Old laws in a new world: The case of New Amsterdam

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

In my latest post I almost lamented the emphasis on European history on my legal history website. In order to make up for any deficiencies I decided to choose a subject outside Europe for my next post. Ironically I arrived at New Amsterdam 1647-1661 thanks to the European History Primary Sources portal. This portal brings succinct records for digitized source collections of whatever nature, tagged with basic information about countries, languages, periods, subjects and resource type. The subject colonial provided an entrance at the EHPS portal for this digital collection created by the New York City Department of Records and Administration. The contents of this digital collection are mainly original and translated ordinances and regulations, a theme firmly within the scope of my blog. In fact the very preponderance of legal resources made me very curious about this collection. Other ordinances from Dutch colonies during the Early Modern period are now also available online elsewhere. Here I will look briefly at those digital collections, too.

A legislative legacy

Earlier this year I enjoyed reading Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam. A history of the world’s most liberal city (2013) about the rich history of the Dutch capital. In a conversation someone pointed me to his book about the early history of New York The island at the center of the world (2004) which I still had not read. In his book about Amsterdam Shorto dedicated a chapter about the impact of Amsterdam on New York (“Seeds of influence”), yet another reason to get hold of his study about the colorful history of the Dutch colony on American soil.

At the moment of writing the digital gallery consists of just fifteen images and the series of municipal bylaws created between 1647 and 1661. The Municipal Archives and the Municipal Library of New York City will soon add more digitized items to this gallery.

An early Dutch record from New York - image NYC Department of Records

The first ordinance issued by Peter Stuyvesant as Director-General of New Amsterdam, May 31, 1647 – NAR, BK 1

The heart of the digital collection is made up of ordinances and regulations. As for now there are four distinct series, the first with original Dutch records between 1647 and 1661, the second for a manuscript with translations of Dutch records (1647-1654), the third with a digitized version of a manuscript by E.B. O’Callaghan from 1868 with ordinances of New Amsterdam (1647-1661), and the fourth a digital version of the first volume of Berthold Fernow’s Records of New Amsterdam (7 volumes, New York, 1897-1898).

The first section gives you an immediate experience of the surviving resources from the Dutch period of New York. Dutch historians will recognize a smooth seventeenth-century hand, and for others this kind of handwriting is vastly different from English handwriting of the same period. The manuscript with translations of the register shown in the first section might be the work of Cornelius van Westbrook or Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan. The third section gives a manuscript by O’Callaghan with his translation of the same register. In the last section Fernow took over O’Callaghan’s translation of the first register. The digital version shows only the translation of the same register (up to page 49).

The register has been used to create a portrait of Stuyvesant, busy regulating daily life, in particular formulating policies ensuring the common good and adjusting affairs. The general impression is that of working out policies instead of working to ensure justice. Nevertheless I saw also an undated prayer for opening council meetings. If you would look in more detail you would for instance notice the ruling urging to pay Indians correctly for their work (September 28, 1648) and the order on the conveyance of real estate in courts convened by the Director-General (February 7, 1650). This raises the general question of ordinances concerning private law, other laws, the borders of jurisdiction and the functioning of courts.

The first register is given an honoured place, but somehow I had expected more. It is nice to see the different stages from transcripts to translation, and it shows Charles Gehring and all working in his trail were not the first to deal with the records of the Dutch colonial period of New York and surrounding settlements and areas. Those dealing with Dutch palaeography would certainly welcome here a transcription of at least a part of this hallowed register. Let’s say it without hesitation, this digital gallery is really a showcase, if not for its content, then surely for using in its web address proudly the new domain .nyc, anyway shorter than the .amsterdam domain.

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

Russell Shorto’s book appeared eleven years ago and it has become a classic work, even to the degree that its references remain unchanged in later impressions. For the latest scholarship about colonial New York and the New Netherland period you can turn to the only website Shorto refers to, the New Netherland Project, nowadays called the New Netherland Institute (NNI). This institute maintains a bibliography, and it has created an impressive digital library with both older publications and editions, and also digital versions of its own publications. In 2010 the New Netherland Research Center opened in the same building in Albany, NY, where the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are housed, too.

The logical question to ask here is what we can find here concerning legal history. Property law is written large for example in the three volumes of the Register of the Provincial Secretary (1638-1660). Here, too, is the luxury of a digitized version of the first attempts at translation, Gehring’s modern translation and digitized images of the register itself. Three volumes have been edited with the Council Minutes for the period 1638-1656, a primary source for the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings of the Director General and Council of New Netherland. The sixteenth volume in the publication series gives us Laws and Writs of Appeal (part I, 1647-1663). The second part of volume 16 contains translations of court minutes from Fort Orange (1652-1660). Again property law is the subject of the translated Land Papers (1630-1664). Fort Orange became eventually Albany. There are minutes of the court of Albany from 1668 to 1685, now kept at the Albany County Hall of Records. The list grows really long! The Van Rensselaer Manor comes into view, too, as are the New Netherland Papers of Hans Bontemantel, a director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West Indies Company. Dutch colonial history elsewhere is also present, in the Curaçao Papers (1640-1665) (volume 17), here with a transcription, translation and images .

With separate access to the introductions of all sets, a guide to weights and measures, and last but not least both the original guide to Dutch papers created by Charles Gehring in 1977 and 1778 and its digital successor (2011-2012), you can only wish to have an online directory to the older phases of Dutch palaeography to try to decipher some of the images and to look more closely at Dutch words in the transcriptions. Luckily the magnificent multivolume Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal has become available at Leiden in a fine searchable version. The link to the digital collections of the New York State Archives does at first only lead to a free text search and four browsing filters (collections, places, repositories, state agencies), but I could quickly spot the collection for the Dutch settlement at the Delaware river (just one document from 1656), the administrative correspondence for the Dutch colony in New York (231 documents) and colonial council minutes with for example the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance.

Elsewhere, too, you can find digitized sources from the Dutch colonial period in the United States. At a branch of Ancestry is a useful links collection called New Netherland and Beyond. The section about the Dutch period (1621-1664) is the one to go for my purpose. You will find here for example A.J Van Laer’s selections from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts (1908) also dealt with by the NNI, and generally digitized versions of the finding aids, reports and translations created by Van Laer, O’Callaghan and Fernow.

Interestingly Dutch ordinances from the Early Modern period are in particular available online for the Dutch colonial period. The Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch history has created a digital version of the West-Indisch Plakaatboek within its project The Dutch in the Caribbean World c. 1670 – c. 1870. The digital Plakaatboek Guyana 1670-1816 has been launched in February 2015, and this project dealing with Essequibo, Berbice and Demerary, too, is accessible with an English interface. The Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811, Jacobus Anne van der Chijs (ed.) (17 volumes, Batavia, 1885-1901) has been digitized partially at Oxford (vol. 1-3), but it is available completely – and nicely searchable, too – within the Colonial Collection of Leiden University Library. For the Kaapse Plakkaatboek (6 vol., Cape Town, 1944-1951), edited by M.K. Jeffreys and S.D. Naudé, the first free volumes appear in the digital books section of the firm aiming to be the One and Only Web Firm. The two volumes of the Ceylonees plakkaatboek, Lodewijk Hovy (ed.) (Hilversum 1991) deal with the period 1638-1796; in arrangement with the publishing firm you can view large parts of it online in the same virtual library as for its South African counterpart. Hovy added to his edition a book-length introduction. The Dutch presence in Brazil was an element in my post last year about Brazil’s legal history, but there is not yet a general edition of ordinances. By the way, in the Dutch language both spellings plakaatboek and plakkaatboek exist side by side, yet another difficulty to trace these modern editions and their older predecessors.

Mapping the early history of New York

By now it should be clear how necessary it is to view the digital gallery of one early register within a larger context, for example that of the Dutch colonial enterprises, but it is certainly wise to look also at other countries and their activities on the American continent. Even the English colonies show great differences. A monolithic view tailored to the taste of those wanting rapid answers caters for a substantial niche, but it does bring you answers with subtle nuances or even new questions.

Shorto makes a case for looking anew at both the origins of New York and the United States. Looking at the Dutch period and the legal transplants effected by the English can help to see American legal history in more depth, beyond the battlegrounds of originalism. Shorto tries to create a new picture of Peter Stuyvesant (around 1611-1672), yet it might seem he overstates his case. I cannot help thinking that one tries to make out much of relatively scarce resources. The translated documents show more pieces of a puzzle, and maybe indicate w have to deal with several puzzles with large gaps or with maps show empty areas.

In fact when preparing this post I did not just look at sources indicated at the website of the New Netherland Project. The Fordham University in Nw York City has created a digital collection of old maps showing New Amsterdam, New Netherland and New England. In Chicago the New library presents an interesting gallery with maps for American colonial history, initially aiming at educational uses. A particular link with New Amsterdam is provided by the digital slavery collections of the New York Historical Society. Even if they do not deal directly with the Dutch period it is seducing to look at them in connection with the certification in 1665 by Peter Stuyvesant of land grants to manumitted slaves, digitized at the NNI.

