Category Archives: Archives

Reconstructing Irish history from the ashes

Logo Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

The loss of archival records by an accident, deliberate destruction or whatever other cause is one of the greatest threats for the collective memory of peoples and nations, and even for humankind in general. How can you substitute things lost for ever? Such thoughts were very much alive after June 30, 1922, when the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin went on fire during the Battle of Dublin. Munition stored in the building was hit by shells and multiple fires destroyed documents from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Only in 1928 the PRO could reopen. On June 30, 1922 the National Archives of Ireland launched the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, a portal with at its heart three reconstructed archival collections. In this post I will look at the new portal, and also at the project of Trinity College, Dublin, for the reconstruction of records for the medieval Irish Chancery.

Lost in one afternoon

Logo National Archives of Ireland

The turns and key moments in irish history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can readily be defined as tragedies. The famine in the mid-nineteenth century became worse by appalling English actions and negligence. With the emigrants to the United States of America Ireland was bereft again of many thousand people. Gladstone could nearly bring Home Rule for Ierland, but both he and Asquith just before the First World War did not succeed in accomplishing it. The Easter Rising of 1916 and the civil war that led to the foundation of the Irish Republic took a heavy toll, and the Troubles since 1969 were another grim period which ended just a few decades ago. After the Brexit the Irish frontier has become again a real political frontier. By the way, the National Archives in Dublin bring the period between 1912 and 1923 to your attention with the apt heading Decade of Centenaries.

When even the memory of many periods with turmoil is destroyed more happens than just irreparable loss of documents. It is a cultural disaster, damaging the collective memory and removing a point of reference. Normally I try to avoid writing about centenaries and commemorations, but with the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland you have a very important sign of revival, a kind of light shining and bringing back things that seemed totally lost. For a long period after the Four Courts Blaze only the socalled Salved Records, charred record remains, survived as did rather miraculously the finding aids, catalogues and the staff library.

Let´s go immediately to the core of the new portal. Three collections are presented in a new digital form, starting in chronological order with the medieval exchequer from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the Cromwellian Surveys from the late seventeenth century, and the 1766 religious census. If anything this choice of records ornamented with the lofty title Gold Seams shows already the range in time of the holdings at the National Archives of ireland.

The medieval exchequer

Example of a record from the Exchequer for Ireland, TNA E 101/237/5 - image source VRT / TNA
Example of a record from the Exchequer for Ireland, TNA E 101/237/5 – image source VRT / TNA

The collection concerning records of the medieval exchequer for Ireland is not entirely characteristic of the Virtual Record Treasury, because almost all these records are held at the National Archives, Kew. Three main record types are presented: issue rolls, receipt rolls, enrolled parchments and two memoranda rolls (NAI, EX 1/1 and EX 1/2) from the fourteenth century. Luckily the Irish Record Commission had made summaries of the memoranda rolls; a digital version of the 43 volumes is a desideratum. The web page with illustrated examples of these records series and related documents (Manuscripts Gallery) is very instructive. In the section Delving Deeper you will find more historical background and additional images, including editorial conventions and a liost of recurring phrases. The section with stories does what it promises.

Navigating the images of records can be done in several ways. The free text search filed offers the most simple search mode, but you can alo filter for reference code, title and creator. The advanced search mode functions for the whole Virtual Record Treasury. You can start with the fields for title, creator and reference code, and chnage them or add a field for repository and/or transcription. After scrolling down you can find under the heading Further search options filters for a particular time range, Gold Seam, query expansion, fuzzy search, and items without images. Apart from a particular Gold Seam you can also limit your search to the Treasures.

The option Gold Seam Highlight in the navigation menu for the exchequer brings you not only a number of useful general descriptions of medieval record genres, but also access to records

Document view screen in the highlights section for the medieval exchequer
Document view screen in the highlights section for the medieval exchequer

Only after trying to use this view I succeeded in accessing actual images. By clicking on a record title you can access them in a kind of workspace with at your left several view options. Some way of highlighting the choices when you hover over them would be helpful. I did not yet find a concise user manual for this workspace. The use of the term manifests and the presence in the left corner of the distinctive logo are normally sufficient signs for indicating the use of the IIIF compliant Mirador viewer, but due to tropical temperatures I clearly failed to recognize them at first!

At this point I would like to mention the general User Guide which does not just help a casual visitor or a curious historian. In my opinion the National Archives of Ireland succeed here splendidly in explaining not only the features of the Virtual Record Treasury, but also a number of archival matters in an exemplary way. The distinctions between several possible grades of documents in relation to an original are given, and also a number of key description terms. A four colour code is used to indicate linked records in the three Gold Seams, the three core collections of this portal.

The Cromwellian surveys of the seventeenth century

The next core collection brings you to Early Modern Ireland in the period starting with the revolt of 1641 that eventually led to the end of landholding by the Catholic gentry and aristocracy. The landowners’ surveys of the 1650s formed a key element in this development. In the nineteenth century the Irish Manuscript Commission created a massive index for the socalled Down Surveys or Cromwellian Surveys. The digitized surveys are reinforced by some 2,000 digitized maps. These resources show landed property in a very detailed way. The starting page of this section leads you also to a video and a background essay.

The Barony of Sheelburne in the County of Wexford by George Tuffin alias Johnson - London BL, 72868, f. 077
The Barony of Sheelburne in the County of Wexford by George Tuffin alias Johnson – London BL, add. ms.72868, f. 077

Exactly the combination of records and maps helps you to view matters in telling detail. The manuscript gallery for this section shows a fine example how using a number of survey records gives you a much fuller view than each of them separately. Land already owned by Protestant supporters of Cromwell is shown as blank spaces in the Down Survey. Among the items shown are also some editions of records, but the coloured maps attract your attention, too. I could not readily spot clear references for the resources shown. The highlights for the Cromwellian surveys contain documents held at Dublin, Belfast, London and Paris. Here, too, you can use the IIIF-compliant Mirador viewer to view images of records. I must again admit I was initially a bit confused by the way of navigating to the record images. However, I realize that until now I met the Mirador viewer exclusively for viewing medieval manuscripts, not for archival records or record series.

For understanding the Cromwellian Surveys it pays off to start with the page Delving Deeper. You can read here about the historical background of the plans for confiscation and their aftermath. There is precious information about parish maps and barony maps, on further archival resources elsewhere, editorial explanations, and information about some relevant publications about the digitization project. By the way the subdomain The Down Survey of Trinity College Dublin, offers another digital road to this survey.

The 1766 religious census

The importance of the 1766 religious census is the wealth of historical and genealogical information it provides concerning the period before the census of 1813. Just 59 original items survived the 1922 disaster, but luckily transcripts and records held elsewhere can now supplement this information bringing you some 50,000 names.

This time I started with the page Delving Deeper in order to get a good view of the documents and their background. The information for each parish was not uniformly recorded, and thus it is by chance some very rich records have survived. In some cases ministers added social or political comments in their record. The archival history and use of this census before 1922 is traced here, too. Some remnants of editorial remarks for preparing this webpage made me smile abou the efforts of the webteam preparing this splendid portal. We should not complain about every small blemish and forget the overall quality!

A Parliamentary Return, here for Cullen (detail) – Dublin, National Archives of Ireland, IHP/1/688

The manuscripts gallery for this section gives further illustrations of the record genres themselves and of the whole process to create and evaluate this census, including diocesan overviews of parishes and the final recording in the Book of Returns. The highlights bring you to six different records, not just the offical Parliamentary Returns. Here again a better way of indicating the navigation is most welcome, for example by just adding some marker to each item, perhaps only a streak before each title. Maybe the fact the Mirador viewer was developed with the aim to contain single manuscripts plays a role here, but this viewer has now also been adapted by the Dutch Nationaal Archief for viewing some digitized records of the former Ministerie van Koloniën, and they can be navigated without any ado. Alas this archive did not translate its message of October 11, 2022 about this new feature into English, nor has it been duplicated in the research section. As an addition to the three aspects common to each of the three main collections you will find in the Virtual Record Treasury also a story section, albeit with currently just two essays.

Beyond digitized collections

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a true treasure trove! It points also nicely to the fact the word treasure is both a noun and a verb. The rich collections of this portal help very much to rekindle interest in several periods of Ireland’s chequered history. Not the least bonus is the way light is shed on the importance of records elsewhere, in particular in England, and on the changing relations between England and Ireland. The word United Kingdom has definitely a hollow ring in view of some dark periods in Irish history where English rule seems to deserve the adjective colonial.

The new portal contains much more that I will only mention briefly here, because you will want to investigate these features yourself. There is a useful glossary of technical terms around digitization. The virtual tour of the old Public Record Office desrves your attention, too. It is also possible to browse the items from particular contributing institutions. The section Thematic collections brings you to more newly digitized collections with additional resources, such as the 1922 Salved Records, the Down Survey and Grand Jury maps. The overview of partners can serve you as a web directory for institutions with relevant holdings for Irish history.

Although I could point you to more corners of the Virtual Treasury of Ireland I would like to mention here a few other online projects well worth visiting. Somehow I had expected to find the respective links also at this portal, but this can readily be redeemed. The records of the medieval Irish exchequer can be supplemented with the project CIRCLE: A Calendar of Irish Chancery Rolls c. 1244-1509, created by Trinity College Dublin in a couple of decades. This institution created also the project The Down Survey: Mapping a century of change. where you can use a HISGIS map next to the survey records. The decision for the Cromwellian Survey came following a period of much turmoil. In particular The 1641 Depositions, another project from Dublin, from a decade before the great surveys, should not be forgotten. The Great Parchment Project of the London Metropolitan Archives focuses on a survey in 1639 of landed property in county Derby.

Header CICLE project, Trinity College Dublin

I promised at the start to look here also at the CIRCLE project of Trinity College Dublin. This project contains some 20,000 charters. Charters in Latin have been translated into English. It is possible to browse and search charters by reign and by roll type (patent rolls or close rolls). The advanced search mode offers you even more. The project helps your research with fine introductions, overviews of medieval and editorial abbreviations, a glossary and a bibliography. In the links section you will find more projects with medieval accounting rolls. For many items there are images. In my view this project is truly much more than just another calendar for medieval sources. Let’s not insist too much on the obvious fact that your research can benefit enormously from combining this resource with the exchequer records now available online in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.

I had intended to finish this post much earlier, but surely I mean this contribution as a heartfelt homage to al efforts shown here to bring Irish history to the widest possible public. Twenty years ago the archival building of my own employer, the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht in Wijk bij Duurstede, was flooded. Thanks to swift, massive and apt efforts almost every damaged record could be salvaged and restored. Such catastrophes make it less normal for me that we are are at all able to consult historical records, and hence my interest and admiration for this most valuable project in Dublin. Keeping archival records safe and creating access to them in various ways, from finding aids and indexes to transcriptions and digital collections, can only happen when we sustain efforts to investigate the past and to cherish cultural heritage for the present and for future generations.

A mirror of Dutch scripts: Some thoughts around a manual for palaeography

Cover Schrittspiegel by Peter Horsman and Peter Sigmond

This month at long last the third edition appeared of a renown manual for Dutch palaeography from 1500 to the mid-eighteenth century by Peter Horsman and Peter Sigmond, Schriftspiegel. Oud-Nederlandse handschriften van de 13de tot in de 18de eeuw (3rd edition, Hilversum, 2022). For at least ten years no new manual of its kind had been published in the Netherlands and Belgium, and thus I was immediately curious about this revised edition, announced last year but printed and published only now. Which differences can be found between the last and this edition? What are its qualities, and where can one wish for more? Recently reading old scripts has developed for me a new dimension making me more aware of things to be expected in guidance when reading old archival records.

