in the DRW which you might look up yourself.

I owe you here information about the other animals figuring in the title of my post. The mouse (Maus) is only very rarely mentioned in a legal context (DRW IX, col. 380). In fact the evidence from a trial according to canon law Tirol around 1520 given by the DRW has already been printed by Evans (p. 259-260) in Appendix A of his study from a German almanac for 1843. As a Dutchman I can dream of a case of mice invading a room with Dutch cheese! Combining cats and dogs in the title of this post was seducing, but I could have guessed easily that a dog (Hund) would only for its literal sense take very much space in the DRW (VII, col. 53-61). However, the hunting dog (Jagdhund) has an entry for itself (DRW VI, col. 356-357), with additional entries for such subjects as the servant dealing with hunting dogs. I could not help smiling at the wonderful long compound German word for the very brief separate entry concerning the costs of the care for a hunting dog, Jagdhundverpflegungskosten.

Mistaking the scope of dictionaries

Even if you can detect limits to the range and quality of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch you should remember that most languages do not have any kind of legal-historical dictionary worthy of a comparison with the DRW. Many people in my country complain about the largest dictionary – nicknamed the Dikke Van Dale [The Fat Dictionary] – it does not explain everything like an encyclopedia. They would be baffled by the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT) which looks very much like an encyclopedia of the Dutch language from 1500 to roughly 1925. Its sheer size makes it the largest existing dictionary of any language. You will forgive me this paragraph when I tell you on this website you can even find words from the Lex Salica using the combined search mode of the WNT with dictionaries for Old Dutch and Middle Dutch. A dictionary of the Frisian language is also present on this website. Verily the DRW is not an encyclopedia, and also not a lexicon of juridical constructions and concepts, for which you can turn to the HRG.

I would have liked to comment on the image with the chained apes, presumably a wooden sculpture somewhere in Germany, but I have not yet found more information about it. At the end of this post I would like to turn from history to the present, For a dictionary of current legal German you can consult online for example the Rechtswörterbuch, which brings you also to current German laws and legal study books. Animals in contemporary German law are the subject on the website of the foundation Tier im Recht. When I looked at this website with a poodle staring at you Germans will remember Goethe’s words in Faust about the heart of the matter, des Pudels Kern. In my opinion the various ways we looked and look at, dealt and deal with animals can say much about our attitude towards people, life and nature. The story of animals and animal law is not to be detached from human history, because it tells us about both the bright and darker sides of human life, our views of culture and society, its order and limits.

 

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.

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.

Weighing the witches at Oudewater

Heksenwaag, Oudewater

The Heksenwaag, Oudewater – image Geschiedkundige Vereniging Oudewater, http://www.geschiedkundigeverenigingoudewater.nl/

This month the walking historian marches again! In July I visited the tiny town of Oudewater, a city in the southwest corner of the province Utrecht. In the beautiful old city of Oudewater the historic Heksenwaag, the Witches Weigh-House is not to be missed. However, in fact I did almost overlook it due to the fact that in my memory the building was much larger. As a kid I had visited the Heksenwaag, and I even received the certificate stating my weight was normal. Coming back to this town things seemed different, but the degree of change was really surprisingly low. Afterwards I could not help questioning what I had seen and doubting my assumptions and conclusions. Moreover, the Heksenwaag is not just a building which any tourist has to visit, but it is a veritable Dutch lieu de mémoire. It links directly to the history of European witchcraft and the ways law and justice dealt with this phenomenon. The results are interesting enough to include in this post which has as its second focus the perception of Oudewater’s history.

Hard facts and shallow assumptions

The scales in the Heksenwaag, Oudewater

In De canon van Nederland, “The canon of Dutch history”, the Heksenwaag at Oudewater is connected to emperor Charles V. He is said to have granted Oudewater in 1545 a privilege to weigh persons suspected of witchcraft and to issue certificates of normal weight. The vogue for historic canons in the Netherland has led to several regional canons. In the canon for the southwest corner of Utrecht the story of the Heksenwaag is strongly qualified. Legend had preserved a tale of Charles V doubting in 1545 a witch trial at Polsbroek where a woman had been weighed and found too light. He ordered a second weighing at Oudewater, showing her to have a weight of 100 pounds, which saved her, As a sign of gratitude for the correctness of the staff at the weigh-house he granted the privilege. However, there was no weigh-house at all in the village of Polsbroek. The scene of the false weighing could have been the town of IJsselstein. There is no trace of any privilege from 1545 for Oudewater.

Where do we find sources on the medieval and Early Modern history of Oudewater? This very question does bring you quickly to sources touching upon legal history. Joost Cox published in 2005 for the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law a repertory of Dutch medieval city charters with grants of specific rights, bylaws and ordinances, the Repertorium van de stadsrechten in Nederland (The Hague 2005). At the accompanying website you will find only lists of cities and dates. With some caution Cox traces such a charter for Oudewater said to be given in 1257 by Hendrik I of Vianden, bishop of Utrecht from 1249 to 1267 (Cox, p. 190). The Institute for Dutch History has recently digitized the major modern editions of medieval charters for the county of Holland and the diocese of Utrecht. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S.Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-‘s-Gravenhage 1959) does contain an item for this charter (OSU III, 1428) which shows a short reference in a chronicle as the ultimate source of all later information. The chronicle places the gift of a city charter in 1257. Some later authors misread the chronicle and placed it in the year 1265. Nevertheless the city of Oudewater prepares the celebration of 750 years Oudewater in 2015. A celebration in 2007 would have been equally justifiable…