Chances for new research

In 2016 the exhibit Origins – Light on New York’s founders will start. At the accompanying website the portraits of some iconic Dutch figures look already at you. Let’s hope this occasion will be just another spur to delve into the early sources of New York’s history and of American colonial history in general. It would be most welcome if at least some scholars and in particular legal historians study aspects of that early history starting with the original sources and reading the Dutch of the founders. Shorto makes you see the people, hear the many languages, smell the filth of the colony and the fresh air of a green island, and takes you on a voyage back in history much in the style of a novel. Exactly his fluent style and evocation of people and events make me shiver sometimes when I feel his imagination gets too strong. L.J wagenaar wrote in 1995 in his review of Hovy’s edition of Dutch ordinances for Ceylon these sources provided him with a living image just like a novel.

Russell Shorto cannot be faulted for using with verve a style that might be termed journalistic. His books make you curious for more. He raises questions and new views, and books with these qualities are as important as book with answers. He challenges us to write as lively as he can, to do the hard work in searching, studying and analysing resources, formulating new theories and creating vast vistas we would not have dreamt of before.

Here I will honour Shorto by pointing in his way to a fact that might shed light on Stuyvesant. I am finishing this post at the Frisian island Terschelling, a familiar location for readers here. Near the village Midsland-Noord, a new part of the old village Midsland, is a spot with sands and heath called Stuyvesant, perhaps best translated as “moving sand”. Peter Stuyvesant came from a village in West-Frisia. Even without pursuing this toponym in full depth it hints at a certain quality of things eternally moving, partially hidden, partially blowing in your face, a presence which slip though your fingers like sand. My country can still boast a number of these moving sand regions as nowhere else in Europe. Just as New York Terschelling is blessed with a bay offering itself as a perfect natural harbor… There are limits to our knowledge, but they will move with every new question, with every new concept and view guiding our quest for perceiving the realities of the past. Legal sources might be tapped in ways yet untried, and historical sources can be read very differently when you put them side by side with the traces and sources and legal history.



A choice of languages

The new navigation menu at Rechtshistorie, 2015

A year ago I wrote here about my efforts to repair the bilingual interface of my website Rechtshistorie. Due to a technical problem caused by the very progress of the engine behind it the navigation menu offering access in both English and Dutch had broken down definitely. I decided not to test online possible successors to the defunct multilingual tool, but to try things first on a standalone computer. You can imagine me sifting the advertisements of promising tools, making them work or deciding to go elsewhere instead of creating havoc, and facing solutions that either looked bad or could be handled only with the utmost care and precaution. During the past twelve months I did copy all changes and additions in the English version also into the Dutch version.

This weekend I have finally launched a new multilingual menu that seems to me easy to use and maintain. The language switchers are now part of the navigation menu. I have deleted the menu in the right sidebar. When you hover over the menu items pages linked to them will show themselves as before.

Preparing the future

My plans for further pages are not sleeping in a drawer! Such new pages are often a sequel to posts on my blog. Many changes and additions stem from blog posts, too. However, it takes time to prepare these new pages, not just for the research involved, but also for creating a lucid presentation that does justice to a subject.

The last major change on my website is the new order of presentation on the page for digital libraries. In the past I presented digital libraries from some seventy countries in alphabetical order. I have created a new version where you can find countries on their respective continents. The major benefit is easier navigation to a particular country, and a better view of the relative and absolute prominence of digital libraries in particular regions of the world. A major drawback is the preponderance of information about European countries, now much more visible. More than twenty of the seventy countries covered are in Europe. In my defence I would like to consider the fact that you will feel hard pressed to find similar overviews elsewhere. The challenge in creating my overview is for many countries to find anything which really should be included here. Any useful additions are most welcome!

The situation on my page with virtual exhibitions is roughly similar to my digital libraries page. Here the number of countries is not yet as large to make a reordering necessary. Lately I have added a number of links to interesting virtual exhibitions. Especially as a teaching tool or for the first reconnaissance of a theme or subject virtual exhibitions can be most useful. In fact some virtual exhibitions are explicitly meant to be companions to text books.

Logo Pro Memorie

I am sorry that I have to conclude here with an announcement about Rechtsgeschiedenis, the partner website of Rechtshistorie. The content management system behind this website of the Foundation for Old Dutch Law showed all kind of defects, and it had to be taken down. The essential information about the foundation will eventually reappear, either at the new website for its scholarly journal Pro Memorie. Bijdragen tot de rechtsgeschiedenis der Nederlanden or at a renewed version of Rechtsgeschiedenis.org. Uitgeverij Verloren, the publisher of Pro Memorie, will start this year with digitizing older issues. Let’s hope that Dutch legal historians will soon succeed in reviving and renewing their website, or that they will build a basic website around the journal. The example of the Flemish website for legal history at Ghent will surely be a spur to create a new web team and work together closely with legal historians in Belgium.

Some notes on the history of tolerance

Tolerance and intolerance are themes at the center of many contemporary debates, and their prominence has become stronger after the tragic events in France on January 7 and 8, 2015. On Internet these events have sparkled many reactions. Whatever my views and opinions, for me one of the questions arising is also how these events should influence the stream of postings on this blog. Can one use historical situations to shed light on our times, or Is it sensible to stay somewhat aloof? Perhaps it is wiser to remember that to step aside is taking a side, too.

When somehow among all remarks and exchanges about the situation in France the name of Voltaire came into view it provided me with at least one element of a contribution about the origins of tolerance. Eighteenth-century France is the setting of this post. The history of tolerance is complicated, and the number of themes, persons and subjects here does reflect it. Philosophy, criminal law, legal advice, legislation, the world of literature and debate, and also images, should all appear here for good reasons, but for the sake of length legal matters will be at the center of this post, and other themes appear more at the margin. In fact it turns out to be really interesting to choose for this focus. To some extent you can read this post also as part of a guide to digital resources for the history of France during the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution.

Although I do not want to make you suffer by reading a rather too long post I bring here on purpose several themes together which in my opinion are best seen in connection to each other. In my view the interplay between a multitude of subjects, themes and resources concerning the French Ancien Régime and the French Revolution is fairly typical when you want to study these subjects. You can read this post also as a sequel to my post ‘Laws and the French Revolution’ (January 2015).

Circles and layers around law and tolerance

Title page Traité sur la tolérance, 1763 - source: Wikimedia CommonsThe first focal point for tolerance in France during the Ancien Régime in the current discussion seems to be Voltaire’s Traité de la tolérance (1763). One can read this treatise as a plea for tolerance, both on a philosophical and a practical level, and the background of this text can seem a mere pretext or occasion for expressing these views. John Locke had put tolerance center stage to thoughts about the best possible way of government in his treatise A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689 – online for example at Early Modern Texts and the Constitution Society), but Voltaire is not just reacting in a philosophical debate without any connection to contemporary developments. Locke wrote his treatise one year after the Glorious Revolution (1688), and this, too, should make you hesitate to see the history of political thought as a history of ideas which can be studied in separation from contemporary surroundings.

Voltaire might not have qualified professionally as a philosopher, but he certainly belonged to the circle of French philosophes. It is important to note Locke expressed his views in a letter, and Voltaire in a book-length treatise, an interesting fact for a prolific letter writer and playwright. The literary dimensions of Voltaire’s work are really important in gauging the impact and importance of his views and thoughts. Of course it is wise to look beyond just one text of a writer, and exactly how you can realize this nowadays will be one of the issues in this post. Voltaire wrote texts in a number of literary genres, and he had wide contacts all over Europe, a fact returning later in this post. A characteristic of his work is the use of irony, and even more, the possibility to read his texts in several ways, both at face value or with a potential for irony immediately below the surface. This ambiguity makes it harder but also more interesting to gain perspective on his views and coded messages.

The machinery of law

The initial impulse for Voltaire’s treatise on tolerance came from his reaction to the case of Jean Calas, a merchant from Toulouse who had been sentenced to death in 1762 by the Parlement de Toulouse for allegedly killing his son Marc-Antoine, presumably because his son wanted to convert to the Catholic church. Calas was subjected to torture and broken upon the wheel. If we remember this case today as a cause célèbre it is to a large extent thanks to Voltaire’s efforts. In an article from 1994, ‘Procès, affaire, cause: Voltaire et l ‘innovation critique’,1 Élisabeth Claverie analyzes the way Voltaire set out to make an affair out of this case, and indeed created the model for fueling public indignation about cases which seem to run contrary to the public good.

Assembling materials to expose alleged and real abuses of the Catholic Church and its influence on French society might seem an obvious thing for Voltaire, but he did look seriously enough at the exact dealings of the judiciary in the Calas case. His treatise was only a final phase in a series of letters and preparatory texts, some of them meant for public use, some definitely not. Voltaire used his connections to bring the case to the attention of the French king, including getting Calas’ widow to Paris to plead in person her case before the king. Whatever Voltaire’s views of harmful Catholic influence, he aimed foremost at an official rehabilitation of Calas. An online dossier by Anne Thouzet gives you detailed information about the trial at Toulouse, the infringements to the ordinance of the Parlement de Toulouse and royal ordinances about criminal procedure – in particular the Ordonnance criminelle of 1670 – and to various other documents and images. Thouzet also points to a number of relevant web links. The Archives départementales de la Haute-Garonne in Toulouse have created a PDF with transcriptions of some documents, ‘Calas, du procès à l’affaire’.


