Power and colour. Illuminated French charters

Every now and then you encounter on the web projects and initiatives you simply want to share with others. Today I noticed the blog of a project around illuminated French charters. The long bilingual title says a lot: Macht, Diplomatie und Dekor – Pouvoir et diplomatie par l‘enluminure. Die illuminierte Urkunde in Frankreich – Les chartes enluminées en France 1160 – ca. 1420. For shortness‘ sake the blog luckily has the concise name Carta Franca! The blog accompanies the project on Macht und Diplomatie, power and diplomacy of Gabriele Bartz and Jonathan Dumont at the Institut für Mittelalterforschung of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. The objects at the centre of this project can be viewed online at Monasterium.net as a subsection of a larger section with illuminated medieval charters at this portal, a result from the project at the university of Graz. What does illumination mean as an element of acts written on parchment? How come art history and the history of diplomacy, diplomatics and legal history together? In this contribution I like to put the spotlight on thees questions.

Multiple perspectives

Logo of the blog Carta Franca

My curiosity for the subject of this post comes not only from my interest in legal iconography and medieval history. As a student I completed almost a minor in medieval art history. The riches of the library for art history at Utrecht University and the presence of a copy of the famous Index of Christian Art helped to develop my interests in this field.

Medieval charters show always to some extent power, first of all the power to document acts by writing, by creating a document and by authenticating it with a sign, in particular with seals. In 2019 I wrote here about the visual power of seals, and seals figured also in my 2019 post on digital approaches to medieval charters.

The illuminated initial of a royal charters with the heads of both the king and queen, 1332 – image Paris, Archives Nationales, J 357 A no. 4bis

At Carta Franca art history and diplomatics are the main focus. Since 2020 five contributions take art history as their starting point. Really spectacular is the recent post by Gabriele Bartz – in German – concerning a royal charter from 1332 showing both the heads of king Philippe VI (reigned 1328-1350) and his wife Jeanne de Bourgogne in the illuminated double initial, the first two letters of the charter. In this act the king changed his marriage gift to the queen, because he had decided to destine his original gift for her to his son. Bartz compares this charter with some contemporary examples and tries to establishes a link with known illuminators in this period. At Monasterium this charter is presented with a summary of the contents, a description, a commentary and bibliographical references.

Surprising in this category is also the contribution focusing on the decoration of the plica, the small folded lower part of a charter to which seals are attached. Even historians do not always look carefully at a plica in order to check for any chancery marks or remarks. Sometimes scribes scribbled knots, others turned circles into faces, yet another draw eyes on both sides of the threads connecting the seal to the charter. Bartz views these drawings as an innovation of the mid-fourteenth century. Both contributions show a judicious balance between art history and other historical disciplines.

The illuminated initial of a royal charter, 1372 September 28 – Paris, AN, P/1334/17 A, no. 36 (detail)

The category Diplomatik / Diplomatique – to be distinguished from Diplomatie, diplomacy! contains currently just one contribution in French by Jonathan Dumont, La foi au secours du droit, faith helping the law. A charter of king Charles V from 1372 is illuminated with a large initial C at the beginning. To the drawing lines from three psalms have been added [Ps. 7 (8),7, Ps. 45 (46),16-17 and Ps. 112 (113),2], and also the title of the Easter hymn Christus vincit, Christus regnat. In this charter Charles V confirmed the last will of his deceased brother Louis d‘Anjou and instructed his officials not to interfere with the execution its stipulations. Dumont places the words in the realm of transcendental representation of kings and royal power, but he nicely notes also this act runs against normal law calling for diligence with last wills. For Dumont it is also a matter of dynastic power at work in favour of his late brother. This charter, too, is fully commented at the Monasterium charter portal. Of course this single contribution wets the appetite for more posts from the perspective of diplomatics and legal history.

Charters in context

The project in Vienna started in August 2020 and will run until 2023. Not only royal charters will come into view. Bishops and monasteries, too, issued illuminated charters. The projected corpus of some 1,300 charters will become visible at Monasterium. Within its general section for illuminated charters there are currently six subcollections, not only for France, but also for the most splendid examples, called Cimelia (sometimes called Prunkurkunden), charters from Lombardy and papal charters. There is also a glossary in German for the terms used in describing illuminated charters. By the way, the Monasterium portal has a multilingual interface, but not every element has been translated.

In fact there are even more similar collections at Monasterium. The collection or subset with French illuminated charters has only been added on December 2, 2021. Thus it is certainly useful to check the list of recent additions at Monasterium. As for now the collection overview shows thirteen collections with illuminated charters. The portal contains now contains information about and often also images for charters from nearly 200 archives in fifteen European countries. You can approach the 660,000 charters included currently by archival collection and by research collection or through an index search. The Monasterium portal has developed into a major resource for research concerning medieval charters. The section for illuminated charters is the fruit of the project in Graz led by Martin Roland, Georg Vogeler and Andreas Zajic.

The medium is the message

The research into the existence, from and role of late medieval illuminated charters can help to view charters differently. Not only the legal act transmitted in a charter is important, its importance can be expressed more convincingly and visible by using illumination and illustration. More precisely, these added elements can highlight other messages not spelled out in the text of the charter. The illumination of charters adds a second layer of information, operating on another level of action and perception, sometimes showing simply the richness of the issuing person, sometimes highlighting an aspect of his power or showing the intent to put this power in a particular light.

Following the progress of the Carta Franca project in Vienna is helped by the blog and its Twitter account @Cartafranca1. A project website is often static or just a part of larger portal, and even so often project results appear elsewhere. Publications in print from the contributors to these projects on illuminated charters have of course appeared, too. To mention just some examples, Martin Roland contributed the article ‘Illuminierte Urkunden. Bildmedium und Performanz‘ to the essay volume Die Urkunde: Text – Bild – Objekt, Andrea Steildorf (ed.) (Berlin 2019). Gabriele Bartz and Markus Gneiss edited the volume Illuminierte Urkunden. Beiträge aus Diplomatik, Kunstgeschichte und Digital Humanities (Cologne-Weimar-Vienna 2018; Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde, Beiheft 16). The project in Vienna follows after research projects about illuminated medieval manuscripts in Central Europe. The connection with manuscript production is just one of the perspectives helping to study the subject of illuminated charters. In the brief compass of this contribution I hope to have made you curious, too, about new ways to study a classic source genre for medieval history and some of the tools making this possible.

A shared past. Zeeland and the Dutch slave trade

Banner "Zwart verleden. Het verhaal van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie"

You do not expect after the six o‘clock news on television on two following evenings a documentary movie about slavery and the role of the Middelburg Commerce Company and its rich archive held at the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg, yet exactly this could be seen on Dutch television on November 2 and 3, 2021. The series Zwart verleden: Het archief van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie [Black past] with six items was shown in two installments, each during some twenty minutes. On the tv playback platform NPO Start you can retrieve both videos which appeared in a series called Noord-Zuid-Oost-West [North-South-East-West] produced by Dutch regional broadcasting institutions and sent also by the broadcasting society Omroep MAX. The stories to be told using the materials at Middelburg are special indeed. In this post I will look at both videos created by Omroep Zeeland and at the archival records and other resources offered online thanks to the services of the Zeeland Archives.

A very active company

The story of the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (MCC) is perhaps not unfamiliar to historians, but for the general public it is first of all revealing that this company existed at all outside the province Holland. It was not a part of the Dutch East Indies Company nor of the West Indies Company. By giving the story of Dutch slave traders a place within in a city this subject in Dutch and world history becomes more alive. The MCC, a privately owned company, was active as a sailing company from 1720 until the early nineteenth century; as a wharf it existed until 1889.

The first video starts with Hannie Kool, director of the Zeeland Archives, reading a letter from people on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao asking the company to send them twice a year 250 to 300 new enslaved persons, with very precise specifications for their personal qualities such as age and length. The directors of the MCC answered they could not fulfill this request, because they depended on the fortune of commerce. Fortune or misfortune led to 113 outbound voyages between 1720 and 1800 on the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes between Europe, West-Africa and the Caribbean.

In the second part of the first video archivist Ad Tramper looks at the voyages of the ship d‘Eenigheid (Unity), a ship measuring just 23 meter (70 feet). The journey to buy slaves in Africa could take as many as 200 days, and sailing to the Caribbean took some ten weeks. Tramper underlines the fact society in the eighteenth century could be very hard. The harsh treatment of slaves was taken for granted, but for many people this literally came not within view. The third part focuses on a person aboard the d‘Eenigheid who did professionally have a closer look at enslaved people. Ship surgeon Petrus Couperus kept a journal about his activities and medical care. He wrote for example about an enslaved woman dying from melancholy and sadness, and he noted how many enslaved jumped overboard. The book by D.H. Gallandat, De noodige onderrichtingen voor den slaaf-handelaren (1769) is also mentioned.

