Tag Archives: Portals

A short guide and a portal to legal history

Peace Palace Library
Lately the Peace Palace Library, the library of the International Court of Justice and other institutions in the field of international law in The Hague – all present at The Hague Justice Portal – has restyled its website. The Peace Palace Library (PPL) had a separate blog which has now been integrated into the new website. One of the strengths of the PPL’s website were and are the research guides, a feature which now comes more to the front. The website offers more than fifty guides in ten sections. Among the new guides is a short guide to legal history, the subject of this post. Apart from the new website the PPL is also present online with numerous tweets (@peacepalace). Last year I presented here a comparison of several portals to legal history. The PPL’s legal history guide points to a portal that somehow was not included in this comparison, even though I had spotted it and noticed some of its qualities. In this post I want to make up for this omission.

Legal history at the Peace Palace Library

The history of international law is the main reason for the PPL to devote time, space and attention to this subject. Thus the field of international law is not entirely absent in the new short guide to legal history, but it does not figure too prominently in it. The presence of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in the guide is only natural for the PPL with its rich holdings in editions of Grotius’ works. The Grotius collection is now substantially better shown on the website, with an updated version of the guide on Grotius.

The guide to legal history of the PPL is a guide in a nutshell. Before I will comment on this guide I want to express my admiration for the courage to create a short guide, because in a way it is easier to write a more ample guide. Its five sections present an introduction, a short bibliography, a presentation of a number of selected books as a librarian’s choice, a short links section with at present only six links, including the portal covered in the second part of this post, and a section with links to a number of related research guides, and a nifty link to all items in the category “Legal history” of the PPL’s catalogue. In this guide and in other guides as well the PPL has added consistently links to social media, a print button and a link to a PDF version of the guides. For the legal history guide the PDF function gives you only the librarian’s choice, certainly a bug but one without grave consequences. More awkward is the fact that the French version of this guide on this bilingual website is only partially in French.

The librarian’s choice at the moment of writing this post shows three books, including their covers. The first book is the collection of essays edited by Tracy A. Thomas and Tracey Joan Boisseau, Feminist legal history: essays on women and law (New York 2011). The second item is the chapter by Randall Lesaffer on ‘The classic law of nations, 1500-1800′ in the Research handbook on the theory and history of international law (Cheltenham 2011) 408-440. The third book shown is Law codes in dynastic China : a synopsis of Chinese legal history in the thirty centuries from Zhou to Qing by John W. Head and Yanping Wang (Durham, N.C., 2005).

The very brief introduction on legal history stresses the many sides of legal history. The two paragraphs can be summarized in two sentences. Laws, institutions, individuals and the relation of law to society are all aspects of legal history. Law both reacts to developments in society, but also actively shapes society. The French version tells you only that legal history is concerned with the development of law in history and the question why it changed. The French version continues with the explanation of the aim of the guide, to introduce people to the subject and to the holdings of the PPL in this field.

The bibliography is substantial, but some elements do raise an eyebrow. In particular the choice in the section with reference works is just that, a choice. Thoughtfully all titles have been directly linked to the library catalogue. Three books – with as a nice feature again their covers – are mentioned. I have no problems with the Oxford international encyclopedia of legal history, Stanley N. Katz et alii (eds.) (Oxford 2009), but the two other books have been chosen more arbitrarily. John Hamilton Baker’s An introduction to English legal history (4th ed., London 2002) is certainly a classic, but it inevitably focuses on England. The third book is a collection of essays by William Morrison Gordon, Roman law, Scots law and legal history. Selected essays (Edinburgh 2007), and this choice alerts to the existence of mixed legal systems. However, these choices center around the United Kingdom. Adding a book on for example the European legal tradition or about legal history in one of the world’s major countries or continents would be most helpful.

I cannot help pointing to some other defects in the selection of titles. Why just one issue of the ‘Bibliography of Irish and British legal history’ from the Cambrian Law Review? The link to the online version of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis brings you to the journal Legal History, the sequel to the Australian Journal of Legal History. The choice of books is more balanced, but it is odd to find here again Gordon’s volume of essays and the Oxford encyclopedia of legal history, both already present in the reference section. The other titles are concerned with the legal history of Europe, the United States, China and Rome, with sources for English legal history and with women’s legal history. Under “Documents” only one title is given. Far better is the choice of recent articles and papers about legal history, which range from a discussion of research methods, Islamic jurisprudence and thoughts about the legal history of the twentieth century to a comparison of legal history and comparative law, and the history of the law of nations. Of course it is difficult to create such lists as presented here, but with a relatively small number of corrections and additions it can become more useful. The list of journals on legal history is short and excludes e-journals.

