Tag Archives: Legal history

Defending Belgium’s cultural heritage

Logo State Archives BelgiumLast week many media published the news about a drastic cut in the budgets of major cultural institutions in Belgium. in particular federal institutions such as the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I in Brussels and the Archives de l’État en Belgique, also in Brussels, face next year a loss of 20 percent of their yearly budget. I use here the French name of both institutions, but in particular on the website of the Belgian National archives you can immediately gauge the multilingual character of Belgian society. Belgium can be roughly divided in three parts, Flanders, Wallonie and the central region in and around Brussels, Belgium’s capital. The German-speaking minority in the region along the German border has in principle the same rights as the Flemish and Wallon communities.

An online petition has been launched to give the protest against these plans a loud and clear voice, and I cordially invite you to share your concern about these proposals by signing this petition. You can read the content of this petition in four languages, Dutch, French, English and German. In this post I would like to offer a quick overview of some important digital projects in Belgium which help presenting Belgium’s cultural heritage. Some of these projects offer access to resources which are also important for the research of legal historians and for research projects concerning the rich history of law and justice in Belgium.

Digitization and the safeguarding of cultural heritage

Logo KBRWhen you look at the digital projects of the Royal Library and the Belgian National Archives it can seem at a first look Belgium’s national library has more to offer online than its counterpart in the world of archives. Just now there is very appropriately an exhibition about the First World War. However, in order to find the projects in the digital domain you will have to browse through various sections of the library’s website. A number of projects can be found under the heading Activités, but the digital library Belgica is tucked away among the catalogues. The variety of its contents, with apart from books and manuscripts also coins and medals, engravings, maps, newspapers and music scores, is such that it clearly merits a place of its own on the library’s website that shows a design which has changed little over the years. A number of manuscripts has been digitized for the project Europeana Regia. On my blog I have written twice about the presence of legal manuscripts in this project. Among the manuscripts is for example an illuminated French version of the Liber novum iudicum written in the second half of the fourteenth century (KBR, ms. 10319). You can search directly for digitized books in a special subcatalogue; a search for books concerning law (droit) brings you already some 160 books, and more can be found. The first look of rich digital repositories is somewhat dimmed by the fact that the actual number of digitized items is fairly restricted.

Logo FlandricaThe KBR does cooperate in many international projects: for example, the digital version of the Gazette de Leyden has been created in cooperation with the Belgian national library. On the national level the KBR supports the Flemish digital library Flandrica. This website with digitized books and manuscripts from six libraries working together in the Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheek [Flemish Heritage Library]  is strictly in Dutch. For items touching upon law and justice you have to choose the theme Recht en politiek [Law and politics] which brings you to thirty digitized printed books and manuscripts. The number of items with a legal context in Flandrica is quite small but they cover a wide range of subjects and periods, from a canon law manuscript to the procedure at law in the county of Looz, and from medieval times to the early twentieth century. As for editions of books printed in Flanders between 1500 and 1800 you can search for them online with the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen. Digitized literature in Flemish can be consulted online in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL), where you will find also literature in Frisian and Afrikaans.

Until recent the Belgian National Archives looked to outsiders as a very much centralized and not very active organization, but the first impression is not completely justified. In 2010 saw the launch of a virtual exhibition about the dark sides of Belgian colonial history in Congo, Archives I presume? Traces of a colonial past in the State Archives, This year they launched a virtual exhibition concerning the First World War in Wallonie, Archives 14-18 en Wallonie. The website in four languages is being overhauled, and some parts are not yet available in English, in fact the overview of online databases did not exist at all at the time of writing. The search in archival inventories is an example. Here you can search both in scanned inventories and in digitized finding aids. Among the digitized inventories is for example the finding aid created by Jan Buntinx to the archival records of the Raad van Vlaanderen, the high court of Flanders [Inventaris van het archief van de Raad van Vlaanderen (Rijksarchief te Gent) (9 vol., Brussels 1964-1979)]. Recently the National Archives digitized the cabinet minutes created between 1917 and 1979; you can access these documents both in Dutch and French. The Recueil des Circulaires, official letters sent by the Ministry of Justice, have been digitized, too, as are a yearbook, the Annuaire statistique de la Belgique (et du Congo Belge) (1870-1995), and two juridical journals, the Revue Belge de la police administrative et judiciaire and La Belgique judiciaire.

Logo CegesomaA third institution threatened by the budgetary cuts is the Cegesoma, Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society. Precisely the attention of the research centre for periods in recent Belgian history with some very black pages with political reverberations until the very present has made it already earlier a target of Belgian politicians.

Characteristically Cegesoma is among the first institutions to react in public to the announcement of the new Belgian cabinet. The institute argues that the proposed cuts will harm most drastically the work accomplished during decades and future activities as well. Cegesoma holds archival and audiovisual collections and a research library. You can search online for digitized materials, such as photographs, sound recordings, tracts, posters, archival records, diaries and manuscripts. One of the archives coming from the Ministry of Justice now in the holdings of Cegesoma deals with the Rijkswacht, the Belgian national police, between 1931 and 1947. One of the largest and most visible online projects of Cegesoma is The Belgian War Press which offers online access to numerous newspapers published during the First and Second World War, both by the official censored press and the clandestine press. The website of the Cegesoma has a very well-stocked choice of links to other research institutions and a fine selection of websites concerning the First World War.

