Looking at fragments

The exterior of Utrecht Univrersity Library, location Utrecht Science Park

In December bloggers face the perennial challenge of the seasonal post. In my view 2020 has hardly had any regular season. The world has changed in many ways. What seemed certain has become the object of doubts, and uncertainties have come into the spotlights. I will not pretend to see things better here than anyone else. My Dutch view is no cure for everything!

Like someone standing outside Utrecht University Library you cannot look directly into what’s inside. Our visions are often fragmented, and thus it seems appropriate to look here simply at some fragments of charters and manuscripts I could recently study at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Reporting from field work may not have the same status as presenting glorious final results, but it is in a way closer to tangible objects. Fragments offer a glimpse of a larger whole, and sometimes they are a kind of time capsule. Faithful readers know about my penchant to bring in here every now and then a very particular location, but this time it comes just briefly into view, perhaps only as a possible sequel in 2021.

History in fragments

Once upon a time it was clear a library contained books and an archive archival collections, but this nicely organized world seldom existed in real life. Archives can have a substantial library collection, and a research library can have important archival collections in its holdings. The history of a number of archival collections from medieval institutions and manuscripts held at Het Utrechts Archief and Utrecht University Library is a good example. Generally archival collections can be found now at the combined municipal and provincial archive, and most manuscripts are held at the university library, but some remarkable exceptions exist. Luckily Utrecht University Library created an online repertory for its archival collections. The manuscripts at Het Utrechts Archief can be found in the online library catalogue. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized.

Sometimes there is another explanation. The Wttewaal van Stoetwegen family brought the papers of the Wickenburg estate (‘t Goy, now part of Houten) into the care of Het Utrechts Archief [toegang (finding aid) 254], but other papers and charters are kept since the early twentieth century at the university library. Its inventory lacked descriptions of the charters, After a frst foray it became only natural to describe these charters as a sequel of the fruitful cooperation between both institutions in recent years, in particular for the exhibition and essay volume Perkament in stukken [Parchment in pieces] (2018).

Fragments of charters came also into view in my project which thus goes beyond the eighty charters of the Wttewaal family. A number of charter fragments had been described summarily in Latin in the manuscript catalogue [P.A. Tiele, A. Hulshof and B. Kruitwagen (eds.), Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae (2 vol., Utrecht-The Hague, 1887-1909; online, UB Utrecht, vol. I and II)]. The manuscript catalogue and later additions have been integrated into the online library catalogue; a guide for special materials helps you to use the catalogue and other resources efficiently. A substantial number of fragments has been taken from the bindings they once reinforced, some of them without due reference to the host volume, others with clear references to their origin.

Other fragments can in particular be found in situ in bookbindings made for Hubert van Buchel (1513-1599), a canon of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. In 1569 Buchel fled to Cologne. In his will he donated his books to the parish of St. James’ at Utrecht, but no doubt the church wardens must have influenced the final decision to add them to the collections of the city library founded in 1584, the nucleus of the university library founded in 1636. My project was restricted to charter fragments. Vito Santoliquido (ENNSIB, Lyon) recently looked for Fragmentarium at the entire corpus of maculature fragments in books with a Van Buchel provenance, a collection with some 1,000 relevant volumes. I dealt with just over one hundred charter fragments.

For strengthening the bindings of his books Van Buchel provided the bookbinder with parchment and paper from books which might have belonged to the chapter of St. Mary’s. He even jotted down the costs of many bindings. Few manuscripts from this collegiate chapter survive nowadays. The fragments might offer a kind of window on the books held and read by the canons of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. At Fragmentarium Vito Santoliquido gives a sketch of his research project Maculature in the Van Buchel Collection.

It is tempting to continue here with a paragraph about the aims of fragments research. In the past years it has become a discipline with a name of its own, fragmentology, and even a journal with this title, thus claiming its own distinct place next to codicology and palaeography. In the second part of this post I will look at some fragments with a clear connection to legal history. At my blog Glossae. Middeleeuwse juridische handschriften in beeld I published a few days ago a succinct account of these fragments in German, ‘Utrechter Fragmenten und Urkunden’. At Glossae you can find also an overview of projects and catalogues concerning medieval manuscript and charter fragments.

Some legal fragments

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited – Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92

Legal history is the focus in the second part of this post, but it is necessary to remember other perspectives can be equally interesting and important. I would like to start with Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92, coming from a Van Buchel volume (108 O 12), not just one fragment, but two sets of cuttings, group A with ten larger and one small scrap, and group B with ten cuttings. Of course I started trying to fit the parts of group A together, but this did not work. Combining the two sets was the obvious solution, but actually they still are kept as distinct sets, with a notice on the combinations I worked out for them.

Looking at fitting underlinings and dates proved to be clues to find adjacent parts of the cuttings. Here the data helped me to find the right parts, January 13, 1528. Other parts contain information about a case concerning a house in Cologne, the question of the validity of a mandate, and a letter from the official of the archbishop of Cologne, his ecclestastical judge, to the plebanus of Bonn. Some of the acts in these cuttings have marginal annotations about an act. One of the questions around these cuttings is their nature: Are they part of a kind of trial file or are we looking at a legal consultation (consilium)? As for now I opt for the first interpretation. Apart from two dates in 1527 and 1528 the names of some lawyers appear. At least one of them, Bernhardus de Harderwijck, can be traced in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum and the Repertorium Germanicum for papal registers at the Romana Repertoria portal (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Rome). He started his studies at Cologne in 1486 and got his doctoral degree in law in 1510, the year he also joined the tribunal of the Reichskammergericht, then at Speyer.

There is a second set with sixteen similar cuttings, Hs. fr. 6.77, from F. oct. 76, another Van Buchel volume. The year 1522 is mentioned in them, and also the word Coloniensis appears within a very similar layout and the same cursive script, which suggests they could belong to the other fragment. However, these sixteen cuttings did not fit together when I tried to repeat my actions with them.

Trial document in Utrecht 108 N 9

A fragment of a trial document bound with Utrecht 108 N 9

In the volume 108 N 9, also with a Van Buchel provenance, I saw yet another cutting which seems to stem from the document cut into pieces and now kept as fragments 6.92 and 6.77. The handwriting looks very similar, although the interlinear space here is larger. It seems safe to assume at least a datation between 1520 and 1530. It seems logical, too, to locate its origin in the German Lower Rhine region. This fragment mentions a dean and a church without any further indication of a specific location. It would be wonderful to trace yet another fragment still in situ within one of the volumes once owned by Van Buchel or among separately kept fragments, but with possibly three witnesses of the existence of a legal document the harvest is already interesting in itself. One of the immediate challenges facing me is to try to fit pairs of these cuttings into single folia. As for now for each act there are only beginnings, parts representing texts halfway and endings, a tantalizing state of affairs. It is a sobering thought other fragments need to be described first consistently, too, before starting a miniature quest to reconstruct these acts.

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

The third example I want to present here concerns two fragments of a lecture on canon law, bound with the Van Buchel volume E oct. 122. On one side of the fragment with two columns the words per osti. in su., “per Hostiensem in summa”, stand for Hostiensis, the nickname of Henricus de Segusio, cardinal of Ostia (around 1190/1200-1271). The first version of his summa was completed in 1250-1251, which provides us with a terminus post quem for dating this text which seems to be a lecture on the Decretales Gregorii IX. On closer inspection you can read at the top of the right column Spec. in ti., which I read as “Speculum – or Speculator – in titulo”. Guillaume Durand (Durandus) (1231-1296) finished the first version of his Speculum iudiciale around 1271, a second terminus post quem for dating the text and these fragments. Alas both columns of the original page have suffered when cut into pieces, making the number of clues for identification much smaller. The fragment bound at the front in this volume shows an allegation no. Pe. de Ve., a medieval lawyer I have not yet identified.

A story of fragments and history in fragments

Normally a scholar would probably thirst for much more information, daring hypotheses and smashing conclusions. In my view it is wiser to start just getting things right for each fragment. Creating consistent descriptions might seem straightforward, but already the fact fragments and volumes did not arrive at my desk at Special Collections in numerical order should make you pause a moment. I took photos in the order of inspection, and my notes follow the same order. It is a nice job to combine my photos correctly with the normal order of the fragments. By sheer luck I could view side by side as the very first and second Early Modern editions I consulted two volumes with in their bindings corresponding fragments of a charter referring to Hubert van Buchel himself!

In a period with restricted possibilities for research on location I feel lucky and even blessed with all efforts of my colleagues of Utrecht University Library to bring fragments, manuscripts and printed books to the reading room. I am sure I will look back at these months with Special Collections as one of the most extraordinary periods in my scholarly life. I could arrange and photograph objects using as much space as I liked, but working often alone in a reading room was a strange experience. The collection of the reading room with books about book history, manuscripts, palaeography and other relevant subjects was within immediate reach. In a year where so many people were forced to work at home, under sometimes difficult circumstances, I had the privilege of working on location, touching even historical artefacts, the very traces of past periods, sometimes susceptible to quick reconstruction, but more often just sign posts of a larger whole lost to us. Describing charters and fragments is doing fundamental research. For me doing this is among the solaces, the comforting things and rays of light in a period darkened by the pandemic which cut into our world as sharply as the scissors cutting manuscript pages into fragments.

At the very end of this project I saw a number of references to manuscript with fragments turned out to be small and medium-sized archival collections with a number of charters, not just single fragments. It would not do to hastily create descriptions of these charters, even when using Tiele’s descriptions as a starting point. They deserve equal attention as the other charters and fragments I described this year. When I noticed in one case charters and deeds referring to houses near and atthe Janskerkhof square in Utrecht I knew I could complete the circle of this year for my faithful readers! Between 1584 and 1820 the Janskerk was home first to the city library and later to Utrecht University Library. Instead of lamenting unfinished work it is better to look at the things which against all odds did succeed. I am not the only one much more conscious how vulnerable life is, and how many obstacles can hinder the completion of any project now and in the near future. Hopefully the kind of research you dream of or do normally can become (again) reality in 2021.

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Studying the American constitution

Logo of ConSource annoucing the ove to Quill

At a moment when the turmoil around the election of a new president of the United States of America is still living history, thoughts naturally turn to the key elements in the administration and government. The nomination of a new judge to the Supreme Court did not immediately lead to more stability. Political division in the Congress seems to harden. It is no wonder people look at the American constitution as a beacon of light and direction. In this post I will look at some of the online resources for studying the American constitution, in particular ConSource, just before it will become fully integrated with The Quill Project (Pembroke College, Oxford). At some points I will look also at other useful resources.