Both authors of the new Schriftspiegel [Mirror of scripts] are well known for their achievements. Peter Horsman worked as an archivist at the Dordrecht archives and taught at the Archiefschool and the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Historian Peter Sigmond taught at the former Rijksarchiefschool and ended his professional career as head of collections at the Rijksmuseum. As a specialist of maritime history he taught also cultural history at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Thus it is only natural their manual shows a bit more examples of records from the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht and on maritime history than you would expect otherwise, and these are valuable elements of this book.

The use of calligraphy books in this manual attracted my attention so much that I decided to look at some length at this subject. The paragraph on Early Modern Dutch calligraphy follows directly after my review of the new Schriftspiegel which takes its name from a seventeenth-century namesake.

Safe guidance to old scripts

I was really anxious about the way Horsman and Sigmond would introduce old scripts in this edition. They opt for a rather concise introduction aiming at clarity for novice readers, and rightly so. It is wonderful how they use the calligraphy of scripts in two early sixteenth-century manuals, among them the Spieghel der schrijfkonste (…) by Jan van de Velde (Amsterdam 1608) as a key element to familiarize readers with examples of Dutch scripts. They did not forget to include also examples of scripts closer to Germany. Some texts are even written in German. The choice of further literature is very good, even if it a bit strange to find a number of manuals dealing with both Dutch palaeography and Early Modern archival records under the heading Taal en tekstverklaring [Language and textual interpretation]. Four examples of online manuals for Dutch palaeography are mentioned, three of them without the actual URL. Among the books on Dutch chronology the authors have not added the concise work by C.C. de Glopper-Zuiderland, In tijd gemeten. Inleiding tot de chronologie (Den Haag 1999). However, I did not really know about P.G.J. Sterkenburg, Een glossarium van zeventiende-eeuws Nederlands (3rd impr., The Hague, 1981), mentioned as available also online, but this book has not been digitized for the Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren nor at Delpher incidentally. Some fact checking and editorial control would have helped to avoid such glitches and the impression both authors belong to an older generation.

In my view the best part of the introduction is the very good presentation of letter forms and the development of letters. Using color photographs of documents takes this certainly to a new level. The four pages on abbreviations are pretty good, although the typography could have been clearer. Here, too, the column with colorful examples redeems this easily, although using at some points a black or grey font on a blue background is not ideal. A list of often encountered abbreviations would have been most welcome.

The variety of Dutch scripts and archival records

Of course attention should now rapidly go to the 134 examples of Dutch scripts shown in this book, going from 1279 to 1753. The authors want to show texts in Dutch, and medieval texts in Latin have not been included at all. No. 100 from 1645 is in German. There are just two texts from the late thirteenth century, twelve from the fourteenth century, and seventeen from the fifteenth century. The sixteenth century is presented with 40 examples, and for the seventeenth century 55 texts and images are shown. By the way, for some longer texts two images are shown, always accompanied by transcriptions on the left page. The eighteenth century figures with just eight examples up to 1753, an addition to the edition Zutphen 1986 which ended in 1700. As in earlier editions you can find an explanation where to start in growing order of difficulty, going from the eighteenth century to the Middle Ages.

The choice and numbering of items has changed at a few points. A rather visible oddity are some dubious references. Take the very first item, a charter from 1279, “Stadsarchief Breda, VZ0010, 582”. The city archive in Breda has two collections with miscellaneous additions called Varia. This reference points to collection Varia 1; compare “V-1, collectie varia” in the edition 1986. The reference to item no. 133 is simply incomplete: With “Oud-Rechterlijk Archief Haarlem, inventarisnummer 3111” they do not indicate the inventory number, this is lacking. Haarlem, Noord-Hollands Archief, 3111, Oud-Rechterlijke Archief Haarlem, …” would be correct. It is a nice challenge to find the correct item number in the inventory, probably no. 780 (accounts, 1748).

You might guess correctly Tresoar is located at Leeuwarden which you could mistake easily for the Leeuwarden city archives, the Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden. The two locations of the Historisch Centrum Overijssel in Zwolle and Deventer are not sufficiently indicated, too. Two former professors at the Dutch school for archivists should realize adding the location is not just a wish or a whim but a necessary element in a transcription. Such infelicities should not hide the fact the authors have chosen documents from a wide range of Dutch archives, not only from the Nationaal Archief, The Hague and the provincial capitals, but also from other city and regional archives. Only Brabant and Limburg could have been presented with more items from regional archives.

In a book written by a specialist of Dutch maritime history you will be happy to see for instance a ship journal kept by Michiel Adriaansz. de Ruyter, in document no. 95 from 1633 still a young chief mate. With a view to the large overseas trade and the Dutch colonial empire some attention to Dutch connections with other countries outside Europe is only natural. As no. 90 you see the famous letter about the transaction bringing ownership of Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626. For example, no. 128 from 1703 is an attestation with the views of a Dutch woman about de swarten, “the blacks” in India. No. 123 is a document about paying ransoms for Dutch slaves in Morocco in 1687, and no. 134 from 1753 tells you about slaves in the Cape colony.

Is there any comparable manual for Dutch palaeography? The only serious competitor to this manual was published thirty years ago, the Album paleographicum XVIII Neerlandicarum. Paleografisch album van Nederland, België, Luxemburg en Frankrijk, edited by R. Baetens, C. Dekker and S. Maarschalkerweerd-Dechamps (Turnhout-Utrecht 1992) which includes also medieval documents from the tenth century onwards and documents written in Latin, Dutch, French and German. Its introduction is given in Dutch and French. It reminds me about the very real need for people not fluent in Dutch all over the world for a concise introduction in English. Horsman’s and Sigmond’s introduction deserves an English translation.

The length and details of this post should be a sure indication I think this book deserves both close inspection and a warm welcome! The strength of this manual was and remains the choice of a splendidly wide variety of documents, not in the least for those documents touching on legal history. The authors have listed them conveniently. For example, the range of document types for notarial acts is very large. Horsman and Sigmond rightly refer for more on this subject to A.F. Gehlen’s guide Notariële akten uit de 17de en 18de eeuw. Handleiding voor gebruikers (Zutphen 1986). The glossary of terms and old words brings you many words with a legal nature, a feature of earlier editions, too. Each item in the manual is given with a short and helpful introduction. The way letter forms are explained is the most salient visual change as are the color photographs, and also the format is slightly larger. I expected the highest possible quality of this new edition of a classic work for doing Dutch history, certainly when you realize it was prepared during a period with lockdowns. Surely I agree this new edition improves on the second edition.

Ironically, some things I applaud here were the very points criticized by J.L. van der Gouw in his review for the Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 98 (1985) 414-415 of the first edition (Zutphen 1984). His prophecy that things helping amateurs and students would make them lazy is alluring, but I honestly think good guidance is not amiss when starting and long afterwards. You might almost think Horsman and Sigmond as a small revenge did not give the publication year of the third edition of Van der Gouw’s Oud schrift in Nederland (Alphen aan de Rijn, 1980).

Since July 2022 I work at the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht, Wijk bij Duurstede. Among other tasks I will help volunteers with transcribing archival records, an important recent tradition of this regional archive. Both my young and senior colleagues rightly greeted the new edition of the Schriftspiegel with enthusiasm as a valuable and serviceable manual for newcomers to old Dutch scripts, professionals and even the general public.

P.J. Horsman and J.P. Sigmond, Schriftspiegel. Oud-Nederlandse handschriften van de 13de tot in de 18de eeuw (3rd edition, Hilversum: Verloren, 2022; 296 pp.; ISBN 9789087049607).

A bibliographical excursion on Dutch Early Modern calligraphy

Cover of Jan van den Velde, Spieghel der schrijfkonste (...) (Rotterdam: Van Waesberghe, 1605) - image source STCN
Cover of Jan van den Velde, Spieghel der schrijfkonste (…) (Rotterdam: Van Waesberghe, 1605) – image source STCN

Using calligraphy as a start and only almost as an afterthought actual archival records is sound for a didactic purpose, going thus from the easy and recognizable to more common and even ugly scripts you encounter in actual research. I thought it would be helpful to guide you here to a digital copy of the marvellous Spieghel der schrijfkonste by Jan van der Velde, and this led me to a discovery I would have liked to avoid. I wonder very much why the authors made the mistake to state the Rijksmuseum copy shown in their manual was printed at Amsterdam in 1608. The library catalogue clearly shows as location and date of printing Rotterdam 1605, published in three parts. The Universal Short Tile Catalogue (USTC) does not mention this copy (no. 1028389). The three editions mentioned in the USTC have all derived printing locations, dates and printers.

The only digital copy I found at Umeå Universitet of this edition shows only two parts from 1605 (part I, scripts, 75 pp., and part III, scripts, 147 pp.). When you check the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) for no. 833360815 it becomes clear the Rijksmuseum has taken its information from three separate STCN items for its library catalogue entry, but in its turn the STCN shows clearly the Rijksmuseum has several copies of this beautiful work, not only the one stemming from the Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap. Luckily the value of the introduction does not mar other qualities of the new Schriftspiegel, but a bit more carefulness with the very book the authors took as one of their models would have been right. Dealing with a book without a clear location and printing date – and changing titles! – is a difficult matter, in particular for a multi volume set like this one. In addition this work has also been translated soon, another thing to complicate matters to be investigated. I will not try to solve these bibliographical questions here entirely, but just wanting to give you a link to a digitized version led me to this addendum.

Let’s end here with sending those interested in seventeenth-century calligraphy to the fine commented list of (digitized) works at Penna Volans. This particular Van de Velde edition does not figure in it with a link to a digital version, only for its title page. However, the Allard Pierson at Amsterdam, the combined special collections and university museum of the Universiteit van Amsterdam, put images of it online at Flickr among their calligraphy albums, alas with few meta-data, thus leaving you in the dark which of their three copies they used.

Horsman and Sigmond also give some examples from Cornelis Dirckz. Boissens’ Exemplaren van veelderhande nederlantsche gheschriften (…) (Amsterdam 1617), and here, too, you face the challenge of finding a copy at all. The STCN nor the USTC does mention it. The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog lists copies at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin [Kunstbibliothek, OS 5016 quer] and the Bibliothèque nationale universitaire at Strasbourg. The Berlin catalogue clearly indicated the place of printing and date have been inferred, and adds question marks. It leaves me wondering a bit what book the authors really saw. In view of its rarity and the changing titles of editions a clear reference to the copy used is simply necessary. These Early Modern calligraphy books remain a feast for the eye and a bibliographical challenge.

A postscript

The Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem has digitized its copies of several caliigraphy books created by Jan van de Velde (1568-1623), among them its copy of the Spieghel der Schrijfkonste, dated 1605 (part I, signature 185 H 22:1).

A digital approach to the Early Modern inquisition in Portugal

Banner e-Inquisition

Sometimes a word evokes almost automatically an association with a distinct historical period. The word inquisition is first and foremost linked with medieval Europe. On this blog and website I explain why speaking about the inquisition is misleading. In Early Modern Europe the Spanish and Italian inquisition received most attention from historians, but in Italy you have to distinguish between Rome and Venice. Recently the project TraPrInq started for the transcription and study of records of the inquisition in Portugal between 1536 and 1821. The project is accompanied by the blog e-Inquisition hosted by the international Hypotheses network. In this post I will look at the plans of the project team and its importance for studying both Portuguese and Brazilian history.