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

The remarkable insistence on some presumed historical facts in the history of Oudewater comes in a different perspective when looking at a number of events that most certainly determined its history. During a war between the bishop of Utrecht and the count of Holland Oudewater was severely damaged during a siege in 1349 (see for example the Divisiekroniek of Cornelius Aurelius (Leiden 1517) fol. 212 recto). Oudewater held a strategic position a the junction of the rivers Linschoten and Hollandse IJssel. In 1281 the bishop of Utrecht pledged Oudewater and some other possessions for 6000 livres tournois to the counts of Holland (OHZ IV, 1938 (1281 January 24)). The bishops of Utrecht never were able to repay this sum, and thus Oudewater remained until 1970 a town in Holland. On June 19, 1572, Oudewater was captured by Adriaen van Zwieten, and it became one of the earliest cities in Holland to side with William of Orange. On July 19, 1572 Oudewater participated with sixteen other cities in the first independent session of the States of Holland at Dordrecht, a landmark in the long struggle of the Low Countries with Spain, the Eighty Years War that lasted until the Westphalian Peace (1648).

Oudewater 1575

Engraving by Frans Hogenberg of the atrocities in Oudewater, 1575 – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, collectie Historieplaten Frederik Muller – see http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/

The change of sides in June 1572 and the presence of Oudewater at the historic session in Dordrecht a month later had undoubtedly been noted by the Spanish authorities in the Low Countries. The locations of Dutch cities had been chartered quite recently by Jacob van Deventer, the cartographer charged by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. When Spanish forces approached Oudewater in August 1575, an ultimatum was sent urging the city council to surrender. By sheer misfortune this ultimatum was not properly understood. On August 7, 1575 the city was set to fire and many citizens were ruthlessly murdered. Only the church of St. Michael’s and a monastery did escape the devastations. These events clearly affected also the survival of historical records. With much support from nearby cities such as Gouda Oudewater was quickly rebuilt. The results of this building campaign are still visible in the center of the city which looks indeed rather unified if you look closely enough. The destruction of the original buildings, and presumably also of many historic records, explains the tendency to stick to some acclaimed stories and events. Archival records concerning Oudewater can in particular be found at the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rijnstreek in Woerden and at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. The survival of written records plays a role, too, in the project of Sophie Oosterwijk and Charlotte Dikken on the floor slabs of St. Michael’s at Oudewater.

Of witches, historians and tourists…

Perhaps I had start here better with stating my relative unfamiliarity with the history of witchcraft. As a historian I have kept this subject on purpose on a safe distance, but in the end there is no escape from it, in particular because the subject of persecution and trials is not far away from the main territories of legal historians.

Debunking some part of history is nothing special, nor is it my aim to expose any mystification. Others have done this thoroughly for the Witches Weigh-House. Under the pseudonym Casimir K. Visser the exiled German journalist and historian Kurt Baschwitz (1886-1968) published the study Van de heksenwaag te Oudewater en andere te weinig bekende zaken (Lochem, [1941]; online at the Dutch Royal Library). Baschwitz pointed to an inspection in 1547 of the weights used at the weigh-house, a fact adduced by earlier historians, but actually a normal procedure which says nothing about any special use. He notes the careful avoidance in the certificates of any reference to a belief in witches, witchcraft, sorcery and similar things. Baschwitz referred to Johannes Wier (around 1515-1588), the famous Dutch physician who fought against superstitions, Wier did not mention Oudewater at all in his 1563 treatise De praestigiis daemonum nor in his De lamiis (1577). Both books were often reprinted and appeared in translations. Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698), too, did not credit Oudewater with any special role in his famous book De betoverde weereld (1691). Baschwitz published in 1963 his great study Hexen und Hexenprozesse. Die Geschichte eines Massenwahns und seiner Bekämpfung (Munich 1963)Hans de Waardt reviewed the historiography concerning Oudewater and witches in his article ‘Oudewater. Ein Hexenwaage wird gewogen – oder: Die Zerstörung einer historischen Mythe’, Westfälische Zeitschrift 144 (1994) 249-263. De Waardt wrote his Ph.D. thesis on sorcery and society in the province of Holland, Toverij en samenleving in Holland, 1500-1800 (diss. Rotterdam; The Hague 1991).

For the study of Johannes Wier Dutch readers can benefit from the marvellous recent study by Vera Hoorens, Een ketterse arts voor de heksen : Jan Wier (1515-1588) [A heretic physician for the witches, Jan Wier (1515-1588)] (Amsterdam 2011). On Balthasar Bekker Johanna Maria Nooijen published in 2009 “Unserm grossen Bekker ein Denkmal”? : Balthasar Bekkers ‘Betoverde Weereld’ in den deutschen Landen zwischen Orthodoxie und Aufklärung (Münster 2009).

It might be useful to mention the special website of the main Dutch historical journal Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden / Low Countries Historical Review where you can search online in the issues from 1970 to 2012. As for searching literature for European history you will no doubt gain information and insights at the portal European Historical Bibliographies maintained by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. A number of current historical bibliographies presented at this portal can be consulted online. For the history of the city and province of Utrecht you can use the online bibliography at SABINE which in a number of cases provides also links to digital versions of articles and books.