Logo Justice & PopulationsLegal history comes particularly into focus at Justice & Populations, a project with Cegesoma among the fourteen participating institutions. This project focuses on the long-term relations and impact of the Belgian judiciary in its widest sense and Belgian society in an international context from 1795 onwards until the present. it is unclear in which way this project will be affected by the new plans, but surely any change in the role of Cegesoma will have side-effects here, too. By the way, another Belgian project, Just-His, is very important for Justice & Populations.At Just-His you will find actually three databases, one on Belgian judicial magistrates between 1795 and 1950, a research repository and Belgian criminal statistics (only accessible after registration).

Among the institutions governed by the national government is also the Commission Royale pour la Publication des Anciennes Lois, founded in 1846. This committee is responsible for many important editions of sources concerning the legal history of Belgium from the Middle Ages onwards, ranging from ordinances, charters and customary law to legal treatises and collections of verdicts. On its website you can find an overview of the publications and projects. The issues of the Bulletin des anicennes lois et ordonnances de Belgique published between 1909 and 1999 are available online (PDF’s). Let’s hope the projects coordinated and often done by members of the committee themselves will not be harmed by any of the proposed measures.

A wider threat

Logo KVAB

Apart from archives and libraries museums, too, are included in the budgetary threats, but before looking at some museums I will look briefly at a higher level. The Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen (KVAB) [Royal Flemsh Academy of Belgium for Arts and Sciences] published in 2013 reports on the reform of the Belgian judiciary [De gerechtelijke hervorming: een globale visie (“The judicial reform, a global vision”)] and the role and significance of archives in Belgian society [Archieven, de politiek en de burger (“Archives, politics and the citizen”)]. One of the standing commissions of the KVAB has legal history as its core business, with projects such as the bibliography of current research on Belgian legal history and the critical editions of the works of Philips Wielant. The KVAB provides on its website a searchable version of the Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek [National Biographical Dictionary], a useful tool for legal historians, too.

Among the targets of the cuts proposed by the Belgian government are a number of famous museums, for example the Royal Museum for Fine Artsthe Royal Museums for Art and History, and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, all in Brussels. Another royal museum, the Royal Museum for Middle-Africa in Tervuren, closed in 2013 for renovation. Its buildings and outlook had not changed substantially since its start in 1910 after a temporary exposition about Belgian colonial activities in 1897 instigated by king Leopold II. The museum had become an icon of Belgian colonialism, and later an outright offensive institution. A part of the ethnographic collections of the KMMA can be consulted online, including the Stanley collection. Hopefully the drastic renovation can be completed, but anyway it seems wise not to reckon absolutely with the projected reopening in 2017.

What will happen exactly with all these institutions is not yet clear. It is necessary to look at both their physical and virtual existence. Federal support could be withdrawn or become less substantial in many ways. Flanders and Wallonie can boast cultural institutions with rich collections. The portal Numériques – BE: Images et histoires des patrimoines numérisés can bring you quickly to a selection of images from some thirty cultural institutions in Wallonie. Belgian Art Links and Tools is a portal guiding you to some 600,000 images concerning art in Belgium, and to several repertories. This portal has been created by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, yet another threatened institution.

The Flemish heritage portal FARO - accessible in Dutch, French and English – is in my opinion a good starting point for finding out more about the different forms of cultural heritage in Flanders and news about them, be they digital, immaterial or very material. If you think digital collections will more easily survive, the actual absence of several links pages at FARO is a healthy reminder of the fragility of virtual existence and preservation. It is quite a feat to maintain a multilingual website, and thus it is a bit too easy to grumble about such problems! Luckily the page with links to several Flemish portal sites can be viewed, with due attention for initiatives in Wallonie, and there is also a general links selection in English. Among recent news items at FARO I saw an announcement about a masterclass on Food in Prison, held at Brussels on October, 16, 2014.

As for me I am genuinely surprised to learn much more about all these projects than i knew before. It serves me as a reminder that we Dutch are not always completely aware of what happens in Belgium, a sorry situation. Here I have tried to honour Belgium by creating in this post also a kind of nutshell guide to digital projects in the field of cultural heritage and legal history. Let’s support Belgian scholars and cultural institutions in their struggle to change the plans scheduled for the coming years, and help them finding the spiritual power and financial means to maintain existing activities and to work on new initiatives. These things will enrich Belgium and us more than any financial contribution can do, however welcome of course any support in hard money is.

Images, words and the law

However seducing texts are as sources to gain new knowledge, images do rightfully claim our attention, too, nay stronger, they are even more seducing and intoxicating than texts. Legal iconography is the auxiliary science to history and law which studies the uses and abuses of imagery in law and justice. A few months ago I was attracted to a building with both images and texts in an intriguing combination. Very close to it is a statue of a man who has been responsible as few others before him for introducing images as an educational tool. Here I would like to share with you a few thoughts about this building and about the role of images in teaching and research.

