A new start in medieval canon law

Pope Boniface VIII knew exactly how important the choice of the right opening words was, especially for such publications as his decrees, encyclical letters and decretals. His decretal Rem non novam (Extrav. comm. 2.3.1) issued in 1303 gives its name to an event signalling a development that is partially new and partially a continuation, the restart at New Haven of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law. An inaugural conference which takes its name from Boniface VIII’s decretal will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015. New Haven was home to the institute from 1964 to 1970 when Stephan Kuttner, its founder, hold a chair at Yale University. His institute has figured already several times at my blog. It seems right to bring in this post also to your attention the call for papers for the Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held in Paris in July 2016. Both events are mentioned in the congress calendar of my blog, but in my view they merit more attention.

A new start

Banner rem non novam conference at New Haven

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996) founded the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Kuttner moved to New Haven, and in 1970 he brought the institute to Berkeley, CA. In 1991 the institute moved officially to Germany. In 1996 the library arrived at the university of Munich. I was involved in the restart of the IMCL at Munich, in particular for creating a catalogue of the books in Kuttner’s library, a task done with the gracious support of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Elsewhere on this blog I wrote more about the creation and wanderings of the IMCL. In a way Its travels symbolise the crossing of borders necessary in studying the history of medieval canon law. Stephan Kuttner had to cross the borders of many countries, not only for his research but also to find a home for himself and his family. The IMCL is supported by an institution with a long Latin name, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio (ICMAC) or International Society of Medieval Canon Law.

In 2013 the IMCL returned to the United States, back to New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University offers again hospitality to this institute, now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Apart from books the library of the IMCL contains several collections, especially some 8,000 offprints of scholarly articles, several hundred microfilms both from the original holdings of the IMCL and from scholars such as Gérard Fransen and Rudolf Weigand, and Kuttner’s vast scholarly correspondence. At the Yale Law Library efforts have started to make all these riches better accessible. At the Munich website you can access – in English or German – the library catalogue, the offprints catalogue and the database for twelfth-century decretals based on the research done by Walter Holtzmann and other scholars. To the items in the library and offprints catalogues classifications will be added. The program for the critical edition of texts in the field of medieval canon law will be continued. The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law is now pbulished by the Catholic University of America Press.

To celebrate the return of the IMCL to Yale University and to underline its importance a conference and grand opening will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015, with scholars coming from all over the world. Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur, “we tackle a thing that is not new or unusual”, but in fact harbouring the IMCL is special indeed. At its consecutive homes it always added a number of unparalleled collections to its scholarly surroundings. An example: at Munich I catalogued in 1997-1998 for the IMCL ten publications concerning the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín. I was hard pressed to find any library worldwide with at least half of these publications. The great variety of resources now present at New Haven are already reflected in the abstracts of the papers to be presented at the May conference.

Reuniting scholars every four year

Banner ICMCL Paris 2016

With Gérard Fransen (Université Catholique de Louvain) and other scholars Stephan Kuttner organized a conference about medieval canon law in Brussels in 1958. A second conference held in Boston followed in 1963, and a third in Strasbourg followed in 1968. Since 1968 these congresses are held every four year, alternately organized east and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law will be held at Paris from July 17 to 23, 2016. The Institut d’Histoire du Droit of the Université Paris-II (Panthéon-Assas) will be the host of this congress, with support from the Université Paris-Sud and other well-known research institutes in Paris.

Over the years a division of the congress into six sections has been developed. For many years research concerning Gratian occupied a separate section or at the very least dominated the, section on sources and texts. However, in view of the steady progress of the edition of the frist version of Gratian’s canonical collection this theme will surely return. Proposals for papers can be sent to callforpapers@icmcl2016.org before September 30, 2015.

It might seem carrying coals to Newcastle, but it might be actually important to look a bit closer to the proposed sections for the 2016 congress at its bilingual website. Sources and texts fall into the first section, and canonical doctrine into a section of its own, fair enough. The third section is reserved for institutions, legislation and procedure. The application and influence of canon law make up the fourth section. Relationships between law and theology are the subject of the fifth section, and the last section will deal with schools and teaching of law.

In my view this division shows very convincingly that medieval canon law was not something static and monolithic, even when dealing with eternal values and returning problems for a still united Christendom. Canon law had to react when new laws appeared that might be in conflict with the norms and values it enshrined. Legal matters did touch upon Christian beliefs and vice versa. In the twelfth century it was still difficult to distinguish at all between canon law and theology, and it would be shortsighted to tear them apart too early. Canonical influences can clearly be detected in the procedures of courts, even in courts of civil law. In medieval universities schools rose which defended particular positions about points of law, and of course views changed or gained the upper hand or lost their power. Canon law depended to a certain extent on revived Roman law, but it could as well change the impact of Roman law.

Continuity and change

The original decretal of Boniface VIII deals with a matter that should attract closer attention in the year with celebrations for 800 years Magna Carta. The decretal’s first sentence was “Rem non novam aggredimur, neque viam insolitam ambulamus”, words slightly changed by the organizing committee in New Haven. While borrowing from the preface to Cod. 3.1.14, this pope did change canon law. His decretal was a stepping stone in anchoring norms for valid legal procedure, ensuring that defendants had the right to be brought before a court. The clause of Magna Carta claiming the right to appear before a judge of one’s equals had not yet taken this step forward of granting anyone the right to receive justice in a well-ordered way. Due process is a characteristic of legal procedure shaped to considerable extent by developments in medieval canon law.

Scholars studying medieval canon law have not confined themselves to reading and analyzing only legal texts. Randy Johannesen wrote about the contemporary surroundings and consequences of the decretal Rem novam [‘Cardinal Jean Lemoine’s gloss to Rem non novam and the reinstatement of the Colonna cardinals’, in: Proceedings of the eighth international congress of medieval canon law, Stanley Chodorow (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1992) 309-320]. Tilmann Schmidt published Der Bonifaz-Prozess : Verfahren der Papstanklage in der Zeit Bonifaz’ VIII. und Clemens’ V (Cologne, etc., 1989) about the steps taken against Boniface VIII himself. These are just two examples, but much more can be added to them, as a search within for example the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz can quickly confirm. Looked at in vitro medieval canon law looses its significance for legal history at large, but time and again it is possible to show its many and surprising connections not only with all layers of medieval society, but also with legal developments right until our century.

Creating convincing arguments in court

Banner image of two muses, Themis and ClioLately I was gently pressed to add a particular blog to my blogroll. I argued that it does not deal primarily with legal history, although it is in many respects a most valuable blog. Even after a second plea, accompanied with a nice variant on Ceterum censeo… I still stick with my argument, On inspecting the several sections of my blogroll I also looked at the growing number of online journals in open access dealing with legal history. The latest issue of Clio@Themis [8 (2014)] deals with the history of legal argumentation, a theme which has had my interest since many years. I also spotted the announcement of an upcoming scholarly event in May on this subject. Nomôdos, the blog of Clio@Themis, is most useful in tracing new publications and announcements concerning legal history in France. Thus it is a source for my congress calendar, and of course it is listed in my blogroll. These two subjects give me enough materials for this post.

