Tag Archives: United Kingdom

A panoramic view of English criminal law

Image of the country-house Oog in AlAs a child and teenager I visited weekly the branch of the public library in Utrecht in the old country-house Oog in Al, beautifully situated along the Leidsche Rijn. Reading books on all kind of subjects in a library with its round tower offering a wide view of its surroundings is a great source of inspiration to look around you as widely as possible. Everard Meyster (1617-1679), the nobleman who had built Oog in Al in 1666, gave a very particular name to his manor. Oog in Al means panorama, a spot with a 360 degree view of things. Meyster wanted to have a good look at his project for the extension of Utrecht with new suburbs. He also launched a plan to build a canal connecting Utrecht with the former Zuiderzee. Some of his more funny projects earned him the nickname “De Dolle Jonker”, the mad nobleman.

Logo The Digital Panopticon

Being able to view things from every direction is a dream of historians, too. Creating a histoire totale, a complete history of persons and events, aims at transcending the traditional borders of academic disciplines by posing questions from several angles, and by using not just one method to approach problems. The name The Digital Panopticon was chosen on purpose for the ambitious project to look in more depth and detail than ever before at British criminal history. The subtitle of the project, The global impact of London punishments, 1780-1925, shows the two focus points, local history on one side, global history at the other side. Five universities, four in the United Kingdom and one in Australia, cooperate in this four-year project (2013-2017).

The Digital Panopticon is at the heart of this post. The project itself is connected with a number of other digital projects which will figure here, too. Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield), the project manager and webmaster of The Digital Panopticon, has more cards up her sleeves. She has created a whole range of websites and blogs which merit attention here if only already for their own quality and range. Legal history might not always be the main subject of these initiatives, but you can benefit indeed from them for doing legal history.

Looking at The Digital Panopticon makes you think about other subjects in legal history as well. How about creating projects for other countries and fields of law following this example? Do current or past projects exist which resemble The Digital Panopticon in some aspects? These questions deserve an answer, but if I added my first thoughts about them this post would simply get too long.

Getting a complete view

The global nature of The Digital Panopticon is not something you can take for granted. You might as well guide your efforts solely to an analysis of the data available at the website of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the core of this project. By choosing a narrower period, 1780 to 1925, the project can deal in particular with those convicts sent into exile to Australia, hence the global dimension alluded to in the subtitle. The project team has developed three central questions touching first on the role and position of digital data for scientific research, secondly on the impact on people of incarceration and involuntary transportation, and thirdly on the impact and implications of digital history on public history and its ethics. These questions are being researched for seven main themes, starting with searching for patterns within digital data; noting the voices of men, women and children in the surviving testimonies; the relations between punishments and the course of ordinary life, the difference between convicts, free men and their offspring in committing offences; the interplay between nutrition, the general health situation and individual height and body mass and other factors dealt with by biometrics; the ways of representation of the criminal past in museums and in those institutions catering for a kind of dark tourism and heritage industry at former prisons and other places of the judicial system, and last but not least the ethics behind the massive digital presence of data concerning persons who lived in past centuries.

Linguistics, biometrics, the history of health, sociology and criminology are clearly present in the approaches and themes chosen for this major research project. As a legal historian I am glad the testimonies given by ordinary people get attention, too. Research into intergenerational patterns of behavior sounds also very interesting, as does research into the impact of offences and punishment on life course events. Giving attention to dealing with data sets with sometimes very personal information about members of still existing families links the past with the present where freedom of information, the access to personal files, and the protection of this information form a vital part of current public debate in many countries.

Logo First Fleet

However rich this variety of themes and subjects already is, you can probably do even more. For example, some time ago Frederik Pedersen (University of Sheffield) wondered about seasonal variations in litigation in ecclesiastical courts in the sixteenth century, more precisely in the York Cause Papers, but you can also ask this question for seasonal variations in punishments. The sheer mass of data in the Old Bailey Proceedings offer an opportunity to ask such questions. One of the obvious things to ask is which trends, variations or invariable outcomes you can distinguish when comparing offences for which people were not banished from England with those offences that led to other punishments. Even when you assume the punishments prescribed by laws or statutes did not change over long periods, the actual verdicts might have changed considerably. Can we detect change in judicial regime? What about the various prisons in London and their inmates? People sentenced by the Old Bailey formed only a minority of the people shipped to Australia. In December 2013 Sharon Howard wrote ‘Thinking about dates and data’,  a posting on the blog of The Digital Panopticon in which she reflects on the possibilities of using the various data sets to get a reliable picture of the people exiled to Australia, in particular those coming with the First Fleet in 1787.

It is easy to gather from the summary of the main research themes that researchers obviously can use resources which are already more or less ready for use. For example, at the University of Giessen a digital text corpus has been created from the data of the Old Bailey Proceedings which makes it possible to do linguistic research within the proceedings. Research into the health of convicts transported to Australia is facilitated by the project Founders & Survivors: Australian life courses in historical context, 1830-1920 created by historians, demographers, genealogists and population health researchers.

The Convict Transport Registers Database, accessible at the portal Connected Histories, contains 123,000 records of a total of 160,000 persons transported to Australia between 1787 and 1867 from the registers in the HO 11 series kept at the National Archives, Kew. An online research guide provided by the National Archives gives you guidance to a lot of relevant resources, some of them online. A second guide helps you specifically for researching people transported to Australia. You can either access London Lives 1690 to 1800 – Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis at its own website or use it through the portal Connected Histories. In the research guide for themes around and sources on crime and justice at this splendid portal the London bias of the resources is rightly pointed out. The digital resources of British History Online which do redress this imbalance to some extent, can be searched at Connected Histories, too. In the section Connections of Connected Histories you can find fine examples created by users of the way you can combine data on persons and connect the resources assembled at this portal. Its sheer size and variety, even after noticing some resources only to be used at subscribing institutions, is stunning, and I am hard pressed to find any digital history portal elsewhere with at least some of its contents and qualities. Linking records to a particular person depends on correct identification of people, and this makes research at Connected Histories not a straight forward affair.

One of the resources recently added to Connected Histories brings us to the very title of The Digital Panopticon. The transcriptions created by the crowdsourcing project for the papers of Jeremy Bentham, a part of the Bentham project at University College London, will become available here, too. On my blog I have written in 2011 a post about the Transcribe Bentham project. Bentham coined the use of the term panopticon for his famous model of a prison in which all prisoners can be seen by their guards from one point. However, in this new digital panopticon things seem almost reversed. You can look at prisoners from more than just one central perspective! By the way, some of the seven themes of the project have been the subject of postings here. In 2012 I wrote a post about museums and legal history in which I did question the way the history of punishment has been transfigured at some historical spots into a kind of morbid tourist attraction.

A constellation of websites

The Digital Panopticon is heavily dependent on digital data already accessible thanks to earlier projects. One of the most amazing and powerful facts about this interdependence is the role and position of Sheffield historian Sharon Howard. She was the project manager for the digitization of the Old Bailey Proceedings and she had the same function for the portal Connected Histories. For The Digital Panopticon she is again the project manager and also webmaster. No doubt things are sometimes much easier thanks to her knowledge of vital information about the data at these earlier projects and the ways they have been digitized or harvested. Last October I mentioned Sharon Howard briefly in another posting here. I recalled immediately the title of that post, ‘The galaxy of French humanism‘, when I looked at her digital presence in the second part of today’s post.

Logo Early Modern

The personal website of Sharon Howard is a veritable portal to her websites, blogs and the projects she is involved with. Early Modern history is her main research period. Legal historians will look in particular to her Early Modern crime bibliography. What this bibliography with some 500 titles maybe lacks in content is redeemed by her portal Early Modern Resources (EMR) and her blog aggregator Early Modern Commons (EMC). EMR is a treasure trove for anyone looking for historical resources for British and European history between 1500 and 1800. You can follow any particular theme or enter a free text search with always most valuable results which at the very least offer you food for thought, and more often the inspiration for and first guidance on new roads to go. A third abbreviation, EMN, stands for Early Modern Notes, Sharon’s Early Modern history blog. The websites and the blog will get a new form at the Early Modern Hub which Howard currently is constructing.

The section on blogging of Sharon Howard’s personal portal is perhaps its very heart. You can choose here from four blogs and four blog aggregators. As an aficionado of medieval history I would like to mention Medieval Broadside, a blog aggregator about medieval history, with of course a blog roll of the blogs included. The Broadside is not a website about broadsides and pamphlets, but a website which is to some extent its modern equivalent, an aggregator for messages posted by historians on Twitter about history. The New Newgate Calendar is another blog aggregator with a fine blog roll, this time as you would guess from its title dealing with news about research on the history of crime and punishment. A look at the blogs included here gives you a good idea of the wide variety of current subjects and methods in this field. The website for the original Newgate Calendar gives you the stories of English criminals imprisoned in the Newgate prison between 1700 and 1900. I leave it to you to look at the blogs and the blog aggregator with the word “Carnival” in their titles. You might do this during the coming carnival days!

In the projects section we have met already some of the projects for which Sharon Howard worked. Of the other projects I will only mention Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000 to 1500, a portal for online research on medieval manuscripts, and Locating London’s Past, the project connecting John Rocque’s 1746 map of London with texts, artefacts and information about the streets and buildings of eighteenth-century London. Is it by now still a surprise Sharon Howard has done research for an online course on Data Management for Historians?

If you are not yet satisfied with the variety and quality of the digital presence of just one researcher I can send you to two other sections of Howard’s portal. The fourth section deals with Fun, but actually some websites which started as a kind of virtual playground are not just play. Anyone thinking about creating an online – or printed – bibliography can benefit from her Zoterowiki, a guide for the popular digital bibliographic tool Zotero. You might need it when you contemplate contributing to her Early Modern crime bibliography! Based on the Old Bailey Proceedings Howard has created a tool to visualize the frequency of crimes and punishments in this data set. Her steps into visualizing hashtags used in tweets by historians brings me to the last section where she offers just links to her Tumblr blog, EMN and her own tweets. The Digital Panopticon can be followed, too, on Twitter (@digipanoptic).

If The Digital Panopticon is about viewing crime and punishment and the people involved from as many perspectives as possible, you might characterize the digital presence of Sharon Howard as a kind of virtual omnipresence! I cannot do better than express my admiration and salute the unflagging efforts of a historian doing so much to bring digital information together for the benefit of historians and anyone interested in history and law. At the end of this post I am sure you will bookmark some of the websites and blogs mentioned here or at Howard’s marvellous portal.

Inspiration for more research

At the end of this post feel mightily impressed with The Digital Panopticon and with the fleet of blogs and websites created by Sharon Howard. Comments, questions and criticism are always possible, and I have commented on some features and hinted at some questions indeed, but my main impression of The Digital Panopticon is positive, The eleven researchers of five universities cross borders in geography, time and themes. Can legal historians boast or at least remember similar projects on a vast scale? When you look around carefully and watch out for new or past projects you will surely find something which equals the scale and scope of The Digital Panopticon. Today the combination of a website, a blog and social media is common practice for many ranges of modern life.

