Ten years of blogging

The former court of justice at UtrechtTen years ago I started this blog. Five years ago I wrote the post ‘Legal history with a Dutch view’ about my blogging experience, and much of it still holds true today. The experience of sharing ideas, pointing to interesting projects and websites, the way people comment on my posts, and of course my own perspectives continue to strengthen this blog. In this post I will also look at my work since 2016.

The last five years attention to digital initiatives has become one of the most prominent features of my blog. Some readers may have thought I spent too much time surfing the web! I can assure you I do look at old documents, too. This month I have finished working on the project started at Het Utrechts Archief by the late Kees van Kalveen (1938-2018) for a new and very detailed finding aid for the holdings of castle Hardenbroek. On December 19, 2019 the finding aid will be presented at the beautiful building in the inner city of Utrecht, the premises of the former Benedictine St. Paul’s Abbey, for centuries also home to the provincial tribunal of Utrecht. Last year the Procesgids Hof van Utrecht was published, a guide to the procedure of this court.

Huis Hardenbroek, Driebergen-Rijsenburg

In 2016 I started to assist Kees van Kalveen in his massive task to create a structure for the dispersed collections of castle Hardenbroek which had arrived at Het Utrechts Archief and the collections donated by members of the Van Hardenbroek family. This house and family archive is truly a conglomerate of archival collections. Van Kalveen decided to describe whenever possible important registers in much detail. He created extensive specifications for a number of heraldic armorials. The sheer number of letters was daunting. A more general approach had to prevail to describe and organize them. An example is a bundle with fifty letters by Christian Trotz, the first Dutch professor of natural law [Het Utrechts Archief, finding aid (toegang) 1010, Huis Hardenbroek, inv.no. 689]. These letters formed essential materials for the PhD thesis of C. Korbeld, Over de vryheit van gevoelen en spreken den rechtsgeleerden eigen. Leven en werk van Christiaan Hendrik Trotz (1703-1773) (Nijmegen 2013).

During the project most of these collections could be consulted by all those interested, because for some parts inventories existed. A year ago my count of the total number of items stopped at at least 6300 items, but I did note also my thought it might be 6900 items, in the end a correct assumption. Next week we will add an online version of the new finding aid for castle Hardenbroek to the website of Het Utrechts Archief. Its presentation coincides with the farewell to Kaj van Vliet, for almost two decades chief-archivist and also the main collaborator on this project.

However, in my posts since 2014 the digital turn surely influences the choice of subjects and my approach to them. It is a change and a challenge to face squarely, because the ways we see legal history and the ways we deal with questions and problems have changed. The visibility, accessibility and durable existence of digital projects are matters of real concern. This autumn I added a page about digital humanities to my legal history portal Rechtshistorie, after launching it in August in a German version at my Glossae blog concerning a fragment of a twelfth-century manuscript with preaccursian glosses to Justinian’s Digest.

Another familiar figure at this blog, the walking historian, has indeed walked less often these years. Biking tours have not been frequent either. In some posts I did look at archival records from castle Hardenbroek, thus offering you a preview of for example a seventeenth-century decree of the Holy Office and the bill for the trials and administration of the actions against the Dutch statesman Johan van Oldebarnevelt and his closest supporters. Hardenbroek figured also in my post on manors, towers and castles in Utrecht. A post about the houses where members of the Van Hardenbroek family lived became a part of my series of seasonal posts around the Janskerkhof square in Utrecht, yet another traditional feature.

Legal iconography is another subject dear to me, but I have written less often about it in the last five years than before 2014. I suppose such developments follow patterns in time. I am sure I will return to legal iconography. One of the clearest aims at my blog since its start in 2009, concisely called “spanning centuries, cultures and continents”, remains a spur to look beyond geographical and cultural borders. Another aim, looking at themes such as injustice, violence and inequality in history and the way law dealt with them or was a part of the problem, should stay visible here, too. Hopefully you, my dear readers, will stay with me!

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