Monthly Archives: August 2011

Comparing legal history portals

Sooner or later it just had to happen. Comparing legal history portals is one of the things on the back of my mind when I worked – and still work – on my own portal for legal history, The main question facing you at the start of any comparison is which portal sites are going to be included in it? How can you do justice to the efforts devoted to them? Another question has to be the aim of a comparison. In the comparison I am going to make here I purely aim at informing people about a restricted number of portals. It will soon become clear that they share a number of constituent parts and features. To make a fair comparison possible I have decided not to include any portal maintained by a research institute or at law faculties and law schools. Portals devoted to the legal history of one country are also excluded as are portals dedicated to a particular period. These exclusions still leaves room for portals created by teams of scholars with various affiliations, and in my selection is also room for portals maintained by the owners of law firms.

Lex Scripta

The first portal I would like to mention is no more than a small part of a larger Australian portal for law, Lex Scripta, maintained by Anthony J.H. Morris, a barrister from Brisbane, Queensland. Three pages are concerned with historical periods (“Pre-Classical” and Classical; Middle Ages; Modern Era), and a generous general links collection. Every link has got at least a brief comment about the content and qualities of the site. Obviously contemporary Australian law is the great strength of this website, but within its brief compass you will find a lot of useful links, even if you might find most of them elsewhere, too, except probably the Australian and New-Zealand links. Another strength should not be forgotten, the fact that Morris started this portal already in 1998. Long standing services deserve a credit for the perseverance of the founders and editors. Lex Scripta was last updated in 2007.

The Legal History Project

The Legal History Project (LHP) was started in 2005 by Peter C. Hansen. Blogs initially accompanied the LHP, but this feature was last updated in 2008. The LHP is a manysided project. The resources section guides you to law schools, their courses and degree programs, to societies for legal history, an impressive number of websites with historical documents and a calendar. Between 2005 and 2008 this events calendar functioned. From my own experience I know how many efforts are needed to maintain such a service. You can still check the list of past events. The LHP hosts a forum. An interesting feature is the series of interviews about legal history. The LHP was developed with a view to create a supporting member group. However, this initiative has not met much acclaim. The quiz is a nice feature, although with only ten questions it is rather short. It seems nothing has been done at this portal since 2008. The section with resources remains worth checking, in particular in the listing by type.

Duhaime’s LawMuseum

Duhaime's Law Museum

The next portal is again a part of a larger website, but this time it is clearly in a class of its own. In Duhaime’s LawMuseum Lloyd Duhaime has created a number of very different sections, ranging from a small image gallery, a timetable of world legal history, a Hall of Fame shoulder to shoulder with a Hall of Shame, to a selection of quotations on law and justice. This website by a Canadian lawyer has of course a large section on Canadian legal history. One of the most striking features of this website is indeed its sheer size and scope. Apart from Africa Duhaime includes all continents. The legal histories in a nutshell of Japan and China are admirable. Each of them ends with a selection of literature. It was surprising to find no mentioning of the Dutch connection with Japan between 1640 and 1853, but this is trifling in view of the way Duhaime tells the legal story of several countries and retells the lives of famous and infamous lawyers. On this website you will find no sections with links to law schools or online resources for legal history, and thus it is rather different from other portals. Duhaime’s website includes a blog like section, the LawMag. I could not stop myself for looking briefly at the articles concerning legal history. In the post on saintly lawyers I searched in vain for saint Raymond of Penyafort (circa 1175-1275), the canon lawyer who created the Liber Extra (1234). In my view Duhaime’s website is a model of its kind, also because of its clear design.

Virtual Library Legal History

Virtual Library Legal History

The Virtual Library Legal History is a creation of Steffen Bressler. Bressler worked on this bilingual portal – both English and German – between 1998 and 2004. A few years ago the website which once upon a time was present at disappeared with its provider. It has returned in a kind of clone version of the original. Steffen Bressler followed the example of several German history departments which contributed to the Virtual Library project some very useful websites on the historical auxiliary sciences such as palaeography, codicology, sigillography, epigraphy and also on medieval charters. Bressler’s pioneering portal is divided into four sections: institutions, classical resources, other resources and special projects. Within the borders of this layout you will find in each section a variable number of commented links. For example, the number of legal history societies is rather small, the section on archives points to three well-known archival portals, and the section on literature leads you to a score of digitized articles and books, all in German. In the section with other link collections Bressler does not mention much, but the incredibly rich links collection at the Instituto Politécnico de Beja in Portugal did not escape his attention. Bressler does mention a number of German museums for the history of criminal law and guides you to the German Virtual Library Museen. Perhaps Bressler’s website does look a bit old-fashioned and the number of links indicated is often rather restricted, but its resurfacing is worth attention.

