A mirror of Dutch scripts: Some thoughts around a manual for palaeography

Cover Schrittspiegel by Peter Horsman and Peter Sigmond

This month at long last the third edition appeared of a renown manual for Dutch palaeography from 1500 to the mid-eighteenth century by Peter Horsman and Peter Sigmond, Schriftspiegel. Oud-Nederlandse handschriften van de 13de tot in de 18de eeuw (3rd edition, Hilversum, 2022). For at least ten years no new manual of its kind had been published in the Netherlands and Belgium, and thus I was immediately curious about this revised edition, announced last year but printed and published only now. Which differences can be found between the last and this edition? What are its qualities, and where can one wish for more? Recently reading old scripts has developed for me a new dimension for me which makes me more aware of things to be expected in guidance when reading old archival records.

Both authors of the new Schriftspiegel [Mirror of scripts] are well known for their achievements. Peter Horsman worked as an archivist at the Dordrecht archives and taught at the Archiefschool and the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Historian Peter Sigmond taught at the former Rijksarchiefschool and ended his professional career as head of collections at the Rijksmuseum. As a specialist of maritime history he taught also cultural history at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Thus it is only natural their manual shows a bit more examples of records from the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht and on maritime history than you would expect otherwise, and these are valuable elements of this book.

The use of calligraphy books in this manual attracted my attention so much that I decided to look at some length at this subject. The paragraph on Early Modern Dutch calligraphy follows directly after my review of the new Schriftspiegel which takes its name from a seventeenth namesake.

Safe guidance to old scripts

I was really anxious about the way Horsman and Sigmond would introduce old scripts in this edition. They opt for a rather concise introduction aiming at clarity for novice readers, and rightly so. It is wonderful how they use the calligraphy of scripts in two early sixteenth-century manuals, among them the Spieghel der schrijfkonste (…) by Jan van de Velde (Amsterdam 1608) as a key element to familiarize readers with examples of Dutch scripts. They did not forget to include also examples of scripts closer to Germany. Some texts are even written in German. The choice of further literature is very good, even if it a bit strange to find a number of manuals dealing with both Dutch palaeography and Early Modern archival records under the heading Taal en tekstverklaring [Language and textual interpretation]. Four examples of online manuals for Dutch palaeography are mentioned, three of them without the actual URL. Among the books on Dutch chronology the authors have not added the concise work by C.C. de Glopper-Zuiderland, In tijd gemeten. Inleiding tot de chronologie (Den Haag 1999). However, I did not really know about P.G.J. Sterkenburg, Een glossarium van zeventiende-eeuws Nederlands (3rd impr., The Hague, 1981), mentioned as available also online, but this book has not been digitized for the Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren nor at Delpher incidentally. Some fact checking and editorial control would have helped to avoid such glitches and the impression both authors belong to an older generation.

In my view the best part of the introduction is the very good presentation of letter forms and the development of letters. Using color photographs of documents takes this certainly to a new level. The four pages on abbreviations are pretty good, although the typography could have been clearer, Here, too, the column with colorful examples redeems this easily, although using at some points a black or grey font on a blue background is not ideal. A list of often encountered abbreviations would have been most welcome.

The variety of Dutch scripts and archival records

Of course attention should now rapidly go to the 134 examples of Dutch scripts shown in this book, going from 1279 to 1753. The authors want to show texts in Dutch, and medieval texts in Latin have not been included at all. No. 100 from 1645 is in German. There are just two texts from the late thirteenth century, twelve from the fourteenth century, and seventeen from the fifteenth century. The sixteenth century is presented with 40 examples, and for the seventeenth century 55 texts and images are shown. By the way, for some longer texts two images are shown, always accompanied by transcriptions on the left page. The eighteenth century figures with just eight examples up to 1753, an addition to the edition Zutphen 1986 which ended in 1700. As in earlier editions you can find an explanation where to start in growing order of difficulty, going from the eighteenth century to the Middle Ages.

The choice and numbering of items has changed at a few points. A rather visible oddity are some dubious references. Take the very first item, a charter from 1279, “Stadsarchief Breda, VZ0010, inv.nr. 582”. The city archive in Breda has two collections with miscellaneous additions called Varia. This reference points to collection Varia 1; compare “V-1, collectie varia” in the edition 1986. The reference to item no. 133 is simply incomplete: With “Oud-Rechterlijk Archief Haarlem, inventarisnummer 3111” they do not indicate the inventory number, this is lacking. Haarlem, Noord-Hollands Archief, 3111, Oud-Rechterlijke Archief Haarlem, inv.no. …” would be correct. It is a nice challenge to find the correct item number in the inventory, probably no. 780 (accounts, 1748).

You might guess correctly Tresoar is located at Leeuwarden which you could mistake easily for the Leeuwarden city archives, the Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden. The two locations of the Historisch Centrum Overijssel in Zwolle and Deventer are not sufficiently indicated, too. Two former professors at the Dutch school for archivists should realize adding the location is not just a wish but a necessary element in a transcription. Such infelicities should not hide the fact the authors have chosen documents from a wide range of Dutch archives, not only from the Nationaal Archief, The Hague and the provincial capitals, but also from other city and regional archives. Only Brabant and Limburg could have been presented with more items from regional archives.

In a book written by a specialist of Dutch maritime history you will be happy to see for instance a ship journal kept by Michiel Adriaansz. de Ruyter, in document no. 95 still a young chief mate in 1633. With a view to the large overseas trade and the Dutch colonial empire some attention to Dutch connections with other countries outside Europe is only natural. As no. 90 you see the famous letter about the transaction bringing ownership of Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626. For example, no. 128 from 1703 is an attestation with the views of a Dutch women about de swarten, “the blacks” in India. No. 123 is a document about paying ransoms for Dutch slaves in Morocco in 1687, and no. 134 from 1753 tells you about slaves in the Cape colony.

Is there any comparable manual for Dutch palaeography? The only serious competitor to this manual was published thirty years ago, the Album paleographicum XVIII Neerlandicarum. Paleografisch album van Nederland, België, Luxemburg en Frankrijk, edited by R. Baetens, C. Dekker and S. Maarschalkerweerd-Dechamps (Turnhout-Utrecht 1992) which includes also medieval documents from the tenth century onwards and documents written in Latin, Dutch, French and German. Its introduction is given in Dutch and French. It reminds me about the very real need for people not fluent in Dutch all over the world for a concise introduction in English. Horsman and Sigmond’s introduction deserves an English translation.

The length and details of this post should be a sure indication I think this book deserves both close inspection and a warm welcome! The strength of this manual was and remains the choice of a splendidly wide variety of documents, not in the least for those documents touching on legal history. The authors have listed them conveniently. For example, the range of document types for notarial acts is very large. Horsman and Sigmond rightly refer for more on this subject to A.F. Gehlen’s guide Notariële akten uit de 17de en 18de eeuw. Handleiding voor gebruikers (Zutphen 1986). The glossary of terms and old words brings you many words with a legal nature, a feature of earlier editions, too. Each item in the manual is given with a short and helpful introduction. The way letter forms are explained is the most salient visual change as are the color photographs, and also the format is slightly larger. I expected the highest possible quality of this new edition of a classic work for doing Dutch history, certainly when you realize it was prepared during a period with lockdowns. Surely I agree this new edition improves on the second edition.

Ironically, some things I applaud here were the very points criticized by J.L. van der Gouw in his review for the Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 98 (1985) 414-415 of the first edition (Zutphen 1984). His prophecy that things helping amateurs and students would make them lazy is alluring, but I honestly think good guidance is not amiss when starting and long afterwards. You might almost think Horsman and Sigmond as a small revenge did not give the publication year of the third edition of Van der Gouw’s Oud schrift in Nederland (Alphen aan de Rijn, 1980).

Since July 2022 I work at the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht, Wijk bij Duurstede. Among other tasks I will help volunteers with transcribing archival records, an important recent tradition of this regional archive. Both my young and senior colleagues rightly greeted the new edition of the Schriftspiegel with enthusiasm as a valuable and serviceable manual for newcomers to old Dutch scripts, professionals and even the general public.

P.J. Horsman and J.P. Sigmond, Schriftspiegel. Oud-Nederlandse handschriften van de 13de tot in de 18de eeuw (3rd edition, Hilversum: Verloren, 2022; 296 pp.; ISBN 9789087049607).

A bibliographical excursion on Dutch Early Modern calligraphy

Cover of Jan van den Velde, Spieghel der schrijfkonste (...) (Rotterdam: Van Waesberghe, 1605) - image source STCN
Cover of Jan van den Velde, Spieghel der schrijfkonste (…) (Rotterdam: Van Waesberghe, 1605) – image source STCN

Using calligraphy as a start and only almost as an afterthought actual archival records is sound for a didactic purpose, going thus from the easy and recognizable to more common and even ugly scripts you encounter in actual research. I thought it would be helpful to guide you here to a digital copy of the marvellous Spieghel der schrijfkonste by Jan van der Velde, and this led me to a discovery I would have liked to avoid. I wonder very much why the authors made the mistake to state the Rijksmuseum copy shown in their manual was printed at Amsterdam in 1608. The library catalogue clearly shows as location and date of printing Rotterdam 1605, published in three parts. The Universal Short Tile Catalogue (USTC) does not mention this copy (no. 1028389). The three editions mentioned in the USTC have all derived printing locations, dates and printers.

The only digital copy I found at Umeå Universitet of this edition shows only two parts from 1605 (part I, scripts, 75 pp., and part III, scripts, 147 pp.). When you check the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) for no. 833360815 it becomes clear the Rijksmuseum has taken its information from three separate STCN items for its library catalogue entry, but in its turn the STCN shows clearly the Rijksmuseum has several copies of this beautiful work, not only the one stemming from the Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap. Luckily the value of the introduction does not mar other qualities of the new Schriftspiegel, but a bit more carefulness with the very book the authors took as one of their models would have been right. Dealing with a book without a clear location and printing date – and changing titles! – is a difficult matter, in particular for a multi volume set like this one. In addition this work has also been translated soon, another thing to complicate matters to be investigated. I will not try to solve these bibliographical questions here entirely, but just wanting to give you a link to a digitized version led me to this addendum.