The project that will dwarf earlier projects might well be present already, perhaps not yet visible in English or not spotted easily even by the most used web search engine. This week I have been searching for the website of an international project launched in 2013, but somehow I failed to track it with search engines. Not knowing the exact title of the project did hamper my online search severely. Luckily in the final stage of writing this post I remembered I created a bookmark in my web browser for it. History and the Law: Exchanges of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas aims at becoming a project bridging ages and continents. You can actually visit two websites presenting this project, one at Cambridge University, the other at Harvard. The presence of a webmaster in the team of any large-scale research project using digital tools is surely an essential element of its success and visibiity.

Selling the Mendham Collection, a poor move

This week alerts appeared about the proposed sale of parts of the Mendham Collection, since thirty years on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral. The owner, the Law Society of England and Wales, describes the collection at its own website as “a unique collection of Catholic and anti-Catholic literature including manuscripts and printed books ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries”. Despite protests of Canterbury Cathedral the Law Society has started removing books from Canterbury on July 18, 2012 in preparation for an auction at Sotheby’s, apparently to raise funds. Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent have jointly decided to involve the general public in their protest against the possible dispersal of a collection with more than 5,000 items including medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An online petition to support both institutions has been launched. To indicate the importance of this collection, let it suffice that CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, has included the names of former owners of books in this collection into its provenance database.

One of the painful things in this situation is the failure of the Law Society of England and Wales to acknowledge that there is now an issue. The notice I quoted here from its website is almost the only piece of information this society provides online. The Law Society indicates they have published a catalogue of the collection in 1994 which can be obtained for £ 40,-. The Law Society has substantial historic holdings in its own library on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the fourteenth century to the present. The action of the Law Society breaks unilaterally the agreement with Canterbury Cathedral to act as a custodian of the Mendham Collection until December 31, 2013.

Gaps in the Mendham Collection

Gaps in the Mendham Collection – photo by Alixe Bovey, University of Kent

Joseph Mendham (1769-1856) was an English theologian who became active as a controversialist and historian. He was the son of a merchant, but his background did not hold him back of buying objects with a value for both cultural and church history. An article from 2008 by David J. Shaw describes the collection and the way Mendham brought it together in more detail. For legal historians Shaw points to editions of the acta and additional sources on the Council of Trent held from 1545 to 1564, and for examples twenty different editions of the Regulae of the Cancellaria Apostolica. The collection contains books from Doctors Commons, a court abolished in 1860, and the Court of Arches. Shaw gives also details on the continental provenance of many books. Mendham’s collection of 37 manuscripts mainly concerning the Council of Trent is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The deposit of the Mendham Collection at Canterbury, the place where Christianity in the United Kingdom started, is at an extremely apt spot. A sale of separate items, even of minor items, but surely only the rarer and more valuable items would bring the expected profits, does harm the collection and its integrity, not only now but for future researchers.

Yesterday the BBC reported on the plans of the Law Society to auction books from the Mendham Collection; a video can be seen at YouTube. Until now only a few websites, including the Medievalists news blog, have covered the story about the threat of the sale. Erik Kwakkel, palaeographer at Leiden University, calls upon people to sign the petition. Supporting solicitors is the noble goal of the Law Society of England and Wales, but I can see no justification for a rash sale of valuable materials held since 1869 and the dismemberment of a collection as wideranging as the Mendham Collection. Surely other ways exist to get money, even if the Law Society says it has not taken this decsion light-heartedly. Some of the items removed now may not be retrieved from Sotheby’s for a possible sale to either Canterbury Cathedral or the library of Kent University. Hopefully the petition will help reverting the plan of the Law Society of England and Wales, and help keeping the Mendham Collection intact and accessible.

Turning to good account: medieval account rolls and legal history

How to present a faithful picture of legal history? Writing here about various subjects enforces the conviction that talking about legal histories in the plural is closer to the mark. Taking account of everything that is going on in this scholarly discipline is not possible. In my view the very subject of keeping accounts and its connection to legal history deserves a post here. In this case, too, you can choose a wide variety of perspectives, sources to be highlighted and stories to be told from the Ancient Near East until modern computerized accounting systems. I will in particular discuss a number of projects for the digitization of medieval account rolls.

From clay tablets to computers

Accounts are among the earliest surviving written sources of mankind. From ancient Mesopotamia clay tablets have been found written in cuneiform script. You can find an example of a digital collection of cuneiform records from the Assyrian empire on the website of the Library of Congress. A substantial percentage of ancient papyri, too, tell us about expenses and income, or stem indeed from official administration of all kinds for both secular and religious institutions. At Papyri.info you can search the bibliography for papyri rolls. From Roman times accounts have been preserved on various materials. Wax tablets with accounts are among the Vindolanda tablets found near Hadrian’s Wall in 1973. The tablets now on display at the British Museum in London have been digitized by Oxford University.

Logo Computatio

For our knowledge of medieval history accounts and account rolls are abundantly present. Otto Volk (Universität Marburg) has put anyone interested in medieval accounts and accounting into his debt by his efforts to create at Computatio an online bibliography of scholarship concerning the late medieval and Early Modern period.

Lately a number of projects in the United Kingdom has started to digitize a substantial number of medieval rolls. You will find a very large number of digitized records at Anglo-American Legal Tradition, a website of the O’Quinn Law Library, Houston University in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew. Among the records are plea rolls, Chancery Rolls and pipe rolls (E 372 series). The pipe roll from 1130 is the second oldest item from the royal administration, only preceded by Domesday Book (1086). Finding digitized pipe rolls and digitized editions published by the Pipe Roll Society is made easier using the overview and guide at Medieval Genealogy. The Pipe Roll Society announces for 2012 a new edition of the oldest surviving pipe roll from 1129-1130 and new editions of the pipe rolls for Normandy. The first edition of the oldest pipe roll was by Joseph Hunter, Magnum rotulum Scaccarii vel magnum rotulum Pipae (…) (London 1833; digitized at the Hathi Trust Digital Library). An edition of Norman rolls was published by Thomas Stapleton, Magni rotuli scaccarii Normanniae sub regibus Angliae (2 vol., London 1840-1844). These volumes have been digitized in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich where you can find also the Rotulus cancellarii vel antigraphum magni rotuli pipae de tertio anno regni regis Johannis (London 1833). For Normandy the first volume of the new edition has already appeared, Pipe rolls of the Exchequer of Normandy, I, For the reign of Henry II 1180 and 1184, Vincent Moss (ed.) (London 2004). Mark Hagger writes in his article ‘A Pipe Roll for 25 Henry I’, English Historical Review CCXXII (2007) 133-140, about a fourteenth-century register from St. Albans Abbey containing a fragment from the pipe roll for Michaelmas 1124.

Separate projects are devoted to several types of roles. In the Henry III Fine Rolls Project rolls from 1216 to 1272 are being digitized on which the payments for royal concession were noted (C 60 and E 371 series). A translation will also be provided. This project at King’s College London is accompanied by a blog. The project website can boast a useful links selection to other projects. The Gascon Rolls Project is concerned with rolls similar to the Henry III Fine Rolls for the period 1317-1468 for matters concerning Gascony (C 61). On a French webpage you will find much information on previous editions of earlier rolls concerning Gascony. The Parliament Rolls from 1275 to 1504 have been edited earlier. The digitized version can be consulted only for subscribers at British History Online. Luckily you will find here digitized editions of many types of medieval rolls in open access. Access to a number of relevant sources is also provided by many calendars, the typical English finding aid created for many sources. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is a very useful tool to find digitized editions of medieval sources. At present for example 160 digitized editions of account rolls are included. In the 2011 issue of Digital Medievalist Morgan Kay and Maryanne Kowalewski discuss this bibliographical database which includes now more than 4,000 items.

Accounting and counting in medieval times

In this post I want to look at digitized medieval accounts and in particular account rolls, but sooner or later it becomes necessary to look first at the medieval way of accounting. Accounts were kept and sometimes rolls created to make it possible to account for both the actions of for example a royal officer, and also for the fines due to the king, which might not necessarily and automatically match with the actual amounts of money received. The accounts present a picture of posts concerning actions and money transfers for which the authors were held accountable.

The very word control stems from the practice of checking rolls against the receipts and the amount of money present after a particular period. In the field of trade and commerce medievalists often point to the invention of double entry book-keeping and the treatise La pratica della mercatura by Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (fl. 1310-1347). The edition by Allan Evans (Cambridge, Mass., 1936) has been digitized by the Medieval Academy of America. The first clear late medieval presentation was long said to be found in the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice 1494) by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) – GW 44422, digitized for example at Cologne and at the ECHO project of the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin – whose chapter on book-keeping stems partially from Giorgio Chiarini, the Florentine author of the Libro che tratta di mercanzie et usanze dei paesi. An incunable edition of this work appeared at Florence in 1481 (GW 22847). Alas the link to a digitized version at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart does not work. Vincenzo Gitti edited a text by Pacioli, the Tractatus de computis et scripturis / Trattato de’ computi e delle scritture (Turin 1878), also available online at the Universität Köln.

These treatises came into existence after some major merchants and towns had already started using the double entry book-keeping system during the fourteenth century. Vittorio Alfieri, La partita doppia applicata nelle scritture delle antiche aziende mercantili veneziane (Turin, etc., 1891) – digitized at Cologne – made already clear that Pacioli was probably not the first to explain this system. Alfieri discusses similar treatises up to Benvenuto Straccha’s De mercatura (1553), the first legal treatise exclusively devoted to commercial law. Straccha is the subject of a virtual exhibition at the Università Bocconi in Milan, where you can find a bibliography on him and more treatises concerning commercial law. Anne van der Helm and Johanna Postma of the Instituut Pacioli found in 1998 the manuscript of a mid-fifteenth century Italian treatise by Benedetto Cotruglio, Libro dell’arte della mercatura with an appendix, La riegola del libro which according to Van der Helm and Postma dates from the first half of the fifteenth century. This appendix is missing in the edition of Cotruglio’s text by Ugo Tucci (Venice 1990). In the paper discussing this newly discovered text – dealing not only with book-keeping but with many aspects of commerce – the authors provide an ample bibliography of relevant scholarship on the earliest book-keeping treatises.

As for the question where double book-keeping occurred for the first time L. Lauwers and M. Willekens mention in their sketch on the history of book-keeping, ‘Five hundred years of book-keeping. A portrait of Luca Pacioli’Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management 39/3 (1994) an article by Michael Scorgie, ‘Accounting fragments stored in the Old Cairo Genizah’, Accounting, business and financial history 4 (1994) 29-42, who studied a fragment of a journal dating from 1080 and four pages of accounting with credits and debts dated 1134. One can search part of the Cairo Genizah in the Genizah On-Line Database of Cambridge University Library. Images can be found also in the Friedberg Genizah Project, and in Cambridge’s DSpace. Lauwers and Willekens mention also a study by John Caldwell Colt, The Science of Double Entry Book-keeping (New York 1844; online, University of Rhode Island). Colt already guessed that the connection with Egypt, Constantinople, and the commercial network of Arabic merchants stretching from northern Africa to India, is vital for the introduction of double book-keeping. Pointing to the activity of Lombards all over Europe is another sensible line of argument. However, his assumption that the Hanseatic League also quickly took over this method, is wrong, because the cities of this commercial league long refused it.