Records from four centuries

The blog for TraPrInq itself show nicely how much this project is in a starting phase. While preparing this post its layout changed. At the blog a concise presentation of the project is offered in French, Portuguese and English. The core of the current team is the Centro de Humanidades (CHAM) at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Alas I could not find any information about this project running in 2022 and 2023 at the website of the CHAM. However, it is stated TraPrInq is connected with an earlier CHAM project on censorship and the Portuguese inquisition. One of the main objectives is to create transcriptions of court records using the Transkribus technology, discussed here earlier in a post about Early Modern court records and legal consultations in Germany. In fact Hervé Baudry, the blog editor, is responsible for the Transkribus model for Latin-Portuguese print from the seventeenth century. By the way, this and other models are also present for free use without registration at the recently launched platform Transkribus AI.


As for now 140 records have been transcribed, good for some 190,000 words, a fair base for a HTR (Handwritten Text Recogniition) model in Transkribus. I was somewhat mystified by the utter absence of information about the actual location of the records to be transcribed and studied. The clue for a unmistakable identification is the fact the records stem from a tribunal with jurisdiction both in Portugal and Brazil. The Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (ANTT) in Lisbon is the holding institution. It is not a bad idea to start with one of its four virtual exhibitions concerning the inquisition in Portugal. preferably with Inquisição da Lisboa online telling you about the nearly 20,000 registers for which 2,3 million digital images have been put online. The ANTT has within the archive of the Tribunal de Santo Oficio (TSO) records of the Inquisição de Lisboa (IL). The scope note and inventory in Portuguese of this archival subfonds is available online at the :Portuguese Digitarq portal. Series 028 contains the processos. Digital images of documents are directly linked to numerous items.

Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with the Portuguese inquisition I tried to look a bit wider for information about its archival traces. The wiki of FamilySearch brings you only to records for a few years digitized earlier and available at SephardicGen. The online inventory of the ANTT is mentioned by Family Search, but not its inclusion of digitized records. It is a nice exercise to compare versions of the relevant Wikipedia articles in English, Portuguese and Spanish, in particular for their bibliographies and linguistic preferences. Luckily I found a special of the Brazilian journal Politeia: Historie e Sociedade 20/1 (2021) with a Dossiê Temático Tribunal do Santo Ofício Português, 200 anos após extinção: História e Historiografia opening with a contribution by Grayce Mayre Bonfim Souza about the archive of the Tribunal do Santo Oficio.

Let me not forget to note here the CHAM has created an online index of the fonds Manuscritos do Brasil held at the ANTT. The e-Inquisition blog contains currently apart from the brief introduction five articles,four in Portuguese and one in English touching a wide variety of themes, The recent brief article in English brings you an overview of the palaeographers and historians in the project team. Baudry wrote for example about censorship in the books of Henricus Cornelius Agrippa and (in French) about the famous trial of Manuel Maria de Barbosa du Bocage, with images and transcriptions of four documents. Baudry’s article about Pedro Lupina Freire brings a seventeenth-century notary into the spotlights who became an agent for the tribunal. A most fascinating article is concerned with the double use of asterisks by censors, both to hide information and to highlight matters.

No doubt more information about the TraPrInq project will soon appear at the e-Inquisition blog and at the website of the CHAM, in particular concerning the progress at Transkribus of the creation of the new HTR model for Portuguese Early Modern script, and the location where transcriptions will become available online for the wider scholarly community. Thanks to this transcription project the records of the Inquisição de Lisboa will surely show more of their rich content touching many parts of the Early Modern world, not just Jewish and colonial history. The combination of a detailed inventory, digitized images and digital transcriptions will make it possible to ask different questions. This project shows at least the very real need for trained palaeographers, but I am sure the knowledge of legal historians, too, will be necessary to tap this wealth of information.

An addendum

In Spring 2022 the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal held the exposition Bibliotecas limpas. Censura dos livros impressos nos séculos XV a XIX curated by Hervé Baudry. The virtual exposition Bocage 1735-1805 created by the BN brings you to the life and works of this poet; the chronology mentions his trial in 1802.

Censorship by the Portuguese inquisition is the subject of the portal Inquisition in Action launched on June 20, 2022 by the CIUHCT, also in Lisbon.

Getting close to medieval papal registers

Logo Archivio Apostolico VaticanoEven when you are interested in totally different subjects in medieval history emperors, kings and popes attract your attention. Their power and authority make them a natural focus for research, also because the most powerful people and institutions leave a rich track in archival records and manuscripts. Upheavals such as wars, fires and revolutions destroyed parts of this legacy in parchment and paper, but a massive amount of information has survived five or more centuries. The papal curia is rightly seen as one of the earliest and most active medieval bureaucracies. In 2019 the Vatican archives received a new name, Archivio Apostolico Vaticano (AAV) instead of the familiar Archivio Segreto Vaticano, a term which could led people to believe enormous secrets still await discovery. In my view the sheer number of documents, the challenge of languages, medieval scripts and intricate legal matters form the real barrier for abundant use of this archive in a class of its own. In this post I will look at the ways medieval papal registers are now made accessible in print and online. However, it is necessary and useful, too, to look also at least briefly at ways to find documents held at the AAV.

Logo XVIth congress 2022

This post is also meant as a salute to the upcoming XVIth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held at St. Louis, MO, from July 17 to 23, 2022, and as a service to anyone interested in studying pivotal documents for the study of papal history and medieval canon law. For a real understanding of the documents mentioned here it will not do to merely having a glance at them, you will need to immerse yourself into them, and this will enrich you.

In this post the focus will be on access to the original documents, and much less on projects with databases for papal documents. A number of databases and projects for medieval charters is presented in a recent post.

Finding papal registers from the Middle Ages

Two years ago I stated in a post about digital resources rather flatly you cannot find any online inventory at the website of the AAV. This was not entirely true. In fact the four series of medieval papal registers are the very exception to my observation. I had better give you immediately the links to the inventories for these series:

Registra Avenioniensia (RA) 1-349
Registra Lateranensia (RL) 1-138 / 498-534 / 925-1126, 1128
Registra Supplicationum (RS) 1-265 / 479 – 509 / 961-1169
Registra Vaticana (RV) 1-545 / 772-884

These inventories can be found in the section for publications of the AAV website. I had not realized that the lists with the contents of the four cd-rom sets give you in fact at least a partial inventory of these registers. The cd-roms are only available at research libraries and cannot be accessed worldwide online. You will notice with me these four inventories seemingly do not list all registers of the four series, and I will come back to this fact quickly. For your convenience the overview of papal registers in chronological order by pope from Innocent III to Benedict XIII offered by the Centre Pontifical d’Avignon is very useful.

The modern editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries form the core of the subscription-only online resource Ut per litteras apostolicas hosted by Brepols. The overview of the Brepolis resources portal gives you a useful concise list of the modern editions published by French scholars since the late nineteenth century. In a period with no or very limited physical access to libraries I felt hard pressed to find a list of these editions in print. My copy of Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen (Ghrnt 1962) is a bit old. This first edition in Dutch contains relevant information at pages 211 to 215. Somewhat newer is my copy of Winfried Baumgart, Bücherverzeichnis zur deutschen Geschichte. Hilfsmittel-Handbücher-Quellen (12th ed., Munich 1997) with information on pages 170 to 173. The information given by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke and Benoît-Michel Tock (eds.), Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout 1993) at pp. 333-338 contains less details for the two major French edition series, but the editors send you rightly to the book of Thomas Frenz, Papsturkunden des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit (Stuttgart 1986).

On April 24, 2021 Yvonne Searle published a valuable post with links to various resources with editions of medieval papal documents. The editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth century form just a section of her contribution. For these editions she points mainly to digitized versions in the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I hesitated to add here for a number of these registers links to Gallica and Princeton Theological Commons, but it would have been repeating a job already sufficiently well done.

Not only for English readers you might sooner or later, but preferably as soon as possible turn to the guide by the late Leonard Boyle, A survey of the Vatican Archives and of its medieval holdings (Toronto 1972; new edition 2001). Almost seventy pages of this book deal with medieval papal registers. Even a cursory reading of these pages should make you aware of the danger of any superficial approach of these registers. The general remarks in my post should be seen in the light of Boyle’s detailed explanations and telling examples. As a student I was explicitly told to read first this classic guide before going to Rome or Vatican City. His book should for once and all teach you the fact you need to know not only about the inventories or the editions, but also use every reliable guide you can find. Just reading Boyle’s remark that some Avignonese registers have been placed among the Registra Vaticana and vice versa should serve as a wake up call. For English readers his remarks about the contents of the various calendars created in England from papal registers are a must read. Instead of going blissfully unaware to digitized calendars at the British History portal reading Boyle’s explanations should alert you to many things concerning the study of papal registers.

Guidance to records of the medieval papacy

Logo ArchiveGrid

Far more voluminous than the surprisingly concise guide offered by Boyle is the guide created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998). First of all this fruit of the Michigan project (1984-2004) goes beyond the AAV also to other archives in Rome. There is an online version of Blouin’s guide at ArchiveGrid showing introductions to many hundred archival collections, including to the series with papal registers from the High Middle Ages. You can also benefit from the 2019 edition of the Indice dei Fondi e relativi mezzi di descrizione e di ricerca dell’Archivio segreto Vaticano is available online (PDF). The concise introduction to medieval papal records offered at the website of the Vatican Film Library should be mentioned here, too.

For studying records of the medieval papacy there is a wealth of scholarly literature. Some most useful basic introductions to the most important relevant works can be found in the section Analyzing Sources of the multilingual Swiss history portal Ad fontes (Universität Zurich). Searching for relevant scholarly literature is much helped by the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii project in Mainz. The Regesta Imperii lists among its publications also the volumes of Papstregesten, systematic summaries of papal charters for the period 800 to 1198, an important help in studying this resource. An online resource in Munich, the Bibliographischer Datenbank Historische Grundwissenschaften, can be helpful, too, for finding literature. Both the database in Mainz and Munich can be searched with keywords (Schlagwort), the Munich database only in German. The portal LEO-BW (Landeskunde Entdecken Online-Baden Württemberg) has within its Südwestedeutsche Archivalienkunde [Archivistics for South-West Germany) in the section on charters (Urkunden) an illustrated introduction to papal charters, Papsturkunden by Anja Thaller. She points to online resources and mentions literature on several aspects.

Finding digitized papal records and manuscripts

In the compass of just one blog contribution it would in the end not help much to put in here literally everything. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie the page about canon law mentions a fair number of online projects concerning the medieval papacy. Over the years I have written here several posts on documents and manuscripts connected with the medieval papacy. In 2016 I published for example a post about the Palatini, the manuscripts originally from the library of the dukes of the Pfalz in Heidelberg brought to the Vatican Library in 1623 and now being digitized. Some manuscripts returned to Heidelberg, others remain in Vatican City.

Finding digitized manuscripts in the Vatican Library is easy thanks to the portal Digital Vatican Library. Perhaps it is more surprising to find also digitized archival records of the papacy at this portal. In my 2020 post about the 1352-1358 interdict on the city of Dordrecht I mentioned a number of digitized source editions, not only for the Avignonese papacy, but also for Dutch medieval history and the Vatican. My biographical research into a particularly interesting lawyer connected with the Dordrecht case led me to a latarium, a digitized register of verdicts and fines from the civil tribunal in Avignon (BAV, Vat. lat. 14774). Fourteen lataria ( BAV, Vat. lat. 14761 to 14774) have been digitized. Within the section for archives of this digital library you can find several small archival collections. There are also five notarial registers from Orange. I am quite aware that it might be possible to find more archival records among the digitized manuscripts of the BAV, and I hope to add them here or elsewhere.