In the second video you look with Roosanne Goudbeek of the Zeeuws Archief at the voyages in general. European commodities were sold in in Africa to buy not just enslaved persons, but also gold and ivory. The voyage of the d‘Eenigheid did not end in Suriname. In a letter to the directors its captain wrote he judged it wiser to sail westwards to the colony Berbice. At Fort Nassau on the Berbice river the enslaved persons were auctioned. A report from this auction is part of the archive. The names of the enslaved people were not recorded nor their destination. Records about the sale of a plantation give you an idea of the way life and work were organized. The slaves belonged to the inventory for sale, and they are mentioned with their name and function. A letter even survives with felicitations to the directors of the MCC for the high prices fetched at the auction.

The fifth item in the series shows Gerhard Kok, known for his efforts to creaet quick access to computer transcribed acts concerning Dutch colonial history among the records of the Durch East Indies and West Indies companies and the colonies Suriname, Berbice and Guyana. He looks at the economic importance of the slave trade for the Dutch economy, amounting to between 5 to 10 percent around 1770 for Middelburg, and presumably more in the nearby port of Vlissingen (Flushing). He presents also a chilling document about the gruesome treatment of enslaved persons on the ship Middelburgsch Welvaren [The welfare of Middelburg] leading to their horrible death after a mutiny. The case is known thanks to the investors wanting compensation from an insurance company.

Resistance and protest

The letter about the escape of Leonora - image Zeeuws Archief / Omroep Zeeland
The letter about the escape of Leonora

In the final installment of the series the number of 113 voyages with some 30,000 enslaved persons between 1732 and 1803. Roosanne Goudbeek looks at some remarkable stories of slaves trying to escape their fate in the Dutch Caribbean. The slave Leonora succeeded in getting aboard an inbound ship from the harbor of Curaçao, and captain Jan Bijl wrote about the sheer surprise when she was detected after a day on the Atlantic. The owners of Leonora reclaimed here form the directors of the MCC, but the responded they could not do this, in particular because she was at the very point of becoming a Christian by baptism in the Dutch reformed church. This was not the only form of resistance.During at least twenty voyages mutinies occurred. Slaves refused to eat, other slaves tried to jump from a ship. Some women threw their children into the sea, and many tried to escape from plantations.

In Zeeland some people protested in public against slavery and its consequences. Ad Tramper is shown reading the sermon against slavery preached by vicar Bernardus Smytegelt in the first half of the eighteenth century, printed in his book Des Christen eenige troost in leven en sterven (Middelburg 1747). Tramper mentions the distance between the actual practices stemming from slavery and Europe as a determining factor for the very low number of people protesting. Things happening far away can seem less important. Goudbeek stresses the unique richness of the MCC archive. Tramper ends the video expressing his hope that understanding this period of Dutch history both from white and black perspectives will help to gain more understanding of a shared history.

Using the archives of the MCC

From my brief summary of this television series of just 40 minutes you can hopefully see the clear effort of the creators to present a balanced view of the involvement of Zeeland and this company in Middelburg in slavery during a relatively short period. Some elements in the video are definitely not new. The engravings of the plan of a slave ship are just as well known as the drawing by Aernout van Buchell of The Globe theatre in London. The sermon by Smytegelt duly figures for example in the book accompanying in 2011 the television series De slavernij discussed here, too [De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu, Carla Boos et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2011)]..

Logo CCvM / MCC - image Zeeuws Archief

Let’s look at the online resources created by the Zeeuws Archief for getting acquainted with the story of the MCC and studying its archival records. The English version of its website opens immediately with an image and a button bringing you to a page for the MCC and the history of the Transatlantic slave trade. You can follow the voyages of the Unity from 1761 to 1763 on a separate website with a Dutch and English version. In 2011 the UNESCO entered the archive of the MCC into the Memory of the World register.

Startscreen "Into the triangle trade"

Some years ago I already encountered the splendid online exhibition of the Zeeuws Archief On the Triangle Trade at the Google Arts & Culture platform. This colorful exhibition contains much that has been now retold in the short television series. For English readers this is surely the quickest way to get a picture of the history of the MCC and its role in the slave trade. Only the blog Atlantic Slavery Voyage with the daily sequence of the voyages of the Unity has disappeared. The explanations about the blog on the Unity website suggest the blog still exists, but the actual link is not anymore present, nor have the entries been relocated on this website.

On a second page at the website of the Zeeland Archives follows the actual concise research guide in English for the MCC and its role in the slave trade. The archival collection of the MCC has been completely digitized (toegang (finding aid) no. 20, Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, 1702-1889). The finding aid is in Dutch. I will highlight some aspects of it. In the 1951 inventory archivist W.S. Unger had changed the actual name of the company, Commercie Compagnie van Middelburg (CCvM) into Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, an unusual thing for Dutch archivists. Apart from the 1951 introduction there is a new foreword from 2011, and you can benefit from three bijlagen (appendices), among them a list of relevant scholarly literature held at the Zeeuws Archief or at the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek in Middelburg. All handwritten maps in the collection of the CCvM / MCC were destroyed in the fire caused by bombs hitting Middelburg in May 1940. Only the printed maps survived. Luckily Unger had contributed before 1940 to some important editions of archival sources held at Middelburg. In an article from 1962 Unger gave a brief introduction to the ship journals. The Zeeuwse Bibliotheek has an online image database, and it hosts the project Zeeuwpost for some 600 digitized letters, a number of them with transcriptions, from Zeeland among the Prize Papers in the collection of the High Court of Admiralty at The National Archives, Kew.

New vistas to be explored

Last year I could applaud here the efforts of the Zeeuws Archief to tune the most used archival system in the Netherlands into creating a very simple and most useful list of all its digitized archival collections, an example still in need of swiftly copying by most other Dutch archives. The city archive in Amsterdam and the Nationaal Archief, The Hague, have created easy access for and visibility of their digitized collections. The disappearance of the voyage blog is only an example of the fragility of the internet infrastructure and the need to give finished projects a proper place within normal productivity, management and existence of any organization.

The archival collection of the CCvM / MCC should perhaps not be called unique, but with all its remaining riches and its online availability it is certainly a singularly important resource for Dutch Early Modern history enabling you to see the characteristics of the Dutch East and West Indies Companies in a different perspective. The recent computerized transcriptions of archival records of these trading companies made accessible at Zoeken in transcripties open new research possibilities for scholars worldwide. These archival records put slavery in its contemporary context, reminding us of the distances in perceptions, time and locations. The digitized records can bring you closer to dark periods in the past and show you developments and details that matter.

Three new databases for Roman law

Start screen Infames Romani, PoolCorpus

An aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting scholarly research was and is restricted access to archives, libraries and museums. Online materials became even more important for both teachers and students than they did already before 2020. Classicists have embraced the possibilities of the internet and grasped also the use of digital humanities to widen and deepen their research, and to present the results in often interesting ways. At my blog and website I try to find and follow projects with a connection to legal history. While updating and reassessing the information about Roman law on my website I encountered at least three databases that I had missed earlier on or are simply still rather new. I certainly would like to make here some amends for the times Roman law came only seldom here into view. Apart from a presentation of the three databases I will also briefly mention some of the latest additions to my links list for Roman law. In this year’s Open Access Week it is good to know these resources can be accessed freely.

The Romans and infamy

The first database I would like to present is Infames Romani, the project of Clément Bur hosted at the PoolCorpus platform of the Institut National Universitaire Champollion (Albi-Rodez-Castres). It was a pleasant surprise to find this new element on a platform created for hosting biographical and prosopographical databases which until recently focused on students at French universities, mainly during the Early Modern period. Clément Bur wrote his PhD thesis La citoyenneté dégradée : une histoire de l’infamie à Rome (312 av. J.-C. – 96 apr. J.-C.) (Rome 2018), published by the École française de Rome. The database builds on his thesis concerning citizens whose behaviour or position in society led to marking them or simply made them infamous. People not just lost certain civic rights, they were outright degraded also by humiliating and infamous penalties.

The database with 210 cases distinguishes six penalties, everyone of them with subcategories, and a number of general cases. You can search by name, period, the kind of penalty with additional subcategories. Bur limited his research to the late Roman Republic and the first century of the Roman empire. Entries contain the text or texts mentioning a person and references to scholarly literature. In this introduction to the database Bur explains concisely his scope and aim, his definition of persons affected by infamy. He indicates the main resourced used for his corpus, and he mentions a few specific categories not included.