Researching the history of witchcraft

When it comes to studying the history of witches and witchcraft I must confess to start at almost zero. It is years ago that I read a monographic study on witchcraft, and this particular study, Lène Dresen-Coenders, Het verbond van heks en duivel : een waandenkbeeld aan het begin van de moderne tijd als symptoom van een veranderende situatie van de vrouw en als middel tot hervorming der zeden [The pact of witch and devil: an Early Modern fallacy as a symptom of a changing situation for women and as a means to reform morals] (diss. Nijmegen; Baarn 1983) did not convince me at all. Perhaps I was simply wrong in choosing to read this book with its overlong title and its hypotheses which still seem to me farfetched. In fact I kept away from a whole group of Dutch historians doing maatschappijgeschiedenis, “history of society” who favored studies of minorities to detect changes in mentality. Any exclusive focus still makes me frown, but the history of mentalities and cultural history in general is of course fascinating and most valuable.

If I was to start nowadays doing research on this theme I would look first at such fine guides as the section on Hexenforschung at the German history portal Historicum.net. Klaus Graf is the moderator of a useful mailing list on witchcraft research. You can also point to a succinct thematic bibliography provided in Dresden, the Dresdener Auswahlbibliographie zum Hexenforschung, which unfortunately has not been updated since 2004. In Tübingen the Arbeitskreis interdisziplinärer Hexenforschung sets an example of bringing several disciplines together. Unfortunately Jonathan Durrants’ online Witchcraft Bibliography was not available when writing this post. Older literature up to the end of the twentieth century can be found for example in a bibliography preserved at a website of the University of Texas. For Flanders Jos Monballyu (Kortrijk) has created a fine online bibliography and a selection of relevant sources concerning witch trials. He has written many studies about witches and traced many criminal sentences concerning them in Flemish archives. The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection is most useful with its bibliography and digital library.

In American history the Salem Witch Trials (1692) offer a fascinating window on early American society. You can find many documents online, in particular at the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project (University of Virginia), at Douglas Linder’s Famous Trials website and at a portal dedicated to the events in 1692 with a digital collection of books and archival records. The perceptions of behavior and the attempts at dealing with such behavior in courts of justice, not to forget the changing perceptions of justice, are among the elements which make the persecution of witches, witchcraft and sorcery interesting for legal historians.

Of course these examples can be multiplied, but this would far exceed the boundaries of a blog post. Here I have sketched only the outlines of things worth exploring further. I called Oudewater a Dutch lieu de mémoire. In the book series Plaatsen van herinnering sofar five volumes have appeared since 2005 which follow for my country – albeit somewhat belated – the example of Pierre Nora’s seminal Les lieux de mémoire (3 vol., Paris 1984-1992). This interest in historical places and the ways events are remembered at particular places help us to remember history and legal history, too, happened to people in particular times and places, and not just somewhere as a part of a supposed or real historical process. Even a small building in a dreamlike preserved old town can relate to larger events. The scenic old streets of Oudewater was the scene of some very real events, but they are the background, too, for a very stubborn tradition of perceived history. The living memory and the construction or even invention of (parts of) history related to a particular place tell us the fascinating history of the uses of history, changes in perceptions and the construction of identity in time and space.

One of the things that make me uneasy in writing about witchcraft is the sheer proliferation of literature on this subject. Many scientific disciplines occupy themselves with sorcery and witchcraft and its history. It is very easy to miss a whole range of interpretations stemming from a particular corner or country. The road of using bibliographies is long. Sometimes it seems attractive to take a shortcut which in the long run does not bring you much further. Legal history should pay due attention to colored perceptions and distortions of historical facts and events in order to keep an open eye for its own pitfalls, shortcomings and blind corners.

Nicolas Le Floch, chasing crime in eighteenth-century Paris

Sometimes I write here about historical subjects and their presentation on television. It is much rarer to find an example of the reversed, a television series which becomes the subject of historical debate. French scholars will organize a one-day symposium about the series running since 2008 on France 2 featuring Nicolas Le Floch, a police commissioner in eighteenth-century Paris. The call for papers at Calenda attracted my attention, thanks to the Frühe Neuzeit blog for Early Modern history. Is it typically French that I cannot find here the date of the event which no doubt will take place in Paris, and only the deadline of the call for papers, October 31, 2012? In this post I will inform you about the series, the books behind it, and the aims of the symposium.

The Maigret of the Enlightenment?

Nicolas Le Floch -Jerôme Robart - photo France 2

Nicolas Le Floch works in Paris during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774). His first appearance is in 1761, during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) between France and England. Le Floch works for De Sartine, the lieutenant-general of the French royal police force. Not only this war, but also royalists opposing the Jansenists and the Jesuit order form the background of the various stories and events in the series.

The French series is actually based on a number of novels by Jean-François Parot. On the website of France 2 he explains his view about the idea of a series around an imaginary police commissioner. Parot does not want to recreate a faithful picture of Paris in the eighteenth century, but he admits that a number of details help us imagining the surroundings in which Le Floch worked. The website proceeds with a number of maps of Paris, presents a number of dishes and recipes mentioned in the various installments as in the original novels, gives even a glossary of words and terms used in the series, and introduces you also to various prostitutes figuring in the series. The website amounts to a veritable portal around Nicolas Le Floch, including merchandise, a forum and a photo gallery, an overview of all installments and a page on Facebook. The signature tune of the lavishly produced series, a nice pastiche of late eighteenth-century music, is as memorable as that of a Maigret series!

