Tag Archives: Museums

Money, museums and legal history

While following these days the news on the actions of the European Union to help the economy of Cyprus by taxing the savings of those who had hoped that they had found a safe haven I could not helping trying to see these events in a historical perspective. Was this the first action of its kind? How typical was the role of banks and the banking system in the Mediterranean world? How to find information about the history of money since Classical Antiquity? Numismatics is the historical discipline that traces the history of both coins and paper money, monetary objects and medals, the history of mints and much more. By sheer luck I had been alerted earlier this month about a very useful Italian blog post with a summary guide by Lucia Travaini to important numismatic websites. With one exception money museums are not present in her brief guide. Remembering the difficulties and surprises last year in creating a sensible webpage on museums and legal history I decided to create space for money museums, and to write about the way to reach this goal. Looking for Cyprus and Cypriote coinage offers a chance to test the quality of the information I found.

Numismatics as a historical auxiliary science has not the same attraction for historians as for example palaeography, the science dealing with old scripts and handwriting. Of course being able to read old handwritten texts is most useful, but not looking at coins is excluding arbitrarily material objects with their own history, impact and significance. Unfamiliarity and downright depreciation explain part of the minor position often allotted to this discipline. Numismatics has been looked upon unfairly as a hobby-horse for people with only antiquarian interest, something suitable for connoisseurs and collectors, or as at best a small branch of art history. In fact the uses of auxiliary disciplines are multiple. A first practical distinction is that historians do not receive the same training in numismatics as they get – or are expected to get – in fields such as palaeography, diplomatics, heraldry, epigraphy and sigillography. For periods in which written records are not as abundantly present as for contemporary or Early Modern history the importance of sciences dealing with objects and artefacts gain importance. Epigraphy and numismatics tend to be less distant for historians dealing with Classical Antiquity.

Tracing the history of money

Logo website Lucia Travaini

It is not possible to sketch in just one post a concise history of money, even when you restrict yourself to numismatics. The pocket online guide of Lucia Travaini will serve as a starting point. At her website is more space to introduce her scholarly qualities. By the way, the Bibliostoria blog of the Biblioteca di Scienze della Storia of the Università degli Studi di Milano where Travaini published her guide gives you excellent information on new and less recent online resources for historians.

The first resources mentioned by Travaini are image databases. McSearch, the Medieval and Modern Coins Search Engine, brings you quickly to literally hundreds of images of Cypriote coins sold at auctions. At CoinArchives.com you find similar information, with, however, for Cyprus less results. Wildwinds is a more ambitious site where the origin and present value of coins can be assessed. This site points also to other online collections and to the Digital Library Numis, on which I will comment later.

Travaini puts a number of numismatic societies in a second section of her guide. For the American Numismatic Society she mentions the online bibliography of numismatic literature, but the ANS offers more digital resources, including a selection of links to mints worldwide, a list of money museums, and lists of numismatic societies, virtual collections, online search tools, discussion groups and periodicals, information which in my opinion makes this website a portal for numismatic studies. International cooperation between money museums is represented by ICOMON, the International Committee of Money and Banking Museums, an initiative of the ICOM federation of museums worldwide. Some ICOM committees offer an overview or even a database of relevant museums, but ICOMON has not yet created any substantial list on its website. At present the board of ICOMON is led by a Dutch chairman, Christel Schollaardt of the Geldmuseum in Utrecht, and by Elena Zapti from Cyprus as its secretary.