Digital resources for and around the US constitution

Logo The Quill Project

The Quill Project of Pembroke College, University of Oxford, the new home for ConSource created by the Center for Constitutional Studies, Utah Valley University, has certainly the US constitution as its core, but it is also home to other projects concerning legislation and constitutional history. I confess my surprise about the presence of these projects. The American constitution has so many aspects that even a dedicated website can touch only a number of them. A look at the original ConSource website can help to keep a clear focus.

At ConSource you can choose items in the menu bar at the top of the screen or go to the four sections indicated at the start page. The Library is the central element where you can use a research browser or enter eight different collections, for example for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the amendments, constitutional debates, the Federalist Papers and reactions to them, and state constitutions and charters. The Index is an index in three sections, for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments, and a section for the amendments 10 to 27. The section on education contains videos, lessons plans and information on some other projects concerning education about civil society.

Federalist Paper No. 1, 1787

The Federalist Paper No. 1, 17, 1787 – images source: ConSource

The other approach at ConSource goes through four sections, starting with Documents which turns out to be the Library, the Constitutional Index, the videos and the lesson plans. There are several ways to search and filter the documents collections. It is good to see here also a collection concerning Magna Charta. Interestingly, both the original edition of the Federalist Papers and transcriptions of these pamphlets are given. Resources with original documents are indicated with a scroll icon. There are 21 videos for a wide range of topics, among them one concerning the role of legal history for interpreting the constitution. The lesson plans contain not only units concerning the constitution, but also for the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention and the history of the constitution in the early republic.

Finding the constitution in a new context

Start screen Center for Constitutuional Studies, Utah Valley University

How do these rich resource figure at The Quill Project after conversion? Even without looking deeply into the new online presence it is good to see immediately a user guide. One of the main differences with ConSource is the navigation. In my view it is wise to start with the items in the top menu bar, unless your item of choice is visible in the selection at the start page. Here the Library has two main sections, one for resource collections and one for commentary collections. However, the layout below the links to these section starts with a section labelled Negotiations. You can find here five collections concerning the constitutions and related central documents, and also two section on Utah legislative history. For some unclear reason there is no alphabetical or chronological order, nor have the Utah items be marked with a different symbol or color, things that can be easily mended. With such riches at your finger tips you will want to benefit also from the Reader’s Tools. At this web page you will find things in a very clear and sober layout. The Compare Tool is surely one of the things you will like to use.

When you see some minor problems with the layout in the paragraph here above it is not entirely by chance the overview of resource collections contains some elements which had better been set apart quickly, such as Quill Project News and Forthcoming Events. There is no clear order for the 33 collections, but you will smile when seeing the weather reports collection during the constitutional convention! It is great to have access here to letters edited for the Electronic Enlightenment project. There are eight commentary collections, a number with less chances for confusion or unclear layout, yet I cannot honestly detect a clear order here, too. The inclusion of materials about the creation of the electoral college for the election of the US president is most welcome. If you think I jotted down only some quibbles you might try to find a specific resource using the Reader’s Tools. I tried to locate the Federalist Papers, but alas I could not find them, maybe because some search index does not work correctly, but more probably they have not or not yet been transferred to the new platform.

Negotiations are the central theme at The Quill Project. Being somewhat an outsider to American legal history I can only applaud the attention to the fact the major documents of Early American legal history are the fruits not just of Founding Fathers defending principles with their best qualities, but of debates which did not happen in a laboratory. Decisions were made, postponed or cancelled under live conditions of debate, shrewd or honest use of rhetorical powers, and even under changing weather conditions, and in some years facing clear and present dangers. In my view The Quill Project does help with its resources in open access to break current debates about the American constitution and some of the amendments out of a straightjacket focusing too narrow on a restricted number of resources. The label originalism should indeed be reserved for that kind of framework. This portal helps you to see how origins are elements among many other things. It shows the constitution as an historical document coming into existence after many years of political and legal experience and debates.

Logo Law Library of Congress

At the end of this post you might be waiting for my usual service of a variety of other relevant links. However, in this case it would be foolish to make your own selection of links. A number of libraries at American law schools provide you with sure guidance to materials for constitutional history, a number of them in open access, others licensed and often only accessible at universities and research libraries. I mentioned a number of resources for legal history in open access in my post about the resources portal for the history of slavery in the United States. The Law Library of Congress is the obvious starting point for any research touching upon the US constitution. Its logo deserves a place at the very start page of the Library of Congress!

For those more interested in actual political action around the constitution in the early American republic and the way one of the Founding Fathers worked I would like to point to the digital collection Jefferson’s Three Volumes created by Princeton University. It offers apart from the history of three volumes of papers purposedly and explicitly put together by Jefferson himself and disastrously torn apart by the action of archivists a kind of time capsule. These documents in “3. volumes bound in Marbled paper” stem from his period as Secretary of State between 1790 and 1793. They show graphically the kind of information he daily received, his drafts and sometimes neat copies of his reactions and own actions. For me these documents make him more human. They do not diminish the fact he was indeed a Founding Father. In view of the fact resources can be part of licensed online collections you might want to consult my generous selections of resources for American history in open access in the form of digital libraries and digital archives at my legal history portal Rechtshistorie.

Finding the right form for medieval formulae

Medieval sources come in a variety of genres. Among sources for medieval legal history the Early Medieval formulae are in a class of its own. The kind of Latin is not as classical as you might like it to be, and the rather old standard edition has now too many defects to be useful. Creating a new edition will be a project requiring besides excellent knowledge of medieval Latin and among much more also stamina and financial support during many years. The Universität Hamburg has got the courage to start the edition project Formulae – Litterae – Chartae led by Philippe Depreux in cooperation with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Munich. The project is scheduled to run from 2017 to 2031, and thus I look here at it in a relatively early phase.

Legal actions, letters and charters

The title of the project might be the first surprise. Why include also letters and charters when formulae are the core? In the edition of Karl Zeumer, Formulae Merowingici et Karolini aevi. Accedunt ordines iudiciorum Dei (Hannover, 1882-1886; online, Munich) the formulae have been edited not in the sequence of the manuscripts he used, but in his own order, interspersed with other materials. This way of proceeding is rather remarkable in view of German philological practice in the late nineteenth century, and certainly it stands out among the editions published under the aegis of the MGH.

Formulae were not just formalized legal actions. The project team explains that Early Medieval formulae were a kind of model letters to be used, each with a distinct purpose. The formulae were to be followed as strictly as the formulae of the oldest Romans before standard actions came into existence. They could als serve as models of letters and charters from which you could benefit with some freedom. In my view the mixture of letters and charters is somewhat akin to the mix of both letters and charters in the project Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters discussed here some years ago. Both projects face the challenge of dealing with two different genres, not just in view of their content, but also for editorial policies.

Apart from an introduction to the formulae the project team offers also introductions to letters and charters. Their character as a means not just or private communication, but as elements of public communication is stressed. The transmission off formulae in collections was not straightforward in clear sections with a discernable order. Karl Zeumer and Eugène de Rozière, an earlier editor of formulae in the nineteenth century, were indeed faced with a genre which called for deep reflection and great skills. Zeumer’s edition can be found in a searchable version also at the digital platform dMGH of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. De Rozière (1820-1896) was very young when he published his first edition of formulae, the Formulae Andegavenses publiées d’après le manuscrit de Weingarten actuellement à Fulde (Paris 1844; online, Google (copy Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague)). He was in 1855 one of the founders of the Revue historique de droit français et étranger. In 1869 he published an edition of the Liber Diurnus with formulae used in the papal chancery from the fifth to the eleventh century.

Work in progress

The ediiton interface, here with the Formulae Andecavenses

The edition interface, here the preliminary edition of the Formulae Andecavenses

Now you might already sigh that even fifteen years is too short to tackle this complex of three resource genres, but here comes a second surprise: The team at Hamburg gives you online access in their Werkstatt to a reading interface and an editorial interface for the collections. The interface can be viewed in German, English and French. The online laboratory brings you to the beta version for the formulae Andecavenses (from Angers), to an edition for one manuscript (Fulda, Hessische Landesbibliothek, D1), to charters and letters, and also to a bibliography and a list of manuscripts and charters. Amazingly, at least one manuscript is still held in the library of a functioning Benedictine abbey, at Egmond-Binnen in the Dutch province North Holland near Alkmaar. At Leiden are five manuscripts, but most manuscripts can be found in Munich, Paris, Vienna and Vatican City. One of the reasons for writing about formulae is my memory of a workshop about this genre held at Leiden with some of the manuscripts in front of the participants. The list of manuscripts ends with the editions created for formulae from the seventeenth century until the twentieth century, with names as Étienne Baluze and Jean Mabillon among the editors.

Interface with ms Fulda, Hessische Landesbibliothek, D 1 (detail)

Interface with the manuscript Fulda, Hessische Landesbibliothek, D 1, f. 136r (detail)

In the section for charters and letters you can read older editions of these sources. When you look at the manuscript Fulda, Hessische Landesbibliothek, D 1, again the Formulae Andecavenses come into view. Currently the list of manuscripts show only the locations, signatures and editiorial sigla. It would be wonderful to have here also descriptions of these manuscripts and links to digitized versions, qualities giving strength to the projects Bibliotheca Legum: eine Handschriftendatenbank zum weltlichen Recht im Frankenreich and Capitularia: Edition der fränkischen Herrschererlasse, both led by Karl Ubl at the Universität Köln. Information about the manuscript at Fulda is indeed present in the Bibliotheca legum. No doubt relevant manuscripts will eventually become accessible at the editorial interface in Hamburg.

Logo Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters

At least two databases elsewhere help you to look at the various collections with formulae. The repertory Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters (Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften) contains information about the transmission and relevant literature for many relevant collections with formulae. The Heidelberger Hypertextserver has a section on Formelbucher which touches also later periods. Among the Early Medieval formulae in particular the Formulae Marculfi receive attention in Heidelberg.