Jean-François Parot has created his own website on Nicolas Le Floch. His novels featuring Le Floch have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. Inevitably some elements shown on the series website return here, too. Even if you dislike detective series you can enjoy the maps of Paris and the images of buildings which feature in his stories. One of the strengths is the careful list of credits for the images used on the website. This “Sources iconographiques” section is really instructive. Getting the credits for images right is not a task easily accomplished.

Law and fiction

The French scholars preparing the colloquium Fiction policière et série télévisée : Nicolas Le Floch, un “expert” au temps des Lumières do not keep Parot’s novels and the fictionalized crime series at a wide distance, but view it as an opportunity to ask questions about the way the series has been created. The first four installments followed more or less Parot’s novels, the following four are not directly founded on them. The central question helps to look at Le Floch from a wider perspective than just checking the historical correctness of the situations depicted and the details adduced. What was the position and role of police officers like Le Floch? How did one perceive his job? What status did someone charged with his tasks really have? For this series it will lead to looking at his cooperation with inspector Bourdeau, Sanson, the hangman, and his chef, Le Sartine, and more general the way he moves in public society, both in high circles and in the Paris underground. Other themes will be the relation between fictionalization for television and faithfulness to historic facts and surroundings, the freedom (“franchise”) of fictional persons and the freedom in developing a series, the use of language, and the choice of venue and public for the series: is France 2 the only possible channel for this series? The producers of the series have bought the right to create new adventures for Le Floch as they see fit.

Personally I would like for example to discuss the uses of music in this and similar series, stylishly composed for the series or existing period music. Remembering some of the BBC television series recreating novels by Jane Austen the art of getting things also musically right merits attention, too.

Natalie Zemon Davis published in 1987 her study Fiction in the archives. Pardon tellers and their tellers in sixteenth-century France. In order to get a lettre de rémission, a pardon for their crimes, suspected criminals had not only to tell the truth but more importantly a convincing story. The series with Le Floch is a challenge to legal historians to tell the story of crime and persecution in eighteenth-century Paris as imaginatively, vigorously and utterly compelling by the sheer force of truthful historic representation as novelist Parot and the creators of this French historic crime series have thus far succeeded in doing. The call for papers at Calenda points to several new French studies on history and fiction.

Even if you would prefer to label Nicolas Le Floch under the heading of Law and Humanities, it is a reminder that “doing the real thing”, research into criminal history during the Ancien Régime, will ultimately lead to an interpretation, a representation or reconstruction of a particular part of the past. Any paper, article, book or video presents not the past itself, but a view of the past guided by your questions, views and background. Scholarly research, too, creates an image of the past. We had better learn to use images creatively, too, instead of depreciate and deplore such series. Those who have followed Downton Abbey on television will remember how legal historians were asked to scrutinize the representation of the entail featured so prominently in this series. Readers of Austen’s Pride and prejudice have met with the entail, too, and this list can be easily expanded.

Legal history and museums: some notes

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

Finding list or full inventory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning by doing

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

A postscript

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

Dutch legal history in two stories

The latest online issue of the Rechtshistorische Courant, the fine monthly news bulletin on Belgian and Dutch legal history edited with zest and much esprit at the Department of Legal History of Ghent University, alerted its readers to a new website created by the Westfries Archief and the Westfries Museum in Hoorn about the oldest share of the Dutch East Indian Company. Hat tip to Ghent! Yesterday I presented you a story from the province of South Holland, now it is the turn for North Holland. Looking at the website of the West Frisian Archive I literally bumped into another story touching Dutch legal history worth presenting and retelling here, if only because it forms also part of a new website presenting narrated history from the province of North Holland, Oneindig Noord-Holland, well worth looking at in some depth.

Logo Oneindig Noord-Holland

The oldest share of the VOC

Calling a website The Oldest Share is a nice start in itself to attract the general public, merchants, business men, lawyers and historians at the same time. The Dutch East Indian Company – abbreviated in Dutch VOC – was founded on March 20, 1602, by the Dutch States General, and endowed with a monopoly on transport to and merchant activities in the Indonesian archipelago. Shares were issued to finance this trade company. In 2010 Ruben Schalk, a history student at Utrecht University, traced the earliest existent share from 1606 at the West Frisian Archive in Hoorn. The share was bought by a Pieter Hermansz. who invested 150 Dutch guilders into the VOC. Hoorn was one of the towns at the former Zuiderzee, now the IJsselmeer lake, which formed a kamer, a chamber with a number of seats in the Heeren Zeventien, the “Lords Seventeen”, the governing body of the VOC. The Chamber of Amsterdam was undoubtedly the most powerful element in the governing body. The VOC was also granted sovereign authority to conclude treaties and to engage in acts of war against countries competing for hegemony on the high seas, including privateering.

The new website for which also an English version has been created tells you the story of the discovery. You can look at the share in depth, both in a viewing mode which enables you to flip through the pages, and in a so-called deciphering mode. By pointing to the lines of the list of notes on the payment of dividend, in this case between 1606 and 1650, a pop-up window opens with a transcription of and information about the notes. One of the more troubling stories about the finding of this oldest VOC share is that a slightly older share – just three weeks! – was apparently until 1980 at the municipal archives in Amsterdam but somehow ended in the hands of German collectors. The early shares bring new light on the financial position of the VOC in its early period. Things were financed less easily than historians had assumed.