Arguments in courts

Clio@Themis is a French scientific journal with most of its articles in French, with abstracts in English added to them. The journal has a tradition of including as a bonus a French version of classic legal articles. Its latest issue called L’argumentation au cœur du processus judiciaire skips this feature. Seven articles deal with legal argumentation in court proceedings. Two other contributions are only loosely connected with the general subject of this issue.

Logo CHJ Université-Lille 2

Catherine Denys and Naoko Seriu introduce the theme of this number and elucidate briefly the subjects of the seven articles which originated at three days of scholarly encounters around this theme in 2012 at the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université Lille-2). They describe a shift from viewing legal argumentation solely as part of legal doctrine to an approach akin to the way philosophers, sociologists and linguists deal with speech acts. The history of the judiciary and legal practice is here the primary field of investigation. The use of arguments is seen here as a part of a strategy to get favorable results in court.

The focus of all articles is on three European countries during the Early Modern period, with the exception of two articles dealing with subjects from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first two articles the sixteenth century comes into light. Alain Wijffels discusses procedures claiming revisions of earlier trials at the Grand Conseil de Malines, the highest court of the Habsburgian Low Countries. The appeals for revision should be allowed in cases of factual errors (error facti) and in principle not for any legal error (error iuris), but in actual practice both kinds or error could be redeemed. The interesting thing is how lawyers at Malines argued about this state of affairs.

Marco Cavina deals in his contribution – in Italian – with the views of Carlo Ruini and Andrea Alciato concerning the different types of legal counseling in consilia. Alciato sketched a model with different approaches used by lawyers. Some went for subtle reasonings (subtilitates), others for the archetypical Renaissance – but essential medieval – abundance (copia) of allegations from Roman and canon law, and a third group imitated the brevitas of the classical Roman lawyers and their compact way of expressing opinions. Alciato frowned upon publishing consilia for several reasons, but his own contributions to this genre, too, were posthumously printed.

Isabelle Arnal-Corthier looks at materials sometimes presented to the Parlement de Toulouse in criminal appeal cases between 1670 and 1700. Instead of just a hearing of the accused for an appeal in criminal cases as punctuated in the royal ordinance of 1670 barristers often brought also a lettre de cassation to this court. The defense adduced in these cases mainly arguments about the competence of lower courts, insufficient evidence or irregularities during judicial procedures.

Yet another French court, the Parlement de Tournai and its third chamber in the late seventeenth century, figures in an article by Jacques Lorgnier who deals with cases concerning property rights and conflicts about the cost of church repairs. This foray into actual argumentation leads him to the hypothesis that the justiciables, the people going to court and their legal representatives, trusted the workings of rational arguments in the face of solid proofs within the framework of legal procedure.

Logo ADN

At this point I would like to mention the great resource created by legal historians at Lille for doing research into the history of the Parlement de Flandre. In the database ParleFlandre you can find more than 30,000 dossiers from the série 8B1 at the Archives Départementales du Nord (ADN) in Lille. Lorgnier uses cases from another series of dossiers at the ADN, the série 8B2. For the history of the Low Countries the archival collections at the ADN contain many important documents. At Fontes Historiae Iuris, the virtual portal at Lille to digitized resources concerning French legal history, is a section with further resources for the Parlement de Flandre.

Naoko Seriu looks at a scarcely known crime at the end of the Ancien Régime, the illegal sale of military goods by deserters, in particular uniforms. Records of trials survive in which individuals were charged with buying these illegal uniforms or the vendors themselves were charged with this crime. Seriu compares the verbal strategies used and the particular differences in approach to exculpate themselves. I could not help noticing that the examples of cases stem mainly from Brittany, in fact from just one modern département, Ille-et-Vilaine. A comparison with other regions might be useful. At the EHESS in Paris Seriu studied with Arlette Farge, a French historian who has devoted much attention to the way stories are told in historical sources, recently in Condamnés au XVIIIe siècle (Lormont 2013).

Forays into the twentieth century

Bruno Debaenst (Ghent) brings us from France to Belgium and much closer to the twentieth-first century. In his contribution (in English) he has studied trials concerning accidents during work in around Mons between 1870 and 1914. Using dangerous machinery, imperfectly prepared surroundings, shortcomings in labor organization, and workmanship not up to demands were among the arguments heard around these cases. In these years the Belgian code of civil law still was a virtually unchanged version of the French Code civil, with scarcely attention to actual circumstances in an industrial society. Debaenst describes also the use of reports by experts, criminal investigations and testimonies. In the face of inadequate means to deal conclusively with liability defendants had much opportunity to evade responsibility for what happened in their firms, thus reaffirming the gap between workers and patrons.

In the last article of this special Frédéric Chavaud brings us to familiar scenes from modern crime series on television. He looks at the use of emotions between 1880 and 1940 as arguments at the Cour des Assises, the highest criminal court in French departments. Tears, laughter and fear were not only used by barristers and defendants, but also by others in court. Studying the history of emotions is not without its pitfalls, and Chavaud rightfully points to some pivotal studies. He uses mainly contemporary public reports about trials, and not the actual dossiers of the cases. These reports do convey a vivid image or proceedings, but one can suspect that their authors also follow well-known tracks to please the expectations of their readers. Of course it is exactly important to notice such bias and detect changes in them. Emotions can and could break rational arguments and reasonings, specially when directed at juries. Chavaud clearly focuses on the contemporary perception of emotions, and he rightly mentions studies about emotions in court published between 1920 and 1940.

The range in time of this special is pleasing, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, and we read about both civil and criminal law. The geographic focus, however, is on France, even when admittedly you get a most varied view of French legal history. Luckily the Low Countries, Belgium and Italy add a European dimension. Lorgnier is the only author to mention the use of topical argumentation. I am afraid it is not quite possible to expand here very much on any of the articles presented here. You can always wish for more, and therefore I invite you now to the second section of this post about a congress where you might pursue this aim very soon.

Studying legal controversies

Banner Rennes 2015

La controverse. Études de l’histoire d’argumentation juridique [Controversy. Studies on the history of legal argumentation] is the title of the coming Journées internationales, the yearly congress organized by the Société d’Histoire du Droit. This year’s congress will be held at Rennes from May 28 to 31, 2015 with the Centre d’Histoire du Droit of the Université de Rennes-1 acting as its hosts. You might want to have a good look at the generous links section of their website and at its own digital library. Rennes is the capital of the département Ille-et-Vilaine mentioned above, and participants might want to visit the Archives départementales. The call for papers is still active. Proposals should be sent before March 10, 2015, and this is the closing date, too, for registration (mail: shd.rennes@gmail.com). Rennes is well worth visiting, in particular for the building of the old Parlement de Bretagne. Saint-Malo and the Mont-Saint-Michel are not far away.

Young scholars, too, get a chance at Rennes. There will be a atélier doctoral organized in cooperation with the Association française des jeunes historiens du droit, a society of young legal historians founded in 2013. You can send your proposals until March 30, 2015 (mail: assofjhd@gmail.com).

