Tag Archives: Netherlands

A temple of peace: 100 years Peace Palace in The Hague

The Peace Palace in The Hague - image Tha Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

The Peace Palace in The Hague – image The Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

In several posts on this blog you can find information from or about the Peace Palace Library. The Peace Palace in The Hague opened its doors on August 28, 1913, yet another anniversary calling this year for attention. Its role and place in the history of international law are surely interesting. On a special website you can find more on the activities around this centenary. One of these activities is a congress on The Art of Peace Making where the tercentenary of the Peace of Utrecht (1713), too, will be commemorated, a theme that figured here earlier this year.

The Peace Palace is home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), since 1945 the highest judicial organ of the United Nations. On its website the second name, Cour Internationale de Justice, reminds you of the fact that French was and still is an important language in international affairs. You can consult the website of the Peace Palace in Dutch, English or French. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, too, was founded in 1899 with a French name, Cour Permanente d’Arbitrage. Since 1923 the The Hague Academy for International Law has its premises also at the Peace Palace.

At the blog of the Peace Palace Library R. Steenhard wrote in April a fine post on the founding of the Peace Palace. In The Hague two peace conferences had been held in 1899 and 1907. Among the most substantial results in 1907 were the Laws and Customs of War on Land. At Yale’s Avalon portal you can quickly find other laws of war, where the two Hague Conventions hold a substantial place. The contacts of lawyers with Andrew Carnegie proved in the end invaluable to get this philanthropic millionaire to donate a very substantial sum for the new building from his Carnegie Foundation. Among the special collections of the Peace Palace Library is a major collection on the peace movement between 1900 and 1940. Many items in it have been digitized, but they have no yet been published online as a digital collection. The variety of subjects on which the Peace Palace Library collects books is reflected in a great series of some fifty (!) nutshell research guides. They guide you not only to the courts at the Peace Palace, but to international law in a very wide sense, including guides on legal history, comparative law, Islamic law, international watercourses, and for example the League of Nations. The collection of works on and by Hugo Grotius at the Peace Palace Library has often been noted here.

The building itself of the Peace Palace is a marvel. Its architecture is remarkable for the combination of influences from many countries and periods. In my opinion the tower and the main building remind you foremost of a large European medieval town hall. The tower looks like the belfry of a Dutch or Flemish town hall. Inside the building you will find elements from all over the world. Many countries contributed gifts to enhance the building. Margriet van Eikema Hommes studied the four large-scale paintings by Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) in Art and Allegiance in the Dutch Golden Age. The Ambitions of a Wealthy Widow in a Painted Chamber by Ferdinand Bol (Amsterdam 2012).

No doubt the presence of the Peace Palace helped the city of The Hague to become a capital of international law. At the The Hague Justice Portal you could find until January 2013 the courts at the Peace Palace, the International Criminal Court and other UN special courts, but this website is no longer updated. The website of the The Hague Academic Coalition guides you to academic institutions in the field of international law in the city which is the residence of the Dutch king. The links section helps you to find quickly the most important international courts in The Hague. By the way, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the modern Dutch Supreme Court, is also at home in The Hague.

Today I read by chance on Iurisdictio-Lex Malacitana, the blog of José Calvo González (Malaga), a notice about the yearly international itinerant seminar on the architecture of justice organized by the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice in Paris. This year’s seminar focuses on courts in two cities, Montreal and New York. The international courts in The Hague and their very different buildings would be an excellent subject for another edition of this program.

Art at the service of justice: the old townhall of Kampen

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575)

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (Kampen, around 1500-Cologne, 1575) – from database NRCD/KB, The Hague

Along the river IJssel in the east of the Netherlands a number of towns still have a more or less medieval inner city, with both civil and ecclesiastical buildings. Cities such as Kampen, Zwolle, Deventer and Zutphen are not completely unfamiliar to historians thanks to their place in the history of the fourteenth-century reform movement in the Catholic Church, the Devotio Moderna. They played a subordinate but not neglectable role, too, within the Hanseatic league. The famous series of maps of cities in the Low Countries by Jacob van Deventer, a cartographer from Kampen, came into existence thanks to a request in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

The townhall at Kampen, exterior

Kampen is the city closest to the end of the IJssel river. Five medieval city gates have survived the centuries. The town-hall from 1350 was hit by a fire in 1543. The courtroom had to be completely refurbished, and this was done in an indeed lavish way. Its rare unharmed survival makes this rather small building more important than you would guess from the outside. Until 2001 it was used by the city, and now it is part of the Stedelijk Museum Kampen. The way justice and city power are represented in the main room at the first floor, which was both court room and council room, is exemplary. A visit to this space amounts to a kind of pilgrimage for legal iconography. Within the space of a short post I can only focus on a few aspects of a building that deserves close inspection and study.