By chance I remembered that you can find several digitized documents about the Calas case at Tolosana, a digital library of the Université de Toulouse. On closer inspection Tolosana does bring us not only documents touching this case, but a very interesting selection of materials concerning law at Toulouse during the Ancien Régime, with customary law, arrêts (verdicts) of the Parlement de Toulouse, documents about municipal institutions and other jurisdictions, documents about lawyers and law teaching at the university of Toulouse, and a separate section on trials (procès toulousains). Let’s not forget to mention here also the Bibliotheca Tholosana, a collaborative project, and Rosalis, the digital library of the Bibliothèque de Toulouse. In Rosalis you can find one of the most famous manuscripts for the history of the inquisition in Languedoc, discussed here in earlier postings.

The section of Tolosana for trials at Toulouse contains a distinctive number of mémoires judiciaires, also known as factums. In a factum cases were discussed for the general public and with a view also to the judges dealing with a particular case. A blog post by Léo Mabmacien about these factums leads you in particular to a selection of documents in a virtual exhibition created at Clermont-Ferrand, Les factums, justice des villes et des champs : le mémoire judiciaire du 17e au 19e siècle [The factums, justice in cities and fields. Judicial “memoires” from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century]. At the Bibliothèque nationale de France is the largest collection of existing factums, and in his very interesting postMabmacien discusses these resources at Paris, too. The collection at Tolosana is at present the largest online collection of factums. Among the digitized documents for the Calas case is a number of mémoires judiciaires. Voltaire’s book-length treatise on tolerance is also included (PDF). In particular the mémoires published after 1762 are very valuable as sources for public and learned opinions about the case and efforts to annul the trial. At Bienvenue chez Monsieur de Voltaire you can find digital versions of the texts of a number of Voltaire’s letters (sections En direct par Voltaire), in particular those concerning the Calas case.

Logo Criminocorpus

For the history of French criminal law you can learn much at the fine Criminicorpus portal – with both a French and English interface – and at the website Le droit criminel created by Jean-Paul Doucet. At both websites you can find the text of relevant royal ordinances dealing with criminal procedure. Remembering Tolosana was not just a case of having a good memory. In fact I wrote here about Tolosana and the Calas case in June 2010. Five years later I still feel astonished that these digitized documents have scarcely been used in contributions about Voltaire. Their value is seriously diminished by this omission. The French online research portal Isidore has entries for seventeen relevant documents digitized at Tolosana, but the tags attached to them do not function. No wonder that the online presence of the various documents has remained somewhat in the shadow. Internet is definitely an ocean where you have to know the entrances to particular information.

Logo Isidore

Isidore, a portal focusing on the humanities and social sciences, has a search interface in French, English and Spanish. It did bring to my attention a recent Ph.D thesis about Adhémar Esmein (1848-1913), a famous French law professor and legal historian who did look at the Calas affair in his main textbooks on constitutional law [Antoine Chopplet, Adhémar Esmein et le droit constitutionnel de la liberté (thesis Université de Reims, 2012)]. Chopplet does not use these online documents for his study of Esmein’s view, but he does for example highlight the fact that Esmein did not comment on the fact that Voltaire himself had been a victim of the infamous lettres de cachet, one of the most glaring abuses of the French judicial system during the Ancien Régime. Esmein admired Voltaire for his detailed criticism of criminal procedure in his writings about the Calas affair. Montesquieu was perhaps much better equipped to do this, but on this subject he remained silent. In an even more recent Ph.D thesis available online at the Theses platform, La pensée politique d’Adhémar Esmein : l’historien du droit by Alexandre Fiorentini (thesis Aix-en-Provence, 2014), the interplay between Esmein’s political position and his views as a legal historian is further discussed.

Using online journals

By now it should be obvious that bringing together all these materials is only possible and feasible thanks to the use of linked computers. However, how can one safely digest these masses of information, and analyze them in a controlled and sensible way? Having the information at your disposal is one thing, using the right tools for analysis is another, and presenting a meaningful analysis should be the real challenge. Dealing with the Calas case can show you the use of some digital tools and projects. Perhaps it is good to stress here that I only show some of their highlights, not their entire scope.

However you think about my plea for a consistent use of the contemporary ocean of online materials, but it is wise not to neglect good bibliographical research. French research in the field of legal history can be tracked down online using the services of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (CLHD, Nancy) which can be consulted both in French and English. A simple search for Calas brings you to eleven titles published since 1964. Using the thesaurus (“Procès-Affaire Calas”) you will find ten titles. Earlier this year I already wrote here about this bibliography.

A number of French research portals help you to find quickly online versions of articles. The oldest portal Persée gives access to digitized issues of a number or well-known learned journals. For the Calas case you can find for example an article on the concept of proof by Jean-Louis Halpérin.2 A second interesting article is by Frank Kafker who discusses the role of Diderot who did not speak out about the Calas case in public, but behind the screens he used his influence and did write people about it.3 Another scholar discusses the general attitude of Diderot towards political actualities.4 The OpenEdition initiatives is not only home to the Hypotheses network of scientific blogs in French, German, and Spanish, but also the provider of a number of online journals at Revues, many of them completely or partially available in open access. Among the most relevant journals for my theme here ise the Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française.

Revues points for instance to the book by Janine Garrisson, L’Affaire Calas, miroir des passions françaises (Paris 2004) in an alert by Jacques Bernet [AHRF 354 (2008) 202-203]. At one of the blogs at Hypotheses, Criminocorpus, you can find a notice by Jean-Claude Facry about the recent study by Benoît Garnot, Voltaire et l’affaire Calas. Les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux (Paris 2013). Facry provides an overview of its contents. At the Criminocorpus portal itself is the History of Justice Online Museum, a very useful section with virtual exhibitions. It is certainly worth looking at the exhibit on Les exécutions publiques dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (only in French). OpenEdition publishes also online books, one of them a volume of articles about L’exécution capitale : Une mort donnée en spectacle, Régis Bertrand and Anne Carol (eds.) (Aix-en-Provence 2003), unfortunately not in open access, where you should look at the contribution of Robert A. Schneider, ‘Rites de mort à Toulouse : les exécutions publiques (1738-1780)’.

At Cairn you can look at some 400 scholarly journals. A search for the affaire Calas yields nearly 200 results. For the book by Janine Garrisson you can find a review by Laurence Kaufmann in Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 61/4 (2006), who mentions in particular a study by David Bien, L’affaire Calas. Hérésie, persécution, intolérance au XVIIIe siècle (Toulouse 1987). The search results at Cairn help you to find recent French literature on themes such as major trials, for example Les grands procès, Daniel Amson et alii (eds.) (Paris 2007) or a brochure by Jacques Vergès, Les erreurs judiciaires (Paris 2002) that appeared in the famous Que sais-je? series. Closer to the Calas affair is the volume of essays La plume et le prétoire. Quand les écrivains racontent la justice, Denis Salas (ed.) (Paris 2013 ), a special of the journal Histoire de la justice 23/1 (2013) with a pertinent article by Sylvie Humbert, ‘L’autre justice de la Dictionnaire philosophique‘ (p. 81-87), one of the publications of Voltaire during the 1760´s.

An article by Lynn Hunt, ´Le corps au xviiie siècle´, Diogène 203/3 (2003) 49-67, helps us to remember that the first major treatise against torture, by Cesare Beccaria, Dei delitti e delle pene, only appeared in 1764, and to notice also it was not the abuse of torture that prompted Voltaire into action in 1762. In 1766 Voltaire wrote a Commentaire sur le livre des délits et des peines. In view of the sheer length of this post I would rather not adduce here more examples of the results made available through the services of Persée, OpenEdition, and Cairn. If you want to look beyond recent French publications you can enlist the services of JournalsTOCs to get quick access to the tables of contents of many scholarly journals. A nice array of legal history journals in open access is available in the right sight bar of my blog.

With the Dictionnaire philosophique of Voltaire we touch the Republic of Letters. The world of European networks in the period of French hegemony deserves separate treatment here. I would have preferred to include a substantial section on it here, but wisdom tells me it is better to leave you here, albeit somewhat in suspense.

The digital turn

French historians have not been content with creating just one view of the Calas affair. They came back to it again and again, and it can even serve as a kind of thermometer of someone’s position. In this post I have tried to show some of the materials now available that have only seldom been used in connection with this case. In fact you can use the digital resources mentioned here also for the study of other subjects. Jean-Paul Doucet gives a nice list of famous trials on his website, and it my view it has become much easier to gain a head start using online resources than earlier on. This tournant numérique, this digital turn of doing history, is not only a matter of easy access to primary sources. Bringing into view resources scarcely considered before or almost forgotten, can broaden and deepen the way we look at all kinds of history, including legal history. In my opinion connecting legal history with history at large is one of the urgent needs of legal historians. It is up to me and you, to my and your creativity to make the digital turn fruitful and important.


1. Élisabeth Claverie, ‘Procès, affaire, cause: Voltaire et l’innovation critique’, in: Parler en public, a special issue of Politix. Travaux de science politique 7/26 (1994) 76-85; online at Persée.
2. Jean-Louis Halpérin, ‘La preuve judiciaire et la liberté du juge´, Communications 84 (2009) 21-32, online at Persée; special on Figures de la preuve.
3. Frank A. Kafker, ‘Le rôle de Diderot dans l’affaire Calas’, Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 21/1 (1998) 7-14, online at Persée.
4. Hédia Ouertani-Khadhar, ´Diderot et l’actualité politique´, Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 18-19 (1995) 93-103, online at Persée.