Let’s end here with sending those interested in seventeenth-century calligraphy to the fine commented list of (digitized) works at Penna Volans. This particular Van de Velde edition does not figure in it with a link to a digital version, only for its title page. However, the Allard Pierson at Amsterdam, the combined special collections and university museum of the Universiteit van Amsterdam, put images of it online at Flickr among their calligraphy albums, alas with few meta-data, thus leaving you in the dark which of their three copies they used.

Horsman and Sigmond also give some examples from Cornelis Dirckz. Boissens’ Exemplaren van veelderhande nederlantsche gheschriften (…) (Amsterdam 1617), and here, too, you face the challenge of finding a copy at all. The STCN nor the USTC does mention it. The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog lists copies at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin [Kunstbibliothek, OS 5016 quer] and the Bibliothèque nationale universitaire at Strasbourg. The Berlin catalogue clearly indicated the place of printing and date have been inferred, and adds question marks. It leaves me wondering a bit what book the authors really saw. In view of its rarity and the changing titles of editions a clear reference to the copy used is simply necessary. These Early Modern calligraphy books remain a feast for the eye and a bibliographical challenge.

Medieval sources for Normandy’s (legal) history

Startscreen Norécrit (detail)

Musing about a possible goal for a holiday this summer France is bound to enter my thoughts! Thus it made me really happy to find a new portal about French regional history with an European dimension. The portal Norécrit. Aus sources de la Normandie. Pratiques de l’écrit das la Normandie médiévale is a project at the Université de Caen Normandie bringing you a tripartite online corpus with sources for legal history, ecclesiastical administration and the history of medieval archives and libraries, in particular for the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. In earlier posts I looked here at Norman customary law and at the cultural heritage in the form of manuscripts from Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres. What kind of sources can you find at Norécrit? How does the version presented at the new portal differ from earlier (online) editions?

Familiar and unfamiliar

Logo Craham, Université de Caen Normandie / CNRS

The portal Norécrit came to my attention thanks to the Réseau des médiévistes belges de langue française (RMBLF) which offers a calendar of scholarly events concerning medieval studies in Europe, and much else, too, such as notices about new publications and online projects. Let’s first chart the institutional constellation for Norécrit. The portal is the fruit of a team at the Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (MRSH), and more specifically its unit Centre Michel de Boüard – CRAHAM (UMR 6273). Earlier on this centre launched in cooperation with numerous other institutions already the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. You can read more about the CRAHAM also at its blog Les Échos du Craham.

Law in medieval Normandy

The first section of Norécrit is directly concerned with medieval legal history. The équipe for this section is led by the director of CRAHAM, Laurence Jean-Marie. Under the heading Ecrits nomratif et vitalité économique. Les coutumes des villes et des ports you will find nineteen texts with customary law. Those for harbors contain regulations for tolls, they are not just tariff lists. The introduction states clearly we should not expect too much uniformity. Many texts are not official statements, but instead more privately produced text collections. Texts concerning forestry law have not been included. The Grand Coutumier de Normandie is not mentioned at all, since these texts have clearly a more local range. The Coutumes de la prévôté d’Harfleur (1387) is the first text edited at Norécrit, and the edition comes with a useful introduction and a presentation of the sources. A nineteenth-century edition used only one archival source, but here three medieval sources have been used for the new edition. You can browse the text using the sommaire or use the search function (recherche). This section brings a most valuable addition for the study of customary law in Normandy.

Viewing church life in the archdiocese Rouen

Administration par l’écrit dans l’Église du XIIIe siècle is the theme of the second section, led by Grégory Combalbert, and more specifically the development of the use of written records in the archdiocese Rouen covering the territory of Normandy. Three sources brought together here can show you church life during the thirteenth century in great detail. Apart from a pouillé, an overview of parishes in this archdiocese and episcopal acts from three bishops the main resource here is the famous register of archiepiscopal visitations created by Eudes (Odo) Rigaud, archbishop from 1248 until 1275.

I suppose I am not the only scholar remembering reading about him in the great synthesis of medieval ecclesiastical history by the late Sir Richard William Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth 1970). The concise introduction to the visitations refers to both old and modern literature about this very active archbishop and his register. The edition by Théodose Bonnin, Regestrum visitationum archiepiscopi Rothomagensis : journal des visites pastorales d’Eude Rigaud, archevêque de Rouen 1248-1269 (Rouen 1852) can be consulted online at Gallica as can also the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. latin 1245, alas only taken from an old but serviceable microfilm. It is wise to look at the full description of this manuscript at the website of the BnF, too, because it points you to some scholarly articles and the English translation by Sidney M. Brown with an introduction by Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan, The register of Eudes of Rigaud (New York-London 1964).

A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 - Paris, BNF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v - image source: Paris, BnF
A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 – Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v – image source: Paris, BnF

The document with an overview of parishes in the archdiocese Rouen between 1236 and 1306, too, is preserved in a manuscript held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Ms. Latin 11052). Léopold Delisle published an edition of the text in 1894. The manuscript has been digitized in full color at Gallica, and you can find a succinct description in the online Archives et manuscrits catalog of the BnF.

Acts of four archbishops of Rouen between 1231 and 1275 form the third and last element in this section. Currently only acts up to 1257 are presented in the online edition. For some acts of Eudes Rigaud copies are found in his register. The edition contains both the texts of original charters and of later copies. The critical apparatus and annotation are all you can desire. It has to be noted that some seventy acts of the 154 acts stem from Eudes Rigaud. This Franciscan scholar and archbishop was clearly in many ways exceptional, but even when you acknowledge the bias caused by his zealous personality he remains most remarkable.

The archives and libraries of monasteries

The third axe of the project at the Université de Caen is led by Marie Bisson and focuses on one particular and very singular abbey, the Benedictine abbey under royal protection of the Mont Saint-Michel. The projected corpus of texts at Norécrit has not yet been completed. As for now you will find liturgical texts, followed by De abbatibus, the chronicle written by abbot Robert de Torigni about earlier abbots, and a subsection with sources concerning miracles happening at or touching Mont Saint-Michel. In a later phase of the project a corpus of texts written and reunited by Dom Thomas Le Roy in 1647 and 1648 will be published, and also the Constitutiones abbatiae Sancti Michaelis (1258) and statutes issued by pope Gregory IX. The constitutions will be edited from the manuscript Avranches, BM, 214, f. 9-16, and the papal statutes are at fol. 8-9 of this manuscript which you can view online in the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. In fact you will find there a description of this manuscript and already the incipits and explicits. It would be helpful if the French team provides this link at Norécrit, too. As an excuse for not doing this they can point to the online journal Tabularia. Sources écrits des mondes normands médiévaux with in the 2019 issue a critical edition of De abbatibus with translations in English and Italian by Pierre Bouet, Marie Bisson and others [‘Écrire l’histoire des abbés du Mont Saint-Michel 3. Édition critique et traduction’]. As a bonus they can point to the blog Mondes nordidiques et normands médiévaux.

Three windows on medieval Normandy

After creating the Bibliothèque virtuell du Mont Saint-Michel with numerous digitized manuscripts, most of them held at Avranches, it is not by coincidence this abbey figures large, too, at the new Norécrit portal. Its preeminence simply cannot be denied, but the portal helps to create a more balanced view in the two other sections. It is is splendid to see customary law at a local and municipal level, thus helping to place the Grand Coutumier de Normandie in its original context. In the Bibliothèque David Hoüard, Bibliothèque numérique de droit normand you can find numerous digitized resources concerning law in Normandy from the Middle Ages onwards. You might want to look also at the blog for the project RIN CONDÉ  (Constitution d’un Droit européen : six siècles de coutumiers normands). By the way, Gallica has among its Essentiels du droit a fine section with books and medieval manuscripts around the Coutume de Normandie. The second section of Norécrit brings together precious and interesting sources on medieval church administration and canon law. When searching for synodal statutes from Rouen you can find fourteen texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Corpus synodalium created at Stanford University.

The connections between Normandy and England, and the position of this duchy within France are obvious reasons for looking at Normandy as a region with European importance already in the medieval period. Hopefully my brief introduction to Norécrit and references to some accompanying projects and blogs helps you to put Normandy into perspective as more than just a lovely region for a summer holiday in France!

A digital approach to the Early Modern inquisition in Portugal

Banner e-Inquisition

Sometimes a word evokes almost automatically an association with a distinct historical period. The word inquisition is first and foremost linked with medieval Europe. On this blog and website I explain why speaking about the inquisition is misleading. In Early Modern Europe the Spanish and Italian inquisition received most attention from historians, but in Italy you have to distinguish between Rome and Venice. Recently the project TraPrInq started for the transcription and study of records of the inquisition in Portugal between 1536 and 1821. The project is accompanied by the blog e-Inquisition hosted by the international Hypotheses network. In this post I will look at the plans of the project team and its importance for studying both Portuguese and Brazilian history.

Records from four centuries

The blog for TraPrInq itself show nicely how much this project is in a starting phase. While preparing this post its layout changed. At the blog a concise presentation of the project is offered in French, Portuguese and English. The core of the current team is the Centro de Humanidades (CHAM) at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Alas I could not find any information about this project running in 2022 and 2023 at the website of the CHAM. However, it is stated TraPrInq is connected with an earlier CHAM project on censorship and the Portuguese inquisition. One of the main objectives is to create transcriptions of court records using the Transkribus technology, discussed here earlier in a post about Early Modern court records and legal consultations in Germany. In fact Hervé Baudry, the blog editor, is responsible for the Transkribus model for Latin-Portuguese print from the seventeenth century. By the way, this and other models are also present for free use without registration at the recently launched platform Transkribus AI.