Surely the project at Hamburg will benefit enormously from the way you can nowadays have digitized versions of manuscripts in front of you on your computer screen, but creating new editions for this century will have to take into account much more than in the old editions the interplay with letters and surviving charters which are now, too, much more easily within our reach thanks to modern editions and digital versions. The differences in transmission of the texts, too, are much more visible. Once upon a time it was seducing to create an edition with the supposed Urtext, but seeing every manuscript, letter or charter as a witness with its own qualities and defects will do more justice to the life and afterlife of these intriguing texts. Some of the manuscripts are quite small. You might want to look at the place of formulae between other texts in a manuscript, too. The project website in Hamburg has a section Fokus der Forschung with recent contributions about many aspects of the Early Medieval formulae. Hopefully the new edition will help to bring the formulae again into view for scholars wanting to investigate in particular the way Late Antiquity evolved into the medieval period. Legal history, the uses of literacy and the interaction between various genres are just a few of the subjects to be enriched from careful and inventive studies of formulae.

Fifty years selling precious prints, books and documents

Cover jubilee catalogue Forum Rare BooksTwo months ago I first looked at a most lavishly illustrated antiquarian book catalogue, and I only had to figure a moment to write about it here. In its wake I found two other recently issued illustrated catalogues of the same firm, Forum Rare Books in ‘t Goy, a hamlet near the Dutch village Houten. This year Forum exists fifty years. The jubilee catalogue is a treat in every aspect. In this post I will look at the jubilee catalogue and two other recent catalogues. Many items in these smaller catalogues can be linked with legal history, but more can be said about them.

In 2017 I discussed here another catalogue issued by Forum with books, prints and other items concerning slavery. The jubilee of Forum is a good occasion to look again for legal history in its recent catalogues.

A feast to the eye

During a period of closed archives and libraries it has been hardly possible to have old books, prints or documents in front of you in a reading room. Digital archives and digital libraries have gained a new importance. With COVID-19 virus affecting many cities, regions and countries in different degrees it is not at all certain institutions that just reopened can remain open. I admit to finding some solace in the beautifully produced jubilee catalogue (Catalogue no. 118, PDF, 32 MB) of Forum Rare Books, a firm that started in Utrecht in 1970, since a few years situated in lovely rural surroundings to the south east of my home town Utrecht.

The special catalogue contains 260 items, all of them accompanied with at least one image, in some cases printed in full page. Item after item you marvel both at something truly rare and often ingeniously illustrated. In a number of cases not only the images take your breath away, the prices indicated do this, too. If you try to forget about them, you can appreciate the catalogue as a kind of exhibit and start enjoying the objects and admiring the descriptions.

Title page of "Los emblemas de Andrea Alciatto tradcidos en rhimas (Lyon 1549) - image: Forum Rare Books

Title page of “Los emblemas de Alciatio traducidos en rhimas Españolas” (Lyon 1549)

Item no. 8 is a rare edition in Spanish of the emblems collected by Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), the famous legal humanist, published in Lyon in 1549. Alciato founded and shaped the emblem genre, the combination of images and a motto, often in verse. The catalogue tells you about the new images in this edition and its place in the publishing history of Alciato’s emblems. Much care is taken for the description of its physical state, making clear that existing damage has not affected the images. The references in smaller cursive print are the result of patient research in many reference works, bibliographies and catalogues. When possible Forum does point to online meta-catalogues. It took me a while before I saw that the only thing you can possible add to the description of this item is a reference to Lyon15-16: Bibliographie des éditions lyonnaises 1473-1600 where this edition figures as no. 17425; information from USTC 342602 should be compared to this database.

A second item worth mentioning here is no. 26, a book by Caspar Barlaeus, Medicea hospes, sive descriptio publicae gratulationis (…) Mariam de Medicis (…) (Amsterdam 1638). It records the almost royal entree to Amsterdam of Maria de’ Medici in 1638. The text is accompanied by fine engravings with images belonging to the realm of legal iconography. This publication is an example of the Early Modern genre of festival books, a subject in a post here in 2018. In the Early Modern Festival Books Database this book figures as no. 2676.

Let’s continue our tour of this grand catalogue with no. 44, a publication by Johannes van der Bosch, Nederlandsche bezittingen in Azia Afrika en Amerika [Dutch possessions in Asia, Africa and America] (2 vol. and atlas, The Hague-Amsterdam 1818). Van den Bosch founded in 1818 also the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid [Society for Beneficence] which aimed at creating better circumstances for poor people. His scheme led to the building of labor colonies in the province Drenthe to which beggars and their families were transported. In an earlier post this year about Dutch archives I mentioned two websites concerning these colonies, Koloniën van Weldadigheid and Alle Kolonisten. Last year Angelie Sens published De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019), a book about this most active man and his initiatives. On my way to no. 44 I had to skip a beautiful work on animals by John Audubon and a gorgeous copy of the Atlas by Joan Blaeu.

If you think one continent is missing in this catalogue you should look at no. 48, a legal treatise by William Westbrooke Burton, The insolvency law of New South Wales, with practical directions and forms (Sydney 1842). The catalogue tells us there was only one edition of this pioneer work on a subject in Australian private law.

The sheer variety of subjects, the telling images and often most interesting descriptions in this catalogue will bring you moments of immersion in a kind of time machine hovering over centuries and continents. It is truly with some difficulty that I leave it to your own curiosity to find out about the wealth assembled within its pages. At the website of Forum Rare Books you can search for web pages about individual items, provided they have not yet been sold. The website is also the source for some of the images in this post.

Autographs, manuscripts and much more

For all its qualities the great jubilee catalogue does touch only with a restricted number of items on legal history. In my view the two small catalogues in this section make up for this omission. The first catalogue, 2020 Autographs, documents & manuscripts (Catalogue 221, PDF, 4,7 MB) contains 24 items. Here you can encounter not just books and manuscripts, but also archival records. The first item is a notarial act from Antwerp confirming in 1546 an Italian notarial document for Giovan Carlo Affaitati, a spice merchant whose money supported the finances of emperor Charles V.

Trial documents from Johan van de Bergh, 1726-1729

Item no. 5 contains documents from the years 1726-1729 concerning the trial at the supreme court of Holland, West-Friesland and Zeeland of a murder case. Pieter Oostenrijck, a baker from the village Zoeterwoude, was tried for killing Cornelis Jansz. Schier, the blacksmith of the village. The documents stem from Johan van den Bergh, between 1725 and 1755 the baljuw (bailiff) of the Rijnland district around Leiden. Van den Berg was also for many years burgomaster of Leiden. The layout of the document shown on the left is typical of documents actually presented in writing before a Dutch court in the Early Modern period. The catalogue points to an advertisement for the sale of the blacksmith’s goods in 1725. It is indeed the kind of document making you curious to find out more about a case and its circumstances.

A following item worth mentioning here is no. 13, a manuscript in French about India and the castes Indiennes, written in 1743 in Karaikal. The anonymous author compares the Indian caste system to Christian belief and customs, enlivening his argument with stories. It is interesting to figure out the background of the author and the purpose of his treatise.

A charter in Portuguese, 1388

No. 16 is a royal charter from Portugal, written in 1388, with a verdict from the court in Coimbra on a case about a claim to a particular parcel land. This document shows a quite early use of the Portuguese language in an official document issued by royal judges. For archival records such as this document Forum does not provide references.

The second smaller catalogue issued this year I want to present here deals with posters, pamphlets and prints (Catalogue 235, PDF, 10,8 MB), with 28 items. The first item in it to be linked with legal history is no. 2, a poster for the auction of the Wulperhorst estate in Zeist near Utrecht in 1801.The statement neither the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog nor WorldCat contain information about copies is correct, but it is more logical to check for it in the holdings of Dutch archives using the Archieven portal where no copy is recorded. The catalogue contains three other posters for auctions, this time for the sale of ships (nos. 3, 5, and 21).

Item no. 4 is a partially colored and illustrated broadside, probably dating from the late seventeenth century, showing Charles the Bold (1433-1477), duke of Burgundy, as a judge. The engraved images are accompanied by explanatory texts. No 28 is a similar broadside showing count William the Good of Holland performing justice in 1336, also stemming from the second half of the seventeenth century.

The title page of the "Receuil van verscheyde placaten (...)

The sixth item in this catalogue is a volume with 92 printed ordinances, instructions and other documents relating to the army and navy of the Dutch Republic, issued between 1591 and 1716 with a long title, Recueil van verscheyde placaten, ordonantien, resolutien, instructien, ordres en lysten, etc. betreffende de saacken van den oorlogh, te water en te lande. The set is quite rare. The Short Title Catalogue Netherlands mentions 2 copies of this set. The description has a phrase about placaten, “publicly posted documents”, pointing rightly to the fact ordinances were indeed posted literally outside important and central buildings. However, the term stems from the word placard, stressing the fact such documents were issued with an official seal.

No. 7 is another rare broadside from 1623, Tweede basuyne. en ‘t boosdoens heylige
wraeck-spiegel …
, with an image of the execution of some of the conspirators against prince Maurits. In 2019 I wrote here about Maurits and his conflict with the Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and his conflict. He was executed after a political trial in 1619. Two of his sons did in 1623 an ill-organized attempt at assassinating Maurits, helping thus to put their father’s legacy for the Dutch Republic in unfavorable light. From the events of 1618 and 1619 stems also item no. 24, an engraving by Claes Jansz. Visscher II of the hanging of the coffin with the body of Gilles van Ledenberg, secretary of the States of Utrecht and chief supporter of Van Oldenbarnevelt, who committed suicide in prison before his sentence had been pronounced.

The most famous political murder in the history of the Dutch Republic is the subject of item no. 10, a broadside from 1672 with four etchings by Romeyn de Hooghe about the killing of Johan and Cornelis de Witt by a mob outside the county prison in The Hague in August 1672. I had expected a reference to the study by historian Henk van Nierop, The Life of Romeyn de Hooghe 1645-1708. Prints, Pamphlets, and Politics in the Dutch Golden Age (Amsterdam 2018) who in some cases argues convincingly for a new date and context of several undated etchings of this artist.

My tour of this catalogue ends with two items from the late eighteenth century. No. 11 is a set of printed ordinances issued in 1805 by governor Jan Willem Janssens for the Cape Colony in South Africa. At this time the Batavian Republic (1795-1806) was the state ruling most parts of the Northern Netherlands. The rule of the Dutch East Indian Company in Cape Town had ended in 1799. In 1806 the English took over the Cape Colony after an earlier English period between 1797 and 1803. Item no. 12 is an engraving of the first meeting of the national assembly in The Hague in 1797 during the period of the Batavian Republic.

Ascertaining the provenance of all these precious books, prints and documents is surely one of the things to do before you or an institution can pay the requested amounts for a particular item, but this will not stop you from sharing with me the admiration for these items described with such care and flair, and made more tangible in fine photographs. My brief remarks cannot hide my pleasure in looking at these three magnificent catalogues. This year Forum Rare Books issued already 23 (!) illustrated catalogues. Many international book fairs are currently held as virtual fairs. Whatever the prospects of anyone wanting to possess these items, the catalogues and the website of Forum offer you a tour around the world with most interesting items.