The town hall at Naarden

Map of Naarden by Jacob van DeventerThis summer I visited the town of Naarden, some twenty kilometers to the south-east of Amsterdam. Jacob van Deventer’s map of Naarden, part of the cartographic project for the Spanish king Philip II, shows a town with medieval city walls, no match for the modern weapons of the sixteenth century. During the Dutch Revolt Spanish armed forces attacked Naarden in 1572 with brutal force. The soldiers murdered the inhabitants and destroyed the city almost completely. The Grote of St. Vituskerk with its famous painted wooden vaults survived. Afterwards Naarden became a fortified town, even an archetype of the Dutch fortification system, as you can see when visiting the Vestingmuseum.

The town hall at Naarden

Among the buildings rebuilt in Naarden after 1572 is the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style, completed in 1601, almost thirty years after the tragic events. Whatever form the medieval town hall might have had, its new incarnation still looks splendid. On the facade not just blazons and statues all convey their particular visual message, Three texts have been added to bring yet another message.

naarden-facade

On closer inspection two of these texts are really two versions of the same message. The Latin text to the left has been superbly condensed into Early Modern Dutch. The Latin reads: Quidquid erit superanda / omnis fortuna ferendo est, “whatever the event may be, every turn of fortune has to be subdued by bearing it”, a quote from Vergil’s Aeneid (V,710). Surprisingly the Dutch is much more condensed, but succeeds in adding also a significant twist: Ist lyden ist vreucht / Draeght soo’t God vuegt, “be it suffering or joy, bear it when God brings it”. Here classical Antiquity is invoked at the service of the civil authorities, but at the same time subtly christianised.

The pious overtones are much clearer in the inscription below the tympanum above the entrance, Godt regiert al anno 1601, “God governs everything, in the year 1601″. The tympanum is crowned by allegorical statues representing Faith, Hope and Justice, the latter in the middle portrayed in the familiar way of a blindfolded woman with a balance and a sword. On the top of the left part of the facade is an allegorical statue of Love, the right part is crowned by the Dutch lion. The blazons below the first floor windows are those of the county of Holland (a lion rampant), of prince Maurice of Oranje, and West-Friesland. In the tympanum you can see the blazon of the Habsburg emperors, the Austrian Doppeladler, the double eagle, which is also the blazon of the city of Naarden.

Emblems: combining images and text

Combining texts and images is of course not something new, but in a way it is here at least a bit unexpected. At first the brief Latin proverb and its wonderful crisp and concise Dutch rendering led me to speculate about a very particular influence. Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), the great Flemish political theoretician who taught some years at Leiden was also known as an editor of Tacitus. He influenced Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581-1647), a prolific author and for forty years bailiff of Muiden Castle near Naarden. He wrote his Nederlandsche Historiën, a history of the Low Countries in difficult prose, clearly modelled on Tacitus’ works. Hooft published in 1611 Emblemata amatoria, a volume of emblems, symbolic images with a motto and didactic verses. However, we must rule out this argument as a possible source of influence for the decoration of the town hall in Naarden, simply because Hooft was much too young in 1601 to exercise any influence. I was genuinely surprised, too, to find Vergil as the author of the quote, not Tacitus. Instead one could perhaps better look at the early works of Hugo de Groot (1583-1645). A search for possible direct influences at Naarden can be quite long. A quick search for Dutch literature citing Vergil’s words in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL) brought me to Jacob Andriesz. Boelens (1554-1621), a burgomaster of Amsterdam often active on special missions in the early seventeenth century whose motto was Superanda omnis fortuna ferendo. It is a tantalizing hint which needs further corroboration.

The literary genre of emblematic literature was launched by one of the most famous humanist lawyers, Andrea Alciato (1592-1550) with his volume Emblemata (first edition Augsburg: Steyner, 1531). In 1529 he had already published Selecta epigrammata Graeca Latine versa (..) (Basel: Bebel, 1529; online in Göttingen). It is intriguing to look for an emblem which might have influenced the choice of a text at Naarden. Access to early editions of emblem books is much helped by four major online projects, at Glasgow for Italian and French books, at Utrecht for Dutch books, mainly from the seventeenth century, the project Emblematica Online of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, and the Biblioteca Digital de Emblemática Hispánica of the Universidade da Coruña.

Emblem no. 34 from Alciato's Emblemata in the edition 1546

Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est, Et nimium felix saepe timenda fuit. Sustine (Epictetus dicebat) et abstine. Oportet Multa pati, illicitis absque tenere manus. Sic ducis imperium vinctus fert poplite taurus In dextro: sic se continet a gravidis.

The online collections at Glasgow has a separate section for Alciato. In his emblem collection the first line Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est of an emblem appearing in the section Fortitudo comes closest to the quote from Vergil. In the edition Venice 1546 you will find this as no. 34, the emblem Anechou kai apechou / Sustine et abstine, at fol. 29v. In later editions this emblem has either no number or it appears with a different number, and thus it is really necessary to indicate exactly which edition you happen to use. For our emblem you would find it for example in the Paris 1550 edition on page 41. The image shows a farmer who keeps bulls away from cows. The Glasgow project has a useful list of the mottos and their occurrences in the main editions of Alciato’s text, and the Alciato website by William Barker is also most helpful in tracking emblems, mottos and verses; you can even find an English version of this emblem. However, this is only a possible indirect source or inspiration behind the choice for a verse with an admittedly more pointed and direct meaning, The emblems in the section Fortuna might be the first spur for searching a text, in particular the emblem Semper praesto esse infortunia.