For any wishes and remarks on the quality of the bibliography the links section and the section with other guides go some way to fulfill them. The links show not only some portals – including the portal in the spotlight of this post – but also a blog, the website of a society for legal history, and the research guide for legal history of an American university. This guide at the University of Minnesota Law Library neatly shows the imbalances in the PPL’s guide. However, the PPL redeems the deficiencies of its legal history guide by its own guides in related fields. You will be pressed hard to find any website which features guides on all these subjects: diplomacy, Antarctica, comparative law, Islamic law, philosophy of law and the use of force, not to mention Hugo Grotius. A number of websites do offer links on these subjects, but not similar guides. More extensive guides certainly exist, and in fact you will find them often using these research guides at the PPL. It might seem that in view of the sheer number of research guides provided by the PPL only some tuning – and translating – of the website is needed. Part of the tuning will be adding the research guide for the League of Nations to the related fields section of the guides.

A portal for legal history?

History of Law website

The portal for legal history I want to discuss here briefly is History of Law. Looking at it again in 2012 some reasons why this website can only in a restricted sense be called a portal are immediately clear. The website lacks links sections, presents no sources or articles, nor is there an events calendar or an overview of research institutions. Yet the PPL alerts to this website in its short guide to legal history. The most obvious reason for the inclusion is the page at History of Law on Hugo Grotius. When I first read it I was charmed by the narrative of Grotius’ life, and only somewhat amazed by the retelling of his escape from the Loevenstein prison in 1621, a story belonging to the heart of the canon of Dutch history. No sources are indicated for this story. A quick search using for once the eponymous search tool which conjures its results by unfathomable stratagems and axioms leaves no doubt which source has been used, Charles Butler’s The Life of Hugo Grotius (…) (London 1826). You can check the book online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and even choose which digitized copy you are going to look at.

Not only at the Grotius’ page of History of Law the original source is not acknowledged, the same is true for other pages. The text on the page on the history of Greek law comes from Martin Ferdinand Morris (1834-1909), An introduction to the history of the development of law (Washington, D.C., 1909). A reprint from 1911 of this work has been digitized for the Hathi Trust. The title “Roman canon law” for another webpage at History of Law should ring a bell with its anachronistic title, if not already the URL http://www.historyoflaw.info. I will not spoil the game of tracking the sources of the other pages of this website which is a nice exercise in source criticism for which you can use facilities available online. If you read the page on testamentary law it is worthwhile to establish who originally attacked the views of Blackstone on the introduction of testaments in England. For tracing the source of the page on Greek legal history I used deliberately the following phrase: “thousand other improvements and inventions of our wonderfully inventive age”!

At History of Law no name can be detected, but in the banner of this website a young man gazes at you. I mailed to him asking for his name, but he has not yet identified himself. Anyway, be it a student hoax or just a fruit of plundering the Internet, it has little to do with modern research on legal history, apart from pointing to the laziness of those thinking you can rely on old works without any consideration, as if the facts of – and the views on – legal history are immutable. The History of Law website is a plain case of plagiarism. Its chief merit is alerting to the works of Butler and Morris. Instead of writing about the views on legal history of Morris, one of the founders of the Georgetown Law School and at the end of his career associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, our anonymous could only copy and paste from this book. Charles Butler (1750-1832) was an English conveyor and lawyer, the first Roman Catholic since 1688 to practise in England as a barrister. In fact he prepared the very legislation making this possible, the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791 (31 George III. c. 32). It is yet another subject worth real study instead of mock history.

A few conclusions

Instead of spending more time with this portal it is better to return to the research guides of the Peace Palace Library. Luckily the authors of the online guide on Grotius do not mention the History of Law website. The authors at the Peace Palace Library of the short guide to legal history should not hesitate to repair things as quickly as possible, and create a guide that is as trustworthy as the other guides of this important library. Was it the wish to include a website with the story of Grotius in English that misguided the creators of this guide when they added a link to History of Law? Whatever the answer is, it pinpoints the need to approach websites carefully. It is easy to find guides for evaluating web pages.