As for now 140 records have been transcribed, good for some 190,000 words, a fair base for a HTR (Handwritten Text Recogniition) model in Transkribus. I was somewhat mystified by the utter absence of information about the actual location of the records to be transcribed and studied. The clue for a unmistakable identification is the fact the records stem from a tribunal with jurisdiction both in Portugal and Brazil. The Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (ANTT) in Lisbon is the holding institution. It is not a bad idea to start with one of its four virtual exhibitions concerning the inquisition in Portugal. preferably with Inquisição da Lisboa online telling you about the nearly 20,000 registers for which 2,3 million digital images have been put online. The ANTT has within the archive of the Tribunal de Santo Oficio (TSO) records of the Inquisição de Lisboa (IL). The scope note and inventory in Portuguese of this archival subfonds is available online at the :Portuguese Digitarq portal. Series 028 contains the processos. Digital images of documents are directly linked to numerous items.

Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with the Portuguese inquisition I tried to look a bit wider for information about its archival traces. The wiki of FamilySearch brings you only to records for a few years digitized earlier and available at SephardicGen. The online inventory of the ANTT is mentioned by Family Search, but not its inclusion of digitized records. It is a nice exercise to compare versions of the relevant Wikipedia articles in English, Portuguese and Spanish, in particular for their bibliographies and linguistic preferences. Luckily I found a special of the Brazilian journal Politeia: Historie e Sociedade 20/1 (2021) with a Dossiê Temático Tribunal do Santo Ofício Português, 200 anos após extinção: História e Historiografia opening with a contribution by Grayce Mayre Bonfim Souza about the archive of the Tribunal do Santo Oficio.

Let me not forget to note here the CHAM has created an online index of the fonds Manuscritos do Brasil held at the ANTT. The e-Inquisition blog contains currently apart from the brief introduction five articles,four in Portuguese and one in English touching a wide variety of themes, The recent brief article in English brings you an overview of the palaeographers and historians in the project team. Baudry wrote for example about censorship in the books of Henricus Cornelius Agrippa and (in French) about the famous trial of Manuel Maria de Barbosa du Bocage, with images and transcriptions of four documents. Baudry’s article about Pedro Lupina Freire brings a seventeenth-century notary into the spotlights who became an agent for the tribunal. A most fascinating article is concerned with the double use of asterisks by censors, both to hide information and to highlight matters.

No doubt more information about the TraPrInq project will soon appear at the e-Inquisition blog and at the website of the CHAM, in particular concerning the progress at Transkribus of the creation of the new HTR model for Portuguese Early Modern script, and the location where transcriptions will become available online for the wider scholarly community. Thanks to this transcription project the records of the Inquisição de Lisboa will surely show more of their rich content touching many parts of the Early Modern world, not just Jewish and colonial history. The combination of a detailed inventory, digitized images and digital transcriptions will make it possible to ask different questions. This project shows at least the very real need for trained palaeographers, but I am sure the knowledge of legal historians, too, will be necessary to tap this wealth of information.

An addendum

In Spring 2022 the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal held the exposition Bibliotecas limpas. Censura dos livros impressos nos séculos XV a XIX curated by Hervé Baudry. The virtual exposition Bocage 1735-1805 created by the BN brings you to the life and works of this poet; the chronology mentions his trial in 1802.

Censorship by the Portuguese inquisition is the subject of the portal Inquisition in Action launched on June 20, 2022 by the CIUHCT, also in Lisbon.

Getting close to medieval papal registers

Logo Archivio Apostolico VaticanoEven when you are interested in totally different subjects in medieval history emperors, kings and popes attract your attention. Their power and authority make them a natural focus for research, also because the most powerful people and institutions leave a rich track in archival records and manuscripts. Upheavals such as wars, fires and revolutions destroyed parts of this legacy in parchment and paper, but a massive amount of information has survived five or more centuries. The papal curia is rightly seen as one of the earliest and most active medieval bureaucracies. In 2019 the Vatican archives received a new name, Archivio Apostolico Vaticano (AAV) instead of the familiar Archivio Segreto Vaticano, a term which could led people to believe enormous secrets still await discovery. In my view the sheer number of documents, the challenge of languages, medieval scripts and intricate legal matters form the real barrier for abundant use of this archive in a class of its own. In this post I will look at the ways medieval papal registers are now made accessible in print and online. However, it is necessary and useful, too, to look also at least briefly at ways to find documents held at the AAV.

Logo XVIth congress 2022

This post is also meant as a salute to the upcoming XVIth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held at St. Louis, MO, from July 17 to 23, 2022, and as a service to anyone interested in studying pivotal documents for the study of papal history and medieval canon law. For a real understanding of the documents mentioned here it will not do to merely having a glance at them, you will need to immerse yourself into them, and this will enrich you.

In this post the focus will be on access to the original documents, and much less on projects with databases for papal documents. A number of databases and projects for medieval charters is presented in a recent post.

Finding papal registers from the Middle Ages

Two years ago I stated in a post about digital resources rather flatly you cannot find any online inventory at the website of the AAV. This was not entirely true. In fact the four series of medieval papal registers are the very exception to my observation. I had better give you immediately the links to the inventories for these series:

Registra Avenioniensia (RA) 1-349
Registra Lateranensia (RL) 1-138 / 498-534 / 925-1126, 1128
Registra Supplicationum (RS) 1-265 / 479 – 509 / 961-1169
Registra Vaticana (RV) 1-545 / 772-884

These inventories can be found in the section for publications of the AAV website. I had not realized that the lists with the contents of the four cd-rom sets give you in fact at least a partial inventory of these registers. The cd-roms are only available at research libraries and cannot be accessed worldwide online. You will notice with me these four inventories seemingly do not list all registers of the four series, and I will come back to this fact quickly. For your convenience the overview of papal registers in chronological order by pope from Innocent III to Benedict XIII offered by the Centre Pontifical d’Avignon is very useful.

The modern editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries form the core of the subscription-only online resource Ut per litteras apostolicas hosted by Brepols. The overview of the Brepolis resources portal gives you a useful concise list of the modern editions published by French scholars since the late nineteenth century. In a period with no or very limited physical access to libraries I felt hard pressed to find a list of these editions in print. My copy of Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen (Ghrnt 1962) s a bit old: This first edition in Dutch contains relevant information at pages 211 to 215. Somewhat newer is my copy of Winfried Baumgart, Bücherverzeichnis zur deutschen Geschichte. Hilfsmittel-Handbücher-Quellen (12th ed., Munich 1997) with information on pages 170 to 173. The information given by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke and Benoît-Michel Tock (eds.), Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout 1993) at pp. 333-338 contains less details for the two major French edition series, but the editors send you rightly to the book of Thomas Frenz, Papsturkunden des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit (Stuttgart 1986).

On April 24, 2021 Yvonne Searle published a valuable post with links to various resources with editions of medieval papal documents. The editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth century form just a section of her contribution. For these editions she points mainly to versions in the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I hesitated to add here for a number of these registers links to Gallica and Princeton Theological Commons, but it would have been repeating a job already sufficiently well done.

Not only for English readers you might sooner or later, but preferably as soon as possible turn to the guide by the late Leonard Boyle, A survey of the Vatican Archives and of its medieval holdings (Toronto 1972; new edition 2001). Almost seventy pages of this book deal with medieval papal registers. Even a cursory reading of these pages should make you aware of the danger of any superficial approach of these registers. The general remarks in my post should be seen in the light of Boyle’s detailed explanations and telling examples. As a student I was explicitly told to read first this classic guide before going to Rome or Vatican City. His book should for once and all teach you the fact you need to know not only about the inventories or the editions, but also use every reliable guide you can find. Just reading Boyle’s remark that some Avignonese registers have been placed among the Registra Vaticana and vice versa should serve as a wake up call. For English readers his remarks about the contents of the various calendars created in England from papal registers are a must read. Instead of going blissfully unaware to digitized calendars at the British History portal reading Boyle’s explanations should alert you to many things concerning the study of papal registers.

Guidance to records of the medieval papacy

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Far more voluminous than the surprisingly concise guide offered by Boyle is the guide created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998). First of all this fruit of the Michigan project (1984-2004) goes beyond the AAV also to other archives in Rome. There is an online version of Blouin’s guide at ArchiveGrid showing introductions to many hundred archival collections, including to the series with papal registers from the High Middle Ages. You can also benefit from the 2019 edition of the Indice dei Fondi e relativi mezzi di descrizione e di ricerca dell’Archivio segreto Vaticano is available online (PDF). The concise introduction to medieval papal records offered at the website of the Vatican Film Library should be mentioned here, too.

For studying records of the medieval papacy there is a wealth of scholarly literature. Some most useful basic introductions to the most important relevant works can be found in the section Analyzing Sources of the multilingual Swiss history portal Ad fontes (Universität Zurich). Searching for relevant scholarly literature is much helped by the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii project in Mainz. The Regesta Imperii lists among its publications also the volumes of Papstregesten, systematic summaries of papal charters for the period 800 to 1198, an important help in studying this resource. An online resource in Munich, the Bibliographischer Datenbank Historische Grundwissenschaften, can be helpful, too, for finding literature. Both the database in Mainz and Munich can be searched with keywords (Schlagwort), the Munich database only in German. The portal LEO-BW (Landeskunde Entdecken Online-Baden Württemberg) has within its Südwestedeutsche Archivalienkunde [Archivistics for South-West Germany) in the section on charters (Urkunden) an illustrated introduction to papal charters, Papsturkunden by Anja Thaller. She points to online resources and mentions literature on several aspects.

Finding digitized papal records and manuscripts

In the compass of just one blog contribution it would in the end not help much to put in here literally everything. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie the page about canon law mentions a fair number of online projects concerning the medieval papacy. Over the years I have written here several posts on documents and manuscripts connected with the medieval papacy. In 2016 I published for example a post about the Palatini, the manuscripts originally from the library of the dukes of the Pfalz in Heidelberg brought to the Vatican Library in 1623 and now being digitized. Some manuscripts returned to Heidelberg, others remain in Vatican City.