Teaching by images

Statue of Comenius in Naarden

Why do I refer here at length to Alciato’s work and the role of images in connection with the town hall in Naarden? Across the street with the town hall of Naarden is the Grote or St. Vituskerk, and between the church and the town hall is a statue commemorating the Czech theologian, philosopher and pedagogue Jan Amos Comenius (1592-670). From 1656 onwards he had found a refuge at Amsterdam. Comenius had contacts in Naarden, and he was buried in a church at Naarden. The Comeniusmuseum keeps his memory alive. Among his works are books such as the Ianua linguarum reserata [The open port of languages] (1631) which developed a new model for teaching Latin and other languages, and the Didactica magna (1633-1638), his opus magnum with a new comprehensive view of children’s education. The possible connection between Comenius and legal iconography is offered in particular by his Orbis sensualium pictus [The world of senses in images] (1658), the first book recommending and exemplifying the systematic educational use of images. In this work he uses for example pictures to help children learning the alphabet. In the space of this posting I can at least point you to the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung in Berlin. Its digital library contains among other things early illustrations from pedagogical works.

More than a century before Comenius Alciato and others had introduced first a learned public and later also a wider public to a very successful combination of images and texts. The taste for this genre was at least sometimes mirrored by architecture. Alciato brought to the new emblematic literature his own legal background which made it a potential useful resource for anyone looking for outspoken combinations of images, concise proverbial sayings and often exquisite poetry. Somehow the presence of this literary genre make sit far more conceivable that lines from classical poetry embellish buildings. As for which specific emblems collection provided Dutch people the clue for their choice I suppose you will need to look at many different collections, not just the Latin collections, but also those in Dutch and French, and even collections published in Spain.

Promises of more…

Sofar we have only looked at the facade of the town hall in Naarden. It would be really interesting to look also inside the town hall at the interior where you can find for example two seventeenth-century paintings in the city court room. I am sure you cannot separate them completely from the intriguing facade. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands offers you a very quick entrance to images of both inside and outside the stadhuis at Naarden. Some photographs are already a bit older and reflect to some extent earlier scholarly approaches. For further research you will no doubt benefit from the resources at the municipal and regional archives in the Gooi- en Vechtstreek, located in Naarden and Hilversum.

This week I saw the 2013 online exhibition The Nomos of Images. Manifestations of the law in picture atlases and photo archives created by the Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Some images in this virtual exhibition come from the Sammlung Karl Frölich at the Max-Plank-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, a collection with photographs taken between 1930 and 1950 which eventually will be digitized. In my view it can be most helpful to use both older resources and new materials to help research in the field of legal iconography. This post gives only some indications of directions you might choose for further investigations, but hopefully it helps you to get a taste of them.

Saving threatened archival collections

Banner Endangered Archives Project

The postscript to my recent post about the exhibition on Roman crime at Nijmegen helped me to find the subject of this post. In this postscript I mentioned the decision of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam not yet to give back the items on view at its Crimea exhibition to the lending museums in Ukraine. This post introduces you to an initiative to save archival collections worldwide threatened either by material deterioration, poltical situations or simply by the ongoing progress of modernization in the country or region where they are located. The British Library has set up the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) on a truly massive scale with the aim of digitizing archival records and manuscripts in a few hundred (!) projects. On September 7, 2014 the completion of several projects was announced at the accompanying Endangered Archives blog. Within two months, between July and September, a million images has been added to the online results of EAP, enough reason for me to look a bit more closely to this audacious project and its composing elements.

On my blog the British Library received a few years ago criticism for its policies concerning the digitization of British newspapers. Last year I expressed some disappointment at the low number of digitized legal manuscripts at the British Library, but this time the library shows itself as a most generous cultural institution. The EAP portal is accessible in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Safeguarding cultural heritage in situ and in virtual space

The EAP spans the world in a awe-inspiring way. Among the most interesting aspects is for example the fact that researchers and institutions themselves can apply for grants, often starting with a pilot project. The BL provides a framework to support projects. There is no grand scheme of the British Library dictating the goals and direction of general progress. Typically, EAP does not focus on national archives unless they are in dire need of support, and such projects will not cover all materials under the aegis of EAP. Items documenting the pre-industrial history of a country are the first to come under consideration for new projects. The grants support university projects as well as independent scholars. Of course EAP has contacts with the International Council on Archives and UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

The EAP has created five regions for the projects supported by the EAP: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Let’s start with a look at the overviews of each region to spot projects which touch directly upon law, government and administrations. In the second part of this post other projects with law, the judiciary or other aspects of legal matters constitute a major aspect.