Start screen Trials in the Late Roman Republic

Among the databases Bur used one deserves some attention here. I wonder how I had not seen earlier on the database for Trials in the Late Roman Republic based on Michael Alexander’s Trials in the Roman Republic 149 BC to 50 BC (1990; 2nd ed., 2007) and extended by him, Tracy Deline and Federico Russo with the cooperation of others. The creation of this website started already in 2014, and because it is not a new database I will mention it only briefly here. The book has been converted both to HTML and XML. You can search the database with an XPath form or with Balbus. A second version of the database is currently work in progress. The TLRR database contains 391 cases, treated very summarily, and thus in this succinct form it has clearly to be consulted in tandem with Alexander’s monograph, available as a PDF at the TLRR website.

Roman bastards, a title with a twist

Start screen Roman Bastards Database

The team behind the Roman Bastards Database surely has a very sharp definition of Roman bastards, illegitimate children, but I hesitated to put this database here as the first item. Its title might easily be seen by the general public as a project for studying the most horrible Romans with the lowest characters and most brutal manners, the kind of persons figuring as the bad guys in movies with Roman history as its background or pretext. In their database Maria Nowak and Małgorzata Krawczyk of the Uniwersytet Warszawski bring together evidence on illegitimate offspring during the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

This database allows both searching and browsing, the last way not yet for legal sources alas, and you can use the analytical tools section for creating graphs of the occurrence of terms or their geographical distribution. The database contains currently 1828 items. Information about persons is divided over eight fields. Eight other fields contain information about the source for this person, with information about the exact text, the role of the person in the source, its date and provenance, links to online sources and references to scholarly literature. My first impression is that this database allows detailed searching for its subject, with as a bonus when needed links to external resources such as inscriptions and papyri. Some elements are not yet up and running, for example the list of abbreviations. The team scores points with clear user instructions.

A textual database for Justinian’s Digest

The third database in this post comes not as an online relational database, and not even as web pages using PHP or MySQL. For the Justinian Digest Marton Ribrary (University of Surrey, Guildford) has developed in 2020 a relational database which you can download and install yourself. The SQLite database has been written in Python and comes with sample queries. Ribrary developed this database in 2020 clearly to facilitate the integration of the Digest’s text – taken from the well-known Amanuensis app for Roman law – with some other resources, in particular the data created by Tony Honoré about Roman lawyers and their language.

Ribrary notes there are at least five other online versions of the Justinian Digest. He aims at a more structured presentation allowing more than just philological research, but also use as an artificial intelligence resource. In my view it is in the end helpful to be able to access and use texts in different formats. They allow for different approaches. Of course I added to my website the versions of the Digest in online libraries with Latin texts which did not yet figure on it. By mistake Ribrary suggests the Perseus Digital Library has a digital text of the Digesta. The Corpus Iuris Civilis is only part of its catalogue of texts.

A quick look at some recent additions

The typical thing to do with my web page for Roman law was first of all repairing broken links, a never ending task. During searches for correct URL’s I sometimes discover new projects well worth including, too, and this redeems my efforts. The section with the various original texts for Roman law needed a clearer layout. When necessary translations in print have been separated from digital versions.

This month I checked again the DigilibLT: Biblioteca digitali di testi latini tardoantichi created at the Università di Piemonte Orientale. Earlier on no legal texts from Late Antiquity were present at this portal, but in 2020 this has changed. The DigilibLT comes with an Italian and English interface. You can both read – and after registration download – several legal texts as PDF or TEI files. There is a PDF in English with an overview of the texts included and the editions used.

Among online journals for Roman Legal history The Journal of Juristic Papyrology deserved a place. It appears since 1946 and available in open access. In the section with bibliographies I could add TOCS-IN: Tables of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists, hosted by the University of Toronto and the Université Catholique de Louvain, an online service with both an English and a French search interface. After adding the first two databases discussed here it was only logical to add the Prosopographia Imperii Romani of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the database version of the biographical lexicon for the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

My web page ends with a number of online resources and portals helping you to find quickly texts, tools and other materials concerning classical Antiquity. I was much impressed by the commented list presented as Open access resources in 2020 and 2021 by the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, London. The section on law could be a bit more extensive, but for other subjects the choice of links offers a splendid fleet of resources now available in open access, for example for subjects such as epigraphy and papyrology. This list is a good reminder that only by looking wide and far, and sometimes quite close to your own town or country other scholars and institutions make great efforts to help the scholarly community at large. Gaps and omissions can be filled when you look around carefully, but also by the help of kind people alerting others to things that might be of interest to them. I would like to hear, too, about such things! Hopefully this spirit of cooperation will remain a cherished and stable element, too, in the present world where individualism can steer you away from communicating with others.

Grotius through students’ eyes

During summer some lighter subjects can come into view, but sometimes you suddenly notice something well worth looking at. In order to protect you from too much centenary celebrations I try to choose every year just a few of them. A new virtual exhibit concerning Hugo Grotius starts with a winning title, Grotius: A life between freedom and oppression has been launched in March 2021 by Leiden University Library on a new platform for its web presentations. One of the most celebrated historic events in the canon of Dutch history is the escape of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) from castle Loevestein in 1621 where he was imprisoned as the chief follower of the late Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the statesman who had done so much in creating the blossoming Dutch Republic. An exhibition in Amersfoort on Van Oldenbarnevelt and prince Maurits (Maurice) came into view here a few years ago, and just like in that summer post a particular historical object will figure here. The matters under discussion here are in the end not just light-weight, and thus I finished this post only in autumn.

A canonical figure in Dutch legal history

Before you sigh at the prospect of going on well-trodden paths with me you should know nine students of Leiden University College in The Hague prepared the virtual exhibit in English. Together with their supervisors Hanne Cuyckens and Jacqueline Hylkema they did choose five focal points which are just different enough to make you curious again about Grotius. In the first section, Leiden, the student, he forming years of the child prodigy form the subject. Grotius matriculated at Leiden in 1594 at the age of ten years. For each subject a number of objects are shown, in this case for example the matriculation register, a portrait of Grotius at fifteen, the earliest printed map of Leiden and a portrait of the famous philologist Joseph Justus Scaliger, the best known teacher of Grotius. Grotius started at Leiden with literary studies, not with jurisprudence, freedom indeed for this child prodigy to develop himself in many directions. In 1598 he obtained his doctoral degree in law at Orléans.

In the second section we do not jump at once to his major publications such as Mare Liberum (1609), followed by De iure belli ac pacis (1625) and the Inleidinghe tot de Hollandsche rechtsgeleerdheid (1631). Even a young superstar as Grotius had to immerse himself in at least one subject not just in learned books and contemporary theory, but also in daily practice. Grotius was admitted in 1599 as an advocate to the Hof van Holland, the high court of Holland in The Hague. His position as a lawyer made him for Van Oldenbarnevelt the obvious candidate to set out at length the Dutch position on the freedom of the seas. Already in 1598 Grotius accompanied him on a embassy to France, and afterwards the two men stayed in contact with each other. In this section there is also attention for Grotius’ religious views articulated in his work Ordinum pietas (1613). It put him firmly on the side of the Remonstrant movement favored also by Oldenbarnevelt.

Cste Loevestein - image Wikimedia Commons
Castle Loevestein – image Wikimedia Commons

The third section brings you to Grotius’ imprisonment at Loevestein Castle on ground of his religious and political views. The castle is placed on a marvelous strategic spot in the Rhine delta where several of its branches come together. The nearby towns of Gorinchem and Woudrichem are not easily reached. The background with the execution of Oldenbarnevelt in 1619 gets due attention, as are his religious views. You can also look at two letters. When you try to navigate to subsequent items this does not always function correctly. I had expected a link to the online version of the edition of Grotius’ correspondence at the portal of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam nor to the version at its philological platform Textual Scholarship or to the catalogue at Early Modern Letters Online, but you can look at scans of original letters held at Leiden. The project Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-Century Dutch Republic could be added as well.

At Loevestein Grotius was allowed to borrow books from Leiden university library. These books were transported in a large and heavy chest. Hidden in the book chest Grotius could famously escape on March 22, 1621 from castle Loevestein. In 2020 a part of the television series created by the Rijksmuseum on Historisch bewijs (Historical evidence) was devoted to establishing which book chest of three chests held at the Rijksmuseum, Loevestein and Museum Prinsenhof in Delft was probably the original book chest. The chest in Delft has suitable dimensions and a more reliable provenance from the Graswinckel family who was closely connected to the De Groot family in Delft, but no evidence was adduced to confirm its actual use beyond any doubt. Thus the chest is a kind of objet de mémoire connected with an almost mythical heroic story, and the natural point of focus at castle Loevestein, a typical nationalist lieu de mémoire on a beautiful spot at the point where the Waal branch of the Rhine and a branch of the Meuse come together.