It is harder to find digitized records online from the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano. Registers Introitus et Exitus of the Camera Apostolica between 1316 and 1324 (John XXII) 1334 and 1342 (Benedict XII) are the subject of digital editions as part of the project Ressources comptables en Dauphiné, Provence, Savoie et Venaissin (XIIIe-XVe siècle) with medieval accounts from four French regions and the papacy in Avignon and the region around this city, the Venaissin. Here, too, figures a papal register (Reg.Av. 46) among quite different resources, but it contains indeed accounts. In 2020 I thought this edition included also digitized images, but this is not the case.

Logo Metascripta, Vatican Film Library

Sometimes an approach from another direction can be helpful. We are used nowadays to viewing online digitized manuscripts and archival records in full color. The manuscripts digitized by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana show a sometimes irritating watermark. Aaron Macks helps you every week to information about recently digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In former times scholars would often have no choice but to use black-and-white microfilms. The Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO, offers not only microfilms but also a useful overview by genre of manuscripts at the Vatican Library, an overview of papal registers, and the Metascripta portal for online research with Vatican manuscripts, mainly Vaticani Latini. On the page for medieval law of my website I mention more (digitized) microfilm collections.

A few years ago a team at the Università Roma Tre started the project In Codice Ratio for creating computerized character recognition in order to make possible automate transcription of handwritten text. In this project archival records from the AAV will be transcribed. As for now you can find the data set with the initial input and the ground truth, the set of images and transcriptions with a degree of error free results.

Many roads, many wishes

This post brings you perhaps less than you had expected, but it is longer than I assumed. Originally I planned a post dealing with text editions, digital libraries, inventories and digitized archival records. In the end I am happy I could recently write here about databases with medieval charters, among them papal charters, and in 2020 the papacy at Avignon figured large in a post. Thus the results here are at least less confusing and profuse. However, it was necessary to show indeed the variety of resources and some of the difficulties in using them for historical research, and in particular for legal history. If there had been a clear starting point for using online digitized records at the AAV I would surely have started here with them. The sheer mass of relevant text editions is overwhelming, although the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is perhaps too generous in adding the label Papacy to many editions. Using multiple resources has as one implication thinking out of the box and working interdisciplinary without much ado. Legal history, too, should not be a confined discipline, a kind of silo as is the current phrase. Our discipline is well placed to question the use of digital resources when you or your students do not have the necessary skills and training to use them to their full extent. Combining such training and experience in using original sources should help you to tap the wealth of digitized medieval sources, and at the same time to be aware of what more can be found, what has been lost and which traces of such lost resources can enrich your research.

A postscript

Of course I was curious enough to find out quickly more about digitized registers among the manuscripts in the digital Vatican Library. For example, the manuscript BAV, Ross. 733 is a fifteenth-century register of taxes paid for the collation of diocesan sees. However, I should first of all add some registers from Avignon, starting with Vat. Lat 14775 with criminal inquests for the years 1365-1368 (copy in black and white), Vat. lat 14776 and Vat. lat. 14777 with verdicts in civil cases from 1364 and 1372, 14478, 14479 (fragments) and 14780, also from the fourteenth century. The descriptions of these registers clearly lack the word latarium for quick identification and grouping of Vat. Lat. 14761 to 14780.

Klaus Graf alerts at Archivalia to the fact a number of digitized edition of papal registers within the Hathi Trust Digital Library can be reached in open access only from the United States. Thus there is indeed space for another list of digital copies of these editions. Graf points also to some resources from Germany.

Connected histories: Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe

A general view of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, 2008 – image Wikimedia Commons

After the Second World War Europe had for decades no wars within its borders. The wars devastating the former Yugoslavia ended a period of peace, and after the war in Kosovo yet another peaceful period came which has now been broken. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has started an uncertain period. Assessing the facts about the war is difficult, because truth is the first victim of war. What can you find online about the history of Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe to study sources for the history and cultural heritage of peoples and nations involved and connected with them? In this post I will look at a number of archival guides, digital archives and libraries, and guides to cultural heritage. Some websites cannot be reached currently. Although I provide information about many archives and digital libraries on my legal history website it took me some time to bring things here together and to update my concise descriptions of resources. Even if this post does not bring consolation or help, it helps to focus attention to some matters that ere particular urgent.

Finding archives

In view of the vast dimensions of the digital world it is really silly to think you can find anything with one search engine, let alone with the algorithms of the Great Firm. Guides and web directories are not a thing we used only twenty years ago for good reasons, they still can be enormously helpful. Such guides are vulnerable for technical problems and difficult long term maintenance, especially when projects have to be integrated into normal core practice and functioning. Sometimes administrators and managers fail to see the unique value of what seems to them an obsolete legacy from the past century. The lifespan of digital projects can be relatively short. In some cases no notice is even given of the end or decommissioning of an online resource.

Logo Archives Portal Europe

Let’s look at some European archive portals. Projects may depend on input from others or from the institutions involved. In the archival directory of the Archives Portal Europe you can find just one Ukrainian institution. Russia is not represented at all. The archival directory of the Cendari portal does not function currently. The International Council on Archives (ICA) has plans for an online directory, but in April 2020 the initiative The Archives and Records are Accessible was launched providing you with an interactive map of archives worldwide. This map shows some forty archives within Ukraine. It seems that almost every archive with a subdomain on the web domain of the Ukrainian government cannot be reached right now, except for the Central State Archive of Public Organizations in Ukraine (CDAGO) in Kyiv. Among its holdings is the archive of the communist party in Ukraine. There is an overview of the archival collections at the CDAGO.

ICA has created a directory of institutions all over the world with resources on literature and art. For Ukraine there is no entry in this directory. By the way, since 2018 ICA has a disaster relief fund.

In my view the most useful archival guide for Ukraine is offered online by the German Bundesstiftung zur Aufbearbeitung der SED-Diktatur (Goverment Foundation for the Critical Appraisal of the SED-Dictatorship) in its Vademecum-Reihe, a series of thirteen guides for the history of certain European countries and regions in the twentieth century. In 2008 appeared the Vademecum-Contemporary History Ukraine. A guide to archives, research institutions, libraries, associations and museums, edited by Georgiy Kasianov and Wilfried Jilge (PDF, 0,7 MB). The description of archives is fairly extensive. The information on museums is more concise, websites are often not mentioned. The section with websites is short but certainly important.

Using the Swiss meta-crawler eTools I could finally trace a digital version of Archives of Ukraine. Guide book issued by the State Archival Service of Ukraine (Kyiv 2012; PDF, 11,6 MB). It can be found at the website of the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute which brings information online about many subjects in Ukraine’s history in the twentieth century. The guide to Russian and Ukrainian archives of University College London disappointingly offers only very concise information about archives in Russia.

For finding information about Russian archives you can benefit from several guides. With its sheer width the guide for Archives of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, easily stands out. You can use it in combination with the subject guides of the Slavic Reference Service of this university. Alas the guide created by the National Archives of Ukraine cannot be reached at this moment. It is a pity the link of the University of Illinois to its own extensive guide for Ukrainian archives does not function, but within the subject guides you can visit a similar interesting guide for Ukrainian archives. The general introduction to these archives and their history is worth your attention, too. By the way, the University of Illinois has put online The Russian Empire and Soviet Union: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States, Steven A. Grant and John H. Brown (eds.) (Boston, MA, 1980) as a database. This guide can be viewed in page view or PDF at the website of the Library of Congress, European Reading Room.

In the following guides the focus is on Russia itself and the former Soviet Union. The portal Access to Russian Archives is part of the TICFIA Project created by Eastview. Luckily you have free access to this guide for federal and regional archives with a search interface in English and Russian. The Russian State Archives offer Guides book search, a database for searching records in a number of Russian archives. It comes with an interface Russian and English, with transliteration option, a most useful thing. Let’s not forget another work in print: For archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg there is the massive guide by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Archives in Russia. A Directory and Bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St.Petersburg (London, etc., 2016).

Eastview comes into view again with the ArcheoBiblioBase: Archives in Russia, long hosted by the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, but since 2020 it can be visited at its new URL. This database, too, points you to the Derzhavnii Komitet Arkhiviv Ukrainy, unfortunately not reachable now. I will not praise here the IISH again, but this online service is indeed most valuable.

The old AAB logo used for Grimsted’s concise online guide to Ukrainian archives

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted has created a summarized version of the information for Ukrainian archives taken from ArcheoBiblioBase. For this database her monograph Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the USSR, vol. 3: Ukraine and Moldavia, I: General Bibliography and Institutional Directory (Princeton, NJ, 1988) has paramount importance. She is also the author of Trophies of war and empire: the archival heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the international politics of restitution (Cambridge, MA, 2001).

By now it should be clear that gaining correct and updated information about Ukrainian archives is not as easy as you would expect in our world with the fruits of thirty years online information supposedly at your finger tips! These days I could reach only a few archival websites in Ukraine. I should mention in particular the Centre for Research on the Liberation Movement, Lviv, a centre for the study of Ukraine’s history since the nineteenth century, with its own Digital Archive of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement containing digitized documents from several periods since the nineteenth century, searchable with an interface in Ukrainian and English. We saw already the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute with several important projects.

In order not to focus only on current developments I remembered the EHRI portal (European Holocaust Research Infrastructure). At this portal you can find an introduction to Ukrainian archives with a view for resources concerning this subject. Two years ago I looked at the EHRI project in a post about the history of looted and lost art during the Second World War. On February 25, 2022 the International Council on Archives published a statement of solidarity with Ukrainian archives and archivists.

Digital libraries in Ukraine

It took me relatively much time to create the section on archives in this post, even though I had at least some archival guides at hand on my legal history website. It could do no harm to check these guides again and to look elsewhere for more information. However, in 2020 and 2021 I had already searched for digital libraries in Ukraine. Their number is relatively low. It appeared that a number of digital institutional repositories have subcollections with historic material. For a quick look I would like to refer you to my web page for digital libraries. Among recent additions is the virtual museum (interface Ukrainian and English) of the Digital Library, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kiev.

Instead of looking here at particular digital libraries I had better mention here the portal of the Institute for the History of Ukraine. You can use a multilingual interface among other things to navigate a database for internet resources, but unfortunately it seems at the time of writing only the first results of each section become visible. The database contains sources from many countries and does not restrict itself to Ukraine.

Logo of the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine, Harvard University

When starting this post I soon found the website of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI). Its list of teaching resources is a fair attempt at a comprehensive guide to online resources for Ukrainian culture and history. There is a section on digital archival collections, almost all of them the fruit of research centres, and not digitized archival records held by more regular archives in Ukraine. Apart from its own library and archive the great jewel of the HURI is the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine with both historical and contemporary maps.

Cultural heritage in Ukraine

Originally I had liked to put here a similar and extensive section focusing on digital access to Ukraine’s cultural heritage, but it is perhaps more sensible to publish this post as quickly as possible. I will at least point here to another service of the University of Illinois, an overview of the main bibliographies for Ukraine, part of its guide for Ukraine. The V.I. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine provides you with an array of online bibliographical resources. The dictionary platform Lexilogos has created for Ukraine a list of online dictionaries, language resources, and some general websites. As for other languages the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is given. The University of Iowa has a useful choice of language and culture resources, too.