Probably the largest single medieval commercial archive is the Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato, Prato, with the famous documentation about Francesco di Marco Datini, immortalized in Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato (1957). On the website one reads the affirmation that from the end of the thirteenth century double book-keeping was used in Tuscany. However correct or incorrect this statement, the Fondo Datini shows an overwhelming variety of account books.

It would be foolish not to mention at least briefly the use of Roman and Arabic numbers. Counting with Roman numbers was mostly done with an abacus. The story of Leonardo Fibonacci and his Liber abaci (1202) can be found almost anywhere. In this mathematical treatise he introduced the modus Indorum to Europe, the numerals as we know them, including the use of zero. Laurence Edward Sigler published a study and translation in English, Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci: a translation into modern English of Leonardo Pisano’s Book of Calculation (Berlin-New York 2002). The edition by Baldassare Boncompagni, Scritti di Leonardo Pisano (2 vol., Rome 1857-1862) has still to be used, and can now be consulted online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. You can find it also together with other digitized Italian mathematical works on the Mathematica Italiana portal of the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. It is not included in the section for the history of mathematics of the Berlin website European Cultural Heritage Online.

Rolls and scrolls on many subjects

Let’s go back from the treatises to the account rolls and account books. Many years ago I was fascinated by the rotuli mortuorum, the rolls with the names of deceased medieval monks for whom prayers were requested. More recently rolls of arms figured here in a post concerning medieval heraldry. The chapter of the Introduction to manunscripts studies by Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham (Ithaca, NY-London 2007) devoted to rolls and scrolls made me again curious about this format and its uses. Not only here figure rolls, but elsewhere in this book, too, for example a thirteenth-century roll cartulary written by a notary from Asprières in the Provence (Chicago, Newberry Library, Greenlee ms. 39), and a parchment roll with a large hole caused by the corrosive pigments of an illustration (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 22.1). The authors mention also an example of an account roll from thirteenth-century Florence.

Michael Clanchy mentions the use of rolls in his classic study From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London 1979; 3rd ed., New York 2012) and more particular also the way written records were used. Auditing a roll was indeed done by reading them aloud. Clanchy points to the possible influence of Arabic practice transmitted by English mathematicians such as Adelard of Bath on the introduction of the roll form. He reckons also with influence from Sicily which in the early twelfth century had only just been conquered on the Arabs. Scholars still debate the actual forms of this influence from the Arab world and the precise ways they might or could have led to developments in Italy.

You will excuse me for not giving examples here of all kinds of medieval rolls, even though Clanchy discusses a generous range. The Parliament rolls have been mentioned here already. Among the main sources concerning English medieval law are the plea rolls, the Exchequer rolls, the eyre rolls, the coroner rolls, the statute rolls and the assize rolls, almost all of them also treated in Clanchy’s book. For the patent rolls it is interesting to visit the website for the itinerary of King John and the rotuli litterarum patentium, with Hardy’s 1835 edition. It might seem useful to remember the Rolls Series, a major series of editions of sources from medieval Britain, but the Master of The Rolls, responsible for the series, decided to publish mainly chronicles in this series. Court rolls often contain the fines of cases. One of the major online projects for court rolls is The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove and Bury, 1268-1600, based on the edition of sources for this part of the East Midlands with the same title (Toronto 1990) and accompanying the book Ramsey. The life of a Fenland Town by Anne Reiber DeWindt and Edwin Brezette DeWindt (Washington, D.C., 2006). The Conisborough Court Rolls (University of Sheffield) present rolls from a manorial court in Yorkshire. For medieval Ireland the website Irish Chancery Rolls, c. 1244-1509 has been launched recently with rolls patiently reconstructed from the materials that survived the disastrous bombing of the Irish Record Office in 1916. It would be splendid to view documents from medieval Spain. Thomas Bisson’s study Fiscal accounts of Catalonia under the early count-kings (1151-1213) (2 vol., Berkeley-Los Angeles 1984) contains the text of a number of documents. For an earlier period Michel Zimmermann has written a major study on the role of writing in Catalonia, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle) (2 vol., Madrid 2003).

I would like to close this post with a shortlist of separately digitized medieval account rolls and similar documents with a clear link to administration, government or jurisprudence. Don Skemer deals with statute rolls compiled by individuals in ‘From Archives to the Book Trade: Private statute rolls in England, 1285-1307′, Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995) 193-206. I will exclude here many other forms, such as genealogical rolls – though I would like to point to the digitized world chronicle and genealogy of Edward IV in roll form at Philadelphia, Free Library - mortuary rolls and heraldic rolls. My brief list opens with a number of examples from the Digital Scriptorium, choosing of course examples completely digitized:

  • Los Angeles, UCLA Library, ms. Rouse 61: Rent roll; Hertfordshire, 1560 – ms. Rouse 53 is an homage roll from Norfolk, 1446-1453
  • Los Angeles, UCLA, Bancroft Library, BANC UCB 119: Purchase of land, Bergamo, 1500
  • New York, Columbia University, ms. Montgomery 22: Account roll, Ely, 1400-1415
  • San Francisco, San Francisco State University, J. Paul Leonard Library, De Bellis Collection, De Bellis H 121, Box1:A3: Roll, 1338; Italy – the exact nature of this roll is not indicated in the description
  • New York, Columbia University, Smith Documents 63: Tax roll of tithes, Vaux (Somme), first half 15th century
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Ash. Rolls 45, Procession to Parliament; 17th century – a beautiful illustrated roll; for digitized genealogical and heraldic rolls Oxford provides an ample choice
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, ms. Oversize 23: Property survey; Val Secret, department Aisne, 1324
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Codex 1116: Distribution of funds for churches; Volterra, 1490
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/216: Toll tarifs, Sens, around 1223; two rolls
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/329: Document of three apostolic commissioners concerning the nullity of the marriage between Charles the Fair and Blanche of Burgundy, 1322
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/III/203: Letter of Uldjaitu, king of Persia, to Philipp the Fair and other christian princes to renew the existing alliance, 1305 – on the back of the roll is an Italian translation of the Mongol text
  • Beaune, Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or, Chambre des Comptes de Bourgogne, B 11525: Tithe roll for the region around Beaune, 1285

Of course one can point to interesting documents concerning legal history in roll form elsewhere, not only in medieval Europe, but for example in medieval Japan. Harvard Law School Library has digitized 22 komonjo, scrolls with various legal texts from the period 1158-1591. Jewish marriage contracts in roll form are being digitized in the Ketubbot project of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. The Society for Old Dutch Law published a merchant guild roll from Deventer, De koopmansgilderol van Deventer voor 1249-1387, H.R. van Ommeren (ed.) (The Hague 1978), and the text of this edition – without images of the roll – can be consulted online. For Flanders and Brabant H. Nélis created an overview of account rolls in his study Chambre des Comptes de Flandre et de Brabant. Inventaire des comptes en rouleaux (Brussels 1914)

At the French Archim website you can consult online the roll with the interrogation of members of the Knights Templars from October 19 to November 24, 1307 (Paris, Archives Nationales, J 413 no. 18). Another roll from this famous trial is J 413 no. 29, a digitized inventory on six parchment leaves of the goods of the Templars in the bailliage of Caen. Using the collections search interface of the French Culture portal it seems you cannot find easily other examples in France. The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. The accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe shows an interesting selection of manuscripts and contains a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. The database of the Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden at Marburg contains examples of charters in roll form (Rotel), of which you can view images in black and white. At Monasterium.net, too, one can search for digitized charters of this type, but the search results here are not straightforward.

When writing this post I had to scroll to the end of my text, and thus in a way this post has become a roll, too. The pieces of parchment of a medieval roll were stitched together. I am afraid my text has some rather obvious stitches. At some points I have been much too brief, and at the same time this post contains almost too much. The scholarship in print on the variety of medieval rolls concerning the royal government of England is extensive, and I have mentioned but a few titles here. Perhaps this post just wets the appetite for more!

A postscript

What should be included, and what excluded in such a long post? Certainly not the website of the center for the history of accounting at the Université Lille-3. You will find more links on this website. Comparable centers are mentioned in the links section of the e-journal De Computis. At least three articles in the e-journal Comptabilité(s) deals directly with medieval rolls, Harmony Dewez’s 2011 illustrated contribution on the manorial rolls of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Jean-Baptiste Santamaria on accounts for the bailliage of Hesdin in fourteenth-century Artois, and Patrick Beck on accounts for the comune of Dijon.

By chance I visited the website Richard II’s Treasure, created by the Institute for Historical Research and Royal Holloway College, where besides many objects the treasury roll of this king from 1398-1399 is featured (National Archives, E 101/411/9). However, you will find on the website just two images of the roll, and the text of this 40 meter roll is missing, too. Jenny Stratford who helped creating the website gives the text in her study Richard II and the Engish Royal Treasure (Woodbridge 2011).

The wealth of sources: comparing legal history databases

On April 23, 2012 Dan Ernst alerted at the Legal History Blog to the report by Mitch Fraas on legal history databases for the Center of Research Libraries (CRL). Fraas compares in his brief report the contents, range and accessibility of sources for legal history available in a number of major databases which can be accessed by subscribers and subscribing libraries. The theme of open access has figured here already a few times. Perhaps due to the sheer number of posts at the admirable Legal History Blog Dan Ernst’s post and the report by Mitch Fraas (University of Pennsylvania Libraries) have thus far not received due attention. Fraas makes some comments about finding documents and archival records outside the main databases for legal history that call for reflection and reactions.

This report gives me a most welcome opportunity to deal at last with these commercial databases which I have so far kept at a safe distance. Until now I have included them nor here nor at my website. Is it wise to want to have as much as possible in subscribers-only databases? To who belong the sources for the history of nations, for the development of law, legal institutions and jurisprudence, and the records of the actual application of law in courts and elsewhere? Is the intervention of commercial firms absolutely necessary to make online access possible? Are we simply facing a dilemma or are there several ways to obtain maximum accessibility at comparatively low costs? Fraas is a specialist in Anglo-Indian legal history, but he brings the Indian perspective only as a second thought. The very least I can do here is pointing to a blog which serves a portal to India’s legal history. I will also look at the digital collections provided by the Center for Research Libraries, both for subscribing institutions and in open access.

Commercial databases for legal history

Until now my main impression of commercial legal databases was that they serve primarily the field of current law. Depending on the country you live in they tend to focus on jurisprudence, laws and statutes. Legal history seemed to figure only as an offspring of these databases. My impression of a rather closed environment was perhaps rather unluckily fortified by the website Constitutions of the World where for non-subscribing visitors only facsimiles of constitution come into view. The guide on Scottish legal history by Yasmin Morais at Globalex, a website with guides to the legal systems of many countries where her fine guide is the only one dealing with history, adds to an impression of legal history as a subject lost between modern developments. The readers of this blog and my website or of any other worthwhile website on legal history know this picture is not correct. Legal history is very much alive!