In the fourth section of the online exhibit we arrive with Grotius as an exile in Paris. In this town he completed his treatise De iure belli ac pacis. Apart from letters and a map of Paris poetry by Grotius and a poem by Joost van den Vondel come into view here.

The autograph manuscript of  "De iure praedae"  (Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917) - image Leiden University Library
The autograph manuscript of “De iure praedae” – Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917 – image Leiden University Library

The fifth and final section of the virtual exhibit deals with the major treatise by Grotius on prize law, De iure praedae. The Leiden manuscript BPL 917 is the sole handwritten and even autograph witness to the text of Grotius’ treatise on prize law and booty composed between 1604 and 1609. Only one chapter was published during his life as Mare Liberum (1609). The restoration of this manuscript and the subsequent digitization for the full digital edition published in 2015 are the very heart of this section.

By choosing four actual locations – Leiden, The Hague, Loevestein and Paris – the nine students succeed easily in freeing Grotius from a too narrow view of him as only a figure in Dutch history who became first a victim of religious strife and later on a figure head in the struggle for tolerance. These backgrounds do matter indeed. No doubt some Dutch people will be surprised to find the article on Grotius in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its rich bibliography. He is regarded as the very founder of natural law. Thus there is an entry for Grotius, too, in the database Natural Law 1625-1850, one of the fruits of a research project of the universities at Halle, Erfurt and Bayreuth. By showing not just works by Grotius, and not only his legal works, but also his poems and a treatise on religion, the students show him as a major intellectual in European history. You might with me deplore the lack of further links or an essential bibliography, but there is surely a place for the approach chosen for this virtual exhibit.

Recently Leiden University launched a new platform for its online exhibits. Among the digital collections of Leiden University Library is a section with nearly fifty virtual exhibitions; in some cases only a PDF remains available.

As for creating a Grotius Year the museum Loevestein can readily be pardoned for seeking a way to attract visitors after the corona lockdowns in the Netherlands. The website for the public events around the Grotius commemoration does mention his importance as a lawyer, diplomat and theologian. Themes as the freedom of thought and religious tolerance are vitally relevant in our contemporary world. Showing things have been very different in the past shakes (young) people free from thinking the present has always been there as a a most natural thing.

In earlier posts about Grotius, in particular the one about a rare early edition of De iure beli ac pacis, I provided information about his main legal works concerning the first printed editions, modern editions, translations and digital versions. I would like to point again to the presence of text versions and seventeenth-century or modern translations into Dutch for a number of his works at the portal of the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL). In the DBNL you can find also digital versions of numerous older publications about Grotius, and the entry for his historical works by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem in their work on Early Modern Dutch historiography, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 (The Hague 1990).

The riches of the Peace Palace Library

Logo Peace Palace Library

The Peace Palace Library (PPL) in The Hague is the natural starting point for any research on Hugo Grotius. Lately this library has put its digital collections on a new separate platform, but for some silly reason the actual URL is not easily found at the website of the PPL, as are alas some other web addresses. A few years ago I wrote here about the Scheldt River collection which now can be found, too, at this new platform. It seems the PPL provides for each collection on this platform a special page with the correct link. However, there is no page or news item for the new platform itself, or maybe it has only to be added to the top bar menu. A platform with eight interesting collections in open access merits a place in the spotlights.

The PPL contributes two collections in open access to LLMC Digital, but no direct links are give on the PPL’s special page for its collections at LLMC Digital. It is only fair to say that finding these collections at the LLMC portal is a feat in itself. So far my attempts to locate them simply failed. Both LLMC Digital and the website of the PPL lack a general search function and a sitemap. The collections at both websites deserve better accessibility. As for the licensed digital collections and also for the databases accessible through the PPL you might contemplate acquiring a library card of this library. For this choice, too, hving a clear overview of digitized materials and their access is most practical.

Grotius figures of course also on the website of the PPL, starting with the chat function called Ask Hugo! The web page on the Grotius Collection tells you about the general background and the famous bibliography by Ter Meulen and Diermanse [J. ter Meulen and P.P.J. Diermanse (eds.), Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (The Hague 1950)] and a more recent catalogue of the PPL’s holdings of works by Grotius. Instead of the direct link to the licensed Grotius Collection Online: Printed Works of Brill only a link to the title in the PPL library catalogue is provided, yet another minor howler. In fact this digital collection contains also numerous works dealing with Old Dutch law, and I would even single it out as a very representative selection of legal books from the Dutch Republic brought most conveniently together. A research guide for Grotius would be a welcome addition to the thirty existing online guides on the website of the Peace Palace Library. A quick search for a nutshell guide to Grotius brought me only to a very concise guide created by the Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia. It is sensible to look at the Grotius pages of Wikipedia in several languages.

Gaining a wider view

I would like to end this post constructively, and not with criticism on defects. Grotius belongs to the group of thinkers students and scholars cannot approach completely straightforward. Often there is abundant scholarly activity, there might be opposing schools and roads of interpretation and across linguistic borders studies can take refreshing turns closed to those staying content with Anglo-American scholarship. Luckily regularly guides are published in the form of essay volumes by an international team of distinguished scholars to bridge such gaps and bring together different views and themes surrounding a major thinker. In September 2021 the Cambridge Companion to Hugo Grotius appeared in print and online, edited by Randall Lesaffer and Janne Nijman. Interestingly this seems to be the first companion volume to Grotius. There is not yet A Very Short Introduction on Grotius from Oxford, presumably exactly because his versatility can hardly be sufficiently shown in a slim volume by a single author. Hopefully different views on Grotius find space in the scholarly journal Grotiana with apart for the printed version some articles published online in open access.

Logo Open Access Week

This year’s International Open Access Week will take place from October 25 to 31, 2021. The existence of a number of vital online resources for doing research on Grotius only accessible as licensed resources, most often through the services of libraries, diminishes the chances for those outside the circle of blessed beneficiaries to learn more about Grotius or about other major intellectuals whose thought changed the world forever. Institutions not caring or simply forgetting to provide even links to their own digital collections, be they in open or licensed access, should reflect on their duties and capacities to help both scholars and the general public. Of course in some cases it is a matter of discommunication or worse between for example a library staff, a project leader and the communication officers.

It might seem seducing to bring your collections under the flag of a prestigious publishing company, but if this means closing access to your priceless possessions for most of the world the ultimate blame should be in my view on their original holder. In my view individual scholars, scholarly communities, publishers and research institutions, including university presses, all have their own ongoing responsibility to discuss matters concerning access scholarly publications. In actual life both institutions with digitized resources and publishers increasingly offer digitized materials both in licensed and in open access, depending on their policies. Hopefully solutions can be found to create and assure wider access whenever possible and feasible for us and future generations interested in the versatile mind of Grotius and the impact of his works through the centuries. Sailing oceans with free, affordable and sustainable access to research resources would be most helpful to achieve this aim.

Rays of light on illuminated legal manuscripts

Flyer "The illuminated legal manuscript" (detail)

At the start of a new academic year scholarly events, too, start to occur, sometimes already again as live events, but more often as online meetings of scholars. From September 22 to 25, 2021 an online conference took place concerning The illuminated legal manuscript from the Middle Ages to the digital age. Forms, iconographies, materials, uses and cataloguing. Three institutions cooperated to organize this event, the Ius Illuminatum research team led by Maria Alessandra Bilotta (Lisbon), the Biblioteca capitolare di Vercelli and the Biblioteca capitolare di Verona. With its eight sessions and various key note lectures on different themes connected with medieval legal manuscripts and art history this conference addressed a wider audience than just art historians and specialists in legal iconography or medieval book production, and thus fit for a post here. Last week my own time schedule made it impossible for me to follow all sessions, and therefore only a number of themes will come into the spotlights here. Hopefully other participants, too, will report on this interesting event.

Focus on the Mediterranean

Surely one of the most visible aspects of this conference is the partnership for this conference between scholars and two libraries crossing national borders. The Ius Illuminatum team at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa is known for the research by Maria Alessandra Bilotta on medieval illuminated legal manuscripts created in Southern France, in particular in Toulouse. The library in Vercelli is famous for the Vercelli Mappamundi, the Vercelli Book with texts in Anglo-Saxon, and two manuscripts containing the Leges Langobardorum. The library in Verona is renown for its holdings with a number of medieval manuscripts and in particular palimpsests as unique witnesses to texts form classical Antiquity, foremost among them the Institutes of Gaius. Both libraries have also a museum. A live virtual tour of the library in Vercelli focusing on two manuscripts was a nice addition to the conference.

