Monthly Archives: May 2012

More medieval legal manuscripts at Europeana Regia

In December 2011 I gave in a post about the Europeana Regia project for the virtual reconstruction of three medieval royal libraries a provisional list of digitized legal manuscripts. On January 25, 2012 the addition of manuscripts kept at Amiens, Rheims and Valenciennes was announced on the project website. At Europeana Regia you can read a report and watch two short videos about this latest digitization campaign. Following the example of this earlier post I will provide here a similar list of digitized manuscripts with medieval legal texts. After the original impulse for a new list more manuscripts have been added from other libraries as well. For brevity’s sake I will not give here a short presentation of these mostly well-known libraries. It took the project team several months to digitize more manuscripts and to create the webpages presenting them. In January 2012 only a restricted number of newly digitized manuscripts became immediately visible at Europeana Regia, hence the delay in publishing this post.

Three French libraries

The Bibliothèques d’Amiens Métropole has as its core the former Bibliothèque Municipale, where since the French Revolution a number of manuscripts from confiscated monasteries have been kept, in particular from Corbie. Europeana Regia contains eleven manuscripts kept at Amiens. The Bibliothèque municipale de Reims holds medieval manuscripts from Rheims Cathedral and from former abbeys around Rheims. You can search directly for manuscripts in the library catalogue. The Bibliothèque de Valenciennes offers not only the possibility to browse a number of medieval manuscripts in color, but also a chance to look at digitized black and white microfilms of other manuscripts. The library has organized these versions in chronological order, but you can also consult a general index and a list of provenances. Valenciennes is strong in manuscripts from the abbey of Saint-Amand. This library points to the Catalogue Général des Manuscrits, part of the Catalogue Collectif de France, where you can also search for manuscripts in the holdings of other French municipal libraries.

The new list contains 22 medieval legal manuscripts, twice as much as in the first list where I listed eleven manuscripts. Still 33 legal manuscripts as an overall total is not particularly rewarding. Just two medieval legal manuscripts at Amiens, none at the two other French libraries added in 2012, is meagre. Looking at the harvest of newly digitized legal manuscripts it seems almost one has read my earlier post with the list of manuscripts of the Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana at Munich which now have been added to Europeana Regia. The number of legal manuscripts at Sankt Gallen included here is comparatively low. In the project for the Codices Electronici Sangallenses 436 manuscripts have now been digitized. On May 31, 2012 a final conference at Paris will be held to discuss the general results and the future of Europeana Regia. One of the questions one can think of is why these medieval kings obviously did not collect more legal texts. Europeana Regia offers indeed a filtered view on the transmission of medieval legal manuscripts. I would like to repeat that in most cases you can find more digitized medieval legal manuscripts at the websites of contributing libraries.

When I first looked at the presentation of the manuscripts at Europeana Regia the absence of a search function, apart from the predefined filters for collection, location, language and date, made me frown. I thought this was really exceptional, but this year Utrecht University Library changed the online presentation of its digital special collections. On the new website the showcases are splendid, as are the accompanying essays and the small current exhibition Heavenly discoveries at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht. However, instead of the old ordered presentation you will only find an alphabetical list of digitized “objects”. Both the manager of the digital collections and the keeper of manuscripts have said to me it is their absolute priority to add a search function to this website…

In the list here below I will give the link to the English version of each manuscript description as provided at Europeana Regia, brief information about the texts in and the date of each manuscript, and the link to the digitized version.

A postscript

In the final version of Europeana Regia you can use a direct free text search for manuscripts and also an advanced search interface with fields for shelfmark, author, title and place of origin. The project ended in the summer of 2012. The resurfacing of the advanced search mode unarms my earlier remarks about the lack of this mode. You can even filter the results by author, origin, illuminator, scribe and writing material. Even the Dutch version of this part of the portal has been created.