Sculptures at the outside of Kampen Town Hall

From the outside one can immediately notice the double function of the building. Barred windows give the building an austere image. On one side six sculptures kept a watch. Alas the figures of Charlemagne and Alexander the Great and allegoric personifications of Justice, Charity, Temperance and Fidelity had to be replaced by modern sculptures; the remains of the original sculptures can be seen at the Koornmarktspoort, one of the city gates. Wim van Anrooij, a reknown medievalist and specialist on the history of the Nine Best, doubted the identification of Charlemagne in ‘Beeldvorming in taal en steen ten stadhuize: Alexander en Karel de Grote (of Julius Caesar?) in Kampen’, Kamper Almanak (2002) 50-65.

Inside the town-hall much more is to be seen than I will present here. In a room adjacent to the Main Room you will find a fine exhibition of numerous objects from the history of Kampen as a proud city which could keep its independence until 1795.

The mantelpiece at Kampen Town Hall by Colijn de Nole, 1545

The Main Room of Kampen’s town-hall is rather dark, and perhaps thus the white mantelpiece created in 1545 by Colijn de Nole from Cambrai attracts even more attention than it does already on its own. To the left an elaborate wooden structure with a painting of the Last Judgment is almost insignificant. I will point out its beautiful elements later on.

The centre of the mantelpiece

Central to the superb mantelpiece are a number of allegorical figures. In the midst you can see from the left to the right the figures of Spes, Caritas and Fides, hope, charity and fidelity, the three central virtues of faith. The Latin text below the central statue states that kingdoms fall due to luxury, cities prosper because of their virtues, the public interest grows by peace, and perishes by folly. Between the top part and the main part a scroll with another text in Latin focuses on justice, “The violence of Mars cedes before the sword of justice”. Four smaller statues represent Justice, Peace, Prudence and Temperance, four cardinal virtues. The eagle, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire and their Habsburgian rulers, crowns the very top of the mantelpiece in splendid Renaissance style.

The judgment of Solomon by Colijn de NoleThe freezes show both scenes from Roman history and from the Bible. The left freeze pictures the Judgment of king Solomon (1 Kings 3,16-28). By now it should be clear that by focusing on the main elements I skip the very details which make this object so stunning. The putti, the two lions with the city blazons, the smaller heads, the use of perspective in the niches, the way persons are dressed, and the smaller reliefs all deserve, nay, need attention if you want to interpret the iconographic program of this showpiece convincingly.

To mention just one element that has to be considered, you cannot understand this mantelpiece properly without acknowledging the fact that specifically in the city of Utrecht late medieval mantelpieces used to be adorned by elaborate freezes. Colijn de Nole had connections with Utrecht. The medieval diocese of Utrecht covered large parts of the Netherlands, including the cities on the IJssel. The recent exhibition Ontsnapt aan de beeldenstorm [Escaped from the Iconoclastic Tempest] at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht showed a surprising number of mantelpiece freezes, many of them from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, see the exhibition catalogue Middeleeuwse beeldhouwkunst uit Utrecht 1430-1528 [Medieval sculptural art from Utrecht 1430-1528] (Utrecht: Museum Catharijneconvent; Antwerp 2012). Some of De Nole’s work is charted in Medieval Memoria Online, a new database at Utrecht University on medieval memorial and funeral art in the Netherlands.

A double room

However, apart from an exhaustive inspection of all details, it is necessary to look at the other objects, and to view the mantelpiece as a part of a room with a double function, both court room and council room.

Painting of the Last Judgment

The wooden structure – in fact it is the seat of the judges – with at its top a painting of the Last Judgment by Ernst Maler can boast some fine carpentry by Meester Frederik, but it is not up to the standards set by Colijn de Nole. Its dimensions are really small compared to the mantelpiece. In fact the wooden edifice prevents you to have a good look at the right side of the mantelpiece, where you can only guess that the statue must represent Temperance.

Allegory of Justice, Kampen Town Hall

Another detail of the woodwork is also relatively small, a finely detailed relief with an allegory of Justice. I could point out its position below a canopy or the way Renaissance style does influence even a lesser artist, but all these things can speak only when you bring them into a coherent view of all objects in this room. The most recent monograph on Kampen town-hall was published almost 25 years ago, A.J. Gevers and J. ten Hove, Raadhuis van Kampen (Zwolle 1988). At least one art historian has looked recently in close detail at the materials De Nole used for the mantelpiece [Trudy Brink, 'Spiegel voor stadsbestuur nader onderzocht : over de schouw van Colijn de Nole in Kampen', Bulletin KNOB 108 (2009) 183-193, 222-223 (with a summary in English)]. The title of this article states the mantelpiece formed a kind of mirror for the city council. I was not able to find more recent studies on it in the database of the former Dutch center for legal iconography at the Royal Library in The Hague. You can find some eighty images concerning Kampen from this collection at The Memory of The Netherlands, the portal to more than hundred Dutch digital collections.

kampen-courtroom1

Let’s turn to the other half of the room. Spectators were allowed to watch the proceedings of a trial from this part of the room. Along the walls you find a mass of spears, a graphic reminder of the city’s power. The door in the center opens to the Tower of the Échevins (Schepentoren), the oldest part of the building.