The congress wants to approach controversies both as a phenomenon within the territories of law, be it the judiciary, legislation or doctrine, and as historical cases of conflicts about a plethora of possible subjects. What was the impact of certain schools of thought? Which impact had other disciplines on legal theory and practice? It is perhaps necessary to keep in thought that the international dimension of the Journées was and is traditional that of the French-speaking world at large, the francophonie. The blog like website at Rennes nicely mentions the exceptional use of English for any communication. In a region with many British and Dutch visitors one might expect the start of a change to that tradition.

This post with a French flavor should also remind readers from the Anglophone world that those speaking and writing English are no the only possible center of the world of science. It can be truly useful and illuminating to know about different approaches in other countries, to practice them yourself or to use your approach on foreign ground in order to see how universal it really is. Anyway, I have tried to convey something of my joy in discovering this special of an online legal history journal, and I might well do this here again. In my blogroll or for example at Nomôdos or the blog of the European Society for Comparative Legal History you can choose from many online journals in the fields of legal history.

Laws and the French Revolution

The French Revolution remains a most interesting and influential period of French history, with an impact far beyond the borders of France. Its great events, the shifts in power and the colourful personalities make it into a subject which continues to hold worldwide attention. At the center of change were the activities of the French national assembly. Revolutionary decrees and laws were one of the prime factors changing many aspects of French society and daily life. Two new digital portals help researchers to access online a veritable treasure trove of relevant materials. In this post I will make a tour of them. This post aims also at laying the foundations for further postings about French legal history. In fact it is solely for reasons of economy and for the comfort of readers that you will find a nucleus of materials lifted out from a larger context. Rather than causing confusion by publishing a very long post with lots of threads I invite you to wait how this post connects with upcoming posts about France during the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution.

Finding the laws

How closer one comes to contemporary history, the more overwhelming the sheer masses of information become. The sheer scope and scale of dealing in any depth with France during the Ancien Régime has become more impressive since you can command a wealth of resources from you computer screen, but in fact you are faced with mountains of information.

It used to take great efforts at research institutions in Paris to get access to materials. My supervisor at Rotterdam, the late Chris ten Raa, became during the sixties nourri dans le sérail doing research in Paris on French judicial institutions created during the French Revolution. I am sure he would have delighted in having so much more at your disposal at touch screen distance. This does not displace the immediate contact with sources and knowing your way in French archives and libraries, but it does most definitely enlarge the scale of research.

Chris ten Raa had been intrigued by Voltaire’s remarks about the juge de paix, a lay judge dealing with cases in a prejudicial phase, and thus bringing justice much quicker and closer to people. Voltaire wrote approvingly about such judges active in Leiden. How much did he influence the eventual plans for installing juges de paix as part and parcel of French judicial reform? Before he became a legal historian Ten Raa himself had worked as a judge. He looked at the cahiers de doléances of 1789 and traced the discussions in the French revolutionary assemblies leading to the law proclaimed on August 16, 1790. He described the early history of an institution which the French also brought to Belgium, the Netherlands and the French territories in Germany. He published the results of his research as De oorsprong van de kantonrechter [The origin of the juge de paix] (thesis Rotterdam; Deventer 1970). At Rotterdam he led in the nineties an international project with the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université de Lille-2) to investigate in more depth the workings of these judges and other French legal institutions, for example the conseil de famille, which had come to other countries as legal transplants. A very recent study on this subject was published by Guillaume Métairie, Justice et juges de paix de Paris (1789-1838), Étude institutionnelle et biographique (Limoges 2014).

Laws and decrees

Banner Collection Baudouin

The two portals in this post, too, are the fruits of international cooperation. The ARTFL project (American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language, University of Chicago) was involved in the project for the digital version of the Collection Baudouin, now accessible at a website of the Université de Paris-I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). Other institutions were involved, too, for the realization of this portal, for example the Archives nationales. This digital collection offers you nothing less than a searchable version of the décrets et lois of the Assemblée Nationale between 1789 and 1795. A complete set of the 67 volumes of Baudouin’s collection, the Collection générale des lois, is very rare to find. The famous dictum Nul n’est censé ignorer la loi, nobody is supposed to be ignorant of the law, can now become true when you can deal at your finger tips with more than 20,000 laws and decrees. François-Jean Baudouin was the publisher who faced the challenge to publish the vast stream of legislation, and the portal offers information about his life and work.

The database with the decrees and laws can only be viewed in French. You can access the laws by volume which brings you images of the printed editions (mode image) or by looking for particular texts (mode texte). At the web page for the first search mode you will find also a link to a tool for converting revolutionary dates into normal dates according to the Gregorian calendar. The recherche dans le texte is an advanced search mode. I looked for the law concerning the juges de paix of August 16, 1790, and I could quickly find it. These judges do not appear in the title of this law, one thing that made searching for them in the printed volumes rather cumbersome. Other elements of the portal deserve attention, too, such as the two glossaries for common French words and for proper names which both often appear in variant spellings. There is a section with information about recent publications about French revolutionary legislation, some of them available online, and a section on scholarly events accompanying the work on this portal. Of all sources and resources about the French Revolution you find here at one point access to its very fountain head. It is here you can trace in the préambules the echos of proposals made by the French philosophes and by Frenchmen themselves in the cahiers de doléances.

Before going to the second portal I would like to mention some of the digital resources offered by the Archives nationales. In its ARCHIM database are French constitutions since 1789 and a selection of 42 documents about the French Revolution, and since 2014 also twelve digitized manuscripts of Robespierre. The links selection of the Archives nationales is also very helpful. Initially I missed here the Base Choiseul for searching French treaties, but this database has recently been integrated with the Pacte database for traités en vigueur (treaties in force) into the Base des Traités et Accords de la France, where you can find also a useful survey of treaty collections.

The Archives parlementaires

Image FRDA Stanford/BnFStanford University Libraries have partnered with the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) for the magnificent bilingual portal French Revolution Digital Archive/ Archives numériques de la Révolution française (FRDA/ANRF). There are two main sections, the digital edition of the Archives parlementaires for the years 1787-1794, and Images of the French Revolution, For some reason I thought these images came from the Institut d’Histoire de la Révolution Française (IHRF), because a reshuffling of its materials has made the website of this research institute at present rather confusing. For some years after 1794 the IHRF offers at least links to digitized versions of the Bulletin des lois (1795-1799, 1804 and 1806).

For reasons of copyright the FRDA portal contains only those volumes of the Archives parlementaires published before 1914. The series started as a governmental initiative but soon scholars took over the project. The editions give us in chronological order not only parliamentary deliberations, but also the full text of letters, reports and accounts of events by journalists. The 82 volumes now available online deal with the period from May 5, 1789 until January 4, 1794, and are supplemented by a list of the remaining volumes for 1794. You can use a free text search, but also narrow your searches to particular periods and persons. Further limits can be set to a particular volume, assembly, reports of séances (sessions) or other resources, and even to people surrounding a particular person.

