Monthly Archives: May 2011

A new Dutch digital library

At the end of a festive session yesterday in Leiden a new Dutch digital library has been launched. Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO) is the fruit of cooperation between the Royal Library in The Hague and the university libraries of Leiden and Amsterdam. Contrary to the project Early English Books Online its Dutch counterpart is free accessible. A second difference is the much smaller time span covered by EDBO, only the period 1780-1800. You can connect directly from EDBO to the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN), the retrospective bibliography of Dutch books published between 1540 and 1800. The STCN now points you also to EDBO. My interest in digital libraries and their contents and research chances for legal historians explains my interest in this new project. In fact the Royal Library had invited those interested in EDBO a number of weeks ago to have a look at the beta version. What does EDBO bring for Dutch legal history? Does this project live up to normal expectations about digital libraries?

At first I had a feeling of disappointment about the seemingly low number of digitized books touching upon Dutch legal history. EDBO presents some 10,000 books with a total of over 2 million pages, and only a very restricted number of books have titles suggesting immediately a connection with legal history. If you look for books with privileges (privilegien in the old Dutch spelling), bylaws (keuren), charters (handvesten), customary law (costumen) or simply the Dutch word for law, recht, as title words you will not find much. Of course it is good to have a digitized version of the great edition of sources for the city of Dordrecht, Handvesten, privilegien, vrijheden, voorrechten, octrooijen en costumen…der stad Dordrecht edited by Pieter Hendrik van de Wall (Dordrecht 1790); the first edition appeared in 1783. The volume of handvesten for the Overwaard, the region near Gorinchem on the Waal, edited by Nicolaas van Slype (Gorinchem 1782) is not very well known, but the two volumes with handvesten for Nijmegen (Nijmegen 1785) are more familiar. Among the treatises included are an edition of Simon van Leeuwen‘s Het Roomsch Hollandsch Recht (2 vol., Amsterdam 1780) edited by Cornelis Willem Decker, a translation of Rousseau’s Du contrat social (Dordrecht 1793), and the Schets over de rechten van de mensch (…) [A sketch of the rights of man] by F.A. van der Marck (Groningen 1798). In the field of ecclesiastical law I noted a booksize pamphlet on the ecclesiastical properties held since the sixteenth century by the city of Haarlem, Het eigendoms-recht der stad Haarlem, op de zoogenaamde geestelijke goederen (…) (Haarlem 1800), addressed to the parliament of the Batavian Republic.

Another book called Amsterdams burgerrecht: Dat is Verzameling van privilegien en handvesten [Amsterdam’s citizens’ law, being a collection of privileges and charters] (Amsterdam 1787) attracted my attention because of words following the subtitle: “Uit de groote Handvest en andere schriften byeen verzameld, om als een zakboek van ieder gebruikt te kunnen worden”, compiled from the Major Charter and other writings in order to serve as a pocketbook for everyone’s use. Having the law at hand, in your pocket even, is a symbol of the growing emancipation of citizens which longed to have access to politics and the administration of daily life. The period 1780-1800 is part of a longer period in Dutch and European history of intense political debate and revolution. In Dutch history the Patriotic Revolt (1785-1787) was a kind of preparation for the French Revolution and the foundation of the Batavian Republic (1795-1806). In fact I guess one of the major shortcomings of this digital library is its rather arbitrary time limit. Adding the period up to 1815 or 1820 would greatly strengthen this collection. At the same time I admit the very qualities of the present collection awaken the taste for more!

Despite the seemingly restricted number of legal books – some sixty books with recht as a title word – the strength of EDBO is something else, too, the fact that you can also search in the digitized texts. The search function enables you to look really directly into the books produced during two decades, and to search for discussions of political and legal matters. The number of books touching upon law in EBDO becomes larger when you extend your research to ordonnanties, local and regional ordinances on a great variety of topics ranging from economic matters to the military. EDBO contains nearly 200 digitized ordinances.