Approaching digitized pamphlets, broadsides and chapbooks

Cover of a sixteenth century pamphlet - image: The Newberry, ChicagoAmong digital collections with old printed works pamphlets, broadsides, broadside ballads and chapbooks have theit own place. You can find a fair number of them in the largest digital libraries. Commercial firms, too, have created some vast pamphlet collections. However, the number of digital collections in open access for this genre is surprisingly large, and not restricted to the Anglophone world. In some ways these cheap printed works have become priceless, because they record ephemeral and fleating information with a resemblance to social media in our own time. Finding such digital collections is one thing, making them better accessible proved to be another challenge. Recently I completed at Zotero a new searchable form of my list of digital collections devoted to these genres which in my view makes them much more accessible.

Adding value to a list

Logo Zotero

When I started to create a list of digital pamphlet collections my purpose was already not to list them only in whatever sensible order, but to present them with comments on their contents and scope. For years a division in a section with some general themes and periods, and a section in alphabetical order by country seemed sufficient. Occasionally people thanked me for my efforts in compiling this information, no complaints about shortcomings have ever been filed. Of course I could benefit from remarks about lacunae and oversights.

However, a tiny third section with “Other themes” certainly was visible and stood as a kind of question mark about this order of things. Some themes touched only a few countries, others illustrated the growing impact of Europe in other parts of the world, some of them would merit inclusion under another heading, too. At some point I started a section on chapbooks, and later on also for broadside ballads. A post here about complaintes criminelles, French broadside ballads about crimes and trials, prompted me into making space for this genre as well. Politics, government, law and crimes are among the themes of ephemeral printed works. However cheap the paper or crude the illustrations, they, too, form a source for legal history, in particular for the image of law and justice, and even for legal iconography. Festival books, too, deserved inclusion on my list. In 2018 I discussed here a number of digital collections with festival books.

In order not to make anyone unhappy when seeing an interesting collection only accessible at subscribing institutions and for their cardholders, I focused almost exclusively on collections in open access. I listed only those licensed collections when you can at least browse and search them, leaving you with at least some substantial information, even without final complete access. Some licensed collections contain many thousand items, but some digital collections in open access are equally rich in numbers. The first image in this post shows a pamphlet printed in Lyon in 1561 from the holdings of The Newberry Library in Chicago, a collection with 38,000 items in the Internet Archive, also searchable with Philologic4 (ARTFL, University of Chicago). On a separate section of its website The Newberry informs you about many aspects of this project, including data versions of the entire set.

Some projects give you not only digitized items, but also access to an online catalogue or a virtual exhibit. For some subjects bibliographies exist. Sometimes even more can be found: The catalogue of the priceless collection of early editions of works by Martin Luther at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, many of them pamphlets, amounts to a bibliography worth mentioning. When you start counting the number of similar cases it becomes clear that even a commented list can offer you only a restricted number of services, let alone a bare list.

Qualities and quantity

How can you make the various kinds of information in a list better accessible? Having information at your hand is one thing, using it to gain knowledge leading eventually to insight is another thing. When you reach a certain number of items in a list, catalogue or bibliography it may become advisable to store them electronically, not only in a text program, but in some kind of information storage and retrieval system. I contemplated creating an online database, either in a specially created format or at an existing platform. A few months ago I looked rather closely at an online database for the humanities in order to deal with a much longer list. The benefit of accompanying visualization seemed most interesting. For this shorter list a chance encounter with a sophisticated bibliography at Zotero quickly led me to this platform.

At Zotero you can create online bibliographies with facilities for rapid reshuffling and exporting in any layout according to the styles preferred by research institutions and journals. You can restrict access to yourself or a group, or invite people to work together on a project. It is possible to create sections in a bibliography, and, for me very interesting, you can create and use tags, labels and classifications at will. Combining tags is very easy and effective for finding information and relating it to a wider context. Thus Zotero can function to a certain extent as a relational database. Using tags is also most sensible when you deal with collections in a variety of languages. Zotero uses icons for particular kinds of information,, be they books, videos, web pages, statutes or cases. It is also possible to import data using scripts.

In my searchable overview I use icons sparingly. Putting the items into Zotero manually gave me a chance to look again at digital collections. Some of them had grown substantially, some of them are at a slightly or completely different web address, some of them lacked sufficient descriptions. It was pleasant to discover for some collections a web directory, a bibliography or other useful information well worth mentioning. I decided to mark the tags for genres within a collection with colours, and also catalogues and bibliographies. Thus for example collections with both pamphlets and broadsides stand out, as do those with a catalogue or a bibliography. I was able to add also the major separate collections with digitized pamphlets from the First World War which you can find at my blog Digital 1418.

Looking at the new overview I am surprised by the ways you can now relate collections to each other in new ways. In fact these combinations sometimes helped me to add or refine tagging, or I could quickly add a collection that should figure here, too. Some gaps have become more visible, too. To mention just a few examples, until now I have included only few collections with pamphlets concerning the Second World War, and the number of collections concerning women is low, too. There is a substantial number of collections from Spain, but Portugal is currently absent. How about links to digitized catalogues for famous pamphlet collections?! Such examples stress the fact overviews will always remain work in progress.

Digital durabiblity and visibility

Logo the Mmeory of the Netherlands 2020

There is always some reason to adduce here my Dutch view, but this time I am not happy with a change in the digital presence of some Dutch pamphlet collections. The relevant collections that could conveniently be found under the aegis of The Memory of the Netherlands portal have been moved to a new subdomain of the Delpher portal for digitized Dutch books, journals and newspapers. At the old web address a project using the same name, Geheugen van Nederland [The Memory of the Netherlands] announces for a general public new efforts for enhanced visibility of digitized cultural heritage collections. You would have expected the creation of redirects for the old links to the relevant collections, both in Dutch and English, but this has not or not yet happened. The old links were definitely not permalinks, and it seems not all old links have already been turned into permanent links.

In view of the ongoing campaign for digital visibility, sustainability and usability led by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network this is simply inexplicable. Creating a new platform with currently just three themes and giving the old portal a new logo seems to have been more important than realizing the impact of the change of addresses. The absence of effective and wide communication this summer about this change adds to the paradox of removing a working portal with substantial contents for an almost empty shop window. Just one example of the impact: The Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, an important contributing institution, still gives links for its web projects at The Memory at the old Dutch version. In the English version of these links for only one collection the link to the new platform has been set, for other collections the old links lead to error messages. The Memory of the Netherlands is a cultural heritage portal with rich collections in open access in need of good maintenance and a new lifespan. In fact, this portal, too, helped me to think about adding yet another genre of popular prints to my overview. Hopefully the current awkward situation can soon end by putting things into order.

Whatever you may think of this unlucky affair, it underlines the fact some efforts are needed for creating and maintaining a digital portal. In my case I commit myself to continuity and renewal for my list and the searchable overview with working URL’s for more than two hundred digitized collections for pamphlets and related genres, and a score of supporting websites. If you spot any broken link in the list or the new overview, please do not hesitate to contact me by mail. Hopefully this service for scholars and anyone interested can achieve its aim of assisting to find your way to these sources in the virtual world.

Digital access to the slavery registers of Curaçao

Slavery register 57, fol. 636

Slavery register 57, fol. 636 – image: Nationaal Archief, Curaçao

On August 17, 1795 a slave revolt started on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao, some seventy kilometers north of Venezuela. Exactly 225 years after Tula’s Revolt the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao presented the searchable online version of the Slavenregister, eight slavery registers from the nineteenth century. Two years ago I wrote here about the launch of the digitized slavery registers from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in Latin America. The two projects invite a comparison. I will look also at other online resources for the history of the Dutch Antilles, six Caribbean islands with a history of Dutch colonial rule.

Researching Dutch Caribbean slavery

Logo Nationaal Archief, Willemstad, CuracaoThe announcement at the website of the Nationaal Archief, located in Willemstad, the main town of Curaçao, gives you some background to the project done in cooperation with scholars of the Radboud University Nijmegen, led by Coen van Galen, and the University of Curaçao. The late Els Langenfeld laid the foundation for the project with her transcriptions. Apart from eight slavery registers also two emancipation registers have been digitized and indexed. The Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague, helped with creating the database for the data and the digital images. In its announcement about the launch the Dutch national archives give more information. The slavery registers cover the period 1839 to 1863. The emancipation registers stem from 1863. You can find at the website in The Hague a video in Papiamentu about the project, and there is a message from the Dutch minister for Education, Culture and Sciences. The registers at Willemstad can also be searched at the website of the Dutch Nationaal Archief. By the way, recently the Dutch national archive integrated its search portal Ga het NA into its main website. The Dutch archive also provides a guide to these records. There is a version in rudimentary English of the search interface without a version in English of the guide; the Dutch version is not mentioned.

Logo Nationaal Archief, The hague

The search interface in Curaçao allows you to filter directly for a particular register. In the advanced search mode you can search six fields separately. Unfortunately I did not succeed in using the advanced search mode in three different browsers. Search results can be sorted by clicking on the respective headings of the columns, a quality that could perhaps be more visible with arrows. There is also a guide to assist your search questions. Its Dutch counterpart has only filters for the type of register, and there is only a simple free text search field and a choice for sorting the results for all fields except one field of the registers, by name, gender, the mother’s name, entry date and exit day (uitschrijfdatum), either the day of the emancipation or another date noted in an entry.

The search interface in The Hague does not show the name of the eigenaar, the owner of enslaved people, nor do you see them in the list with search results. Only when you click on an individual search result the name of the (former) owner becomes visible. Luckily the owners does show up in the uitleg (explanation) – in Dutch again – about the fields. You can download in The Hague a zipped file with the index to the registers as an XML file. The efforts for assistance and explanation are important, but at the moment of writing it seems some efforts are needed to get things working properly. It is good to note here the fields with subsidiary information about the owner. However, here, too, the presentation of search results in Curaçao is different, with two blocks of fields against a single column with the fields at The Hague.