Finding digitized manuscripts in the Vatican Library is easy thanks to the portal Digital Vatican Library. Perhaps it is more surprising to find also digitized archival records of the papacy at this portal. In my 2020 post about the 1352-1358 interdict on the city of Dordrecht I mentioned a number of digitized source editions, not only for the Avignonese papacy, but also for Dutch medieval history and the Vatican. My biographical research into a particularly interesting lawyer connected with the Dordrecht case led me to a latarium, a digitized register of verdicts and fines from the civil tribunal in Avignon (BAV, Vat. lat. 14774). Fourteen lataria ( BAV, Vat. lat. 14761 to 14774) have been digitized. Within the section for archives of this digital library you can find several small archival collections. There are also five notarial registers from Orange. I am quite aware that it might be possible to find more archival records among the digitized manuscripts of the BAV, and I hope to add them here or elsewhere.

It is harder to ding digitized records online from the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano. Registers Introitus et Exitus of the Camera Apostolica between 1316 and 1324 (John XXII) 1334 and 1342 (Benedict XII) are the subject of digital editions as part of the project Ressources comptables en Dauphiné, Provence, Savoie et Venaissin (XIIIe-XVe siècle) with medieval accounts from four French regions and the papacy in Avignon and the region around this city, the Venaissin. Here, too, figures a papal register (Reg.Av. 46) among quite different resources, but it contains indeed accounts. In 2020 I thought this edition included also digitized images, but this is not the case.

Logo Metascripta, Vatican Film Library

Sometimes an approach from another direction can be helpful. We are used nowadays to viewing online digitized manuscripts and archival records in full color. The manuscripts digitized by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana show a sometimes irritating watermark. Aaron Macks helps you every week to information about recently digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In former times scholars would often have no choice but to use black-and-white microfilms. The Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO, offers not only microfilms but also a useful overview by genre of manuscripts at the Vatican Library, an overview of papal registers, and the Metascripta portal for online research with Vatican manuscripts, mainly Vaticani Latini. On the page for medieval law of my website I mention more (digitized) microfilm collections.

A few years ago a team at the Università Roma Tre started the project In Codice Ratio for creating computerized character recognition in order to make possible automate transcription of handwritten text. In this project archival records from the AAV will be transcribed. As for now you can find the data set with the initial input and the ground truth, the set of images and transcriptions with a degree of error free results.

Many roads, many wishes

This post brings you perhaps less than you had expected, but it is longer than I assumed. Originally I planned a post dealing with text editions, digital libraries, inventories and digitized archival records. In the end I am happy I could recently write here about databases with medieval charters, among them papal charters, and in 2020 the papacy at Avignon figured large in a post. Thus the results here are at least less confusing and profuse. However, it was necessary to show indeed the variety of resources and some of the difficulties in using them for historical research, and in particular for legal history. If there had been a clear starting point for using online digitized records at the AAV I would surely have started here with them. The sheer mass of relevant text editions is overwhelming, although the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is perhaps too generous in adding the label Papacy to many editions. Using multiple resources has as one implication thinking out of the box and working interdisciplinary without much ado. Legal history, too, should not be a confined discipline, a kind of silo as is the current phrase. Our discipline is well placed to question the use of digital resources when you or your students do not have the necessary skills and training to use them to their full extent. Combining such training and experience in using original sources should help you to tap the wealth of digitized medieval sources, and at the same time to be aware of what more can be found, what has been lost and which traces of such lost resources can enrich your research.

A postscript

Of course I was curious enough to find out quickly more about digitized registers among the manuscripts in the digital Vatican Library. For example, the manuscript BAV, Ross. 733 is a fifteenth-century register of taxes paid for the collation of diocesan sees. However, I should first of all add some registers from Avignon, starting with Vat. Lat 14775 with criminal inquests for the years 1365-1368 (copy in black and white), Vat. lat 14776 and Vat. lat. 14777 with verdicts in civil cases from 1364 and 1372, Vat.lat 14478, 14479 (fragments) and 14780, also from the fourteenth century. The descriptions of these registers clearly lack the word latarium for quick identification and grouping of Vat. Lat. 14761 to 14780.

Klaus Graf alerts at Archivalia to the fact a number of digitized edition of papal registers within the Hathi Trust Digital Library can be reached in open access only from the United States. Thus there is indeed space for another list of digital copies of these editions. Graf points also to some resources from Germany.

Social justice and American legal history

Banner "Gun Regulation and Legislation", HeinOnline (detail)

This week I received a message about free access to four portals touching the theme of social justice in the USA. Several times I expressed here my wish not to forget themes such as injustice, discrimination, violence and abuse of law. Sometimes good laws can be indeed the remedy to set things right, but alas there are examples where law and justice themselves are the very core and root of evil situations instead of doing what they are meant to do. I seldom discuss here the licensed products of the major firms offering online legal information, not just because they focus on contemporary law, but because access is restricted to those working or studying at universities, research centers and law firms. Many of these products figure prominently in online guides to legal resources, and I do not need to repeat them here.

In 2016 I looked here at some length at the slavery portal of HeinOnline. The same firm has now created a Social Justice portal with free access after registration to four more or less related resources. Apart from the slavery portal legislation about guns, the struggle for human rights and social justice since the second half of the last century, and the Open Society Justice Initiative are available, the latter with a clear focus on the contemporary world. In 2018 I looked here at the historic gun laws database created at Duke University, and it is only logical to compare both resources in some detail. Even if a number of these resources are already a few years available it is interesting to look at them here.

Social justice in various perspectives

Banner with four items at the Social Justice portal (detail)

The four resources now available through the new Social Justice portal are not completely new. Slavery in America and the World was launched in 2016. Gun Regulation and Legislation in America appeared online in 2019. A year later came Civil Rights and Social Justice, and in 2021 HeinOnline launched the digital library for the Open Society Justice Initiative. I could quickly register for combined open access to the four portals

Let’s start here with the resource on gun regulation and legislation in America. This resource is a digital library, and not a database as offered with the Repository of Historical Gun Laws by the team of Duke University. Only a few items date from before 1900, and the vast majority, more than 600 items, date from the period since 1950. In fact it seems this resource takes at its starting point the end of the long period covered by Duke’s database. Here you will find various types of documents, such as congressional hearings, legislative histories, reports of the CRS and the GAO, three periodicals, Supreme Court briefs, and also scholarly articles. The digital library is about relevant regulation and legislation, but not a resource for actual laws, statutes and other legislative acts. You can browse all items and sort them by title, author, date or subject, but you will probably want to use the advanced search mode where you can create sharply defined searches, in particular for document types. The real snag comes with scholarly articles. Being able to sort them in many ways should not hide the fact they are only accessible online to subscribers of the respective legal journals, a thing noted in the introduction. You cannot search these articles with the advanced search mode. Some solace is certainly offered by the bibliography, but alas you can only browse it ordered by title and author.

My first impression of HeinOnline’s resource on gun regulation is that it offers a digital library around gun regulation and legislation documenting legislative history with some additional information, in particular a bibliography. This resource does offer you much in open access, but not everything. I suppose you might be able to find preprint versions of more recent scholarly articles in a number of American institutional repositories, giving you at least the factual information of articles, but not automatically in a legally citable format. It seems to me this resource can be viewed to some extent as the sequel to Duke’s gun laws database, but with a focus on the legal history around laws and regulation. There seems to be room for a similar digital library dealing with pre-1950 legal history, and also for a database containing federal and state regulations in whatever form after 1930. HeinOnline certainly scores with the accompanying LibGuide to this resource. an element visible also without registration, as are a total of currently 65 guides.

The road to civil rights and social justice

The second resource which I would like to present is the portal on civil rights and social justice. The introduction rightly points to the long march, the pitfalls and setbacks during the long and slow march to equal rights, and most specifically to the role played by law and justice. I started using the advanced search mode sorting all items, more than 36,000, in ascending chronological order. Some undated items and items from the 1940s appeared first, followed by publications from 1734 and 1761. With item 100 you reach the year 1846. The main focus of this digital library is the period 1950 to 2000 with some 20,000 items, and it is good to note already some 10,000 items from the current century. Some 7,000 items stem from the Commission on Civil Rights. Some document types are present here as in the gun regulation digital library, but the Statements on Essential Human Rights Archive is a distinguishing feature. By the way, the icon in the advanced search mode pointing to Venn-Diagram Search only helps you to create search strings with AND. There is also a feature to use the FastCase system for subscribers to this system. The scholarly articles here, too, cannot be searched within the advanced search mode, but instead there are five sorting options and just two search fields. I am not familiar with HeinOnline’s subscribed resources, but this seems definitely below its usual standard of searchability. All in all there are some clear blemishes, but Civil Rights and Social Justice is a rich and most interesting resource, and its existence in open access is indeed most welcome. It is a true companion to the earlier slavery portal.

Justice and open society

Logo Open Society

Living in an open society is easily taken for granted when it looks like all roads are open to you and that you can choose at will what to do and how to live and express yourself. Alas for many people this is not their reality. After looking here at two resources of the new portal, and in 2016 already at the slavery portal, should bring the message home that much needs to be done and much patience is needed in creating and maintaining a stable open society. It is a bit confusing that both the initiative of the Open Society Foundatione and HeinOnline’s digital resource have the same name. Adding the word Publications as on the actual search page would repair this quickly.

This small digital library has a worldwide scope and range. You can select three document types (briefing paper, publication and report). Only after selecting a document type you can put them in a chronological order. Alas only with the latest item you see immediately a publication date. A look at library catalogs and their standard features would decidedly enhance the overview of items. There are currently 45 publications, 127 briefing papers and 126 reports. It is a bit irritating that you have to navigate back to choose another document type. The advanced search mode makes things easier indeed.

Before you think I am just in a grumbling mood I decided to look for items specifically aiming at my own country within this digital library. There is a 2015 report from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Dutch branch of Amnesty International on ethnic profiling. These institutions wrote in 2018 a report for the UN Committee against Torture on ill-treatment in the context of counter-terrorism and high-security prisons. OSJI and TRIAL International published together in 2019 a briefing paper on universal jurisdiction law and practice in the Netherlands. As in my 2020 post ‘Against racism, for justice’ it is sensible to look first at your own country or situation before trying to assess the situation elsewhere. Seeing these three publications is a sobering thing for me.