The wooden screen in the courtroom

The wooden screen has large openings for viewing the proceedings in the other half of the room. In a way it is a reminder of the choir screens in medieval churches. Here by lending forms from Classical Antiquity it suggests powerfully that justice is being administered in a classic and therefore just way. The sixteenth-century city council of Kampen was clearly aware that their power had to be framed, to borrow an anachronistic term…

“Looking at legal history”

In 2014 the Dutch legal history journal Pro Memorie, published by the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law will publish as a special issue a volume on legal iconography with the title Rechtsgeschiedenis in beeld, “looking at legal history”. In the call for papers legal historians are invited to write contributions on legal iconography from the widest possible perspectives, be it artists’ contracts, the use of colors or forbidden art. Every year Pro Memorie has space for some contributions from the field of legal iconography. I look forward to the volume that will be published in 2014 for the fifteenth anniversary of this journal. No doubt Dutch and Flemish town-halls and their interiors, too, will figure in the new book. Kampen with its rich municipal archive would be a wonderful example to marvel at and to study again.

The tercentenary of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713)

Logo Vrede van Utrecht - Peace of Utrecht

In 2012 I wrote twice about the Peace of Utrecht, the series of treaties which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713). The first post looked in great detail at the textual tradition of the Westphalian Peace of 1648, the Peace of Utrecht and the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). The post contains an overview of treaty collections and relevant websites for historical treaties. In my second post I looked at Early Modern peace treaties more generally and I tried to summarize the results of my first post and to bring together some elements for a search strategy. One of my main points was these peace treaties are indeed treaties in the plural. The Peace of Utrecht consists of 22 treaties, counting also the treaties concluded at Baden (1714) and Rastatt (1715). On April 11, 1713 seven separate treaties were concluded. Last week it was exactly 300 years ago that Utrecht was at the center of contemporary international politics.

For the commemoration in 2013 some 150 events will take place in Utrecht. In this post I want to inform you briefly about the more scholarly events such as congresses, lectures and exhibitions. It seemed useful and sensible not to present information on a number of related congresses only in a chronological order at the congress calendar of this blog. I will skip the publicity in the media which incidentally had to battle against other Dutch festivities, such as 125 years Concertgebouw and Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam after ten years of renovation. In this post I will benefit from a posting in Dutch on the Treaty of Utrecht at the website of the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law.

A scholarly approach of the Peace of Utrecht

The peace treaty between France and the Dutch Republic - The Hague, National Archives

The peace treaty between France and the Dutch Republic, signed in Utrecht, April 11, 1713 – The Hague, National Archives

Among the festivities in 2013 surrounding the commemoration scholarly events are not absent, but it took quite some time before one could notice them at the official website for the tercentenary, and eventually they are somewhat tucked away between concerts and other artistic events. A kind of filter would make it more easy to select particular events. The choice of one of the related themes, the commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863, can be discussed. The treaty between Great Britain and Spain in which the Asiento de Negros, the concession for the Atlantic slave trade, was transferred to Great Britain, has conspicuously been signed March 26, 1713 in Madrid. However, the first major commemorating congress is called Performances of Peace: Utrecht 1713-2013 (Utrecht, March 24-26, 2013). The second main congress includes the history of slavery by focusing on colonial history, The Colonial Legacy: The Treaty of Utrecht 1713-1863-2013 (Utrecht, June 21-22, 2013). A one-day conference – which I normally would not include on my blog’s event calendar – looks at the long time influence and consequences of 1713, The 1713 Peace of Utrecht and its enduring effects (Utrecht, September 19, 2013).

Not only in Utrecht scholars will meet to discuss aspects of the Peace of Utrecht. The Peace Palace in The Hague and the University of Utrecht will organize a two-day conference The Art of Peace Making: Lessons Learned from Peace Treaties (September 19-20, 2013). In Paris the conference Une paix pour le monde: Utrecht 1713 will take place from October 24 to 26, 2013. In Canada a conference will be held in Montreal, 300 years of collective security since the treaty of Utrecht (1713-2013) (November 22, 2013). On November 29, 2013 the city archive of Ypres will host a one-day conference on the history of the Franco-Belgian border.