Portail Numérique de l’Histoire du Droit

Histoire du Droit

When I first visited this French portal I expected to find only French legal history, but this is not true. This portal has four main sections, news on legal history in the form of notices about new publications and events, and sections on research, online resources and other links. The news section on the left side of the front pages of this portal gives the latest news items in a blog like way. In the research section information is provided on the teaching of legal history at a number French universities, a number of digital libraries is presented, and also a number of libraries in Paris – you might compare this information with the notices in my miniature Paris library guide – and four libraries outside Paris. The section with sources is the most extensive part of this portal, divided into a part with sources for particular periods in history, and a part focusing on databases and scientific journals. In the links section you will find societies for legal history, three contemporary French courts with historical holdings, some websites focusing on French legal history and a corner with various links ranging from important French collective catalogues to linguistic tools and online dictionaries. Despite careful checking I could not find any names of the people forming the team behind this website. However, post to the webmaster will be answered by Luc Siri (Université Panthéon-Assas Paris 2). French legal history is at the centre of this portal, but in particular Roman law is served here, too.

Among the dictionaries included here the Dictionnaire électronique Montesquieu at the École Normale Supérieure of Lyons deserves your attention for its attempt to offer a modern counterpart to all legal notions treated by Montesquieu. In fact you will find also extended information on Montesquieu’s writings, including bibliographies and references to online versions of his works.

Storia del diritto medievale e moderno

Storia del diritto medievale e moderno

After German and French as a language for a general legal history portal it is now time for Storia del diritto medievale e moderno, an Italian portal launched earlier this year which focuses on at least two historical periods and therefore fits into the criteria for the comparison in this post. This portal is maintained by Paolo Alvazzi del Frate, Loredana Galati, Marco Miletti and Giovanni Rossi. Salient features are the page with announcements of events, new publications and an overview of recent articles in a number of scientific journals, a section with information on Italian scholars and their presence on the web, a section for discussions on current themes, and an overview of Italian university programs touching the field of legal history in the widest possible sense. In the section with links you will find a list with a number of online books – largely and very sensible taken from the fine list created by Elio Tavilla (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia) -, articles by several Italian scholars, and a good selection of links to libraries, digital collections, online reviews and other legal history sites. Italy is clearly the main focus of this portal, but this focus goes with depth and a generous width in its approach which do credit to its editors.

And another portal?!

It brings no good at all if I add here my own portal to the comparison, except to tell you what you will not find at There is no section on current publications nor a discussion forum. I have tried to mention at least the departments for legal history at Dutch universities, but my list for Belgium is alas not complete. This blog accompanies my portal, where I do not present any interviews. There is no timeline or a series of portraits of lawyers or a list with major events and texts in legal history. You will search in vain for digitized articles, famous quotations or a legal history quiz.

A matrix

At the end of this post I decided to put a kind of matrix which might help to put possible comparisons into a clearer perspective. By now you might well be a bit exasperated and think: “All this is very nice, but I will stay with the websites of the law school(s) or research institute(s) I am used to”. The matrix offered here might just help you to check these institutional websites more quickly and to see whether they offer much the same things or focus unduly on certain aspects of legal history. I will not say which private portal carries my favour. Instead I will at the very end mention some of the professional websites I visit often.