Commercial core business and additional open access

How should one look at the open access activities of HeinOnline? Answering this question is not a straightforward thing to do, at least not for me. I suppose similar firms have their own open access products as well, but at this moment I can only immediately remember LLMC Digital which since a few years brings increasingly resources in open access for US legal history, both on the federal and state level, and for some other countries, too, at its open access section. Its Civil and Human Rights Law portal offers some documents in open access, but it is mostly a portal, as is the Indigenous Law portal.

However, today my main aim is bringing to your attention the four resources in open access created by HeinOnline, one of them for an institution acting worldwide for the cause of rights making a truly open society possible. HeinOnline has chosen themes connecting the past with the present in a very clear way. I mentioned in particular the good use of the LibGuides system with clear commented information, only lacking the touch of distinguishing with symbols between licensed resources and resources in open access. This seems to me a thing too often neglected in the guides offered by libraries, even after two years of lockdowns and restricted live access to scholarly and cultural heritage institutions. At some points the four resources clearly betray their origin from a firm focusing on contemporary law, sometimes as an advantage and sometimes as an obstacle for historical research. Let’s use them for your own benefit as a researcher, but I think they should indeed enjoy wider circulation as an addition to digital public history.

Jacques Cujas and legal humanism

Portrait of Jacques Cujas - Musée du Vieux Toulouse - source Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Jacques Cujas – anonymous painting, 17th century – Musée du Vieux Toulouse, Inv 22.5.1 – image Wikimedia Commons

Tracing the influence of famous lawyers is not a straightforward thing. Some scholars were already famous during their life, others exerted a lasting influence through their pupils or by their published works, sometimes only decades after their death. Reputation can be an obstacle to critical assessment of achievements. The recent publication of a monograph about Jacques Cujas (1522-1590) helps to create a new focus on Cujacius and his importance as a lawyer, professor and legal humanist. On March 28-29, 2022 a conference will be held at Paris with a telling title, Jacques Cujas 1522-2022. La fabrique d’un “grand juriste”. In this post I will look at the congress program and look at some aspects of Cujas’ life and work as foundations for his influence, first in France and later in other European countries and beyond Europe.

The importance of biography

Affiche "Jacques Cujas 1522-2022"

Xavier Prévost (Université Bordaux) is responsible for bringing Cujas into the limelight again in this century. After his voluminous thesis Jacques Cujas (1522-1590), Le droit à l’épreuve de l’humanisme, defended in 2012 in Paris, he published Jacques Cujas (1522-1590), Jurisconsulte humaniste (Genève 2015) and a shorter work Jacques Cujas (1522-1590) (Paris 2018) as a part of the series Histoire litttéraire de la France.

A quick search for more information sheds light on the scale of the commemoration of Cujas’ five-hundredth birthday. The platform France Mémoire has created an online dossier for the 2022 activities around Cujas. The Bibliothèque Cujas, the central law library of the Université de Paris, will launch on March 28 a virtual exhibition about Cujas, a most welcome thing. Obviously the link to the online exhibit does not yet function. The physical exhibition at this library well be on display until June 24, 2022. Prévost will hold a lecture in Paris on the theme “La (seconde) Renaissance du droit romain” on March 17, 2022.

The program (PDF) of the conference on March 28-29, 2022, shows a most sensible approach in several layers which also can be helpful to view other legal humanists in Early Modern Europe in different settings. The local approach contains papers looking at some places where Cujas was active, Turin in the paper by Valerio Gigliotti (Turin) and Toulouse in the paper by Florent Garnier (Toulouse). The section on patrimoine (heritage) has the arts and literature as its subject. Jacqueline Lalouette (Lille) will discuss sculptures of Cujas, and Valérie Hayaert (Warwick) will speak about Cujas and the arts. Literature is the theme in the contribution of Stéphan Geonget (Tours). In the international section the reception of Cujas in Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Dutch Republic will be discussed, with papers by Diego Quaglioni (Trento), John Carins (Edinburgh), Rafael Ramis Barceló, (Universitat de las Illes Balears), and Laurens Winkel (emeritus, Rotterdam). The final section on historiography looks at the representation of Cujas in general history, for example in biographical dictionaries during the Ancien Régime, and of course within the field of legal history, Anne Rousselet-Pimont (Paris) will speak about the place of Cujas in the works of the French arrêtistes. Pierre Bonin (Paris) will discuss dictionaries. Géraldine Cazals (Bordeaux) and Anne-Sophie Chambost (Lyon) will confront the theme of Cujas’ authority, in partciual after the French Revolution.

A very active life

Photo of the Hôtel Cujas, home to the Musée de Berry, Bourges - image: Wikimedia Commons

The sheer number of themes at this two-day conference in itself is already interesting. What made Cujas so special among French lawyers? Let’s look quickly at the main points of Cujas’ life. Either in 1520 or 1522 he saw the light of life in Toulouse, He studied law in his home town. After teaching in Toulouse from 1547 to 1554 he did not become a professor in Toulouse, and this started a career which brought him to a number of French cities: Cahors (1554), Bourges (1555-1556, 1559-1565, and 1575-1590), Valence (1557-1559 and 1567-1575). In 1575 he taught briefly in Paris, and outside France he lectured in Turin (1566). In Bourges you can visit the Hôtel Cujas, home since 1875 to the Musée de Berry. The variety of cities and his long stay at Bourges pinpoint the fact that he was not just a great successor to Andrea Alciato who had also taught at Bourges, making it into virtually the main French city for legal humanism.

When you start searching for Early Modern printed editions of his works, for example within the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC, St. Andrews) the very first – and quite rare – work called Catalogus legum antiquarum (…) (Paris 1555; USTC no. 154264) has a title showing already the different path he was to follow. A focus on order is clearly visible. Cujas devoted much time to reconstructing the original works of Roman lawyers such as Ulpian. Cujas did not just study the Justinian Digest, Code and the institutes. He published one of the earliest critical editions of the Codicis Theodosiani libri XVI (Lyon 1566; USTC no. 158074). Writing a commentary on the Libri Feudorum was not the next thing you would expect. Among the earliest edition of his De feudis libri V is an edition Heidelberg 1567 (USTC no. 629710). He commented also the Justinian Novellae (first published as Novellarum constitutionum impp. Justiniani expositio (Cologne 1569; USTC no. 678571). Thus Cujas studied the Corpus Iuris Civilis in its full width, but he studied also earlier and later sources for Roman law. He did not bring the first edition of the Basilica, but he certainly drew attention to this importance source of Byzantine law with his Latin translation [Basilikon liber LX (…) (Lyon 1566; USTC no. 154652).

With Cujas you see not just a professor with only interest in Roman law in its original form. Like many other Early Modern law professors he wrote legal consultations and published them, too [Consultationum liber singularis (Cologne 1577; USTC no. 664682)]. However, characteristically he opened his collection with an edition of the Consultatio veteris cuiusdam iurisconsulti, the very editio princeps of this text. I will not mention here any other titles of his works, apart from his Observationes et emendationes, a modest title taken from other humanists expanded in every edition. All in all the USTC gives references to some 180 editions of Cujas’ works, most of them published after his death in 1590. Of course this is just an impression of Cujas’ printed legacy: The USTC stops at 1650, and searching in for example the Heritage of the Printed Book database (CERL) will show you re-editions of his works until the mid-eighteenth century. For Cujas at least four Opera omnia editions exist. It is good to note that Ernst Spangenberg devoted many pages of his study Jacob Cujas und seine Zeitgenossen (Leipzig 1822) to a detailed bibliographical overview of Cujas’ published works.

Cujas taught scholars who became famous in their own right, too. Jacques-Auguste De Thou, Josephus Justus Scaliger, Jacques Labitte, Antoine Loysel, Pierre Daniel, Pierre Pithou and Étienne Pasquier are just some of them. Through Pierre Daniel some of Cujas’ manuscripts came in the hands of Jacques Bongars (1554-1612) whose large library eventually arrived at the Burgerbibliothek in Bern. You might jump to the conclusion all these men occupied themselves mainly with either law or Classical Antiquity, but for example Antoine Loysel (1536-1617) studied in particular French customary law. Étienne Pasquier (1529-1615) was a poet, but also a member of the royal Chambre des comptes.

Influence beyond borders

A Dutch and even Utrecht connection with Cujacius is mentioned by the indefatigable Danish historian Jen Jensen Dodt van Flensburg (1800-1847) who devoted so much energy in unlocking sources for the history of Utrecht. In his article ‘Doctoraal diploma, door Jac. Cujacius in 1586 verleend aan Everard van de Poll, Utrechtenaar’, Bijdragen tot regtsgeleerdheid en wetgeving 5 (1830) 67-69 – online at Delpher – he gives the text of the doctoral degree conferred by Cujas in Bourges to Van de Poll (died 1602). later on the advocate of the States of Utrecht, a benefactor of the city Utrecht with his workhouse and the posthumous gift of his library to the city library, eventually part of the collections of Utrecht University Library. Interestingly this text also mentions Bernardinus de Monte Valdone (died 1618), a student from The Hague, who later on served as the advocaet-fiscael of the Hof van Utrecht, the provincial tribunal. Dodt wrote more about Cujas in another article for the Bijdragen tot regtsgeleerdheid en wetgeving 6 (1831-1832) 1-33.

In Cujas we see a scholar aiming not only to find out about the original order of Roman law, but also preparing new approaches to contemporary law by reinvigorating the study of Roman law, and inspiring numerous students to follow the paths of both law and history as twin subjects. Cujas was able to inspire his own students and later generations with his wide knowledge and deep insights. No wonder he defies easy labeling, and this invites scholars since four centuries to look at his achievements and legacy from many perspectives. The sixteenth century saw in France a galaxy of legal humanists, each of them with distinct qualities taking part of the emerging Republic of Letters, and influencing much else, too, in politics, government and the development of law and justice in their age. Studying legal humanists helps you to rethink approaches of legal history for our time, too.