Of course one can debate whether the Dutch East Indian Company was really the first modern company to issue shares and to loan money on the financial market, a paramount example of mercantile capitalism in Early Modern Europe. It surely was not the first company with shareholders. Medieval merchants developed a number of ways to spread the risks of their enterprises. Financial cooperation between merchants in Italy and Flanders and their bankers started already in the twelfth century, a story well retold in a chapter of Wim Blockmans’ beautiful book Metropolen aan de Noordzee. De geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 1100-1560 [Metropoles at the North Sea. A history of the Low Countries, 1100-1560] (Amsterdam 2010).

To my surprise the new narrative website gives only a short illustrated announcement without a link to the special website on the history of the oldest share. Let me conclude the fist part of this post with pointing to a nifty website presenting quick links to information about individual ships of the VOC and a lot of links in English, too, and to the digitized sources for the history of the VOC at the Institute for Dutch History.

The Hoorn Pie Verdict

Both the West Frisian Archive and a new website with stories about North Holland, Oneindig Noordholland, “Neverending North Holland”, present the next subject of my post. This second story is rather different, really a mix of the sweet and bitter. In 1910 a jealous man decided to send a poisoned pie to his enemy. Instead of killing his enemy the enemy’s wife died by poisoning, and a servant became seriously ill. The sender of the deadly present, Johannes Jacobus Beek, and Willem Markus, his intended victim, had been both market masters and city messengers of Hoorn since 1901. Beek had embezzled money he received as a market master from participants of a fair. Markus detected the loss of money and found out what had happened with a sum of 135 Dutch guilders. Before the First World War the Dutch guilder was a very strong currency, and this sum meant a substantial amount of money. Beek was fired from his municipal jobs in 1907.

Only in 1910 Beek saw a chance to revenge himself. His brother in law provided Beek with arsenic pretending he wanted to get rid of rats in his house. He went to a pastry baker in Haarlem, and ordered a large pastry pie with the instruction to leave a hole in it in order to add something to it. On the same day, September 28, 1910, the pie was sent after the fatal preparations from Amsterdam by a courier service to Markus. However, next day when the pie was delivered to Markus on his 84th birthday, Beek’s former colleague refused to eat from it, but his wife Maria Muisman and Grietje Appelman, a maid servant, did eat from the deadly present. The anonymous congratulatory card delivered with the pie, the very box and much more have been preserved in the dossier concerning this case.

On the North Holland story website you get an abbreviated version of story. This story website is integrated with social media and gives you the chance to get the story of a building in front of you on your mobile phone using the fashionable QR code. In cooperation with the Noordhollands Dagblad, the regional newspaper, the West Frisian Archive present a longer, more detailed and illustrated version of this murder story. In fact the story is told in five installments resembling the feuilleton of old newspapers which brought similar stories in a serialised fashion.

The Hoorn Pie trial in Dutch jurisprudence

Beek was soon arrested and confessed he had sent the pie. He told the police that only after sending he had considered the possibility that someone else might eat from the sweet but poisoned present. On trial the attorney pleaded for a conviction for murder of Maria Muisman and attempted murder of Grietje Appelman. However, the arrondisementsrechtbank in Alkmaar, the regional tribunal, condemned Beek on December 13, 1910 to 10 year imprisonment for manslaughter. In appeal this sentence was annulled. The appeal court of justice, the gerechtshof in Amsterdam, judged that Beek had acted with murderous intent because he had immediately realized that his act might possibly kill others as well, and sentenced him on March 9, 1911 to life long imprisonment for murder and attempted murder. The defense counsel used the right to appeal in cassatie, in cassation, in order to get the verdict annulled, to the Dutch supreme court. The Hoge Raad, the Dutch supreme court, confirmed the judgment of the Amsterdan court of justice on June 19, 1911. Beek died in the prison at Leeuwarden in 1918 at the age of seventy years.

The sentences of the Dutch supreme court are called arresten, a word clearly stemming from the French word arrêts. In Dutch jurisprudence cases are referred to by a summary indication of the matter of the case and the usual abbreviated reference to the court and the date of the judgment or the date of publication in one of the many Dutch legal journals. Our case is nowadays referred to as the Hoornse taartarrest, “The Hoorn Pie Verdict”, HR (Hoge Raad), 19-06-1911, W (Weekblad van het Recht) 9203. A salient feature of Dutch jurisprudence is the addition met noot, “with a note”, meaning a short commentary of a lawyer, usually a law professor. In the legal reviews the notes were only signed with initials. The quality of their annotations to arresten helped and helps today establishing the reputation of Dutch law professors. Incidentally, in the final sentence and in current publicity about trials only the initials of the accused and other persons involved are shown. After a century the need for discretion is clearly no longer present. From the start not the parties involved are the elements which give a case its name.

In Dutch jurisprudence this verdict introduced the legitimate use of the concept of “conditional intent” into Dutch legal practice. The Wetboek van Strafrecht, the Dutch criminal law book from 1886 is still in vigor, and obviously some of its effects and implications needed clarification around 1900, and in fact this continues in the present. On purpose I do no try here to give either the correct term in British, Scottish or American criminal law, because they undoubtedly contain neat differences with Dutch criminal law. At least one of the additional terms in Dutch jurisprudence when considering this doctrine is culpoos handelen, “acting culpose” or guilty acting. The Hoorn Pie Verdict is one of the leading cases in Dutch jurisprudence, even if the doctrine on this point has developed, as for instance in the Porsche Verdict (Porsche-arrest, HR 15-10-1996, NJ (Nederlandse Jurisprudentie) 1997, 199) about a case where this doctrine did not apply, and another case about a car driver who deliberatedly hit three bicyclists, also in the province North Holland, the Enkhuizen Manslaughter Verdict (Enkhuizer doodslag, HR 23-01-2001, NJ 2001, 327) where this doctrine was reaffirmed. In these online versions the notes are given without indication of the original author.