At the FRDA portal you can follow not only the deliberations of the representatives, but it is also possible to read online a number of cahiers de doléances in the edition of the first six volumes of the Archives parlementaires. The website of the Archives de France have created a very useful overview of online resources, with for example at four archives départementales digitized cahiers de doléances [for the AD Charente at Angoulême, AD Haute-Loire (Le Puy-en-Vélay), AD Maine-et-Loire (Angers) and AD Hautes-Pyrénées (Tarbes). At WikiGenWeb is an overview of digitized records in French departmental archives, with also digitized cahiers de doléances at the AD Tarn (Albi), AD Loire-Atlantique (Nantes), AD Nièvre (Nevers; série 1 L 161-162) and AD Saône-et-Loire (Mâcon). I hesitated to give you here the full links, but at some websites the actual links are not easily spotted. Of course you can go to Gallica to find much more, but it is good to see these primary sources in their original settings. Viewing the original documents helps you to appreciate the value of later scholarly editions. For some subjects there are separate critical editions in print of cahiers de doléances.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France offers within its Gallica digital library a fine selection Essentiels du droit, with in its first section sources législatives et réglementaires. For the French Revolution you can find such series as the official Bulletin des lois de la République Française, available from 1789 to 1931, the Collection Duvergier with laws, decrees and ordinances from 1788 to 1938, and the Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises (“Collection Isambert”; 29 volumes, Paris 1822-1833). Jurisprudence starting from the late eighteenth century can be found in several series of sources jurisprudentielles, among them the still existing Recueil Dalloz. The sheer impact and continuity of the French Revolution and the subsequent incarnations of the French republic is nowhere more clear than in these series, although it might seem a drawback that you cannot not find so easily sources for a more narrow period. However, among the eternal questions surrounding the French Revolution is the very question when it ended. The French Revolution is the classic case for looking at both continuity and discontinuity, for beginnings and endings which can be seen from an infinite number of angles. The material sources of French laws between 1789 and 1795 are the subject of a recent special of the French online journal Clio@Themis.

For French legal history the support of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (CLHD, Nancy) is most welcome. Its database can be consulted both in French and English. The liberal use of keywords in the thesaurus (“topics”) search helps you to search systematically for a particular subject. For the French Revolution and for legislation you can distinguish between scores of subjects and themes. It brings to your attention several reference works, for example the Dictionnaire de l’Ancien Régime, Royaume de France, XVI-XVIIIe siècles, Lucien Bély (ed.) (Paris 2005), the Dictionnaire de la culture juridique, Denis Alland and Stéphane Rials (eds.) (Paris 2005) and the massive Dictionnaire critique de la Révolution française, François Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds.) (5 vol., Paris 2007). The emphasis in this bibliography is on publications in French. Of course there are books missing, for example Edna Hindie Lemay (red.), Dictionnaire des Législateurs, 1791-1792 (2 vol., Ferney-Voltaire 2007). However, her Dictionnaire des Constituants, 1789-1791 (Oxford 1991) has been included. You can read online Lemay’s posthumously published article ‘Les législateurs de la France révolutionnaire (1791-1792)’, Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 347 (2007) 3-28, an article that she had wanted to be read alongside her second dictionary. It serves indeed as a quick guide to the differences and continuities between the people building the Assemblée constituante and the Assemblée législative.

Recently Patrick Arabeyre, Jacques Krynen and Jean-Louis Halpérin published the second edition of their Dictionnaire historique des juristes français, XIIe-XXe siècle (Paris 2015). Let’s finish this paragraph with yet another dictionary, this time available online in French and English, the Dictionnaire Montesquieu, a guide to the history of political thought in eighteenth-century France. A number of its articles deal with law and justice, and it can serve as a reference work. The dictionary is a part of the Montesquieu project at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon.

A never-ending story

With Montesquieu we crossed the broader between the French Revolution and the Ancien Régime, and between the people giving laws to a new nation and the authors inspiring them. I find it difficult to stop here when it is so clear that these two magnificent portals for the legal history of the French Revolution should be and are at the center of a veritable galaxy of other resources. Studying and researching the French Revolution has become a specialized industry. In a sequel to this post I will take my lead from a part of the FRDA portal which I have left out here, its image database, and I am sure I will discuss other resources as well.

For everyone wanting already to find out more about the French Revolution I can at least mention here some online resources, and what follows is definitely only a selection. Normally the website of the IRHF should be a starting point, especially in combination with the online journal Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française. In the absence of an online version of the Bibliographie annuelle de l’historie de France, the French general historical bibliography, you can gain information about relevant publications in the Bibliographie nationale française, with publications since 2001, a service of the BnF, and in Benoît Melancon’s XVIIIe siècle: bibliographie (Université de Montréal) with publications from 1992 onwards. A resource in German, the WebGuide Geschichte at Historicum, is most useful, certainly when combined with the section concerning the French Revolution at this history portal, with in particular its Bibliographie bicentenaire. The archived version of a special subdomain of Historicum about the French Revolution is worth checking, too. The online journal Révolution Française. L’esprit des Lumière et de la Révolution brings articles and notices in a well-organized fashion, and in some cases quick access to online materials. In its section Éditions you can go to online versions of two recent books about such figures as Barnave and Marat.

I cannot think of a better end here than bringing you back to Chris ten Raa who remained a faithful visitor of the Bibliothèque Cujas in Paris. Its printed and online resources – including Cujasnum, its own digital library, and its online Iurisguide – will continue to support any research into French legal history.

Charlemagne’s Europe, a construction

Banner "The Making of Charlemagne's Europe"

While busy with updating the congress calendar of my blog I spotted an announcement about a project at King’s College London, The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe. The website consists of a database containing one thousand early medieval documents, mainly charters. The database is surrounded with a series of useful guides, instructions, a bibliography and a selection of links. The first aim of the database is to create a unified framework to extract socio-economic and prosopographic information from the selected charters. A second aim is stimulating research into these early medieval legal documents themselves.

As a medievalist I have been trained to use all available written evidence to its utmost extent. My first frown when looking at this database was caused by the fact that not all surviving relevant documents, some 4,500 records, have been included here, but perhaps I expect to much. The database is clearly still in a beta phase. The list of charter editions from which documents have been extracted is fairly long. Some collections have been included entirely, for example the charters in the Diplomata Karolinorum series of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and from many others at least a few items have been selected. From the edition of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores all charters between 768 and 814 have been included.

It is probably wise to remember that we are looking in fact at a pilot project, and not to judge it too quickly. If you insist on having more materials immediately at your disposal, you can relish the presence of many online resources indicated in the splendid array of useful links. In this post I will tell you about my first experiences with the website of this project. The decision to create a database for researching Carolingian charters was not an easy choice. The visions behind this project are relevant for many comparable projects. What are the benefits of this project? Does it help to get closer to the legal realities within the Carolingian empire? Does it help us to refine our perceptions of legal history?

Back to basics

Chronicles and charters are the basic materials for doing historical research on subjects from medieval history. In a way the focus on charters of this project brings you back to a familiar playground. When you start to use the database in its simplest way, by browsing charters, you are immediately struck by the multitude of available filters, not only for classic attributes as the transmission date, repository and place names, but for many more determining elements. The filters help you to analyze a corpus of documents in a very structured way and helps to make comparisons possible on a sound base. In particular connections between people and changes in roles – and status – can become much clearer than they were before.