Portal Events Forum Just published Online articles Scholars Digital libraries Databases
Lex Scripta + -/+
Legal History Project + + + + -/+
Duhaime +
VL Legal History + -/+ -/+
Histoire du Droit + + + + -/+ +
Storia del Diritto + + + + + -/+ -/+

In the following list with some institutional portals and websites I clearly give a personal selection:

Among the legal history guides of American law school libraries it is difficult to choose, but five websites stand out:

Paul Krüger’s legacy at the Library of Congress

On August 15, 2011 In Custodia Legis, the blog of the law librarians of the Library of Congress, published a post by John Hessler who works in the Geography and Map Division of this library. Recently Hessler had been doing research on land ownership in Roman law when rare book curator Meredith Shedd-Driskell showed him a notebook by Paul Krüger (1840-1926), one of the most important German scholars in the field of the study of Roman law in the nineteenth century. He published editions of the Codex Iustinianus, the Institutiones Iustiniani and with Theodor Mommsen the editio maior of the Digestae, editions still in use today. His edition of the Codex Theodosianus remained unfinished. This notebook turned out to be not the only item written by Krüger present in Washington, D.C. A whole wall contains the private library of Paul Krüger which was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1930. The post contains a link to the PDF version of an article in the Library of Congress’s Law Library Journal by Hessler on his findings. He promises another article in the Revue d’Histoire des Textes. My immediate reaction was this post from Washington does merit more attention.

When reading this really interesting post I somehow could not help asking myself whether Hessler and Shedd-Driskell were really the first to detect the notes of Paul Krüger? As it turned out to be I could get an answer to this question in an almost too quick way. In 2005 appeared Library of Congress Law Library: An Illustrated Guide (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2005) edited by Jolande E. Goldberg and Natalie Gawdiak. This book has been digitized by the firm with the seemingly unavoidable internet search website, and thus checking it is really easy. On page 72 of this book the collection is concisely described. The Library of Congress acquired Paul Krüger’s private library in 1930. The library consists not only of notes on his edition projects. There are also some manuscripts and manuscript fragments, transcriptions from manuscripts, manuscript collations, facsimiles of papyri, and much more. In 1934 the Library of Congress made a list of all the items which Goldberg and Nawdiak judged to be preliminary. It seems clear Hessler is the first to study materials in the Krüger collection since its acquisition and summary description.

Habent sua fata libelli! And the memory of scholars, even those as deservedly known among the scholars of Roman law, can have its fate, too. In the small but useful Historikerlexikon. Von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, Rüdiger vom Bruch and Rainer A. Müller (eds.) (Munich 1991) the name of Paul Krüger is not mentioned. The articles in the volume Juristen. Ein biographes Lexikon. Von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, edited by Michael Stolleis (Munich 1995) do not mention him either. Gerd Kleinheyer and Jan Schröder, the editors of Deutsche und Europäische Juristen aus neun Jahrhunderten (4th edition, Heidelberg 1996), do mention only Krüger’s praise for the edition by Johann Göschen of the Institutiones Gaii. In 1884 Paul Krüger and Wilhelm Studemund published an edition of this text. I did not find an article on Krüger in the main German biographical dictionaries, which you can search quickly at the German Biographie-Portal.

Of course editors have to make tough choices when selecting names for inclusion in a small or large biographical project. Just how tough is graphically shown by the rare appearances of Paul Krüger. At the Portal Rheinische Geschichte I did at last find an online article in German with more details on this scholar who taught at Marburg, Innsbruck, Königsberg and Bonn. The post at In Custodia Legis helps to bring Krüger back into light. I am sure further research in the materials at the Library of Congress will yield important fruits for the historiography of Roman law.

A postscript

John Hessler has posted here some lecture notes and a number of photos from materials in the private library of Paul Krüger. The university library at Bonn has other papers from and addressed to Paul Krüger for which you can search an online finding aid at the Kalliope portal.

A holiday round-up

After a rather long time, almost four weeks without any new posting, I am back at my desk to continue writing for this blog. I have been on a holiday with a rich variety of landscapes, weather types and people. It is still summer. A first quick check for new things learned me that even the ever busy Legal History Blog had slowed down its usual pace of new postings. One of the strong features is the weekly Round-Up in which you can find all kind of things which touch upon legal history but somehow had nearly escaped the alertness of the editorial team led by Mary L. Dudziak and Dan Ernst. My post today proposes to salute their weekly efforts in a more leisurely way fitting this summertime, which, however, has by now taken some very serious turns. Events worldwide will no doubt soon influence this blog. I would like to reassure you I will not turn away from these developments, but it will do no good to react here immediately. Anyway, my list with plans for new postings has a nice length and a variety of subjects from many corners.

