For your eyes only? Legal history and some new digital libraries

This year I have published a number of posts about digital libraries. In my latest contribution on Dutch digital libraries I expressed my wish to write here more often about archival records and museums. It goes against the grain to write again about some digital libraries. However, by sheer coincidence three digital libraries have been launched in a short time span which all deal with materials in Dutch libraries. The Dutch Royal Library in The Hague has partnered with ProQuest in their project Early European Books: Printed Sources to 1700, and this library is also present in Brill’s Early Modern Pamphlets Online. Pamphlets held at Groningen University Library, are present, too, in this project, as are the German pamphlets microfilmed earlier on in the series Flugschriften des 16. Jahrhunderts. Last month the University Library at Groningen launched a new subdomain for their digital collections. Each of these three digital collections contain materials relevant to legal historians. Bringing them together in one post seemed a sensible thing to do.

There is a significant difference and an equally important similarity between each of the projects of the Dutch Royal Library and the digitized collections at Groningen. The University of Groningen presents one set of collections in open access, but this library has just as the Royal Library decided also to start a partnership with a firm which allows only restricted access to the collections they have digitized. Only at subscribing libraries or as holder of a library card of the Dutch Royal Library you can view this digitized pamphlets collection. When I checked this collection today using my Royal Library card I could not find at first the digital pamphlet collection in the overview of online databases at the homepage of the Royal Library. In fact it was thanks to the marvellous page on book history that I noticed the project for the digitization of these pamphlets. The books of the Royal Library digitized for Early European Books can be viewed freely within the Netherlands, but not elsewhere.

Some questions about access

Why keeping a number of digital collections within control of the holding library, and putting other collections on a kind of island which remains at the horizon, within sight but out of reach, a treasure room to be unlocked only for those who pay or have access to it at subscribing libraries? I realize quite well the Dutch Royal Library holds a rather large pamphlet collection (34,000), Groningen has some 2,800 pamphlets. I am equally aware that I am not the first to point out this difference which can look almost incomprehensible at a distance. The sheer number of items to digitized has not deterred Groningen University from creating an extensive digital repository with for legal historians interesting things like dissertations defended at the Law Faculty of Groningen and on another server a growing number of historical maps. Issues starting from 1999 of the legal history journal Groninger Opmerkingen en Mededelingen are freely accessible online, too. On the new website for digital collections at Groningen you can find 127 fragments of papyri. You can read – in Dutch – about some of them also on De wereld aan boeken (The world in books), the book blog of the Department of Special collections of Groningen University Library. By the way, Bifolium is the digital version of the news bulletin on manuscripts and rare books edited at Groningen. Updates are rather infrequent since the death of Jos M.M. Hermans, but the contributions of the new editorial team are certainly worth checking.

No doubt questions of budget, of digitizing more quickly by partnering with a publisher, and growing experience with digital collections and their maintenance play a significant role in the choices made by the two libraries in question to choose different ways for some of their collections. Still one can ask why not putting the famous Knuttel pamphlet collection of the Dutch Royal Library at Europeana, to mention just one of the projects in which this library plays a large and even eminent role? A quick search at Europeana yields at least 28 pamphlets held at The Hague, and they can be searched also using the Memory of the Netherlands portal. Pamphlets of national libraries form a part, too, of the digital collections accessible at the European Library, yet another possibility for virtual presentation of the Dutch pamphlets. for libraries it is perhaps also a question of playing several cards: in the past a number of digitization projects has had only a limited success or has simply failed. It was probably a successful example that helped guiding the decisions taken at The Hague and Groningen. Between 2002 and 2009 19th Century British Pamphlets Online realized the cataloguing and digitizing of some 23,000 items from seven British institutions. The project website provides you with a pamphlets catalogue, but the pamphlets themselves are only fully accessible through JSTOR.

Pamphlets and legal history

Pamphlets is the bibliographical term for short unbound treatises on any subject which is currently under discussion or cries out for comment or protest. I paraphrase here one of the most used modern definitions. The UNESCO definition of a pamphlet contains the additional criterion of a maximum length of 48 pages: “A pamphlet is a non-periodical printed publication of at least 5 but not more than 48 pages, exclusive of the cover pages, published in a particular country and made available to the public”. On my blog broadsides, one-page pamphlets, featured in the summer post on legal history in lyrics.