Let’s briefly look at the themes of the sessions. Manuscripts held in Salamanca, manuscripts from France kept in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, legal manuscripts in Salamanca and Naples were the subject of the first session centered around libraries. In the second section a number of individual case studies were grouped together. The third section focused on legal iconography. The cataloguing of (illuminated) legal manuscripts was the theme in the fourth session. The fifth session with just one contribution looked at vulgarisation of law. Medieval city statutes were presented in the sixth session. Two special sessions were devoted respectively to the materiality of illuminated legal manuscripts and to the connection of heraldry to medieval law and illuminated manuscripts. In my view bringing together these themes is already most useful to raise awareness about their interconnections and limitations.

A number of keynote lectures could theoretically be placed within a particular session, but it was perhaps right to set them apart. The lecture by Susanne Wittekind (Universität Köln) stand out for its dense information and insightful comparison of the manuscript illumination in the Codex Albedensis, a tenth-century manuscript at the Escorial with at first sight just a miscellaneous collection of texts, and the Tercer Llibre Verd, a manuscript with statutes of Barcelona, also discussed by Rose Alcoy (Universitat de Barcelona). The miscellany is in fact a well-structured manuscript showing graphically a legal and graphic order of legal and religious texts. Making comparisons and structuring your presentation were elements definitely missing in some presentations without the use of slides, as was being aware of the limited number of themes you can address within thirty minutes, and awareness of the need for structure and clear questions.

The importance of repertories and catalogues

Logo Manus OnLine, ICCU

One of the limitations for studying medieval legal illuminated manuscripts is the state of catalogues and repertories for this genre. It was therefore most welcome to hear a lecture by Gero Dolezalek (University of Aberdeen) on the current state of affairs of the Manuscripta Juridica database in Frankfurt am Main. Only a few canon law manuscripts have yet been entered in this database originally devised for manuscripts with Roman legal texts and commentaries up to 1600. Sadly it seems little progress has been made in the past few years. Illumination has not been consequently recorded. At Turin Maria Alessandra Panzanelli Fratoni is working at two interrelated projects, a new portal called IVS Commune Online, to be launched in October 2021, with an integration of data on manuscripts and early printed editions from existing online resources, and a new section of the Italian manuscript portal MANUS, called MANUSIuridica. The main strengths of these two promising projects are the thorough conceptual preparation. It is not yet clear when MANUSIuridica will become accessible. In this section Andrea Padovani (Bologna) talked about the new phase and face of the project Irnerio with digitized legal manuscripts at the Colegio di Spagna in Bologna – presented here many years ago – and Silvio Pucci (independent scholar) about the online version of the catalogue for the juridical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati in Siena.

It is important to remember the study of medieval canon law still faces the lack of a full manuscript repertory, a paradoxical fact after the appearance of the model given by Stephan Kuttner in his Repertorium der Kanonistik 1140-1234, I, Prodromus glossarum (Città del Vaticano, 1937). Was his level simply too high to follow for others, or did it simply led to a strong and not completely justifiable focus on the classic period of medieval canon law? Luckily we have for the early Middle Ages the excellent guide by Lotte Kéry, Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages, ca. 400-1140: A biographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, DC, 1999).

Legal iconography and heraldry

In the section for the more classic legal iconography papers were read about the illustration of the two powers at the beginning of manuscripts with the Decretum Gratiani (Gianluca del Monaco, Bologna), accompanying the very incipit Humanum genus, the iconography of last wills in some manuscripts of the Institutiones Iustiniani and the Digest (Viviane Persi, Lille), the representation of public justice in the Vidal Mayor (Rogerio Ribeiro Tostes, Evora), and the development of legal iconography in medieval Scandinavia (Stefan Drechsler, Bergen).

The very last section dealt with a subject often associated with medieval law, heraldry and the use of distinctive signs by knights and noble families, but interestingly medieval law did not set clear norms for unique claims on the use of a particular blason or sign. In 2012 I looked here at this very theme. Bartolus de Sassoferrato (1313-1357) did certainly influence later lawyers with his most often copied treatise De insignis et armis, but in particular Martin Sunnqvist (Lunds Universitet) made it refreshingly clear that his treatise does not help us to understand the rise of heraldry from the twelfth century onwards. The lecture of João Portugal (Instituto Português de Heráldica) on Early Modern heraldic rights in Portugal showed essentially how showing relation with the king was as important as having a official blason at all. Matteo Ferrari (Universit;e de Namur) took us to a painting at the Palazzo di Comune in San Gimignano with a deliberate use of heraldic arms above the text of an important ruling around 1300.

Coutumes de Toulouse, circa 1296 - Paris, BnF, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail)
Coutumes de Toulouse, around 1296 – Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail) – image BnF

Finally Laurent Macé (Université de Toulouse) looked at the use of earlier blasons from the former county and the counts of Toulouse in a manuscript with the Coutumes de Toulouse from the late thirteenth century (Paris, BnF, ms.latin 9187). Macé argued these blasons and other signs helped showing continuity to readers in a new period under the French crown.

The forest and the trees

Even with only a partial review of lectures and keynotes the variety of this online conference with an attendance between twenty and forty scholars cannot be doubted. For those thinking the choice of subjects is too wide or simply unfocused the contribution of Carlo Federici (Scuola di Biblioteconomia, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) on the archaeology of the book served as a necessary reminder how leading palaeographers and codicologists in the second half of the twentieth century advocated an integral approach of medieval manuscripts, archival records and book production, away from a choice for studying only either texts, scripts, bindings or scriptoria.

The materiality of manuscripts matters indeed. Thus in my view Including a lecture on legal fragments kept at the Archivio di Stato di Arezzo by Maura Mordini (Università di Siena) is not a bow to what someone in 2021 jokingly called the minor industry of studying fragments. Far more often than we are willing to acknowledge we forget you deal with traces and fragments per se when studying history. So many things are irrecoverably lost forever or only seldom in front of us. Not every tiny bit is important, but there are bits and pieces pointing to larger contexts. As for projects with fragments, I try to list relevant projects, catalogues and exhibit catalogues concerning medieval fragments as part of my Glossae blog on pre-accursian glosses.

Banner Ius Illuminatum

As for the materiality of an online scholarly event, I would not recommend following the example of organizing a full program of sessions from nine to seven with only brief breaks. The quality of the internet connection forced the permanent closure of the video screens of non-speaking participants, a fact which greatly reduces the interaction. There was no virtual lobby, too. In this respect my view is surely influenced by the example of the online event at Frankfurt am Main on digital legal history in March reviewed here. Ensuring sufficient band width and creating a separate online social platform is perhaps a matter of calling upon the appropriate national institution dealing with such matters, yet another thing rightly taken into consideration by the German organizing team. The teams in LIsbon, Vercelli and Verona deserve respect for bringing together scholars from various disciplines and casting its nets wide, With this in mind you should view my remarks on things that could be better in a second similar conference which will no doubt follow soon. The rays of light on illustrations and illumination at this conference contain a promise of more to come.

The birth of a benevolent state? Fighting poverty, cultural heritage and legal history

Aerial photo of Veenhuizen - image Miranda Drenth

In July 2021 no less than three historic sites in the Netherlands, actually three groups of sites and buildings, have been officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Dutch part of the Lower German limes, the northern frontier of the Roman empire, the defense line of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie with water, sluices and fortifications around Holland from Amsterdam to Dordrecht, and the Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the “Colonies of Benevolence”, a number of settlements for poor people who could escape from slums and start to build a new life working hard in the northern province Drenthe. Both the limes and the Waterlinie have figured here already long ago. Last year I mentioned the Koloniën van Weldadigheid briefly in a post on Dutch digital archives. This nineteenth-century project deserves more attention here.

Not just fighting poverty

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

The Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the Colonies of Benevolence, should attract attention with their very name. The use of the word benevolence surely rings a bell and points to some larger governmental objective or aim. The word colony should serve as a remainder these settlements were developed during a colonial period in Dutch history. After the French Revolution it was a near miracle space should have been given to a new Dutch state. The old Dutch Republic had given away for a revolutionary republic, but soon afterwards its territory became just a number of departments in the Napoleonic empire. Mainly thanks to a few politicians, among them Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, a new Dutch kingdom including both present-day Belgium and the Netherlands could come into existence in 1814 and gain European recognition at the Congress of Vienna.

Portrait of Johannes van den Bosch, around 1829 – painting by Cornelis Kruseman – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Colonies of Benevolence were created under the strict supervision of general Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844). Van den Bosch served between 1798 and 1808 with the Dutch army in the Dutch East Indies. On his way back to Europe he was taken prisoner by the British. Only in 1813 he returned to the new Dutch kingdom. In 1818 he started with his plan to start opening the wildernesses of the province Drenthe for agriculture. Adding settlements for poor people was a secondary development. In 1823 he became a government official. After a year in the Dutch West Indies he became the governor-general of the East Indies (1828-1834), and from 1834 to 1839 he served as a minister of the colonies. In the East Indies he introduced the cultuurstelsel, a system of forced labor on plantations bringing much profit to Dutch firms, investors and state finances. His life was indeed a matter of colonies and forms a part of Dutch colonial history. The recent biography by Angelie Sens, De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019) aptly called him in its title a colony man.