Looking closely at pictures

In this post I want to present just a few websites and blogs which came to my attention lately. You will notice quickly that they are not solely, in fact often only rather loosely connected with legal history. I cannot help pointing again to Klaus Graf and his Archivalia blog – does he ever take a holiday?! Anyway a week ago he posted a message on the section on photo tampering in history at Four and Six. At this website you will find an impressive collection of both historical photographs and modern advertisements with images which have been tampered with. I suppose contemporary lawyers will be more interested in the latter. On this website some photographs have been explicitly tagged with the label “Law”, but it is worth looking around for more. On close inspection photographs can tell a sometimes very different story than one suspects at first. We all are aware of the telling power of images. They can conjure up a story more quickly and more dramatically than many well-phrased paragraphs. It is easy to forget about the possibility of tampering with photos when craving for images to convey your message.

Comics and the law

As a faithful reader of the Rare Book Room blog of the Lilian Goldman Law School Library at Yale University I was initially surprised by the efforts to collect child books touching upon law and even comics. In 2010 a series of blog postings accompanying the exhibition Superheroes in Court was even devoted to the alleged Yale Law School degree of Batman shown in a particular story! The point of collecting books on seemingly fringe subjects is to do it in a most sensible way, and here Yale surely succeeds.

I was reminded of the collections at the Yale Law School Rare Book Room because the Freshly Pressed section of my provider’s blog featured a post from Bear Lawyer LLC. Thomas E. Körp is the creator of this blog about a bear who makes a living from law. This blog goes with a nice sprinkling of real American law websites and links to other comics blog and websites.

Lately Et Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library, published the image of a drawing in an old legal book. The image in question is a drawing in a copy of a 1615 edition of the Corpus Iuris Canonici, the multivolume collection of canon law sources printed from the early sixteenth century up to the nineteenth century. The “Weekly Special” of Et Seq. is often devoted to rare law books with an intriguing history or story. In the story entitled A Canon and its Cannon its author Lesley Schoenfield very much wonders about the drawing showing a castle with a firing cannon. I myself have my view of the riddle behind it, but in order not to spoil your own investigation of it I will not give away my solution here…

Searching images

From Harvard back to Yale. Apart from the superb digital collections of the Harvard Law School Library Harvard University has a most impressive and very diverse range of digitized collections, fortified by the digital collections at Harvard College Library. It seems very difficult to outdo these efforts but Yale, too, can proudly present its digital collections. Not only the university library at Yale but also several other Yale libraries offer access to digital visual resource collections. Recently the website Yale Digital Commons has been launched where one can search in the image resources of five Yale institutions. Legal historians cannot neglect the Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal when researching this subject, and when you need documents in English translation you will often turn to Yale Law School’s Avalon Project: Documents for Law, History and Diplomacy. The Lewis Walpole Library has started the Yale Indian Papers Project with digitized materials from several Yale institutions. It is hard to say which university is winning this battle of giants in the field of digital collections.

In the field of legal iconography Yale Law School can point to the Documents sections of its website which has been created for the image collection Representing Justice. Harvard Law School Library has digitized over 4,000 images of lawyers in the digital collection Legal Portraits Online.

Earlier this year I wrote a post about online exhibitions concerning legal history. On my website I have a created a new page about virtual exhibitions in which I have put things from this post in a more orderly fashion. By the way, of course not only Harvard and Yale, and not only the other Ivy League universities are most actively involved in the field of digital collections. In my latest post almost four weeks ago the University of California, Santa Barbara came into the spotlights with an impressive number of interesting digital collections, pace Berkeley and Stanford. It can depend on a lot of factors which universities happen to make the largest presence in your perception.

The debt crisis in the United States and Europe, the riots in London and other English cities, the aftermath of the terrifying violence against innocent people in Norway, the spreading fierceness of the political climate in my own country, the fear in many European countries for drastic cuts in the budgets for education, research, culture and social welfare, the ongoing fight for democracy in many countries surrounding the Mediterranean and the violent suppression of legitimate protests in Libya and Syria, the troubles in the Middle East, the droughts and famine in East Africa, the anarchy in countries like Somalia, and much more are these days the background of any serious legal and historical research. This might well determine to some extent its shape and direction, too.