Both the absence of the owner field in The Hague and the disfunction of the advanced search mode in Curaçao are substantial problems. Again as with the project for the slavery registers from Suriname only the Dutch version is complete. The very presence of a video in Papiamentu underlines the need for search interfaces, guides and explanation is this language and in English. In view of the Caribbean region a Spanish version would be most sensible, too. The archive in Willemstad calls itself on its website a Porta pa Historia, but that door needs to be open not just in Dutch. The Dutch national archives provide a searchable index of manumissions of enslaved people on Curaçao between 1722 and 1863. Even the heading Vrij van slavernij (manumissies) has not been translated in the English version of this index.

The Dutch and the Caribbean

If digitizing a resource is important for historical understanding and if you know the general public will appreciate your efforts, it is only normal to do a proper job. The two versions of this new resource can cause some frowns, but I will certainly not deny the importance of being able to use the database for the Curaçao slavery and emancipation registers. Let’s look briefly what other resources can be readily found online nowadays.

Curacao ISTORY - The Tual exhibit

In the Digital Library of the Caribbean Curaçao figures with only a few items. For the neighbouring island Aruba you can find some fifty items. Bonaire, a third island within the Dutch Antilles, is absent. In 2019 the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao, the Maduro Foundation and the National Archaeological and Anthropological Museum launched the history portal Curaçao | HISTORY with virtual exhibits on several subjects, You can use a timeline to choose a theme, for example Tula’s revolt. Surprisingly the abolition of slavery in 1863 is present only with a printed proclamation in Papiamentu. At the Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform are digital collections of institutions at Curaçao, the Dutch Royal Library and Leiden University. The Archivo Nacional Aruba has some digital collections, in particular audiovisual materials.

Startscreen portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History launched some years ago the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670- c. 1870 with a guide to archival sources, legislation and ordinances. In fact the West Indisch Plakaatboek edited by J.Th. de Smidt, J.A. Schiltkamp and T. van der Lee  (5 vol. in 3 parts, Amsterdam 1973-1979) is its very core. At the Delpher platform you can find digitized official gazettes for the Netherlands, the Antilles, Indonesia and Suriname. Leiden University has created a separate entrance for Caribbean Books, some 950 in total, but only 200 are available in open access. Within its Digital Special Collections you can find a number of collections owned by the KITLV / Royal Dutch Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. Four Dutch ethnological museums, among them the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, have created a shared collections portal (interface Dutch and English). Recently the Tropenmuseum showed the exhibit Afterlives of Slavery. The old website of the Foundation for Dutch ethnological collections does still function. The Tropenmuseum has a digital collection on slavery with some 1,700 items at the heritage portal The Memory of the Netherlands.

In January I visited De grote Suriname tentoonstelling, a truly major exhibit on the history of Suriname at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the church next to the royal palace on the Dam Square. This exhibit succeeded in showing an overview of Suriname’s history with the widest possible variety of subjects and themes, thus enabling you to get a more integrated view of this country and its history. Let’s hope the digitized slavery and emancipation registers for Curaçao, too, will help to foster a better understanding of a crucial period in the history of this island. The aftermath of slavery continues up to today. Its story needs to be told not just in Dutch.

A postscript

Some remarks here about the quality of the search interfaces for this project might seem harsh, but a few things make them at least understandable. Knowing about the (former) owners of enslaved people is perhaps the most asked question when using these registers. Depending on the name of the owner freed slaves often received their name. The general public wants to know also about the background of the owners. Many of them lived in the major towns of the Netherlands. Their wealth was to a considerable extent built on the fruits of slave labor. Finally I think both archives should realize they could create the database thanks to the research and efforts of the late Els Langenfeld. It is not just a question of presenting material in your own holdings online, but also acknowledging the fact this has become possible thanks to a person whose memory should be honored by using her transcriptions and index to the fullest possible extent. Perhaps it is only a question of changing the layout to make the owners more visible from the start. The current layout should not be a stumbling block to having the data in full view.

Finding Early Modern notarial records in Mexico


The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, home to the Archivo General de Notarias - image: Wikimedia Commons

The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, since 2005 home to the Archivo General de Notarias

Using guides to archival collections can be most helpful when searching particular records which might help you in anwering your research questions. Sometimes the records themselves are the subject of research. When I read recently a blog post about notarial records in Mexico it was not completely surprising to read a story about a number of obstacles in getting access to registers from the eighteenth century. However, for other periods some projects exist which help scholars in approaching other historical records at the same archival institution, the Archivo Histórico de Notarías del Distrito Federal in Ciudad de México (Mexico City), also abbreviated to Archivo General de Notarías. In this contribution I will look at the two blog posts by Andrea Reyes Elizondo about her research and at online guidance to archival institutions in Ciudad de México.

Book history and archives

Last year I connected book history and archives in a post reviewing the study of Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on the role of the book trade in the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century. Until last month I had not often visited the website of the Nederlandse Boekhistorische Vereniging, the society for Dutch book history. One of its features is the section De Boekenmolen (The Book Mill) with blog posts by scholars introducing their research and telling about the start of their interest in book history.

On June 9, 2020 Andrea Reyes Elizondo contributed a post concerning a subject with a fair distance to Dutch book history, an inquiry into the degree of literacy and scribal capacity in eighteenth-century Mexico. Her search for a continuous series of documents with signatures led her to notarial records. Doing research in Mexico is not as straightforward as you would like as a scholar. Much paperwork is needed, to mention only one aspect. Only at the notarial archive Reyes Elizondo can use the finding aid and a list of notaries for this period. At this point I was at first somewhat amused, because using the word list for a finding aid for notarial registers, after all indeed a series of similar records, seemed a bit misplaced. My second thought was a question: How can you find out about notarial records in Mexico, and more generally about Mexican archives? As a matter of fact, I knew about a number of online resources helping me to answer this question. Finding archives was not the greatest challenge, finding specific information about their holdings was a bit more difficult, and in my view worth a report here.

It is no bad thing to start searching archives in Mexico with the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica, a searchable database for archives and their collections in Spain and Latin-America. However, the notice on the Archivo General de Notarías de Distrito Federal (AGNDF), seems at first a bit disappointing, with an old link to its website and lots of empty fields or negative answers, but luckily it does show the titles of some guides and inventories. In particular the series of inventories for nineteenth-century records is mentioned. At the heading Fondos y otros colecciones custodiadas a link leads you to the Inventario Dinámico, a tree structure with the fondos, in this case three main collections, the Fondo Antiguo, the [Fondo] Consular and the Fondo Contemporaneo. By clicking on the link Fondo Antiguo you will go to a detailed notice about the history of this section. For the subsection Reservada the names and years of notaries are given, from 1524 to 1697. The eighteenth century is part of the subsection Antigua (1614 to 1902). The notice ends with substantial information about guides and finding aids, some of them unpublished, in particular the Inventario general del acervo histórico del Archivo General de Notarías del Distrito Federal, Ana Lucía Tlahuech Rivera and José Luis García Estrada (eds.) (2006) and Verónica Zárate Toscano, Guía Cronológica de Notarios 1750-1850 (1992). The 2006 inventory is the most recent work mentioned in this notice.

Finding archives in Mexico

I had hoped to find more about this archive in the Sistema de Información Cultural, an online directory for cultural institutions in Mexico which counts nearly 1,300 archives, fifty of them in Ciudad de México. The notice on the AGNDF gives you only the location, a phone number and an e-mail address. The Archivo General de la Nación provides a Directorio Nacional de Archivos, but on the page for Ciudad de México the information is similarly succinct, although even more archival institutions are listed. In the web directory for archivos iberoaméricanos of the Fundacion Mapfre the page for Mexico has disappeared. Sadly the Latin America Network Information Center at the University of Texas had to stop updating its information in 2015, and now even the links have disappeared in its archival directory. The Internet Archive has a capture from 2015 of the page in English with eleven Mexican archives, but not the AGNDF. The Spanish version of this resource is still up and running.

Since many years the online journal Nuevo Mundo / Nuevos Mundos runs the series Guía del investigador americanista, with for Mexico an updated version from 2018 of a Guía del investigador en la ciudad de México by Felipe Castro Gutiérrez; the 2009 version can still be consulted and compared with his new version. Castro Gutiérrez fails to mention the web pages of the AGNDF, but he does include a link to the online inventory of sixteenth-century notarial registers. With some luck – by going one level higher on the web portal of the legal department of Ciudad de México – I could reach a second web page of the AGNDF with this link and yet another online resource for the records of notaries. This second web page provides you with some twenty web links for more information.

Before going to the notarial registers of the eighteenth century I would like to present briefly the existing online projects for the AGNDF. The Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVI, created in 2016 at the Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México (UNAM), provides you with an inventory of records from the sixteenth century. The images linked to the searchable inventory can only be viewed at the AGNDF. The website of this projects provides you also with the link to the sequel for the seventeenth century, the Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVII, launched in 2014 by the UNAM. The main difference with the first project is a more detailed search interface and the absence of images. The third project, launched in 2012, has been created by the Colegio de México. It brings you to the Actas Notariales de México, a searchable database for nineteenth-century notarial acts between 1817 and 1919. The search results bring you to summaries of the acts.

Dealing with notarial acts

Andrea Reyes Elizondo wrote her contribution about her research for her Ph.D. at Leiden University on the website of the NBV in Dutch. At the blog Leiden Arts in Society she has contributed a number of posts in English. In 2018 she wrote a post in English about her experience in three Mexican archives, Monk’s Nun’s Works’. The first remarkable thing in this earlier post were for me her pictures of the Archivo General de la Nación, housed in a former prison. Her remark about having to wear gloves and a dust mask when reading archival records from the colonial period has these days received another connotation.

Reyes Elizondo does not say much about the AGNDF in this earlier post, but nevertheless I quote her words for you to ponder them yourself: “In contrast, the notary archive does not have a catalogue at all but two different printed guides which give little information about its contents and could not be photographed but only be copied by hand. For an archive catalogue to be truly useful to a researcher, it should mention how many books or documents were produced by the same person, the length of the collection, the period it covers, and a breakdown of the type of documents. The AHAGN guides only gave a summary of how many books a notary had (guide 1) and which books were for which years (guide 2).” She repeated this statement in her 2020 post in Dutch. If she had stated these things as facts only once, I would have hesitated to set things right, but after two similar statements some corrections are clearly needed.

Banner Censo-Guía

The notice in the Spanish Censo-Guía contains clear information about the time range and physical dimensions of the records within the AGNDF, good for 1,235 meters shelf length, and 5,637 volumes in the Fondo Antiguo for the period 1525-1909. Archivists may call a finding aid or inventory a catálogo but it remains a finding aid. I fail to understand how one can think that a finding aid for notarial records will contain information about acts in each register apart from the notary and the time range. Notarial registers have similar contents, and it makes sense to describe them as series, also in view of their sheer number.