As for the more common qualities to be expected from a uptodate digital library the search function of EDBO is rather restricted. Even the advanced search offers you only the fields author, title, language and year. However, one is directed to the STCN for more generous search facilities including keywords and subject headings. I accessed the digitized volume on the possessions of the city of Haarlem from 1800 through the STCN, and thus it seems the identifying web address functions correctly, although this permalink is only shown at the STCN, not in EDBO itself. Each page of the books digitized for EDBO has its own particular URL. In January 2011 Klaus Graf expressed his regret about a project for the digitization of economic works for the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences which offers no permanent URL’s to the digitized pages. I was about to finish my post when I read Klaus Graf’s first impressions of EBTO: laurels for the quality of the images, grumblings about the hidden corner of the permalinks.

Eager readers of my website and the page of this blog on Dutch legal history might have noted the relatively low number of Dutch digital libraries which pertain to the field of history and law. DEN, the Dutch centre for the digitization of cultural heritage, has created a new version of its list of ongoing Dutch digitization projects. I suppose I will have to look again at it and to check for various promising projects. You can expect new results to appear on my pages within the near future.

A postscript

EDBO has been integrated into the Delpher project of the Dutch Royal Library. At some time its separate web presence will dissapear.

In 2015 I devoted the first post of my series Opening a book to the pocket edition of Amsterdam bylaws published in 1787.

Pathways to old legal journals

Last week’s post about the digitization of old legal journals cries out for a sequel. In fact I had already some information ready to add, and since this asks for more space than just a postscript I have decided to create this short rejoinder.

The German legal journals of the nineteenth century came into existence in a society where many learned journals already existed. Some websites have been created to chart the history of such journals in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Index Deutschsprachiger Zeitschriften 1750-1815 at the Universität Göttingen is one of the pathways offering bibliographical access to them. In my earlier post I have mentioned the projects at Bielefeld and Berlin. At the Universität Wuppertal the Repertorium deutscher wissenschaftlicher Periodika des 18. Jahrhunderts performs similar services for the reviews of scientific works in the eighteenth century in the acts of learned societies, the Acta Eruditorum and the Nova Acta Eruditorum, and for the first scientific journals devoted to one discipline. This website offers also a short but very useful link selection to digitized journals from the eighteenth century in other European countries, such as the Philosophical Transactions and the Journal des Savants.

It seems useful to mention here some websites which present nineteenth-century journals. Only a few of them are dedicated exclusively to legal history, but they certainly contain articles of interest for legal historians, depending on their research themes and predilections. Welsh Journals Online is an initiative of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. On a server of the Bodleian Library you can find the Internet Library of Early Journals, six digitized English journals from a project in cooperation with other universities. The Royal Dutch Institute for South East Asian and Caribbean Studies has digitized three journals, in particular the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (founded in 1853) which focuses on the ethnology of Indonesia, and the Nieuwe West-Indische Gids (New West Indian Review) (founded 1919).

Knowing about journals and tracking their contents is of course not only important for research on Early Modern Europe, but also for modern history and the present. First of all I would like to mention the Zeitschriftenfreihandmagazin created by Stuart Jenks. These “Magazine Stacks”, now at Fordham University, are an invaluable tool to search for articles in historical journals past and present, Some websites are very helpful to find out about the scientific and legal journals in a particular country. The Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Recht, a service of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, offers among its many qualities a database for searching in legal journals. The Swiss National Library in Bern has created the Schweizerisches Zeitschriftenportal with a database for searching in Swiss scientific journals. is a Danish website with nine digitized journals, and links to ten other digitized journals. The German history portal Clio Online brings you not only a very rich choice of websites, but also research guides for the history of a number of countries, which often mention electronic journals.

Anyone wishing to find out about American law journals should visit the website of an American law school. They almost always mention the main subscribers’ only services, including access to the well-known databases for legal journals. More amazing is the fact that some American law schools do not mention a library on their websites! The law faculty of the Universität Hannover has got a useful list of open access law journals, and a similar list is provided at Cambridge. If you like to know in advance about current scholarship visiting the e-repositories of universities is the road to choose. A number of these repositories at law schools in the North East of the United States can be searched using a meta-catalogue.

Let me finish with repeating my opinion that I have probably missed some interesting journals. You are welcome to add information about them. And let me repeat also that I refrain from pointing to paid databases. If you have connections to a university or if you are a card holder of a national library you will probably have access to them thanks to the services of these institutions. From what I have gathered here and on my website you can discover lots of things outside this range.