If you do not deal on a daily business with Anglo-American law you might be excused in guessing LexisNexis, HeinOnline, WestLaw e tutti quanti present only the materials for contemporary lawyers and law students. The resources guide of an average American law school allots much space to the products of these firms, and a number of schools can add regularly new databases or functionality for existing systems to the variety of resources available for users on and off campus. History comes into view already because of the need in a number of legal systems to be able to search for precedents. Thus legal systems with a tendency to focus on case-law or – phrasing it for Anglo-American law – taking a lead from the principle of stare decisis, inherit a vital connection to the past for present-day use. The drawback is the daily temptation to view this historical connection as a useful handmaid of the present, and not much more. In American law case-law currently gets its specific importance also from the way the constitution comes into view.

A useful comparison

Logo CRL

You might wonder why I included the paragraph here above, but at least it helped me in being more aware of my prejudices against commercial legal databases. Let’s go now quickly to the concise report by Mitch Fraas. He looks at a wide range of sources: published case reports, trials, statutes and laws, general legal literature, and other legal materials. For each category he compares the resources offered to subscribers by LLMC-Digital, HeinOnline, Gale and other firms with resources freely accessible online. Very soon it becomes clear that sources for the United States and the United Kingdom are very well served in these commercial projects. Part of the report is a very useful links selection of both subscription databases and open access resources. Fraas notes that the CRL, too, makes many of its subscription databases available through LLMC-Digital. The report ends with conclusions which you can use as a kind of rough guide to digitized resources for doing legal history on subjects touching the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Fraas has written a more extensive report on LLMC-Digital to which he has added an overlap analysis with comparable providers and a report on the coverage of countries within LLMC-Digital.

At the very end of his report Fraas looks beyond materials for American and British legal history. Sources for the history of the British Empire are also included in the databases under discussion. Fraas himself is a specialist of Anglo-Indian legal history, the theme of his personal blog. His current research is concerned with Privy Council appeals in the early colonial period, i.e. the eighteenth century. For the legal history of India, too, Fraas indicates a search strategy for using digitized sources. To me he seems unnecessary modest in not mentioning his own blog and the sources he has made available himself. He advises researchers to start first with the subscription databases before visiting the various websites which deal with Indian law. It would have been easy to add the guide to these websites provided by Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) on her splendidly useful blog on Indian legal history.

In a comment on Fraas’ report at the Legal History Blog Fred Shapiro mentions the oversight of Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources. I guess it is the very variety of projects within Gale’s Making of Modern Law series that has caused this omission, but this is certainly a major resource. Today I noticed another blog Mitch Fraas has recently started, Unique at Penn, a blog for the University of Pennsylvania Libraries about its holdings. Compared to the average online library guide to digital resources for legal history Fraas’ report stands out because he indicates strengths and weaknesses of these resources and points to strategies for their use.

What else has the Center for Research Libraries in stock for legal historians? The CRL website gives an overview of the digital collections created by CRL. LLMC-Digital is among them, and most of them are only open to subscribers. Here I will briefly mention the resources in open access which have some relation to legal history. The Digital South Asia Library, a joint project of CRL and the University of Chicago Library, is not only a digital library but also a portal for South Asian Studies. Among the digitized reference books is the Imperial Gazetteer of India. The Digital Library for International Research contains the Digital Legal Texts of Outer Mongolia, created for the American Center for Mongolian Studies in Ulanbator. The collection Brazil Government Documents, too, is freely accessible online. Of interest is also the collection Chinese Pamphlets: Political Communication and Mass Education with pamphlets published between 1947 and 1954. In my latest post figured the nineteenth-century Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu. The digital collection with pamphlets and periodicals of the French Revolution in 1848 has also figured here in an earlier post. CRL provides more research guides, for example on human rights and medieval studies. At the CRL website you can find also reviews of major commercial digitization projects, for instance of World Constitutions Illustrated, with again a useful list of online resources, both for subscribers only and in open access.

Open access or subscription, an eternal dilemma?

Some of my readers would like me to vote clearly for the creation of open access digital resources as the sole way to provide scholars with adequate access to their preferred digitized resources. I simply cannot decide this within the space of one post. I am certainly concerned about the monopolizing tendency of a number of firms which gain sizeable profits from the digitization projects they maintain in cooperation with national libraries and prestigious research institutions. In principle national libraries have a task not only for scholars or for a nation but for the common good. It seems many institutions follow both the road of projects financed and possibly tapped to some extent by commercial firms, and the road of their own projects, sometimes in collaboration with partner institutions in other countries. Libraries are probably wise not to exclude commercial collaborations, but when access to digitized materials concerning the cultural or legal inheritance of nations and peoples is severely restricted, it seems they do not fulfill their mission as completely as they should.

One should be aware how difficult it is to take decisions in the face of budget cuts. Libraries, museums and archives have to adapt themselves to the chances and threats of the digital revolution. They face pitfalls and dead-ends, they are sometimes surprised by the very success of other projects. Every now and them it is even hard to discern at all between failure and success. They cannot bet on one horse, be it the glory of independent projects which distract from the very high costs sometimes involved, be it as a more anonymous contributor to commercially safe projects which do not exhaust their own budgets. In my opinion the firms with the subscription databases should give the contributing institutions more credit for their trust and for their policies which have resulted in the very creation of the collections being digitized. Is there no lawyer who can develop a legal construction which sets for example a ten years limit to the profits gained by these firms from digitizing objects which are in the public domain? On the other hand one has to acknowledge some firms invest at least some of the profits gained from their subscription databases in the field of current law into projects for scholars and the general public interested in culture and history.

It is easy to create a caricature of reality with a simple distinction between the good, the bad and the ugly. Some open access projects are distinctly ugly, in particular those with institutional stamps on images. In my view it would help to have more insight into the arguments which favor in one case open access, in another case cooperation with a publishing company. In earlier posts I could already show that the sheer number of items or the degree of familiarity of objects is not necessarily the decisive factor. Today’s wisdom can be tomorrow’s foolishness. State of the art technology can quickly become outdated. The position of libraries in the field of scholarly information can change rapidly and make current constellations inadequate for the future. The report discussed here deals with American and British legal history. It will be most interestingly to create similar reports for other fields of legal history.

A postscript

At the back of my mind remained the question where to find a guide to free online materials concerning American law. Recently Harvard Law School Library published an online guide for this purpose, not only for American resources, but also covering foreign and international law.

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.

A Dickens and legal history round-up

In the English-speaking world some authors have truly contributed to the world’s most acclaimed literature. When an Englishman wants to say something which rings in the mind long afterwards, he can choose at will in the works of Shakespeare, in the majestic English of the King James Bible, or turn to a nineteenth-century writer, and in particular to Charles Dickens (1812-1870). On Internet and in real life – the sequence is deliberate! – his bicentenary has been celebrated on February 7, 2012. For this celebration the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography granted temporarily free access to the biographic article on Dickens, which is normally only accessible for subscribers at this link.

Charles Dickens by Frith, 1859

Charles Dickens in his Study (1859) – painting by William Powell Frith; London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Is it possible for legal historians to avoid the impression made on Dickens by his fathers’ imprisonment in the Marshalsea Prison or to get a better understanding of English law without always referring only to Bleak House? Surely no lesser luminary than William Searle Holdsworth (1877-1944) paved the road to this novel with his Charles Dickens as a Legal Historian (1928; reprint Union, N.J., 1995). The American 1929 edition has been digitized at the University of Michigan. The subject had been treated earlier by Thomas Alexander Fyfe, Charles Dickens and the Law (London 1910; digitized at the Internet Archive). The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick: a lecture by Frank Lockwood, also available online, appeared already in 1894. Without forgetting these well-trodden paths it is surely possible to bring Dickens and law together in many of his publications, often on the background, but certainly time and again as forceful and inimitable as elsewhere in his oeuvre. With fifteen years Dickens worked as a solicitor’s clerk, and later as a court reporter. Later on his friend and first biographer John Forster could help, too, from his legal background. This post is an Internet round-up for Dickens and legal history, with also a small Dutch tribute.

A Dutch tribute

In 2000 Jan Antoni Ebbinge Wubben defended at Utrecht University his Ph.D. thesis on Literatuur en recht: Charles Dickens en gevangenschap wegens schulden [Literature and law: Charles Dickens and debt imprisonment]. Remco van Rhee’s review in the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 71 (2003) 465-467, is rather critical of this Dutch writer in the field of law and literature. I had expected this thesis would be present in the Igitur digital repository of Utrecht University. Instead I can only find one article in Dutch by Ebbinge Wubben in The Dutch Dickensian Special. He points for instance to Dickens’ omission in The Pickwick Papers to mention the fees to be paid for the salary of the jailers of the Fleet Prison, an omission due to the fact that the Marshalsea Prison was exceptional having salaried jailers, and that he did not remember from his own experience the payment of fees. In his review Van Rhee wrote that the thesis by Ebbinge Wubben was one of the first Dutch contributions in the field of Law & Literature. I am indebted to Ton Lenssen for his comment with information about his own work in this field.

As a former president of the international Dickens Fellowship Jan Lokin, until 2009 professor of Roman law at Groningen University, is as no other Dutch legal historian able to portray the position of Dickens in the Victorian society and to assess the relation between his works, English law and society at large. Audiences of the Studium Generale, the general program of Utrecht University, had the luck to hear Lokin during Autumn 2011 in four lectures on Dickens, just ahead of the bicentenary. You can watch the four lectures online, download a collection of blog posts on his lectures and look at an overview of Dickens’ works with short remarks on literary influences on Dickens and his impact on modern authors. A Dutch firm will launch this month cd’s with recordings of these lectures. Among Dutch magazines the Groene Amsterdammer presented on January 4, 2012 a number of articles about Dickens. The presence of a list of Dickens ten best novels is in the best unorthodox tradition of this journal, but in the end everyone will have his of her favorites and dislikes according to personal taste and appreciation. The journal offers the possibility of a week-long online access to these articles, otherwise only subscribers can view them online.  All this is in Dutch. If you would like to watch four lectures in English online you might enjoy the four lectures given at Gresham College, London in 2006 on Dickens and the law.

Before I ventured to write about Dickens I had the impression a Dutch contribution would serve only to bring coals to Newcastle, but after a check in the Bibliography of British and Irish Legal History (Aberystwyth University) I have learned that you will not find there any article or book between 1977 and 2005 with Dickens in its title, and only two articles concerning the Marshalsea in Early Modern history. A check for the terms debt and imprisonment yields five articles which put debt imprisonment clearly into a wider perspective than just Dickens’ experience and his views of society and law. W.R. Owens and P.N. Furbank, ‘Defoe and imprisonment for debt: some attributions reviewed’, Review of English Studies 37 (1986) 495-502, neatly indicates another major figure in English literature, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). The Aberystwyth bibliography helps to give you guidance for Defoe with two more articles, P.J. Rawlings, ‘Defoe and street robberies: an undiscovered text’, Notes and Queries 30 (1983) 23-26, and M. Quilter, ‘Daniel Defoe : bankrupt and bankruptcy reformer’, Journal of Legal History 25/1 (2004) 53-73. The National Archives present since 2008 on their website a talk by David Thomas on Dickens and the debtors’ prison.