The building of the Rijksmunt, the Dutch Mint, and the Geldmuseum, Utrecht

The building of the Dutch Mint (Rijksmunt) and the Geldmuseum, Utrecht

So far Travaini’s guide brings us quickly to the most relevant institutions and resources. The section with online catalogues of specialized institutions is disappointing, with only the catalogue of the Museo Bottacin in Padova. Are online catalogues of money museums indeed rare to find? When writing this post I could not access the library catalogue of the Dutch Geldmuseum in my own home town Utrecht. Instead of complaining about this unfortunate situation I should redeem it somewhat by pointing out that the Geldmuseum founded the International Network of Numismatic Libraries (INNL). At its website the INNL gives a substantial list of numismatic libraries and their library catalogues all over the world. For Italy the Civica Biblioteca Archeologica e Numismatica at Milan (!) is listed, with a library catalogue which is integrated into the central catalogue of specialized city libraries. As for the Museo Bottacin in Padova this is a department of a larger museum. In Italy and elsewhere many museums have a numismatic department. The website Musei Numismatici Italiani lists fourteen museum departments and independent museums in Italy. It seems useful to include here at least the Museo della Zecca in Rome and its online database, and the database Iuno Moneta at the Portale Numismatico dello Stato.

Online numismatic collections are the subject of the next section in Travaini’s guide, but here her definition of collezioni online is not clear. Both the links to the Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.,, do bring you only to webpages concerning collections, but not to collection databases such as those of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and Princeton University; the link given by Travaini, however, is not to the database of Princeton, but only to the webpage of its numismatic collection. Both at Bologna and Dumbarton Oaks there is no online database for coins and medals.

Perhaps it is wise to say at this point that whatever faults or omissions the guide of Lucia Travaini may have, it certainly brings you to many important and reliable resources. It is courageous to present any guide in a nutshell, and here weaknesses in some sections have to be seen in the light of the other sections. I would not have thought about listing links to websites concerning coin findings. Travaini points to the Swiss website Coin Findings which has four URL’s depending on the language you want to read, English, French, German or Italian, and to the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds, 410-1180 for the British Isles of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

In the last section of her guide Travaini lists a small number of thematic portals and bibliographies. Here the bibliographic website of Hendrik Mäkeler (Myntkabinett, Uppsala) concerning both ancient and medieval coins offers even more than just a fine bibliography which can be accessed in English, Swedish and German, but an exhaustive portal with links on any subject ranging from individual scholars, money museums and collection databases to the coin trade. Numismatik.org is a portal created by the Swiss scholar Benedikt Zäch. It incorporates the webpages of the International Numismatic Council with good information about current events. One of Zäch’s special subjects is coin findings. This Swiss portal owes its existence certainly also to the vicinity of the Münzkabinett Winterthur. The last portal Travaini mentions is the Digital Library NUMIS which in a very efficient way present a collection of (mainly links to) digitized publications.

Approaching coins from Cyprus and money museums

By now you may wonder about two questions. Will I look here at the monetary history of Cyprus at all? How do I proceed with creating my own list of museums concerning the history of coins, medals and paper money? Before answering these questions I want to point out a weakness in just looking at specialized institutions for monetary history. Coins and medals have been collected in great quantities by some of the world’s largest museums. In particular the links listed by the American Numismatic Society and by Hendrik Mäkeler contain these collections, but in a list on the English Wikipedia the information is supplemented with the number of coins which makes clear these institutions form a class of its own. Moreover, in these collections you will find in particular ancient coins from the Mediterranean. If you want to find early coins from Cyprus you are wise not to forget to look in their collections.

Thus it might be surprising to know that the Smithsonian Institution has more than 1,600,000 coins and medals in the holdings of the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg follows with more than a million objects. The Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum, too, is home to more than one million coins and medals. I cannot help noticing the absence of an online catalogue or objects database on its very useful website, nor do the Smithsonian Institution and the Hermitage. The collection with some 600,000 coins of the American Numismatic Society in New York can be searched online using the MANTIS database. The Münzkabinett of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna does not present an online catalogue of its own holdings – more than 700,000 objects – on its website, but it is home to a number of specialized catalogues for ancient coins and medals such as the Sylloge Nummorum Parthicorum. However, one can find some images of coins easily by tuning the image database of the KHM. The Wikipedia list mentions the Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I guessed the Louvre would have a numismatic collection, too, but this is not the case.