The main online source in open access for verdicts of Dutch courts is found at the official portal for the Dutch judiciary, Rechtspraak.nl. It is not so easy to find older verdicts online in open access. I confess to using sometimes articles in the Dutch Wikipedia where presumably law students have treated a generous number of older cases. These articles often point to a special website for arresten. In an earlier post I could point to the website Iure with some cases prior to 2000. At subscribing Dutch law libraries you can search in special databases for jurisprudence. Subscribers to the student law journal Ars Aequi get also access to a very useful database for Dutch case law, if you pardon me using this expression, because Dutch jurisprudence is not exactly to be equalled with Anglo-American case law.

More information about contemporary Dutch law and online access to documents and cases can be found at websites such as Globalex, at the University of Minnesota Law Library, in the summary guide created by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University College, London, or in the research guide of GLIN at the Library of Congress Law Library.

The centennial of the Hoorn Pie case

A century ago the case of the poisoned pie made headlines in the newspapers. In the website of the Dutch Royal Library for digitized Dutch newspapers you will find more than twenty articles from 1910 and 1911 about this case. One can applaud the retelling of this trial at the narrative history site for North Holland, but one has to point out that the juridical side of the matter does not get more attention. It would have been easy to add the text of the verdicts. October 28, 2011 was the day of the commemoration of the centennial at Hoorn with a re-enactment of the story, a guided tour through Hoorn and lectures by contemporary Dutch lawyers. Many spots are still visible, sometimes barely changed since a century. It is well worth leafing the pages of the online presentation at the website of the West Frisian Archive. This constitutes quite some effort in bringing an aspect of legal history, albeit the more appealing side, the perennial fatal attraction of crime and evil, to the attention of the public at large. For educational purposes this constellation of coverage in a newspaper, activities organized by an archive and a museum, and the use of special websites which even connect to social media, is surely worth considering. It is not by chance that both the narrative project and the website on the oldest VOC share have been partially sponsored.

What strikes me in the end when reflecting on the Hoorn Pie verdict is the rapid speed of the Dutch judiciary in the early twentieth century. The pie arrived late in September 1910, the first trial ended on December 13, 1910, the sentence at the appeal court dated from March 9, 1911, and the final verdict by the Hoge Raad was given on June 19, 1911, just nine months after the deadly birthday gift. For historians it might perhaps be the combination of seemingly completed stories with ever new questions and perspectives that give legal histories their plural form and coherence. This ambiguity is not a birth defect of this discipline but its fountain of life.

A postscript on early Dutch stocks

I am happy to add a postscript to this post and to point you to the Ph.D. thesis of Lodewijk Petram, The world’s first stock exchange (Ph.D. thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2011) which you can download from his website. Petram has written in Dutch a more popular version of his study, De bakermat van de beurs (Amsterdam 2011) on the early trade in shares of the VOC. It was the trade in these shares that contributed much to the early development of the stock trade and the role of Amsterdam in it. It is fascinating to compare the results of this study with the dividend notes on the earliest surviving share kept at Hoorn. You can find some historical documents at Petram website and also at the site of the Dutch Stock Exchange Foundation, which provides you with a history in a nutshell of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and its forerunners.

Gouda and the visual power of a town hall

This weekend I visited Gouda. When you are going from Utrecht to Rotterdam or The Hague you have to pass Gouda, but I have only seldom visited this town which belongs to the group of classic Dutch towns in the medieval county Holland. It was difficult to take pictures of the Sint Janskerk in Gouda and its magnificent sixteenth-century stained glass windows. It was a rainy day, the church is enclosed by other buildings, and photographing church windows is an art in itself, and thus I will not present here any picture of this church. After a fire in 1552 the Sint Janskerk was rebuilt very quickly. New stained glass windows were donated by cities like Haarlem and Amsterdam, by collegiate chapters such as the Oudmunster chapter in Utrecht and other institutions. William of Orange founded a window, as did even the Spanish king Philip II. The original drawings for most of the 72 windows have largely been preserved, and they will be put on display at MuseumGouda from November 22, 2011 onwards after restoration of the paper of these life size drawings.

The gothic town hall of Gouda

Apart from the Sint Janskerk, one of the largest churches in The Netherlands, the gothic town hall at the market place of Gouda is the town’s chief attraction. It takes pride of place on the websites devoted to the history of Gouda. The archives of Gouda are now kept by the archival consortium Groene Hart Archieven with centers in Gouda and Alphen aan den Rhijn. On its website the building story of the town hall is told in some detail. A fire in 1438 had damaged the old town hall. At last between 1448 and 1450 the work began for a new town hall designed by Steven van Afflighem. Gouda became prosperous because of its central position at the Gouwe river on which in medieval and early modern times freight from all Holland had to pass. The route using the Gouwe was the quickest way for merchants between Amsterdam and cities like Haarlem in the north, and Dordrecht and Rotterdam in the south. Add to this the proverbial Gouda cheese from the rich meadows surrounding this small town, calculate a loss of importance during the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, and thus a medieval town hall can survive.

The medieval facade and the renaissance steps of Gouda Town Hall

The new town hall has not survived completely in its late medieval form. The flight of steps in Renaissance style dates from 1603. You might think this post offers you until now only regional history, but at the long side of the town hall you can detect a pillory, a pedestal on which offenders could be mocked and denounced by the people. The town hall served also as a court building. At the back of the building is a scaffold from 1697. It was on this scaffold that in 1860 the death penalty was executed for the last time in The Netherlands.