A virtual round-up

The Law and Humanities Blog is perhaps one of the more obvious points to look for information concerning the Dickens bicentenary. Christine Corcos has indeed written a short celebratory post in which she refers to a number of fairly recent articles in American law journals, and to the list of titles provided by Daniel Solove in his bibliography on law and literature. By the way, in this bibliography you will meet a selected number of other writers. On February 8, 2012, Corcos pointed to a tribute by Michael Ruse for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Corcos gave her post the title of a famous Dickensian indictment of law: The Law is a Ass – a Idiot. Ruse succeeds in showing it is not just Bleak House where Dickens brings a vivid picture of law, figures at courts and legal doings. Earlier the Law and Humanities Blog had already five other posts referring to Dickens. One of them mentions the study by Gary Watt, Equity Stirring: The Story of Justice Beyond Law (Oxford-Portland, Or., 2009). Among much else Watt proposed a new theory about the naming of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in the Chancery case in Bleak House.

With nearly thousand pages Bleak House is certainly one of Dickens’ most substantial novels, but to me his greatness and his very position as a classic writer is that you can read and reread his work, and change your opinions about them without losing your admiration. In Kant & Co: literatuur als spiegel van het recht [Kant & Co.: literature as a mirror of law (Amsterdam 2011) Hans Nieuwenhuis, one of the Dutch lawyers to write often about the relation between law, literature and philosophy, stressed the fact that literary works about law in its many forms gain their importance by the interplay between the author’s imagination and creative powers, his perceptions of law and his philosophical position. In the case of Dickens – lacking in Nieuwenhuis’ latest volume of essays – the philosopher looming in the background is probably Jeremy Bentham and his utilitarianism.

Dickens did not only write novels. In his American Notes (1842) he describes his impressions of the United States where he visited a number of prisons. Scholars have judged his description as biased. Perhaps the degree of bias is exactly what makes them so interesting. The idea to compare Dickens’ views and remarks with the views expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville is not new, but it helps indeed to put both men into perspective. Did the two ever meet each other? Hugh Brogan opened in Alexis de Tocqueville. A Life (New Haven-London, 2004) a chapter with a scene from The Pickwick Papers where a Count Smorltork is introduced “gathering materials for his great work on England”.

Dickens versus Lawyers

Money had great importance for Dickens, and in this field the memory of his father’s debt certainly haunted him. You can read in the London Gazette of December 24, 1824, the official announcement of John Dickens’ insolvency. In the New York Times Joseph Tartakovsky wrote on February 7, 2012 a brief essay with the nice title ‘Dickens v. Lawyers’. Dickens was keen in defending the rights to his work and pursued several times infringements in court. The New York Times offers in the Times Topics section a well-stocked overview of its own articles and pieces concerning Dickens since the mid-nineteenth century, combined with a selection of links to major institutions for Dickens’ heritage. The author of the essay notes that Dickens introduces legal subjects in eleven of his fifteen novels, another reason not to focus only on the novel with the portrait, nay indictment of the Court of Chancery. Bleak House appeared in serialised installments between 1852 and 1853. In 1842 the Court of Chancery Act was passed by Parliament which cut an end to some of the red tape and overlong procedures.

Wolf Reuter, a German attorney specialising in labor law, blogged, too, on February 7 about Dickens. He neatly pointed to the fact that in Dickens’ time labor law was still in its infancy. He quotes in the title of his post Dickens’ verdict “The law is a bastard” from Great Expectations. Reuter refers to the special photo album on the website of the Daily Telegraph showing Dickens’s London around 1870, a world mostly vanished and hard to imagine nowadays but for the many movies and television series inspired by Dickens, which have made us familiar with the surroundings of old London and with the looks of Londoners. The Daily Telegraph has covered the bicentenary with a nice sprinkle of articles.

I had promised to guide you here to online resources on Dickens. One of the major gateways for British history is Connected Histories a number of databases with one search action, among them the proceedings of the Old Bailey. It soon becomes clear that you have to filter the search results most diligently because Charles Dickens and his father John Dickens did have their namesakes. However, one user has been so kind to create a kind of portfolio with five Dickensian search results. You can find more, in particular in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers and in a number of pamphlets. The results with images from the British Museum is a valuable reminder that you cannot imagine Dickens without vivid illustrations such as the ones by “Phiz”. One can search these images also directly in the collection database of the British Museum. Strangely an advanced search at Connected Histories for Dickens as a surname and Charles as Christian name yields no results at all…

Nineteenth-century London

London Lives is one of the databases included at Connected Histories, but this project focuses on the period 1690-1800. A real search for online information about scientific literature on Dickens can start safely at the Institute of Historical Research, London. Its website indicates many directions for your research. The Centre for Metropolitan History, London, points for example to the project Locating London’s Past, where you can trace locations on a map from 1746. The links collection of this centre leads you to many other local and regional institutions with holdings on London’s history. The London Metropolitan Archives offer in particular online access to records concerning family and parish history. Perhaps The Guildhall Library has not so much to offer online, but it is good to remember its rich collection in English law reports. By the way, the web presence and visibility of these two institutions within the very large City of London website is only just sufficient. King’s College London gives an online presentation of its Dickens collection, with among other items the Mirror of Parliament, a journal of parliamentary records for which Dickens wrote reports. Using British History Online you will easily find a few hundred search results for Charles Dickens in the digitized source editions available at this website. The National Register of Archives lists 43 archival collections with materials from or pertaining to Dickens. In particular letters can surface anywhere or form the subject of a celebratory text. The Old Library of Trinity Hall, Cambridge holds a letter by Dickens about the study plans of his son Henry who did go to Cambridge to study law, a letter well worth a blog post.

Another resource deserves highlighting here, the Newgate Calendar, one of the bestselling books in England between 1750 and 1850. The title Newgate Calendar is an umbrella term for a number of books appearing from 1702 onwards. The website mentions a fair selection of them and introduces them briefly. In these books you will find the tales about criminals imprisoned at the Newgate Prison, stories the British public loved and loves to hear and read until now. The stories told in them depict criminals, their trials and fate most vividly. In my opinion the success of Dickens’ portrayals of villains and victims has been considerably prepared by them, and also by the stories presented in British newspapers and broadside ballads, two subjects about which I have written here earlier.

Law in Victorian literature

Dickens is not the only author from the Victorian Age to write into his novels accounts of the workings of the law. Anthony Trollope does look at Anglican ecclesiastical law in the novels of his Chronicles of Barsetshire. Reading William Thackeray and Thomas Hardy is every bit as interesting, and with them you are reading some of the greatest novelists. Yet Dickens has made a deeper impression than any of them. Many critics have reproached Dickens with attacking social evil and situations just after they had been changed fundamentally. Critics have also often said Dickens was not accurate in his descriptions of legal matters. Even if this is true, they miss the point that Dickens did not want to write legal or social reform proposals, but in a way he did help to promote public interest and support for them. In his marvellous book on the Victorian age The Victorians (London 2002) A.N. Wilson gets rid of a lot of small talk about Dickens. Wilson is sure that deliberately or not Dickens showed the fabric of human society in its overwhelming impact during the Industrial Revolution, often through the eyes of children or powerless persons who cannot see things clear. He shows the abruptly modern dislocation of people in new urban environments, and the inscrutable and ruthless way some of the few mighty and rich dealt with the poor part of Benjamin Disraeli’s two nations.

Dickens can be sentimental, but more often he is most gripping. For me Dickens’ novels show every now and then a rule of law developed into a rule unto itself and a bane for those trapped by it. Not the cold dissection and description of situations as a sociologist would do, but a fictionalized representation of society and almost symbolic portrayal of the lives of ordinary and marginal people is Dickens’ goal. If lawyers still should read Dickens, others should do this as well, because it is life touched by the machinery of law that you can find in his writings. Dickens makes abundantly clear that the rule of law and its institutions can become a terrible thing when closed off from the real world.

More blog posts celebrating Dickens have appeared this week, and I have not traced nor mentioned all of them here. Let me end this post about the web celebrations of the Dickens bicentenary with a positive note: the interest in Dickens and his novels might be a sign that people still will make time for immersing them into the world of Victorian England. Thanks to the remarks of a helpful staff member of a bookshop in Utrecht I could say here more about Dutch legal historians and their views of Dickens. We will need the guidance of well-trained booksellers, librarians and industrious scholars to keep in touch with the lives and the legal life enshrined by Dickens.

More online exhibitions and resources

Historical British newspapers at a price

Logo The British Newspaper ArchiveIn the midst of all activities around Christmas the British Library has launched a massive digital collection, the British Newspaper Archive. You might think that in 2012 I would have found a message about its launch in a tweet, but I stumbled upon it without using the digital tool for this virtual activity. Within a minute it became crystal clear that you can have here “history at your finger tips” as the blurb on the site puts it, depending of course on your specific search, but then the signs appear that you have to pay to view the contents you have just found. As for the search possibilities, the advanced search mode should satisfy the most exacting scholars. The free trial is very meagre, just a few pages, so you might grudgingly decide not everything valuable comes free. You have to pay to use this wonderful Christmas present to its full extent. The British Library has licensed a commercial firm to receive money for this project which surely has costed a lot of money, for you will find scores of newspapers, some of them starting in the early eighteenth century, up to more recent times. For £ 79,95 a year you can have your own private subscription. Having the riches in front of you as colourful thumbnails but not being able to view them in full size is a tantalizing experience.

Lately I had the chance to use a number of digitized Dutch newspapers, for instance in the post on the Hoorn Pie Trial. It made me more aware of the uses you can make of these sources both as a general historian and as a legal historian. I take the example of these Dutch newspapers not only to give this post a Dutch flavor, but to show you more closely what you can find using digitized newspapers. The British Library and this new digital archive stand out from other digital newspaper archives, because it is really rare to find paying digitized historic newspaper websites.

Paying for digitized British sources

In fact more British examples of paying historical websites can be given. Last year I wrote in a post briefly about the project 19th Century British Pamphlets Online, where you are allowed to search the catalogue with more than 20,000 items from seven British research institutions. The pamphlets themselves, however, can be only be viewed at subscribing institutions. At the British Cartoon Archive, an example closely associated with newspapers, £ 25 is charged for each image that you want to get in its full quality. Some English archives with digitized collections from their medieval holdings charge you for the use of digital images. An example for medieval canon law are the Cause Papers in the diocesan courts of the archbishopric of York, 1300-1858. The University of York has finished the digitization and is now adding them to the inventory. Perhaps this will bring a change in the way one can access these materials.