Tetrobolos, Cyprus, 4tgh century BC - Dewing Collection

A silver tetrobolos from Cyprus with the head of Aphrodite, circa 351-332 BC – Arthur S. Dewing Collection, Dewing 2534 – image Art and Archaeological Artifact Browser, Perseus Digital Library

For the sake of compactness I will not discuss here all collections in this handy list at the Wikipedia, and go to the Numismatic Museum of Athens (NMA). It is a relief to view this very well-organized website with a splendid array of (mainly external) web resources. For looking at ancient coins from Cyprus you will benefit from the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, a project of the British Academy. The section on numismatics of the bibliography in the Bibliotheca Classica Selecta, a project at the Université de Liège, is not to be missed. The NMA provides a link to the website Digital Historia Nummorum of Ed Snible with a fine section on Cypriote coins, even though it relies on rather old literature. Some of these works are still valuable. In the Digital Library NUMIS I found among publications from this century also a digitized version of a book-length article by Jan Pieter Six, ‘Du classement des séries cypriotes’, Revue Numismatique, 2e série, 1 (1875) 249-374. In fact this article builds heavily on the collections of the large general museums in Europe, and apart from the collection at Winterthur much less on the collections of specialized independent institutions. A last link adduced by the NMA is the Art and Archaeology Artifact browser of the Perseus Digital Library, the well-known project of Tufts University, where you can look for coins from ancient Greece. Among the large collections of major European cultural institutions I would like to mention the numismatic collection of the Bode-Museum, now part of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz. You can find its coins and medals both in the online catalogue of the Münzkabinett, and also among the images at SMB-Digital.

In the last paragraph I finally presented some online information about ancient Greek coins with a focus on coins from Cyprus. I have not become overnight a specialist on ancient coinage nor a scholar focusing on economic history, but it is possible to find quickly some reliable roads to the materials and issues you face when dealing with these subjects. Incidentally the NMA cooperated with the British Museum for the Presveis exhibition on the history of European monetary unions before the euro. The links presented and discussed here amount to building materials for a more substantial answer to the initial question about the history of money on Cyprus. With regard to the second question, the creation of a sensible list of money museums, it seems you have to combine information from several resources in order to create a new – and preferably commented – list of money and banking museums. I would like to include links to online catalogues and survey projects, too. As for now the museums list provided by the American Numismatic Society, at the INNL website and by Hendrik Mäkeler present us together a fairly reliable overview of major and minor institutions in the field of numismatic collections.

An obstacle for creating a new list is the very low number of museums I detected so far featuring the history of banking. No doubt some money museums do deal with this subject, but few museums focusing more exclusively on banking, banks and their history have surfaced on the websites I visited for this long post. Banks and their history fully merit a new post on my blog, and the crisis of the Cypriote banks is just one example that needs further exploration. I scarcely need to admit it was hard to find a place for legal history in this first post on money and museums. Until that post arrives here you might already profit from the rich links collection on banking history provided by Roy Davies of the University of Exeter.

Making an impression: more about museums and legal history

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

Law and sensation

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

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

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

Facing the history of human rights and violence

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

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

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

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

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.

Switched off?

Did you make your list of good intentions for 2011? I surely had one particular intention for my blog, to follow a much-needed list of subjects I want to write about. In January I succeeded not only in creating a number of these posts, but to my own surprise other subjects, objects and themes came to my attention. These days bring us many events and developments, and it seemed strange none of these would eventually influence me. The past and the present do touch each other. It was a matter of time before even I would find space here to present some of the connections between them. Let’s not longer write about serendipity, particular circumstances or alertness, but just present a few things that seem to stand in a particular constellation.