The World Heritage Convention of UNESCO lists eight locations in Ukraine on its World Heritage List. For museums you could for example look at the Museum Portal. The 2008 Vademecum for Ukraine discussed earlier mentions a number of history museums. On February 24, 2022 the International Council on Museums (ICOM) issued a statement concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ICOM has a telling motto, “Museums have no borders, they have a network”. Feeling connected and staying in touch with Ukraine is certainly crucial now and in the future. Hopefully this post can support you in your own efforts to foster a connected future.

Some early additions

On February 27, 2022 I could reach the websites of the Central State Archive of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government (TsDAVO) in Kyiv, the State Archives of Lviv, the State Archive of the Kirovohrad Region. and the State Archive of the Kharkiv Region.

The website GeoHistory has a detailed guide on Russian archives. This website publishes regularly articles about Ukraine. ICA has created a bibliography about displaced archives and shared archival heritage. The German Slavistik portal with its links and databases can help you a lot (interface German and English). The library of the Davis Center at Harvard University provides guidance to materials concerning Eastern Europe at Harvard and elsewhere. At the website of the Ukrainian parliament you can find the official list of immovable cultural heritage in Ukraine (September 3, 2009).

Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is an initiative to create web archives of disappeared or threatened websites and digital projects in Ukraine. ReHERIT is a portal for Ukrainian cultural heritage (interface Ukrainian and English). Another website worth mentioning is the Center for Urban History in Lviv (interface Ukrainian and English) with several online projects.

It occurred to me I had not looked at all at OCLC’s ArchiveGrid portal for information about Ukrainian archives. As a matter of fact, no archive in Ukraine is currently present at this portal. I suppose I avoided ArchiveGrid because its mixture of information about archival institutions, archival collections in their holdings and even single objects is in my view awkward. However, searching for Ukraine does bring you to a number of institutions elsewhere in the world with relevant holdings that deserve mentioning.

The Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, has created an overview of websites and projects for Ukrainian history with a focus on manuscripts.

For Ukrainian contemporary law and government it is most sensible to look first of all at the guide provided by the Law Library of Congress, with guidance to other relevant guides as well.

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

Archaeologists and historians in general do things differently. Archaeologists search and interpret material objects and traces of human history hidden from sight in the soil, and historians look at still existing documentary evidence, be they written documents or artefacts above ground level. Thus the title of the digital project The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe (DALME) created at Harvard University is at least intriguing. The core and clue of this projects are written documents telling us about objects sometimes no longer existing which offer a glimpse of medieval households.

Without twisting the evidence of these inventories you can view a number of them as the results of actions required by law or statutes. In this post I want to highlight these legal dimensions and look at the qualities of the DALME project which has been awarded the 2022 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Precious traces of material surroundings

Many scholars are involved with this project, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The project is led by Daniel Lord Smail, Gabriel Pizzorno and Laura Morreale. The principal objective of the DALME project is to bring together both inventories in the holdings of archives and objects nowadays kept by museums. The project aims also at developing a common vocabulary and a digital infrastructure facilitating research from various disciplines. The inventories and objects can be approached in several ways and will be accompanied by essays. Until now only three essays have been published at the project website. The latest essay by Marcus Tomaszewski published in January 2022 looks at a German tradition of poems with inventories. Laura Morreale looked in her 2020 essay on enslaved persons in fourteenth-century Florence. In the general overview much stress is put on the difficulties of reading and deciphering medieval scripts and languages, but this is not an unique feature for studying medieval history. Classicists dealing with for example the Near East face similar obstacles.

The introduction to the methodology of the DALME project stresses a kind of material turn that has influenced scholars in many disciplines in the past decades. Inventories are much valued as a window on daily life. Objects are every bit as important to tell us the history of humanity as written sources. It seems logical to bring them together to enhance making relevant comparisons of material life and circumstances.

It is important,too,to have a look also at the DALME workflow for inventories. Before images of documents gain their final form in the system behind DALME a lot of steps are to be set. These images are used to create transcriptions and to provide annotation. The information thus created is subsequently parsed and re-encoded. For creating a uniform and searchable terminology the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) of The Getty is used.

One should not overlook the section with project publications nor the bibliography pointing to source editions, scholarly literature, glossaries and dictionaries and other relevant publications, often with links to digital versions. Links becomes only visible when your cursor arrives at them. Obviously the study of Daniel Lord Smail, Legal plunder. Households and debt collection in late medieval Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2016) has stimulated the creation of the DALME project; incidentally, you can view his bibliography online. There is no section with general online resources, and thus the name of Joseph Byrne and his online bibliography of medieval and Early Modern wills and probate inventories is missing. Byrne points for example to a number of articles by Martin Bertram published in the journal Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (QFIAB) and in other journals on testaments from Bologna. Issues from 1958 onwards of QFIAB can be seen online at the Perspectivia portal. Among general resources for tracing relevant literature and editions the online bibliography for medieval studies of the Regesta Imperii in Mainz, and the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography should take their rightful place. The latter has even a preset filter for material culture. A recent article by R.C. Allen and R.W. Unger about their Global Commodities Prices Database is mentioned, but there is no link to their database. It is good to see the work of Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano, The spoils of the Pope and the pirates, 1357: the complete legal dossier from the Vatican Archives (2nd edition, 2014) has been included.

Eight collections of inventories

I had honestly thought my remarks about the bibliography of the DALME project would form my last grumbles in this post, but when you choose in the Features menu for objects you will find just a few objects discussed in sometimes very short essays. Maybe this section will be enlarged soon, but now it is still nearly empty.

The Collections section brings you to eight collections. You can search or browse them. Both options come with very practical filters. In the browsing mode you can use a filter for record type showing you graphically all kinds of legal documents and the various genres of inventories. When you choose to explore the collections you can navigate an interactive map of Europe. DALME brings you at this moment nearly 500 records.

Two collections show immediately in the title their legal nature, 58 records for Florentine wards (1381-1393) and insolvent households in Bologna (1285-1299) with 41 records. The section with ecclesiastical inventories focuses currently on French priests and canons. It will contain in the near future inventories from some well-known cathedrals and monasteries. DALME shows its strength in particular in presenting 50 Jewish inventories from France, Germany and Spain, a rare resource. Tax seizures, inquests into crimes and notarial acts or services formed the legal ground to create these records. Apart from a collection focusing on records from cities in Northern Lombardy, from Marseille and the region around this town, with 168 records the largest collection, there is a collection for the States of Savoy (24 records) and a miscellaneous collection, good for 121 records. Each collection comes with a general introduction, a section on its goals and objectives, explanations about the sample, some highlights and information about the intellectual owner of and contributors to a particular DALME collection.

In a second section with four categories you can approach partial and fragmentary lists created for seizures, estimates, sales and tariffs. Currently only a small number of sales and estimates can be viewed.

For my own pleasure I searched in Dutch online resource for an inventory made in 1297 of goods found at the convent of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John in Utrecht and transferred to a canon of the Oudmunster collegiate chapter and Jan van Duvenvoorde. The inventory in this charter has been identified as a list of goods belonging to count Floris V of Holland who had stayed there in Utrecht just before he was killed near Muiderberg on June 27, 1296. You can find editions of the charter in the Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (1297 April 6, OSU V, no. 2812) and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ V, no. 3268). The presence of chivalric cloths, many gloves and silver objects is indeed telling. Alas the original of this charter no longer exists, but seventeenth-century copies of it have survived.

Some early impressions

An example of the record view in DALME
An example of the record view in DALME, here with a Florentine inventory from 1381 – Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato 4, f. 71r

When searching inventories at DALME a few things become clear. You can currently only find items in their original languages or when they are mentioned in the record description, and not yet using the promised thesaurus function. In my view a major feature is thus currently not yet present. There is a difference between records taken directly from archival sources and those taken over from existing editions. In some cases a part of a document has not been transcribed because it does not contain a part of the proper household inventory. For the document shown here above with 31 folia this restriction is most sensible.

To be honest, I feel a bit baffled by the laurels given to this project in this stage. In my view the report about the 2022 DHMS Award shows a cavalier attitude to some of the clear deficiencies and missing qualities of DALME in its current state. Of course I can see that bringing together documents in twelve languages, providing images and transcriptions and commentaries is surely a feat. Creating 500 records in one year is not a particularly large number. DALME does aim at open access and easy interoperability, but the report states it is still unclear whether third-party software can harvest directly from DALME. The use of TEI for encoding the records and Zotero for the bibliography is commendable, but why create your own remix of tools for the management systems behind the screens? At GitHub you can find the necessary technical information about the databases of DALME and the mix of tools applied for it, but no direct link is given to the bibliography at Zotero. For all its qualities Zotero is notably weak when it comes to actually searching a group library within it. The twelve languages do not return in the choice of glossaries and dictionaries in the DALME bibliography.

DALME’s relatively low number of records for inventories, the very low number of objects and the lack of integration between them, are quite visible. Add to this the uncertainty about reuse and the absence of a fundamental essay on the legal nature of many documents, and you have grounds for reasonable doubts about the core qualities of this digital project. For some collections you find more or less detailed information about the kind of legal documents, but as for now there are no general essays introducing the various source genres. Contributions by legal historians would here be most welcome.

Header website Medeival Academy of America

Let’s for a moment turn away from DALME and look more generally at criteria and standards for evaluating digital projects. A few years ago the Medieval Academy of America developed a serious basic set of standards for its database Medieval Digital Resources (MDR), discussed here in 2019. For viewing images the use of a standard such as IIIF is recommended, but this has not been used at DALME. However, its images are at least zoomable. Luckily, DALME seems otherwise compliant with the MAA’s standards advocated at its database and guide for medieval digital resources. By the way, I could not help using MDR to search quickly for other projects concerning material culture. Using the preset filter for this subject I could only view the first page of the results; going to the next page ended at an empty search form. MDR does contain numerous online dictionaries and bibliographies. A number of them has been included in the DALME bibliography.

A medeival key - image Portable Antiquties Netherlands
A medieval key, c. 1375-1500, an example of a early comb-bit key, length 52 mm – private collection, PAN no. 00013245 – image Portable Antiquities Netherlands

The DALME project comes with high aims based on sound research. I truly expected 3D images of objects or at least integration with one museum catalogue for medieval objects or a portal for archaeological objects, such as Portable Antiquities Netherlands. A year after its launch some wishes to make DALME outstanding could perhaps have been already fulfilled. I could not help noticing that for example the collections from Florence and Bologna are a century apart of each other, and thus comparisons are not as straightforward as possible, even though such comparisons remain challenging. As for the Florentine documents, a choice from the early fifteenth century would have invited a comparison with data in the Online Catasto for 1427-1429, created by the late David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, and hosted at Brown University. It is reassuring to find a helpful table with some suggested equivalent terms in various languages and a clear list of online dictionaries in the classroom section. In an upcoming seminar Laura Morreale (Georgetown University) will focus on editing and transcribing Florentine documents.


How does this project compare to similar projects elsewhere? I looked briefly at the BoschDoc portal for documents concerning the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch. Its search possibilities are impressive. Some eighty inventories have been included, many of them with images, transcriptions, translations and references to relevant literature. The background information, in particular for technical matters, is much more restricted than for DALME, but it does contain a useful list of transcription criteria. The difficulty of scripts and languages is bewailed at DALME, but the actual approach to overcome them is not made completely explicit nor are solutions actually implemented or visible. Hopefully Laura Morreale and her colleagues can quickly add their set of transcription criteria to DALME.