Open the gates! Digitized journals on legal history

Talking and writing about digital libraries can be hampered by very different views about the making, form and contents of a digital library. Nowadays we take a digitized catalogue for granted, and almost every library has a website with online access to its catalogue, sometimes even to several catalogues. Some digital libraries define themselves by the variety of social media which they use. Tweets and blog posts, presence on social networks, and even link collections on a separate site are among the possible forms of virtual presence. Law libraries have joined these activities, too. For the interest of visitors of my blog I have brought together a number of blogs by the departments for rare books or special collections of some libraries with important holdings for legal history.

I have often expressed my objective to track as many as possible digital libraries with content in the field of legal history, meaning digitized versions of books and other resources of a library. Law libraries themselves have to face multiple tasks and multiple forms of digitization, and let’s not forget the variety of presentation offered by the vendors of digital library programs. A law library typically offers a number of so-called e-resources, with primarily the major subscribers’ only databases with access to recent jurisprudence, sometimes also similar databases for historical books, an e-repository for the publications of the staff of the law school or law faculty to which they belong, and online access to legal journals, this also often using subscriptions by the library. Very often all these resources can be used also off campus. Law libraries face heavy expenses maintaining the number of journals on paper, but maintaining online access to them, too, is not cheap. Some law libraries offer a number of web guides, too, sometimes in great detail and on many subjects. Creating online exhibitions is also one of the ways of giving digitization its wide scope.  Depending on awareness of user accessibility and user friendliness, the possibilities of a given system, the funding available and the scope and range of a law library it can be clearly indicated which parts are open to all and sundry, which ones can be used only inside the library and which also at home, sometimes even through a special law portal. Those libraries marking the accessibility of their resources or simply briefly describing them instead of only listing them deserve credit for the time and trouble taken to help the visitors of their websites.

How about digital access to journals for legal history? The variety of presentation is daunting , both for the number of back issues accessible and for the wide range of their vicinity to the present. Some journals of venerable standing and a rich tradition are only offered in open access for a very limited number of years, and often only the nineteenth century issues. Other journals with a similar long history can be accessed freely thanks to the legal situation surrounding a journal: if a research institute published itself a journal less copyright issues can be expected to occur. More fundamental is the fact that articles touching legal history are not only published in the major legal history reviews but also elsewhere. It will not do to use only the mainstream journals, but you often have to get hold of a journal which you normally would not read at all.

Legal journals have flourished particularly in Germany. A very welcome selection of them has been digitized at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. The first section is concerned with journals between 1900 and 1918, a project for a second section awaited for eagerly aims at the period 1703-1830 and will hopefully be launched in 2013  in cooperation with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussische Kulturbesitz. There is more to be found in Germany. Klaus Graf has created a very useful list of websites for digitized scientific journals, one of the most often read posts on his Archivalia blog. The German Wikisource website mentioned by Graf provides a list of digitized legal journals, and similar lists of journals for other disciplines, for example for history. On the list of digitized legal journals you will find apart from the Max-Planck-Institut – which easily dominates this list – mainly a collection at the Universität Bielefeld, a project in which 160 journals from the period of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung) and other relevant periodicals have been digitized, and digitized journals at the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung of the Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung in Berlin. The general German project for the digitization of old scientific journals, DigiZeitschriften, offers only a limited number of issues in open access. Here the bulk of the journals can be accessed only at subscribing libraries or by the cardholders of such libraries. In view of the sheer number of German journals it is clear digitization is expensive, but is it not clear, too, that the phenomenon of German scientific journals dominated science during the nineteenth century, and that therefore conservation and access are important both for historians of science and for those pursuing disciplines building also on accumulated information? One has only to look at the number and variety of Jewish journals from Germany digitized at the Compact Memory website to envisage the role of journals in German society at large.