Some scholarly events have already been held. In Baden scholars met in November 2012 to study the efforts in the field of translation in diplomacy and publicity concerning the treaties of Utrecht, Baden and Rastatt. The German calendar website for the humanities H-Soz-u-Kult provides a report on this congress. In Madrid a three-day conference was hosted from June 7 to 9, 2012, on the theme 1713-2013: The Peace of Utrecht revisited. Historiographical Debate and Comparative Studies. A preparatory workshop on Rethinking the Peace of Utrecht 1713 for the conference in Madrid took place in Osnabrück on May 5-7, 2011. Two scholars participating in Madrid, Ana Crespo Solana and David Onnekink, will lecture together in Utrecht on April 23, 2013 on Los españoles, Europa y los Tratados de Utrecht.

Museums and the Peace of Utrecht

Some of the events commemorating the Peace of Utrecht enlist the services of modern art to bring home the importance of this peace treaty today. This year museums in Utrecht organize a number of activities, for which they have developed a special website, alas only in Dutch. For people who like to stick to history the safest choice is to visit the main exhibition In Vredesnaam [In the Name of Peace] at the Centraal Museum (April 12 to September 22, 2013). The archives at Utrecht have created an exhibition with the title Hoge pruiken, plat vermaak [High wigs, mean pleasure] at the visitor center located in the old provincial court, the building from which the header image of my blog stems. Clearly the imagery of the peace conference and the boost to city life for Utrecht in the early eighteenth century is at the heart of this exhibition (March 16 to September 25, 2013).

It was only by chance that I found information about another small exhibition at Utrecht – not mentioned at the special museum website – which documents in its own way the history and impact of the Peace of Utrecht. At the former guild hall of the blacksmiths, the St. Eloyengasthuis, an exhibition focuses on eighteenth century damask with images celebrating the peace treaty (April 24 to May 23, 2013).

New publications concerning the Peace of Utrecht

The peace negociations at the city hall of Utrecht, 1712 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - image from  The Memory of the Netherlands, Historical Engravings from the Frederik Muller Collection

The peace negotiations at the city hall of Utrecht, 1712 – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – image from The Memory of the Netherlands, Historical Prints from the Frederik Muller Collection

As for recent scholarly publications concerning the Peace of Utrecht I have looked for them, but the harvest until now is meagre, and their language is mainly Dutch. In my contribution in Dutch I have listed also a few less recent publications. David Onnekink and Renger de Bruin have published De Vrede van Utrecht (1713) [The Peace of Utrecht (1713)] (Hilversum 2013), a very concise book which explains in its short compass successfully the importance of the peace that ended eleven years of war. Even the earlier commemorations in 1813 and 1913 are not forgotten. Scholars will take advantage from the list of pamphlets, printed correspondences and a up-to-date overview of the main relevant scholarly literature. I enjoyed the splendid choice of illustrations in this book. Onnekink and De Bruin do not forget to tackle the question why Utrecht was chosen. Several reasons have been mentioned, but none of them was mentioned by contemporaries. Surely the reception of the French king in 1672 by the city of Utrecht was quite favorable, and the States of Utrecht had advocated a peaceful solution against opposition from other Dutch provinces, but other cities could have hosted the negotiating parties, too. The two steps at the front of the old city hall did indeed nicely solve the problem of precedence among diplomats. The story of the streets and squares of Utrecht offering plenty space to coaches is a just a story. The city of Utrecht still lacks large squares!

In his new book historian Donald Haks studies the theme of publicity in the Dutch Republic during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, with a particular focus on pamphlets, Vaderland en vrede, 1672-1713. Publiciteit over de Nederlandse Republiek in oorlog [Fatherland and peace. Publicity about the Dutch Republic at war] (Hilversum 2013). Haks offers a broad perspective at all cultural aspects and forms of communication and information about the period of war which marked the slow decline of the Dutch Republic as an European power. Daan Bronkhorst looks at the early Enlightenment, political theory, colonial history and the role of monarchies in his volume of essays with the title Vrijdenkers, vorsten, slaven. Een nieuwe blik op de Vrede van Utrecht [Free minds, princes, slaves. A new look at the Peace of Utrecht] (Breda 2013).

Stefan Smid (Universität Kiel) wrote Der Spanische Erbfolgekrieg : Geschichte eines vergessenen Weltkriegs (1701-1714) [The War of the Spanish Succession. The history of a forgotten world war [1701-1714)] (Cologne 2011). At H-Soz-u-Kult Axel Flügel criticized the old-fashioned treatment of the subject by Smid who failed to put events and developments in broad perspectives, and at Sehepunkte Josef Johannes Schmid had even heavier remarks for Smid’s book. Hopefully other scholars will this year succeed in creating convincing, interesting and fitting new views of a war ended by a series of landmark peace treaties at Utrecht, Baden, Rastatt and Madrid.

A postscript

At The Memory of the Netherlands I found a slightly augmented version of the print showing the city hall of Utrecht in 1712 from the collection of the Atlas Van Stolk in Rotterdam, with below the picture a list of all negotiators and the houses where they were lodged.