The fact I devoted a rather lengthy review to DALME indicates indeed my opinion that in the end we can welcome a valuable resource for medieval historians at large. Its flaws have to be redeemed, but they help in a way to view similar projects much clearer. I must add that navigating the menus for background information was not as easy as using the collections themselves. The larger essays at DALME are certainly worth your attention and wet the appetite for more. I would be hard pressed to determine whether DALME is a pilot project or a project in its beta phase. In my view DALME is not yet a convincing winner of the DHMS award. Despite all drawbacks Smail, Pizzorno and Morreale deserve praise for their initiative, as do the other scholars who worked hard to provide images, transcriptions and additional information. This international project brings us for now a kind of showcase of what can become a resource not just to use for your own goals, but to discuss with historians from other disciplines as an exercise in rethinking your approaches to medieval documents and objects. The lacks and omissions at DALME should help you to raise your own standards, to apply standards for data exchange with other resources, and to reflect on the use of evaluation standards for digital projects.

Some afterthoughts

After publishing this post I quickly realized some additions might be helpful. A fine example of an image database for medieval and Early Modern material culture is REALonline of the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (IMAREAL) in Krems an der Donau. In its journal Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online (MEMO) the issue no. 7 (December 2020) was devoted to the theme “Textual Thingness”. In this issue the article by Christina Antenhofer, ‘Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries)’, MEMO 7 (2020) 22-46, provides you among other things with a brief discussion of the various forms and (legal) origins of inventories. She mentions the entry for inventories in a German dictionary for legal history by Ruth Mohrmann, ‘Inventar’, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte II (2nd ed. Berlin 2012), cc. 1284–1285.

Power and colour. Illuminated French charters

Every now and then you encounter on the web projects and initiatives you simply want to share with others. Today I noticed the blog of a project around illuminated French charters. The long bilingual title says a lot: Macht, Diplomatie und Dekor – Pouvoir et diplomatie par l‘enluminure. Die illuminierte Urkunde in Frankreich – Les chartes enluminées en France 1160 – ca. 1420. For shortness‘ sake the blog luckily has the concise name Carta Franca! The blog accompanies the project on Macht und Diplomatie, power and diplomacy of Gabriele Bartz and Jonathan Dumont at the Institut für Mittelalterforschung of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. The objects at the centre of this project can be viewed online at as a subsection of a larger section with illuminated medieval charters at this portal, a result from the project at the university of Graz. What does illumination mean as an element of acts written on parchment? How come art history and the history of diplomacy, diplomatics and legal history together? In this contribution I like to put the spotlight on thees questions.

Multiple perspectives

Logo of the blog Carta Franca

My curiosity for the subject of this post comes not only from my interest in legal iconography and medieval history. As a student I completed almost a minor in medieval art history. The riches of the library for art history at Utrecht University and the presence of a copy of the famous Index of Christian Art helped to develop my interests in this field.

Medieval charters show always to some extent power, first of all the power to document acts by writing, by creating a document and by authenticating it with a sign, in particular with seals. In 2019 I wrote here about the visual power of seals, and seals figured also in my 2019 post on digital approaches to medieval charters.

The illuminated initial of a royal charters with the heads of both the king and queen, 1332 – image Paris, Archives Nationales, J 357 A no. 4bis

At Carta Franca art history and diplomatics are the main focus. Since 2020 five contributions take art history as their starting point. Really spectacular is the recent post by Gabriele Bartz – in German – concerning a royal charter from 1332 showing both the heads of king Philippe VI (reigned 1328-1350) and his wife Jeanne de Bourgogne in the illuminated double initial, the first two letters of the charter. In this act the king changed his marriage gift to the queen, because he had decided to destine his original gift for her to his son. Bartz compares this charter with some contemporary examples and tries to establishes a link with known illuminators in this period. At Monasterium this charter is presented with a summary of the contents, a description, a commentary and bibliographical references.

Surprising in this category is also the contribution focusing on the decoration of the plica, the small folded lower part of a charter to which seals are attached. Even historians do not always look carefully at a plica in order to check for any chancery marks or remarks. Sometimes scribes scribbled knots, others turned circles into faces, yet another draw eyes on both sides of the threads connecting the seal to the charter. Bartz views these drawings as an innovation of the mid-fourteenth century. Both contributions show a judicious balance between art history and other historical disciplines.

The illuminated initial of a royal charter, 1372 September 28 – Paris, AN, P/1334/17 A, no. 36 (detail)

The category Diplomatik / Diplomatique – to be distinguished from Diplomatie, diplomacy! contains currently just one contribution in French by Jonathan Dumont, La foi au secours du droit, faith helping the law. A charter of king Charles V from 1372 is illuminated with a large initial C at the beginning. To the drawing lines from three psalms have been added [Ps. 7 (8),7, Ps. 45 (46),16-17 and Ps. 112 (113),2], and also the title of the Easter hymn Christus vincit, Christus regnat. In this charter Charles V confirmed the last will of his deceased brother Louis d‘Anjou and instructed his officials not to interfere with the execution of its stipulations. Dumont places the words in the realm of transcendental representation of kings and royal power, and he nicely notes also this act runs against normal law calling for diligence with last wills. For Dumont it is also a matter of dynastic power at work in favour of his late brother. This charter, too, is fully commented at the Monasterium charter portal. Of course this single contribution wets the appetite for more posts from the perspective of diplomatics and legal history.

Charters in context

The project in Vienna started in August 2020 and will run until 2023. Not only royal charters will come into view. Bishops and monasteries, too, issued illuminated charters. The projected corpus of some 1,300 charters will become visible at Monasterium. Within its general section for illuminated charters there are currently six subcollections, not only for France, but also for the most splendid examples, called Cimelia (sometimes called Prunkurkunden), charters from Lombardy and papal charters. There is also a glossary in German for the terms used in describing illuminated charters. By the way, the Monasterium portal has a multilingual interface, but not every element has been translated.

In fact there are even more similar collections at Monasterium. The collection or subset with French illuminated charters has only been added on December 2, 2021. Thus it is certainly useful to check the list of recent additions at Monasterium. As for now the collection overview shows thirteen collections with illuminated charters. The portal contains now contains information about and often also images for charters from nearly 200 archives in fifteen European countries. You can approach the 660,000 charters included currently by archival collection and by research collection or through an index search. The Monasterium portal has developed into a major resource for research concerning medieval charters. The section for illuminated charters is the fruit of the project in Graz led by Martin Roland, Georg Vogeler and Andreas Zajic.

The medium is the message

The research into the existence, form and role of late medieval illuminated charters can help to view charters differently. Not only the legal act transmitted in a charter is important. Its importance can be expressed more convincingly and visible by using illumination and illustration. More precisely, these added elements can highlight other messages not spelled out in the text of the charter. The illumination of charters adds a second layer of information, operating on another level of action and perception, sometimes showing simply the richness of the issuing person, sometimes highlighting an aspect of his power or showing the intent to put this power in a particular light.

Following the progress of the Carta Franca project in Vienna is helped by the blog and its Twitter account @Cartafranca1. A project website is often static or just a part of larger portal, and even so often project results appear elsewhere. Publications in print from the contributors to these projects on illuminated charters have of course appeared, too. To mention just some examples, Martin Roland contributed the article ‘Illuminierte Urkunden. Bildmedium und Performanz‘ to the essay volume Die Urkunde: Text – Bild – Objekt, Andrea Steildorf (ed.) (Berlin 2019). Gabriele Bartz and Markus Gneiss edited the volume Illuminierte Urkunden. Beiträge aus Diplomatik, Kunstgeschichte und Digital Humanities (Cologne-Weimar-Vienna 2018; Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde, Beiheft 16). The project in Vienna follows after research projects about illuminated medieval manuscripts in Central Europe. The connection with manuscript production is just one of the perspectives helping to study the subject of illuminated charters. In the brief compass of this contribution I hope to have made you curious, too, about new ways to study a classic source genre for medieval history and some of the tools making such research possible.

A shared past. Zeeland and the Dutch slave trade

Banner "Zwart verleden. Het verhaal van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie"

You do not expect after the six o‘clock news on television on two following evenings a documentary movie about slavery and the role of the Middelburg Commerce Company and its rich archive held at the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg, yet exactly this could be seen on Dutch television on November 2 and 3, 2021. The series Zwart verleden: Het archief van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie [Black past] with six items was shown in two installments, each during some twenty minutes. On the tv playback platform NPO Start you can retrieve both videos which appeared in a series called Noord-Zuid-Oost-West [North-South-East-West] produced by Dutch regional broadcasting institutions and sent also by the broadcasting society Omroep MAX. The stories to be told using the materials at Middelburg are special indeed. In this post I will look at both videos created by Omroep Zeeland and at the archival records and other resources offered online thanks to the services of the Zeeland Archives.

A very active company

The story of the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (MCC) is perhaps not unfamiliar to historians, but for the general public it is first of all revealing that this company existed at all outside the province Holland. It was not a part of the Dutch East Indies Company nor of the West Indies Company. By giving the story of Dutch slave traders a place within in a city this subject in Dutch and world history becomes more alive. The MCC, a privately owned company, was active as a sailing company from 1720 until the early nineteenth century; as a wharf it existed until 1889.

The first video starts with Hannie Kool, director of the Zeeland Archives, reading a letter from people on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao asking the company to send them twice a year 250 to 300 new enslaved persons, with very precise specifications for their personal qualities such as age and length. The directors of the MCC answered they could not fulfill this request, because they depended on the fortune of commerce. Fortune or misfortune led to 113 outbound voyages between 1720 and 1800 on the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes between Europe, West-Africa and the Caribbean.

In the second part of the first video archivist Ad Tramper looks at the voyages of the ship d‘Eenigheid (Unity), a ship measuring just 23 meter (70 feet). The journey to buy slaves in Africa could take as many as 200 days, and sailing to the Caribbean took some ten weeks. Tramper underlines the fact society in the eighteenth century could be very hard. The harsh treatment of slaves was taken for granted, but for many people this literally came not within view. The third part focuses on a person aboard the d‘Eenigheid who did professionally have a closer look at enslaved people. Ship surgeon Petrus Couperus kept a journal about his activities and medical care. He wrote for example about an enslaved woman dying from melancholy and sadness, and he noted how many enslaved jumped overboard. The book by D.H. Gallandat, De noodige onderrichtingen voor den slaaf-handelaren (1769) is also mentioned.

In the second video you look with Roosanne Goudbeek of the Zeeuws Archief at the voyages in general. European commodities were sold in in Africa to buy not just enslaved persons, but also gold and ivory. The voyage of the d‘Eenigheid did not end in Suriname. In a letter to the directors its captain wrote he judged it wiser to sail westwards to the colony Berbice. At Fort Nassau on the Berbice river the enslaved persons were auctioned. A report from this auction is part of the archive. The names of the enslaved people were not recorded nor their destination. Records about the sale of a plantation give you an idea of the way life and work were organized. The slaves belonged to the inventory for sale, and they are mentioned with their name and function. A letter even survives with felicitations to the directors of the MCC for the high prices fetched at the auction.