A number of manuscripts from other libraries than those listed below in May 2012 have been added, but I think it is easy to find out now which legal texts are included in the manuscripts added in the latest phase. Looking for collectio one would easily overlook the manuscript Sion, Archive du Chapitre, 120 with the Collectio Dacheriana, because only the word Dacheriana appears in the description. At Paris more manuscripts with French translations of the major texts for Roman law have been added. You will find now for example four manuscripts with the Lex Salica.



ms. 671: Dionysius Exiguus, Collectio canonum priscorum conciliorum et epistolarum decretalium summorum pontificum, 9th century – digitized version

ms. 789: Institutio et Regula canonicorum in concilio Aquisgranensi (816) editae, 9th century – digitized version


Apart from these three libraries more legal manuscripts have been added since the end of 2011 for the other libraries participating in the project:

Brussels, BR

ms. 10127-44: Liturgical texts and treatises on canon law, 8th-9th century – digitized version

ms. 5413-22: collection of canon law, with – mainly – historical and astronomical additions – digitized version

ms. 8780-93: canon law texts, 8th century – digitized version

Munich, BSB

Clm 6243: Collectio canonum “Frisingensis”, late 8th century, around 800 – digitized version

Clm 6244: Collection canonum Dionysio-Hadriana; Exhortatio, Freising, early 9th century – digitized version

Clm 6355Collection canonum Dionysio-Hadriana, Freising, 2nd quarter of the 9th century – digitized version

Clm 14008: Collection canonum Dionysiana adaucta, Rome, late 9th century – digitized version

Clm 14422: Collectio canonum Dionysio-Hadriana, early 9th century – digitized version

Clm 14780: Theodorus, Canones paenitentiales Theodori, around 800 – digitized version

Clm 19415Lex Bauivariorum, Iunilius Africanus: De partibus divinae legis, etc., Freising, 820-830 – digitized version

Paris, BnF

ms. Français 495: Justinianus I, Digeste veille, anonymous French translation; France, around 1270-1280 – digitized version

ms. Français 1064: Justinianus I, Institutiones, anonymous French translation; France, 2nd half of the 13th century – digitized version

ms. Italien 408Ordinacione fate per lo Pere Terzo Re d’Aragona supra lo regimento de tuti li oficiali de la sua corte, 15th century – digitized version

ms. Latin 4436: Justinianus I Imperator, InstitutionesAuthenticum, cum glossa ordinaria; Bologna, 13th-14th century – digitized version

ms. Latin 4476Infortiatum, cum glossis Accursii; Bologna, late 13th century – digitized version

ms. Latin 4594: Petrus de Unzola, Opus IudiciorumDisceptatio daemonis in judicio contendentis adversus homines et beatam Mariam eorum advocatam; Bologna, first quarter of the 14th century – digitized version

ms. Latin 5411: Johannes Berardi, Chartularium monasterii Casaurensis, ordinis sancti Benedicti, around 1170-1182; chartulary of San Clemente a Casauria – digitized version

ms. Latin 4670 A: Usatici et Constitutiones Cataloniae, 14th-15th century – digitized version

ms. Latin 10758: Capitularia,leges et varia de Carolo Magno, 10th century – digitized version

Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek

Cod. Sang. 150Libri paenitentiales, texts of the Church Fathers, and other texts, 9th-10th century – digitized version

Cod. Sang 731: Lex Romana Visigothorum, Lex Salica, Lex Alamannorum, 794 – digitized version


The wealth of sources: comparing legal history databases

On April 23, 2012 Dan Ernst alerted at the Legal History Blog to the report by Mitch Fraas on legal history databases for the Center of Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago. Fraas compares in his brief report the contents, range and accessibility of sources for legal history available in a number of major databases which can be accessed by subscribers and subscribing libraries. The theme of open access has figured here already a few times. Perhaps due to the sheer number of posts at the admirable Legal History Blog Dan Ernst’s post and the report by Mitch Fraas (University of Pennsylvania Libraries) have thus far not received due attention. Fraas makes some comments about finding documents and archival records outside the main databases for legal history that call for reflection and reactions.

