Monthly Archives: February 2010

Centers of legal history: the Robbins Collection

First of all an apology: I have been just too busy this month with other activities and duties, including work on my new website, to publish new posts on this blog. Today’s post might offer you some solace…

The Robbins Collection

Perhaps you know already about the Robbins Collection at Boalt Hall, the library for legal history of the University of California at Berkeley. This library started in 1952. In 1970 Stephan Kuttner, the founder of the Institute of Medieval Canon Law, now in Munich, became its director. The Robbins Collection with over 300,000 volumes is not just one collection, it brings together collections on civil law, religious law and comparative law. One of its strengths is the collection of European law books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. In the field of religious law you will find not only works on canon law, the law system of the Catholic church, but also on Jewish and Islamic law. The Robbins Collection offered from 1970 a fitting surrounding for David Daube, the most versatile scholar of legal history of his generation. For Daube no boundaries existed between research on history, law systems and religions: the essays in the commemorative issue from 2004 of the online journal Roman Legal Tradition will give you some idea of the sheer width of Daube’s research. The Robbins Collection has its own publication series in which the collected articles of Daube have been published. On the website of the library you get an impression of some of the books in the rich collections: there are online exhibitions on The Medieval Law School and The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition; you can also consult the manuscript and incunables catalogue online. Manuscripts from the collections can be seen on the Digital Scriptorium, a website originally at Berkeley but recently moved to Columbia University, New York. The Robbins Collection organizes regularly conferences and lectures on legal history.

An addendum: thanks to Mike Widener (Yale University) I was alerted to another online exhibition at the website of the Robbins Collection, called Milestones in Legal Culture and Traditions which offers a general introduction to the various collections at Boalt Hall. It seems now I had simply overlooked the general link to the exhibits on the Robbins Collection website. A fourth exhibit from 2008 was held on Famous Trials and their Legacies. A fifth exhibit from 2012 presents California’s Legal Heritage, with links to digitized books.

After a period in which these exhibits seemed to have disappeared they resurfaced again in 2018. The manuscripts catalogue is now available as a searchable database.


A new portal

The legal historians from Ghent publish every month Rechtshistorisch Nieuws, a digital newsletter (in Dutch) on legal history. You can subscribe to their e-mail service to receive this bulletin, which is published also at, the site of the department for legal history at Ghent University. Every month you can find in this bulletin announcements of new books, events and lectures. The final item is often a short notice on a new website. In the latest issue of Rechtshistorisch Nieuws Fontes Historiae Iuris, a new portal site from Lille is presented briefly.  The aim of this new portal is to give you direct access to digitized old legal books and several kind of sources within a predefined framework: legislation, doctrine, custom law, jurisprudence (in particular collections of sentences), legal encyclopedias and dictionaries, and to provide guides to them. At this moment you will find for example guides to the collections of arrêts of the parlements, the high courts during the French Ancien Régime. Renaud Limelette offers a guide (in French) to the archives of the Parlement de Flandre in the period 1667-1790. These archives are mainly kept at the Archives Départementales du Nord at Lille. The ADN is famous for the diversity of the sources preserved, which are important not only for French history, but also for the legal history of Belgium and the Netherlands. However, presenting digitized books with relevance for legal historians, in an easy accessible way, is the main aim of Fontes Historiae Iuris. At this moment you will find mainly French works and translations into French from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The équipe at Lille tries to create a bilingual portal: let’s hope they succeed on that road, too!

Busy elsewhere

In January I published only two posts here. Nothing new appeared here in February until now. I have not forgotten my blog, but I am working hard on the creation of a new website, and thus I have less time this month for writing new posts. A blog is often the companion of a website, and most times the website is the core, and the blog a kind of sequel. It might seem to you that the order of things here is just the other way around. However, the new website builds on the strengths of my earlier home pages on legal history. A lot of the information on the new site could already be found on these old pages. The development of internet gave me a push to create something new and to evaluate and update the information presented. Hopefully this new site will be up to the standards one expects in the era of Web 2.0!