The fifth item in the series shows Gerhard Kok, known for his efforts to creaet quick access to computer transcribed acts concerning Dutch colonial history among the records of the Durch East Indies and West Indies companies and the colonies Suriname, Berbice and Guyana. He looks at the economic importance of the slave trade for the Dutch economy, amounting to between 5 to 10 percent around 1770 for Middelburg, and presumably more in the nearby port of Vlissingen (Flushing). He presents also a chilling document about the gruesome treatment of enslaved persons on the ship Middelburgsch Welvaren [The welfare of Middelburg] leading to their horrible death after a mutiny. The case is known thanks to the investors wanting compensation from an insurance company.

Resistance and protest

The letter about the escape of Leonora - image Zeeuws Archief / Omroep Zeeland
The letter about the escape of Leonora

In the final installment of the series a number of 113 voyages with some 30,000 enslaved persons between 1732 and 1803 is given. Roosanne Goudbeek looks at some remarkable stories of slaves trying to escape their fate in the Dutch Caribbean. The slave Leonora succeeded in getting aboard an inbound ship from the harbor of Curaçao, and captain Jan Bijl wrote about the sheer surprise when she was detected after a day on the Atlantic. The owners of Leonora reclaimed here from the directors of the MCC, but these responded they could not do this, in particular because she was at the very point of becoming a Christian by baptism in the Dutch reformed church. This was not the only form of resistance. During at least twenty voyages mutinies occurred. Slaves refused to eat, other slaves tried to jump from a ship. Some women threw their children into the sea, and many tried to escape from plantations.

In Zeeland some people protested in public against slavery and its consequences. Ad Tramper is shown reading the sermon against slavery preached by vicar Bernardus Smytegelt in the first half of the eighteenth century, printed in his book Des Christen eenige troost in leven en sterven (Middelburg 1747). Tramper mentions the distance between the actual practices stemming from slavery and Europe as a determining factor for the very low number of people protesting. Things happening far away can seem less important. Goudbeek stresses the unique richness of the MCC archive. Tramper ends the video expressing his hope that understanding this period of Dutch history both from white and black perspectives will help to gain more understanding of a shared history.

Using the archives of the MCC

From my brief summary of this television series of just 40 minutes you can hopefully see the clear effort of the creators to present a balanced view of the involvement of Zeeland and this company in Middelburg in slavery during a relatively short period. Some elements in the video are definitely not new. The engravings of the plan of a slave ship are just as well known as the drawing by Aernout van Buchell of The Globe theatre in London. The sermon by Smytegelt duly figures for example in the book accompanying in 2011 the television series De slavernij discussed here, too [De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu, Carla Boos et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2011)]..

Logo CCvM / MCC - image Zeeuws Archief

Let’s look at the online resources created by the Zeeuws Archief for getting acquainted with the story of the MCC and studying its archival records. The English version of its website opens immediately with an image and a button bringing you to a page for the MCC and the history of the Transatlantic slave trade. You can follow the voyages of the Unity from 1761 to 1763 on a separate website with a Dutch and English version. In 2011 the UNESCO entered the archive of the MCC into the Memory of the World register.

Startscreen "Into the triangle trade"

Some years ago I already encountered the splendid online exhibition of the Zeeuws Archief On the Triangle Trade at the Google Arts & Culture platform. This colorful exhibition contains much that has been now retold in the short television series. For English readers this is surely the quickest way to get a picture of the history of the MCC and its role in the slave trade. Only the blog Atlantic Slavery Voyage with the daily sequence of the voyages of the Unity has disappeared. The explanations about the blog on The Unity website suggest the blog still exists, but the actual link is not anymore present, nor have the entries been relocated on this website. The blog about The Unity is up and running, and in March 2022 the daily progress of the ship’s voyage has luckily resurfaced, but the Atlantic Slavery Voyage blog is not functioning anymore.

On a second page at the website of the Zeeland Archives follows the actual concise research guide in English for the MCC and its role in the slave trade. The archival collection of the MCC has been completely digitized (toegang (finding aid) no. 20, Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, 1702-1889). The finding aid is in Dutch. I will highlight some aspects of it. In the 1951 inventory archivist W.S. Unger had changed the actual name of the company, Commercie Compagnie van Middelburg (CCvM) into Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, an unusual thing for Dutch archivists. Apart from the 1951 introduction there is a new foreword from 2011, and you can benefit from three bijlagen (appendices), among them a list of relevant scholarly literature held at the Zeeuws Archief or at the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek in Middelburg. All handwritten maps in the collection of the CCvM / MCC were destroyed in the fire caused by bombs hitting Middelburg in May 1940. Only the printed maps survived. Luckily Unger had contributed before 1940 to some important editions of archival sources held at Middelburg. In an article from 1962 Unger gave a brief introduction to the ship journals. The Zeeuwse Bibliotheek has an online image database, and it hosts the project Zeeuwpost for some 600 digitized letters, a number of them with transcriptions, from Zeeland among the Prize Papers in the collection of the High Court of Admiralty at The National Archives, Kew.

New vistas to be explored

Last year I could applaud here the efforts of the Zeeuws Archief to tune the most used archival system in the Netherlands into creating a very simple and most useful list of all its digitized archival collections, an example still in need of swiftly copying by most other Dutch archives. The city archive in Amsterdam and the Nationaal Archief, The Hague, have created easy access for and visibility of their digitized collections. The temporal disappearance of the voyage blog is only an example of the fragility of the internet infrastructure and the need to give finished projects a proper place within normal productivity, management and existence of any organization.

The archival collection of the CCvM / MCC should perhaps not be called unique, but with all its remaining riches and its online availability it is certainly a singularly important resource for Dutch Early Modern history enabling you to see the characteristics of the Dutch East and West Indies Companies in a different perspective. The recent computerized transcriptions of archival records of these trading companies made accessible at Zoeken in transcripties open new research possibilities for scholars worldwide. These archival records put slavery in its contemporary context, reminding us of the distances in perceptions, time and locations. The digitized records can bring you closer to dark periods in the past and show you developments and details that matter.

Looking at fragments

The exterior of Utrecht Univrersity Library, location Utrecht Science Park

In December bloggers face the perennial challenge of the seasonal post. In my view 2020 has hardly had any regular season. The world has changed in many ways. What seemed certain has become the object of doubts, and uncertainties have come into the spotlights. I will not pretend to see things better here than anyone else. My Dutch view is no cure for everything!

Like someone standing outside Utrecht University Library you cannot look directly into what’s inside. Our visions are often fragmented, and thus it seems appropriate to look here simply at some fragments of charters and manuscripts I could recently study at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Reporting from field work may not have the same status as presenting glorious final results, but it is in a way closer to tangible objects. Fragments offer a glimpse of a larger whole, and sometimes they are a kind of time capsule. Faithful readers know about my penchant to bring in here every now and then a very particular location, but this time it comes just briefly into view, perhaps only as a possible sequel in 2021.

History in fragments

Once upon a time it was clear a library contained books and an archive archival collections, but this nicely organized world seldom existed in real life. Archives can have a substantial library collection, and a research library can have important archival collections in its holdings. The history of a number of archival collections from medieval institutions and manuscripts held at Het Utrechts Archief and Utrecht University Library is a good example. Generally archival collections can be found now at the combined municipal and provincial archive, and most manuscripts are held at the university library, but some remarkable exceptions exist. Luckily Utrecht University Library created an online repertory for its archival collections. The manuscripts at Het Utrechts Archief can be found in the online library catalogue. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized.

Sometimes there is another explanation. The Wttewaal van Stoetwegen family brought the papers of the Wickenburg estate (‘t Goy, now part of Houten) into the care of Het Utrechts Archief [toegang (finding aid) 254], but other papers and charters are kept since the early twentieth century at the university library. Its inventory lacked descriptions of the charters, After a frst foray it became only natural to describe these charters as a sequel of the fruitful cooperation between both institutions in recent years, in particular for the exhibition and essay volume Perkament in stukken [Parchment in pieces] (2018).

Fragments of charters came also into view in my project which thus goes beyond the eighty charters of the Wttewaal family. A number of charter fragments had been described summarily in Latin in the manuscript catalogue [P.A. Tiele, A. Hulshof and B. Kruitwagen (eds.), Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae (2 vol., Utrecht-The Hague, 1887-1909; online, UB Utrecht, vol. I and II)]. The manuscript catalogue and later additions have been integrated into the online library catalogue; a guide for special materials helps you to use the catalogue and other resources efficiently. A substantial number of fragments has been taken from the bindings they once reinforced, some of them without due reference to the host volume, others with clear references to their origin.

Other fragments can in particular be found in situ in bookbindings made for Hubert van Buchel (1513-1599), a canon of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. In 1569 Buchel fled to Cologne. In his will he donated his books to the parish of St. James’ at Utrecht, but no doubt the church wardens must have influenced the final decision to add them to the collections of the city library founded in 1584, the nucleus of the university library founded in 1636. My project was restricted to charter fragments. Vito Santoliquido (ENNSIB, Lyon) recently looked for Fragmentarium at the entire corpus of maculature fragments in books with a Van Buchel provenance, a collection with some 1,000 relevant volumes. I dealt with just over one hundred charter fragments.

For strengthening the bindings of his books Van Buchel provided the bookbinder with parchment and paper from books which might have belonged to the chapter of St. Mary’s. He even jotted down the costs of many bindings. Few manuscripts from this collegiate chapter survive nowadays. The fragments might offer a kind of window on the books held and read by the canons of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. At Fragmentarium Vito Santoliquido gives a sketch of his research project Maculature in the Van Buchel Collection.

It is tempting to continue here with a paragraph about the aims of fragments research. In the past years it has become a discipline with a name of its own, fragmentology, and even a journal with this title, thus claiming its own distinct place next to codicology and palaeography. In the second part of this post I will look at some fragments with a clear connection to legal history. At my blog Glossae. Middeleeuwse juridische handschriften in beeld I published a few days ago a succinct account of these fragments in German, ‘Utrechter Fragmenten und Urkunden’. At Glossae you can find also an overview of projects and catalogues concerning medieval manuscript and charter fragments.

Some legal fragments

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited – Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92

Legal history is the focus in the second part of this post, but it is necessary to remember other perspectives can be equally interesting and important. I would like to start with Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92, coming from a Van Buchel volume (108 O 12), not just one fragment, but two sets of cuttings, group A with ten larger and one small scrap, and group B with ten cuttings. Of course I started trying to fit the parts of group A together, but this did not work. Combining the two sets was the obvious solution, but actually they still are kept as distinct sets, with a notice on the combinations I worked out for them.

Looking at fitting underlinings and dates proved to be clues to find adjacent parts of the cuttings. Here the data helped me to find the right parts, January 13, 1528. Other parts contain information about a case concerning a house in Cologne, the question of the validity of a mandate, and a letter from the official of the archbishop of Cologne, his ecclestastical judge, to the plebanus of Bonn. Some of the acts in these cuttings have marginal annotations about an act. One of the questions around these cuttings is their nature: Are they part of a kind of trial file or are we looking at a legal consultation (consilium)? As for now I opt for the first interpretation. Apart from two dates in 1527 and 1528 the names of some lawyers appear. At least one of them, Bernhardus de Harderwijck, can be traced in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum and the Repertorium Germanicum for papal registers at the Romana Repertoria portal (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Rome). He started his studies at Cologne in 1486 and got his doctoral degree in law in 1510, the year he also joined the tribunal of the Reichskammergericht, then at Speyer.

