Universal and utopian

This year I have spent quite some time searching the internet both for information for my postings and for the pages of my website www.rechtshistorie.nl. At some turns I felt the clear temptation to use the main gateways to online information. In particular when dealing with digital libraries the presence of WorldCat, the Open Library and the World Digital Library seemed an invitation to refer people for once and forever to these endeavours which aim so much wider and higher than my efforts. However, when I tried to use these websites most times I returned empty-handed. With only 1350 items the World Digital Library still has many empty shelves, even if one has to applaud the fact that all continents and major regions of the world are represented. Many months ago a notice by archivist Eric Hennekam on his Dutch archive forum made me smile about such heroic efforts. It makes one aware of the many obstacles faced by the pioneers behind these projects with a claim to completeness or worldwide coverage, and of the fact that the 21st century is not the first century to witness similar proposals. Through the centuries lawyers, too, have left their footprints on this trail.

The Mundaneum

Logo MundaneumHennekam pointed to the history of the Mundaneum at Mons, about which institution The New Yorker had published in June 2008 an article by Alex Wright, “The Web Time Forgot“. The Internet Archive has stored the documentary All Knowledge of the World (Alle kennis van de wereld) by the Dutch VPRO television from 1998 about the creator of the Mundaneum, Paul Otlet (1868-1944). Wright tells the story with more skill than I have at my disposal, so I will only give a summary. Otlet was a Belgian bibliographer who created the Universal Decimal Classification. He worked together with the Belgian politician and pacifist Henri la Fontaine (1854-1943) who won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1913 for his Bureau International de la Paix. La Fontaine teached international law at the Université Libre at Bruxelles. In 1895 Otlet and La Fontaine founded the “Institut International de Bibliographie”. Otlet did not only devise a new classification system, but used it at his institute and envisaged powering it with a mechanical system to link information. Many million library records survive and eventually the project became too vast. In 1934 Otlet published his major bibliographical work, the Traité de documentation presenting his vision of reading library books at home using a kind of telescope. The card collection was housed at several addresses before the remains – some six kilometers of files – arrived at Mons after the Second World War. Today the Mundaneum offers shelter to archives on feminism, pacifism and anarchism.

Were Otlet and Fontaine the first people to create such projects? The nickname of an early multivolume collection of juridical treatises, the series called Primum [-Decimum] volumen tractatuum doctorum iuris published in Lyon in 1535 was “Oceanus iuris”, “The Ocean of Law”. At Jena the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbiblothek has created a digital edition of this edition in ten volumes from its “Historische Bestände“. The Bibliotheca Universalis (1545) of Konrad Gessner – online at the Universitat de Valencia – can claim to be the first early modern attempt at universal bibliography. More early editions books of works by this Swiss scholar have been digitized for E-Rara. The Lyon 1549 edition of the Tractatus Universi Iuris counts seventeen volumes, and the better known version printed between 1584 and 1586 at Venice has 27 volumes with four volumes for the indices. Gaetano Colli has used his book about this edition of the Tractatus Universi Iuris to create an online database to assist the search for treatises by particular authors or on special subjects in this collection. The copy at Harvard Law School of the Venice edition of the Tractatus universi iuris has been digitized.

Other early lawyers tried to create comprehensive surveys of all fields of law. Giovanni Nevizzano published a Index librorum omnium qui in vtroque iure hinc inde eduntur (Venice 1525; online in Vienna at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), a generation later superseded by Giovanni Baptista Ziletti and his Index librorum omnium nomina complectens, in utroque iure tam pontificio quam caesareo (Venice 1559), better known as the Index librorum omnium iuris tam pontificii quam caesarei (Venice 1566), an edition digitized at the Göttingen Digitalisierungszentrum. Among their successors are for instance Agostino Fontana with his Amphitheatrum legale (4 volumes, Parma 1688-1694; reprint Turin 1961; online at the University of Michigan, Hathi Trust Digital Library) and Martinus Lipenius with the Bibliotheca realis iuridica first published in 1679. The Leipzig 1757 edition – online at Polib, the digital library of the universities of Lille – has been reprinted in 1970. The 1775 and 1789 supplements are online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and now also the edition 1679. It should not surprise you that I have not yet found a digital version of all works mentioned here. Please do not hesitate to share your knowledge if you know more!

A most remarkable digitization project is to be found at the Biblioteca Marucelliana in Florence for the multi volume manuscript called Mare Magnum, a universal bibliography created at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Francesco Marucelli. This manuscript was never printed, but can now be consulted online. In the last century John Gilissen and a team of legal historians working with him edited a bibliographical project with a less ambitious title, Introduction bibliographique à l’histoire du droit et à l’ethnologie juridique (6 vol. in 8 parts, Bruxelles 1963-1988).

I would like to finish this posting by bringing you to a digital library at the Université de Poitiers called Les premiers socialismes, a new project with both modern studies on the first French socialists such as Fourier and Saint-Simon and works by them. Socialist utopism was an important current in the nineteenth century. The links selection on this site could bring you to the Familistère de Guise, a housing and factory project near St. Quentin, on its website characterized as a realized utopia.

Clearly some people will keep trying to realize utopian projects. Modern technology certainly offers some of the means to create also virtual utopias. The internet realizes to a large extent even more than visionaries like Jules Verne could dream of or describe. These days it is clear that bringing digital information on an unprecedented worldwide scale is not just the dream of scholars or journalists, but a major fact in private lives and public life. Politics and law are touched by it and try to influence it. A legal history of Internet is not a fancy book title anymore.

A postscript

On March 17, 2011, Mike Widener, curator of the Rare Book Room of the Lilian Goldman Law Library of Yale University, wrote a blog post showing the frontispiece of the Jena 1743 edition of Burkhard Gotthelf von Struve’s Bibliotheca iuris selecta, another legal bibliography. Of Struve’s work several reprints and enlarged editions exist. Many works by Struve have been digitized in Halle, Dresden and Munich. Using the OPAC Plus catalogue at Munich you can now find seven (!) digitized editions of Struve’s Bibliotheca iuris selecta, Jena 1703, 1710, 1714, 1720, 1725, 1743 and finally the 1756 edition. The Jena 1725 edition has also been digitized now at Dresden.

Nevizzano’s work was first published with the title Inventarium librorum in utroque iure hactenus impressorum (Venetiis 1522). The 1525 edition was prepared by Luis Gomez. Both editions are very rare. In 2016 Nathan Dorn wrote a post about Nevizzano’s books at In Custodia Legis, ‘List Makers and the Law in Renaissance Europe’. He noted also an edition of Nevizzano’s work edited by Johann Fichard (Basel 1539).

The Mundaneum and new technology

In 2015 the Mundaneum digitized the books of Paul Otlet, but it had already been digitized at a private website about Otlet. Part of the archival records can be viewed online in its digital archives, part of the Google Cultural Institute. In fact there are now eight virtual exhibits. The Mundaneum partnered with this firm also for a virtual exhibition À la génèse de la société de l’information (also available in English and Dutch). The Mundaneum has a website which you can view in French, Dutch, or English. You can read Otlet’s Traité de documentation (1934) on the French Wikisource portal. The institute is active on social media, and in 2015 an app has been launched. Children can enjoy the tablet game Mundaneum-Web 1895.

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