Viewing Dutch books at home

Logo Boeken 1700-1870This week the Dutch Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) in The Hague launched a new digital library, Boeken 1700-1870. In this digitization project some 160,,000 titles will eventually appear. On this blog digital libraries have often been the subject of posts. In this post I offer an extended version of my review in Dutch for the portal of the Foundation for Old Dutch Law.

A large Dutch digital library

In discussions of Dutch digitization projects the absence of any large project for old books has often been noted. On my blog, too, I discusses this in a number of posts, for example this post in 2011, and in another post that year about projects focusing on pamphlets. The Royal Library did develop substantial projects for old newspapers, journals and its illuminated manuscripts. For the project Early Dutch Books Online on eighteenth-century books it cooperated with the university libraries at Leiden and Amsterdam. However, with 10,000 books this digital collection is relatively small compared to projects elsewhere. Dutch viewers have free access to the digitized books from the Royal Library in the project Early European Books of Chadwick. Pamphlets from the rich collections of the Dutch Royal Library are present in Brill’s The Early Modern Pamphlets OnlineDigital libraries at other Dutch institutions and many Dutch digital repositories can be searched using the BASE portal of the Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld. It is common knowledge to use the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog to trace books in any language in major libraries all over the world, including digitized works.

For this new project the Dutch Royal Library has started a cooperation with Google. It follows the example of several major public and national libraries worldwide. Of the scheduled 160,000 titles some 80,000 are already available. A first notable feature is the rather restricted search functionality, just for author, title and a free search possibility. The website opens with this general search feature; with Uitgebreid zoeken (Advanced search) you get three search fields. Searches for a particular period, place of publication or a publisher are not (yet) possible. One can enter in the author field the full name in its normal word order to retrieve titles by a particular author, and this feature is certainly distinctive. The free text search enables you to search in all digitized texts. One can combine the search fields, and even add an extra search field, in order to narrow search results. The language of the search interface is Dutch. One can save pages either as an image or as a PDF. Buttons with links to social media can help you to alert others on the books digitized in this Dutch project.

Looking for legal history

It helps very much to make a review both readable and useful when you can include clear examples. Dutch legal history furnishes enough to have a good look at the workings of this digital library. For an author search I took the name of Cornelis Willem Opzoomer (1821-1892). At first I used only Opzoomer, but of course other people do have the same name. I was happy to find that you can enter his name in its entirety to get only the books he wrote. One of the things to notice is the great variety of subjects this prolific lawyer wrote about. With the word wetboek, “code of law”, I checked for both codes of law and commentaries on them. Boeken 1700-1870 contains a great range of both commentaries on particular codes, and it brings you also to subjects as military law, and codes for the former Dutch Indies and Suriname. In particular the digitization of books on Suriname is a major asset. Until now you would have to turn for Suriname to the digitized texts in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (Digital Library of Dutch Literature). The digital collections contains printed collection of arresten, verdicts of the Dutch Supreme Court, the Hoge Raad. I did not find many books on particular trials (proces). For subjects such as legal consultations (consultatieadvies) I did not find many titles. However, the typical Dutch kind of official consultation by lawyers on new or proposed legislation, often in their quality as member of the Nederlandse Juristenvereniging, the Dutch association of lawyers, now known as pre-advies (preliminary consultation), was also called advies during the nineteenth century.

Beyond Dutch borders

Using the general Dutch term for law as a subject, recht, I was surprised to find some fifty books in German. If you search for penal law, strafrecht, you will even find just one Dutch books and ten German titles, because both languages share the same word. One should consider this as a useful reminder of the great influence of German law and lawyers all over Europe during the nineteenth century. The Dutch code of private law that came into force in 1838 was adapted from the French Code civil, but this did not diminish the attention of Dutch lawyers for German law. When checking for titles in other languages – using the term civil – I encountered nearly 200 titles, and surely more is to be found, for example six titles of works by Alexis de Tocqueville.

It is still early to pronounce either completely positive or negative judgments on this new digital library. At this moment Boeken 1700-1870 forms already a substantial addition to the number of Dutch digitized books. The search possibilities are restricted, but search results yielded for authors and titles are promising. The full searchability of texts is a major quality. The contents for the field of legal history do seem alluring, especially when they clearly transcend the frontiers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the borders of the Dutch language. Hopefully the comments and wishes of users in my country and abroad help to strengthen the qualities of this project.