In the overview for Africa you can find for example EAP 607, a project for the preservation of Native Administration records between 1791 and 1964 held at the National Archives of Malawi. The Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho were the subject of EAP 279, where a wide variety of documents and records has been digitized. Colonial history looms large in a number of African projects, for instance in EAP 474, a pilot project for the preservation of pre-colonial and colonial document at Cape Coast, Ghana. In EAP 443 nineteenth-century documents for the Sierra Leone Pubic Archives have been digitally preserved, thus saving the history of a British Crown colony and the impact of slavery, to mention just a few aspects.

For the Americas, too, one can pint easily to projects aiming at preserving documents and records concerning the history of slavery and colonialism. EAP 184 started to support the preservation of records of the African diaspora in the archives of the Cuban province Matanzas. The material condition of these records decays rapidly. In Peru EAP 234 aimed at saving the colonial documentation within the holdings of the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima Metropolitana, with records reaching back to 1562. 100,000 notarial records at Riohacha and the peninsula La Guajira in Colombia documenting an important entrepôt of Caribbean and Central American trade are at the centre of EAP 503. Hurricane Ike in 2004 was only the last threat to archives with govermental records in Grenada which resulted in 132 reordered and digitized volumes (EAP 295).

The number of EAP projects in Asia is much larger than for the Americas. I could not help feeling particularly interested in some projects concerning Indonesia because of its link with Dutch history. EAP 229 and EAP 329 are two related projects dealing with endangered manuscripts in the province of Aceh on the island Sumatra. The digitization of nearly 500 manuscripts helps preserving the cultural and intellectual history of this region. The Dutch fierce attacks on Aceh during the nineteenth century were already a threat to this history, as was the devastating tsunami in 2008. A substantial number of the digitized manuscripts in this project contain texts on Islamic law.

Tavamani document - EAP 314

Legal history is a central element in EAP 314, a project for the digitization of Tamil customary law in Southern India. The documents of village judicial assemblies between 1870 and 1940 are the subject of this project of the Institut Français de Pondichéry. You can follow this project at its own blog Caste, Land and Custom – Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950), where you can find also an overview of other relevant EAP projects for India. The recent huge increase in digitized materials within EAP is to a large extent due to the 750,000 images of some 3,000 books printed before 1950 in eight public libraries in Eastern India near Calcutta which have been digitized within EAP 341. The number of EAP sponsored projects in India is really large. On my legal history portal Rechtshistorie I had already put a number of links to digital libraries in india, but EAP brings substantial additions to my overview.

Although I am woefully aware that I skip here a lot of interesting projects in Asia I would like to mention at least two European projects. EAP 067 is a project to digitize extremely rare materials, mainly from the twentieth century, about the Roma’s in Bulgaria, including not only ethnographic and musical items, but also for example a manuscript of a history of the gypsies. Keeping these materials at all was often dangerous for the Roma during the communist period in Bulgaria. A second project deals with the results of archaeological excavations between 1929 and 1935 in the Kyiv region of Ukraine (EAP 220).

For those worrying about the length of this post it might be a relief to read that within EAP there has been only one project from the Oceania region. In EAP 005 the Australian National University created inventories of materials at the Tuvaluan National Archives. This group of islands in the Pacific is in acute danger of being flooded.

Preserving the history of law, customs and government

The project concerning the preservation of manuscripts written in the Vietnamese Nôm script between the year 1000 and the twentieth century in EAP 219 is an example of documents threatened by sheer memory loss. The Nôm script went out of use around 1920. For decades teaching this script had been forbidden. The Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Hanoi had collected materials before 1954, but no proper inventory had ever been made, and the present storage conditions are poor. The 1,200 surviving manuscripts offer information about laws, courts, imperial decrees and land ownership, Within EAP 272, a project for ephemera and manuscripts in Nepal, a number of manuscripts all dating around 1808 contain legal texts.

Drafting a list of EAP collections with materials concerning legislation, jurisprudence, courts and other legal institutions is not an easy thing to do. The EAP website allows simple and advanced searches at item level, but as for now you cannot search for a particular subject or theme at the collection level. This is certainly a blemish, but not an impossible situation. A search for laws shows you only a few projects, but for EAP 144 you get directly a number of digitized manuscript from this project for Minangkabau (Sumatra) manuscripts. Anyway you can retrieve a list of all 240 projects; the short descriptions can be expanded. You can also search for projects using an interactive world map. Browsing the various projects is no punishment, but an object lesson in appreciating the rich varieties of human culture.

Projects with legal aspects are no exception. Using the tag Governmental records at the EAP blog helped me in tracing some relevant projects. EAP 688 is a new project for digitizing deed books from the Caribbean island Saint Vincent during the slavery era (1763-1838). EAP 561 aims at creating inventories of and digital versions of records for landownership in Imperial Ethiopia. At Accra, Ghana, witchcraft trial records will be digitized (EAP 540). A project to make inventories of court and police records from the period 1820-1960 and digitize some of them has been successfully executed in Gambia (EAP 231). Ecclesiastical records from colonial Brazil are the subject of EAP projects such as EAP 627 leading to the digital archives at Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies created by the Vanderbilt University.