This report gives me a most welcome opportunity to deal at last with these commercial databases which I have so far kept at a safe distance. Until now I have included them nor here nor at my website. Is it wise to want to have as much as possible in subscribers-only databases? To whom belong the sources for the history of nations, for the development of law, legal institutions and jurisprudence, and the records of the actual application of law in courts and elsewhere? Is the intervention of commercial firms absolutely necessary to make online access possible? Are we simply facing a dilemma or are there several ways to obtain maximum accessibility at comparatively low costs? Fraas is a specialist in Anglo-Indian legal history, but he brings the Indian perspective only as a second thought. The very least I can do here is pointing to a blog which serves a portal to India’s legal history. I will also look at the digital collections provided by the Center for Research Libraries, both for subscribing institutions and in open access.

Commercial databases for legal history

Until now my main impression of commercial legal databases was that they serve primarily the field of current law. Depending on the country you live in they tend to focus on jurisprudence, laws and statutes. Legal history seemed to figure only as an offspring of these databases. My impression of a rather closed environment was perhaps rather unluckily fortified by the website Constitutions of the World where for non-subscribing visitors only facsimiles of constitution come into view. The guide on Scottish legal history by Yasmin Morais at Globalex, a website with guides to the legal systems of many countries where her fine guide is the only one dealing with history, adds to an impression of legal history as a subject lost between modern developments. The readers of this blog and my website or of any other worthwhile website on legal history know this picture is not correct. Legal history is very much alive!

If you do not deal on a daily business with Anglo-American law you might be excused in guessing LexisNexis, HeinOnline, WestLaw e tutti quanti present only the materials for contemporary lawyers and law students. The resources guide of an average American law school allots much space to the products of these firms, and a number of schools can add regularly new databases or functionality for existing systems to the variety of resources available for users on and off campus. History comes into view already because of the need in a number of legal systems to be able to search for precedents. Thus legal systems with a tendency to focus on case-law or – phrasing it for Anglo-American law – taking a lead from the principle of stare decisis, inherit a vital connection to the past for present-day use. The drawback is the daily temptation to view this historical connection as a useful handmaid of the present, and not much more. In American law case-law currently gets its specific importance also from the way the constitution comes into view.

A useful comparison

Logo CRL

You might wonder why I included the paragraph here above, but at least it helped me in being more aware of my prejudices against commercial legal databases. Let’s go now quickly to the concise report by Mitch Fraas. He looks at a wide range of sources: published case reports, trials, statutes and laws, general legal literature, and other legal materials. For each category he compares the resources offered to subscribers by LLMC-Digital, HeinOnline, Gale and other firms with resources freely accessible online. Very soon it becomes clear that sources for the United States and the United Kingdom are very well served in these commercial projects. Part of the report is a very useful links selection of both subscription databases and open access resources. Fraas notes that the CRL, too, makes many of its subscription databases available through LLMC-Digital. The report ends with conclusions which you can use as a kind of rough guide to digitized resources for doing legal history on subjects touching the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Fraas has written a more extensive report on LLMC-Digital to which he has added an overlap analysis with comparable providers and a report on the coverage of countries within LLMC-Digital.

At the very end of his report Fraas looks beyond materials for American and British legal history. Sources for the history of the British Empire are also included in the databases under discussion. Fraas himself is a specialist of Anglo-Indian legal history, the theme of his personal blog. His current research is concerned with Privy Council appeals in India’s early colonial period, i.e. the eighteenth century. For the legal history of India, too, Fraas indicates a search strategy for using digitized sources. To me he seems unnecessary modest in not mentioning his own blog and the sources he has made available himself. He advises researchers to start first with the subscription databases before visiting the various websites which deal with Indian law. It would have been easy to add the guide to these websites provided by Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) on her splendidly useful blog on Indian legal history.