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

Tom de SmidtLast month Dutch legal historians were saddened to hear about the death of Jacobus Thomas de Smidt (December 19, 1923-February 18, 2013). In several obituaries, for instance by Arthur Elias for Leiden University, by Joke Roelevink for the Huygens Institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and at the website of the Dutch National Archives, the great efforts and merits of Tom de Smidt for the study of Dutch legal history and the organization between Dutch legal historians are commemorated. Among the major projects he initiated are the project on the history of the Great Council of Malines, a project for the edition of the Dutch codifications in the period around 1800, and for example the West Indisch Plakaatboek, a multivolume edition of legal sources for Dutch colonial history in the Caribbean. De Smidt also helped Dutch archives to modernize, and helped the Indonesian government to deal with the records of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian National Archives. People remember his warm personality, his sense of humour and his encouragement to young scholars, and I can testify myself for this. In fact his words “Ja, moet je doen!” [Yes, do it!] are for me among his most characteristic utterances.

Robert Feenstra 1920-2013On March 2, 2013, Robert Feenstra passed away at the age of 92. For legal historians abroad he was without any doubt the best known and most respected Dutch legal historian. This week John W. Cairns (Edinburgh) is one of the first legal historians to commemorate Feenstra. If you want to mention major themes and projects with which Feenstra dealt during his long scholarly life you are faced with a very great variety. The history of Roman law in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire and Dutch legal history give only the boundaries of his research interests. Let it suffice here that only four years ago he published with Jeroen Vervliet a new edition of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)), and that in 2011 he witnessed the completion of the project for the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He continued the research started by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) on the history of the School of Orléans, and many scholars from Leiden have followed him on this path. Feenstra published a number of volumes with articles by Meijers.

For six decades Feenstra was on the editorial board of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Feenstra helped fostering the relations between Belgian and Dutch scholars. Just like Tom de Smidt he served for many years on the board of the Foundation for the Study of Old Dutch Law. Today Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief) wrote a brief obituary for both scholars on the website of this foundation. Surely its own journal Pro Memorie will contain longer obituaries on both scholars in its coming issue. Luckily this journal published in its series Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen [Legal historians from the Low Countries] interviews with both scholars on their scholarly lives and careers (Pro Memorie 5 (2003) 3-38 (Feenstra); with De Smidt in the special issue Prominenten kijken terug. Achttien rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht [Prominent scholars look back. Eighteen legal historians from the Low Countries on life, work and law] (Pro Memorie 6 (2004) 313-329). Feenstra founded a circle of scholars studying the reception of Roman law in the Low Countries – convening either in Leiden or in Antwerp – where young scholars, too, often got and get a chance to present their doctoral research. I remember how I presented the first results of my doctoral research for this circle. The austere company listened patiently, asked questions on subjects I had neglected or problems which I had not yet grasped, and encouraged me to pursue my research. Robert Feenstra had a keen interest in people and he did not fail to help scholars with practical advice and suggestions for sources and literature. One of the things that impressed me always was the way Feenstra corrected his own views expressed in earlier articles. It makes you realizes how Feenstra’s career spanned almost half a century, his tenacity about cherished subjects, and the high scientific standards he applied to scholars and to himself. His presence at scholarly meetings all over the world expressed the continuity of Dutch legal history.

It is sad that both scholars are no longer with us to respond to our ideas, questions and emerging publications, but we can remain faithful to their memory by remembering their tireless efforts, smiling presence and amazing wide interests in contemporary life and legal history, and by following the paths and roads they paved for present-day scholars and future generations.

A postscript

On March 6, 2013, the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main published an obituary of Robert Feenstra. On March 28, 2013 the blog of the Peace Palace Library publshed an in memoriam on Robert Feenstra by Laurens Winkel.

Remembering slavery

How to deal with major questions, problems and conflicts in history? How should one write about them as a blogger? Subjects such as the abuse of power, law and justice, the undeniable role of violence, wars, the exclusion of people from society, and the outright systematic persecution of people for whatever reason, cry out for probing questions and research from many perspectives. Here I have promised several times not to avoid such themes and problems. One of the reasons that my first posting of 2013 occurs only late in January is exactly devoting time to one of the subjects which cannot be excluded from legal history. In my country the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 will be commemorated. In this post I will look at some publications and websites dealing both with slavery as a general subject and with the history and aftermath of slavery in Suriname. Until 1975 Suriname, situated between British and French Guyana, was a Dutch colony. I will not aim at any kind of exhaustive treatment of the abolition of slavery in this country.

Slavery and Suriname

The commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in the year 1863 has thus far in particular received attention on Dutch television in the NTR-VPRO series De slavernij [Slavery] broadcasted in 2011. The series centered around the search of the Dutch singer Roué Verveer for his ancestry. The very fact that background information was presented by a well-known Dutch anchorwoman was criticized by some people complaining she figured as a kind of all-knowing presenter high above the black singer who seemed only to ask questions which he could not answer himself. Whatever the value of this critique, in the book accompanying the series, De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu [Slavery. Human traffic from colonial times until the present] (Amsterdam 2011) edited by Carla Boos and a team of scholars, his quest for the history of his family is barely touched upon.