A quick comparison might be helpful. The Stadsarchief Amsterdam has 3,5 kilometer shelf length with notarial registers from the Early Modern period, probably the largest series in its holdings. With indexes and a crowdsourcing transcription project they are being made more accessible. Recently I searched notarial registers in the holdings of two Belgian archives, the Rijksarchief in de provincie Antwerpen and the Felixarchief, the municipal archive of the city Antwerpen. The finding aids for both institutions have the usual succinct form. Detailed access is provided by an index or a more detailed finding aid, called by Dutch archivists a nadere toegang. At the Felixarchief notarial registers have been digitized. Reyez Elizondo wants to be able to use repertories of acts. Thus the AGNDF provides you with a finding aid for the registers and a list of notaries, but in fact more has been done, as I will show here below. To all appearances it seems the two blog posts reflect a confusion between the nature of a library catalogue, an archival inventory, an index, a repertory or any other kind of more detailed finding aids. Surely a book historian will use library catalogues more often than finding aids, but a scholar should be able to see the substantial difference in their nature and character.

The second web page of this archive gives you a number of links, some of them broken, but luckily the link to a most relevant M.A. thesis functions. Fernando Pérez Celis completed in 2011 at the UNAM his thesis with the title Catálogo de las escrituras notariales de siglo XVIII. Notarías 22, 25 y 352 de Fondo Antiguo, Sección Ordinaria, del Acervo Histórico del Archivo General de Notarías de ciudad de México (PDF, 2011). Pérez Celis described the registers for three notarías. At p. XVIII of this thesis he notes there are 329 notarías for the eighteenth century, good for a total of 1,689 volumes, only 137 of them catalogados. In my view Pérez Celis created a repertorio, a word that should appear in the title of his study. Surely this still leaves large parts of the eighteenth century uncovered for the purposes of Reyes Elizondo, but much more has been done than she supposed. The very presence of the three projects each dealing with whole centuries seems to have gone unnoticed. It would do justice to the AGNDF to include them in both blog posts.

Logo El Colegio de Mexico

When you study Mexican history it is difficult not to encounter various projects of the UNAM and El Colegio de México. The latter institution is home to the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas which offers a very useful commented list of online resources for Mexican history. The library of El Colegio de México has on its web pages a list with twenty digital projects of this institution. Among the publications of the Colegio de México are the guías de protocolos, guides for notarial acts at the AGNDF for the nineteenth century. For each year a volume will be published. In the colecciones digitales of UNAM’s libraries you can select Tesis eTESIUNAM and quickly find nine relevant titles concerning the AGNDF, among them yet another thesis with a repertory of acts for some eighteenth-century registers, again without the word repertorio in its title. In view of these studies, the guides for nineteenth-century notarial records and the three online projects for notarial registers for other centuries choosing the eighteenth century shows at least courage. Reyes Elizondo certainly has this courage, but her two blog posts do not tell you at all what else can be readily found and has been done for the rich record series of the AGNDF.

Working in Mexican archives

Of course researching reading and writing capacities is a good subject, and I cannot say anything against Reyes Elizondo’s approach to this subject. A remark about another archive in Mexico invites me to add some comments. Reyes Elizondo would have preferred to find the notarial acts in the holdings of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Lately the website and other services of the AGN has been redesigned, and in many respects services have deteriorated. The digital collection with mapas, planos y ilustraciones has vanished. The fact that you can now consult both the new and the 1990 version of the Guía general de los fondos makes you almost smile about the operation which is probably motivated by political aims. The thing to note about the AGN is the absence of online finding aids. For the near future it is wise to keep in mind many scholars will want to visit the AGN, and perhaps you will not succeed easily in having a seat in its study room. Simply having more space and more chance to work at the AGNDF is something to relish, even if you have to face a number of other restrictions.

For this post I was able to use the information I gathered on my legal history website concerning digital archives all over the world. On this page I put links and information about archives, archival guides and about digitized archival collections. Without archival guides research would be very much hampered. A number of online overviews and archival guides has already been decommissioned. Using just a single resource for any purpose is only recommended by companies pretending to be The One and Only Firm. Another thing became clear, too: Thinking you know all about archives in your own country is not the most useful attitude. It pays off to take sufficient time to review and adjust your knowledge about archives by using relevant guides, to note carefully their content and to reflect about possible implications for your research. Knowing about the difference between an archival finding aid and a library catalogue should be part and parcel of doing research with original sources in the humanities or in the vast fields of legal history.

What’s in a word? Two ways of legal inquiry in the medieval common law

Startscreen Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Sometimes the name of a website can be deceptive. When I encountered the website Inquisitions post mortem with the subtitle Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Places & People my first thought went to the coroners’ inquests into the causes of unnatural deaths, a very rich resource telling us much about society in late medieval England. However, soon it becomes clear inquisitions post mortem (IPM) are something else, inquiries into the property of deceased tenants of the crown. In this post I will look both at these inquiries and at the medieval coroner and the sources documenting his inquests, and I will look at some other project websites as well.

What’s in a name?

My interest in the medieval coroner stems from the research for my master thesis in medieval history focusing on late medieval Utrecht. I used a rich resource in the holdings of Het Utrechts Archief, the registers for the Vechtkeuren (finding aid 701, Stadsbestuur van Utrecht, 1122-1577, inv.no. 234) from 1477 to 1528, now all digitized, with sometimes quite long and detailed descriptions about incidents concerning wrongdoing, verbal abuse and fighting. Even digitized transcriptions of these records are now available (finding aid 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties, inv.nos 3055-3060). They can offer you invaluable glimpses of much else around incidents. Likewise the inquests of the English coroners can show you in the description of accidents much about late medieval society, as in the study by Barbara Hanawalt, The ties that bound. Peasant families in medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) where coroners’ inquests are the only archival resource she used. She used inquests from London as one source among other records in her study Growing up in medieval London. The experience of childhood in history (Oxford, etc., 1993).

Doing English history can mean dealing with a wide variety of rolls, now kept at The National Archives (TNA). The general description at the website of the TNA of the coroners’ rolls and files for the JUST 2 record series reminds you the medieval coroner dealt also with matters such as deaths in prison, outlawries and felon’s confessions. One of his duties was to ascertain whether any object was involved in the death under scrutiny, because such objects were due to the crown as deodands. This record series contains 286 rolls for the period 1228-1426. Later rolls figure in other record series. You should note the use of both Latin and French. The earliest surviving rolls have been edited by Roy Frank Hunnisett, Bedfordshire coroners’ rolls (Streatley, Bedf., 1961) and used in his study The medieval coroner (Cambridge 1961). On my web page on the history of the common law you can find other editions by Hunnisett and also older calendars and editions of coroners’ rolls, a number of them available online. The TNA has a helpful concise guide How to search for coroners’ inquests indicating also other records series with inquests.

Logo Anglo-American Tradition

The coroners’ rolls are not available in digital form at the TNA’s website, but you can use photographs online at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition hosted by the O’Quinn Law Library of the University of Houston. On its startpage you will find at first a division of materials in several periods of English legal history. The AALT wiki helps you to navigate the digital materials, and it brings you for instance to lists of Anglo-Norman words in the digitized records. Citation Finder 1 helps you to find quickly the right items in eight record series organized by calendar years. A second Citation Finder gives for four record series, among them JUST 2, links to digitized single records. Due to their form you will find for each roll two image series, one for the recto side, the other for the verso (back). It is wise to consult the AALT’s PDF on navigation.

TNA, JUST 2/1, start verso side

The start of the verso side of the very first surviving coroners’roll – The National Archives, JUST 2/1, verso

It takes time to get adjusted to viewing the originals of these rolls, but adjusting to the handwriting might be another matter, as does for me refreshing my memory for the exact years of the reigns of English kings used by the TNA to indicate the time range of each roll. The AALT provides you on its index page with tutorials in English, German and French, three paleography exercises with Latin texts and three with English texts.

Among recent projects using coroners’ inquests is Everyday life and fatal hazard in sixteenth-cnetury England (University of Oxford). In particular the idea to present here every month a telling case helps to gain insight into cases of misadventure. The bibliography at this website is most useful. In 2014 two studies on medieval coroners appeared, by Rab Houston, The coroners of Northern Britain, c. 1300-1700 (London-New York 2014), and Sara M. Butler, Forensic medicine and death investigation in medieval England (London-New York 2014).

A different inquiry

The website Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Peoples and Places offers a compact startscreen with both search and browse functionality, a concise introduction, a news section and a blog section. Alas there is no additional information about the remarkable Boarstal Map from 1444, but it illustrates certainly the theme of places and properties. Mapping the Medieval Countryside is a project of the University of Winchester and King’s College London.

On the project website you can find not only a general introduction to the inquisitions post-mortem, but also a most useful series of articles headed Backgrounds on various aspects of the IPM. This type of inquest happened either with a special writ, or with the standard writ diem clausit extremum devised for inquisitions upon someone’s death. The escheator was the officer acting at a IPM, instructed by this standard writ or another. The written report of an IPM contained a number of standard elements, most often presented in a fixed order. With the inclusion of the time and place where the inquest was held, the names of jurors, the name of the escheator, information about the extent, value and location of lands, the date of death of the deceased, the name and age of the heir, and when necessary information about other royal rights involved, an IPM is a most valuable record. However, an escheator did not always note everything. Sometimes he was decidedly partial or he deliberatedly hid or altered information. On the website the place of the IPM within the process of inheriting is described, a fairly lengthy and complicated affair. A more detailed introduction to IPMs by Christine Carpenter merits your close attention. Her footnotes mention the main relevant scholarly publications.

Apart from the record of an IPM made for the Chancery a copy was also made for the ExchequerMapping the Medieval Countryside provides you with background information about both series of records, pointing also to the enduring importance of the early nineteenth-century Calendarium inquisitionum post mortem sive escaetarum (4 vol., [London], 1806-1828) for tracing IPMs. In some cases the document in the Exchequer series is the draft of the IPM. You will need to work with the tables of references as a concordance between old locations and modern designations. Some documents are missing, others may well be held as a part of other record series in the TNA or are kept elsewhere.

You might want to consult also the concise guide about IPMs on the TNA’s website. It mentions for example the existence of separate series of IPMs for a number of counties. This guide mentions also an article and two books for further guidance. The Wikipedia article on the IPM shows a global concordance between the reigns, calendars and relevant record series (C 132 to C 142 and E 149-150) without any indication of gaps and other record series. However, it does show clearly the uncalendared periods 1447-1485 and 1509-1660. The IPMs were held in Early Modern England as well. The Wikipedia entry scores with a nice number of references to historical literature about the IPM.