Is it the sheer scope and scale and the investments involved in these admittedly large projects that led the institutions involved to choose for commercial or semi-commercial solutions? I would have to be more familiar with current English copyright law, but to me it seems that newspapers before 1900 at least are out of copyright. For me it is clear that a convincing explanation is needed why a national library allows you to use many digital sources freely, but makes an exception for newspapers. If the answer is a plain need of money, this would be the start of an honest and full response.

Historical newspapers online in Britain and elsewhere

As my point of depart in this post I will take the overview of online old newspapers at European History Primary Sources, a portal to commented online sources for European history maintained at the European University Institute in Florence. The most simple general search for newspapers yields some ninety digital collections, almost all of them in public and free access. Luckily the overview indicates also some British websites with historical newspapers which can be viewed in open access. At first a surprise is British Newspapers online, a project again at the British Library where you can use four newspapers freely for at least a limited time span, to be more precisely, the Manchester Guardian (1851, 1856, 1886), the Daily News (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), the News of the World (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), and the Weekly Dispatch (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918). Here you might at least try to compare the coverage of events in some particular interesting years. The four newspapers are also available through British Newspapers 1800-1900, the earlier subscribers’ only project of the British Library with 49 historical local and national newspapers. However, the Penny Illustrated Paper and The Graphic can be viewed free of charge. The websites Gazettes Online brings you to the London Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette, but their official character sets them apart from normal newspapers.

Some British newspapers have made a selection from their historical archive. Guardian Century is not a complete archive of the period 1899-1999, but merely a selection of the main new items from each year. The digital archive of The Scotsman for the period 1817-1950 gives you full search possibilities, and a number of short – even for one day – and longer subscription options. To set the record straight for the British isles, the Irish Times offers a digital archive for the period 1859-2009 where you get the first lines of each result, but for more you have to pay four times as much for a yearly subscription at the British Newspaper Archive. For such an amount of money you had better subscribe to the services of the Irish Newspapers Archives with fourteen newspapers. At a server of the Lafayette University, Louisiana, is the index to the Belfast News-Letter from 1737 to 1800, which can help your searches on Irish matters.

The thirst for in-depth knowledge of a city as important as London is of course stronger than ever, not just for lovers of London and visitors to the 2012 Olympic Games, but also for legal historians since the appearance of London Lives 1690 to 1800. Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, a website with a very large number of digitized documents, among them a substantial number of criminal records and coroner records. The coroner was and is the official charged with inquiries into unnatural deaths. A prime example of a recent British history project which should hold great interest because of the way various kinds of records and perspectives are combined is Connected Histories, a portal with sources for British history between 1500 and 1900. The York Cause Papers are according to this website freely accessible, but the restriction on the images is noted in the main text. London Lives, too, is a part of Connecting Histories, as are the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913. By chance I misremembered the title of this gateway and thus found the website Connecting Histories, an educational project on the history of Birmingham.

Connected Histories gives also more information about British Newspapers 1600-1900. This project consisted of two subprojects at the British Library of which we already met the first. The other project concerned the digitization of newspapers from the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the Burney Collection.

In the project Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (NSCE) of Kings’ College London, the British Library and other institutions you can consult freely six English periodicals from the nineteenth century, which will help somewhat to redress the balance between subscribers’ only and freely accessible digital newspaper archives in the United Kingdom, as do the six journals digitized by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The links and projects selection at NCSE is particular useful. The project Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical helps you to find views on science in a large number of general periodicals from Victorian England. For both newspapers and periodicals the Waterloo Directory to British Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900 offers online guidance.

A page of the Dutch Startpagina web directory is concerned with historical newspapers and gives an overview of online newspaper archives from many countries. Most of the British examples mentioned here figure in this overview, and these from also a section on a similar page of this directory about current British newspapers.

Dutch historic newspapers

Getting access to digitized old Dutch newspapers is in all cases I have seen until now a free service. Current newspapers do charge a fee for full access to the digital version and to their archives, but older editions are available for free at an increasing number of special websites. The largest project is an initiative at the Dutch Royal Library, Historische Kranten. Here appears gradually a large selection of national, regional and local newspapers from 1618 to 1995. At this moment you will find already a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century newspapers, and much more from later times until 1945. For some national newspapers the regional editions, too, have been digitized, mainly the issues during the Second World War. The Royal Library give a useful overview of major initiatives in countries such as Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and the United States, and a selection of Dutch regional projects. For Dutch colonial history one has to single out the Indonesian Newspapers Project at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies for the digitization of newspapers in Malayan from the former Dutch Indies.

Dutch regional and local newspapers are being digitized by a number of archives. This approach is completely absent in the United Kingdom. You must forgive me not to include here a full list of digitized newspapers because the number is very large. The overview of digitized historical newspapers at Startpagina puts Dutch newspapers in order by province. The Gazette de Leyde made available at the French website Gazettes européennes du 18e siècle is by mistake listed as the “Leiden Staatsblad”, but this gazette was not an official publication. Newspapers from the Second World War are mentioned separately, and there is even a list of not yet digitized newspapers. The reference to the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant is to a website concerned with the announcements in this seventeenth-century newspaper which refer often to the Dutch book trade.

A few examples: the archives in Utrecht have for example digitized the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad for the years 1893 until 1897. You can view in detail the pages of this newspaper, but you cannot download them due to an agreement with its publishers. For Leiden the Digitaal Krantenarchief of the Regional Archives Leiden gives you access to twelve newspapers, including the local version of the national newspaper Trouw and the short-lived Zuidhollandsch Dagblad. The Leidsche Courant (1720-1890 and from 1909 onwards) and the Leidsch Dagblad (1860-) do refer of course very often to Leyden University. I found even notices celebrating the anniversaries of doctoral degrees.

The value of old newspapers and the costs of historic culture

Is the current debate about the costs of digitization really the debate it should be? Is it sensible to restrict it to matters like the role of subventions by the government to relevant projects, the wish to establish national cultural institutions as independent players in the culture market with a duty to find their own sponsors and sources for income? Is it perhaps also a debate which you cannot restrict to claims for free access to the national and international cultural heritage at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end claims on property rights to digital images created by photographers and media departments? In my view this issue raises also questions about the freedom to get information from the government and governmental institutions. Which values do we cherish when we talk about history or cultural heritage? Who are to benefit from digitization projects, be it fur current official information and digital records management for administrative purposes or for historic records: the general public, the exasperated taxpayers with their respective national nicknames, children receiving education, scholars doing research?

The British Library tries to give its British Newspapers project a new lifespan with the British Newspaper Archive. I cannot help noticing that this same library has belatedly made available online in open access a fair number of its priceless manuscripts, but asks a price for old issues of a medium of which the proverb says that today’s newspaper will serve next day to pack fish and eggs. Historic newspapers offer a fascinating perspective on views, opinions and blind spots, and shows both the conventional and the seemingly irregular. What once seemed ephemeral can become invaluable for the historian, and for anyone wishing to understand humans and their lives in past centuries. My hat tip for giving on December 23, 2011, a very early and extensive notice about the British Newspaper Archive goes to the website of an Italian encyclopedia.

A postscript

In this post I made a short remark about the presence of images at the website for the York Cause Papers. Images are now indeed being added to the cases in the database. Until now I saw only images for cases from the sixteenth century. Here open access has got the upper hand.

When revisiting the digital newspaper archive of the Regional Archives Leiden (RAL) it came to my notice that this project has a conflict with an organization representing the rights of authors. In September 2011 the RAL decided to remove newspapers printed from 1941 onwards as a perhaps all too submissive precautionary action. I had yet not been aware of this conflict, because in early January I could check newspapers after 1945.

Centers of legal history: Edinburgh

Centre for Legal History, Edinburgh

The longest running series of posts here is concerned with centers of legal history. After a long break I will continue this series, starting at Edinburgh. The Centre for Legal history at the University of Edinburgh, founded in 1992, offers a many-sided program to its students. The research done by its staff concerns several main themes of legal history, in particular Roman law and law in Classical Antiquity in the interdisciplinary network Ancient Law in Context. A university in Scotland gives of course due attention to Scots law and Scottish legal history.

The staff of the Centre publishes some of its research results in the Edinburgh Studies in Law. One of the latest volumes edited by John Cairns and Paul du Plessis, The Creation of the Ius Commune: From Casus to Regula (Edinburgh, 2010) has been presented here in a comparison of two volumes of essays introducing medieval law. Apart from Cairns and Du Plessis W.H.D. Sellar and Hector MacQueen are the other staff members of the Centre. MacQueen blogs with Scott Wortley on Scots Law News, and he is also a member of the team behind the blog for European Private Law News. It is interesting to note Sellar’s activity as the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the official heraldic authority in Scotland with responsibility for State Ceremonial in Scotland. A King of Arms is the main herald of a region or country.

On its website the Centre – notice the British spelling! – provides easily accessible information to its activities and its research. Every year a substantial number of lectures and other events is organized. The Legal History Discussion Group is one of the key elements in the yearly schedule of activities. For the annual Peter Chiene Lectures, held in memory of Peter Chiene, scholars from all over the world are invited. All this is crowned by a fine selection of links. The legal historians at Edinburgh have their own blog, edited by John Cairns and Paul du Plessis, with very regular postings, and they are also active at Twitter to provide you the latest news in legal history. The website of the Edinburgh Law School features among the podcasts also lectures on aspects of legal history. You can look in particular at or hear several lectures given during the 2007 Tercentenary of Edinburgh Law School.

Law and history in Edinburgh

The Centre for Legal History at Edinburgh is part of the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh. The Law and Europa Library is located in the Old School, home to the School of Law. Apart from the Main Library of the university it is good to be aware of the Scottish Studies Library. The University of Edinburgh has a number of virtual image collections, none of them specifically dealing with legal history or Scots law. Charting the Nation: Maps of Scotland and associated archives, 1550-1740 is probably the one with the most immediate interest for legal historians. Both the popular and scholarly imagination of Scottish and medieval history have been fueled and inspired to considerable extent by the writings and activities of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). The University of Edinburgh has a digital archive on him. The Edinburgh University Archives have created an online database for the alumni of this university. As for now substantial periods and indeed whole faculties and schools are not yet dealt with here.

In Edinburgh the National Library of Scotland has many things to offer to scholars. Just looking briefly at the wealth of presentations in the Digital Gallery brings you for example to maps of Scotland, including the 1654 Atlas of Scotland by Blaeu, Jacobite prints and broadsides – which could have figured in the recent post on riots – and the digital collection The Word on the Street with more broadsides, and these I did notice in my July post on ballads and broadsides. The Early Gaelic Book collection is worth mentioning, too, as is Scottish History in Print with digitized editions from the publications of a number of historical societies, and a number of transcriptions of historical documents. A Guid Cause…: The women’s suffrage movement in Scotland is a digital collection for educational purposes on the history of Scottish suffragettes. Among the manuscripts and collections at the NLS one should notice not only manuscripts, but also estate papers.