Several projects deal with manuscripts from Mali. Not only in Timbuctu a vast number of manuscripts is still present. Last year the threat of massive destruction of this unique legacy by terrorists became a very real menace; a post on this blog informed you about initiatives for their safeguarding and digitization. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. In yet another project at Djenné photographs are being digitized (EAP 449).

Luckily, there is more!

Often I apologize at the end for the length of my contributions, but this time I am happy to point to the links section of the EAP portal which will bring you to a nice number of projects all over the world for the digital conservation and presentation of rare and endangered manuscripts and records. You might be tempted to say that the efforts of the Endangered Archives Project can deal only with a limited number of projects, but luckily the British Library is not the only cultural institution and research institute to look beyond the borders of a country. Often these institutions have to face the threats of budget cuts, and a political climate in favor of focusing on projects which benefit solely the own nation, or they even have to fall back to provide only fairly basic services.

The British Library and all involved in similar projects deserve the gratitude of scholars, of peoples and countries whose cultural heritage is or will be rescued thanks to them. Scholars should be encouraged to look beyond their own culture and national history in order to perceive its peculiarities much sharper and to understand its importance in greater depth. Let’s hope such arguments can convince those responsible for setting cultural agendas and developing research strategies with lasting results. Digitization will be one step in a much longer process, and no doubt digital retrieval presentation will change its outlook as has been the case already since the earliest uses of computers by historians and lawyers alike.

At the scene of crime with the Romans

Flyer "Plaats Delict"- Nijmegen, Museum Het ValkhofFor a number of very sensible reasons the history of Roman law has a prominent place within the study of legal history. However, in most cases we tend to focus on Roman private law, sometimes we take public law into account, and criminal law holds at its best a marginal place. This blog tries to avoid undue attention to Roman law, but there is no need here to exclude it completely. The current exhibition about Roman criminal law at Nijmegen (Nimwegen/Nimègue) at Museum Het Valkhof is an excellent occasion to look at this subject in some depth. Its title Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen [The scene of the crime. Crime among the Romans] suggests correctly that artefacts will help you to get a better view of Roman attitudes towards crime.

The variety of crimes

Inscription about a murdered farmer

The exhibition at Nijmegen has been developed in cooperation with a number of German museums which created the travelling exhibition Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich [Dangerous pavement. Criminality in the Roman Empire]. At Museum Het Valkhof, a museum for art, history and archaeology, there is a clear stress on a way of presentation suited to young people. There is no accompanying catalogue, but only short texts with brief explanations about the objects put on display. Children are invited to play the role of Quintus, a Roman crime investigator, and to find out who has committed a murder. From Frankfurt am Main there is a skull with traces of a murderous attack. Children can also take a seat in a Roman court and deduce the exact way cases did take place. An inscription concerning a Roman investigator at Nyon (Switzerland) and an inscription telling us about the murder of a farmer certainly help to imagine how crimes touched the lives of very real people. At Nyon Quintus Severius Marcianus had been very successful as a praefectus arcendis latrociniis, and his home town honoured him with an inscription.

The crimes shown in this exhibition offer a wide variety, from theft and counterfeiting coins to playing with prepared dices, and from burglary to murder and the plundering of tombs. Punishments, too, show a great variety: penalties in money, hand cuffs, slavery and forced labour, and the death penalty in various forms, be it as a gladiator, fed to the lions, by beheading or crucifixion.

Waxtable with a fine

From the perspective of legal historians it is remarkable that Roman law is scarcely invoked at this exhibition, often only implicitly or strictly in the context of an object. For lesser crimes your punishment would often be a fine, an amount of money to be paid. It is a pity the exhibition shows only a replica of a second century wax table with such a fine, held at the Archäologisches Museum Baden-Württemberg in Rastatt.

The longest text about Roman law in the exhibition gives a short overview of the diverse sources of Roman law. The major place of private law is mentioned, as is the efforts under emperor Hadrian (117-138) to unify Roman law. The Codex Justinianus is described as a text-book for students. Just two paragraphs to summarize a development of many centuries is simply too short to bring more than a few things to the attention of people. More to the point is the explanation about the accusatory nature of judicial proceedings. The parties involved had to bring a case themselves to court. The role of provincial governors to hear cases and to ask for judgments from the emperor himself is also mentioned, but none of this information is further corroborated.

Roman burglars at work

The information concerning the objects on display fares better, with nice captions such as Inbrekers aan het werk [Burglars at work] for a box with traces of an attempt to force its lock. Some walls of the exhibition rooms have been decorated with actual Roman wall paintings or evocative artists’ impressions, showing for example a number of inscriptions in a Roman settlement. The exhibition shows small statues of dogs given to the dead in their graves to protect the gifts accompanying their bodies. The ubiquitous Cave canem [Watch out for the dog] is only hinted at by showing a bronze head of a dog and by a series of small statues of dogs which accompanied the dead in their coffins.