However, I could not help thinking that somehow you will find here only information that has been already labelled by others, but in fact the project team has done a lot more. They insist on making clear the multiple roles and significance of the information in charters. The student guide of the website gives good examples of the tiny differences in very similar charters that should make on think matters anew. In one charter a person is described as the abbot of a monastery, in the next example he is not. The first example mentions the patron saint of a church, in the next charter this information is not present. The examples show also the necessity of distinguishing the location where the charter was created, the place of a donation, places within a certain territory, and unidentified place names. Tucked away in one of the paragraphs of this guide is the very important remark that the database does not give you the actual text and images of charters. Links to digital versions will be added in the coming months. This basic feature, or should one say: basic lack, deserves more emphasis than just an oblique reference.

Results for DKar I:117

The selection of documents already included in the database was made with an eye to the greatest possible range of places, regions and types of transactions. It should not surprise you that I concluded that even the city of Utrecht, in the Carolingian period decidedly at a distance of the most important places and persons, is present in the database. The charter DKar I:117 (June 8, 777) proved to be a very instructive example. Utrecht is not only the name of the bishop’s see but also of his diocese. The charter was granted at Nijmegen. Several locations in the charter are within the diocese of Utrecht, a number of them at unidentified locations. The recipient of the grant is count Wigger for Alberic, the rector of St. Martin’s at Utrecht. Alberic is a priest. Charlemagne is credited with three qualities: king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and patrician of the Romans. This is the only example of Utrecht in the database, but it contains enough to place it in a wider context. In 778 Alberic became the bishop of Utrecht. Gaining such personal information is one of the aims of the project.

Seemingly strange is the missing location of the Upkirika, one of the objects granted. The database gives for individual elements the exact wordings, and the location super Dorestad places this church at least clearly in the region surrounding this well-known trade centre south-east of Utrecht. Apart from properties the grant includes also a toll right. The image above does not show the large clickable map where you can see identified locations. To the left of the map is a list of all locations mentioned in a charter. A second overview mentions place relationships. In DKar I:117 Leusden is a place within a smaller territory, in Flettheti. I was somewhat mystified that the database has as a place entry Utrecht, territory (Flehiti), and not inversely Flehite, with as description “territory in Utrecht”. The procedures behind place relationships are discussed in an interesting contribution on the project website.

The list of useful links at The Making gives for the Netherlands only the online version of the registers of the counts of Holland and Hainaut between 1299 and 1345 and a link to the online list of medieval cartularies and modern editions at TELMA. In the list of charter sources only the Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant tot 1312 (ONB) has been included. However, a number of Dutch and Belgian charter editions (oorkondenboeken) is even available online. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (OSU) has been digitized by the Huygens Institute, as are the ONB – in a partnership with a foundation for the history of Brabant –  and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (ONH). The portal Cartago leads you to charter editions for Friesland, Groningen and the German region Ostfriesland. Medieval charters from Belgium will become available online in 2015 within a project called Sources from the Medieval Low Countries, supported by the Belgian Royal Historical Commission. You can use a cd-rom with the Belgian Thesaurus diplomaticus from Brepols. The URL for the Diplomata Belgica does not yet function. Among the Scandinavian diplomataria the Svenskt Diplomatarium is not mentioned, perhaps because the oldest document in it dates from 817, just outside the period under consideration here. On that ground you could also exclude the Diplomatarium Norvegicum which starts in 1050. I am sure this and similar information will be swiftly added or corrected.

Apart from browsing for charters you can browse for agents and places with a similar wide range of filters. Conceptually the very act of creating of a charter is seen as amounting to a fact, called a factoid, with connections to places and peoples, and probably changing them, too. It is very advisable to read the contributions at the website about the choice to create a database instead of opting for the use of “mark-up” texts.

By the way, choosing Utrecht as an example in this post is not a random act. The Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies has a fine tradition of research into many subjects of the Carolingian period, including legal history, for example the history of penitentials, see Rob Meens, Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). The latest project Charlemagne’s Backyard looks at the rural history of the Low Countries in the Carolingian period, combining both written and archeological evidence.

A first impression

Are there similar projects where you can find more? The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe does use data from the Nomen et Gens project at Tübingen with prosopographical and onomastic information from the eight century. CharteX deals with charters from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The use of maps in the project of King’s College London reminded me of the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt. It is certainly wise to use this geographical information to check and corroborate search results in the KCL’s project. It is surely possible to give more examples of digital projects which support your research into Carolingian legal documents, such as the Carolingian Canon Law Project led by Abigail Firey (University of Kentucky), and the Bibliotheca legum (Karl Ubl, Universität Köln) with the socalled Völkerrechte.

It is a silly joke but The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe is still a bit in the making. The rebuttal by the project team to this remark is really justifiable: They assemble the very evidence to help you to question the truth behind the assumption that Charlemagne and his successors aimed at creating something like a European presence. When you combine the data contained in their database with printed and online editions of Carolingian charters, and preferably also with any other kind of legal documents from this period, you will be able to get a much more detailed view of Carolingian society, the networks and relations. The Making is not the definitive answer to research questions, but it does deserve inclusion in your digital toolkit when doing Carolingian legal history. One of its great merits is its refined conceptual framework for studying and analyzing medieval charters. Even without a working database the approach to Carolingian charters is worth close study. 2015 is just a few days old, there is enough time this year to look at legal history with new eyes!

Legal history with a Dutch view

At the start of my blog, today five years ago, I had no clear idea what form it would take. After a start with twelve posts in one month, most of them short notices, the frequency of posting did not reach that level again. Occasionally there have been four or even five posts within a month, but mostly just two or three, and this year I could not publish here more than just one post every four or six weeks.

However low or high the number of postings it has been a joy to work on other features. It has been possible to expand the congress calendar from its tiny corner on my old webpages to a substantial page with due attention to both recurring and special events, attention for graduate seminars and guidance to other online calendars worth checking for the field of legal history.

A happy subtitle

Legal history with a Dutch view has been the subtitle of my blog right from the start. It offered and offers me chances to change perspectives, to add humorous notes or detached comments, and to bring in my own surroundings, from the fortifications around Utrecht, an old library and the former provincial court in my home town to the dovecotes of the Voorn estate and a number of Dutch towns. Even the hamlet ‘t Woudt near Delft could thus become the subject of a post which turned out to touch on many subjects. My visits to the Frisian isles helped me to reconsider notions about nature, law and natural law. It is a joy to write about these real and imaginary travels from the known to the unknown, and to discover surprising connections or hidden histories and meanings.

As you like it

Sometimes you will have encountered here really long posts. One reason to write somewhat longer contributions is my desire to give you complete stories. Even in these long posts I often worried whether I was not just skating the surface of any theme or subject. The longest post here published in 2011 dealt with the transmission in print of Early Modern peace treaties. A specialist in the field of these treaties said he had learned new things from it, another scholar complained I should have made an article out of it. Both scholars have a point, and I added a summary post to present the main lines of that contribution more clearly. I must add that the initial spur for this post came from an article by Klaus Graf about the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748).

To many posts I have added one or more postscripts with some afterthoughts, links to useful websites or substantial corrections based on comments I received here. Gradually I have grasped the very nature of a blog, its intermediary state between nascent thoughts, ideas and proposals on a side, and on the other side full-fledged articles or even more ambitious publications. Writing here about a wide variety of subjects helps to form and refine thoughts about particular questions and problems. The use of categories and tags proved to be a tool to connect posts which at first look concerned completely different themes, periods and subjects.