Visual traces of legal culture and the legacy of Karl Frölich

Banner MPI Frankfurt am Main

Legal historians created legal iconography as an auxiliary science for dealing with images connected with law, justice and legal culture in the widest possible sense. In a century where for many subjects you can find a great variety of online resources the list of online databases concerning this subject is still short. On my own website Rechtshistorie I mention just a dozen digital projects, with resources in English almost absent. On March 31, 2015 the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main launched a new online database for the collections created by a German scholar, Karl Frölich (1877-1953). What is the value of his collections? Do they help understanding the way law and visual culture are studied within the discipline of legal iconography and in other ways, for example in the framework of law and humanities? In this post I will delve into these and other questions and I will compare this new database with similar online collections.

Nomos-SALUTO-INGThe introduction to the new resource at the website in Frankfurt is brief, even when you add the general notice about the Sammlung Frölich and the introductions to research projects concerning communication and representation of law, including legal iconography, However, a virtual exhibition launched last year at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence provides this information. The Nomos of Law. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives shows items from the Frölich collection, and from collections in Florence and Munich. This exhibition which can be viewed in German, English and Italian contains also a bibliography. It has been created in cooperation with the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich, home to the oldest German collection in the field of legal ethnology and legal archaeology created by Karl von Amira (1848-1930).

In this post I will first look at the context of Frölich’s career and research. In the second section I will discuss the contents of the newly digitized collection, and I will compare Frölich’s collection with other online collections for legal iconography. The last section offers a glimpse of current and potential uses of Frölich’s materials.

Decades of research under a shadow

Let’s start with a look at Karl Frölich himself, using the article in the online version of the Neue Deutsche Biographie written by Karl Bruchmann [NDB 5 (1961) 652]. Frölich was born in the village of Oker in the Harz region near Goslar, a city often visited by the German emperors in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He studied law in Jena and Göttingen, Frölich got his Ph.D. degree from Alfred Schultze (1864-1946) in 1910 at Freiburg with a study about medieval legal procedure in Goslar [Die Gerichtsverfassung von Goslar im Mittelalter (Breslau 1910)]. Frölich worked from 1905 onwards in Braunschweig at the ministry for the interior. In 1913 he started to study for a degree in economics, but in 1914 he became a judge (Landgerichtsrat). During the First World War he fought as an officer in the German army. Paul Rehme (Leipzig) guided Frölich’s research for his Habilitationsschrift on Verfassung und Verwaltung der Stadt Goslar im späteren Mittelalter (Goslar 1921). In 1921 he started teaching at the technical university of Braunschweig. From 1923 onwards he worked at the university of Giessen as a professor of German legal history where he founded in 1939 an institute for legal history. From 1935 onwards Rechtliche Volkskunde, “legal ethnology”, became his specialization. During the Second World War Frölich served temporarily again in the army. From 1945 he worked for some time at the universities of Berlin, Marburg and Frankfurt am Main. His scholarly career ended with the edition of sources for the history of Goslar.

Image of Karl Frölich, 1952 - Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

Portrait of Karl Frölich, 1952 – image Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

The weakness of the biographical article in the Neue Deutsche Biographie is its silence about the period after 1933. How did Frölich react to the powers of the Third Reich? For the field of legal archaeology it was most unfortunate that the Nazi laws pretended to stem from the people, and thus keen on enhancing the position of the field of “legal ethnology”. During the Nazi regime this discipline was not innocent. Frölich is not mentioned in classic studies about German lawyers between 1933 and 1945 such as Ingo Müller, Furchtbare Juristen. Die unbewältigte Vergangenheit unserer Justiz (Munich 1987; 2nd ed., Berlin 2014) and Bernd Rüthers, Entartetes Recht. Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im Dritten Reich (Munich 1988).

Gerhard Köbler (Innsbruck) contributed a chapter on Frölich for the volume Giessener Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hans Georg Gundel (ed.) (Marburg 1982) 242-250. Recently Lars Esterhaus wrote his dissertation about Frölich [Bild – Volk – Gegenstand : Grundlagen von Karl Frölichs „rechtlicher Volkskunde“ (…) [Image-Nation-Object: Foundations of Karl Frölich’s “legal ethnology”] (diss. Giessen 2012; Marburg 2014)]. On his website Gerhard Koebler has created a succinct overview of law professors at the Unviersity of Giessen between 1607 and 2007, with also basic information about Frölich’s career. At his webpage Wer war wer im Deutschen Recht [Who’s who in German law], a massive overview of German lawyers with also a search interface, Koebler adds some crucial facts. In 1941 Frölich became a Gaugruppenverwalter and Hochschullehrer des Gaues Nassau-Hessen des NS-Rechtswahrerbundes. After a year in this role Frölich did active service again in the German army. The university of Giessen closed in the summer of 1942. In 1945 Frölich resumed teaching legal history. In 1946 his behaviour during the war was subject of a procedure for denazification. In July 1946 this procedure started, and two months later he was said to be unbelastet, “correct”, but the military government nevertheless suspended him in November 1946. Still in 1946 the ministry of the interior invested him again with his office, but took away his status as a state official (Beamtenstatus). On February 1, 1949 his professorship ended, and on April 1, 1950 he became officially a professor emeritus.

In the thirties the Deutscher Rechtshistorikertag, founded in 1927, was still a new phenomenon. During the twelve years of the Third Reich only two Tagungen were held, in Cologne (1934) and Tübingen (1936). In Tübingen at the fifth conference Frölich read a paper about the creation of an atlas for legal ethnology (‘Die Schaffung eines Atlas der rechtlichen Volkskunde für das deutschsprachige Gebiet’). Hans Frank, the German minister of justice, held a speech in which he encouraged scholars to enlist the services of legal history for German contemporary law.

I give you this additional information with only brief comments. There was a wide variety of living as a lawyer under the Nazi regime, from supporting explicitly the new Nazi legal order and its ideology at one side, and outright resistance against the regime at the other end. For many people daily life in the Third Reich must have been a grey and grim zone of finding one’s way in a time and places where angels fear to tread. Even at a distance of two generations scholars living now need to imagine themselves in front of the possible deadly choices facing Germans in that dark period. As for Giessen, allied bombers caused great damage to the city in December 1944. After the war the university was at first closed. Only after a few years the university could start again, and only in 1965 a law faculty began again.

Barbara Dölemeyer, responsible for the project to digitize Frölich’s collection, has created a bibliography of Frölich’s publications since 1921. Earlier on she published ‘Karl Frölich und das Institut für Rechtsgeschichte’, in: Rechtswissenschaft im Wandel, Festschrift des Fachbereichs Rechtswissenschaft zum 400-jährigen Gründungsjubiläum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Walter Gropp, Martin Lipp and Heinhard Steiger (eds.) (Tübingen 2007) 1–22, and a shorter article, ‘Bilder als Zeichen alten Rechts – Die Sammlung Frölich’ [Images as signs of old law: The Frölich Collection], Rechtsgeschichte 4 (2004) 264-268. Karl Kroeschell (1927) mentioned some of Frölich’s works in his Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte as examples of still valuable research. Kroeschell says this as author of a legal history of Germany in the twentieth century [Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen 1992)]. Hans Planitz and Hermann Baltl wrote necrologies about Frölich for the Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische Abteilung [ZRG GA 70 (1953) 431-432 and ZRG GA 71 (1954) 545-548], the latter with the explicit title ‘Karl Frölich und die rechtliche Volkskunde’. You can find ten digitized publications of Frölich online in one of the digital libraries of the modern Universität Giessen.

The signa iuris

The commemorations of the end of the Second World War, now seventy years ago, have influenced me in creating the long section about Frölich, especially in order to prevent the idea that I would write about Frölich’s material legacy – now held at Frankfurt am Main, Giessen and Munich – without any preparation and consideration for its background. Is it indeed to some extent a poisoned gift, not to be handled except with the greatest possible care, or is it safe to use the images and accompanying papers in a straightforward way? What does he bring us for the study of the signs of law and justice? SIGNA IVRIS is the aptly chosen name of a German scholarly journal for legal iconography and its neighbouring disciplines. It was founded in 2008, with Gernot Kocher, Heiner Lücke and Clausdieter Schott as its current editors. Lars Esterhaus contributed in Signa Ivris 5 (2010) the article ‘Karl Frölich und die “rechtliche Volkskunde“? Eine werkbiografisch orientierte Anfrage’ .

The scholarly value of Frölich’s own photographs is much enhanced by the fact that he did not just look at Germany or at parts added to the Third Reich, but at other European countries as well. Two pictures show even Rabat in Morocco. In view of this international orientation a search interface in one or more other languages would reflect the variety of countries more correctly. The search interface contains a free search field (Freie Suche), and an advanced search mode with four fields for countries, locations and places; two of them help you to find all items coming from a modern Bundesland or an official smaller region (Landkreis) in Germany. Very important is the presence of two separate search fields for motifs, the first for motifs from a contemporary perspective and the second field for the motifs according to Frölich’s own arrangements. He had planned to publish eventually an atlas with relevant photographs and descriptions for Germany, starting with the region Hessen. The last search field allows you to filter for items and the three present locations of Frölich’s images, papers and other materials. A separate page introduces the subjects and motifs used by Frölich to catalogue and describe his findings, and a more contemporary list of classifications used for the digitized items.