A journal for digital legal history

Logo The Journal for Digital History

In some cases it can be very hard to find the right words for a post about a particular subject. Luckily announcing a new journal is a different matter! A few weeks ago the Journal for Digital Legal History has been launched by the Universiteit Gent on its platform for scientific journals in open access. The editors-in-chief of the new journal are Dirk Heirbaut, Annemiek Romein and Florenz Volkaert. Among the seven members of the editorial board are for example Andreas Wagner, officer for digital humanities at the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, and Stephen Robertson (George Mason University). Familiar names in the advisory board are Serge Dauchy (Lille), Thomas Duve (MPILHLT), Heikki Pihlajamäki (Helsinki) and Dave de Ruysscher (Tilburg).

In their opening statement the editors-in-chief explain the need for a journal devoted to digital legal history as a wish expressed by several scholars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 organized by the MPILHLT – reviewed here – scholars from Ghent did not hesitate to mention their wish to create and host a new journal with this particular focus. Other journals might devote more or less regularly space for articles on digital legal history, but creating a special platform is indeed welcome and sensible, too. Not just subjects touched by both legal history and digital humanities should get space in the JDLH, but digital methods, too, need to be presented, reviewed and discussed. Scholars are in particular invited to bring new approaches and widen the horizons of legal historians at large. Scholars willing to act as reviewers of digital projects are also invited to contact the editorial team.

Creating a journal is a sign of the willingness to create a part of the scholarly infrastructure that will help to lay sure foundations for any new discipline. It expresses also the seriousness of scholars devoting their creativity, curiosity and other scholarly qualities. Digital legal history is not a passing hype or whim. There is all reason for reflection on the digital turn and its impact on doing legal history in our days. It is up to all scholars with an active interest in digital legal history to contribute not only to this field in the ways they see fit, but also to help establishing this journal as a clear point of reference for this discipline. My best wishes for the future of the Journal for Digital Legal History (@DigiLegalHisto)!

Connected histories: Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe

A general view of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, 2008 – image Wikimedia Commons

After the Second World War Europe had for decades no wars within its borders. The wars devastating the former Yugoslavia ended a period of peace, and after the war in Kosovo yet another peaceful period came which has now been broken. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has started an uncertain period. Assessing the facts about the war is difficult, because truth is the first victim of war. What can you find online about the history of Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe to study sources for the history and cultural heritage of peoples and nations involved and connected with them? In this post I will look at a number of archival guides, digital archives and libraries, and guides to cultural heritage. Some websites cannot be reached currently. Although I provide information about many archives and digital libraries on my legal history website it took me some time to bring things here together and to update my concise descriptions of resources. Even if this post does not bring consolation or help, it helps to focus attention to some matters that ere particular urgent.

Finding archives

In view of the vast dimensions of the digital world it is really silly to think you can find anything with one search engine, let alone with the algorithms of the Great Firm. Guides and web directories are not a thing we used only twenty years ago for good reasons, they still can be enormously helpful. Such guides are vulnerable for technical problems and difficult long term maintenance, especially when projects have to be integrated into normal core practice and functioning. Sometimes administrators and managers fail to see the unique value of what seems to them an obsolete legacy from the past century. The lifespan of digital projects can be relatively short. In some cases no notice is even given of the end or decommissioning of an online resource.

Logo Archives Portal Europe

Let’s look at some European archive portals. Projects may depend on input from others or from the institutions involved. In the archival directory of the Archives Portal Europe you can find just one Ukrainian institution. Russia is not represented at all. The archival directory of the Cendari portal does not function currently. The International Council on Archives (ICA) has plans for an online directory, but in April 2020 the initiative The Archives and Records are Accessible was launched providing you with an interactive map of archives worldwide. This map shows some forty archives within Ukraine. It seems that almost every archive with a subdomain on the web domain of the Ukrainian government cannot be reached right now, except for the Central State Archive of Public Organizations in Ukraine (CDAGO) in Kyiv. Among its holdings is the archive of the communist party in Ukraine. There is an overview of the archival collections at the CDAGO.

ICA has created a directory of institutions all over the world with resources on literature and art. For Ukraine there is no entry in this directory. By the way, since 2018 ICA has a disaster relief fund.

In my view the most useful archival guide for Ukraine is offered online by the German Bundesstiftung zur Aufbearbeitung der SED-Diktatur (Goverment Foundation for the Critical Appraisal of the SED-Dictatorship) in its Vademecum-Reihe, a series of thirteen guides for the history of certain European countries and regions in the twentieth century. In 2008 appeared the Vademecum-Contemporary History Ukraine. A guide to archives, research institutions, libraries, associations and museums, edited by Georgiy Kasianov and Wilfried Jilge (PDF, 0,7 MB). The description of archives is fairly extensive. The information on museums is more concise, websites are often not mentioned. The section with websites is short but certainly important.

Using the Swiss meta-crawler eTools I could finally trace a digital version of Archives of Ukraine. Guide book issued by the State Archival Service of Ukraine (Kyiv 2012; PDF, 11,6 MB). It can be found at the website of the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute which brings information online about many subjects in Ukraine’s history in the twentieth century. The guide to Russian and Ukrainian archives of University College London disappointingly offers only very concise information about archives in Russia.

For finding information about Russian archives you can benefit from several guides. With its sheer width the guide for Archives of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, easily stands out. You can use it in combination with the subject guides of the Slavic Reference Service of this university. Alas the guide created by the National Archives of Ukraine cannot be reached at this moment. It is a pity the link of the University of Illinois to its own extensive guide for Ukrainian archives does not function, but within the subject guides you can visit a similar interesting guide for Ukrainian archives. The general introduction to these archives and their history is worth your attention, too. By the way, the University of Illinois has put online The Russian Empire and Soviet Union: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States, Steven A. Grant and John H. Brown (eds.) (Boston, MA, 1980) as a database. This guide can be viewed in page view or PDF at the website of the Library of Congress, European Reading Room.

In the following guides the focus is on Russia itself and the former Soviet Union. The portal Access to Russian Archives is part of the TICFIA Project created by Eastview. Luckily you have free access to this guide for federal and regional archives with a search interface in English and Russian. The Russian State Archives offer Guides book search, a database for searching records in a number of Russian archives. It comes with an interface Russian and English, with transliteration option, a most useful thing. Let’s not forget another work in print: For archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg there is the massive guide by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Archives in Russia. A Directory and Bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St.Petersburg (London, etc., 2016).

Eastview comes into view again with the ArcheoBiblioBase: Archives in Russia, long hosted by the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, but since 2020 it can be visited at its new URL. This database, too, points you to the Derzhavnii Komitet Arkhiviv Ukrainy, unfortunately not reachable now. I will not praise here the IISH again, but this online service is indeed most valuable.

The old AAB logo used for Grimsted’s concise online guide to Ukrainian archives

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted has created a summarized version of the information for Ukrainian archives taken from ArcheoBiblioBase. For this database her monograph Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the USSR, vol. 3: Ukraine and Moldavia, I: General Bibliography and Institutional Directory (Princeton, NJ, 1988) has paramount importance. She is also the author of Trophies of war and empire: the archival heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the international politics of restitution (Cambridge, MA, 2001).

By now it should be clear that gaining correct and updated information about Ukrainian archives is not as easy as you would expect in our world with the fruits of thirty years online information supposedly at your finger tips! These days I could reach only a few archival websites in Ukraine. I should mention in particular the Centre for Research on the Liberation Movement, Lviv, a centre for the study of Ukraine’s history since the nineteenth century, with its own Digital Archive of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement containing digitized documents from several periods since the nineteenth century, searchable with an interface in Ukrainian and English. We saw already the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute with several important projects.

In order not to focus only on current developments I remembered the EHRI portal (European Holocaust Research Infrastructure). At this portal you can find an introduction to Ukrainian archives with a view for resources concerning this subject. Two years ago I looked at the EHRI project in a post about the history of looted and lost art during the Second World War. On February 25, 2022 the International Council on Archives published a statement of solidarity with Ukrainian archives and archivists.

Digital libraries in Ukraine

It took me relatively much time to create the section on archives in this post, even though I had at least some archival guides at hand on my legal history website. It could do no harm to check these guides again and to look elsewhere for more information. However, in 2020 and 2021 I had already searched for digital libraries in Ukraine. Their number is relatively low. It appeared that a number of digital institutional repositories have subcollections with historic material. For a quick look I would like to refer you to my web page for digital libraries. Among recent additions is the virtual museum (interface Ukrainian and English) of the Digital Library, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kiev.

Instead of looking here at particular digital libraries I had better mention here the portal of the Institute for the History of Ukraine. You can use a multilingual interface among other things to navigate a database for internet resources, but unfortunately it seems at the time of writing only the first results of each section become visible. The database contains sources from many countries and does not restrict itself to Ukraine.

Logo of the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine, Harvard University

When starting this post I soon found the website of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI). Its list of teaching resources is a fair attempt at a comprehensive guide to online resources for Ukrainian culture and history. There is a section on digital archival collections, almost all of them the fruit of research centres, and not digitized archival records held by more regular archives in Ukraine. Apart from its own library and archive the great jewel of the HURI is the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine with both historical and contemporary maps.

Cultural heritage in Ukraine

Originally I had liked to put here a similar and extensive section focusing on digital access to Ukraine’s cultural heritage, but it is perhaps more sensible to publish this post as quickly as possible. I will at least point here to another service of the University of Illinois, an overview of the main bibliographies for Ukraine, part of its guide for Ukraine. The V.I. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine provides you with an array of online bibliographical resources. The dictionary platform Lexilogos has created for Ukraine a list of online dictionaries, language resources, and some general websites. As for other languages the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is given. The University of Iowa has a useful choice of language and culture resources, too.

The World Heritage Convention of UNESCO lists eight locations in Ukraine on its World Heritage List. For museums you could for example look at the Museum Portal. The 2008 Vademecum for Ukraine discussed earlier mentions a number of history museums. On February 24, 2022 the International Council on Museums (ICOM) issued a statement concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ICOM has a telling motto, “Museums have no borders, they have a network”. Feeling connected and staying in touch with Ukraine is certainly crucial now and in the future. Hopefully this post can support you in your own efforts to foster a connected future.