After my remarks about free and restricted access it is time to have a closer look at the projects under discussion. Early European Books comes with a multilingual user interface in English, Dutch, Danish and Italian. The bibliographical information on books is reinforced by using information on printers and printing history from the CERL Thesaurus and OCLC references which are used for WorldCat. You can view books either as web pages or download them in the PDF format. Interestingly you will find among the few digitized books concerning law and justice from the Royal Library almost exclusively pamphlets, and not just Dutch pamphlets. There is a French arrêt from the Parlement of Paris (Paris 1598; Pflt. 1012), a Dutch version (Middelburg 1584; Pflt. 715) of The execution of Iustice in England for maintenancee of publique and Christian peace by William Cecil Lord Burghley, two sentences by the scabini of Leiden (Leiden 1598; Pflt. 1035 and 1037), a confession of an attempt to assassinate Maurice of Orange (Utrecht 1594; Pflt. 918), a pamphlet demonstrating the rights of the States of Holland (Rotterdam 1587; Pflt. 791).

In Early Modern Pamphlets Online you will find already nearly 400 Dutch pamphlets when you search with the subject ‘Law’. Research for Dutch legal history for the period of the Dutch Republic and the Holy Roman Empire can benefit greatly from this source collection. One of the few quibbles are the lack of an advanced search interface and the black and white instead of color. Both collections contain all kind of pamphlets, many of them with contemporary illustrations, which makes them more than just textual sources.

The 127 Papyri Groninganae are really the only sources of primary interest for legal history at the new website for digital collections at the library of the University of Groningen, but everyone studying Dutch political developments or the advancement of science in the eighteenth century should look at the digitized letters of philosopher François Hemsterhuis (1721-1790). The papyri at Groningen cover a wide range of subjects, including legal matters. You can browse collections, choose the form of presentation of the items, build your own advanced search by adding search fields at will, and view almost everything in full color, as is the case for Early European Books, too.

More pamphlets for legal history

When writing this post I found I had overlooked some free accessible digital pamphlet collections for the page on Dutch legal history of my blog. To prevent complaints about not being able to see any Dutch pamphlets because of the restricted access policy I will say something more about these Dutch collections. From the pages of my website I have created a list of digitized pamphlets collections worldwide, not without adding some recent findings, thus saving you some time to bring them together.

Within the digital collections of Utrecht University Library a whole section is devoted to pamphlets. Until now nearly 800 pamphlets have been digitized. Under the modest title Utrechtse pamfletten you will find also publications from outside Utrecht and the Low Countries. The collection is accompanied by a short essay in Dutch on the definition of a pamphlet with ample reference to George Orwell’s views which led to the commonly excepted modern definition.

At Nijmegen the Center for Catholic Documentation has digitized a collection of 99 pamphlets from 1853 with protests against the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands. After the definitive coming of the Reformation from 1580 onwards the Northern Netherlands had been an apostolic vicariate. As the Dutch government confirmed the erection of new dioceses in 1853 a national movement of distressed protestants grew quickly, but this protest by many members of the Dutch elite was in vain.

At the portal for the Memory of the Netherlands you can search for some 1,000 digitized pamphlets from the Second World War and a few hundred pamphlets written by Multatuli, the pseudonym of the Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), famous for Max Havelaar, his graphic novel from 1860 about the Dutch exploitation of the Indonesian archipelago and his inflammatory writings about many other subjects, including the Dutch political and legal system. Multatuli lost the case about the copyright on his novel, recently studied by Ika Sorgdrager, Dik van der Meulen and Jan Bank, ‘Ik heb u den Havelaar niet verkocht’. Multatuli contra Van Lennep [“I did not sell you the Havelaar”. Multatuli against Van Lennep] (Amsterdam 2010).

And to conclude this post a list of digitized pamphlet collections – in alphabetical order by country – with particular interest for legal historians, all of them freely accessible:

The last digital collection reminds me of repeating my promise to write about major phenomena and events which cannot be left out of legal histories. My posts on piracy were meant as the first contribution to a new series. If you agree with me that the list of digitized pamphlets should be enlarged you might try searching for pamphlets at Intute, a thing to do as long as that website is still running. The History Guide of the Göttingen State and University Library can lead you to many pamphlet collections, as do Clio Online and for example this page of the Virtual Library Labour History at the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam.

A postcript

At Archivalia Klaus Graf points to the fact that the German bibliographical projects VD16VD17 and VD18 do contain large numbers of pamphlets. This source genre is increasingly being digitized, too. The QuickSearch of the catalogue of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna can be tuned to restrict your search to particular source types; for historical pamphlets you can select Einblattdrucke.

A second postscript

Roeland Harms, a scholar at Utrecht University, has written Pamfletten en publieke opinie. Massamedia in de zeventiende eeuw [Pamphlets and public opinion. Mass media in the seventeenth century] (Amsterdam 2011). You can download here his 2010 Ph.D. thesis (in Dutch with an English summary) from which his new book stems.

A third postscript

For the Society for Old Dutch Law I have written a concise guide to Dutch pamphlets and legal history at Rechtsgeschiedenis.org.

An overview of digitized pamphlet collections

At my website I have created in May 2013 an overview of digital pamphlet collectiions. In this overview collections are presented  in alphabetical order by country, with short descriptions of the contents and focus.

 

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