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 - Collection Frölich, SF=G1347_F4124_01a

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 – image Sammlung Frölich

The database at Frankfurt am Main contains nearly ten thousand items, with for the Netherlands 133 items. Among the European countries Belgium is missing at all. For Germany there are some 8,200 items, for Hessen alone nearly 2,300 items. Thus resources for others countries are only a small part of the collection, but nevertheless this is valuable. It quickly becomes clear that there are for my country more digitized letters, postcards and notes than actual photographs or other visual materials. Frölich inquired about cities such as Rotterdam, Middelburg and Nijmegen where the inner cities have been destroyed during the Second World War. Such photographs of buildings before their destruction can be important. W.S. Unger, city archivist at Middelburg, wrote in 1939 he had sent a description of the town hall in a separate letter which does not survive (or still awaits digitization). From Rotterdam came in 1939 two short letters stating objects could not be reached due to the restoration of the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, and there were no medieval objects at all. In view of the year 1939 it is more probably that this museum was busy packing objects and moving them to a safe hiding place in case of war. It seems Frölich definitely restricted his research to medieval objects and artefacts, because other Dutch letters contained the same answer. From Nijmegen came only a postcard with a picture of the schepenbank, the seats of the municipal court within the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style. Frölich’s letter in 1942 concerning Nijmegen mentions specifically his objective to collect information also outside Germany.

“Gericht” at Schleeke near Goslar – image Sammlung Frölich

Back to Germany! Frölich’s collection contains in its present state some 70 items for his beloved Goslar. Goslar’s fate during the Third Reich was in a way determined in 1934 when the Reichsnährstand, the Nazi food organization, was founded in this town. In 1936 Goslar got the title Reichsbauernstadt, the capital of farmers in Hitler’s Reich. All his life Frölich dedicated his efforts in studies of Goslar’s history to its later medieval period, after the days of the frequent visits of the German emperors. He studied in particular the beginnings and working of the city council, the city’s economy and the role of the nearby mines at Rammelsberg exploited since the tenth century.

In his Harzreise (1826) Heinrich Heine had used harsh words for Goslar, a city where the medieval cathedral had been demolished in 1820, leaving just one part of it standing. Is it just a guess that the very presence of Goslar’s remaining historic buildings and locations helped Frölich to become aware of the need for their systematic study in connection with legal history? Perhaps other German legal historians in the first half of the twentieth century had simply not yet done much in the territories covered by Frölich, the spaces and buildings where law and justice got their form. Surely Karl von Amira (1848-1930), the founder of legal archaeology and legal iconography, had collected relevant objects for these fields. He had indeed thought about creating an atlas for both subjects. Eberhard von Künßberg (1881-1941) looked more at legal gestures, no doubt inspired by the materials he encountered in directing the creation of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. Claudius Freiherr von Schwerin (1880-1944) even published from Von Amira’s papers an Einführung in die Rechtsarchäologie (1943). Von Schwerin had become deeply involved with the Nazi’s soon after 1933. The Swiss scholar Hans Fehr (1874-1961) who had studied in Germany, focused on the representation of law in the arts.

How does Frölich’s collection compare with other image collections in the field of legal iconography? The images in Von Amira’s collection in Munich most often show objects, not actual locations and buildings. The image database at Graz puts images somewhat arbitrarily into legal categories, but you can also use the free text search, and anyhow this collection is much smaller. The database RechtsAlterTümer – online of the Austrian Academy of Sciences does cover both objects and locations, but it is geographically restricted to Austria. Today I could not reach the database at Zürich due to some vague technical error. I leave it to you to check and compare all twelve collections, but only after looking at least briefly in the Dutch database at the Memory of the Netherlands where the postcard from Nijmegen in Frölich’s collection is not to be found. The Dutch collection does show for Nijmegen much more than only the court room of the old town hall. In particular the bibliographical references are very useful. Frölich’s research notes, however succinct sometimes, are an asset missing in other collections.

In the country where during the nineteenth century history was refashioned into an academic discipline there are more resources with images and photographs of historical buildings and objects. On my own page for digital image collections – where you can find the twelve online databases for legal iconography as well – I list a dozen online resources for Germany. The Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, one of the services at the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, is a search portal for several million images from major German cultural institutions, including for instance photographs from the holding of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. You can get some impressions of the sheer scale of the photo collection of this museum when you search for a pillory (Pranger) and receive more than 600 results. The Bildarchiv of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Deutsche Fotothek (Sächsiche Landes- und Univesritätsbibliothek, Dresden) are other major German nationwide resources. In my view it is not only possible and feasible, but necessary to use images and information from other resources to supplement and check whatever you find in the Frölich collection.

Balancing questions and materials

At the end of my post it might seem that the background of the Frölich collection got too much attention instead of its own scope and value. Including a paragraph about Dutch towns and thus making this post still longer was certainly a personal choice. I will end here with some remarks about the way to use Frölich’s publications and images for modern research in the field of German history and geography. The Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg, is a very substantial portal to the history, cultural heritage and geography of the Bundesland Hessen. At this portal you can use maps, search for digitized resources, thematic dictionaries, use a bibliography and a web repertory, and last but not least search for images and books concerning many themes, among them for example the topography of the national socialism.

In the section Gerichtsstätte in Hessen [Places of justice in Hessen] Wilhelm Eckhardt has created a database with both a simple search mode and a very detailed advanced search mode. In more than hundred cases the references include works by Frölich, or they show photographs he published. The digitized images of the Frölich collection and his notes are no doubt a valuable addition to the materials at this portal. I did look for similar online portals for other German regions, but until now Hessen seems the only example to include material remains of legal history. Here, too, I would adduce information from other image collections to get a more complete picture, but in itself the database for Hessen is a valuable new research tool.

The twentieth century was an age of extremes (Eric Hobsbawm), and legal historians did not escape from its threats, terrors and destruction. The twelve years of the Nazi regime had a great impact on German lawyers and historians, on the ways they looked at Germany’s history, and in some cases abused and stained it. This image of utter darkness has sometimes helped in keeping scholars away from legal ethnology and legal iconography.  With knowledge of the background of Frölich’s work you can start new research following his steps. Diligent and discerning research can benefit from a number of his works and the example of his sustained efforts to study the visual powers of law and justice. Using the wide variety of German image databases and for Hessen its exemplary database for regional history and geography, and at many turns benefiting from the resources and research of the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main, you can gain new insights for research in a fascinating scholarly discipline which enriches our understanding of the impact of law and justice.

Everything but law? On revisiting portals for medieval studies

Logo Reti MedievaliHowever vast the variety of all possible sources of information on Internet, and however strong the seduction of One Tool to Find Them All, there has always been a need for gateways and portals to find your way to specific subjects. The field of medieval studies has been lucky to benefit since many years from some great virtual portals and gateways. Some have become my favorites, others I visit only rarely. Lately I realized I use at Reti Medievali only the Calendario, its calendar of scholarly events for searching events linked to legal history which I gather at the congress calendar of my blog. Reti Medievali translates literally as “medieval nets”, because the information of this portal is literally located at a number of separate websites. Can you fetch in medieval law with any of these nets? How does Reti Medievali compare with some other portals and gateways? At least some parts of Reti Medievali can be viewed not only in Italian, but also in English, French, German and Spanish. In the second part of this post I will look at a most valuable contribution to the history of medieval law, the online version of a multi-volume publication published last year. For me its presence at Reti Medievali was a welcome trigger to have a broader look at this portal, to write about it and to compare it with some of its companion portals.

Fishing the seas of medieval studies

Reti Medievali (RM) started in 1998 as an initiative of scholars at five Italian universities to support and unite medieval studies both in the real and the virtual world. RM has even its own society. Since 2001 RM worked also with scholars outside Italy. Nowadays you might see Reti Medievali as a fleet, with on its ships a library, an events calendar, teaching tools, e-books, essays, an internet guide for medieval studies and its own online journal. At RM the section RM Memoria has the least transparent title, but it offers a concise bibliographical introduction to the medieval history of Italian regions and a number of Italian medievalists, and also a small section with three medievalists from abroad and a corner for medieval Spain. Among these scholars are some famous legal historians, for example Carlo Guido Mor, Pietro Torelli and Giovanni Tabacco. Reinhard Elze figures among the three non-Italian medievalists.

My first port of call at Reto Medievali should be the Repertorio. Here you can find at a general level overviews of the situations of medieval studies in eight countries, an overview of scientific journals, and nearly thirty introductions on a number of subjects and themes. Each introduction contains a – sometimes elaborate – sketch on its subject, and then proceeds to relevant sources in archives and libraries, editions, online resources, and closes with a bibliography. Legal history is certainly present here. The report by Riccardo Rao on Le risorse colletive nell’Italia medievale (2007) deals with recent scholarship about communal goods and several forms of medieval commons; Italy gets the main focus, but Rao provides also some references to other countries. Primo G. Embriaco dealt in 2006 in a similar way with the Regnum Italicum and with the power of lords in Italy from the ninth to the thirteenth century. In both introductions he mentions law at a few turns. Enrica Salvatori only mentions statutes in her essay on La civiltà comunale italiana [The civilization of the Italian comune], and apart from the useful references concerning municipal statutes law is nearly absent as a primary subject. Anyway, updating this introduction written in 2003 would be sensible. Tommasso Duranti gives an introduction to late medieval diplomacy (2009), and Nicola Lorenzo Barile deals with Credito, usura, prestito a interesse [Credit, usury, loan with interest] (2010). Reti Medievali could score much higher here if they had not presented the general theme overview with a plugin that your browser might not support in any language version. Translating the titles of the contributions for a number of items within the general scheme would be a most desirable and not too difficult service.