There is a second set with sixteen similar cuttings, Hs. fr. 6.77, from F. oct. 76, another Van Buchel volume. The year 1522 is mentioned in them, and also the word Coloniensis appears within a very similar layout and the same cursive script, which suggests they could belong to the other fragment. However, these sixteen cuttings did not fit together when I tried to repeat my actions with them.

Trial document in Utrecht 108 N 9

A fragment of a trial document bound with Utrecht 108 N 9

In the volume 108 N 9, also with a Van Buchel provenance, I saw yet another cutting which seems to stem from the document cut into pieces and now kept as fragments 6.92 and 6.77. The handwriting looks very similar, although the interlinear space here is larger. It seems safe to assume at least a datation between 1520 and 1530. It seems logical, too, to locate its origin in the German Lower Rhine region. This fragment mentions a dean and a church without any further indication of a specific location. It would be wonderful to trace yet another fragment still in situ within one of the volumes once owned by Van Buchel or among separately kept fragments, but with possibly three witnesses of the existence of a legal document the harvest is already interesting in itself. One of the immediate challenges facing me is to try to fit pairs of these cuttings into single folia. As for now for each act there are only beginnings, parts representing texts halfway and endings, a tantalizing state of affairs. It is a sobering thought other fragments need to be described first consistently, too, before starting a miniature quest to reconstruct these acts.

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

The third example I want to present here concerns two fragments of a lecture on canon law, bound with the Van Buchel volume E oct. 122. On one side of the fragment with two columns the words per osti. in su., “per Hostiensem in summa”, stand for Hostiensis, the nickname of Henricus de Segusio, cardinal of Ostia (around 1190/1200-1271). The first version of his summa was completed in 1250-1251, which provides us with a terminus post quem for dating this text which seems to be a lecture on the Decretales Gregorii IX. On closer inspection you can read at the top of the right column Spec. in ti., which I read as “Speculum – or Speculator – in titulo”. Guillaume Durand (Durandus) (1231-1296) finished the first version of his Speculum iudiciale around 1271, a second terminus post quem for dating the text and these fragments. Alas both columns of the original page have suffered when cut into pieces, making the number of clues for identification much smaller. The fragment bound at the front in this volume shows an allegation no. Pe. de Ve., a medieval lawyer I have not yet identified.

A story of fragments and history in fragments

Normally a scholar would probably thirst for much more information, daring hypotheses and smashing conclusions. In my view it is wiser to start just getting things right for each fragment. Creating consistent descriptions might seem straightforward, but already the fact fragments and volumes did not arrive at my desk at Special Collections in numerical order should make you pause a moment. I took photos in the order of inspection, and my notes follow the same order. It is a nice job to combine my photos correctly with the normal order of the fragments. By sheer luck I could view side by side as the very first and second Early Modern editions I consulted two volumes with in their bindings corresponding fragments of a charter referring to Hubert van Buchel himself!

In a period with restricted possibilities for research on location I feel lucky and even blessed with all efforts of my colleagues of Utrecht University Library to bring fragments, manuscripts and printed books to the reading room. I am sure I will look back at these months with Special Collections as one of the most extraordinary periods in my scholarly life. I could arrange and photograph objects using as much space as I liked, but working often alone in a reading room was a strange experience. The collection of the reading room with books about book history, manuscripts, palaeography and other relevant subjects was within immediate reach. In a year where so many people were forced to work at home, under sometimes difficult circumstances, I had the privilege of working on location, touching even historical artefacts, the very traces of past periods, sometimes susceptible to quick reconstruction, but more often just sign posts of a larger whole lost to us. Describing charters and fragments is doing fundamental research. For me doing this is among the solaces, the comforting things and rays of light in a period darkened by the pandemic which cut into our world as sharply as the scissors cutting manuscript pages into fragments.

At the very end of this project I saw a number of references to manuscript with fragments turned out to be small and medium-sized archival collections with a number of charters, not just single fragments. It would not do to hastily create descriptions of these charters, even when using Tiele’s descriptions as a starting point. They deserve equal attention as the other charters and fragments I described this year. When I noticed in one case charters and deeds referring to houses near and atthe Janskerkhof square in Utrecht I knew I could complete the circle of this year for my faithful readers! Between 1584 and 1820 the Janskerk was home first to the city library and later to Utrecht University Library. Instead of lamenting unfinished work it is better to look at the things which against all odds did succeed. I am not the only one much more conscious how vulnerable life is, and how many obstacles can hinder the completion of any project now and in the near future. Hopefully the kind of research you dream of or do normally can become (again) reality in 2021.

Digital access to the slavery registers of Curaçao

Slavery register 57, fol. 636

Slavery register 57, fol. 636 – image: Nationaal Archief, Curaçao

On August 17, 1795 a slave revolt started on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao, some seventy kilometers north of Venezuela. Exactly 225 years after Tula’s Revolt the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao presented the searchable online version of the Slavenregister, eight slavery registers from the nineteenth century. Two years ago I wrote here about the launch of the digitized slavery registers from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in Latin America. The two projects invite a comparison. I will look also at other online resources for the history of the Dutch Antilles, six Caribbean islands with a history of Dutch colonial rule.

Researching Dutch Caribbean slavery

Logo Nationaal Archief, Willemstad, CuracaoThe announcement at the website of the Nationaal Archief, located in Willemstad, the main town of Curaçao, gives you some background to the project done in cooperation with scholars of the Radboud University Nijmegen, led by Coen van Galen, and the University of Curaçao. The late Els Langenfeld laid the foundation for the project with her transcriptions. Apart from eight slavery registers also two emancipation registers have been digitized and indexed. The Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague, helped with creating the database for the data and the digital images. In its announcement about the launch the Dutch national archives give more information. The slavery registers cover the period 1839 to 1863. The emancipation registers stem from 1863. You can find at the website in The Hague a video in Papiamentu about the project, and there is a message from the Dutch minister for Education, Culture and Sciences. The registers at Willemstad can also be searched at the website of the Dutch Nationaal Archief. By the way, recently the Dutch national archive integrated its search portal Ga het NA into its main website. The Dutch archive also provides a guide to these records. There is a version in rudimentary English of the search interface without a version in English of the guide; the Dutch version is not mentioned. The original records can be found at the Nationaal Archief Curaçao, 005, Archief Koloniale Overheid, inventory 3, Hoofdambtenaar Arbeidszaken, inv.nos. 53-60 (slavery registers), and  005 Archief Koloniale Overheid, inventory 16.6 Burgerlijke Stand/Bevolking/Registratie, inv.nos 116-117 (emancipation registers).

Logo Nationaal Archief, The hague

The search interface in Curaçao allows you to filter directly for a particular register. In the advanced search mode you can search six fields separately. Unfortunately I did not succeed in using the advanced search mode in three different browsers. Search results can be sorted by clicking on the respective headings of the columns, a quality that could perhaps be more visible with arrows. There is also a guide to assist your search questions. Its Dutch counterpart has only filters for the type of register, and there is only a simple free text search field and a choice for sorting the results for all fields except one field of the registers, by name, gender, the mother’s name, entry date and exit day (uitschrijfdatum), either the day of the emancipation or another date noted in an entry.

The search interface in The Hague does not show the name of the eigenaar, the owner of enslaved people, nor do you see them in the list with search results. Only when you click on an individual search result the name of the (former) owner becomes visible. Luckily the owners does show up in the uitleg (explanation) – in Dutch again – about the fields. You can download in The Hague a zipped file with the index to the registers as an XML file. The efforts for assistance and explanation are important, but at the moment of writing it seems some efforts are needed to get things working properly. It is good to note here the fields with subsidiary information about the owner. However, here, too, the presentation of search results in Curaçao is different, with two blocks of fields against a single column with the fields at The Hague.

Both the absence of the owner field in The Hague and the disfunction of the advanced search mode in Curaçao are substantial problems. Again as with the project for the slavery registers from Suriname only the Dutch version is complete. The very presence of a video in Papiamentu underlines the need for search interfaces, guides and explanation is this language and in English. In view of the Caribbean region a Spanish version would be most sensible, too. The archive in Willemstad calls itself on its website a Porta pa Historia, but that door needs to be open not just in Dutch. The Dutch national archives provide a searchable index of manumissions of enslaved people on Curaçao between 1722 and 1863. Even the heading Vrij van slavernij (manumissies) has not been translated in the English version of this index.

The Dutch and the Caribbean

If digitizing a resource is important for historical understanding and if you know the general public will appreciate your efforts, it is only normal to do a proper job. The two versions of this new resource can cause some frowns, but I will certainly not deny the importance of being able to use the database for the Curaçao slavery and emancipation registers. Let’s look briefly what other resources can be readily found online nowadays.

Curacao ISTORY - The Tual exhibit

In the Digital Library of the Caribbean Curaçao figures with only a few items. For the neighbouring island Aruba you can find some fifty items. Bonaire, a third island within the Dutch Antilles, is absent. In 2019 the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao, the Maduro Foundation and the National Archaeological and Anthropological Museum launched the history portal Curaçao | HISTORY with virtual exhibits on several subjects, You can use a timeline to choose a theme, for example Tula’s revolt. Surprisingly the abolition of slavery in 1863 is present only with a printed proclamation in Papiamentu. At the Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform are digital collections of institutions at Curaçao, the Dutch Royal Library and Leiden University. The Archivo Nacional Aruba has some digital collections, in particular audiovisual materials.

Startscreen portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History launched some years ago the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670- c. 1870 with a guide to archival sources, legislation and ordinances. In fact the West Indisch Plakaatboek edited by J.Th. de Smidt, J.A. Schiltkamp and T. van der Lee  (5 vol. in 3 parts, Amsterdam 1973-1979) is its very core. At the Delpher platform you can find digitized official gazettes for the Netherlands, the Antilles, Indonesia and Suriname. Leiden University has created a separate entrance for Caribbean Books, some 950 in total, but only 200 are available in open access. Within its Digital Special Collections you can find a number of collections owned by the KITLV / Royal Dutch Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. Four Dutch ethnological museums, among them the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, have created a shared collections portal (interface Dutch and English). Recently the Tropenmuseum showed the exhibit Afterlives of Slavery. The old website of the Foundation for Dutch ethnological collections does still function. The Tropenmuseum has a digital collection on slavery with some 1,700 items at the heritage portal The Memory of the Netherlands.

In January I visited De grote Suriname tentoonstelling, a truly major exhibit on the history of Suriname at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the church next to the royal palace on the Dam Square. This exhibit succeeded in showing an overview of Suriname’s history with the widest possible variety of subjects and themes, thus enabling you to get a more integrated view of this country and its history. Let’s hope the digitized slavery and emancipation registers for Curaçao, too, will help to foster a better understanding of a crucial period in the history of this island. The aftermath of slavery continues up to today. Its story needs to be told not just in Dutch.

A postscript

Some remarks here about the quality of the search interfaces for this project might seem harsh, but a few things make them at least understandable. Knowing about the (former) owners of enslaved people is perhaps the most asked question when using these registers. Depending on the name of the owner freed slaves often received their name. The general public wants to know also about the background of the owners. Many of them lived in the major towns of the Netherlands. Their wealth was to a considerable extent built on the fruits of slave labor. Finally I think both archives should realize they could create the database thanks to the research and efforts of the late Els Langenfeld. It is not just a question of presenting material in your own holdings online, but also acknowledging the fact this has become possible thanks to a person whose memory should be honored by using her transcriptions and index to the fullest possible extent. Perhaps it is only a question of changing the layout to make the owners more visible from the start. The current layout should not be a stumbling block to having the data in full view.