One of the main gateways to digital journals in open access is offered by Lund University Libraries, the well-known Directory of Open Access Journals. Perhaps less well-known is JURN, a searchable repository for some 4,000 journals. The accompanying blog offers guidance, lots of links to similar initiatives and relevant blogs, and a general guide to free academic search. By the way, OpenDoar, the Directory of Open Access Repositories at the University of Nottingham, is not the only website where you can look for such repositories, but certainly a very useful one. The university library at Regensburg offers an electronic journal library for both open and limited access journals with an interface iu German, English and French. The World Legal Institute has on its website an International Legal Scholarship Library with access to some forty legal journals.

Some countries have decided to create national repositories for the production of scientific journals. SEALS is a Swiss project which has started only recently. Persée is a project for digitizing not only older, but also more recent issues of scientific journals. is a French organization offering online access to nearly 300 current scientific journals, with a substantial number of them containing articles not only in French. Some nineteenth-century journals and parliamentary documents in the field of French criminal law are available online through the services of Criminocorpus. Digitized scientific journals can appear in more general collections as well. The Digital Library of Dutch Literature is planning to digitize a number of journals which touch upon the history of Dutch literature, and not only journals dedicated exclusively to Dutch literature.

Legal history with a Dutch view is the subtitle of my blog, and maybe it is appropriate to mention it when pointing to the websites of the International Institute for Social History and of Aletta, formerly the International Study Center for Women’s History, both in Amsterdam. Women’s history is a new subject for this blog, and although I feel ashamed I have not touched this subject before, I am happy it shows up here finally. Aletta has a fine selection of digital scientific journals on women’s history. The IISH has an equally useful selection of weblinks, foremost among them the Virtual Library Women’s History maintained at the IISH, and ViVa Women’s History, an online current bibliography of women’s and gender history. There’s more than only the Women’s Legal History website of Stanford Law School, the great Women’s Legal Biography Project at Stanford, and the IntLawGrrls blog, but today journals are my chosen subject… Surely more lists of a similar kind exist. To round-up the Dutch corner of this post a reference to a journal on Dutch history: the Royal Dutch Historical Society has digitized the years 1970 to 2010 of the Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden – Low Countries History Yearbook.

Doing legal history can among other things boil down to have to consult sometimes a very great variety of scientific journals. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of ancient history. The presence of a list of digitized scientific journals touching on the whole range of ancient history, from Sumeria to the Roman Empire, including the various auxiliary disciplines – epigraphy, papyrology and much more – is a witness to the proliferation of journals, more than 900 of them available to some extent or completely in a digitized form. Charles Ellwood Jones maintains this list at his blog Ancient World Online. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, the institution where he works, has also a Facebook page for Ancient Studies with useful announcements of new digital services, such as online bibliographies. A few months ago I wrote about digital papyrology in a post concerning the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and a month ago sources in cuneiform script presented in new ways figured in another post. It can offer you food for thought how scholars doing ancient history seem to embrace modern tools more and more and often to their great benefit. As for now, it seemed useful to bring the rather scattered information on digitized journals relevant to legal history together, but I am sure more is to be found. Additions to this overview are most welcome!

A first postscript

Klaus Graf rightly points to the digitized issues of Ius Commune, the journal published between 1967 and 2001 by the MPI for European Legal History. Some articles of the journal Rechtsgeschichte founded in 2002 can be consulted online, too. It is true this post deals with two kinds of digitized journals, both older journals no longer appearing and more specific early legal journals, and with digital versions of currently appearing journals, some of them available as web-only journals – the e-journal in its purest form -, others presenting online more or less completely back issues of the paper version. There is certainly a need to distinguish between them, but all these varieties are important, either as research objects or as resources for research.

Following the trail of criminals in Frankfurt

Sometimes finding a subject for a blog post resembles stumbling into a theme, an event or something else worth writing about. Looking again at the congress calendar of this blog suddenly the number of events in German-speaking countries struck me as impossible low. It seems I have overlooked some of the German websites with announcements of congresses, symposia, Arbeitsgespräche and similar events. A number of events is held yearly and I am happy to point you for them to the links collection of the committee for the legal history of Austria. A few weeks ago I added the Wiener Rechtsgeschichtliche Gesellschaft to my blog roll after removing the link to a blog of another German legal society because of its apparent sleeping state. I leave it to your own discretion to figure out which society seems to have no time for blogging. The events organized at the Max-Planck-Institute für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main has a prominent place on the page of the congress calendar because of its continuity and variation. However, on this Frankfurt page you will not find anything on the subject I bumped into today, although this, too, happens on the borders of the Main.

