The face of justice

This week the New York Times published an interview with Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, the authors of Representing Justice:Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (New Haven, Conn., 2010). In 2011 Curtis and Resnik will teach a seminar on legal iconography at Yale University Law School. The library of this law school devotes a set of pages to this seminar in a new “Documents Collection Center” of its website. You can look at the table of contents of the book, look at some of its images, and check out other activities around the seminar. Mike Widener, the curator of the Rare Books Department, has added also a set of images from the library’s rich collections.

In three postings on this blog I have written about legal iconography. A search for online collections concerning this discipline at the crossroads of legal history, art history and social history helped making me more and more curious about it. Until now I have only found a few examples to add to the list on my website which reads as follows:

The names of the databases are given in the original language, if only to show the diversity in terminology. Rechtsikonographie and Rechtsarchäologie, legal iconography and legal archaeology, are related but different fields. Rechtsvisualisierung, the visualization of law, is another term. The use of the word Rechtsaltertümer in an unusual spelling at the special site of the Austrian Academy of Sciences alludes to the nineteenth century editions of Rechtsaltertümer, literally “notices on old law”. This new database combines texts, legal archaeology and legal iconography. The Dutch title could be translated straightforward, so I will not trouble you with Dutch. By the way, the good news about the NCRD database is that the Royal Library plans to relaunch it in 2011 as an open access database. The Italian website brings together illustration taken from book in one particular collection.

The list is still painfully short. The trouble with creating a neat list on this subject are the different forms of the collections. Some collections present indeed only a collection housed at a particular institution, but others bring together illustrations taken from a wide range of sources. The Modena collection focuses on illustrations concerning just one theme found in juridical books in its own holdings, the same theme as Curtis and Resnik. In the German terminology there seems to be a distinction between a Bilddatenbank, an image database, and a Bildarchiv, an image archive: the former points at the actual presentation and search possibilities, the latter at the holdings represented by the collection. Presenting the illustrations stemming from one particular institution, presenting images brought together at a particular institute, archive or library, presenting images on a particular predefined theme, these are rather different approaches which make comparisons difficult.

An image of justice at the former Provincial Court of Utrecht

At the entrance of the former Provincial Court of Utrecht a kind of angel presents the laws given in 1838 by king William I

As for now I have not yet added a list of websites with images about particular themes, such as the history of witchcraft and witch trials or slavery and the slave trade, or collections presenting images of the judiciary or the workings of penal law. For some of these themes it is not only possible but really advisable to devote separate pages with information on other digital collections concerning them. A quick look at the few collections I mention shows that mainly classic themes are present, such as the illustrated manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel, emblem books and caricatures. I tend to favour the websites of the institutions holding a particular collection. For the drawings by Daumier for example I could even have pointed to a portal on Daumier. One of the reasons behind this choice is my wish to lead visitors of these websites to other collections in the care of these institutions.

Where to find digital collections without using the omnipresent search machine that can seem to substitute further research? Even professional researchers do need some repertories, some of them well known, others an acquired taste. Portals such as MICHAEL, the Europeana portal and Intute belong to the obvious choices. Some libraries have wonderful link collections for particular subjects, but it is difficult to single out one of the world’s major libraries. On my personal list of favorite guides figures Margaret Vale’s The Digital Librarian, not only out of sheer admiration for the vast range of links on almost every subject, but also because of the useful comments. Uncommented link lists present not enough information. Some blogs have proven to be very useful even if one has to read German or Italian. The Archivalia blog of Klaus Graf in Freiburg and his NetBookWiki are very well-informed. The blogs Bibliostoria at Milan and Filosofia & Storia at Pisa often bring additional links. They give every link item its own posting, and you can search for them by category. The University of New Hampshire Library presents on its Digital Collections blog links in a similar way.

In fact the categorization – on blogs also the tagging – is crucial in determining your search results. The websites and databases supported by major institutes and maintained by skilled staff where one can search using keywords or – even better – a thesaurus, yield the best results. The simple creation of a blog and dedicating a post with judicious tagging to each link item makes it in principle easy to follow this road. Sooner or later my link lists will have to be put into a database or presented as blog postings with enriched information in order to make them more valuable. The past months I have become more and more aware that I have only started on a path that can become a road. The search for image collections continues!

Free at last

By chance I noticed that the images in iconographical database of the former Dutch NCRD at the Royal Library are now available in open access. It can be viewed at the Memory of the Netherlands portal. Perhaps I missed a message about the launch of this digital collection with over 10,000 images, but I guess this good work has been done silently!

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