A tour of medieval portals

Instead of being content with such criticisms I prefer to look now first at some other well-known portals and see whether they give more space, a wider view or a more up-to-date treatment of matters concerning medieval law and justice.

Logo MénestrelCan the minstrel of the French portal Ménestrel convince us to visit it regularly for information about medieval law? Luckily there is an English version of many pages, or at least an introduction in English, and in some cases a clear promise to translate particular pages. Ménestrel started as an offspring of the journal Le médiéviste et l’ordinateur (1979-2007), one of the earliest journals concerning the use of computers for medieval studies. Ménestrel wisely admits it will not try to outdo websites which fulfill all possible wishes about a subject, but instead this portal will refer to them. Alas this promise is not kept for the field of medieval law. Although this subject does show up many time when you use the free text search (droit) there is no attempt for a general overview. However, implicitly you can reach legal subjects by looking at the auxiliary sciences (palaeography, codicology, diplomatics) and some of the classic sources such as charters and cartularies. These sections rank with the best guides in this field. In its early days there was a fine section on medieval canon law maintained by Charles de Miramon (Paris, EHESS). but eventually this section was removed. Among the few spots at Ménestrel with space for ecclesiastical law was the section on histoire religieuse, but alas that section, too, is now defunct.

As a ray of light is the recent inclusion at Ménestrel of juridical documents in the section for Paris médiéval. In the section with documents you can learn about documents normatifs, sources such as ordinances, and sources judiciaires, in particular sources about the judiciary, but strangely also customary law. However great or small these deficiencies at Ménestrel, it is great to have this guide to medieval Paris. Ménestrel is wonderful for its country overviews of medieval studies and the overviews of archives and manuscripts, and there is also a section on teaching medieval history.

Logo MediaevumAt the German portal Mediaevum, the great online gateway to medieval Germanic languages, it is only in the large section for dictionaries (Wörterbücher) that legal matters come to the surface. Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) has created online versions of several of his dictionaries, among them one for medieval High German (Mittelhochdeutsch). Koebler’s website is a veritable portal to Germany’s legal history. Of course Mediaevum mentions the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, a project described here in a post last year. A promising link to a bibliography about Jews in medieval Europe is actually broken, but I did arrive at the Arye-Maimon-Institut für Geschichte der Juden (Universität Trier) and at a project led by Christoph Cluse concerning Medieval Mediterranean Slavery which does contain both a bibliography and a bibliographical database.

Logo ORB

There are several medieval portals with an exclusively English interface. The ORB (Online Resource Book for Medieval Studies) is one of the oldest still working portals. For this portal Brendan McManus created a concise section for medieval law, with reference to online version of Roman law texts, bibliographies for Roman law and canon law, and some links. The Labyrinth (Georgetown University) used to be a substantial gateway to medieval studies, but in its present clear design it is just a web repertory with commented links, lacking law as a general category. The number of relevant law links to be found with a free text search is meagre. Some links lead to the Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). This university in New York has placed this project conceived by Paul Halsall on a legacy subdomain, but you can still find here a splendid selection of sources in English translation for many subjects and themes, including medieval law and justice, for example about feudalism; the introductions, too, are interesting. However, The ORB and The Labyrinth do not attempt at covering the whole field of medieval studies. You will look in vain for an events calendar, a discussion forum or an online journal.

Logo Netserf-Law

This parade of American portals for medieval history would not be complete without NetSerf, a classic web repertory for medieval studies. Its choice of general subjects is balanced, and every link is accompanied with a concise introduction. The section on medieval law has a main overview and seven subsections, one for documents and the six others for barbarian laws, criminal law and punishment, canon law, Roman law, the English common law and Spanish law. Some pruning might be needed. A nice example is a Carolingian capitulare, a law from 802 figuring among the “barbarian laws”, the “national laws” published within the territories of the Roman Empire between roughly 400 and 750 A.D. Thanks to further subdivisions the section on the medieval period English common law is thoroughly useful. The cross-references are often helpful, and NetSerf is certainly worth visiting.

Let’s not forget here the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which often mentions translation, too. I should have added this reference to my recent post about digitized manor rolls at Harvard Law School, because in this resource you can search directly for editions of particular types of documents. The Avalon Project at the Lillian Goldman Library of Yale Law School has in its section for medieval documents (400-1399) some thirty legal documents and sources, most of them in English translation.

I would have been most happy to show you here a portal to medieval studies from the Netherlands and Belgium, but alas I cannot give you an unqualified example. The website of the Onderzoeksschool Mediëvistiek, the Dutch research school for medieval studies is strong in bringing news and information about scholarly events, as is its Flemish counterpart, the Vlaamse Werkgroep Mediëvistiek. The Contactgroep SIGNUM deals with the social, economic, legal and institutional history of Dutch and Flemish ecclesiastical institutions, but even the fine list of web links does not make this website into a portal site. The Francophone medievalists in Belgium have surely their useful society blog, and also the well-informed L’agenda du médiéviste, but as for now they have not yet launched a portal.

Banner Mittelalter blog

In Germany you will find in particular online tutorials for medieval history, for example Mittelalterliche Geschichte (Universität Augsburg), an online tutorial at Tübingen, and a Leitfaden Mittelalter at the e-Studies website of the Universität Köln. Within the Hypotheses network of scholarly blogs the Mittelalter blog has quickly gained a central role. This blog is close to current scholarly events and contributions. In a tree structure for scholarly disciplines at this blog legal history gets a niche in the section for Spezialgebiete (“special areas”), together with the history of medieval philosophy, religious orders and prosopography, surely nice company, but also a bit surprising. This tree has some other remarkable juxtapositions which gives you food for thought. Whatever you might think about this blog with its substantial blog roll, Martin Bertram did not hesitate to publish here last year an article about legal quaestiones from mid-thirteenth century Paris.

The results of this quick tour from a particular perspective are relatively clear. Ménestrel offers scattered information about legal history, but it almost turns the balance with the sections for the auxiliary sciences and its most valuable online guide to medieval Paris where legal records get judicious space. Mediaevum offers less relevant links than Ménestrel, but some of them are really useful. Thanks to its concise sections on medieval law the ORB Net scores better than the Labyrinth. NetSerf scores nicely with its section on medieval law which brings you to further sections with links, basic comments and cross-references. Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook and Yale’s Avalon project have both substantial attention for medieval legal history, and often they give you quick access to translation in modern English of important legal sources. A round-up of Dutch and Belgian websites did not add much to this tour, although all of them have at least one useful element. In Germany we saw a number of online tutorials for medieval history. The tree structure of the important Mittelalter blog left us somewhat bewildered about the role it accords to legal history.

Summa summarum

At the end of this post I bring Reti Medievali again into view. In my opinion this portal shines out for the sheer range of sections and approaches. Mediaevum is perhaps even better, but it is restricted to the Germanic languages and literature. Ménestrel satisfies many needs and it is strong on some fields with traditional importance for legal historians, but a general section about medieval law is sadly lacking, as are pointers to better resources. The absence of legal history is precisely more visible because the sheer width of disciplines is stunning, and some of these sections are truly superb. Italian medievalists can benefit for the auxiliary sciences from the Scrineum project at the Università degli studi di Pavia, and thus it does not matter so much that the Repertorio of Reti Medievali does have only one section from 2003 on this subject.

I f you create a grid with a number of fields for elements at these portals, such as sections for various disciplines with guides and bibliographies, an event calendar, news, a blog, a digital library, teaching tools and a scholarly journal, preferably in open access, you can quickly see which portal meets most demands. Even though it does not offer you everything in this list, Reti Medievali trumps the other portals when you look primarily for sheer width. Of course I realize that you will often go from one portal to another, and in fact I have set out here how to do this for medieval legal history. RM has a digital library and an online journal, RM Rivista appears since 1999. This journal is supported by Firenze University Press which publishes more journals in open access.

RM e-Book, the series of digital publications, is published also in cooperation with FU Press. The twenty books so far published in open access often touch upon subject related to legal history. Political history, political theory and the interplay between secular and ecclesiastical powers are the main subjects. No. 19 of the series is in itself reason enough to start having a closer look at RM, and in fact this spurred me to start writing this post. The four volumes of Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (2014) are a Festschrift for one of the most versatile contemporary scholars in the field of legal history. These laudatory volumes for Ascheri (1944) deal not only with medieval Italy, but also with towns and cities in Early Modern Europe, the cultural dimensions of the history of law in Europe, and also contemporary law and institutions in Europe and America. The overview of the contents will reassure you immediately of the presence of contributions in English, German and French side by side with articles in Italian. Medieval consilia, Siena and Tuscany, to mention some of Ascheri’s beloved themes, are often addressed by the authors, but in fact you will find articles touching many corners of Europe. The online versions are not just helpful for everyone without access to the printed version, but give you the possibility to search quickly for your own favorite themes and subjects.