A strange mixture

A farm in Veenhuizen - photo by Miranda Drenth
A farm in Veenhuizen – photo Miranda Drenth

The Colonies of Benevolence included four locations in Drenthe (Veenhuizen, Wilhelminaoord, Frederiksoord, and Boschoord), two in Overijssel (Willemsoord and Ommerschans), and two in Belgium, Wortel and Merksplas. In 1818 Van den Bosch founded a private organisation, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid, for his agricultural plan. Already in 1819 a first pilot colony was formed at the Westerbeek estate in Frederiksoord. There is a separate website for the museum of this colony, the Proefkolonie. Veenhuizen (1823) and Merksplas (1822) were founded as penal colonies. Since 2018 Veenhuizen is home to the Nationaal Gevangenismuseum, and Merksplas, too, has become a prison museum. Van den Bosch’s society founded also two agricultural schools.

The history of these places is certainly colorful, and thus it is interesting to look at the motivation for entering them into the World Heritage Register. On July 27, 2021 the Dutch UNESCO branch published a web page about the registration of the colonies. Kathleen Ferrier, member of the Dutch committee and a politician, stressed the uniqueness of the initiative to help people breaking with poverty and building a new existence for themselves, even if the colonies did not succeed immediately in abandoning poverty. She views it as an experiment in social history. The registration of the World Heritage Centre rightly uses more sober and meaningful wordings. Urban poor were relocated to a far away region. The original colonies failed to get sufficient income, and thus the scheme was developed to bring in beggars and to found two special penal colonies. There were guards to supervise the doings of people. At its highest point some 11,000 people lived in the Dutch colonies, and some 6,000 people in the two Belgian settlements. Very revealing is the original geometrical pattern of the colonies. The word panoptical serves as a reminder of Jeremy Bentham’s proposals for prison reform.

The international UNESCO website does not mention the existence of archival records digitized by the Drents Archief. Last year I wrote briefly about Alle Kolonisten (All Colonists, the nifty subset of the project Alle Drenten. These digitized records can even be searched with an English search interface. Archives are mentioned in the English nomination dossier (2020; PDF, 21 MB) where you can find also a rich bibliography, but without any reference to the exact archival inventories at the Drents Archief. Luckily the website Alle Kolonisten figures at page 164, and at the website the inventories are duly listed, as are records elsewhere not included among the digitized records. The dossier makes space for Bentham (pp. 78-81), and also for foreign initiatives inspired by the Dutch colonies, and not just for the French project at Mettray with among its directors Alexis de Tocqueville, but also for instance the Innere Mission in Hamburg (pp. 165-170).

Walking though the Colonies of Benevolence

This post is my first contribution after a silence of three months. I will not bother you with a full explanation, I have been simply busy doing other things, in particular describing archival records. One of the much missed recurring features at my blog is the walking historian. As a small solace I will look here with you at two students who made a walking tour of the Netherlands in 1823. Dirk van Hogendorp (1797-1845), a law student who was the son of the renown politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, and Jacob van Lennep (1802-1868), the brilliant son of a professor of classics and history at the Amsterdam Athenaeum, wrote respectively a concise diary and letters, and an extensive diary. In 2000 appeared an edition in modernized Dutch of these travel accounts, De zomer van 1823. Lopen met Van Lennep. Dagboek van zijn voetreis door Nederland, edited by Geert Mak and Marita Mathijsen (Zwolle 2000; revised edition, 2017). In 2000 Geert Mak also presented a television series of his attempt at walking in the traces of Van Lennep and Van Hogendorp. You can still watch online the two episodes on the colonies (no. 5, “Charity and discomfort”, and no 6, “Who does not work will not eat”).

Start screen "De voetreis"- Huygens Institute/ING

People were generally quite aware of the high rank of both young men making in 1823 a kind of inspection tour of their country, no doubt reporting about their meetings and views to authorities and influential people. Actually the two men walked only in the northern half of the Netherlands. On July 5 they visited Frederiksoord, and on July 15 they saw Ommerschans. As graphic as their reports of the meetings at both colonies is their description of the backward province Drenthe with in many parts scarcely any normal road. Before getting the status of a province Drenthe had been often called just a landschap (landscape) … The digitized versions of Van Hogendorp’s and Van Lennep’s diaries can now be found at the resources subdomain of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam.

In this post I tried to kindle your interest in a transnational project for social reform with a clear legal component, the foundation of penal colonies at a safe distance of urban society.The remaining buildings in the Netherlands and Belgium form indeed cultural heritage with many dimensions. The archival heritage needed to be highlighted here. The two Leiden students looking at the colonies in 1823 were definitely among the Dutch urban upper class, and it is their very bias, too, which makes their views interesting for historians. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic period the new Dutch kingdom had a hard time awakening from it and assessing its position. What could serve the new state best? King Willem I acted as an autocrat with patriarchal characteristics, and Van den Bosch’s plans suited him. The general’s plan showed a military grip on people and things. The royal benevolence served first of all the king, and much less the nation, apart from his canal building scheme.

What became of the two walking students? Van Hogendorp became a lawyer serving as a substitute attorney-general and as a judge at two courts. Van Lennep became a prolific writer and a society figure, taking up causes and getting involved in a cause célèbre, the publication of the pamphlet-like novel by Eduard Douwes Dekker about the exploitation of the Javanese by the Dutch government, and at the same time depriving its author of his copyright. The history of the Colonies of Benevolence shows a state doing an attempt at social engineering, and at the same time colonizing its own rural interior. This history helps you to look sharper for the impact of having a colonial empire, and it is great to detect numerous wider connections and intersections in it.

Bringing together European historical bibliographies

Logo European Historical Bibliographies

Making lists and overviews is one of my typical habits. I am always glad to find online overviews of projects and websites or portals to an entire range of projects. Thus every now and then I used the portal European Historical Bibliographies (HistBib), hosted by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW). Only last week I saw this portal had been archived on January 14, 2021. It is clear I do not regularly use this portal, but having quick access to these historical bibliographies can be most useful. In this post I will report on my efforts to find a similar commented overview of these important online resources, because using the right bibliography can make a huge difference for your research. Almost all reources I mention are accessible in open access. Among other reasons to create a new list is the fact yet again a relevant database, the Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis, will disappear in its current form in July 2021.

More than a dozen

Banner European Historical Bibliographies

When using HistBib my impression was always that it covered more or less some twenty countries, but I should have looked more closely. For Germany five bibliographies were shown. HistBib contained bibliographies for only twelve countries with an additional bibliography for Eastern Europe. It soon becomes clear a number of links had not been updated, nor had there been any effort to widen its scope to cover more countries. Reading at the portal about a conference on historical bibliographies organized by the BBAW did not lighten up my mood, because this, too, did not work as a spur to update the portal and to maintain correct links to bibliographies and contributing organisations. Perhaps the portal was more a project for a couple of years than a lasting and durable presence in the virtual world. However, the BBAW does continue its online bibliographic service for the Jahresberichte für deutsche Geschichte.

Surely one of the leading thoughts to end the HistBib portal can have been the assumption that it is easy to find these European historical bibliographies with the Great and Omnipresent search firm. Surely some national libraries would provide the kind of list I expected, but often these institutions refer to HistBib. The news of its closure travels slow! In many other cases libraries put a small number of historical bibliographies in a list with often only an alphabetical order. Retaining the original names which are not necessarily in English is not helping you to find easily the right item, and often any comment is lacking, let alone an indication of open or licensed access.

Although telling the full tale of my brief quest for a complete overview replacing HistBib would be instructive, I think it is better to help you here with examples of a few helpful lists and commented overviews, and adding at the end my own concisely annotated list of current online historical bibliographies for a larger number of European countries.

Historicum, the portal with the Deutsche Historische Bibliographie, one of the five online bibliographies for German history, does you the service of not only mentioning the other four, and the twelve country bibliographies available at HistBib, but also links to other bibliographies for German history and further relevant resources. Heuristiek, the portal for historical heuristics at Ghent University, has a page with bibliographies for Early Modern history, alas only in alphabetical order and without comments, but at least with indications of those bibliographies only accessibie for staff and students of Ghent University. Another Belgian university, the Université de Liège, has in its Guide bibliographique en Histoire a page Bibliographies transpériodes with in clear sections both national and historical bibliographies for a number of European countries. The page contains a fair amount of useful comments and indications about bibliographies in print and online. For Scandinavian countries the Safir portal of Lund University proved most helpful. The page on Bok- och bibliothesväsen contains in clear sections with commented links what you expect from a research institution, inluding useful cross references.