The website of the series presents a very well equipped nutshell guide to genealogical research for Surinam ancestors. In fact it is a model of its kind, and I have searched in vain for a similar comprehensive treatment of the subject at other websites. Surely, the Dutch Nationaal Archief offers a guide to its own online databases concerning slavery in Suriname, even in English. It is one thing to have access to digitized manumission and emancipation registers, but knowing how to use them is a prerequisite dealt with very clearly at the TV series website. A possible complaint about the website is much more a request, the need for translation of the Dutch version into English and Papiamento. The book by Carla Boos offers a very readable and lavishly illustrated introduction to the history of slavery in general, the slave trade in Africa, the Dutch Atlantic slave trade, slavery in Suriname and its living memory. The choice of documents written by all kind of people to tell stories from inside is excellent. The only things missing are a good overview of the images, and registers for subjects and names.

On a website for Dutch history on television and radio you can find several earlier items in a dossier on slavery, for example on the slave trade between Vlissingen (Flushing) in Zeeland, the Dutch fortress Elmina in Ghana, and Tobago in the Caribbean. Some digitized books about the history of Suriname can be found in the project Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO) which focuses on the period 1780-1800. In its digital collection Suriname 1599-1975 the library of the University of Amsterdam has digitized several old maps of Suriname and a small number of books, including the Dutch translation of Johan Gabriel Stedman’s book about his travels. You can also view an abridged version of this translation on a separate website – using Shockwave – but you can use more easily the complete version at EDBO. In the Digital Library for Dutch Literature you can find not only novels concerning Suriname and books in Dutch by authors from Suriname, but also the text of several editions of the Surinaamsche Almanak from 1820 onwards. This yearbook contains for example lists of plantations, their locations, owners and administrators. Documentation about the sea voyages made by slaves and their traders can be found in particular in the online database concerning the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of Emory University.

Slave traders and slaves

Slave traders and slaves – image from http://www.ninsee.nl

The activities for this year’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery can be followed most easily using the website of the NinSee in Amsterdam, the Dutch central institute for the study of the Dutch slavery past and heritage. The NinSee publishes studies and source editions in its own publication series. However, in my opinion it is a failure this website offers its information only in Dutch. If I have learned just one thing from the 2011 tv series it is exactly you cannot isolate the history of slavery from general history. The selection of scholarly literature about Dutch and Atlantic slavery on the website does redress this imbalance a bit. The NinSee institute is housed almost next door to the municipal archive of AmsterdamDigitized old maps of Suriname are abundantly present on the website of the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal for digitized collections concerning the Dutch cultural heritage you will find many thousand digitized objects related to Suriname from a number of Dutch collections. Among them are apart from the Royal Tropical Institute the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam – its main website can be viewed in seven languages, and the collection can be searched at a separate subdomain – and the Royal Netherlands Institute of South East Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, with its own digital image library. Six Dutch ethnological museums work together for a portal website where you can search their collections, but you can still search online separately in the collections of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden or its library catalogue. Perhaps it is wise to mention here also the project Caribisch Erfgoed [Caribbean Heritage] for the digitization of photographs taken between 1886 and 1970 by the Brothers of Tilburg, a Catholic educational congregation long active in Suriname.

At the start of a commemoration year leading up to the first of July, the very day on which in 1863 the abolition of slavery in Suriname was formally proclaimed, it becomes increasingly clear for me how important it is to view this history from many perspectives. While reading about Suriname I had also on my desk Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011). Last year I wrote a post about the Athenian democracy, and I am sure I will learn more about it when taking the role of slavery in ancient Greece into account. Learning about slavery also sheds light on the practice of commemorations in contemporary society. One of the commemorations I will surely write about here in 2013 is the bicentenary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

A postscript

At the website of the Stichting Oud-Vaderlands Recht, the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law, Dutch readers can find an overview of exhibitions, symposia, recent publications and websites concerning Suriname and slavery.

Sailing letters, the sequel

Logo Sailing Letters

A year ago I wrote two posts about the history of pirates both from Antiquity onwards and nowadays. One of the projects related to the history of piracy I mentioned briefly in 2011 is the joint project Sailing letters: letters as loot of the Dutch Royal Library, the Dutch National Archives, the National Archives at Kew and Leiden University. Last year the Dutch television made a series of documentaries about these letters which were detected thirty years ago in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty. On Thursday April 5, 2012, the Dutch KRO television started a second series featuring stories around selected letters, called Surfaced letters (“Brieven boven water”) (TV 2, 20.25 h.). The new series is worth attention. As a matter of fact some links in my 2011 post have changed, and this is an opportunity, too, to present the new links, and to expand on this international research project.