Objects, stories and history

I left the exhibition at Nijmegen with mixed feelings. It is easy to admire the telling array of objects, to learn about them from the concise information about them, and to get here a general impression of Roman life, crimes and punishments. The immediate involvement of children in an imaginary murder investigation is to be welcomed as an example of teaching a subject by making students play a role in a historical setting. However, I cannot ignore the lack of more information about the Roman judiciary, and in particular about its development. The quality of the information for each object is much better, but this shows also forcefully that texts – or maybe a video presentation – can enhance the understanding of objects.

At the entrance of the exhibition you read the Romans faced much the same crimes as we do nowadays. The very substantial difference in punishments could have been highlighted stronger. The attention paid by Romans to safeguard their possessions could have been easily linked to their veritable obsession with hereditary law, the very heart of Roman private law. In the museum shop at Nijmegen with a nice selection of books on Roman history I searched in vain for the German book published for the original exhibition by Marcus Reuter and Romina Schiavone, Gefährliches Pflaster. Kriminalität im römischen Reich (Mainz 2013). Reuter works at the Archäologischer Park und RömerMuseum in Xanten, a town not far from Nijmegen, which makes this omission even more painful.

Apart from the leaflet for children and a general flyer no printed information is available. In face of the Dutch fondness for English books studies such as Jill Harries, Law and crime in the Roman world (Cambridge 2007) and Olivia Robinson, The criminal law of ancient Rome (London 1995) could at the very least have been shown. For me it seems legal historians at the Radboud University Nijmegen have missed a chance to create for this occasion at least a succinct brochure which might redeem this conspicuous lack of further information. The city of Nijmegen can proudly trace its history back to Roman times, At Museum Het Valkhof is also a permanent exhibition about the Peace of Nijmegen (1678-1679), which without any doubt has benefited from advice by legal historians. Let’s hope they will exploit more actively future chances for cooperation with archives, museums and libraries, starting in their own town or region.

Plaats delict. Misdaad bij de Romeinen, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, May 18-October 5, 2014 – www.museumhetvalkhof.nl

A postscript

While finishing this post I visited also the exhibition De Krim / The Crimea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. A splendidly flowing projection of tribes and their movements in the Roman empire from the first to the seventh century and a movie about excavations help here to see the context of the treasures shown. If I had noticed it earlier this year a posting about the Crimea and Ukraine would have been close to current world news, and for that reason the exhibition did not end in May, but will be open until August 31. In fact the museum fears either Russia or Ukraine will come with juridical claims when the objects would return now to the lending museums on the Krim (see a press release of the Allard Pierson Museum (August 20, 2014) and for example the Dutch newspaper Trouw, August 22, 2014). In one of the corridors of the Allard Pierson Museum is a small photo exhibition Culture under attack about the threats to cultural heritage worldwide since 1945.

Tracing Brazil’s legal history

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

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

Brasiliana online

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

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

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

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

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

Digital collections in Brasil

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

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

Header Códiigo Brasiliense

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

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

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

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

Online guidance for pesquisadores no Brasil

Header Nuevo Mundo

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

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

Logo Centro de Memória Amazônia

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

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

Logo Memórias Reveladas

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

Looking for more resources

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

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

A postscript

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

Research into the history of the Dutch in Brazil is much helped by the series Mauritiana, named after Maurits of Oranje, Governor General of Dutch Brazil. Each bilingual volume has as it main title Brazilië in de Nederlandse archieven (1624-1654) and O Brasil em arquivos neerlandeses  (1624-1654)[Brazil in Dutch archives, 1624-1654], and until Marianne Wiesebron was the author or co-author of all volumes (vol. 1 (2004) published by the Leiden Research School CNWS, following volumes by Leiden University Press).

Musing upon liberty and law

While musing myself on themes suitable for a new post on my blog at least one subject offered itself last week in my mailbox. An antiquarian bookshop with stores in Brooklyn, NY and Stevenson, MD, sent me a message about nineteenth-century manuscripts for sale. One of the items attracted my attention because of a remarkable series of subjects touching on law, history and liberty brought together in a manuscript note by a well-known American author. Here I will try to focus on two questions which call out for an answer. Do these subjects really combine so easily and naturally as this author assumed? How can legal historians bring them into discussion again? Here I would like to share with you my first impressions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

The manuscript at the center of this post is a two-page note written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) in 1855. Both the website of the antiquarian firm and their mail message point out this text features in Emerson’s book English Traits (1856). From Emerson Central, one of the online portals to Emerson’s texts, I take the quote at stake here:

Magna-charta, jury-trial, habeas-corpus, star-chamber, ship-money, Popery, Plymouth-colony, American Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman’s right to his dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the British nation to rage and revolt.

Emerson had studied theology at Harvard. He had visited England in 1833 in 1847, and France in 1848 during the year of revolutions all over the European continent. My first impression of this sentence from the chapter “Ability” of English Traits is that of someone applauding the steady character of the British who do not let them foil into violent actions for some goal, however lofty or urgent. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, revolts in medieval England, the break with Scotland and the Dissolution of the Monasteries are conspicuously absent, and I choose here only a few themes. Instead of character I should perhaps say “nature”, taking the lead from Emerson’s famous essay Nature (1836/1849). In his even more famous address The American Scholar (1837) he urged writers to break away from literary conventions and to find their own voice. Some twenty years later love for things British seemed to be very real. Emerson definitely wrote in the century of the nation-state, and his opinions might be both fired and coloured by feelings of national pride, influenced also by personal experiences. His use of the words Saxon and Scandinavian race is distinctively mainly for the apparent conviction it carries, and not only for its factual imprecision. To all appearances Emerson shared here a Whig view of British history, one long and unbroken road to liberty. Emerson was a poet, too, and we should acknowledge that his vision of the United Kingdom is visionary, perhaps even utopic. Historical facts or their reassessment do not alter the poetic view expressed by Emerson.