The entrance of Gouda Town Hall

At the entrance of Gouda Town Hall is written Audite et alteram partem, “Hear also the other side”, a well-known juridical maxim, an indispensable element of fair justice and the concept of due process. I was surprised by the plural Audite instead of the singular Audi. No doubt the gold lettering is rather modern, and the letter forms suggest a date in the seventeenth century, but these words might have been written here earlier on, too.

The gate at the MuseumGouda

On my way to the Sint Janskerk I passed inevitably the former Catharina Gasthuis, an old hospital, now the premises of MuseumGouda, the municipal museum, with a beautifully restored Dutch Renaissance gateway, dated 1609. Somehow I was in particular intrigued by the relief above the entrance. Inside the museum you can find a historical collection, instruments of torture from the town hall, paintings from Gouda and temporary exhibitions. A part of the collection is shown in the former chapel of the hospital. Above one of the doors I saw a statue representing Justice as a woman with a sword and a balance. Interestingly her eyes are not blindfolded.

A relief with Lazarus

However, the relief at the gateway called plainly stronger for my attention. The story depicted and the use of polychromy are to be blamed! The main scene shows the table of the rich man from the story about Lazarus in the gospel of Luke (16,19-31). The scene illustrates verse 21 (King James Bible):

And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sore.

In the scene Lazarus looks up to the rich man, but at the same time Lazarus seems already to see the vision of himself in Abraham’s bosom depicted in the niche above the scene in the dining room. The story of Lazarus and the anonymous rich man is a story of justice and mercy, two elements which cannot be taken from any form of effective law and justice without taking away the very heart of what laws, judicial institutions and the actual working of the rule of law are meant to be. The contemporary clothing of the people in this relief followed the tradition of Dutch art to present biblical stories in present day surroundings. Alas it is very easy to imagine a scene of tremendous richness and appalling poverty side by side in our times, too.

Dirck Coornhert, philosopher and social reformer

Social conditions can form the starting point for a moral appeal. In sixteenth-century Haarlem lived Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522-1590), an independent thinker and prolific writer. For some years Coornhert served as a secretary to the States of Holland. He suffered from persecution, and had even to leave the Netherlands for some ten years. When he returned he went to Delft, only to face again opposition. In 1588 he came to Gouda, where he was buried in the Sint Janskerk. In 1587 Coornhert wrote a proposal for disciplining ruffians, Boeventucht; a modern edition (1985) of this text has been digitized in the Digital Library for Dutch Literature. Coornhert had a view of criminals working during their stay in prison. During the seventeenth century his ideas were adopted by a number of Dutch cities. A large number of old editions of Coornhert’s writings has been digitized by Amsterdam University Library, in particular the opera omnia edition “Werken van D.V. Coornhert” published by Jaspar Tournay in Gouda between 1610 and 1612. The edition of sources for his life edited in 1925 by Bruno Becker has been digitized at the Institute for Dutch History.

For legal historians not only Coornhert’s proposal for a new prison regime is of interest. The Coornhert Liga, a Dutch society for the reform of criminal law, is named after Coornhert. He quarreled with Justus Lipsius about the repression of heretics. Vrijheid van conscientie, freedom of conscience, was the motto devised by Coornhert for the city of Gouda. This motto is also prominent in the glass window in the Sint Janskerk offered to Gouda by the States of Holland. Some of the windows show images that are relevant for legal iconography, too, and therefore they have been included together with other images from Gouda in the database of the former Dutch Center for Legal Iconography and Documentation (NCRD). Earlier this year the Royal Library confirmed the release into the public domain of this subscribers-only database, but until this day this has not yet been realized. In the first post of this month I have said enough about restricted access. I will just add that the former NCRD was an institution financed by all Dutch universities.

Gouda and Dutch legal history

Gouda is proud of its history. It has even developed its own historic canon in the wake of the current Dutch vogue for historic canons. In the Goudse Canon you can read about the town hall, the Sint Janskerk and Coornhert, three of the forty subjects, and also about Erasmus. Gouda has a claim on Erasmus because his mother came from Gouda. Erasmus went to school nearby Gouda. In Latin this Gouda claim has been concisely put: Goudæ conceptus, Roterodami natus, begotten in Gouda, born in Rotterdam. The canon of Gouda’s history does include the Waag, the weigh-house from 1670 at the Markt, the place where the cheese commerce in Gouda cheese took place before industrial production took over from the commerce on and near the market place. Gouda cheese comes from the area surrounding town, not from Gouda. The name Gouda cheese is not protected, and thus production of it is possible anywhere.

The Gouda Canon website shows apart from the well researched topics an excellent choice of illustrations and connects you to the AquaBrowser catalogue for associative searches in the city library’s GoudaNet. The website of the GroeneHart Archieven includes an image database which will help you to get more pictures about Gouda and the surrounding region. It is definitely a city with a history bringing enough assets for legal historians, even when it is of course rather grim to see at one side instruments of torture and the historical pillory and scaffold, and at the other side room for a pioneer of legal reform. It can do no harm to realize that the dark and sunlit sides of history are part of one history with many tales, a history in which justice and law have not always succeeded to reach their original aims.

A reproduction of Redon's "Fallen angel" outside MuseumGouda

Is it merely a coincidence to find a reproduction of the Fallen angel by Odilon Redon (1840-1916) next to the entrance of MuseumGouda with the Lazarus relief?