At the start of my blog I had no clue about the preferences of my readers. Would there be any readers at all? Some readers owe my great and lasting gratitude for their comments, proposals and continuing interest. The sheer number of readers has varied greatly according to the particular subject. It was a genuine surprise for me that a post about the Dutch lawyer Nicolaus Everardi (circa 1462-1532) attracted much readers. My comparison between two digital library projects, the Digital Library of America and the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, reached many people thanks to the alerts of some of my faithful readers. The day after the abdication of pope Benedict XVI in 2013 I could point to an article by a canon lawyer who had discussed papal abdication in modern canon law a month earlier on her blog. Her article deserved to be read, but as a side-effect my post reached an all time high number of readers.

Connecting and spanning

Marginal image of a scribe reading a charter - Utrecht UB, ms. 400, fol. 113 recto

Marginal image of a scribe with glasses reading a charter – Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, ms. 400, fol. 113 recto

At this blog not only the posts matter. The blogroll in the right hand margin with some thirty blogs concerning legal history, a dozen law library blogs, twenty online journals and some twenty personal blogs connect whoever visits my blog to a much wider circle of historians and lawyers active both in the real and virtual world. For me it brings home the truth that the internet is a network which just happens to be virtual, but nevertheless first and foremost a network.

Much time in writing any post was and is consumed by searching for valuable links to websites. I include them on purpose, not as embellishments or to show my research capacities, but as resources bringing you to primary sources, secondary literature, bibliographies or further information. It satisfies also my curiosity to look at all kinds of printed and digital resources for doing legal history. I invite you to use these links and delve into their riches! You do not harm me or my blog by using a post or one of its links only as a stepping stone. It is the very purpose of these links to bring you at least one step further in the pursuit of your own goals.

Samuel Muller - drwaing by Jan Veth, 1895

Samuel Muller – drawing by Jan Veth, 1895 – image: Het Utrechts Archief

Speaking of curiosity, the funny marginal image of the medieval scribe wearing glasses to read a charter appears in the margin of a pontificale, a liturgical manuscript, probably written and illuminated around 1450 for the collegiate chapter of St. John’s in Utrecht. Bart Jaski, keeper of manuscripts at Utrecht University Library, has published a very interesting essay about this beautiful manuscript. Jaski sketches its background and points to a number of elements connected with medieval canon law. I first saw this image in a volume on the history of the States of Utrecht [Van standen tot staten. 600 jaren Staten van Utrecht, Huib Leeuwenberg a.o. (eds.) (Utrecht 1975)]. Many years later I could not help recognizing a resemblance between this man and the famous Dutch archivist Samuel Muller Fzn. (1848-1922) who did much to reform and organize Dutch archival practice. He worked for nearly half a century at the Utrecht archives.

The series of posts about centers for legal history came into existence thanks to the initial motive to start this blog. I have to thank Jörg Müller of the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich, who has done so much for the daily running of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute for Medieval Canon Law, for asking me in 2009 to start blogging about legal history with the specific aim of discovering its possibilities and problems. Munich figured in one of the early posts in this ongoing series. For your benefit I have listed these posts and all posts which in fact amount to similar contributions about other institutions and cities on a separate page. Writing posts about legal iconography became a reality thanks to the remarks and questions of Mike Widener (Yale University).

“Connecting centuries, countries and continents” was at first only a lucky alliteration in an early post, but in five years I have indeed tried to fulfill this promise wholeheartedly. Choosing this approach again very explicitly in my November post about the World Legal Information Institute was no mere coincidence.

A Dutch view

Some books about Dutch and Belgian legal history

There is a possible complaint about my blog that I must mention here. If you had expected to find here only posts about the legal history of the Netherlands, you might turn away with at its best mixed feelings. From time to time Dutch legal history does get here fair space, but it seems wise not to focus solely on this relatively small corner of Western Europe. In fact Dutch legal history is a kind of mélange of influences from many countries. Its geographical position together with Belgium between France, Germany and the United Kingdom have made it literally into crossroads. Its small dimensions and its many and diverse connections with these countries make it very sensible to look abroad. The ever-changing estuaries of the Rhine and Schelde river have shaped my country substantially. A part of the Low Countries, the famous polders, have been reclaimed from the sea and lakes. They are literally man-made.

My home town Utrecht started as a Roman army camp near the limes, the border of the Roman empire. This border, too, moved with the changes of the Rhine branches. Crossing borders and having to deal with them is perhaps almost a second nature for people living in such surroundings. However, geography does not explain everything, and it is rash to claim you can find here the only Dutch view of things. Creating my blog has helped me very much to cross borders more often. I thank you for your patience with my Dutch views, and as always I hope to welcome you here often to meet the varieties of legal history.

Legal history at the World LII

Logo WorldLIINearly five years ago I announced here the aim of spanning in my blog centuries, cultures and continents. I quickly discovered some of the implications of this statement. Not only did I take up the challenge of dealing with aspects of legal history in many periods, regions and cultures, but in many posts I have also pointed to projects and initiatives that succeed in fulfilling this aim to considerable extent. In this post I will look at a project that does not only deal with contemporary law on a vast scale, but also with legal history worldwide.

The World Legal Information Institute (World LII) is not a single monolithic organization, but more a consortium of several participating institutions. Some branches of the World LII are relatively well-known, others merit to get more in the spotlights. Here I will look at some examples of resources most valuable for research in the field of legal history. Even if there are clear gaps, lacunae and omissions in the presentation of these resources at the portal site of the WorldLII or at the website of a particular supporting institution, they deserve al least some attention.

Serving lawyers and historians all around the world

With at present some 1250 databases for more than 120 jurisdictions, and fourteen supporting institutions and branches the World LII is a truly multinational organization. The World LII is a member of the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), as are most of its partner institutions. One of the earliest institutions launching a website with free legal information is the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, founded in 1992. Initiatives such as the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), currently in the midst of updating and supported by the Library of Congress, and Globalex (New York University), too, belong to this movement, but they have scarcely created any space for legal history. GLIN does support the World LII.

Generally the guides at GLIN and Globalex succeed certainly in providing adequate basic information about contemporary law. The guide to Scots law and Scottish legal history by Jasmin Morais and the guide to Cambodian history, governance and legal sources by Jennifer Holligan and Tarik Abdulhak at Globalex are notable and fine exceptions. Yemisi Dina’s guide at Globalex for Caribbean law does at least realize the historical background of the region she describes. Hopefully legal historians are also increasingly familiar with research readily accessible at the portal of another member of FALM, the Social Science Research Network / Legal Scholarhip Network (SSRN/LSN).

Logo AustLIIThe institutions working together under the aegis of the World LII stand out for their massive presentation of and free access to legal resources, be they constitutions, laws, statutes, case law or law reports. The World LII also provides you with a nice selection of websites of materials pertaining to legal history. This page leads you also to one of the major selections of resources for legal history at the Word LII, that for Australia, which is not completely surprising, because the Australasian Legal Information Institute is at the very heart of the World LII. The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) provide staff and technological support behing the AustLII and World LII. By the way, UTS has an interesting Anti-Slavery portal with an online course about the continuing struggle against slavery, forced labour and trafficking, and a section with contemporary Australian case law.