For a first online orientation concerning Emerson the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful. You can execute illuminating textual searches in Emerson’s writings in the digital edition created by the University of Michigan, and continue your research at RWE.org. The nature of this blog post is a very simple first impression, a first look at a resource which surely can be studied in more depth.

Great events

The core of Emerson’s note to be discussed here is the combination of familiar subjects for legal historians: Magna Charta, the trial jury, the Habeas corpus rule, the Star Chamber, the Plymouth colony and the American Revolution. The fight against Catholic influences and the creation of the Anglican Church is concisely evoked by the word “popery”. The ship-money was the tax levied by Charles I of England between 1629 and 1640 without parliamentary consent. Once upon a time such subjects might have been included at least in continental capita selecta lectures about British history, but they more probably were and are at the heart of an introductory course in British legal history taught anywhere in the Anglo-American world. By the way, law is not forgotten among the digital resources presented at The Plymouth Colony Archive.

Next year legal historians will face the celebrations around 800 years Magna Charta. The original copies will be shown in exhibitions, sometimes far from their present location. Cultural institutions such as the British Library will rightfully exhaust themselves to show their treasures and to appraise them anew. Hopefully historians can take a distance from preconceived opinions and look at their own prejudices, and help explaining how and why some themes in legal history gained their iconic importance.

The thing that struck me most about Emerson’s words is the vitality of history and the value attached to it, even when admittedly the nineteenth century was the century of history par excellence. The two pages with his notes show in a very immediate way – notice the fluency of his hand! – how he saw himself as part of a living continuity. Whatever the reasons behind the American Revolution it followed nevertheless the example of a country with a long experience of institutions safeguarding liberty.

The website of the antiquarian firm gives a five number amount of money as the prize of Emerson’s note. The prize of liberty and the just course of law and justice is beyond any prize. Legal historians should honour the history of liberty by pointing to its prime examples, to the grave and grim periods and events threatening liberty, to mistakes and opportunities recognisable in our days, too.

The 1855 manuscript of Emerson – with a 1875 carte de visite photograph of Emerson - is for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop

Redesigning a gateway to legal history

In 2009 I started with a website dedicated to legal history, Rechtshistorie. Rechtshistorie is one of the two Dutch words for legal history, the other one is rechtsgeschiedenis. For me these two words stand as a symbol for the eternal changing appearances and forms of legal history. It is perhaps a truism, but there is no such thing as the legal history of any period, country or juridical system or phenomenon.

Etymology is not my favorite aspect of language, but it is certainly interesting to play with the roots behind the two Dutch terms. In rechtshistorie the element historie is very close to the English and original Greek word for history. Historein (ιστορειν) in classical Greek means do research into, to investigate something. The word rechtsgeschiedenis has as its root the verb geschieden, “to happen” (compare the German verb geschehen). Geschieden has a more pregnant, indeed biblical sense than the more common Dutch verb gebeuren. Things and events connected with the verb geschieden have great impact and significance than ordinary actions. Legal history is not just a hobby-horse, a gadget of people who happen to be interested in the past or only something for people who we like to label as conservative. Legal history is part and parcel of history at large, and not just a minor element on the fringe of human affairs, but more often close to the heart of the matter.

This week a technical issue behind the scenes of my website became suddenly urgent. Four years ago my website was off-line during a week. While working on a solution it became already clear that sooner or later I had to redesign a major feature of Rechtshistorie, the switchable menu in Dutch and English which helped creating its bilingual character. The former bilingual menu is not longer compatible with the new machinery inside the website. I have to choose a new menu tool from numerous options that will at least work as smoothly as the old one, preferably even better, and of course it will have to run easily with future updates.

A new look for Rechtshistorie

As for now I have installed a very simple new look for Rechtshistorie, with only an English version. Apart from the bridge shown in the header the other header images will reappear, too. The Dutch version is ready for its relaunch, but first a new menu has to be tested and tuned. I will look into possibilities to test off-line in order to avoid troubling any visitor with my experiments. As a consequence I cannot maintain here the same current publishing rhythm with at least two posts every month. At the same time I have to adjust also the layout of the blog I started last year about medieval juridical glosses, Glossae, and to add new posts to it which are long overdue. To the new look of Rechtshistorie I have added a subtitle, Op weg met rechtsgeschiedenis / A gateway to legal history. If you look closely at the screen print above you can read a slightly different first version of the Dutch subtitle, Op weg in de rechtsgeschiedenis, “On road in the legal history”. Using an article to create a unified form of legal history remains seducing!