It was a joy to see that the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford put in a blog post published in 2009 about an online bibliography for Spanish history a generous list of other similar online bibliographies. A few years ago I applauded here the online guides for British legal history created by the Bodleian Libraries. However, this information at first seemed not to have been included at the main website or in its LibGuides. In fact it looked like some of these bibliographies could not be traced at all at this website or in the research guides. Enter Oxford Bibliographies, but alas I could not quickly detect in this rich resource the kind of list provided elswehere in Oxford. In this case I hope sincerely I did not search properly, and I would be glad to put things right; luckily I could rather quickly find an overview for nine countries in the research guide of the Bodleian for Early Modern history.

One list?

My search for an overview at least giving you the information at HistBib was not as straightforward as you might like it to be. Among the most helpful resources are databases, but you are tempted to skip them because they do not always show up readily for online search engines. The German Datenbank-Infosystem (DBIS) proved to be helpful. The search results lead to separate pages with well-organized information about resources. Although sometimes you approach subjects from a more general level this does help you to broaden your vision.

The main answer to the question of finding one list is in the end simply negative. For some countries there is currently not any online historical bibliography, or even not one in print, or not anymore. Some countries were for centuries part of another country. Iceland in particular is an example. Some countries are too small to make efforts for a separate historical bibliography sensible at all, sometimes a historical bibliography has been integrated into a national bibliography or search portal. Often you will want to find literature for a particular period in European history or for a period in the history of a single country or a region. Using national bibliographies can mean you face nationalist influences, but you cannot evade nationalism by simply ignoring its existence. Creating a commented list of national bibliographies comes with the clear need for some annotation about creators, hosting institutions, time range and the presence of interface in more than one language. I am afraid I cannot immediately succeed in offering all these elements in my own attempt at a list. Many online research guides with a page for online bibliographies mention also union catalogues and digital libraries, and even mix them with each other. To me this seems a failure to see the need for clear distinction between national bibliographies, historical bibliographies, national meta-catalogues and digital portals. It is not just a matter of personal taste that information becomes more valuable by its structure, presentation and annotation.

In my memory in the eighties going to the card catalogue at Utrecht University Library implied you had to pass first the stacks with printed bibliographies. Thus even if you did not use them you could not be totally unaware of them. Faithful readers will recognize my quib about those people who know and use bibliographies and those who do not. I suppose this memory influences me in wanting to see or create this overview. You might think I prefer web pages with relevant information, but having tagged information in a database is more powerful. Over the years I have become more aware of the hard work done by librarians, catalogers and bibliographers to help scholars. Bibliographical resources can be extremely helpful for your research, not in the least by showing you contexts and the fact you can build on or critically review earlier relevant publications. Bibliographies are as important as (meta-)-catalogues and online repositories. 

A provisional list

While working on this post and gathering information concerning online historical country bibliographies I surely realized bibliographies in print can still be very important, too. The list here below has a clear focus as one of its qualities. Another wish for creating a similar list of online bibliographies for legal history for particular, too, grew on my mind. I do mention some examples on my legal history website Rechtshistorie, mainly on the pages for digital libraries, the history of the common law and Old Dutch law. However that may be, I prefer to stick to the purpose of this post. As for the new list with for now just concise comments and indications, it is surely open for comments, corrections and enhancements, and I am still contemplating the right permanent spot for it, perhaps here at the page with research guides. At my website the page for digital libraries seems the logical location, because you can find there already useful overviews of gateways to official gazettes, constitutions, foreign treaties, and a number of bibliographies for early printed books. A search for a bibliography for early printed books from Sweden eventually led to this post and this list, however uneven and in some details surely amusing, too. It is funny to see at least one database which has been integrated into another one some years ago yet still existing also on its own. It is disturbing to note the second bibliography for this country is scheduled for disappearance in its current form by June 30, 2021. In this respect my Dutch view in this post is not happy.

The opening of this list with two websites for Eastern Europe is a tribute to online research portals for Eastern European and Slavic studies. I was much impressed by the country guides for this region created by the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

A postscript

Amazingly the HistBib portal could again be visited at is old web address in November 2021, without any modification. The Dutch Royal Library announced the DBNG will eventually resurface as part of the Dutch GGC cataloguing system hosted by OCLC, without indicating a timeline or a new URL. Here below I added a resource for finding articles on Icelandic history.

European historical bibliographies online

Eastern Europe

Bibliotheks- und Bibliographie-Portal, Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung, Marburg – https://hds.hebis.de/herder/index.php – publications since 1994
The European Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies (EBSEES) – https://ebsees.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ – functioning between 1991 and 2007, no longer updated; interface English

Austria

Österreichische Historische Bibliographie (ÖHB), Universität Klagenfurt – http://oehb.aau.at/ – from 1945 onwards

Belgium

Bibliografie van de Geschiedenis van België / Bibliographie de l’Histoire de Belgique (BGB-BHB) – http://www.rbph-btfg.be/nl_biblio.html – covers 1952-2008; interface Dutch, French and English
BGB-BHB, Archives de l’État en Belgiquehttps://biblio.arch.be/webopac/Vubis.csp?Profile=BHBBGB&OpacLanguage=dut – publications since 2009; interface Dutch, French, German and English

Czech Republic

Bibliografie dějin Českých zemí (BDCZ), Czech Academy of Sciences – https://biblio.hiu.cas.cz/ – interface Czech, English and German – with also digitized bibliographical yearbooks 

Denmark

Dansk Historisk Bibliografi , Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen- https://aleph.kb.dk/F/?func=file&file_name=welcome&local_base=dhb01

France

Bibliographie annuelle de l’Histoire de France (BHF), CNRS and Bibliothèque nationale de France – https://biblio-bhf.fr/ – search interface in English

Germany

Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JBG), Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften – http://jdgdb.bbaw.de/cgi-bin/jdg/cgi-bin/jdg – publications 1949-2015; interface German and English
Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JDG), BBAW, Berlin – vol. 1-14 (1925-1938) – http://pom.bbaw.de/JDG/
Historische Bibliographie Online, Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag and Arbeitsgemeeinschaft historischer Forschungseinrichtungen (AHF) – https://historische-bibliographie.degruyter.com/ – publications since 1990, no longer updated since 2015
Deutsche Historische Bibliographie (DHB), Historicum – https://www.historicum.net/dhb/ – with links to other (regional) bibliographies, in particular the Virtuelle Deutsche Landesbibliographie, and other bibliographic resources – a simple search in the search field of the top menu bar leads to the beta version of an interface in German and English
Bibliographischer Informationsdienst, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich – https://www.ifz-muenchen.de/bibliothek/literatursuche/bibliografischer-informationsdienst – for 20th century history, access after registration, with a PDF-archive

Hungary

Humanities Bibliographical Database (Humanus) – http://www.oszk.hu/humanus/index.html – with a section for history; interface Hungarian, English and German
EHM: Elektronikus Periodika Archivum (EPA) – Humanus – Matarka (for Hungarian journals since 1800) – http://ehm.ek.szte.hu/ehm?p=0 – a portal with access to Humanus and three other resources, in particular for journals

Iceland

– Íslandssaga í greinum [Icelandic history in articles], Gunnar Karlsson and Gudmundur Jónson, National University Reykjavik – https://soguslodir.hi.is/ritaskra/ – a database with 13,500 articles, updated until 2005, for some journals until 2015

Ireland

Irish History Online, Royal irisch Academy, Dublin – https://www.ria.ie/irish-history-online – with links to external resources for Irish history

Italy

Bibliografia Storica Nazionale (dal 2000) (BSN), Giunta Centrale per gli Studi Storici – https://www.gcss.it/easyweb/w7044/index.php?scelta=campi&&biblio=GSS&lang= – publications since 2000; interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish
BSN Catalogo Retrospettivohttps://www.gcss.it/easyweb/w7044/index.php?scelta=campi&&biblio=E7043&lang= – interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish

Lithuania

Lietuvos Istorijos Bibliografiahttps://aleph.library.lt/F?func=option-update-lng&P_CON_LNG=LIT – interface Lithuanian and English

Netherlands

Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis (DBNG), Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague and Huygens Institute, Amsterdam – https://www.dbng.nl – interface Dutch and English – no updates after 2016, end of current service June 30, 2021
Historie in Titels (HinT) – http://picarta.nl/DB=3.30/LNG=NE/ – licensed resource, not anymore updated since 2005, originally created at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) – interface Dutch, English and German

Norway

Historisk bibliografi (Norhist), Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo – https://www.nb.no/baser/norhist/ – for the period 1980-1997

Poland

Bibliografia historii polskiej, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – https://www.bibliografia.ipn.gov.pl/ – access seems to be currently unsafe or disabled; https://bibliografia.ipn.gov.pl/ appears with a notice “offline”