I feel lucky I did not include the History of Law website in last year’s comparison of legal history portals. With pages on Phoenician law and the laws of Pythagoras a portal on legal history can certainly attract attention, but it should make you wonder when you find also the history of maritime law and Egyptian legal history, too much of a good thing! It is more rewarding to go to the sources, to use and indicate them carefully, to struggle with them honestly and to report your findings in your own words and to put your name at the end. You will not find any legal history portal with a full coverage of all main subjects, nor a website with full-length research guides about each separate subject in legal history.

Comparing legal history portals

Sooner or later it just had to happen. Comparing legal history portals is one of the things on the back of my mind when I worked – and still work – on my own portal for legal history, www.rechtshistorie.nl. The main question facing you at the start of any comparison is which portal sites are going to be included in it? How can you do justice to the efforts devoted to them? Another question has to be the aim of a comparison. In the comparison I am going to make here I purely aim at informing people about a restricted number of portals. It will soon become clear that they share a number of constituent parts and features. To make a fair comparison possible I have decided not to include any portal maintained by a research institute or at law faculties and law schools. Portals devoted to the legal history of one country are also excluded as are portals dedicated to a particular period. These exclusions still leaves room for portals created by teams of scholars with various affiliations, and in my selection is also room for portals maintained by the owners of law firms.

Lex Scripta

The first portal I would like to mention is no more than a small part of a larger Australian portal for law, Lex Scripta, maintained by Anthony J.H. Morris, a barrister from Brisbane, Queensland. Three pages are concerned with historical periods (“Pre-Classical” and Classical; Middle Ages; Modern Era), and a generous general links collection. Every link has got at least a brief comment about the content and qualities of the site. Obviously contemporary Australian law is the great strength of this website, but within its brief compass you will find a lot of useful links, even if you might find most of them elsewhere, too, except probably the Australian and New-Zealand links. Another strength should not be forgotten, the fact that Morris started this portal already in 1998. Long standing services deserve a credit for the perseverance of the founders and editors. Lex Scripta was last updated in 2007.

The Legal History Project

The Legal History Project (LHP) was started in 2005 by Peter C. Hansen. Blogs initially accompanied the LHP, but this feature was last updated in 2008. The LHP is a manysided project. The resources section guides you to law schools, their courses and degree programs, to societies for legal history, an impressive number of websites with historical documents and a calendar. Between 2005 and 2008 this events calendar functioned. From my own experience I know how many efforts are needed to maintain such a service. You can still check the list of past events. The LHP hosts a forum. An interesting feature is the series of interviews about legal history. The LHP was developed with a view to create a supporting member group. However, this initiative has not met much acclaim. The quiz is a nice feature, although with only ten questions it is rather short. It seems nothing has been done at this portal since 2008. The section with resources remains worth checking, in particular in the listing by type.

Duhaime’s LawMuseum

Duhaime's Law Museum

The next portal is again a part of a larger website, but this time it is clearly in a class of its own. In Duhaime’s LawMuseum Lloyd Duhaime has created a number of very different sections, ranging from a small image gallery, a timetable of world legal history, a Hall of Fame shoulder to shoulder with a Hall of Shame, to a selection of quotations on law and justice. This website by a Canadian lawyer has of course a large section on Canadian legal history. One of the most striking features of this website is indeed its sheer size and scope. Apart from Africa Duhaime includes all continents. The legal histories in a nutshell of Japan and China are admirable. Each of them ends with a selection of literature. It was surprising to find no mentioning of the Dutch connection with Japan between 1640 and 1853, but this is trifling in view of the way Duhaime tells the legal story of several countries and retells the lives of famous and infamous lawyers. On this website you will find no sections with links to law schools or online resources for legal history, and thus it is rather different from other portals. Duhaime’s website includes a blog like section, the LawMag. I could not stop myself for looking briefly at the articles concerning legal history. In the post on saintly lawyers I searched in vain for saint Raymond of Penyafort (circa 1175-1275), the canon lawyer who created the Liber Extra (1234). In my view Duhaime’s website is a model of its kind, also because of its clear design.