The gist of my post is clear: instead of staying with one portal it can be most useful to look elsewhere, sometimes for specific questions, sometimes because of sheer curiosity or the expectation of interesting news just outside your normal fishing grounds. In my experience you will surmount the difficulties of other languages whenever your interests are really awakened. When you come back from one of these portals you might turn to the mighty volumes of the great Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, and find at every turn new aspects of medieval and later legal history. The four volumes build an impressive plea for the importance of legal history, meriting not just a room of its own in the mansions of history, but more convincingly as core connections between periods, subjects and themes.

Gathering all strengths for Nepal

Stay strong Nepal - ANHS-HimalayaSince Saturday the first news came about the major earthquake that hit Nepal its sheer size and impact become slowly more visible. You can follow the international news coverage for example at the dedicated earthquake page of the Nepal Research portal. On Tuesday some Dutch people who had been in Nepal returned and told on television about their experience and the situation in particular regions and locations. On Wednesday it was announced that the Netherlands would be charged with coordinating the relief efforts. Because of the immense number of airplanes now coming to Kathmandu it is often not possible to land or to fly away from Kathmandu Airport. In this post I will try to create a succinct overview of major online resources for contemporary Nepal and resources concerning its history and culture. The damage done to historic buildings is just one of the things affecting the people of Nepal.

Last week I did by chance search for online resources for legal history in Asia. It took me some time before I became convinced that it is useful to give here such an overview, because it took me a lot of time to find information and resources. You might ask yourself what is the use of digital libraries and collections in dealing with the impact of an earthquake. One can point to the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters, to mention just two examples. The availability of resources, be they material goods or information in print or online, and the presence of trained people at the locations with the most casualties and the greatest damage will make a huge difference. You will notice, too, that I have included at some turns legal materials and materials related to Nepal’s legal history, because this subject serves at this blog as the starting point for any contribution.

Access to resources about and from Nepal

The Library of Congress has among its country studies a guide to Nepal, but unfortunately this study dates from almost twenty years ago. The study can also be found on the website for country studies. Luckily the Law Library of the Library of Congress has a selection of links to more up-to-date information about Nepal. The LoC’s Global Legal Monitor show current legal information. Globalex (New York University) has probably the most extensive overview of the contemporary legal system in Nepal, with some attention to the history of this country. The Asian Legal Information Institute offers online access to Nepali legal resources. The United Nations started in 2014 with an information center in Kathmandu.

Nepals legal history

In Nepal the Nepal Law Commission, too, has put legal materials on its website, including historical constitutions, laws, treaties, statutes, bylaws, rules and regulations, to be found under the heading Documents – Law Archives. However, this website has not been updated since 2011. In her selective bibliography at her blog South Asian Legal History Resources Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) mentions just two items concerning Nepal, both by Mara Malagodi, Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: equality, identity, politics, and democracy in Nepal (1990-2007) (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013) and an article, ‘Ivor Jennings’s Constitutional Legacy beyond the Occidental-Oriental Divide’Journal of Law and Society 42/1 (2015) 102-26. Last year Sharafi published Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). As for recent studies about Nepal it is good to mention John Whelpton, A History of Nepal (Cambridge, etc., 2005) and Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan (eds.), Nepal in Transition. From People’s War to Fragile Peace (Cambridge, etc., 2012). It can do no harm to use the compact information about Nepal and its history compiled at WHKMLA, and you will find there a number of links, too. A good look at relevant Wikipedia articles can bring you much information, too.

Digitized books and open access

A number of websites in Europe and the United States give access to digitized books and documents dealing with Nepal. The section Ostasiatica of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has digitized some 50 works about Nepal. In the Hathi Trust Digital Library you have full access to some 70 books. A number of digitized items at Digital Himalaya deal with Nepal, in particular for maps, in the Rare Books section and the section for research journals. Among these journals is the very important Regmi Research Series, with translation of some Nepalese constitutions and other legal materials, and both an English-Nepali and a Nepali-English dictionary. You can also consult the 2001 census of Nepal, and last but not least benefit from the very substantial links collection crowning this digital portal. Cornell University, too, has digitized the volumes of the Regmi Research Series with documents in translation, and Cornell has also digitized a number of Nepali text books. At Cornell the department of Asian Studies has created its own selection of relevant links. Old Maps Online helps you find you without delay a great number of relevant historical and also more recent maps held in twenty libraries from many countries showing Nepal, Kathmandu and other locations and regions within Nepal.

At Southeast Asia Visions, yet another Cornell website, you can find 350 digitized Early Modern travel accounts concerning this region. As for scholarly journals from Nepal, you can access a number of open access journals for Nepal through DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) or go directly to Nepal Journals Online. By the way, I did find nothing touching specifically on Nepal in a first quick search in the companion Directory of Open Access Books, but maybe other search terms will bring you more. In the OAPEN Library, another open access initiative, I could find at least some studies about natural disasters. When you use the forces of the advanced search mode at BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) you can find a substantial number of recent scholarly articles and books about and from Nepal, but also older works. BASE works with some 3,500 repositories all over the world. Only four of them are in Nepal, and only Nepal Journals Online is now up and running. The blog The Himalayas and Beyond, too, helps tyou o track current research.

The telling images

Header Nepal Picture Library

Images say more than thousand words, and in this respect one of the most important links at Digital Himalaya is to the Nepal Picture Library where you can find a number of photo collections. Digital Himalaya also mentions a project at Brown University, Providence, RI, with images of Buddhist mural paintings in three monasteries in Mustang in a Tibetan region of Northwestern Nepal. It is also useful to look at the resources of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, although naturally the focus is strongly on Tibet.

Not just one language

One of the problems in helping Nepal is the variety of languages. Nepali is the main language, but in a number of regions other languages are used. The French project Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale (CNRS, Paris) deals with eight languages in Nepal. In Leiden the International institute for Asian Studies, too, has shown interest in some languages spoken in Nepal. Another major research institution, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, supports the Endangered Language Archive. SOAS, too, has a useful selection of relevant links for South Asia. For Nepal one can find in this selection in particular the Hindi Script Tutor which helps you learning the Devanagari script used also for Nepali, and a link to Mountain Voices with texts and translations of interviews, amounting also to an important resource for oral history. The Digital South Asia Library (University of Chicago) is in particular helpful with its repertory of online dictionaries for languages in South Asia and the overview of bibliographies, with among them also Chicago’s South Asia Union Catalogue.

Manuscripts and documents in Nepal

The past days I have not succeeded in getting access to the website of the Nepal National Library in Kathmandu. The Kaiser Library in Kathmandu has considerable historical holdings. A number of collections in Nepal has been the subject of projects sponsored by the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) of the British Library, mainly in cooperation with the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Lalitpur. EAP aims at conserving, describing and digitizing fragile and threatened archival collections, documents and manuscripts. EAP 066 dealt with some 50 periodicals and 140 monographs. EAP 166 was a project concerning some 6,500 rare negatives and photographs in two collections at the MPP. In EAP 171 a pilot study was conducted at the SOAS for Nepali manuscripts from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. EAP 272 is another project at the MPP, this time for ephemera and manuscripts mainly from the past century, but it included also older manuscripts. The fifth EAP project (EAP 676) aimed at conserving and digitizing seventeen privately held collections in Lalitpur with Buddhist manuscripts written in Sanskrit. The 10000 images in this collection have been published online in January 2015. The EAP blog at the British Library brings you news about this project. The University of Hamburg, too, works on the preservation and cataloguing of Nepali manuscripts, supported by its own office in Kathmandu. There is an online catalogue of the microfilms created within this project.

Scattered around the world more digital collections with objects from Nepal can be found. The University of Washington has some twenty music instruments in its ethnomusical holdings. In the Huntington Archive of Ohio State University you can find at least 800 images concerning Nepal. In the past anthropologists have collected materials in Nepal. Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) is just an example. His papers are at the British Library, and you can consult an online inventory of these papers thanks to the efforts of Cambridge University. The Muktabodah Indological Research Institute in Emeryville, CA and New Delhi has not only digitized manuscripts, but also created searchable e-texts in its digital library. The Indology.info website is a portal to research initiatives and the various digital libraries with Vedic, Tibetan and Buddhist texts. The EAP projects for Nepal are not mentioned at this portal.

I would have loved to continue here with digital art collections, but their sheer number worldwide as represented at Himalayan Art has convinced me that there is no need to double its efforts.

The balance between quick reactions and completeness

Header Savifa

Sometimes help is needed immediately. Those victims still alive but buried under the stones and concrete of collapsed buildings need help now, and the people suffering from wounds and diseases need basic treatment or even surgery at the spot. However, in order to achieve the most humanly possible some kind of overview, some measure of preparation is needed. Epidemic diseases might occur. Roads are still blocked in many regions, communication is often impossible or hampered severely, and you can reach any villages only by walking long paths.

While writing this post I often thought that I should not try to outdo myself in bringing this amount of online resources together. A number of considerations changed my view. First of all, a number of resources within Nepal cannot be reached at all. Secondly, yesterday I could not view one of the major online resources, the Tibetan and Himalayan Library. A third consideration came in a very late stage. I would dearly like to have discovered much earlier the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Südasien at the University of Heidelberg, abbreviated with the acronym SaViFa. I did not spot this service quickly on other websites at Heidelberg, such as those of the Südasieninstitut and its Kathmandu office at Lalitpur, and I overlooked SaViFa at the overview of other relevant Asian research resources in Heidelberg. Hopefully others more versed in Asian matters will have reacted already more efficiently than I can do.