For images alone it is useful to turn to the project Scotlands Images. The online collection of the National Galleries of Scotland can bring you to portraits of Scottish lawyers. For searching in this database you can use the taxonomy of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus created at the Getty Institute.

The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh have as one of its particular strengths on its website the series of guides to several genres of historical records. Sources for legal history take pride of place here. Another service is the online introduction to the palaeography of Scottish documents. The NAS contribute also to the website Scottish Documents where you can find in particular digitized wills and testaments, most easily searched, however, at the website Scotlands People, with also census records and coats of arms. For Scottish charters and their presence online you should benefit from this links selection provided by Glasgow University, a reminder that you do not have to look exclusively at Edinburgh. My own selection of links for Scottish legal history can bring you more, but for seeing a wider context it is wise to visit first the selection of legal history links at the website of the Edinburgh Centre for Legal History.

The series Centers of legal history

Claiming the streets. Legal history, riots and upheavals

Between an isolated incident of violence and a full-scale revolution exists a wide variety of possible forms of violent actions. Their cause, form and the people involved have differed widely, as do the backgrounds of such events. The second week of August 2011 saw riots in the streets of London and other English cities, which at first seemed largely an outburst of violence but soon turned into plundering of shops and pillaging of neighbourhoods. The reactions of authorities, even their relative unresponsiveness to events, are ever so much determining factors in assessing the exact character of events as the actual events themselves, their media coverage and opinions about them. In many countries one can scarcely imagine a police force without water cannons which were conspicuously absent in England. In this post I want to look at some historical riots and upheavals from the perspective of materials nowadays digitally presented.

Dutch upheavals

In historiography there has been a tendency to see the Dutch Republic as an island of order in the midst of the turmoil that struck Western Europe from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. However, a title like The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama (1987), echoed by A.Th. van Deursen, De last van veel geluk. De geschiedenis van Nederland, 1555-1702 [The burden of lots of luck] (2004), indicate a less rosy state of affairs. Van Deursen died last month. He was an eminent historian who has considerably enriched our views of the Dutch Golden Age. War was a characteristic of the period of the Dutch Revolt, roughly between 1566 and 1609. The Eighty Years War (1568-1648) of the United Provinces lasted even longer than the Thirty Years War and the destructions that hit the German Holy Empire. Already in 1979 Rudolf Dekker published an anthology of eyewitness accounts of troubles and riots in Holland (Oproeren in Holland gezien door tijdgenoten (Assen 1979)), and in 1982 appeared his study Holland in beroering: oproeren in de zeventiende en de achttiende eeuw [Holland in trouble: riots in the seventeenth and eighteenth century] (Baarn 1982).

One of the most striking revolts in the Dutch Republic was the 1696 Aansprekersoproer, literally “The Undertaker’s Men Revolt”. You can find the occupation aanspreker among the occupations in the History of Work Information System of the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. The city of Amsterdam had decided to lower the number of men working as an undertaker’s man from around 300 to 72. In order to win the favour of the poor the aansprekers launched the rumour that due to this new policy poor people would not get anymore a decent funeral. An indignant mob attacked the houses of burgomasters and other members of the city’s elite and killed several people. The city council immediately issued ordinances against the violence, but to no avail. The second day sailors joined the revolt. Only the third day a former burgomaster succeeded in calming the mob. Students of Utrecht University have created an interesting online presentation concerning the Amsterdam city government, this riot and the subsequent trial.

From more recent centuries, too, one can find several major riots. The most picturesque riot is probably the Palingoproer, the “Eel Revolt” of July 1886 in the Jordaan, a neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Pulling eels from a rope while standing on a boat in an Amsterdam canal was one of the few pastimes in a poor and squalid quarter of Amsterdam. Not that other Dutch cities were any cleaner. Auke van der Woude has chosen a most winning title for his latest study Koninkrijk vol sloppen. Achterbuurten en vuil in de negentiende eeuw [Kingdom of slums. Backstreets and rubbish in the nineteenth century] (Amsterdam 2010), a book in which you can smell the poverty that reigned in the slums of many cities. Pulling eels had been repeatedly forbidden, and police action against it seemed to be the trigger for protest. On the first night policemen used swords to get safely back to their headquarters. On the second day the army came into action with 26 victims as a result. The image database of the Amsterdam City Archives contains a number of contemporary photographs of the Lindengracht where this revolt happened. The Amsterdam City Archives have developed a very active policy of digitization on demand, and not only for this reason you should look at the services offered here. During the inquiries after these riots it proved impossible to detect agitation by anarchists.

The Jordaan, now a much-loved neighbourhood in Amsterdam, saw in 1917 a week called afterwards the Potato Revolt with nine casualties and over one hundred wounded people. In 1934 a protest in Amsterdam against a cut in the doles combined with a protest against the Dutch national-socialist party NSB. During this Jordaanoproer not only the Jordaan became the scene of a revolt, but other quarters of Amsterdam as well. With five dead people and more than fifty casualties this might seem a less violent revolt, but the Amsterdam police failed again to quench the revolt quickly.

Most recent in Dutch memory are the riots in Amsterdam on April 30, 1980, during the coronation of Queen Beatrix, and therefore called either the Coronation Riots or the Squatter’s Revolt. A substantial number of houses in the old city of Amsterdam had become illegally inhabited by groups of squatters. They announced a day of action as a protest against the Dutch housing shortage, and more specifically against the authorities which according to the squatters failed to act against speculation on the housing market. The very city heart of Amsterdam had been sealed off to ensure a smooth coronation, but elsewhere in the city centre a number of fierce battles were fought. A growing number of squadrons of a special police force, the Mobiele Eenheid, the “Mobile Units” was called upon to fight against the squatters. Due to inadequate communication these forces at first did not help much. Only late in the evening of April 30 the streets became quiet after a day with hundreds of casualties and severe damage to shops and other buildings. Afterwards the Coronation Riots were absolutely the main reason for the Dutch police to give the Mobile Units more training, to enhance communication and to revise police strategies against possible violence. Novelist A.F.Th. van der Heijden wrote in 1983 De slag om de Blauwbrug [The battle for the Blue Bridge], a short story about an episode during the Coronation Riots, which functions as the prologue to a series of novels by this author.

Only the Jordaan Riots of 1934 have been canonized in the Canon of Amsterdam. If you want to find more Dutch riots and upheavals mentioned in the current Dutch vogue for historical canons you can search for words like rellen, oproer or opstand at the Regiocanons website which presents a number of regional historical canons.

Riots in the United States

Surely one of the best documented events concerning a riot in the United States is the Haymarket Affair. In May 1886 a four-day labor protest in Chicago was met by a large police force. On May 1 and 2 things went uneventful, but in the evening of May 3 a bomb exploded amidst the policemen just as they had summoned people to clear the streets. One police officer was killed immediately, six others died later. The police responded with gunfire which wounded an unknown number of protesters. Afterwards the police arrested a number of anarchists. In the subsequent trial four defendants were sentenced to death. The trial became an international affair. In fact the remembrance of this protest created the international celebration of May 1 as Labor Day.

The Chicago Historical Society has created a digital collection on the Haymarket Affair, in which you will find all kinds of documents on the protest, the events of May 3 and the trial. At this site is also a so-called dramatization of the events, a narrative with the purpose to put the events into perspective. The Library of Congress presents in the digital collection of the American Memory both the documents digitized at Chicago, more documentation and a full transcript of the trial. Perhaps it is good to note the title of the collection at Washington, D.C.: Chicago Anarchists on Trial. Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887. The trial is of course present at the Famous Trials website of Douglas Linder, who specifies the title of the case, State of Illinois v. Albert Spies et al. Despite rumours about machinations by anarchists or social-democrats the investigations at the trial did not bring convincing evidence for this charge.

Linder mentions several other riots which resulted in epoch-making trials. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was one of the events leading to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Soldiers opened fire at unarmed citizens when they felt threatened by them. Five people died, many others were wounded. In his introduction to The Boston Massacre, a history with documents (New York, etc., 2010), a useful collection of documents on this event, Neil L. York does not fail to mention the paradox that what happened was not a massacre, but it surely had similar impact. The Carthage Conspiracy Trial has at its centre a mob killing Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, just one man.

In fact this paragraph could easily be extended to mention much more riots and upheavals. The Villanova University in Philadelphia launched this month an online exhibit called Chaos in the Streets. The Philadelphia Riots of 1844 on the violence against Catholic and Irish people in May and July 1844. It is already interesting to note the time span of these riots. On the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website of the O’Quinn Law Library, University of Houston you will find for example materials among the Privy Council Miscellaneous Papers at the British National Archives concerning the Stamp Act Riots of 1765. The New York Draft Riots in July 1863 were probably the largest riot in American history. Protest against the conscription act enacted by Abraham Lincoln culminated in fierce riots after the publication of the names of draftees. The number of victims has been estimated between at least twenty to perhaps 2,000 people. In Making of America Books, a digital library at the University of Michigan, you can find a book by Joel Tyler Headley, The great riots of New York, 1712 to 1873,: including a full and complete account of the Four Days’ Draft Riot of 1863 (New York 1873). Its title clearly indicates the events in 1863 did not constitute the first riot in New York.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) forms the background of the 1863 riots, and puts them into a different perspective from riots during more peaceful times. It is hard to distinguish between a single riot and riotous days during or even starting a revolt or revolution. Therefore I have excluded riots during such periods from the sample of riots presented here. It is certainly not for a lack of riots in American history that I mention only a few. Slavery and racial tensions were just a few of the ingredients at hand and at stake in riots. By chance I spotted the Tulsa Race Riot in the night from May 31 to June 1, 1921, with an estimated number of deadly casualties between one hundred and three hundred in this Oklahoma town. The Tulsa Historical Society has created an online exhibit about this event.

Riots in the United Kingdom

Events in the United Kingdom pushed me to write about riots. The British people are no newcomers to such events. In 1381 the Peasants’ Revolt had been a nationwide upheaval. The study of riots by historians has been decisively influenced by Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé and their book Captain Swing (New York 1968) on the farmer protests in 1830. Threshing machines were demolished, workhouses and tithe barns attacked. The actions were accompanied by letters written by a Captain Swing, an invented figure. No killings took place during the Swing Riots. The protests followed after two seasons of poor harvests. It has been argued that the 1830 riots were in the long way also the consequences of earlier enclosures which deprive poor farmers of a decent source of income.

Hobsbawm minted the term social banditism, a kind of bottom-up, grass-roots rebellious action against law and order. According to him the bandits gained a stronger social status by protesting violently against and breaking through the borders of society. As a medievalist I would think immediately of Robin Hood, and realize also that his romantic legend grew only in much later times. The studies by Hobsbawm and Rudé are still worth reading because of their scholarship, but inevitably they point also to the weakness of hypotheses about the causes of riots which favour just one reason or factor behind riots and revolts.