In a comment on Fraas’ report at the Legal History Blog Fred Shapiro (Yale University) mentions the oversight of Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources. I guess it is the very variety of projects within Gale’s Making of Modern Law series that has caused this omission, but this is certainly a major resource. Today I noticed another blog Mitch Fraas has recently started, Unique at Penn, a blog for the University of Pennsylvania Libraries about its holdings. Compared to the average online library guide to digital resources for legal history Fraas’ report stands out because he indicates strengths and weaknesses of these resources and points to strategies for their use.

What else has the Center for Research Libraries in stock for legal historians? The CRL website gives an overview of the digital collections created by CRL. LLMC-Digital is among them, and most of them are only open to subscribers. Here I will briefly mention the resources in open access which have some relation to legal history. The Digital South Asia Library, a joint project of CRL and the University of Chicago Library, is not only a digital library, but also a portal for South Asian Studies. Among the digitized reference books is the Imperial Gazetteer of India. The Digital Library for International Research contains the Digital Legal Texts of Outer Mongolia, created for the American Center for Mongolian Studies in Ulanbator. The collection Brazil Government Documents, too, is freely accessible online. Of interest is also the collection Chinese Pamphlets: Political Communication and Mass Education with pamphlets published between 1947 and 1954. In my latest post figured the nineteenth-century Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu. The digital collection with pamphlets and periodicals of the French Revolution in 1848 has also figured here in an earlier post. CRL provides more research guides, for example on human rights and medieval studies. At the CRL website you can find also reviews of major commercial digitization projects, for instance of World Constitutions Illustrated, with again a useful list of online resources, both for subscribers only and in open access.

Open access or subscription, an eternal dilemma?

Some of my readers would like me to vote clearly for the creation of open access digital resources as the sole way to provide scholars with adequate access to their preferred digitized resources. I simply cannot decide this within the space of one post. I am certainly concerned about the monopolizing tendency of a number of firms which gain sizeable profits from the digitization projects they maintain in cooperation with national libraries and prestigious research institutions. In principle national libraries have a task not only for scholars or for a nation but for the common good. It seems many institutions follow both the road of projects financed and possibly tapped to some extent by commercial firms, and the road of their own projects, sometimes in collaboration with partner institutions in other countries. Libraries are probably wise not to exclude commercial collaborations, but when access to digitized materials concerning the cultural or legal inheritance of nations and peoples is severely restricted, it seems they do not fulfill their mission as completely as they should.

One should be aware how difficult it is to take decisions in the face of budget cuts. Libraries, museums and archives have to adapt themselves to the chances and threats of the digital revolution. They face pitfalls and dead-ends, they are sometimes surprised by the very success of other projects. Every now and them it is even hard to discern at all between failure and success. They cannot bet on one horse, be it the glory of independent projects which distract from the very high costs sometimes involved, be it as a more anonymous contributor to commercially safe projects which do not exhaust their own budgets. In my opinion the firms with the subscription databases should give the contributing institutions more credit for their trust and for their policies which have resulted in the very creation of the collections being digitized. Is there no lawyer who can develop a legal construction which sets for example a ten years limit to the profits gained by these firms from digitizing objects which are in the public domain? On the other hand one has to acknowledge some firms invest at least some of the profits gained from their subscription databases in the field of current law into projects for scholars and the general public interested in culture and history.

It is easy to create a caricature of reality with a simple distinction between the good, the bad and the ugly. Some open access projects are distinctly ugly, in particular those with institutional stamps on images. In my view it would help to have more insight into the arguments which favor in one case open access, in another case cooperation with a publishing company. In earlier posts I could already show that the sheer number of items or the degree of familiarity of objects is not necessarily the decisive factor. Today’s wisdom can be tomorrow’s foolishness. State of the art technology can quickly become outdated. The position of libraries in the field of scholarly information can change rapidly and make current constellations inadequate for the future. The report discussed here deals with American and British legal history. It will be most interestingly to create similar reports for other fields of legal history.

A postscript

At the back of my mind remained the question where to find a guide to free online materials concerning American law. Recently Harvard Law School Library published an online guide for this purpose, not only for American resources, but also covering foreign and international law.