Surely Frankfurt is not the only European city which organizes activities concerning legal history, and it is not completely new that such activities tend to focus on criminal law. Long ago I visited York and of course I passed the spot where tourists can join the daily Murder Mystery Trail. Back to Frankfurt: Frankfurt Stadtevents organizes in May 2011 an activity called “Tatort Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kriminalfälle und Rechtsgeschichte“. The goal is to create a kind of guided tour through the city in a span of one and a half hour visiting and seeing the places where murders took place, criminals were executed and famous cases happened. Some of the courts and the places where the black market flourished will also be visited, and you can imagine other interesting spots and persons. The names of Kaspar Hauser and Anselm Feuerbach are well-known indeed. The tour starts at the Hauptwache, the square named after the former main guard-house of the city, nowadays also the name of a subway station. Perhaps the mentioning on this website of a firm which teases you to taste their drink is the clearest sign that legal historians are not directly involved in the creation of this walk.

Before we might start quibbling about the academic level of this proposal in Frankfurt I would like to ask a few questions. What if professional legal historians did organize an outdoor event in a city with a rich or eventful past? How about leaving your department or research institute, and trying to present a subject to people who are willing to listen and to be informed about something which obviously interests you? Why not make people happy with your hopefully evident enthusiasm about, knowledge of and involvement with legal history? Those within the trade know about the importance of this scientific discipline, but any try to explain it yet again or to present it in a new way or to a different public offers you a chance to develop skills in presenting and guiding, in creating a kind of script which you can quickly tune to your actual public, or even to the weather and your own stamina! And speaking of academic audiences, should one not be aware of the specific challenges to communicate truly with them? Does this not involve at least some of the same qualities a city guide or a museum staff member must have? Anyway as a visitor of a scientific events I really hope speakers have prepared themselves not just to present a paper, but to invite reactions and discussion, and first of all to keep people interested.

What strikes me is the apparent ease in creating this tour in Frankfurt, which in the short description on-screen seems to succeed in taking examples not exclusively from the history of criminal law, to mention only one obvious thing. Some German legal historians have not hesitated to write also for the proverbial general public, and these publications have certainly been used in preparing this tour, and if not, I am sorry to be mistaken. The resources for doing legal history in Frankfurt are not restricted to the wealth of information and materials at the Max-Planck-Institute for European legal history, and getting to know Frankfurt’s history is really worthwhile. I simply refuse to believe you cannot try to create something either similar or even more attractive elsewhere, nor do such tours only qualify as misguided forms of tourism and a waste of time for people with higher education.

For anybody wondering about finding information about current academic events in Germany and surrounding countries, and more particular in the field of legal history, I have to point first of all to the website of HSoz-u-Kult at the Humboldt University, Berlin. The section with Termine (literally appointments or deadlines) has a events calendar showing a relatively restricted number of upcoming events in Germany. Zeitgeschichte-Online is a website with many facets but without a Terminkalender. Clio-Online ia a very useful portal for historians, but alas also without a congress calendar. I have spent several periods in Germany, I have visited Switzerland and Austria, too, but it took me some time before hitting upon the word Wissenschaftskalender. The Informationsdienst Wissenschaft has a website with an interface in German and English with a calendar of scientific events. Austria has its own Wissenschaftskalender. Because of the advanced hour I will not add any events concerning legal history from it to my blog today, but I do like to single out among the news items on the IDW website the news on the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Among the winning young scholars of this year who received their prizes in Berlin on May 9, 2011, is a historian, Henrike Manuwald from Freiburg, who crosses the borders between the history of medieval literature and law. Let’s hope her example invites other scholars as well to find new approaches, to walk unfamiliar roads and to handle both classic sources and newly found materials with fresh inspiration!

A postscript

Only a year later I became aware of a painful omission in this post: the quality of the tour described here cannot be qualified properly without including the Kriminalmuseum Frankfurt am Main. In two posts on museums and legal history I discuss the role and position of these institutions.