Connecting contemporary law and legal history

Let’s look a bit deeper into World LII. For this objective I would like to look at the Torres Strait Islands. These islands are situated in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. if you search for the Torres Straits at World LII you get some 22,000 results. When you look at the databases providing materials for these results you will immediately notice that you cannot confine yourself to resources about Australia, from the Commonwealth or even from the Australian state of Queensland directly adjacent to the Torres Strait. The example of the Torres Straits can easily be multiplied. The western part of New Guinea was between 1945 and 1962 governed by the Dutch. Before the Second World War this part was at least within the sphere of Dutch influence in the Indonesian archipelago.

Apart from resources from Australia, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe the World LII does even include materials concerning the polar regions. You can approach historical resources at World LII by country. At the moment of writing seventeen countries are listed. I would single out the database with colonial cases for China and Japan, a resource developed at the Macquarie Law School, Sydney, even if this is the sole historical resource included at the World LII portal for both countries. The series of cases starts around 1850. Anyway, you can find more links to colonial cases at this webpage of the Macquarie Law School. The set of colonial cases of Constantinople for Turkey at the World LII, too, stems from a project at this law school. These cases from the Supreme Consular Court date between the 1850’s and 1930.

However, the World LII portal brings you more history than included at its history page, although its selection of historical databases for New Zealand is impressive. In particular for historical cases it is possible to find much more, but alas this can be a hit and miss affair. At this point the fourteen branches can be most helpful. Among the fourteen institutions is for instance the LawPhil project for the Philippines. in its section on jurisprudence you can start in the year 1901.

In the vast fields of the common law it is good to know that behind World LII are both the British and Irish LII and the Commonwealth LII. In fact you are bound to use materials at both these portals when dealing with legal history concerning the United Kingdom and countries included within the British Commonwealth. It is again Scotland which provides historical materials, Scottish Court of Session decisions since 1879, and decisions of the High Court of Justiciary since 1914.

The Asian LII leads us for example for Japan to laws since 1896, but the series starts really in 1947. For legal information about the many islands groups of Oceania which have become independent countries, often with the British Commonwealth, the Pacific LII is often the only available starting point, and even the only easily accessible resource center. The often very young legal history of these countries is amply documented by the databases of the Pacific LII. Some islands are severely threatened by rising sea levels, and it is important for them to start working quickly to preserve their legal heritage. In my recent post about the Endangered Archives Projects of the British Library you can read about one of these projects. It is true that it can take some effort to find historical materials, but even so often your efforts will be rewarded as more resources become available.

The pages of the World LII pointing to other legal history resources contained for me at least one pleasant surprises. At the portal of The Napoleon Series you will find not just resources about France and the period around 1800. At a page about government and politics the links range is truly worldwide, featuring both articles and databases from the Balkan to Cambodia. Although you find at that page mostly articles, and even short articles, they certainly help to provoke your own thoughts and questions.

Two directions in legal history

It is easy to moan about or criticize the lack or absence of particular historical materials within the databases of the World LII. Similar initiatives such as GLIN, Globalex, LLRX and Justia, to mention just a few of them, all lack the indispensable databases – or links to them – of the World LII. In fact the organization behind World LII encourages scholars to suggest new resources. Anyway the initiative of the World LII does not completely leave legal history out in the dark. You might even defend the position that it does help creating curiosity about the history of jurisprudence, law and legal institutions by its very scale and offering a number of resources which might be most useful for your research. Its approach definitely starts in the presence. Any research happens in the present, even if scholars devote them solely to history. The World LII helps us not to confine legal historians exclusively to periods already centuries ago. It might be wiser to acknowledge the fact that the present is our starting point, and not to imagine we can look at history from a distant and impartial imaginary point of view, with as its ultimate illusory goal the creation of definitive history.

A second important feature of the World LII and similar institutions is the free online access to materials offered thanks to their efforts. Many online legal materials can only be consulted at subscribing institutions, and they make this possible at sometimes very substantial costs. Historical materials, too, are often only readily available online thanks to commercial initiatives.

Speaking for myself, I would surely enlist the services of the World LII and its partner institutions whenever possible, feasible and wise, because I am convinced one person living in one country, somewhat familiar with the history of one country, region or continent can only see a part of the whole. Nowadays it is a cliché to say that getting to know the unfamiliar is the exclusive way towards truly understanding yourself and your own context, but this comparative starting point does contain more than a bit of truth. Posts at a blog such as this one contain grains of truth, and you are cordially invited to view them as just a stepping stone for more. I hope to return here soon with another post delving deeper into the theme of the scope of historical research for our century.

Defending Belgium’s cultural heritage

Logo State Archives BelgiumLast week many media published the news about a drastic cut in the budgets of major cultural institutions in Belgium. In particular federal institutions such as the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I in Brussels and the Archives de l’État en Belgique, also in Brussels, face next year a loss of 20 percent of their yearly budget. I use here the French name of both institutions, but in particular on the website of the Belgian National archives you can immediately gauge the multilingual character of Belgian society. Belgium can be roughly divided in three parts, Flanders, Wallonie and the central region in and around Brussels, Belgium’s capital. The German-speaking minority in the region along the German border has in principle the same rights as the Flemish and Wallon communities.

An online petition has been launched to give the protest against these plans a loud and clear voice, and I cordially invite you to share your concern about these proposals by signing this petition. You can read the content of this petition in four languages, Dutch, French, English and German. In this post I would like to offer a quick overview of some important digital projects in Belgium which help presenting Belgium’s cultural heritage. Some of these projects offer access to resources which are also important for the research of legal historians and for research projects concerning the rich history of law and justice in Belgium.

Digitization and the safeguarding of cultural heritage

Logo KBRWhen you look at the digital projects of the Royal Library and the Belgian National Archives it can seem at a first look Belgium’s national library has more to offer online than its counterpart in the world of archives. Just now there is very appropriately an exhibition about the First World War. However, in order to find the projects in the digital domain you will have to browse through various sections of the library’s website. A number of projects can be found under the heading Activités, but the digital library Belgica is tucked away among the catalogues. The variety of its contents, with apart from books and manuscripts also coins and medals, engravings, maps, newspapers and music scores, is such that it clearly merits a place of its own on the library’s website that shows a design which has changed little over the years. A number of manuscripts has been digitized for the project Europeana Regia. On my blog I have written twice about the presence of legal manuscripts in this project. Among the manuscripts is for example an illuminated French version of the Liber novum iudicum written in the second half of the fourteenth century (KBR, ms. 10319). You can search directly for digitized books in a special subcatalogue; a search for books concerning law (droit) brings you already some 160 books, and more can be found. The first look of rich digital repositories is somewhat dimmed by the fact that the actual number of digitized items is fairly restricted.