The article on IPM’s and historical research concisely shows the wide variety of subjects for which the IPMs contain information, for example family and inheritance, landholding and land use, demography and jurisdiction. In view of this rich material it is good to have here also a glossary of recurrent terms in these records. It reminded me of the glossary at the website of the project Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law (University of St. Andrews).

Mapping the Medieval Countryside focuses on medieval inquisitions post mortem (IPM), held between the mid-thirteenth century and the early sixteenth century, and within these centuries on the period 1399 to 1447. In the IPM the holdings of deceased tenants to the crown were registered. The two different periods mentioned at the start page make you curious about this difference. Here the history of research into IPM’s plays a large role. Printed calendars exist for the periods 1236-1447 and 1485-1509. A page about these calendars explains the development of the editorial policies between 1888 and 2010. The earlier calendars focused on the inheritance. The extent of lands and valuations were omitted, as were the names of jurors and the escheator. Many elements in an IPM document are repetitive, and thus it is alluring to summarize the contents in view of the enormous mass of archival records to be processed. For Mapping the Medieval Countryside it was logical to start with the latest published calendars for the period 1422-1447, and to add in a second phase an enhanced version of the calendars dealing with the period 1399-1422. The modern calendars note for each IPM both the record in the Chancery series and the copy in the Exchequer series.

At the portal British History Online you can find digital versions for almost every relevant calendar of inquisitions post-mortem. Two calendars for IPMs concerning London, too, have been digitized. Mapping the Medieval Countryside offers more search facilities, and it has the great asset of some 48,000 names of jurors entered for the period 1399-1422.

An IPM - source: Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Mapping the Medieval Countryside provides us on the page about the documents with some images of IPMs, however, without any reference. I show the largest image here above. It proves to be quite a task to find some images elsewhere. In the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented of the Folger Shakespeare Library you can look at an IPM from 1599 mentioning the Globe theatre [TNA, C 142/257/68]. The Bodleian Libraries show in their digital collections the IPM concerning John Paston, dated around 1466 [MS Don c. 93]. I had almost overlooked the exercise with an IPM from 1489 [C 142/23/116] in the TNA’s Latin paleography tutorial. Surely a tour of digital collections of county record offices will bring you more results.

It is perhaps good to mention here explicitly we can use images for a number of record series at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition thanks to great efforts of volunteers who did their best to create a clear presentation of digital images. When you realize how much work goes into this website, you will not start complaining about the absence of images of IPMs at the AALT website, nor feeling miserable about missing some other record series. At British History Online you can find many digitized guides and calendars, but not calendars with coroners’ inquests, with as the main exception four volumes with Middlesex County Records. The English Medieval Legal Documents guide of the Gould School of Law, University of Southern California, helps you to find the titles of relevant works and bibliographies.

Visiting medieval London

Logo Medieval Londoners

With Shakespeare you think also of London, and because I mentioned London already here for the coroners it is only fitting to end in this town. A few days ago Fordham University launched the portal Medieval Londoners with a database to search for late medieval Londoners. This portal has also a very detailed resources section. In the subsection for written sources you can find a substantial commented list of legal records. On the page for resources concerning property the IPMs are mentioned. The virtual exhibition Medieval London created by students of Fordham Unirersity in 2015, 2017 and 2019 with exhibits about medieval objects and locations in London can be found at the portal under Pedagogy. Among the links at Medieval Londoners you can find the London Medieval Murder Map (Manuel Eisner, Violence Research Centre, Cambridge University) based on coroners’ rolls for nine years in the first half of the fourteenth century. The map brings you to some 140 murder cases.

Maybe you want to immerse yourself into the history of medieval London and Londoners with a recent book. The volume of essays Medieval Londoners, Elizabeth New and Christian Steer (eds.) (London 2019; hardcover, ePub and PDF) can form your starting point. If I had not already started writing about the medieval coroner and the inquisitions post mortem I could well have decided to devote a post to this very interesting portal concerning medieval London. Combining both resources for your research is certainly challenging, but at least I could tell you here something about a number of medieval legal records wtth very particular qualities.

A postscript

At the website Medieval Genealogy you can benefit from abstracts of coroners’ inquests in Northampshire created by Stephen Swailes and an overview of digitized editions, calendars and abstracts of inquisitions post mortem.

Against racism, for justice

These weeks see worldwide demonstrations and outcries against racism after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a victim of police violence. What can we do to stop this violence? Which approaches can help to expose racism? What is our own role? It is a real challenge to add here something worth of your time and attention that has not already been said more eloquently and argued more convincingly by others. In my own country a recent report showed more traces of racism exist than Dutchmen would like to admit. Therefore it is not possible to tell others to change, and at the same time not look at your own country.

However, remaining silent is exactly one of the problems around racism. In this post I will try to look at some aspects of racism in the United States connected with law and justice. Just listening to people telling us about the impact of racism is one of the most important steps towards a society where people truly enjoy equal rights. A focus on oral history resources is perhaps closest to my own perspective and knowledge. The ultimate aim of the struggle against racism is to achieve a greater measure of justice for all.

A brief look at the Netherlands

In April 2020 the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau [Social and Cultural Planning Office] published the report Ervaren discriminatie in Nederland II [Experiencing discrimination in the Netherlands II] (PDF, 2,4 MB) with an English summary. A quarter of the Dutch population indicated they have experiences of discrimination. The degree of discrimination is different for various groups, and this indicates there will not be just a single solution leading to a more inclusive society. The report shows not only people with a different origin perceive discrimination, but their numbers are surely high, and they perceive it stronger than other groups. They mention things such as not getting a job because their name sounds foreign. Buying a house can be difficult when some estate agents accept wishes not invite them as prospective buyers, even when these agents know this kind of discrimination is not allowed. People told they did not get a job because their place of birth is outside the Netherlands.

The Dutch situation does not stem only from a colonial past in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Labor immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, too, arrived in my country. Many of them have now a Dutch passport, but they and their children do experience forms of exclusion, just because of their names and the perception people have of them. The single most important matter is probably not being aware at all that people experience this exclusion. You might be tempted to thing outright racism does not exist anymore, but suggestive regards, telling remarks and bad jokes exist. My tiny country with just seventeen million inhabitants can seem a paradise, but it is part of a larger world. It may be hard to believe, but it cannot be denied forms of racism and exclusion exist in the Netherlands, too, and you cannot blame just one political party or whatever organisation for fostering racism. Multiple causes are at work.

Eyes wide open, ears willing to listen

Racism touches individual persons, groups and eventually an entire nation or country. It will not do to state you have no idea of any form of exclusion, inequality, injustice and outright violence. It would mean you think you live somewhere else, in another world. Admitting and acknowledging it happens in the very same world where you live, and perhaps not in your own safe haven, but alas surely in many other places, is a starting point. A second thing is harder to achieve, admitting you have probably distinct blind spots in your perception. On the level of a country this might lead to not understanding almost two nations exist within one country. A third thing is the temptation to think in compartments, with “we” on the good side, and “they” on the other side. A fourth difficulty is the great seduction of either deciding for others or letting the government decide about such people, as if you can create a distance from others, instead of listening first of all to others, to their perceptions, feelings and grievances, to their views about ways of building society and administering justice.

In my study I sit across a cupboard with books. A few years ago I put right behind the screen of my computer at eye height a number of books about justice, as a sign not to forget about justice when studying law and legal history. The things staring in your face can be hard to detect, a fact of life.

Logo Black Past

When I started thinking about writing as a legal historian about current events I quickly saw some websites providing you with very good overviews of online materials to start studying African-American history. The Library of Congress marks 22 of its 424 digital collections as directly touching this subject. The Digital Public Library of America has 27 primary source sets concerning African Americans. A good starting point is the Black Past portal with its great range of subjects and themes. Its page on research guides and websites for African-American history is most helpful. It is only natural to mention here the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and its digital resources guide. Pursuing a road to the history of racism within the history of the United States brings you to institutions and portals such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Facing History and Ourselves, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and the National Council on Public History. Two other museums have to be mentioned here, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, the latter with an oral history project. No doubt some of the websites and projects I mention here figure also in this online overview of Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources.

Among the organizations issuing statements about racism and the death of George Floyd is also the American Historical Association. The AHA statement has been endorsed by seventy-five scholarly organizations. This statement focuses on the history of police violence, and it urges to learn from history, even if the facts abut structural injustice and ingrained violence are not welcome, because they damage the image people had of America and Americans.

Oral history

Logo American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Perhaps you would prefer to use visual resources to tell stories of the position of African-Americans in the United States, the racist behaviour against them and the actions of individuals, organizations, state and federal institutions to change society and uphold human rights in a truly equal way for every American citizen. In my view using oral history brings home the message that people tell stories of their lives, of injustice and humiliation, of their efforts against all odds to change things. Looking at television and listening to radio broadcasts of public networks in the United States can certainly show something else, the relative invisibility of African Americans during many decades. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a great resource to pursue this research direction.

Logo Oral History Association

At the website of the International Oral History Association you will find a substantial number of links to sites with oral history projects in the United States. The Oral History Association (OHA) is the organization in the USA for oral history. The OHA, too, issued a statement about the death of George Floyd. The OHA gives you a long list of oral history centers in the United States, To give an example, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNH) does work in the field of oral history, in particular within the project Voices of Minnesota. Within this project of the MNH a number of resources concern African-American history. The Minnesota Digital Library is a portal to other projects and collections for Minnesota’s history, and to an oral history transciption style guide. At Minnesota Reflections you can find some 2,000 oral history interviews, the majority of them with texts, a substantial number with recordings and nearly fifty with moving images.

Logo Place Matters

Writing here “moving images” was at first a literal quote from a search by format for oral histories at Minnesota Reflections, but of course the other meaning of moving images is most expressive and powerful. Other words, too, are these days most telling. While preparing this post I was struck by the very name of a project for community history in New York City, Place Matters. The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, has created Stories Matter Software allowing you to clip, index and export audiovisual recordings to avoid some of the difficulties with transcriptions of interviews. The links list of the center in Montreal is impressive, too. The skills of oral historians, their examples and guides, both in the United States and elsewhere, can help to document also the tragic events in Minneapolis and the reactions of people and institutions.