A postscript

The question at the end of this post is indeed not rhetorical. MuseumGouda had in June 2011 the painting The Schoolboys by Marlene Dumas auctioned at Christie’s without prior consultation with other Dutch museums which might have been interested to have this painting in their holdings. MuseumGouda got some € 950,000 from the auction, but ran into severe criticism from the Dutch Museum Society which had advised that MuseumGouda doing thus would act inappropriately and against clear guidelines of this society. The Dutch Museum Society even considered to cast MuseumGouda from the society. By the way, the Fallen angel is a painting in the holdings of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Following the trail of criminals in Frankfurt

Sometimes finding a subject for a blog post resembles stumbling into a theme, an event or something else worth writing about. Looking again at the congress calendar of this blog suddenly the number of events in German-speaking countries struck me as impossible low. It seems I have overlooked some of the German websites with announcements of congresses, symposia, Arbeitsgespräche and similar events. A number of events is held yearly and I am happy to point you for them to the links collection of the committee for the legal history of Austria. A few weeks ago I added the Wiener Rechtsgeschichtliche Gesellschaft to my blog roll after removing the link to a blog of another German legal society because of its apparent sleeping state. I leave it to your own discretion to figure out which society seems to have no time for blogging. The events organized at the Max-Planck-Institute für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main has a prominent place on the page of the congress calendar because of its continuity and variation. However, on this Frankfurt page you will not find anything on the subject I bumped into today, although this, too, happens on the borders of the Main.

Surely Frankfurt is not the only European city which organizes activities concerning legal history, and it is not completely new that such activities tend to focus on criminal law. Long ago I visited York and of course I passed the spot where tourists can join the daily Murder Mystery Trail. Back to Frankfurt: Frankfurt Stadtevents organizes in May 2011 an activity called “Tatort Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kriminalfälle und Rechtsgeschichte“. The goal is to create a kind of guided tour through the city in a span of one and a half hour visiting and seeing the places where murders took place, criminals were executed and famous cases happened. Some of the courts and the places where the black market flourished will also be visited, and you can imagine other interesting spots and persons. The names of Kaspar Hauser and Anselm Feuerbach are well-known indeed. The tour starts at the Hauptwache, the square named after the former main guard-house of the city, nowadays also the name of a subway station. Perhaps the mentioning on this website of a firm which teases you to taste their drink is the clearest sign that legal historians are not directly involved in the creation of this walk.

Before we might start quibbling about the academic level of this proposal in Frankfurt I would like to ask a few questions. What if professional legal historians did organize an outdoor event in a city with a rich or eventful past? How about leaving your department or research institute, and trying to present a subject to people who are willing to listen and to be informed about something which obviously interests you? Why not make people happy with your hopefully evident enthusiasm about, knowledge of and involvement with legal history? Those within the trade know about the importance of this scientific discipline, but any try to explain it yet again or to present it in a new way or to a different public offers you a chance to develop skills in presenting and guiding, in creating a kind of script which you can quickly tune to your actual public, or even to the weather and your own stamina! And speaking of academic audiences, should one not be aware of the specific challenges to communicate truly with them? Does this not involve at least some of the same qualities a city guide or a museum staff member must have? Anyway as a visitor of a scientific events I really hope speakers have prepared themselves not just to present a paper, but to invite reactions and discussion, and first of all to keep people interested.

What strikes me is the apparent ease in creating this tour in Frankfurt, which in the short description on-screen seems to succeed in taking examples not exclusively from the history of criminal law, to mention only one obvious thing. Some German legal historians have not hesitated to write also for the proverbial general public, and these publications have certainly been used in preparing this tour, and if not, I am sorry to be mistaken. The resources for doing legal history in Frankfurt are not restricted to the wealth of information and materials at the Max-Planck-Institute for European legal history, and getting to know Frankfurt’s history is really worthwhile. I simply refuse to believe you cannot try to create something either similar or even more attractive elsewhere, nor do such tours only qualify as misguided forms of tourism and a waste of time for people with higher education.

For anybody wondering about finding information about current academic events in Germany and surrounding countries, and more particular in the field of legal history, I have to point first of all to the website of HSoz-u-Kult at the Humboldt University, Berlin. The section with Termine (literally appointments or deadlines) has a events calendar showing a relatively restricted number of upcoming events in Germany. Zeitgeschichte-Online is a website with many facets but without a Terminkalender. Clio-Online ia a very useful portal for historians, but alas also without a congress calendar. I have spent several periods in Germany, I have visited Switzerland and Austria, too, but it took me some time before hitting upon the word Wissenschaftskalender. The Informationsdienst Wissenschaft has a website with an interface in German and English with a calendar of scientific events. Austria has its own Wissenschaftskalender. Because of the advanced hour I will not add any events concerning legal history from it to my blog today, but I do like to single out among the news items on the IDW website the news on the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Among the winning young scholars of this year who received their prizes in Berlin on May 9, 2011, is a historian, Henrike Manuwald from Freiburg, who crosses the borders between the history of medieval literature and law. Let’s hope her example invites other scholars as well to find new approaches, to walk unfamiliar roads and to handle both classic sources and newly found materials with fresh inspiration!

A postscript

Only a year later I became aware of a painful omission in this post: the quality of the tour described here cannot be qualified properly without including the Kriminalmuseum Frankfurt am Main. In two posts on museums and legal history I discuss the role and position of these institutions.