This post would become a bit tedious if I would continue to go from one case to another without sufficient reasons and explanation. However, in order not to let you suffer too much from the apparent lack of information here you had best turn to bibliographies and journals on legal history. Law, Crime and History is one of the journals you might start searching in for more. In the most recent issue (21/2 (2011)) of this e-journal you will find for example an article by David Cox on the Staffordshire Election riots in 1835. This journal is an offspring of the Solon project at Plymouth University. Checking for seminars and conferences concerning legal history at the website of the Institute of Historical Research is another thing to do. You will also consult with profit the bibliography of British and Irish legal history compiled at Aberystwyth University, alas only for publications between 1977 and 2005. If you use as a search term the word riot in the database of the proceedings of the Old Bailey for the period 1674-1913 you will find easily more than 400 cases. This website has an extensive bibliography. This fact, too, explains my hesitation to choose any example from these rich court records.

Violence and (legal) history

One blog post is not enough to tell more of the story of violence and its presence in legal history on the local, regional or national level. Here I have only tried to point you to some examples which came to my attention recently. Let’s finish this post with the remark that preparing this post and seeing the great variety in the form of these riots and upheavals, the wide spectrum of issues at stake, the different views on their causes and the very different stories these riots make, has helped me to become more sceptical of easy explanations. No doubt some easy explanations still figure in the presentation I give here of some events. The depth of explanation is probably inversely related to the number of examples given… Sometimes giving a taste of things to explore further is just as important as giving a seemingly complete story.

Expanding stories: a postscript

In order to make it more obvious how many revolts and rebellions can claim your attention a few examples which came to my notice in December 2011. It is only logical to make up here for the rather scarce information on riots in the United Kingdom, even more because the original impulse to write this post stems from the August riots in English towns earlier this year. In my post about the Centre for Legal History in Edinburgh I mentioned the digital collection of Jacobite prints and broadsides at the National Library of Scotland. In the section Historical News of the website of the Institute for Historical Research in London I found a notice about the digitization of the depositions after the Irish rebellion of 1641. Trinity College Dublin has recently launched a website with these depositions. If you search for riots on the website of the Institute of Historical Research you will be richly rewarded. One of the search results is the conference at Brighton from September 5 to 7, 2012 at Brighton on the theme Riot, Revolt, Revolution. To the selection of websites on British History which I made to make up for the relatively short treatment of events in the United Kingdom I would like to add History Online.

The Boston Massacre

The blog In Custodia Legis of the law librarians of the Library of Congress alerted me to documents at the Library of Congress concerning the role of John Adams in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre in 1770, and brought also a special website to my attention. A number of documents has been digitized, and you can find out more at the website of the Boston Massacre Historical Society.

The Legal Song. Legal history in lyrics

How come things together in a blog posting? In a postscript to my post on Scandinavian legal history I provided a link to the website of the library of the University of California at Los Angeles. Looking a bit further among UCLA webpages I found the website which is the focal point of this post. One of the digital collections at UCLA is more than just another fine collection. The Sheet Music Consortium is a portal for searching sheet music in seventeen American collections and one Australian collection (at the National Library of Australia). When you realize one of these is a collection at the Library of Congress where you can find massive holdings in the field of music, it becomes clear this portal constitutes a gold mine for anyone interested in popular music. Think only of combining historical sheet music with historical sound recordings in the National Jukebox of the Library of Congress, and you can see a very interesting road for both music aficionados and musicologists.

Law in songs

Law in songs is the subject of this post. The Californian sheet music portal is certainly a place to look for this subject. Law is not just a word in many song titles, several songs deal substantially with law. You have to do some clever filtering to get the best results. A lot of songs mention a mother in law, and here you can do without her! When you have tuned your search the efforts are surely rewarded. The Law Must Be Obeyed is a 1916 song composed by Irving Berlin with his own lyrics. “We’re the county sheriffs and the law must be obeyed” is the first line of the chorus in this song. I Like My Bootleg Man is a song from 1929 by W. Hurdle and F. Sacca, not digitized yet, but clearly connected with the American prohibition on alcoholic drinks between 1920 and 1933. It would be interesting to compare it with an anonymous 1930 song entitled Prohibition Is On The Wing, but this song, too, is not yet available online. Policemen are made fun of in Montague Ewing’s The Policeman’s Holiday (not dated). In this dance, indicated “1 or 2-step” on the cover, children sing the only text of this composition, “Steady, boys, here comes a bobby”.

Many subjects could show up here, but I will offer just one gem, at least from a legal historian’s perspective. Robert Estee composed in 1904 When Boni Sold Samuel Louisiana. A Louisiana Purchase Exposition Song. The 1803 purchase appears in this song as the point of comparison for American expansion symbolised by the Panama Canal. The lyrics of Irving Berlin’s Louisiana Purchase deal with another kind of purchase, the tag “won’t you let me sell you New Orleans” being repeated twice… Lawyers are the subject of a number of songs, for instance in I’ll Place It In The Hands of My Attorney by F. Gilbert with lyrics by Geoffrey Russel Jackson (1885). One of the oldest songs found using this portal is a ballad, A Fine New Sang of The Battle Fought On The Shields Railway, using the tune Cappy’s the dog. The digitized version of this song was printed in Newcastle in 1839 and tells a story of early railway travelling, a fight at the railway station and the following trial of the culprits with a surprising verdict.

More online collections with American sheet music exist, and you will not want to read a full list of them. The Library of Congress is in a class of its own, not just in the field of law, but also for music and music history, and I gladly refer you to it. I want to single out one American digital collection, the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Among the digitized cylinders I found a recording from 1917 called The trial of Josiah Brown. Listening to this vaudeville sketch can make you in a new way aware of the imagery, the clichés, the routine attitudes, the clashes between high and low society and much more which not just surround a court of justice, but are part and parcel of it, and thus open to all kind of reactions, including humour, ridicule and satire.

More ballads and songs

Earlier this year I already referred to some databases for historical songs, to be more exactly in a post on the history of piracy. The English Broadside Ballad Archive (University of California at Santa Barbara) is one of the digital gateways to old songs; here four collections can be searched simultaneously. A rather random search yielded already nearly hundred songs about lawyers, including a festive song on Edmond Saunders becoming the Lord Chief Justice of England (A New-years Guift to the TEMPLERS, / On the Eminent Lawyer / Sir Edmond Saunders (…)). Saunders had been a bencher of the Middle Temple and got this high office only months before his death in 1683. The Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads at Oxford does contain the 1839 railway ballad mentioned above (Johnson Ballads 3078). Revolution & Romanticism is the website of a private collection in Edmonton, Alberta, with historical ballads and chapbooks. Among the ballads concerning the law you will find for example A full and particular account of the execution of Mr. John Wait (…) (Bristol, around 1823).

In the Dutch Song Database of the Meertens Instituut, Amsterdam, you can search 140,000 songs ranging from the Middle Ages to modern times. The murder of count Floris V in 1296 was the subject of a famous historielied (history song), Wie wil horen een nieu liet / Hoort toe, ick salt u singen, “Who wants to hear a new song, listen, I wll sing it for you”)i, first printed in 1591. A whole section of the Nederlandse Liederenbank is devoted to moordliederen, songs about murders. When you search for example for songs about an advocaat, an attorney, you will find enough to meet them in very different situations. This database offers full access to a number of songs, gives the text of some songs, provides even recordings for others, but often only points to the printed edition or editions where a song text appears.

A quick search for German songs leads to the Deutsches Liedarchiv of the Universität Freiburg. This institution has created an online database, the Historisches Liederlexikon in which you can find a number of song texts and often detailed information about different versions, their reception and adaptation in later songs. Immer langsam voran [Always slowly forwards] was originally a song ridiculing the German fight against Napoleon in the years 1813 and 1814. It remained popular, was adapted during the Vormärz period around 1848, and again in the early twentieth century. The website of the Volksliederarchiv, presumably a private website, lacks supplementary information and is less well searchable, but is strong in presenting songs on various themes. The section Balladen und Moritaten brings you to a nice selection of songs.

Texts of songs and short poems from the German classical period around 1800 are found at the website Freiburger Anthologie-Lyrik und Lied, here again with extensive commentaries and various text versions. The famous song about the Lorelei sorceress, Zu Bacharach am Rheine, tells us about a bishop who summoned her to appear in his tribunal and her answers to him. The documentation of this song is a model of its kind. The mixture of a medieval setting, a romantic story, the seeming simplicity and Clemens Brentano’s poetic skills make this song special indeed, but I had rather not see it as a faithful picture of an ecclesiastical judge. Brentano’s ease in creating this scene is impressive, and it carries conviction, even when one would not immediately imagine a conversation between a sorceress and a bishop in an ecclesiastical court.

It is possible to enlarge this posting by bringing more websites to your attention. I would indeed have liked to include some French websites, but I did not readily succeed in finding a database which at least would equal the qualities of those projects presented here. In order to make up a bit for the gaps in this posting I will provide here some links collections which will help you to find more songs online, both in score and in sound recordings:

Because of this week’s torrential rains in my country it is no wonder why California makes today such an alluring impression when summer should bring nice weather! However, rainy days could give you time to look at the websites mentioned in this post. For California I would choose the Online Archive of California for its sheer variety and the Calisphere portal for its efforts to present many aspects of Californian culture and history.

The Legal Song

At the end I own you an explanation about the title of this post, The Legal Song. Somehow I hit upon this title, thinking it is the actual title of a song. “The legal song and dance” is an expression for elaborate legal negotiations. The internet brings you to legal movies, too, and yes, a few of them have a legal song. One of my search hits was really funny. Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, made a spin-off called Fraggle Rock in which a judge and all present sing a song at a trial. The title of his legal song? Sing That Law Again! I hope you enjoy this posting as much as the YouTube movie with this legal song. Hopefully this summer gives you some rest from legal dealing and wheeling, and brings you some time for legal history and some of its aspects that link legal culture to culture at large. I promise to reflect here longer on the theme of law and humanities in another post.

A postscript

On the day of the publication of this post, only hours before I published it, Klaus Graf pointed on his Archivalia blog to two digitized medieval manuscripts at UPenn Libraries with a song about the deposition of the archbishop of Cologne who got married in 1583. Penn in Hand: Selected Manuscripts offers a very useful selection of digitized medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, with fair attention to legal matters.

More broadside ballads

Sheer curiosity made me search for more digital collections with broadside ballads. The following selection presents sites with either bibliographies, useful links or even sound recordings of broadside ballads:

The Cardiff links selection is very rich. For no good reason I had overlooked the section for straatliederen, literally “street songs”, the Dutch version of broadside ballads, in the vast Dutch Song Database of the Meertens Instituut, Amsterdam. These songs can be searched using the interface at The Memory of the Netherlands. You can even listen to some of these songs. I have to mention again Klaus Graf and his blog, a treasure trove in the field of digitization, because he provides the link to the open access journal Oral Tradition where you can find much more on the study of ballads and the field of oral history.

It is not realistic to provide here an exhaustive list of digital collections concerning ballads. A substantial collection with newly digitized ballads is presented by Trinity College Dublin in its digital collections. This library thoughtfully adds that these ballads can also be reached online through the  Europeana portal.