Spain

Indice Histórico Español (IHE), Revistes Cientifiques de la Universitat de Barcelona – https://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/IHE/index – a bibliographical journal
Modernitas: Bibliografia de Historia Moderna, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (CSIC) – http://www.moderna1.ih.csic.es/modernitas/principal.htm
Indices, CSIC – https://indices.csic.es/ – a general scientific bibliography with attention to the humanities; interface Spanish and English

Sweden

Svensk Historisk Bibliografi – digital 1771-2010 (SHBd), Kungliga Biblioteket, Stockholm – https://shb.kb.se/F/?func=file&file_name=find-b&local_base=shb – also available as an app

Switzerland

Bibliographie der Schweizergeschichte (BSG), Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Bern – https://www.nb.admin.ch/snl/de/home/recherche/bibliografien/bsg.html – interface German, French, Italian and English

United Kingdom

Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) – https://www.history.ac.uk/publications/bibliography-british-and-irish-history – licensed resource hosted by Brepols

Remembering Michael Stolleis

Michael Stolleis - image MPILHLTIt seems difficult these weeks at my blog to leave Frankfurt am Main for other locations. The news about the death of Michael Stolleis on March 18, 2021 cannot be passed over here in silence, and thus again Frankfurt comes into view. Some obituaries succeeded very well in showing Stolleis’ role and achievements, and therefore I will not try to repeat everything already said with eloquent words.

The history of public law

On March 19, 2021 the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory announced with sadness the death of Michael Stolleis (1941-2021) on March 18, aged 79 years. Stolleis was a director of the institute from 1991 until 2006, and acted as its interim director from 2007 to 2009. In view of his work for the institute it is certainly necesary to stress he was from 1974 to 2006 also a professor for public law and legal history at the university of Frankfurt. Klaus Günther wrote an obituary for the law faculty. He points to Stolleis’ role for the Research Centre Normative Orders in Frankfurt. In the obituary at the main website of the Universität Frankfurt Enrico Schleiff stressed the fact Stolleis was a true intellectual and a scholar who set Frankfurt on the map worldwide.

Patrick Bahners looked in his contribution for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in particular at the background. Stolleis’ father was burgomaster of Ludwigshafen between 1937 and 1941. After finishing secondary school Michael Stolleis followed the footsteps of his father who was both a vinegrower and lawyer, and started with learning viniculture. From a visit to a wine museum in Aigle I remember in particular how the plants and fruits need attention in every month of the year. Knowing about steps set before you, having to live in the present and working at the same time for the future is an excellent preparation for life. Bahners mentions rightly the way Stolleis combined objectivity with personal kindness. From the few times I met him I remember the word locker, relaxed, a label I did not associate at first with German professors, but luckily Stolleis could indeed look most happy and friendly. Stolleis conributed regularly to the FAZ with articles that struck me as most readable, well-informed and resonating in you mind long afterwards.

Stolleis studied law, German language and literature and art history at the universities of Heidelberg and Würzburg. He wrote his doctoral thesis under the aegis of Sten Gagnér in Munich [Staatsraison, Recht und Moral in philosophischen Texten des späten 18. Jahrhunderts, defended 1967, published Meisenheim 1972)]. Stolleis wrote a moving article in remembrance of his Doktorvater, a piece telling you much about Stolleis himself, too [‘Sten Gagnér (1921-2000), ein großer Lehrer der europäischen Rechtsgeschichte’, Quaderni Fiorentini 29 (2000) 560-569; PDF]. In 1973 he defended in Munich his Habilitationsschrift (second thesis) on Gemeinwohlformeln im nationalsozialistischen Recht (Berlin 1974). At that time it was one of the first forays by German legal historians into the history of the Third Reich. Its theme, terms for the common good in Nazi law, can only be tackled succesfully by someone trained also in German language and literature. Just a small example of Stolleis’ gifted pen and his calm judgment is his concise summary of the history of the Deutsche Rechtshistorikertag, in particular the paragraph on the dark years of the Third Reich.

The striking thing for me about Michael Stolleis is the combination of public law and legal history at one side, and promoting both fields whenever possible, as much for the general public as for fellow scholars. Frankfurt had a reputation for critical thinking with the Frankfurter Schule. Among the second generation of this group of scholars which focused on philosophy and social theory Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann stand out. Stolleis is responsible for putting the history of public law in Germany’s history on the same level as political and social history. The four volumes of his Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland (Munich 1988-2012) definitely widened for German legal historians their fields of interest, and opened a necessary perspective on German history long overlooked as a defining and decisive element. However interesting, the history of private law cannot be the sole focus of legal history. Public law belongs as much to it as criminal law, procedure and canon law.

Only in my last post I mentioned the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit, a project started by Stolleis. Social law as a historical subject was the theme in his Geschichte des Sozialrechts im Deutschland. Ein Grundriss (Stuttgart 2003). If you think Stolleis focused only on Germany you might turn to his preface for the biographical dictionary Juristen. Ein biographisches Lexikon von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (first edition Munich 1995). His book on the image and the metaphor of the eye of the law shows him at work also in in the field of legal iconography [Das Auge des Gesetzes: Geschichte einer Metapher (Munich 2004)].

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft loses with Stolleis one of its most active and resourceful directors. Between 1991 and 2006 the institute in Frankfurt transformed already much by opening to wider fields and new approaches, and thus it prepared for the final touch, a change in its very name. Leading such transformations and normal scholarly business in sometimes difficult situations, and through losses as the untimely death of Marie Theres Fögen, is a great achievement. I will not try to list all awards, academy memberships and honorary doctorates Stolleis received. Let one prize suffice, the Hegel-Preis awarded by the city Stuttgart to Stolleis in 2018. Hegel was not just a very influential philosopher. His views became central to state building in nineteenth-century Germany and nineteenth-century science, in particular for historical research, with consequences for the twentieth century at large. In a time when law faculties have turned into law schools or just Fachbereiche we should remember Stolleis as a truly outstanding thinker whose publications can help to free you from preconceived views and following trodden paths. My words can hardly do justice to Michael Stolleis whom I greatly admired. Sadness about his death should be mixed with gratitude for his life, achievements and example of a lawyer and historian firmly rooted in past and present.

A postscript

On March 23, 2021 Thomas Duve published on behalf of the Max-Planck-Institut a much more detailed obituary for Michael Stolleis, in German and English.

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.

Questioning how to do legal history in a virtual world

Banner MPI Legal History and Legal Theory, 2021

This week I received a message from Andreas Wagner of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, about an online survey concerning our views on scholarly events in a virtual world. I had already planned to look at the website of this institute and to ponder the impact of its new name. The word European did no longer fit the actual width and coverage of the scholarly research at the institute. Legal theory has come to the institute as a third branch with its own director. Even the name of the institutional Twitter account has been changed (@mpilhlt)!

With Sigrid Amedick Andreas Wagner is the convenor of the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), originally planned as a normal scholarly event in 2020. At this Max-Planck-Institute Wagner is involved with digital humanities and the project concerning the School of Salamanca.

Let’s not hesitate and give you here right below the message about the questionnaire. Hopefully the answers scholars give will help to establish best practices for online scholarly events and help fostering critical thought about the way digital humanities and online research have an impact on doing legal history.

The questionnaire

Dear colleagues,

After roughly one year of covid-19 pandemic, working from home office, online team meetings and many other online things have come to shape our academic lives. Even academic conferences nowadays are starting to be organized as virtual events rather than be postponed indefinitely. However, no clear picture of benefits and drawbacks of virtual conference formats has emerged, let alone a common knowledge about best practices and about the many different forms that such virtual events can take.

At the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, we thus had the idea to launch a survey in order to solicit the opinions of the legal historians’ community on these things. This survey is meant to establish a glimpse of the state of virtual events in our discipline: the expectations and demands of scholars, the traps to avoid, and maybe even some ideas worth probing.

We cordially invite legal historians of all shades to participate and fill out our questionnaire. It contains about 40 questions in 5 groups/pages (General Questions, Activity Formats, Socializing, Publishing, General Comment) and it should take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. We will be very thankful for every response.

https://s.gwdg.de/jPr7wK

The questionnaire will remain open throughout all of February, closing on Feb 28 at 23:59:59 UTC. Results will be published on our homepage (https://www.rg.mpg.de/) and announced or reported on at various media like twitter, newsletters, blogs and journal sites. The survey adheres to very strict rules about data protection, which is one reason why we will not be able to send you a confirmation message or information about the results individually (the questionnaire is simply not asking for your e-mail address).

If you have any questions about the survey, please send a message to dlh@rg.mpg.de and we will be happy to answer.

Best regards,

Andreas Wagner