On January 23, 2011 the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article about the opening of an exhibition at Teylers Museum in Haarlem around their copy of the famous Description de l’Égypte (23 volumes, Paris 1809-1829). Teylers Museum is the oldest public museum of The Netherlands. It will show this encyclopedic work on Egypt’s ancient history until May 8, 2011. In the same newspaper I read about the decision of the Al-Azhar University to freeze contacts with the Vatican. The Egyptian government decided this week to cut off the internet in order to stop growing resistance against it. Which online sources within Egypt about Egypt’s reality now and in the past can still be used? As a visitor of many digital libraries my thoughts went to the Digital Assets Repository, the digital library of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. Can we reach it or not? Luckily this digital library and the library’s website still function. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has not only created a special website for the digitized version of the Description de l’Égypte, but also a website called Memory of Modern Egypt. Unlike the other websites, however, the user interface is only in Arabic. I could not reach a third website, Eternal Egypt, on objects from Egypt’s long history. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has got its own Internet Archive, but storage of Eternal Egypt goes only back to 2007, and worse, it could not be reached when writing this post.

The Description de l’Égypte is a monument to the efforts of French scholars from the Napoleonic era. One of its drawbacks is obviously that hieroglyphs had not yet been fully deciphered at the time of the expedition in Egypt and during the years of publication. In 1822 Champollion succeeded in breaking the secrets of this script when he succeeded in reading the trilingual inscriptions on the Stone of Rosetta. Too late for the first edition, and not yet included in the second 36-volume edition (Paris 1820-1830), and thus no wonder law is scarcely touched upon in this imposing work. By the way, the book title Description de l’Égypte had already been used in 1735 by Jean Baptiste le Mascrier. His book can be seen at the Gallica digital library.

Back to legal history! Some types of sources from Egypt containing information on Egyptian, Greek and Roman law can safely be consulted online. Papyrology, the study of papyri, is not only an auxiliary discipline for historians, but a discipline which brings much for the field of ancient law. It is really remarkable how papyrologists have taken large steps for digital initiatives which enable scholars – and thanks to a growing number of accompanying translations also others – to take good notice of texts preserved partially or only by papyri. Gregg Schwendner and his indispensable blog What’s New in Papyrology help you to stay informed about this field and its scholars. The number of interesting papyrological websites is substantial and I had better not present them all in just one blog post, so I will restrict myself firmly to a few examples. Almost every website has a generous links selection.

The Papyrological Navigator (New York University) is perhaps the most sophisticated search site available now bringing together information on papyri from other databases as well. The Trismegistos portal (Leuven and Cologne) has probably the most assets and the widest range, for it aims at presenting papyri and inscriptions from Egypt and the Nile Valley between 800 BC and 800. You can find here texts, collections, archives, downloads, special fonts for your computer and a bibliography. The texts section of Trismegistos brings you to other databases covering the field of papyrology such as the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens (HGV) and the database with Coptic documentary texts (BCD) at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Probably the most famous collection of papyri are the Oxyrhynchus Papyri at Oxford. The Giessener Papyri- und Ostrakadatenbank brings you also Greek ostraka. Giessen has even a digital library for publications about their papyri. Apart from texts –  in connection with the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University –  you can also find photographs of papyri in American holdings using the Advanced Papyrological Information System of Columbia University. I cannot leave out Leiden and its papyrological institute and show at least its links collection.

Those who think studying the ancient history of Egypt is harmless or disconnected from the present should surf to the website about the history of medieval Nubia. This site aims at bringing together many resources. It has been the target of several internet attacks during the last week of this month. I found this site in a link collection for the classic period of papyri. There are also papyri with Arabic texts. The university of Zürich, host to the International Society for Arabic Papyrology, has started a project for an online Arabic Papyrology School.

The university of Heidelberg is working on the digitization of old Egyptological literature, including the Description de l’Égypte. Therefore even if the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and its digital library would be cut off from the web, you can still look online at the mighty volumes of this enterprise. The Dutch newspaper presenting the exhibition in Haarlem headed the article with the words ‘Battle lost, knowledge gained’ (Slag verloren, kennis gewonnen). Switching off the internet is a battle lost.

Law, land and art

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

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

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht at the Oudegracht

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

Exhibition catalogue "Law and Land"

A fragment of The Women's Native Title Painting

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

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

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

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