Some early additions

On February 27, 2022 I could reach the websites of the Central State Archive of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government (TsDAVO) in Kyiv, the State Archives of Lviv, the State Archive of the Kirovohrad Region. and the State Archive of the Kharkiv Region.

The website GeoHistory has a detailed guide on Russian archives. This website publishes regularly articles about Ukraine. ICA has created a bibliography about displaced archives and shared archival heritage. The German Slavistik portal with its links and databases can help you a lot (interface German and English). The library of the Davis Center at Harvard University provides guidance to materials concerning Eastern Europe at Harvard and elsewhere. At the website of the Ukrainian parliament you can find the official list of immovable cultural heritage in Ukraine (September 3, 2009).

Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is an initiative to create web archives of disappeared or threatened websites and digital projects in Ukraine. ReHERIT is a portal for Ukrainian cultural heritage (interface Ukrainian and English). Another website worth mentioning is the Center for Urban History in Lviv (interface Ukrainian and English) with several online projects.

It occurred to me I had not looked at all at OCLC’s ArchiveGrid portal for information about Ukrainian archives. As a matter of fact, no archive in Ukraine is currently present at this portal. I suppose I avoided ArchiveGrid because its mixture of information about archival institutions, archival collections in their holdings and even single objects is in my view awkward. However, searching for Ukraine does bring you to a number of institutions elsewhere in the world with relevant holdings that deserve mentioning.

The Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, has created an overview of websites and projects for Ukrainian history with a focus on manuscripts.

For Ukrainian contemporary law and government it is most sensible to look first of all at the guide provided by the Law Library of Congress, with guidance to other relevant guides as well.

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

Archaeologists and historians in general do things differently. Archaeologists search and interpret material objects and traces of human history hidden from sight in the soil, and historians look at still existing documentary evidence, be they written documents or artefacts above ground level. Thus the title of the digital project The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe (DALME) created at Harvard University is at least intriguing. The core and clue of this projects are written documents telling us about objects sometimes no longer existing which offer a glimpse of medieval households.

Without twisting the evidence of these inventories you can view a number of them as the results of actions required by law or statutes. In this post I want to highlight these legal dimensions and look at the qualities of the DALME project which has been awarded the 2022 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Precious traces of material surroundings

Many scholars are involved with this project, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The project is led by Daniel Lord Smail, Gabriel Pizzorno and Laura Morreale. The principal objective of the DALME project is to bring together both inventories in the holdings of archives and objects nowadays kept by museums. The project aims also at developing a common vocabulary and a digital infrastructure facilitating research from various disciplines. The inventories and objects can be approached in several ways and will be accompanied by essays. Until now only three essays have been published at the project website. The latest essay by Marcus Tomaszewski published in January 2022 looks at a German tradition of poems with inventories. Laura Morreale looked in her 2020 essay on enslaved persons in fourteenth-century Florence. In the general overview much stress is put on the difficulties of reading and deciphering medieval scripts and languages, but this is not an unique feature for studying medieval history. Classicists dealing with for example the Near East face similar obstacles.

The introduction to the methodology of the DALME project stresses a kind of material turn that has influenced scholars in many disciplines in the past decades. Inventories are much valued as a window on daily life. Objects are every bit as important to tell us the history of humanity as written sources. It seems logical to bring them together to enhance making relevant comparisons of material life and circumstances.

It is important,too,to have a look also at the DALME workflow for inventories. Before images of documents gain their final form in the system behind DALME a lot of steps are to be set. These images are used to create transcriptions and to provide annotation. The information thus created is subsequently parsed and re-encoded. For creating a uniform and searchable terminology the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) of The Getty is used.

One should not overlook the section with project publications nor the bibliography pointing to source editions, scholarly literature, glossaries and dictionaries and other relevant publications, often with links to digital versions. Links becomes only visible when your cursor arrives at them. Obviously the study of Daniel Lord Smail, Legal plunder. Households and debt collection in late medieval Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2016) has stimulated the creation of the DALME project; incidentally, you can view his bibliography online. There is no section with general online resources, and thus the name of Joseph Byrne and his online bibliography of medieval and Early Modern wills and probate inventories is missing. Byrne points for example to a number of articles by Martin Bertram published in the journal Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (QFIAB) and in other journals on testaments from Bologna. Issues from 1958 onwards of QFIAB can be seen online at the Perspectivia portal. Among general resources for tracing relevant literature and editions the online bibliography for medieval studies of the Regesta Imperii in Mainz, and the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography should take their rightful place. The latter has even a preset filter for material culture. A recent article by R.C. Allen and R.W. Unger about their Global Commodities Prices Database is mentioned, but there is no link to their database. It is good to see the work of Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano, The spoils of the Pope and the pirates, 1357: the complete legal dossier from the Vatican Archives (2nd edition, 2014) has been included.

Eight collections of inventories

I had honestly thought my remarks about the bibliography of the DALME project would form my last grumbles in this post, but when you choose in the Features menu for objects you will find just a few objects discussed in sometimes very short essays. Maybe this section will be enlarged soon, but now it is still nearly empty.

The Collections section brings you to eight collections. You can search or browse them. Both options come with very practical filters. In the browsing mode you can use a filter for record type showing you graphically all kinds of legal documents and the various genres of inventories. When you choose to explore the collections you can navigate an interactive map of Europe. DALME brings you at this moment nearly 500 records.

Two collections show immediately in the title their legal nature, 58 records for Florentine wards (1381-1393) and insolvent households in Bologna (1285-1299) with 41 records. The section with ecclesiastical inventories focuses currently on French priests and canons. It will contain in the near future inventories from some well-known cathedrals and monasteries. DALME shows its strength in particular in presenting 50 Jewish inventories from France, Germany and Spain, a rare resource. Tax seizures, inquests into crimes and notarial acts or services formed the legal ground to create these records. Apart from a collection focusing on records from cities in Northern Lombardy, from Marseille and the region around this town, with 168 records the largest collection, there is a collection for the States of Savoy (24 records) and a miscellaneous collection, good for 121 records. Each collection comes with a general introduction, a section on its goals and objectives, explanations about the sample, some highlights and information about the intellectual owner of and contributors to a particular DALME collection.

In a second section with four categories you can approach partial and fragmentary lists created for seizures, estimates, sales and tariffs. Currently only a small number of sales and estimates can be viewed.

For my own pleasure I searched in Dutch online resource for an inventory made in 1297 of goods found at the convent of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John in Utrecht and transferred to a canon of the Oudmunster collegiate chapter and Jan van Duvenvoorde. The inventory in this charter has been identified as a list of goods belonging to count Floris V of Holland who had stayed there in Utrecht just before he was killed near Muiderberg on June 27, 1296. You can find editions of the charter in the Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (1297 April 6, OSU V, no. 2812) and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ V, no. 3268). The presence of chivalric cloths, many gloves and silver objects is indeed telling. Alas the original of this charter no longer exists, but seventeenth-century copies of it have survived.

Some early impressions

An example of the record view in DALME
An example of the record view in DALME, here with a Florentine inventory from 1381 – Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato 4, f. 71r

When searching inventories at DALME a few things become clear. You can currently only find items in their original languages or when they are mentioned in the record description, and not yet using the promised thesaurus function. In my view a major feature is thus currently not yet present. There is a difference between records taken directly from archival sources and those taken over from existing editions. In some cases a part of a document has not been transcribed because it does not contain a part of the proper household inventory. For the document shown here above with 31 folia this restriction is most sensible.

To be honest, I feel a bit baffled by the laurels given to this project in this stage. In my view the report about the 2022 DHMS Award shows a cavalier attitude to some of the clear deficiencies and missing qualities of DALME in its current state. Of course I can see that bringing together documents in twelve languages, providing images and transcriptions and commentaries is surely a feat. Creating 500 records in one year is not a particularly large number. DALME does aim at open access and easy interoperability, but the report states it is still unclear whether third-party software can harvest directly from DALME. The use of TEI for encoding the records and Zotero for the bibliography is commendable, but why create your own remix of tools for the management systems behind the screens? At GitHub you can find the necessary technical information about the databases of DALME and the mix of tools applied for it, but no direct link is given to the bibliography at Zotero. For all its qualities Zotero is notably weak when it comes to actually searching a group library within it. The twelve languages do not return in the choice of glossaries and dictionaries in the DALME bibliography.

DALME’s relatively low number of records for inventories, the very low number of objects and the lack of integration between them, are quite visible. Add to this the uncertainty about reuse and the absence of a fundamental essay on the legal nature of many documents, and you have grounds for reasonable doubts about the core qualities of this digital project. For some collections you find more or less detailed information about the kind of legal documents, but as for now there are no general essays introducing the various source genres. Contributions by legal historians would here be most welcome.

Header website Medeival Academy of America

Let’s for a moment turn away from DALME and look more generally at criteria and standards for evaluating digital projects. A few years ago the Medieval Academy of America developed a serious basic set of standards for its database Medieval Digital Resources (MDR), discussed here in 2019. For viewing images the use of a standard such as IIIF is recommended, but this has not been used at DALME. However, its images are at least zoomable. Luckily, DALME seems otherwise compliant with the MAA’s standards advocated at its database and guide for medieval digital resources. By the way, I could not help using MDR to search quickly for other projects concerning material culture. Using the preset filter for this subject I could only view the first page of the results; going to the next page ended at an empty search form. MDR does contain numerous online dictionaries and bibliographies. A number of them has been included in the DALME bibliography.

A medeival key - image Portable Antiquties Netherlands
A medieval key, c. 1375-1500, an example of a early comb-bit key, length 52 mm – private collection, PAN no. 00013245 – image Portable Antiquities Netherlands

The DALME project comes with high aims based on sound research. I truly expected 3D images of objects or at least integration with one museum catalogue for medieval objects or a portal for archaeological objects, such as Portable Antiquities Netherlands. A year after its launch some wishes to make DALME outstanding could perhaps have been already fulfilled. I could not help noticing that for example the collections from Florence and Bologna are a century apart of each other, and thus comparisons are not as straightforward as possible, even though such comparisons remain challenging. As for the Florentine documents, a choice from the early fifteenth century would have invited a comparison with data in the Online Catasto for 1427-1429, created by the late David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, and hosted at Brown University. It is reassuring to find a helpful table with some suggested equivalent terms in various languages and a clear list of online dictionaries in the classroom section. In an upcoming seminar Laura Morreale (Georgetown University) will focus on editing and transcribing Florentine documents.


