Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Musing upon liberty and law

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

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

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

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

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

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

Great events

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

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

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

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

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

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