Logo FlandricaThe KBR does cooperate in many international projects: for example, the digital version of the Gazette de Leyden has been created in cooperation with the Belgian national library. On the national level the KBR supports the Flemish digital library Flandrica. This website with digitized books and manuscripts from six libraries working together in the Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheek [Flemish Heritage Library]  is strictly in Dutch. For items touching upon law and justice you have to choose the theme Recht en politiek [Law and politics] which brings you to thirty digitized printed books and manuscripts. The number of items with a legal context in Flandrica is quite small but they cover a wide range of subjects and periods, from a canon law manuscript to the procedure at law in the county of Looz, and from medieval times to the early twentieth century. As for editions of books printed in Flanders between 1500 and 1800 you can search for them online with the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen. Digitized literature in Flemish can be consulted online in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL), where you will find also literature in Frisian and Afrikaans.

Until recent the Belgian National Archives looked to outsiders as a very much centralized and not very active organization, but the first impression is not completely justified. The year 2010 saw the launch of a virtual exhibition about the dark sides of Belgian colonial history in Congo, Archives I presume? Traces of a colonial past in the State Archives. This year they launched a virtual exhibition concerning the First World War in Wallonie, Archives 14-18 en Wallonie. The website in four languages is being overhauled, and some parts are not yet available in English, in fact the overview of online databases did not exist at all at the time of writing. The search in archival inventories is an example. Here you can search both in scanned inventories and in digitized finding aids. Among the digitized inventories is for example the finding aid created by Jan Buntinx to the archival records of the Raad van Vlaanderen, the high court of Flanders [Inventaris van het archief van de Raad van Vlaanderen (Rijksarchief te Gent) (9 vol., Brussels 1964-1979)]. Recently the National Archives digitized the cabinet minutes created between 1917 and 1979; you can access these documents both in Dutch and French. The Recueil des Circulaires, official letters sent by the Ministry of Justice, have been digitized, too, as are a yearbook, the Annuaire statistique de la Belgique (et du Congo Belge) (1870-1995), and two juridical journals, the Revue Belge de la police administrative et judiciaire and La Belgique judiciaire.

Logo CegesomaA third institution threatened by the budgetary cuts is the Cegesoma, Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society. Precisely the attention of the research centre for periods in recent Belgian history with some very black pages and political reverberations until the very present has made it already earlier a target of Belgian politicians.

Characteristically Cegesoma is among the first institutions to react in public to the announcement of the new Belgian cabinet. The institute argues that the proposed cuts will harm most drastically the work accomplished during decades and future activities as well. Cegesoma holds archival and audiovisual collections and a research library. You can search online for digitized materials, such as photographs, sound recordings, tracts, posters, archival records, diaries and manuscripts. One of the archives coming from the Ministry of Justice now in the holdings of Cegesoma deals with the Rijkswacht, the Belgian national police, between 1931 and 1947. One of the largest and most visible online projects of Cegesoma is The Belgian War Press which offers online access to numerous newspapers published during the First and Second World War, both by the official censored press and the clandestine press. The website of the Cegesoma has a very well-stocked choice of links to other research institutions and a fine selection of websites concerning the First World War.

Logo Justice & PopulationsLegal history comes particularly into focus at Justice & Populations, a project with Cegesoma among the fourteen participating institutions. This project focuses on the long-term relations and impact of the Belgian judiciary in its widest sense and Belgian society in an international context from 1795 onwards until the present. it is unclear in which way this project will be affected by the new plans, but surely any change in the role of Cegesoma will have side-effects here, too. By the way, another Belgian project, Just-His, is very important for Justice & Populations.At Just-His you will find actually three databases, one on Belgian judicial magistrates between 1795 and 1950, a research repository and Belgian criminal statistics (only accessible after registration).

Among the institutions governed by the national government is also the Commission Royale pour la Publication des Anciennes Lois, founded in 1846. This committee is responsible for many important editions of sources concerning the legal history of Belgium from the Middle Ages onwards, ranging from ordinances, charters and customary law to legal treatises and collections of verdicts. On its website you can find an overview of the publications and projects. The issues of the Bulletin des anciennes lois et ordonnances de Belgique published between 1909 and 1999 are available online (PDF’s). Let’s hope the projects coordinated and often done by members of the committee themselves will not be harmed by any of the proposed measures.

A wider threat


Apart from archives and libraries museums, too, are included in the budgetary threats, but before looking at some museums I will look briefly at a higher level. The Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen (KVAB) [Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Arts and Sciences] published in 2013 reports on the reform of the Belgian judiciary [De gerechtelijke hervorming: een globale visie (“The judicial reform, a global vision”)] and the role and significance of archives in Belgian society [Archieven, de politiek en de burger (“Archives, politics and the citizen”)]. One of the standing commissions of the KVAB has legal history as its core business, with projects such as the bibliography of current research on Belgian legal history and the critical edition of the works of Philips Wielant. The KVAB provides on its website a searchable version of the Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek [National Biographical Dictionary], a useful tool for legal historians, too.

Among the targets of the cuts proposed by the Belgian government are a number of famous museums, for example the Royal Museum for Fine Artsthe Royal Museums for Art and History, and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, all in Brussels. Another royal museum, the Royal Museum for Middle-Africa in Tervuren, closed in 2013 for renovation. Its buildings and outlook had not changed substantially since its start in 1910 after a temporary exposition about Belgian colonial activities in 1897 instigated by king Leopold II. The museum had become an icon of Belgian colonialism, and later an outright offensive institution. A part of the ethnographic collections of the KMMA can be consulted online, including the Stanley collection. Hopefully the drastic renovation can be completed, but anyway it seems wise not to reckon absolutely with the projected reopening in 2017.

What will happen exactly with all these institutions is not yet clear. It is necessary to look at both their physical and virtual existence. Federal support could be withdrawn or become less substantial in many ways. Flanders and Wallonie can boast cultural institutions with rich collections. The portal Numériques – BE: Images et histoires des patrimoines numérisés can bring you quickly to a selection of images from some thirty cultural institutions in Wallonie. Belgian Art Links and Tools is a portal guiding you to some 600,000 images concerning art in Belgium, and to several repertories. This portal has been created by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, yet another threatened institution.

The Flemish heritage portal FARO – accessible in Dutch, French and English – is in my opinion a good starting point for finding out more about the different forms of cultural heritage in Flanders and news about them, be they digital, immaterial or very material. If you think digital collections will more easily survive, the actual absence of several links pages at FARO is a healthy reminder of the fragility of virtual existence and preservation. It is quite a feat to maintain a multilingual website, and thus it is a bit too easy to grumble about such problems! Luckily the page with links to several Flemish portal sites can be viewed, with due attention for initiatives in Wallonie, and there is also a general links selection in English. Among recent news items at FARO I saw an announcement about a masterclass on Food in Prison, held at Brussels on October, 16, 2014.

As for me I am genuinely surprised to learn much more about all these projects than i knew before. It serves me as a reminder that we Dutch are not always completely aware of what happens in Belgium, a sorry situation. Here I have tried to honour Belgium by creating in this post also a kind of nutshell guide to digital projects in the field of cultural heritage and legal history. Let’s support Belgian scholars and cultural institutions in their struggle to change the plans scheduled for the coming years, and help them finding the spiritual power and financial means to maintain existing activities and to work on new initiatives. These things will enrich Belgium and us more than any financial contribution can do, however welcome of course any support in hard money is.