How does this project compare to similar projects elsewhere? I looked briefly at the BoschDoc portal for documents concerning the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch. Its search possibilities are impressive. Some eighty inventories have been included, many of them with images, transcriptions, translations and references to relevant literature. The background information, in particular for technical matters, is much more restricted than for DALME, but it does contain a useful list of transcription criteria. The difficulty of scripts and languages is bewailed at DALME, but the actual approach to overcome them is not made completely explicit nor are solutions actually implemented or visible. Hopefully Laura Morreale and her colleagues can quickly add their set of transcription criteria to DALME.

The fact I devoted a rather lengthy review to DALME indicates indeed my opinion that in the end we can welcome a valuable resource for medieval historians at large. Its flaws have to be redeemed, but they help in a way to view similar projects much clearer. I must add that navigating the menus for background information was not as easy as using the collections themselves. The larger essays at DALME are certainly worth your attention and wet the appetite for more. I would be hard pressed to determine whether DALME is a pilot project or a project in its beta phase. In my view DALME is not yet a convincing winner of the DHMS award. Despite all drawbacks Smail, Pizzorno and Morreale deserve praise for their initiative, as do the other scholars who worked hard to provide images, transcriptions and additional information. This international project brings us for now a kind of showcase of what can become a resource not just to use for your own goals, but to discuss with historians from other disciplines as an exercise in rethinking your approaches to medieval documents and objects. The lacks and omissions at DALME should help you to raise your own standards, to apply standards for data exchange with other resources, and to reflect on the use of evaluation standards for digital projects.

Some afterthoughts

After publishing this post I quickly realized some additions might be helpful. A fine example of an image database for medieval and Early Modern material culture is REALonline of the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (IMAREAL) in Krems an der Donau. In its journal Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online (MEMO) the issue no. 7 (December 2020) was devoted to the theme “Textual Thingness”. In this issue the article by Christina Antenhofer, ‘Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries)’, MEMO 7 (2020) 22-46, provides you among other things with a brief discussion of the various forms and (legal) origins of inventories. She mentions the entry for inventories in a German dictionary for legal history by Ruth Mohrmann, ‘Inventar’, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte II (2nd ed. Berlin 2012), cc. 1284–1285.

Reframing a medieval bureaucracy: Databases for papal charters

Flyer "Papsturkunden ohne Ende"

At my blog medieval canon law is a special subject. Lately I have written here a few times about medieval charters. In 2020 I devoted a very long post to a number of papal charters from the fourteenth century issued around an interdict on the Dutch city of Dordrecht. This year the quadrennial congress on medieval canon law will hopefully take place in St. Louis from July 17 to 23.. Another scholarly event scheduled for this month came into view as a subject worth attention here. On February 17-18, 2022 a conference will be held on the theme “Papsturkunden ohne Ende”: Datenbanken ohne Ende? / “Actes à l’infini”: des bases de données infinies?, the endless stream of papal charters in view of the endless powers of modern relational databases. Scholars will deal with a number of projects for such databases. In this post I propose to look at some of them a bit longer, either because of their importance or because they are new of relatively new.

By chance I saw a notice about a project for a portal enabling you to search in numerous databases with medieval charters, Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). It figures in a paper in Luxembourg, too, and it seems natural to present this resource and its many facilities here, too, to add depth to the description of databases for papal charters.

Three related perspectives

The scholarly meeting in Luxembourg comes with a triple subtitle: Databases, interoperability and shared solutions. It is indeed one thing to put information into a database, another thing to exchange information and metadata, and thirdly there is the matter of not inventing the wheel again but borrowing consciously from best practices elsewhere, and preferably working together on solutions. French and German scholars find each other here first of all in a project around the medieval kingdom Lotharingia which gave its name to the Lorraine region now in France. Recently Harald Müller, Hannes Engl, Michel Margue and Timoth Salemme presented their project INTERLOR in the article ‘Vorstellung des Forschungsprojekts «INTERLOR – Lotharingien und das Papsttum. Interaktions-,Integrations- und Transformationsprozesse im Spannungsfeld zwischen zentraler Steuerung und regionaler Eigendynamik (11. – Anfang 13. Jahrhundert)»’, Studi di Storia Medioevale e di Diplomatica n.s. 5 (2021). This project with scholars from Aachen and Luxembourg will focus on the cathedral cities of Liège and Metz, on the presence of Premonstratensian and Cistercian monks, secular power and the perception of the papacy.

On February 17, 2022, papers will be presented about a number of existing databases and the new database for INTERLOR. Thorsten Schlauwitz (Erlangen-Neurenberg) will speak about the database version of the Regesta pontificum romanorum. The Aposcripta database for papal letters is the subject in a paper by Julien Thery (Lyon). Rolf Große and Sebastian Gensicke (Paris) will discuss the project Gallia Pontificia and more specifically regests for acts of the archbishops of Reims. Muriel Foulonneau and Timothy Salemme (Luxembourg) present the new INTERLOR database, and a round-table discussion will be the conclusion of the first day.

The second session on February 18 will look at the roads from textual corpora to textual databases and the chances for data mining of medieval charters. Here Dominik Trump (Cologne) will look at the hybrid edition of the so-called Kapitularien, decrees of the Carolingian rulers, now available online in the project Capitularia – Edition der fränkischen Herrschererlasse. Problems of indexation of medieval charters will be addressed by Sergio Torres (Paris). Nicolas Perreaux (Paris) will discuss data mining, stylometrics and semantics in connection with the project and database Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). Thus this database is indeed for a good reason also a theme in my post.

How will historians use such resources? This question is leading in the paper by Sébastien de Valériola (Brussels) who will look at data mining and data-driven research. Finally Bastien Dubuisson (Luxembourg and Namur) will speak about the transition from database to code for implementing stylometric research for medieval history. This is perhaps the best place to mention the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (“C²DH”).

A look at two databases

It will not do to present here all databases in the compass of a single post. I give at least the URL’s of existing databases. I could not yet find the URL for the INTERLOR database. Finding such databases is helped by a page of the CEMA website with a list of projects in many European countries.

Some databases attract your attention because they aim at providing access to documents from a long period and from a wide range of places. The Aposcripta database is hosted at the Telma portal for databases with medieval charters of the IRHT in Paris (Twitter @aposcripta). The project takes its name from the expression apostolica scripta, a term used by popes for their letters. This database was launched in 2017. It contains currently some 22,000 items, some 14,000 of them from the thirteenth century and nearly 2,800 letters from the twelfth century. These numbers are rather low. You could already find in the first printed edition of the Regesta pontificum romanorum more than ten thousand summaries of papal charters up to 1198. However, Aposcripta scores points with its impressive overview of editions used and mentioned. Entering ten thousand items and more issued per annum after 1300 will be quite a feat. Aposcripta rightly warns you not to expect everything in an edition also in its database, stressing the fact it is more a search tool than a digital archive.

With Aposcripta you get an idea of the sheer mass still awaiting digital treatment. The question of interoperability comes inevitably into view for the Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA) hosted also in Paris (Twitter @Carta_Europae). Even a restriction to currently twenty digital resources for this portal is understandable. The tabs of the search screen of CEMA open new vistas. I have seen various online textual corpora and their search facilities, and I have repeatedly mentioned here the wonders of Philologic4, in particular for the Corpus synodalium, a database and repertory at Stanford for medieval synods and statutes discussed here in 2020. CEMA offers multiple ways of searching in 270,000 charters. Even if I did not immediately spot a chronological filter this is probably just an oversight on my side, and more to the point a sign of my bias as a historian keen on temporal precision! Speaking of another way of representation, the Regesta pontificum Romanorum has a geo browser.

CEMA has undoubtedly most interesting qualities bringing research concerning medieval charters on a new level of depth and possible comparisons. It scores also with a bibliographical database for source editions which builds for instance on the earlier CartulR database of the IRHT for editions of French cartularies. Some 2,700 editions have already been included in the new database.

Into the future

In view of all things now at your disposition in these databases it feels a bit too strict to mention here some gaps or seemingly missing projects. You would expect the inclusion of more existing projects for CEMA. It does raise the question of standards for data exchange and interoperability. Just one of the Scandinavian Diplomataria is currently harvested for CEMA. The fine project for medieval charters from the territories of current Belgium in Diplomata Belgica would seem most fit as a further extension. Can some of the digitized Dutch editions of charters in oorkondenboeken available at the resources platform of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam, also be among future additions? The database with medieval and Early Modern charters held in Dutch archives, the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, discussed here in 2019, is probably too much a resource for archivists than a tool for the field of diplomatics.

Writing this post and mentioning the Corpus synodalium created by Rowan Dorin and his team in Stanford I remember his warnings at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 about creating and maintaining databases for the future, the seduction of putting in all available materials, and the need for the use of widely recognized standards with a view to things as a conversion to another database or extraction into some other system. It is not just a matter of bringing the water from a number of lakes into a new sea, and leaving the result unattended afterwards.

In my opinion the meeting in Luxembourg helps you to welcome the differences between databases with their various earlier history in print as road signs to paths you might explore. It would be most tempting to create an all-encompassing database for medieval charters with images, transcriptions and scholarly commentaries. For textual research you will want access to a kind of corpus, and this wish is every bit as valuable. Bridging distances between scholars from nations with a history of both wars and fruitful mutual influence is one thing, bridging gaps between scholarly approaches in neighboring disciplines is certainly a serious goal, too. I am sure the scholars participating in this conference and working on the projects I concisely mentioned in my post are quite willing to share their experience building on the sometimes very old research traditions behind them. Their openness to new tools and questions are a sign of the vitality of these projects and the teams currently responsible for bringing them into our century.