An unexpected letter collection

Britain and the Dutch Republic fought a number of wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. English privateers got letters of marque, licences from the High Court of Admiralty to capture Dutch vessels and everything aboard. The American War of Independence was another pretext for this looting activity. The High Court of Admiralty, more specifically its Prize Court, had to judge whether the capture had been done rightfully. Appeals from this court were heard by the High Court of Appeal for Prizes. The privateers were especially keen on getting log books and letters with information that might be of use to fight the Dutch enemy. The National Archives have created a fine research guide to the materials held in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty, including a very useful glossary of selected terms.

After the verdict on the cases the letters remained with the High Court of Admiralty, where some 38,000 letters gathered dust. A scholar in the field of maritime history detected the collection in the early eighties. In 2005 Roelof van Gelder started making an inventory of the letters. His report from 2005 – with a summary in English – has vanished from the Royal Library’s website, but can now be found at the website of the Dutch National Archives. Van Gelder published the book Zeepost: nooit bezorgde brieven uit de 17de en 18de eeuw [Seapost. Undelivered letters from the 17th and 18th century] (Amsterdam 2008; third edition, 2010) with a general introduction to the letters and a number of letters (in modified Dutch). The progress of the project and news are documented in the Nieuwsbrief Sailing Letters.

15,000 letters deal with private matters, and in particular these letters are used by the project team to study the development of the Dutch language, and to get a much more detailed insight into the language used by ordinary people. On the project website – both in Dutch and English – every month a letter is put in the spotlight. A number of books have appeared with either letters around a particular theme or studied from a specific angle. At Leiden a webpage of the project contains an overview of these publications. The National Archives in The Hague have put together a more recent list of relevant literature.You might check for more in the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History. The database for the sailing letters has recently moved from a server at the Dutch Royal Library to a server at the Dutch National Archives, in The Hague literally located next door to each other. A selection of remarkable letters is presented and commented on online.

A television series around captivating letters

Both series by KRO television are presented by Derk Bolt, in my country known as the anchorman of a very successful program in which he helps people to find lost relatives and relations. Almost inevitably something of the somewhat romantic – at its worst sometimes outright melodramatic – atmosphere of that program is present in both historical series, too. This is reinforced by the choice in the program to try to deliver the letters to present-day relatives of the original letter writers or addressees, and to trace their lives. The main objective seems certainly to bring in a way a historical version of the contemporary program. However, it is to the credit of Derk Bolt that he remains as calm and clear as ever. The drama is in the eyes and mind of the public. If you have missed the two installments of the 2011 series or the new series, you can view them at the KRO’s special website for the program.

In the first installment of the 2011 series the very discovery of the letters in 1980 by S.P.W.C. (Sipke) Braunius is briefly narrated. Braunius did research on the history of corporal punishments as a part of maritime law. Looking for documentation about the cruel punishment of keelhauling on Dutch navy vessels he went to the Ashridge Estate near London, where he found an immense unordered mass of letters, some of them damaged but for the most part still unopened. A few years later this find was transferred to the National Archives. Thus a legal historian was responsible for finding materials which are viewed mainly as the dream of linguists, a centuries spanning corpus of primary materials for the colloquial use of a language.

It is clear the letters shed lots of unexpected light on daily life from the second half of the seventeenth century until the end of the eighteenth century, but it is also possible to combine them with the records about the captured vessels. The detective work needed to accomplish studies using both these letters and the fate of the ships, their crews and cargos is surely a challenge, but it is so much more rewarding than viewing them only as a source only of interest for linguists and genealogists. They are right to rejoice about this massive collection, but others have every chance to get their rewards from the use of these sources.

Legal historians wanting to go this path will have to make themselves familiar with maritime law and history, and to find the way in the particular journals and monographs of these disciplines. I will not try here to present a guide to Dutch maritime law in a nutshell, but the least I can do is point you to the online catalogue of the materials in eleven Dutch maritime museums at Maritiem Digitaal. At this portal you will also find links to three blogs on maritime history. The links selection on this website with an interface in Dutch, English, French or German is very generous.

A postscript

On April 12, 2012, the second installment of the new television series did redress the balance a bit between the focus on genealogy and the context of the people at sea. The second part of this installment featured the story of Martinus Bruno, crew member of the ship Het Wapen van Hoorn, whose deposition in 1672 for the High Court of Admiralty was commented upon by Anne Goldgar (King’s College London). Bruno stayed in England. The second tv series consists of six installments (Thursday, Nederland 2, 20.25 h.).

A second postscript

On October 8, 2012 the Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology (Amsterdam) launches the website Gekaapte brieven, www.gekaaptebrieven.nl (Looted Letters) with a few thousand transcribed letters. Dr. Nicoline van der Sijs, a renown linguist, has guided 110 volunteers in transcribing the letters. The online database and images will also facilitate research for legal historians. Interestingly, not only letters in Dutch will be published online. Letters in English, German, Danish, Spanish and Italian are announced as well.