Listening to the stories about the events in Minneapolis and following the world wide reactions is one thing, pondering their meaning and preserving their memory is important, too, but naturally thoughts go also to ways to tackle racism and exclusion.

Talking from your own position

At the end of this concise post I am very much aware that my overview of resources can seem too detached, taken too much from a virtual helicopter view, as if this would be possible. I am not writing from Olympian heights, but definitively with an ocean between me and America. The news from the United States touched me. I try to think about it, and at the same time I feel emotions, too. In my overview you will notice I gave detailed attention to some resources, other figure only with their name and web address. I tried not to focus only on racism and police violence, and therefore I mentioned first a number of institutions which deal with many aspects of American history.

At my blog I try to look at legal history in its manifold incarnations. Not only positive elements in historical laws, law courts or legal education come into view. Several posts focused on parts of the history of slavery, for example my post on the digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. Violence in the United States was the subject of a post in 2018 on historical gun laws.

I will not and I cannot offer here political advice or show legal roads to eliminate forms of racism, to reform the police force or to diminish endemic violence and the use of guns in the United States. In a recent conversation about what you can do yourself, even at a great distance, we mused about the importance of communication, of listening to each other behind words and moods, about the need for awareness of cultural differences in communication. Changing the way police officers talk with others, prepare themselves for non-violent communication instead of the proverbial Shoot first, ask questions later, and reflect about their image in the eyes of others, is not the quickest and easiest thing to do, but certainly worth an effort. In the same conversation we talked also about the power of symbols and the role of emotions.

As for real stumble blocks for political change in the United States I could not help remembering the way voters have to register for elections. From the viewpoint of a country where being registered in a municipality and fulfilling some simple criteria such as age and not being excluded from the vote by a verdict of a court, leads automatically to receiving your voting card, this is a remarkable situation. It is a challenge for all Americans to gain insight into the many ways African-American citizens can be hindered in exercising their civil rights to full extent as anyone else, to realize what impact such things have, and to understand how this feels in the face of a history of exclusion, open or veiled racism, and injustice. Looking critically at your own country, your own role, your own prejudices and quick opinions, is something we all can do. It might imply leaving your own bubble, changing your own role and perspectives. In 2017 I ended a post about the United States with words that fit here, too: The old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

A postscript

Among the many links you could possibly add to this post I would like to mention Archivists Against History Repeating Itself and Archives For Black Lives, both with resource lists.

Retracing looted and lost art after 75 years

IRP-logoAmidst the current situation around the COVID-19 virus worldwide commemorations take place of the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago. After two generations work continues on retracing objects of arts and other objects belonging to a shared cultural heritage which were taken from Jewish people by the Nazi regime or stolen by others. The process of giving back such objects is often as difficult as retracing art objects at all, not in the least because legal matters impose themselves, too. In this post I will look at a number of relevant projects, in particular at a web portal with a central function. The International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property (shortened to IRP) is a branch of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), with a portal concerning archives and their holdings as another branch.

Combining resources

The situation in the occupied European countries during the Second World War had similarities and major differences. After the war national institutions were founded for doing research on a dark and deeply troubling period, first of all by bringing together relevant documents and archival records. Tracing the fate of Jews and other persecuted people was a most important research motive, but other themes, too, called for attention. Survivors of the concentration camps often found little help from authorities and judges in regaining possession of their belongings. In the years of reconstruction their appalling situation was often simply ignored. Research along national lines has inevitably limits.

In 2014 the movie The Monuments Men, based on the book by Robert Edsel (London-New York 2009) brought the work of curators, archivists, art historians and others near the end of the Second World War and its aftermath to rescue works of art in Europe to the attention of the general public. The website of The Monuments Men Foundation informs you about its activities. However, in this project the focus is on works of art taken from galleries and museums, not so much on private collections. Nowadays The Art Loss Register helps both individuals and institutions to recover stolen works of art.

The IRP is a special portal supporting the recovery of cultural heritage stolen, confiscated or in whatever way taken away during the Second World War. Things get complicated in the face of museums and even nations acquiring items from the collections of Jewish art dealers and collectors. In fact I have to state my explicit wish not to comment on the outcome of legal cases such as the Goudstikker case and the case of the Koenigs collection. Perhaps it better to admit we now see things from a distance, and we should be aware we can see only some parts of a chaotic period which does not allow for easy extrapolation of conclusions, apart from fearing things were grim, grey or indeed beyond imagination.

At the IRP portal you can search in the databases of eleven institutions. Some of these databases cover several countries, but you got to be aware you cannot search every database of these institutions with one search interface. For this reason the IRP portal rightly states it is a demo. The Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Mémorial de la Shoah, the British National Archives, the Nationalfonds der Republik Österreichs für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, the Belgian State Archives, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American National Archives and Record Administration are included in the central search function of this portal.

It is remarkable the resources of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Amsterdam), home to the IRP portal, are not yet included in the central search interface. Thus the list of resources – under the heading Institutions – with ample information about accessing databases elsewhere is most important. The tab Collections brings you either to the central search interface or to the resource notices. Sometimes you do not land directly at the right section for a particular collection. In my view you can currently skip the Collections tab. The search interface has an advanced mode where you can enter terms for artist, location and techniques, but a notice alerts you this works only with some of the databases. Mentioning exactly for which it works or not would be a welcome addition, and a clear order of the institutions, be it by alphabet or by country, would be helpful, too. However confusing this may seem, it has the major benefit of shaking you clear of the idea to find something with just one search action at a single central resource, and it helps you to confront the fact things have been entered into databases in different ways. The IRP does help you to go in the right direction when you use its information carefully.


One of the obstacles in approaching these databases is the need for the use of standards, and not just at the interface level. The NIOD has helped creating with other Dutch archives a thesaurus for terms around the Second World War and the Netherlands. This thesaurus is a key element of the portal Oorlogsbronnen [War resources]. At the IRP portal the NIOD mentions only its archival collection concerning the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the unit of the Nazi regime looting Europe for works of art and other objects of European cultural heritage.

On its website the NIOD has created a section Expert Centre Restitution (interface in Dutch and English). This centre hosts the database Herkomst gezocht / Origins unknown. Its core is information about works of art either taken form Jewish people or acquired in dubious other ways and at some time – or still – present in the governmental Netherlands Art Collection (Nederlands Kunstbezit). Here, too, there are warnings about the completeness of the information. The NIOD point also to the website Museale verwervingen vanaf 1933 with information about works acquired by Dutch museums between 1933 and 1945 in suspicious ways such as theft, sale under pressure and confiscation. At the IRP portal is currently no indication whether such resources will be included in the future or not. The database of Museale verwervingen, accessible in Dutch and English, has not been updated since December 2018. Its overview of links and the succinct bibliography with mainly Dutch studies are worth mentioning. While preparing this post I noticed the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has very recently digitized seven archives of art dealers between 1850 and 1950. In its holdings the RKD has archival collection of nine art dealers, among them the art firm Goudstikker. Although I am not unfamiliar with art history I have not conducted special research concerning the Dutch part of the history of stolen, looted and lost art around and during the Second World War, but these digitized archives are valuable new resources, accessible with an English and Dutch interface.

The Dutch websites figure here for a clear reason, not just to honour my regular Dutch view as a recurring element of my posts. It is perhaps wise to mention briefly some of the databases not yet included in the central search layer of the IRP Portal. In some cases the IRP’s overview makes clear an institution has not just one relevant database. Several institutions have archival collections concerning the Einsatzgruppe Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Only the database Cultural Plunder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is directly included in the IRP one-step search. On the website of this project you can also find archival guides for a number of countries, and a section on looted libraries. Lost Art is a database of the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, with an interface in German, English and Russian. The WGA-Datenbank of the Landesarchiv Berlin can be consulted in German and English, and there is a useful introduction on the website of this institution concerning the Wiedergutmachungämter (restitution offices). The University of Heidelberg is mentioned at the IRP portal for its project German Sales 1901-1945 with nearly 10,000 auction catalogues. The website with the database at ArtHistoricum contains much information besides the database. The portion of this project with German Sales 1930-1945 is included in the provenance databases of the Getty Research Institute.

The resources overview at the IRP portal is precious, and exactly for this reason you would expect explanations about the way more databases will be integrated into its search function. The differences between databases are a challenge to scholars and the IRP team dealing with them. It is sensible to view the portal as a tool supporting the use of these databases, and not, or not yet, as a complete replacement of searches to be conducted in individual databases. On purpose I indicated the languages used at other project websites. It would be helpful to have at least some elements of the IRP portal in various languages. In fact not only English is used in the IRP resources overview.

An unfinished history

Among websites and projects that deserve at least mentioning here, but perhaps also inclusion at the IRP portal, are other projects concerning looted and lost art. The most often mentioned projects are the Claims Conference and Looted Art of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. The art library of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz has a succinct commented list – available in German and English – with the main relevant projects and databases. The Swiss Federal Office for Culture has a section on its multilingual website for looted art from the Nazi period, with a list of links. I would like to mention here two websites not included in these overviews. Auction Catalog Segmentation is a French resource created by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art with a focus on the auction catalogues of the Parisian firm Drouot between 1939 and 1945. The Landesarchiv Berlin and the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin have created a website Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken focusing on books taken from research libraries. This library participates with five other institutions at Looted Cultural Assets, with currently some 31,000 provenance records and information about 8,000 persons. Not just libraries work here together, but also the Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum and the Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden in Hamburg.


How can the memory of the twelve years of the Nazi period and its history of violence, genocide and other atrocities be kept alive? The EHRI project is one of the efforts of scholars to help studying the darkest part of this period. In Berlin one of the memorials is named Topographie des Terrors. Many German memorials and other websites can be found in the extensive links list of the Gedenkstättenforum. The portal Gedenkorte Europa 1939-1945 helps you to find more places of memory in Europe. However, I will not try to answer this question with only information about initiatives for remembrance. The actions to retrace, recover and restitute objects to their owners or successors, and the efforts to entangle legal questions about the rightful ownership of such objects are part of the aftermath of the Second World War and form in a way part of its remembrance. Sometimes the stories about looted art form a painful part of the aftermath when they brought further appalling humiliation to survivors and their families. Acts and places of remembrance should not hide the ways the stories of the Second World War have also been ignored, kept silent or made invisible. Sorting things out legally about objects is one thing, bringing some kind of justice to people in the face or irreparable human and material loss and injustice done to them is another challenge. Behind these objects is the history of persons with for each her or his individual history and the history of persecuted groups during a terrible period of human history.