SaViFa with an interface in German and English gives you with a first simple search for Nepal some 200 links to all kinds of online resources. The SaViFa portal offers many possibilities of its companion virtual portals and the special subject collections in Germany to refine your searches for particular resource types, regions, subjects and periods. CrossAsia, a service of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the other major German portal for research on Asia, focuses clearly on East and Southeast Asia.

Let’s not wait any longer, may this post go its way! I promise to create a PDF with a more helpful arrangement of the many resources presented here in a sometimes rambling way, and of course I will try to correct any grave omission and factual mistakes. In my experience it is most rewarding to get familiar with subjects and cases far outside your usual territory. I learned a lot from finding my way into Nepal, a country on the roof of the world. Hopefully the world will continue and renew its efforts, and arrive and preferably stay with adequate help to rescue and support the people and treasures of that collapsed roof.

A postscript

Already while writing this post I was sure I would overlook some important resources. i would have liked to mention here much more, but alas it turns out to be rather difficult to find resources even at some universites with very promising holdings. However, the very least I can do is pointing you to a recent overview of digital resources for South Asian legal history created by Mitra Sharafi, a guest blogger at the inexhaustible Legal History Blog. I have seen some online library guides with either information already found elsewhere, very concise or lacking descriptions of resources, and this is a strong contrast with Digital Himalaya, a model of its kind among digital portals. It is a comfort to have Sharafi’s guidance and helpful comments about South Asian resources in these posts and at her own blog.

Celebrating common law beyond Magna Carta

Header Et Seq.

2015 is the year of many celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is silly to try to avoid mentioning it here, but I know my readers expect me to find a different slant on the celebration. The four remaining copies of the 1215 version get ample attention at the British Library. The Lincoln copy was put on show in 2014 at the Library of Congress (Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor). Earlier this year there was much media coverage for the finding of a later copy of Magna Carta at Sandwich, Kent. At first I would have almost believed the news concerned the finding of a fifth copy from 1215, but this was not the case. However, this copy from 1300 combined with a copy of the Forest Charter.

Recently Harvard Law Library decided to digitize its collection of manuscripts and archival records with texts concerning medieval English law. At Et Seq., the library’s blog, there were already two announcements, on March 25 about early English manor rolls by Mary Person, and on April 10 ‘Medieval Manuscripts Online-Magna Carta & More’ by Karen Beck. The riches of the digital collections at Harvard Law Library are certainly no secret, but now it seems they surpass their earlier efforts, this time with support from the Ames Foundation. Person and Beck briefly introduced the new digital collections, but there is a real need to tell more here.

A gateway to medieval resources

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16) - image Et Seq.

Detail of a manor roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

Before going quickly to the newly digitized resources it is wise to look at the overview of historical and special collections, the web page on rare books and manuscripts, and finally the overview of digital collections and digital exhibits. This threefold entrance is in some respects confusing, but each approach is in itself valuable. The only snag is remembering where you found a particular collections, exhibit or link! By the way, the overview of digital historical databases deals with subscription databases.

The first series of digitized archival records consists of some 170 medieval rolls, mainly manor rolls and account rolls, most of them stemming from five villages in different English counties (Cheshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Staffordshire and Suffolk). Some items are effectively not rolls, but charters. The time range of the items goes from 1305 to 1770, with therefore not just medieval sources. These rolls will be successively digitized during the coming years. As for now you can read online only items from Moulton in Cheshire, with just one court roll [no. 20, Lenten court, 30 Henry VIII (1539-1540)]. There is an online finding aid (inventory) with descriptions of all items and whenever available links to their digital version. To assess the variety of materials digitized at Harvard Law School you might have a look at an earlier post here about medieval rolls. English manor rolls could be easily found using the Manorial Documents Register of the British National Archives. I find it harder to get an overview of them using the new Discovery portal, but in the end you can find for example other rolls for Moulton Manor.

The series of medieval legal manuscripts at Harvard Law School has been divided into two section, the first with forty registers of statutes dating from the early fourteenth century until 1500, the second for nineteen registers of writs. The oldest register of writs (Registrum brevium with also some tracts) dates from around 1275 (HLS MS 24), the latest one from around 1476 (HLS MS 25). One manuscript contains also yearbooks and tracts (HLS MS 193, around 1350). The volumes with compilations of statutes often contain the text of Magna Carta. The oldest manuscript present at Harvard which includes Magna Carta dates from around 1300 [HLS MS 57, Magna Carta cum Statutis]. You can also search for these manuscripts within the HOLLIS catalogue of Harvard University Library, using the filed “Other call number” and entering “HLS MS XXX”, with XXX for the manuscript number.

HLS MS 172, Sherriff's Magna Carta, around 1327

“Sherriff’s Magna Carta”, around 1327 (?, circa 1298) – Harvard Law School, MS 172

A splendid example of the presence of Magna Carta in Englsh legal life is a socalled sherriff’s Magna Carta said to date from around 1327 (HLS MS 172). However, in the overview of manuscripts it is suggested with due hesitance that it might even date from 1297 or 1298. Such copies were read aloud four times every year.

At the website of the Ames Foundation you can consult an overview of all these registers and manuscripts. The Ames Foundation invites scholars to provide more detailed descriptions of manuscripts, something until now only done for HLS MS 184 which contains the Statuta vetera, writs and some tracts. The description of this manuscript does refer to the overview of manuscripts created by John H. Baker, English legal manuscripts in the United States of America : a descriptive list (2 vol., London 1985-1990; Selden Society; reprint 2 vol., Buffalo, NY, 2010), and earlier in English legal manuscripts, vol. 1: Catalogue of the manuscript year books, readings, and law reports in the library of the Harvard Law School, John H. Baker (ed.) (Zug, 1975). The new description of HLS MS 184 gives you for each item in the manuscript the link to the digitized page. For many items you will find a reference to the numbering in the Statutes of the Realm or additional information about editions. The meta-data of the manuscript are not forgotten either. In my humble opinion this example sets a standard for describing English medieval legal manuscripts. The name of the author of this description should definitely be added.

The overview created by the Ames Foundation makes it very clear that what we encounter here is not just a very regular set of manuscripts. These manuscripts at Harvard will show surprises to those scholars who start with the large labor of dealing in-depth with each of them. The overview points to an unedited tract in HLS MS 24b, a single leaf with a large section of the Tractatus de bastardiae, described in 1997 by Jerome Arkenberg. ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54, an article available also online. I am sure this is only an example, and not an exception of a text yet to be edited and studied.

The digitized manuscripts help us to come closer to the actual versions of texts seen by those dealing with legal matters in the late Middle Ages, and this can correct the more synthesized critical editions of texts such as the Statuta vetera et nova. A comparison with the text versions printed in incunabula editions comes also much more feasible, and these early editions, too, can now be found in digital versions, too. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) at the British Library increasingly point to digital versions . You can search in these online catalogues for Statuta regnorum and Statuta Angliae or use the GW overview of all editions of statutes.

Magna Carta seen in perspective

In the year of the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta the newly digitized manuscripts at Harvard show above all Magna Carta did not stand alone. It got a place alongside other statutes of the realm. It would be most interesting to see what place or impact Magna Carta had on actual writs, and for answering this question, too, you can now consult at home on the screen of your computer or tablet the digitized registers of writs kept at the magnificent holdings of Harvard Law School. You will benefit also from the resources and articles brought together at the website of the Magna Carta Research Project. As for medieval canon law and Magna Carta, you could very well start with reading an online essay by Anne Duggan at the website of the project Early English Laws. A look at these earlier laws helps also to discern with more precision the new elements within Magna Carta.

At my own web page about legal history you can find among the information about the history of the common law links to other online resources for this subject which merits continuing attention because of the continuities and changes in the history of Anglo-American law at large. Apart from its printed publications and the priceless online Index to Year Book Reports (David Seipp, Boston College) the Ames Foundation is working with Harvard Law School to create further digital access to resources in the field of the history of the common law and medieval law in a wider sense.

The definitive history of Magna Carta will not be written because every generation will come with different questions and methods to approach the old roads to answers, and no doubt each generation will come up with new perspectives worth considering carefully again and again. Thanks to the staff at Harvard University for make these materials accessible for anyone interesting in legal history! As for Et Seq. you can subscribe to its RSS feeds, simply follow the 852 RARE items of this library blog or follow @hlslib at Twitter. If liberty is a value to treasure and foster you cannot pass by in silence this Icon of Liberty, the telling subtitle of a special website created by the American Bar Association for this year’s Law Day (May 1). Magna Carta 800th will keep you informed about many of this year’s celebrations. Among this year’s online exhibitions are Exploring Magna Carta of Boston College Law Library and The Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297 of the Parliament House, Canberra.

A postscript

Linking Magna Carta and medieval canon law is not a whim or an isolated idea. On June 16 and 17 a conference will be held at Saint Louis, Missouri on the theme New Constitutions and Constitutional Beginnings: The Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta 800 years later. The conference is sponsored by the International Society for Medieval Canon Law (ICMAC). The Fourth Lateran Council is the subject of a congress later this year in Rome, November 24-29, 2015: Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.