Virtual Library Legal History

Virtual Library Legal History

The Virtual Library Legal History is a creation of Steffen Bressler. Bressler worked on this bilingual portal – both English and German – between 1998 and 2004. A few years ago the website which once upon a time was present at http://www.rechtsgeschichte.de disappeared with its provider. It has returned in a kind of clone version of the original. Steffen Bressler followed the example of several German history departments which contributed to the Virtual Library project some very useful websites on the historical auxiliary sciences such as palaeography, codicology, sigillography, epigraphy and also on medieval charters. Bressler’s pioneering portal is divided into four sections: institutions, classical resources, other resources and special projects. Within the borders of this layout you will find in each section a variable number of commented links. For example, the number of legal history societies is rather small, the section on archives points to three well-known archival portals, and the section on literature leads you to a score of digitized articles and books, all in German. In the section with other link collections Bressler does not mention much, but the incredibly rich links collection at the Instituto Politécnico de Beja in Portugal did not escape his attention. Bressler does mention a number of German museums for the history of criminal law and guides you to the German Virtual Library Museen. Perhaps Bressler’s website does look a bit old-fashioned and the number of links indicated is often rather restricted, but its resurfacing is worth attention.

Portail Numérique de l’Histoire du Droit

Histoire du Droit

When I first visited this French portal I expected to find only French legal history, but this is not true. This portal has four main sections, news on legal history in the form of notices about new publications and events, and sections on research, online resources and other links. The news section on the left side of the front pages of this portal gives the latest news items in a blog like way. In the research section information is provided on the teaching of legal history at a number French universities, a number of digital libraries is presented, and also a number of libraries in Paris – you might compare this information with the notices in my miniature Paris library guide – and four libraries outside Paris. The section with sources is the most extensive part of this portal, divided into a part with sources for particular periods in history, and a part focusing on databases and scientific journals. In the links section you will find societies for legal history, three contemporary French courts with historical holdings, some websites focusing on French legal history and a corner with various links ranging from important French collective catalogues to linguistic tools and online dictionaries. Despite careful checking I could not find any names of the people forming the team behind this website. However, post to the webmaster will be answered by Luc Siri (Université Panthéon-Assas Paris 2). French legal history is at the centre of this portal, but in particular Roman law is served here, too.

Among the dictionaries included here the Dictionnaire électronique Montesquieu at the École Normale Supérieure of Lyons deserves your attention for its attempt to offer a modern counterpart to all legal notions treated by Montesquieu. In fact you will find also extended information on Montesquieu’s writings, including bibliographies and references to online versions of his works.

Storia del diritto medievale e moderno

Storia del diritto medievale e moderno

After German and French as a language for a general legal history portal it is now time for Storia del diritto medievale e moderno, an Italian portal launched earlier this year which focuses on at least two historical periods and therefore fits into the criteria for the comparison in this post. This portal is maintained by Paolo Alvazzi del Frate, Loredana Galati, Marco Miletti and Giovanni Rossi. Salient features are the page with announcements of events, new publications and an overview of recent articles in a number of scientific journals, a section with information on Italian scholars and their presence on the web, a section for discussions on current themes, and an overview of Italian university programs touching the field of legal history in the widest possible sense. In the section with links you will find a list with a number of online books – largely and very sensible taken from the fine list created by Elio Tavilla (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia) -, articles by several Italian scholars, and a good selection of links to libraries, digital collections, online reviews and other legal history sites. Italy is clearly the main focus of this portal, but this focus goes with depth and a generous width in its approach which do credit to its editors.

And another portal?!

It brings no good at all if I add here my own portal to the comparison, except to tell you what you will not find at www.rechtshistorie.nl. There is no section on current publications nor a discussion forum. I have tried to mention at least the departments for legal history at Dutch universities, but my list for Belgium is alas not complete. This blog accompanies my portal, where I do not present any interviews. There is no timeline or a series of portraits of lawyers or a list with major events and texts in legal history. You will search in vain for digitized articles, famous quotations or a legal history quiz.

A matrix

At the end of this post I decided to put a kind of matrix which might help to put possible comparisons into a clearer perspective. By now you might well be a bit exasperated and think: “All this is very nice, but I will stay with the websites of the law school(s) or research institute(s) I am used to”. The matrix offered here might just help you to check these institutional websites more quickly and to see whether they offer much the same things or focus unduly on certain aspects of legal history. I will not say which private portal carries my favour. Instead I will at the very end mention some of the professional websites I visit often.

Portal Events Forum Just published Online articles Scholars Digital libraries Databases
Lex Scripta - - - - + -/+ -
Legal History Project - + - + + + -/+
Duhaime - - - - + - -
VL Legal History - - - - + -/+ -/+
Histoire du Droit + - + + + -/+ +
Storia del Diritto + + + + + -/+ -/+

In the following list with some institutional portals and websites I clearly give a personal selection:

Among the legal history guides of American law school libraries it is difficult to choose, but five websites stand out: