Category Archives: Digital editions

Two centuries of mapping and locating

Banner How can a historian cope with all invitations to look at celebrations and centenary events? On this blog you will expect me to present a different look at such events. Last year the celebrations of 200 years Kingdom of The Netherlands started, and I did write here about the opening activities and a number of portals and websites launched for this occasion. These festivities come now to an end, and one particular aspect offers itself for attention in a posting.

One of the newly founded institutions in the new kingdom was the Kadaster, the land registry office. This week the modern Dutch land registry office launched an educational website called Tijdreis over 200 jaar topografie [Time travel through 200 years topography]. Lately I noticed some online projects concerning Dutch historical cartography and topography which deserve the attention of legal historians and others interested in Dutch history, too. This theme gives me also the chance to look in a second section at other projects with digitized Dutch maps and atlases. In the third and last section of this contribution I will look closer at a recent overview of Dutch digitization projects.

Travelling in time and space

Bilingual map 1815 - Kadaster

Bilingual – Dutch and French – map, 1810 – source: Kadaster

The special website of the Kadaster succeeds in bringing something you might think existed already, but in fact it did not, although we will meet a slightly comparable project. On this interactive website you can start a time loop for the period 1815-2015 using the scale in the left sidebar, and view for every year – at least when available – a different map. You can stop the loop to contemplate the map in a particular year. Interestingly you can put in the name of a location in a free text search field, choose from the suggestions popping up or proceed with your own choice. You will end with a zoomed-in view of a particular place and zoom out at will.

While admiring this new digital tool it does not bring you quite what you expect from a land registry office. The educational website shows mostly regular topographical maps, and only when zooming in you can see maps with cadastral information. Of course one has to reckon with the production time itself of the first cadastral maps. The first map on the special website stems not from 1815, but shows the French départements with postal routes on a bilingual map created in 1810. The southern part of the later province Limburg is not included. As for 200 years Dutch land registry office, it was emperor Napoleon who decided in 1811 that this institution should come into existence. Only in 1816 work was resumed, and in 1832 54 offices of the land registry service were opened. Most of the first cadastral maps were created between 1812 and 1832. When the results of both cadastral and topographical maps became available some outstanding maps were created for wider use.

Combining geography, history and maps

Logo Wat Was Waar

The thought of putting historical information into a kind of GIS (Geographical Information System) is already some decades old. The last years convincing results of so-called HISGIS websites start to appear, often after promising beginnings, pitfalls, breakdowns and new design, both in terms of layout and technology. Perhaps closest to the idea behind the bicentennial map site of the Kadaster is the Dutch portal WatWasWaar [What Was Where] with a Dutch interface and an introduction in English. This portal offers you access to modern topographical maps with an overlapping layer with (links to) historical information and in particular other maps. You can set this website to show both a modern map and the pointers to historical information or show just one of these possibilities. I took the municipality Doorn in the province Utrecht as an example: you will find a number of cadastral, topographical and military maps, scans of the cadastral register (aanwijzende tafel), census information and even a nineteenth-century drawing of the manor Huis Doorn, from 1920 onwards the last domicile of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. In particular having access to the original cadastral maps at your screen is a great asset, and it is possible to filter for particular information and periods. There are also scans from map books for the region around Delft, Gelderland (Guelders) and Utrecht which bring you some locations in even greater detail.


More tuned to the needs of historians is the Dutch HISGIS portal. The portal started with a HISGIS for Friesland (Frisia), supported by the Fryske Akademy at Leeuwarden. Its regional background shines through in the absence of three Dutch provinces, North-Holland, Zeeland and Brabant. The modern province Flevoland is not even mentioned. However, you can find nationwide information about municipalities by clicking on the Nederland tab. For Brabant a pilot project has started with one municipality, Loon op Zand, a location famous for Europe’s largest area with moving sands and dunes, the Loonse en Drunense Duinen. A bonus are the sections for Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and even for Antwerp.

Reading the instructions (Uitleg) carefully is really necessary for this portal, for otherwise you would miss a lot on it. Although I have visited this HISGIS portal on earlier occasions I still find it not easy to get hold of specific information, but with due patience you can retrieve here much information. The quality of information depends also on the province of your research. For example, for the province of Utrecht you can look also at sketch maps (schetskaarten) showing the borders of each municipality; these documents, too, have been authenticated at the start of the process to chart all plots.

You must forgive me for mentioning here the great interactive map of the city of Utrecht created by Het Utrechts Archief, with not just historical locations and buildings shown on a modern map, but also access to older maps, images and much more. It really amounts to a HISGIS for the history of this city. The Drents Archief in Assen contributes map to AnnoDrentheNu, a website and an app enabling you to look at and walk using also historical maps.

Here are lions!

Photo of a youn lion - source: Hic Sunt Leones

Dutch municipalities are the subject of two related projects dealing with the history of towns and villages. Their borders have changed very much since the early nineteenth century, but there is another problem as well. Some names of locations are not unique. Even within a small country like the Netherlands some locations share names. An example: I thought Oosterend, “East End”, was only a village on the Frisian isle Terschelling, but there is another one as well. In Frisian, the second official language in my country, Easterein is now in Littenseradeel near Franeker, Aasterein is the Frisian name for the location on Terschelling,, and thus you can distinguish them. At Gemeentegeschiedenis [Municipal history] you can find the names of the 1100 municipalities existing in 1812 and all their successors up to the modern situation with just over 400 Dutch municipalities. You can search also for official place-names in the départements during the French occupation under Napoleon.

A second website, Histopo, also created by the team of Hic Sunt Leones [Here are lions] goes one step further and gives access to some 27,000 historical names of locations, hamlets, villages and cities. Apart from a repertory of municipalities since 1812 the creators acknowledge the use of two valuable sources which you would not immediately come up with. Nineteenth-century militieregisters (military draft registers) contain place names in many variant spelling, duly noted by the city archives in Amsterdam and put into two data sets. Another project at Amsterdam dealing with ondertrouwregisters, registers for the publishing of banns for couples wanting to marry, gives us place-names in sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The national crowdsourcing palaeographic project Vele Handen [Many Hands] deals with both the militieregisters on a nationwide basis, kept between 1811 and 1941, and the ondertrouwregisters between 1602 and 1811.

A third project of Hic Sunt Leones focuses on the historical names of streets in Amsterdam. Combining maps with all kind of data sets is the heart of each project featured here. Yet another Dutch website covers roughly the same subject, ErfGeo, with here, too, among the people in the project team members of Hic Sunt Leones. Here you can search for names of locations, and also for streets and even for buildings. My mother lived twelve years in Zwolle, and she remembered wondering about the Korte Ademhalingssteeg, “Short Breath Alley”, in Zwolle an alley once close to the scaffold at the main market place. ErfGeo can lead you to places no longer existin and show you the growth of cities based on the Atlas van de verstedelijking. It is even possible to ask for the nicknames of Dutch locations during Carnival! For the geographical information on your screen for a particular location these projects are not solely focusing on the Netherlands. The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names can be tuned to work with data sets using the special Getty Vocabularies portal.

Hic Sunt Leones, “here are lions” is the phrase used by early cartographers to indicate zones later termed terra incognita. Lately the use of this phrase and its actual presence on medieval and sixteenth-century maps has been questioned. A few weeks ago a news item described the discovery on the so-called 1491 Martellus Map at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of among other texts a longer phrase with the words in quibus leones, “where are lions”. Multispectral imaging enhanced the faded colours and texts at this map and reinforced its brightness and legibility.

As for more HISGIS projects the links section of the British Historical GIS Research Network is a good starting point. The idea of a HISGIS has also lead to several projects using maps within the humanities, ranging from Early Modern London and Locating London’s Past using John Rocque’s maop from 1746 to the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt, and Stanford’s delightful ORBIS for travelling in Classical Antiquity. Earlier this year I discussed the Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg.

The Low Countries and digitized old maps

It is a joy to write here about historical maps from the Low Countries. Faithful visitors of my blog will perhaps remember how I adduced the beautiful sixteenth-century town maps created by Jacob van Deventer in postings about a number of small Dutch towns. In its links section WatWasWaar points to a number of interesting projects with historical maps. As a finale to this post I will briefly list a number of projects. Even if some information might already be given here in earlier postings I like to bring them together here.

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer (detail) – Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575) had been charged in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project, the making of topographical and bird-view maps of the Low Countries. The surviving maps, the first set of reliable town maps for this region of Europe, have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

While preparing this post I noticed the link to a digital version of the famous seventeenth-century atlas created by Willem Blaeu at the website of the Regional Archives in Leiden. There is at least one other digital version of this atlas, using the copy in the library of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. This college, too,  has digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya portal for the cultural heritage of Catalonia. This portal in its turn helped me not to forget to mention the Dutch portal Memory of the Netherlands, with among the 133 digital collections the Atlantic World project of the Dutch Royal Library and the British Library containing a substantial number of old maps. The Royal Library contributes the Atlas Van der Hagen (around 1690) and the Atlas Beudeker (around 1750) with not only maps, but also topographical prints and drawings. The 2,600 drawings and prints of hamlets, villages and towns in the Atlas Schoemaker, also held at the Royal Library in The Hague, can give you vivid images of buildings and people in the Dutch Republic during the eighteenth century. In fact the word atlas in Dutch cultural institution can mean both an atlas with maps and a topographical-historical collection, for example the Atlas van Stolk in Rotterdam with many thousands digitized drawing and prints.

On using a new overview of Dutch digital projects

My last paragraph with its seemingly erratic stepping-stones might seem a personal whim, but I steered it on purpose to a project at the Royal Library. On September 10, 2015, I ended my post about Dutch pocket law books with a remark about a recently completed survey of Dutch libraries and their digitization projects. To my disbelief the final report Bibliotheekcollecties in het netwerk [Library collections in the network] published online by the Royal Library does not give you in the overview of actual projects the exact web addresses. Add to this hiding the link at their website to a version of the overview with URL’s included, and you might guess my misgivings. The Royal Library did send me in August a new version of this list, and for your convenience I have uploaded it here. It seems worthwhile to look at this overview and to check for digitized historical maps. If such a survey serves any scholarly purpose it should be that of a concise practical guide with sufficient indications of the scope and contents of collections.

The overview covers 514 collections and gives succinct information in tabular format. At Leeuwarden Tresoar, the combined Frisian regional archives and Provincial Library, have digitized a number of atlases, and there is a pilot for a new digital map collection with for now just five maps. A search for kaarten (maps) at this new portal learned me quickly to prefer the advanced search and filter for the document-type maps, because kaart in Dutch is also used for postcards… The Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam is said to digitize landgoedkaarten (manor maps), but no link is provided; the collection is to be found within the general digital image database at the VU. Interestingly the VU has created the portal VU Geoplaza for modern GIS maps. The link to the nearly 800 digitized maps of the university library in Groningen did contain a typing error. Overijssel in kaart is a portal for digitized maps from four collections in the province Overijssel. Probably the best known Dutch digital map collection is the one held by the university library at Amsterdam with 450 digitized maps which includes the collection of the Royal Dutch Geographic Society, In view of the sheer number of atlases and maps the selection is rather small, but really important. There is a section with seven city atlases covering not only the Low Countries, but even cities all over the world in Jansonius’ work Theatrum urbium (….) (Amsterdam 1657).

Banner Atlas der Neederlanden - UvA

The next link to a digital map collection in Amsterdam is unfortunately broken, but triggered my attention for atlases. Is there indeed no functioning digital version of the famous Atlas der Neederlanden, nine volumes containing rare maps made between 1600 and 1800? A quick search learned me that there is a selection of maps accompanying the project for a facsimile edition of this atlas published in 2013. The list fails to indicate for Amsterdam the presence of digitized maps in the Suriname collection 1599-1975, Of course the quality of the information in this survey led by the Royal Library depends to some extent on the information provided by the institutions organizing projects for digital maps, but it seems little checking and updating has been done, nor is there a good explanation for the many collections without any indication of a URL. I cannot help noting these defects for a library which can boast a major role in many international projects bringing it justifiably great prestige.

We had better look at the collections indicated in the list and find the working web addresses ourselves, and thus I did. The digital map collection of the Royal Tropical Institute is now managed by Leiden University. The list duly notes that a large number of these maps – in fact some 7,100 – can also be reached in the image database of this research institute. In its digital collection Alterra maps Wageningen University shows maps made in the twentieth century dealing with the physical geography of the Netherlands. For Wageningen this list points to the filter for maps in the library catalogue at Wageningen University, but except in a few cases not to digital maps. Conspicuously absent in the list is the university library in Utrecht. There used to be a separate subdomain for digitized maps, but now you can at least find them using the advanced search mode of the library catalogue and check for digital availability. The special collections in Utrecht have great holdings in map collections which can be searched on collection level in a useful repertory.

Logo Caret-Tresoor

Anyone vaguely aware of the history of Dutch cartography knows there is much more to be found, and of course an updated overview – only in Dutch – can be found online at the website of the scholarly journal Caert-Tresoor (old Dutch for Treasury of Maps). Between 2005 and 2010 a number of online map collections has been presented in the section @ la Carte. A quick look at this website gives you digital maps at the regional archives in Groningen, typically missed in the overview where at least a number of libraries at regional archives have been included, but for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem and its maps do not appear at all. The Beeldbank of the Technical University Delft is mentioned, but there is no indication of its contents, though this image database does contribute to WatWasWaar. Has the Royal Library by any chance been misled by the lack of maps in the project database at the portal Kenniscentrum Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland [Knowledge Center Digital Dutch Heritage]? Filtering for cartographical materials offers you some forty digital projects, but alas only a few of the projects presented here show up. To be honest, maps are often included indistinctly within these projects.

This post shares a defect with a number of earlier postings, my clear wish to include many things within the compass of one post! I leave it to you to check the PDF of the list for your own research and to add map projects from the descriptions at Caert-Tresoor. At the national level it is justifiable to mention the digital maps of the Nationaal Archief, and to point to the maps dealing with a much wider territory at the digital portal Atlas of Mutual Heritage, an interactive map accessible in Dutch and English leading you to many objects and bibliographical information, with for example another atlas by Blaeu – held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna – and many rare maps concerning Dutch colonial history, worldwide trade and the history of the Dutch India Companies.

Uncharted digital territories

You might search for the right words doing justice to this kind of overviews, but I had rather use my time and energy to create an overview tailored to my specific need of knowing about a particular type of document within Dutch digital collections. When I could not find any reliable list of digitized pamphlets apart from the seventeenth-century mazarinades I started creating it myself. Surveying the holdings of cultural institutions has successfully been done at the collection level for Dutch museums which led to the creation of a number of regional websites for cultural heritage, often with the word Erfgoedhuis in its name, and in some cases to regional portals for digitized cultural heritage. In my country some themes and subjects are well served indeed with national digital platforms for materials concerning maritime history (Maritiem Digitaal), etnographic (Stichting Volkenkundige Collectie Nederland), academic (Academische collecties), medical collections (Medisch Erfgoed), and also military history (Militair Erfgoed).

There are several gaps and weaknesses in the overview supplied by the Royal Library, with even no changes and corrections between the version of May 2015 and the latest one. Its lack of order is just another characteristic. However, you have to appreciate some dificulties in creating any consistent overview. Should one left out the libraries of archival centers? Should one create separate entries for each document type in a digital collection or list them in a separate field for each entry? The list contains a number of abbreviations to indicate the presence of meta-data and physical objects, but they have not been used consistently. Strange is the exclusion of the Royal Library’s own digital collections, including the Delpher portal. The editors have listed some digital collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they skipped its collections at the Social History Portal.

It would certainly make a difference if we could access such information in an online database. The very creation of a database would demand solid thinking about the things to include or exclude, and above all concern about reliable input and maintenance. I am sure the Dutch Royal Library is capable of doing this. In fact the Metamorfoze website of the Royal Library offers already a succinct overview of digital projects which received financial support from the Dutch government. Out of sheer curiosity I looked for any project with maps, and I found the Bunkerarchief, a project at the Nationaal Archief concerning Dutch military defense with scans of some 9,000 maps and drawings made in the twentieth century. Luckily the online inventories of archival collections at the Dutch National Archives do tell you about the presence of scans of materials, but this large collection merits special mention in their research guide for maps and drawings. Here, too, a translation into English of the website or at least useful summaries would be most welcome.

Locating valuable digital collections can be a daunting task. In a digital world you still need reliable guides to information if you have to know more than the ever active global web company and its famous search engine brings you. I should have made a screen print of its name which showed at its start screen this weekend a heart with the Dutch national colours and a crown to honour the festivities celebrating the Kingdom of the Netherlands! You have read here the names of many libraries and archives, but museums, too, have maps in their holdings. Maps help us to realize that historical events and developments took place in particular surroundings, sometimes barely charted, sometimes mapped again and again to inform and please people. Maps help us to chart the past and to discern the variety of perspectives, limits and borders seen, perceived and created by people living in past centuries.

These days you cannot escape from seeing the grim reality of borders, and I feel awkward not to mention here this fact. We cannot be strangers to current events. VU GeoPlaza has in its links section a link to another VU project, Death at the Borders, showing one dot for each dead migrant on his or her way to Western Europe from 1999 until the end of 2013. An interactive map of the Mediterranean shows regions scarcely seen in the main media. Current figures about migrants going to Europe can be found at the online map of the Missing Migrants Project of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.

A postscript

Banner Archiefzoeker

While musing over my experiences in tracing digitized old Dutch maps it crossed my mind to use the Archiefzoeker, the inexhaustible concise guide in Dutch to digital collections all over the world. Eric Hennekam, its indefatigable creator, has put together nearly 5,500 collections. He announces new additions often at Twitter (@erichennekam) or at his blog Point de vue. I immediately found a recent posting about the mobile app of Old Maps Online, a marvellous portal where you can also find digitized maps held at the Dutch National Archives and Utrecht University Library.

Searching with precise search terms can yield much here, but for maps and atlases there is in the Dutch language a particular problem. When looking for the Dutch word kaart the nearly eighty results contain not only maps , but also gezinskaarten and persoonskaarten, family files and personal files in population registers, and prentbriefkaarten, postcards. Even the words kaartenbak, card file, and inspectiekaart appear, the latter for an inspection map of the Dutch Food Authority. Using the word atlas brings you also to a morphological atlas and an atlas of Dutch literary authors. The atlases with maps within The Memory of the Netherlands are not yet included, but some topographical atlases are present.

For more precise results tagging and classifying entries is sorely needed, because it is now rather cumbersome to find the things you are really looking for. Creating a mass of information should be followed by clear cataloguing in order to make the information useful and to ensure clear search results. Any grumblings over broken links, incomplete information or silly mistakes are another matter: constructive comments and contributions are most welcome…


Opening a book: Laws in your pocket

Cover A few years ago I came across a pocket-book on the bylaws of eighteenth-century Amsterdam. Its very size made me muse about the kind of books you would like to carry with you, the actual choice booksellers offered and offer you in the particular field of pocket law books. With this post I launch a new series of contributions with the motto “Opening a book”.

The book that prompted me to write about pocket law books has been digitized for the digital library Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO), the fruit of cooperation between the Royal Library in The Hague and the university libraries of Leiden and Amsterdam. Meanwhile EDBO has been integrated into the Delpher project of the Dutch Royal Library.  An anonymous book called Amsterdams burgerrecht: Dat is Verzameling van privilegien en handvesten [Amsterdam’s citizens’ law, being a collection of privileges and charters] (Amsterdam 1787) attracted my attention because of words following the subtitle: “Uit de groote Handvest en andere schriften byeen verzameld, om als een zakboek van ieder gebruikt te kunnen worden”, compiled from the Major Charter and other writings in order to serve as a pocket-book for everyone’s use. Initially I was tempted to see this fifty page book as a typical product of the so-called Patriotic Period (Patriottentijd), the period with a strong movement in favor of political change in the Dutch Republic, but there is a much earlier edition from 1748. Both EDBO and Delpher are connected with the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands, the retrospective bibliography of Dutch books published between 1540 and 1800.


The extensive information in these resources left me with one question, the actual dimensions of this book. I checked in vain the catalogues of the three libraries holding this book, the Royal Library in The Hague for the digitized copy, the university library at Groningen, and the library of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The copy at the Rijksmuseum is interleaved with pages holding notes said to date around 1770, and this made me wary. The collation, the physical form of this copy is slightly different, too, but this can be due to a mistake in checking the pages of this particular book, π2 A-B8 O6, at Amsterdam A-B~8 C~4 . Alas there is no image of the digitized book with a scale for dimensions or colors, something which you might take to for granted when digitizing old books and manuscripts.

The contents themselves of this book – at least posing as a pocket-size book – on the bylaws and ordinances of Amsterdam are interesting. For readers in 1787 the stress in the first pages on the military duties of the burghers (citizens) was surely interesting. The importance of the old schutterijen, the Dutch city guards, had been curtailed by the Orangist government, and building new militias was one of the items on the agenda of the patriotic movement. The book gives for a number of subjects extracts in chromnological from old ordinances, but the anonymous author gives the ordinances from 1394 partially in full length and places them prominently after the first short section about tolls.

An old practice still alive

Some small books: four

Some small books: four “dwarsliggers” in Dutch and a German book from the Reclam series

My insistence about the omission of the exact dimensions of this book is not a petty criticism or a hobby-horse. Dutch books in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were renown for the fine quality of printing and their handsome format. There is no need to remind English and American readers of the success of a series of short scholarly introductions which is surely due not only to the distinct quality of the authors but also to its handy shape. Germans know the Reclam’s Unversal-Bibliothek with cheap but reliable text editions, and the French have the Que sais-je series. Since 2009 a Dutch publisher has gained considerable success with really small pocket books containing texts printed crosswise (dwarsligger) measuring just 12 by 8 centimeter. The Reclam volume on my photo measures 15 by 9,5 centimeter.

Cover .

Lately I bought two pocket books giving you access not just to Dutch law in general, but doing this in a translation into easily understandable Dutch, meaning without juridical jargon. De wet in gewoon Nederlands [The law in normal Dutch] by Douwe Brongers (Amsterdam 2007, 4th ed. 2013; 703 pp.) starts with two documents from another legislative level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, followed by the Dutch constitution, and large sections of the Dutch codes of civil law, criminal law and court procedure. Brongers brings in a second volume, De rechten van iedere Nederlander [The rights of every Dutchman] (Amsterdam 2013; 208 pp.), laws on consumer rights, privacy, equality, door-to-door selling and internet trade, the national ombudsman and the special children’s ombudsman, personal identification, governmental publicity, and the law concerning labour conditions. Their size, both in the number of pages (700 and 200), and physically (16 x 11,5 cm) make them less comfortable as books which you would really put into the pockets of your coat. The idea of combining compact size, concise information and clear language is indeed appealing.

Even legal historians use sometimes the pocket size for their publications. Julius Christiaan van Oven wrote a small book meant to guide his students attending his lectures at Leiden [Overzicht van Romeins privaatrecht. Leidraad bij een inleidingscollege (first edition Zwolle 1934; 7th ed.,1964)]. There exists even a pocket-book edition of Justinian’s Digest [Digesta Iustiniani Augusti, Pietro Bonfante et alii (edd.) (2 vol., Milano 1908-1931; reprint 1960 in one volume)]. In our century of electronic publication it should come as no surprise to find both a digital and a print version of J.E. Jansen’s study guide Romeins recht (2nd. ed., Amsterdam 2014), a volume in a series with more than forty short and small-sized introductions to the various fields of law.

Does this post gives you a taste of more?! You can tune the great database behind the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands to give you any book printed in a particular bibliographical format, but it depends on the data in the catalogues behind the STCN whether you will find the actual dimensions of a publication. Using words like zakboek or zakboekje and older words such as compendium you can spot a trend in Dutch book titles during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, but this is not the first period of the use of these words in book titles attempting to attract the attention of buyers. Pocket-books on law in the late eighteenth century shared for example the company of books on gardening, horse riding, veterinary medicine and freemasonry, and you will find books with a clear political aim, too. Almanacs used to be really small, and their modern incarnation such as the Enkhuizer Almanak bear witness to a clear standard size surviving the centuries.

The Dutch Royal Library has recently created an overview of digitization initiatives in the Netherlands, and with some luck you can still access, too, a useful list with the actual URL’s of digital collections, in my view an essential asset inexplicably missing in the final report Bibliotheekcollecies in het netwerk published online in August 2015. For your convenience I have created a shortlist of the main relevant collections on my page for the history of Dutch law.

Old laws in a new world: The case of New Amsterdam

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

In my latest post I almost lamented the emphasis on European history on my legal history website. In order to make up for any deficiencies I decided to choose a subject outside Europe for my next post. Ironically I arrived at New Amsterdam 1647-1661 thanks to the European History Primary Sources portal. This portal brings succinct records for digitized source collections of whatever nature, tagged with basic information about countries, languages, periods, subjects and resource type. The subject colonial provided an entrance at the EHPS portal for this digital collection created by the New York City Department of Records and Administration. The contents of this digital collection are mainly original and translated ordinances and regulations, a theme firmly within the scope of my blog. In fact the very preponderance of legal resources made me very curious about this collection. Other ordinances from Dutch colonies during the Early Modern period are now also available online elsewhere. Here I will look briefly at those digital collections, too.

A legislative legacy

Earlier this year I enjoyed reading Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam. A history of the world’s most liberal city (2013) about the rich history of the Dutch capital. In a conversation someone pointed me to his book about the early history of New York The island at the center of the world (2004) which I still had not read. In his book about Amsterdam Shorto dedicated a chapter about the impact of Amsterdam on New York (“Seeds of influence”), yet another reason to get hold of his study about the colorful history of the Dutch colony on American soil.

At the moment of writing the digital gallery consists of just fifteen images and the series of municipal bylaws created between 1647 and 1661. The Municipal Archives and the Municipal Library of New York City will soon add more digitized items to this gallery.

An early Dutch record from New York - image NYC Department of Records

The first ordinance issued by Peter Stuyvesant as Director-General of New Amsterdam, May 31, 1647 – NAR, BK 1

The heart of the digital collection is made up of ordinances and regulations. As for now there are four distinct series, the first with original Dutch records between 1647 and 1661, the second for a manuscript with translations of Dutch records (1647-1654), the third with a digitized version of a manuscript by E.B. O’Callaghan from 1868 with ordinances of New Amsterdam (1647-1661), and the fourth a digital version of the first volume of Berthold Fernow’s Records of New Amsterdam (7 volumes, New York, 1897-1898).

The first section gives you an immediate experience of the surviving resources from the Dutch period of New York. Dutch historians will recognize a smooth seventeenth-century hand, and for others this kind of handwriting is vastly different from English handwriting of the same period. The manuscript with translations of the register shown in the first section might be the work of Cornelius van Westbrook or Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan. The third section gives a manuscript by O’Callaghan with his translation of the same register. In the last section Fernow took over O’Callaghan’s translation of the first register. The digital version shows only the translation of the same register (up to page 49).

The register has been used to create a portrait of Stuyvesant, busy regulating daily life, in particular formulating policies ensuring the common good and adjusting affairs. The general impression is that of working out policies instead of working to ensure justice. Nevertheless I saw also an undated prayer for opening council meetings. If you would look in more detail you would for instance notice the ruling urging to pay Indians correctly for their work (September 28, 1648) and the order on the conveyance of real estate in courts convened by the Director-General (February 7, 1650). This raises the general question of ordinances concerning private law, other laws, the borders of jurisdiction and the functioning of courts.

The first register is given an honoured place, but somehow I had expected more. It is nice to see the different stages from transcripts to translation, and it shows Charles Gehring and all working in his trail were not the first to deal with the records of the Dutch colonial period of New York and surrounding settlements and areas. Those dealing with Dutch palaeography would certainly welcome here a transcription of at least a part of this hallowed register. Let’s say it without hesitation, this digital gallery is really a showcase, if not for its content, then surely for using in its web address proudly the new domain .nyc, anyway shorter than the .amsterdam domain.

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

Russell Shorto’s book appeared eleven years ago and it has become a classic work, even to the degree that its references remain unchanged in later impressions. For the latest scholarship about colonial New York and the New Netherland period you can turn to the only website Shorto refers to, the New Netherland Project, nowadays called the New Netherland Institute (NNI). This institute maintains a bibliography, and it has created an impressive digital library with both older publications and editions, and also digital versions of its own publications. In 2010 the New Netherland Research Center opened in the same building in Albany, NY, where the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are housed, too.

The logical question to ask here is what we can find here concerning legal history. Property law is written large for example in the three volumes of the Register of the Provincial Secretary (1638-1660). Here, too, is the luxury of a digitized version of the first attempts at translation, Gehring’s modern translation and digitized images of the register itself. Three volumes have been edited with the Council Minutes for the period 1638-1656, a primary source for the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings of the Director General and Council of New Netherland. The sixteenth volume in the publication series gives us Laws and Writs of Appeal (part I, 1647-1663). The second part of volume 16 contains translations of court minutes from Fort Orange (1652-1660). Again property law is the subject of the translated Land Papers (1630-1664). Fort Orange became eventually Albany. There are minutes of the court of Albany from 1668 to 1685, now kept at the Albany County Hall of Records. The list grows really long! The Van Rensselaer Manor comes into view, too, as are the New Netherland Papers of Hans Bontemantel, a director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West Indies Company. Dutch colonial history elsewhere is also present, in the Curaçao Papers (1640-1665) (volume 17), here with a transcription, translation and images .

With separate access to the introductions of all sets, a guide to weights and measures, and last but not least both the original guide to Dutch papers created by Charles Gehring in 1977 and 1978 and its digital successor (2011-2012), you can only wish to have an online directory to the older phases of Dutch palaeography to try to decipher some of the images and to look more closely at Dutch words in the transcriptions. Luckily the magnificent multivolume Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal has become available at Leiden in a fine searchable version. The link to the digital collections of the New York State Archives does at first only lead to a free text search and four browsing filters (collections, places, repositories, state agencies), but I could quickly spot the collection for the Dutch settlement at the Delaware river (just one document from 1656), the administrative correspondence for the Dutch colony in New York (231 documents) and colonial council minutes with for example the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance.

Elsewhere, too, you can find digitized sources from the Dutch colonial period in the United States. At a branch of Ancestry is a useful links collection called New Netherland and Beyond. The section about the Dutch period (1621-1664) is the one to go for my purpose. You will find here for example A.J Van Laer’s selections from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts (1908) also dealt with by the NNI, and generally digitized versions of the finding aids, reports and translations created by Van Laer, O’Callaghan and Fernow.

Interestingly Dutch ordinances from the Early Modern period are in particular available online for the Dutch colonial period. The Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch history has created a digital version of the West-Indisch Plakaatboek within its project The Dutch in the Caribbean World c. 1670 – c. 1870. The digital Plakaatboek Guyana 1670-1816 has been launched in February 2015, and this project dealing with Essequibo, Berbice and Demerary, too, is accessible with an English interface. The Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811, Jacobus Anne van der Chijs (ed.) (17 volumes, Batavia, 1885-1901) has been digitized partially at Oxford (vol. 1-3), but it is available completely – and nicely searchable, too – within the Colonial Collection of Leiden University Library. For the Kaapse Plakkaatboek (6 vol., Cape Town, 1944-1951), edited by M.K. Jeffreys and S.D. Naudé, the first free volumes appear in the digital books section of the firm aiming to be the One and Only Web Firm. The two volumes of the Ceylonees plakkaatboek, Lodewijk Hovy (ed.) (Hilversum 1991) deal with the period 1638-1796; in arrangement with the publishing firm you can view large parts of it online in the same virtual library as for its South African counterpart. Hovy added to his edition a book-length introduction. The Dutch presence in Brazil was an element in my post last year about Brazil’s legal history, but there is not yet a general edition of ordinances. By the way, in the Dutch language both spellings plakaatboek and plakkaatboek exist side by side, yet another difficulty to trace these modern editions and their older predecessors.

Mapping the early history of New York

By now it should be clear how necessary it is to view the digital gallery of one early register within a larger context, for example that of the Dutch colonial enterprises, but it is certainly wise to look also at other countries and their activities on the American continent. Even the English colonies show great differences. A monolithic view tailored to the taste of those wanting rapid answers caters for a substantial niche, but it does not bring you answers with subtle nuances or even new questions.

Shorto makes a case for looking anew at both the origins of New York and the United States. Looking at the Dutch period and the legal transplants effected by the English can help to see American legal history in more depth, beyond the battlegrounds of originalism. Shorto tries to create a new picture of Peter Stuyvesant (around 1611-1672), yet it might seem he overstates his case. I cannot help thinking that one tries to make out much of relatively scarce resources. The translated documents show more pieces of a puzzle, and maybe indicate we have to deal with several puzzles with large gaps or with maps showing empty areas.

In fact when preparing this post I did not just look at sources indicated at the website of the New Netherland Project. The Fordham University in Nw York City has created a digital collection of old maps showing New Amsterdam, New Netherland and New England. In Chicago the Newberry Library presents an interesting gallery with maps for American colonial history, initially made for educational use. A particular link with New Amsterdam is provided by the digital slavery collections of the New York Historical Society. Even if they do not deal directly with the Dutch period it is seducing to look at them in connection with the certification in 1665 by Peter Stuyvesant of land grants to manumitted slaves, digitized at the NNI.

Chances for new research

In 2016 the exhibit Origins – Light on New York’s founders will start. At the accompanying website the portraits of some iconic Dutch figures look already at you. Let’s hope this occasion will be just another spur to delve into the early sources of New York’s history and of American colonial history in general. It would be most welcome if at least some scholars and in particular legal historians study aspects of that early history starting with the original sources and reading the Dutch of the founders. Shorto makes you see the people, hear the many languages, smell the filth of the colony and the fresh air of a green island, and takes you on a voyage back in history much in the style of a novel. Exactly his fluent style and evocation of people and events make me shiver sometimes when I feel his imagination gets too strong. L.J Wagenaar wrote in 1995 in his review of Hovy’s edition of Dutch ordinances for Ceylon these sources provided him with living images just like a novel.

Russell Shorto cannot be faulted for using with verve a style that might be termed journalistic. His books make you curious for more. He raises questions and new views, and books with these qualities are as important as book with answers. He challenges us to write as lively as he can, to do the hard work in searching, studying and analysing resources, formulating new theories and creating vast vistas we would not have dreamt of before.

Here I will honour Shorto by pointing in his way to a fact that might shed light on Stuyvesant. I am finishing this post at the Frisian island Terschelling, a familiar location for readers here. Near the village Midsland-Noord, a new part of the old village Midsland, is a spot with sands and heath called Stuyvesant, perhaps best translated as “moving sand”. Peter Stuyvesant came from a village in West-Frisia. Even without pursuing this toponym in full depth it hints at a certain quality of things eternally moving, partially hidden, partially blowing in your face, a presence which slip though your fingers like sand. My country can still boast a number of these moving sand regions as nowhere else in Europe. Just as New York Terschelling is blessed with a bay offering itself as a perfect natural harbor… There are limits to our knowledge, but they will move with every new question, with every new concept and view guiding our quest for perceiving the realities of the past. Legal sources might be tapped in ways yet untried, and historical sources can be read very differently when you put them side by side with the traces and sources of legal history.

A postscript

After finishing this post I felt slightly awkward about not mentioning any resources at the New York Public Library. For historical maps of early New York one can start with the online exhibition Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-2009. Among the digital collections of the NYPL are early maps. The research guide Sea Blazers and Early Scriveners: The First Guide Books to New York City introduces you not only to these early guide books, but gives you also quick access to relevant literature in the holdings of the NYPL.

Some notes on the history of tolerance

Tolerance and intolerance are themes at the center of many contemporary debates, and their prominence has become stronger after the tragic events in France on January 7 and 8, 2015. On Internet these events have sparkled many reactions. Whatever my views and opinions, for me one of the questions arising is also how these events should influence the stream of postings on this blog. Can one use historical situations to shed light on our times, or Is it sensible to stay somewhat aloof? Perhaps it is wiser to remember that to step aside is taking a side, too.

When somehow among all remarks and exchanges about the situation in France the name of Voltaire came into view it provided me with at least one element of a contribution about the origins of tolerance. Eighteenth-century France is the setting of this post. The history of tolerance is complicated, and the number of themes, persons and subjects here does reflect it. Philosophy, criminal law, legal advice, legislation, the world of literature and debate, and also images, should all appear here for good reasons, but for the sake of length legal matters will be at the center of this post, and other themes appear more at the margin. In fact it turns out to be really interesting to choose for this focus. To some extent you can read this post also as part of a guide to digital resources for the history of France during the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution.

Although I do not want to make you suffer by reading a rather too long post I bring here on purpose several themes together which in my opinion are best seen in connection to each other. In my view the interplay between a multitude of subjects, themes and resources concerning the French Ancien Régime and the French Revolution is fairly typical when you want to study these subjects. You can read this post also as a sequel to my post ‘Laws and the French Revolution’ (January 2015).

Circles and layers around law and tolerance

Title page Traité sur la tolérance, 1763 - source: Wikimedia CommonsThe first focal point for tolerance in France during the Ancien Régime in the current discussion seems to be Voltaire’s Traité de la tolérance (1763). One can read this treatise as a plea for tolerance, both on a philosophical and a practical level, and the background of this text can seem a mere pretext or occasion for expressing these views. John Locke had put tolerance center stage to thoughts about the best possible way of government in his treatise A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689 – online for example at Early Modern Texts and the Constitution Society), but Voltaire is not just reacting in a philosophical debate without any connection to contemporary developments. Locke wrote his treatise one year after the Glorious Revolution (1688), and this, too, should make you hesitate to see the history of political thought as a history of ideas which can be studied in separation from contemporary surroundings.

Voltaire might not have qualified professionally as a philosopher, but he certainly belonged to the circle of French philosophes. It is important to note Locke expressed his views in a letter, and Voltaire in a book-length treatise, an interesting fact for a prolific letter writer and playwright. The literary dimensions of Voltaire’s work are really important in gauging the impact and importance of his views and thoughts. Of course it is wise to look beyond just one text of a writer, and exactly how you can realize this nowadays will be one of the issues in this post. Voltaire wrote texts in a number of literary genres, and he had wide contacts all over Europe, a fact returning later in this post. A characteristic of his work is the use of irony, and even more, the possibility to read his texts in several ways, both at face value or with a potential for irony immediately below the surface. This ambiguity makes it harder but also more interesting to gain perspective on his views and coded messages.

The machinery of law

The initial impulse for Voltaire’s treatise on tolerance came from his reaction to the case of Jean Calas, a merchant from Toulouse who had been sentenced to death in 1762 by the Parlement de Toulouse for allegedly killing his son Marc-Antoine, presumably because his son wanted to convert to the Catholic church. Calas was subjected to torture and broken upon the wheel. If we remember this case today as a cause célèbre it is to a large extent thanks to Voltaire’s efforts. In an article from 1994, ‘Procès, affaire, cause: Voltaire et l ‘innovation critique’,1 Élisabeth Claverie analyzes the way Voltaire set out to make an affair out of this case, and indeed created the model for fueling public indignation about cases which seem to run contrary to the public good.

Assembling materials to expose alleged and real abuses of the Catholic Church and its influence on French society might seem an obvious thing for Voltaire, but he did look seriously enough at the exact dealings of the judiciary in the Calas case. His treatise was only a final phase in a series of letters and preparatory texts, some of them meant for public use, some definitely not. Voltaire used his connections to bring the case to the attention of the French king, including getting Calas’ widow to Paris to plead in person her case before the king. Whatever Voltaire’s views of harmful Catholic influence, he aimed foremost at an official rehabilitation of Calas. An online dossier by Anne Thouzet gives you detailed information about the trial at Toulouse, the infringements to the ordinance of the Parlement de Toulouse and royal ordinances about criminal procedure – in particular the Ordonnance criminelle of 1670 – and to various other documents and images. Thouzet also points to a number of relevant web links. The Archives départementales de la Haute-Garonne in Toulouse have created a PDF with transcriptions of some documents, ‘Calas, du procès à l’affaire’.


By chance I remembered that you can find several digitized documents about the Calas case at Tolosana, a digital library of the Université de Toulouse. On closer inspection Tolosana does bring us not only documents touching this case, but a very interesting selection of materials concerning law at Toulouse during the Ancien Régime, with customary law, arrêts (verdicts) of the Parlement de Toulouse, documents about municipal institutions and other jurisdictions, documents about lawyers and law teaching at the university of Toulouse, and a separate section on trials (procès toulousains). Let’s not forget to mention here also the Bibliotheca Tholosana, a collaborative project, and Rosalis, the digital library of the Bibliothèque de Toulouse. In Rosalis you can find one of the most famous manuscripts for the history of the inquisition in Languedoc, discussed here in earlier postings.

The section of Tolosana for trials at Toulouse contains a distinctive number of mémoires judiciaires, also known as factums. In a factum cases were discussed for the general public and with a view also to the judges dealing with a particular case. A blog post by Léo Mabmacien about these factums leads you in particular to a selection of documents in a virtual exhibition created at Clermont-Ferrand, Les factums, justice des villes et des champs : le mémoire judiciaire du 17e au 19e siècle [The factums, justice in cities and fields. Judicial “memoires” from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century]. At the Bibliothèque nationale de France is the largest collection of existing factums, and in his very interesting postMabmacien discusses these resources at Paris, too. The collection at Tolosana is at present the largest online collection of factums. Among the digitized documents for the Calas case is a number of mémoires judiciaires. Voltaire’s book-length treatise on tolerance is also included (PDF). In particular the mémoires published after 1762 are very valuable as sources for public and learned opinions about the case and efforts to annul the trial. At Bienvenue chez Monsieur de Voltaire you can find digital versions of the texts of a number of Voltaire’s letters (sections En direct par Voltaire), in particular those concerning the Calas case.

Logo Criminocorpus

For the history of French criminal law you can learn much at the fine Criminicorpus portal – with both a French and English interface – and at the website Le droit criminel created by Jean-Paul Doucet. At both websites you can find the text of relevant royal ordinances dealing with criminal procedure. Remembering Tolosana was not just a case of having a good memory. In fact I wrote here about Tolosana and the Calas case in June 2010. Five years later I still feel astonished that these digitized documents have scarcely been used in contributions about Voltaire. Their value is seriously diminished by this omission. The French online research portal Isidore has entries for seventeen relevant documents digitized at Tolosana, but the tags attached to them do not function. No wonder that the online presence of the various documents has remained somewhat in the shadow. Internet is definitely an ocean where you have to know the entrances to particular information.

Logo Isidore

Isidore, a portal focusing on the humanities and social sciences, has a search interface in French, English and Spanish. It did bring to my attention a recent Ph.D thesis about Adhémar Esmein (1848-1913), a famous French law professor and legal historian who did look at the Calas affair in his main textbooks on constitutional law [Antoine Chopplet, Adhémar Esmein et le droit constitutionnel de la liberté (thesis Université de Reims, 2012)]. Chopplet does not use these online documents for his study of Esmein’s view, but he does for example highlight the fact that Esmein did not comment on the fact that Voltaire himself had been a victim of the infamous lettres de cachet, one of the most glaring abuses of the French judicial system during the Ancien Régime. Esmein admired Voltaire for his detailed criticism of criminal procedure in his writings about the Calas affair. Montesquieu was perhaps much better equipped to do this, but on this subject he remained silent. In an even more recent Ph.D thesis available online at the Theses platform, La pensée politique d’Adhémar Esmein : l’historien du droit by Alexandre Fiorentini (thesis Aix-en-Provence, 2014), the interplay between Esmein’s political position and his views as a legal historian is further discussed.

Using online journals

By now it should be obvious that bringing together all these materials is only possible and feasible thanks to the use of linked computers. However, how can one safely digest these masses of information, and analyze them in a controlled and sensible way? Having the information at your disposal is one thing, using the right tools for analysis is another, and presenting a meaningful analysis should be the real challenge. Dealing with the Calas case can show you the use of some digital tools and projects. Perhaps it is good to stress here that I only show some of their highlights, not their entire scope.

However you think about my plea for a consistent use of the contemporary ocean of online materials, but it is wise not to neglect good bibliographical research. French research in the field of legal history can be tracked down online using the services of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (CLHD, Nancy) which can be consulted both in French and English. A simple search for Calas brings you to eleven titles published since 1964. Using the thesaurus (“Procès-Affaire Calas”) you will find ten titles. Earlier this year I already wrote here about this bibliography.

A number of French research portals help you to find quickly online versions of articles. The oldest portal Persée gives access to digitized issues of a number or well-known learned journals. For the Calas case you can find for example an article on the concept of proof by Jean-Louis Halpérin.2 A second interesting article is by Frank Kafker who discusses the role of Diderot who did not speak out about the Calas case in public, but behind the screens he used his influence and did write people about it.3 Another scholar discusses the general attitude of Diderot towards political actualities.4 The OpenEdition initiatives is not only home to the Hypotheses network of scientific blogs in French, German, and Spanish, but also the provider of a number of online journals at Revues, many of them completely or partially available in open access. Among the most relevant journals for my theme here ise the Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française.

Revues points for instance to the book by Janine Garrisson, L’Affaire Calas, miroir des passions françaises (Paris 2004) in an alert by Jacques Bernet [AHRF 354 (2008) 202-203]. At one of the blogs at Hypotheses, Criminocorpus, you can find a notice by Jean-Claude Facry about the recent study by Benoît Garnot, Voltaire et l’affaire Calas. Les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux (Paris 2013). Facry provides an overview of its contents. At the Criminocorpus portal itself is the History of Justice Online Museum, a very useful section with virtual exhibitions. It is certainly worth looking at the exhibit on Les exécutions publiques dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (only in French). OpenEdition publishes also online books, one of them a volume of articles about L’exécution capitale : Une mort donnée en spectacle, Régis Bertrand and Anne Carol (eds.) (Aix-en-Provence 2003), unfortunately not in open access, where you should look at the contribution of Robert A. Schneider, ‘Rites de mort à Toulouse : les exécutions publiques (1738-1780)’.

At Cairn you can look at some 400 scholarly journals. A search for the affaire Calas yields nearly 200 results. For the book by Janine Garrisson you can find a review by Laurence Kaufmann in Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 61/4 (2006), who mentions in particular a study by David Bien, L’affaire Calas. Hérésie, persécution, intolérance au XVIIIe siècle (Toulouse 1987). The search results at Cairn help you to find recent French literature on themes such as major trials, for example Les grands procès, Daniel Amson et alii (eds.) (Paris 2007) or a brochure by Jacques Vergès, Les erreurs judiciaires (Paris 2002) that appeared in the famous Que sais-je? series. Closer to the Calas affair is the volume of essays La plume et le prétoire. Quand les écrivains racontent la justice, Denis Salas (ed.) (Paris 2013 ), a special of the journal Histoire de la justice 23/1 (2013) with a pertinent article by Sylvie Humbert, ‘L’autre justice de la Dictionnaire philosophique‘ (p. 81-87), one of the publications of Voltaire during the 1760´s.

An article by Lynn Hunt, ´Le corps au xviiie siècle´, Diogène 203/3 (2003) 49-67, helps us to remember that the first major treatise against torture, by Cesare Beccaria, Dei delitti e delle pene, only appeared in 1764, and to notice also it was not the abuse of torture that prompted Voltaire into action in 1762. In 1766 Voltaire wrote a Commentaire sur le livre des délits et des peines. In view of the sheer length of this post I would rather not adduce here more examples of the results made available through the services of Persée, OpenEdition, and Cairn. If you want to look beyond recent French publications you can enlist the services of JournalsTOCs to get quick access to the tables of contents of many scholarly journals. A nice array of legal history journals in open access is available in the right sight bar of my blog.

With the Dictionnaire philosophique of Voltaire we touch the Republic of Letters. The world of European networks in the period of French hegemony deserves separate treatment here. I would have preferred to include a substantial section on it here, but wisdom tells me it is better to leave you here, albeit somewhat in suspense.

The digital turn

French historians have not been content with creating just one view of the Calas affair. They came back to it again and again, and it can even serve as a kind of thermometer of someone’s position. In this post I have tried to show some of the materials now available that have only seldom been used in connection with this case. In fact you can use the digital resources mentioned here also for the study of other subjects. Jean-Paul Doucet gives a nice list of famous trials on his website, and it my view it has become much easier to gain a head start using online resources than earlier on. This tournant numérique, this digital turn of doing history, is not only a matter of easy access to primary sources. Bringing into view resources scarcely considered before or almost forgotten, can broaden and deepen the way we look at all kinds of history, including legal history. In my opinion connecting legal history with history at large is one of the urgent needs of legal historians. It is up to me and you, to my and your creativity to make the digital turn fruitful and important.


1. Élisabeth Claverie, ‘Procès, affaire, cause: Voltaire et l’innovation critique’, in: Parler en public, a special issue of Politix. Travaux de science politique 7/26 (1994) 76-85; online at Persée.
2. Jean-Louis Halpérin, ‘La preuve judiciaire et la liberté du juge´, Communications 84 (2009) 21-32, online at Persée; special on Figures de la preuve.
3. Frank A. Kafker, ‘Le rôle de Diderot dans l’affaire Calas’, Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 21/1 (1998) 7-14, online at Persée.
4. Hédia Ouertani-Khadhar, ´Diderot et l’actualité politique´, Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 18-19 (1995) 93-103, online at Persée.

Celebrating common law beyond Magna Carta

Header Et Seq.

2015 is the year of many celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is silly to try to avoid mentioning it here, but I know my readers expect me to find a different slant on the celebration. The four remaining copies of the 1215 version get ample attention at the British Library. The Lincoln copy was put on show in 2014 at the Library of Congress (Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor). Earlier this year there was much media coverage for the finding of a later copy of Magna Carta at Sandwich, Kent. At first I would have almost believed the news concerned the finding of a fifth copy from 1215, but this was not the case. However, this copy from 1300 combined with a copy of the Forest Charter.

Recently Harvard Law Library decided to digitize its collection of manuscripts and archival records with texts concerning medieval English law. At Et Seq., the library’s blog, there were already two announcements, on March 25 about early English manor rolls by Mary Person, and on April 10 ‘Medieval Manuscripts Online-Magna Carta & More’ by Karen Beck. The riches of the digital collections at Harvard Law Library are certainly no secret, but now it seems they surpass their earlier efforts, this time with support from the Ames Foundation. Person and Beck briefly introduced the new digital collections, but there is a real need to tell more here.

A gateway to medieval resources

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16) - image Et Seq.

Detail of a manor roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

Before going quickly to the newly digitized resources it is wise to look at the overview of historical and special collections, the web page on rare books and manuscripts, and finally the overview of digital collections and digital exhibits. This threefold entrance is in some respects confusing, but each approach is in itself valuable. The only snag is remembering where you found a particular collections, exhibit or link! By the way, the overview of digital historical databases deals with subscription databases.

The first series of digitized archival records consists of some 170 medieval rolls, mainly manor rolls and account rolls, most of them stemming from five villages in different English counties (Cheshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Staffordshire and Suffolk). Some items are effectively not rolls, but charters. The time range of the items goes from 1305 to 1770, with therefore not just medieval sources. These rolls will be successively digitized during the coming years. As for now you can read online only items from Moulton in Cheshire, with just one court roll [no. 20, Lenten court, 30 Henry VIII (1539-1540)]. There is an online finding aid (inventory) with descriptions of all items and whenever available links to their digital version. To assess the variety of materials digitized at Harvard Law School you might have a look at an earlier post here about medieval rolls. English manor rolls could be easily found using the Manorial Documents Register of the British National Archives. I find it harder to get an overview of them using the new Discovery portal, but in the end you can find for example other rolls for Moulton Manor.

The series of medieval legal manuscripts at Harvard Law School has been divided into two section, the first with forty registers of statutes dating from the early fourteenth century until 1500, the second for nineteen registers of writs. The oldest register of writs (Registrum brevium with also some tracts) dates from around 1275 (HLS MS 24), the latest one from around 1476 (HLS MS 25). One manuscript contains also yearbooks and tracts (HLS MS 193, around 1350). The volumes with compilations of statutes often contain the text of Magna Carta. The oldest manuscript present at Harvard which includes Magna Carta dates from around 1300 [HLS MS 57, Magna Carta cum Statutis]. You can also search for these manuscripts within the HOLLIS catalogue of Harvard University Library, using the filed “Other call number” and entering “HLS MS XXX”, with XXX for the manuscript number.

HLS MS 172, Sherriff's Magna Carta, around 1327

“Sherriff’s Magna Carta”, around 1327 (?, circa 1298) – Harvard Law School, MS 172

A splendid example of the presence of Magna Carta in Englsh legal life is a socalled sherriff’s Magna Carta said to date from around 1327 (HLS MS 172). However, in the overview of manuscripts it is suggested with due hesitance that it might even date from 1297 or 1298. Such copies were read aloud four times every year.

At the website of the Ames Foundation you can consult an overview of all these registers and manuscripts. The Ames Foundation invites scholars to provide more detailed descriptions of manuscripts, something until now only done for HLS MS 184 which contains the Statuta vetera, writs and some tracts. The description of this manuscript does refer to the overview of manuscripts created by John H. Baker, English legal manuscripts in the United States of America : a descriptive list (2 vol., London 1985-1990; Selden Society; reprint 2 vol., Buffalo, NY, 2010), and earlier in English legal manuscripts, vol. 1: Catalogue of the manuscript year books, readings, and law reports in the library of the Harvard Law School, John H. Baker (ed.) (Zug, 1975). The new description of HLS MS 184 gives you for each item in the manuscript the link to the digitized page. For many items you will find a reference to the numbering in the Statutes of the Realm or additional information about editions. The meta-data of the manuscript are not forgotten either. In my humble opinion this example sets a standard for describing English medieval legal manuscripts. The name of the author of this description should definitely be added.

The overview created by the Ames Foundation makes it very clear that what we encounter here is not just a very regular set of manuscripts. These manuscripts at Harvard will show surprises to those scholars who start with the large labor of dealing in-depth with each of them. The overview points to an unedited tract in HLS MS 24b, a single leaf with a large section of the Tractatus de bastardiae, described in 1997 by Jerome Arkenberg. ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54, an article available also online. I am sure this is only an example, and not an exception of a text yet to be edited and studied.

The digitized manuscripts help us to come closer to the actual versions of texts seen by those dealing with legal matters in the late Middle Ages, and this can correct the more synthesized critical editions of texts such as the Statuta vetera et nova. A comparison with the text versions printed in incunabula editions comes also much more feasible, and these early editions, too, can now be found in digital versions, too. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) at the British Library increasingly point to digital versions . You can search in these online catalogues for Statuta regnorum and Statuta Angliae or use the GW overview of all editions of statutes.

Magna Carta seen in perspective

In the year of the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta the newly digitized manuscripts at Harvard show above all Magna Carta did not stand alone. It got a place alongside other statutes of the realm. It would be most interesting to see what place or impact Magna Carta had on actual writs, and for answering this question, too, you can now consult at home on the screen of your computer or tablet the digitized registers of writs kept at the magnificent holdings of Harvard Law School. You will benefit also from the resources and articles brought together at the website of the Magna Carta Research Project. As for medieval canon law and Magna Carta, you could very well start with reading an online essay by Anne Duggan at the website of the project Early English Laws. A look at these earlier laws helps also to discern with more precision the new elements within Magna Carta.

At my own web page about legal history you can find among the information about the history of the common law links to other online resources for this subject which merits continuing attention because of the continuities and changes in the history of Anglo-American law at large. Apart from its printed publications and the priceless online Index to Year Book Reports (David Seipp, Boston College) the Ames Foundation is working with Harvard Law School to create further digital access to resources in the field of the history of the common law and medieval law in a wider sense.

The definitive history of Magna Carta will not be written because every generation will come with different questions and methods to approach the old roads to answers, and no doubt each generation will come up with new perspectives worth considering carefully again and again. Thanks to the staff at Harvard University for make these materials accessible for anyone interesting in legal history! As for Et Seq. you can subscribe to its RSS feeds, simply follow the 852 RARE items of this library blog or follow @hlslib at Twitter. If liberty is a value to treasure and foster you cannot pass by in silence this Icon of Liberty, the telling subtitle of a special website created by the American Bar Association for this year’s Law Day (May 1). Magna Carta 800th will keep you informed about many of this year’s celebrations. Among this year’s online exhibitions are Exploring Magna Carta of Boston College Law Library and The Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297 of the Parliament House, Canberra.

A postscript

Linking Magna Carta and medieval canon law is not a whim or an isolated idea. On June 16 and 17 a conference will be held at Saint Louis, Missouri on the theme New Constitutions and Constitutional Beginnings: The Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta 800 years later. The conference is sponsored by the International Society for Medieval Canon Law (ICMAC). The Fourth Lateran Council is the subject of a congress later this year in Rome, November 24-29, 2015: Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

Laws and the French Revolution

The French Revolution remains a most interesting and influential period of French history, with an impact far beyond the borders of France. Its great events, the shifts in power and the colourful personalities make it into a subject which continues to hold worldwide attention. At the center of change were the activities of the French national assembly. Revolutionary decrees and laws were one of the prime factors changing many aspects of French society and daily life. Two new digital portals help researchers to access online a veritable treasure trove of relevant materials. In this post I will make a tour of them. This post aims also at laying the foundations for further postings about French legal history. In fact it is solely for reasons of economy and for the comfort of readers that you will find a nucleus of materials lifted out from a larger context. Rather than causing confusion by publishing a very long post with lots of threads I invite you to wait how this post connects with upcoming posts about France during the Ancien Régime and the French Revolution.

Finding the laws

How closer one comes to contemporary history, the more overwhelming the sheer masses of information become. The sheer scope and scale of dealing in any depth with France during the Ancien Régime has become more impressive since you can command a wealth of resources from you computer screen, but in fact you are faced with mountains of information.

It used to take great efforts at research institutions in Paris to get access to materials. My supervisor at Rotterdam, the late Chris ten Raa, became during the sixties nourri dans le sérail doing research in Paris on French judicial institutions created during the French Revolution. I am sure he would have delighted in having so much more at your disposal at touch screen distance. This does not displace the immediate contact with sources and knowing your way in French archives and libraries, but it does most definitely enlarge the scale of research.

Chris ten Raa had been intrigued by Voltaire’s remarks about the juge de paix, a lay judge dealing with cases in a prejudicial phase, and thus bringing justice much quicker and closer to people. Voltaire wrote approvingly about such judges active in Leiden. How much did he influence the eventual plans for installing juges de paix as part and parcel of French judicial reform? Before he became a legal historian Ten Raa himself had worked as a judge. He looked at the cahiers de doléances of 1789 and traced the discussions in the French revolutionary assemblies leading to the law proclaimed on August 16, 1790. He described the early history of an institution which the French also brought to Belgium, the Netherlands and the French territories in Germany. He published the results of his research as De oorsprong van de kantonrechter [The origin of the juge de paix] (thesis Rotterdam; Deventer 1970). At Rotterdam he led in the nineties an international project with the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université de Lille-2) to investigate in more depth the workings of these judges and other French legal institutions, for example the conseil de famille, which had come to other countries as legal transplants. A very recent study on this subject was published by Guillaume Métairie, Justice et juges de paix de Paris (1789-1838), Étude institutionnelle et biographique (Limoges 2014).

Laws and decrees

Banner Collection Baudouin

The two portals in this post, too, are the fruits of international cooperation. The ARTFL project (American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language, University of Chicago) was involved in the project for the digital version of the Collection Baudouin, now accessible at a website of the Université de Paris-I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). Other institutions were involved, too, for the realization of this portal, for example the Archives nationales. This digital collection offers you nothing less than a searchable version of the décrets et lois of the Assemblée Nationale between 1789 and 1795. A complete set of the 67 volumes of Baudouin’s collection, the Collection générale des lois, is very rare to find. The famous dictum Nul n’est censé ignorer la loi, nobody is supposed to be ignorant of the law, can now become true when you can deal at your finger tips with more than 20,000 laws and decrees. François-Jean Baudouin was the publisher who faced the challenge to publish the vast stream of legislation, and the portal offers information about his life and work.

The database with the decrees and laws can only be viewed in French. You can access the laws by volume which brings you images of the printed editions (mode image) or by looking for particular texts (mode texte). At the web page for the first search mode you will find also a link to a tool for converting revolutionary dates into normal dates according to the Gregorian calendar. The recherche dans le texte is an advanced search mode. I looked for the law concerning the juges de paix of August 16, 1790, and I could quickly find it. These judges do not appear in the title of this law, one thing that made searching for them in the printed volumes rather cumbersome. Other elements of the portal deserve attention, too, such as the two glossaries for common French words and for proper names which both often appear in variant spellings. There is a section with information about recent publications about French revolutionary legislation, some of them available online, and a section on scholarly events accompanying the work on this portal. Of all sources and resources about the French Revolution you find here at one point access to its very fountain head. It is here you can trace in the préambules the echos of proposals made by the French philosophes and by Frenchmen themselves in the cahiers de doléances.

Before going to the second portal I would like to mention some of the digital resources offered by the Archives nationales. In its ARCHIM database are French constitutions since 1789 and a selection of 42 documents about the French Revolution, and since 2014 also twelve digitized manuscripts of Robespierre. The links selection of the Archives nationales is also very helpful. Initially I missed here the Base Choiseul for searching French treaties, but this database has recently been integrated with the Pacte database for traités en vigueur (treaties in force) into the Base des Traités et Accords de la France, where you can find also a useful survey of treaty collections.

The Archives parlementaires

Image FRDA Stanford/BnFStanford University Libraries have partnered with the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) for the magnificent bilingual portal French Revolution Digital Archive/ Archives numériques de la Révolution française (FRDA/ANRF). There are two main sections, the digital edition of the Archives parlementaires for the years 1787-1794, and Images of the French Revolution, For some reason I thought these images came from the Institut d’Histoire de la Révolution Française (IHRF), because a reshuffling of its materials has made the website of this research institute at present rather confusing. For some years after 1794 the IHRF offers at least links to digitized versions of the Bulletin des lois (1795-1799, 1804 and 1806).

For reasons of copyright the FRDA portal contains only those volumes of the Archives parlementaires published before 1914. The series started as a governmental initiative but soon scholars took over the project. The editions give us in chronological order not only parliamentary deliberations, but also the full text of letters, reports and accounts of events by journalists. The 82 volumes now available online deal with the period from May 5, 1789 until January 4, 1794, and are supplemented by a list of the remaining volumes for 1794. You can use a free text search, but also narrow your searches to particular periods and persons. Further limits can be set to a particular volume, assembly, reports of séances (sessions) or other resources, and even to people surrounding a particular person.

At the FRDA portal you can follow not only the deliberations of the representatives, but it is also possible to read online a number of cahiers de doléances in the edition of the first six volumes of the Archives parlementaires. The website of the Archives de France have created a very useful overview of online resources, with for example at four archives départementales digitized cahiers de doléances [for the AD Charente at Angoulême, AD Haute-Loire (Le Puy-en-Vélay), AD Maine-et-Loire (Angers) and AD Hautes-Pyrénées (Tarbes). At WikiGenWeb is an overview of digitized records in French departmental archives, with also digitized cahiers de doléances at the AD Tarn (Albi), AD Loire-Atlantique (Nantes), AD Nièvre (Nevers; série 1 L 161-162) and AD Saône-et-Loire (Mâcon). I hesitated to give you here the full links, but at some websites the actual links are not easily spotted. Of course you can go to Gallica to find much more, but it is good to see these primary sources in their original settings. Viewing the original documents helps you to appreciate the value of later scholarly editions. For some subjects there are separate critical editions in print of cahiers de doléances.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France offers within its Gallica digital library a fine selection Essentiels du droit, with in its first section sources législatives et réglementaires. For the French Revolution you can find such series as the official Bulletin des lois de la République Française, available from 1789 to 1931, the Collection Duvergier with laws, decrees and ordinances from 1788 to 1938, and the Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises (“Collection Isambert”; 29 volumes, Paris 1822-1833). Jurisprudence starting from the late eighteenth century can be found in several series of sources jurisprudentielles, among them the still existing Recueil Dalloz. The sheer impact and continuity of the French Revolution and the subsequent incarnations of the French republic is nowhere more clear than in these series, although it might seem a drawback that you cannot not find so easily sources for a more narrow period. However, among the eternal questions surrounding the French Revolution is the very question when it ended. The French Revolution is the classic case for looking at both continuity and discontinuity, for beginnings and endings which can be seen from an infinite number of angles. The material sources of French laws between 1789 and 1795 are the subject of a recent special of the French online journal Clio@Themis.

For French legal history the support of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (CLHD, Nancy) is most welcome. Its database can be consulted both in French and English. The liberal use of keywords in the thesaurus (“topics”) search helps you to search systematically for a particular subject. For the French Revolution and for legislation you can distinguish between scores of subjects and themes. It brings to your attention several reference works, for example the Dictionnaire de l’Ancien Régime, Royaume de France, XVI-XVIIIe siècles, Lucien Bély (ed.) (Paris 2005), the Dictionnaire de la culture juridique, Denis Alland and Stéphane Rials (eds.) (Paris 2005) and the massive Dictionnaire critique de la Révolution française, François Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds.) (5 vol., Paris 2007). The emphasis in this bibliography is on publications in French. Of course there are books missing, for example Edna Hindie Lemay (red.), Dictionnaire des Législateurs, 1791-1792 (2 vol., Ferney-Voltaire 2007). However, her Dictionnaire des Constituants, 1789-1791 (Oxford 1991) has been included. You can read online Lemay’s posthumously published article ‘Les législateurs de la France révolutionnaire (1791-1792)’, Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 347 (2007) 3-28, an article that she had wanted to be read alongside her second dictionary. It serves indeed as a quick guide to the differences and continuities between the people building the Assemblée constituante and the Assemblée législative.

Recently Patrick Arabeyre, Jacques Krynen and Jean-Louis Halpérin published the second edition of their Dictionnaire historique des juristes français, XIIe-XXe siècle (Paris 2015). Let’s finish this paragraph with yet another dictionary, this time available online in French and English, the Dictionnaire Montesquieu, a guide to the history of political thought in eighteenth-century France. A number of its articles deal with law and justice, and it can serve as a reference work. The dictionary is a part of the Montesquieu project at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon.

A never-ending story

With Montesquieu we crossed the border between the French Revolution and the Ancien Régime, and between the people giving laws to a new nation and the authors inspiring them. I find it difficult to stop here when it is so clear that these two magnificent portals for the legal history of the French Revolution should be and are at the center of a veritable galaxy of other resources. Studying and researching the French Revolution has become a specialized industry. In a sequel to this post I will take my lead from a part of the FRDA portal which I have left out here, its image database, and I am sure I will discuss other resources as well.

For everyone wanting already to find out more about the French Revolution I can at least mention here some online resources, and what follows is definitely only a selection. Normally the website of the IRHF should be a starting point, especially in combination with the online journal Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française. In the absence of an online version of the Bibliographie annuelle de l’historie de France, the French general historical bibliography, you can gain information about relevant publications in the Bibliographie nationale française, with publications since 2001, a service of the BnF, and in Benoît Melancon’s XVIIIe siècle: bibliographie (Université de Montréal) with publications from 1992 onwards. A resource in German, the WebGuide Geschichte at Historicum, is most useful, certainly when combined with the section concerning the French Revolution at this history portal, with in particular its Bibliographie bicentenaire. The archived version of a special subdomain of Historicum about the French Revolution is worth checking, too. The online journal Révolution Française. L’esprit des Lumière et de la Révolution brings articles and notices in a well-organized fashion, and in some cases quick access to online materials. In its section Éditions you can go to online versions of two recent books about such figures as Barnave and Marat.

I cannot think of a better end here than bringing you back to Chris ten Raa who remained a faithful visitor of the Bibliothèque Cujas in Paris. Its printed and online resources – including Cujasnum, its own digital library, and its online Iurisguide – will continue to support any research into French legal history.

A postscript

The Centre d’Études et Recherche sur l’Action Locale announced recently the funding from 2015 to 2018 of a project for the sequel to the Collection Baudouin, sometimes cryptically abbreviated as ANR RevLoi. The code name LexDir 1795-1799 stands for the laws issued under the Directoire; the project team – with all partners from the first project – will deal with some 21,000 acts.

For the history of the French parlements there is an online bibliography BibliParl, an offspring of the project of Isabelle Brancourt for the Parlement de Paris.

Saving threatened archival collections

Banner Endangered Archives Project

The postscript to my recent post about the exhibition on Roman crime at Nijmegen helped me to find the subject of this post. In this postscript I mentioned the decision of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam not yet to give back the items on view at its Crimea exhibition to the lending museums in Ukraine. This post introduces you to an initiative to save archival collections worldwide threatened either by material deterioration, poltical situations or simply by the ongoing progress of modernization in the country or region where they are located. The British Library has set up the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) on a truly massive scale with the aim of digitizing archival records and manuscripts in a few hundred (!) projects. On September 7, 2014 the completion of several projects was announced at the accompanying Endangered Archives blog. Within two months, between July and September, a million images has been added to the online results of EAP, enough reason for me to look a bit more closely to this audacious project and its composing elements.

On my blog the British Library received a few years ago criticism for its policies concerning the digitization of British newspapers. Last year I expressed some disappointment at the low number of digitized legal manuscripts at the British Library, but this time the library shows itself as a most generous cultural institution. The EAP portal is accessible in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Safeguarding cultural heritage in situ and in virtual space

The EAP spans the world in a awe-inspiring way. Among the most interesting aspects is for example the fact that researchers and institutions themselves can apply for grants, often starting with a pilot project. The BL provides a framework to support projects. There is no grand scheme of the British Library dictating the goals and direction of general progress. Typically, EAP does not focus on national archives unless they are in dire need of support, and such projects will not cover all materials under the aegis of EAP. Items documenting the pre-industrial history of a country are the first to come under consideration for new projects. The grants support university projects as well as independent scholars. Of course EAP has contacts with the International Council on Archives and UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

The EAP has created five regions for the projects supported by the EAP: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Let’s start with a look at the overviews of each region to spot projects which touch directly upon law, government and administrations. In the second part of this post other projects with law, the judiciary or other aspects of legal matters constitute a major aspect.

In the overview for Africa you can find for example EAP 607, a project for the preservation of Native Administration records between 1791 and 1964 held at the National Archives of Malawi. The Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho were the subject of EAP 279, where a wide variety of documents and records has been digitized. Colonial history looms large in a number of African projects, for instance in EAP 474, a pilot project for the preservation of pre-colonial and colonial document at Cape Coast, Ghana. In EAP 443 nineteenth-century documents for the Sierra Leone Pubic Archives have been digitally preserved, thus saving the history of a British Crown colony and the impact of slavery, to mention just a few aspects.

For the Americas, too, one can pint easily to projects aiming at preserving documents and records concerning the history of slavery and colonialism. EAP 184 started to support the preservation of records of the African diaspora in the archives of the Cuban province Matanzas. The material condition of these records decays rapidly. In Peru EAP 234 aimed at saving the colonial documentation within the holdings of the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima Metropolitana, with records reaching back to 1562. 100,000 notarial records at Riohacha and the peninsula La Guajira in Colombia documenting an important entrepôt of Caribbean and Central American trade are at the centre of EAP 503. Hurricane Ike in 2004 was only the last threat to archives with govermental records in Grenada which resulted in 132 reordered and digitized volumes (EAP 295).

The number of EAP projects in Asia is much larger than for the Americas. I could not help feeling particularly interested in some projects concerning Indonesia because of its link with Dutch history. EAP 229 and EAP 329 are two related projects dealing with endangered manuscripts in the province of Aceh on the island Sumatra. The digitization of nearly 500 manuscripts helps preserving the cultural and intellectual history of this region. The Dutch fierce attacks on Aceh during the nineteenth century were already a threat to this history, as was the devastating tsunami in 2008. A substantial number of the digitized manuscripts in this project contain texts on Islamic law.

Tavamani document - EAP 314

Legal history is a central element in EAP 314, a project for the digitization of Tamil customary law in Southern India. The documents of village judicial assemblies between 1870 and 1940 are the subject of this project of the Institut Français de Pondichéry. You can follow this project at its own blog Caste, Land and Custom – Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950), where you can find also an overview of other relevant EAP projects for India. The recent huge increase in digitized materials within EAP is to a large extent due to the 750,000 images of some 3,000 books printed before 1950 in eight public libraries in Eastern India near Calcutta which have been digitized within EAP 341. The number of EAP sponsored projects in India is really large. On my legal history portal Rechtshistorie I had already put a number of links to digital libraries in india, but EAP brings substantial additions to my overview.

Although I am woefully aware that I skip here a lot of interesting projects in Asia I would like to mention at least two European projects. EAP 067 is a project to digitize extremely rare materials, mainly from the twentieth century, about the Roma’s in Bulgaria, including not only ethnographic and musical items, but also for example a manuscript of a history of the gypsies. Keeping these materials at all was often dangerous for the Roma during the communist period in Bulgaria. A second project deals with the results of archaeological excavations between 1929 and 1935 in the Kyiv region of Ukraine (EAP 220).

For those worrying about the length of this post it might be a relief to read that within EAP there has been only one project from the Oceania region. In EAP 005 the Australian National University created inventories of materials at the Tuvaluan National Archives. This group of islands in the Pacific is in acute danger of being flooded.

Preserving the history of law, customs and government

The project concerning the preservation of manuscripts written in the Vietnamese Nôm script between the year 1000 and the twentieth century in EAP 219 is an example of documents threatened by sheer memory loss. The Nôm script went out of use around 1920. For decades teaching this script had been forbidden. The Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Hanoi had collected materials before 1954, but no proper inventory had ever been made, and the present storage conditions are poor. The 1,200 surviving manuscripts offer information about laws, courts, imperial decrees and land ownership, Within EAP 272, a project for ephemera and manuscripts in Nepal, a number of manuscripts all dating around 1808 contain legal texts.

Drafting a list of EAP collections with materials concerning legislation, jurisprudence, courts and other legal institutions is not an easy thing to do. The EAP website allows simple and advanced searches at item level, but as for now you cannot search for a particular subject or theme at the collection level. This is certainly a blemish, but not an impossible situation. A search for laws shows you only a few projects, but for EAP 144 you get directly a number of digitized manuscript from this project for Minangkabau (Sumatra) manuscripts. Anyway you can retrieve a list of all 240 projects; the short descriptions can be expanded. You can also search for projects using an interactive world map. Browsing the various projects is no punishment, but an object lesson in appreciating the rich varieties of human culture.

Projects with legal aspects are no exception. Using the tag Governmental records at the EAP blog helped me in tracing some relevant projects. EAP 688 is a new project for digitizing deed books from the Caribbean island Saint Vincent during the slavery era (1763-1838). EAP 561 aims at creating inventories of and digital versions of records for landownership in imperial Ethiopia. At Accra, Ghana, witchcraft trial records will be digitized (EAP 540). A project to make inventories of court and police records from the period 1820-1960 and digitize some of them has been successfully executed in Gambia (EAP 231). Ecclesiastical records from colonial Brazil are the subject of EAP projects such as EAP 627 leading to the digital archives at Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies created by the Vanderbilt University.

Several projects deal with manuscripts from Mali. Not only in Timbuctu a vast number of manuscripts is still present. Last year the threat of massive destruction of this unique legacy by terrorists became a very real menace; a post on this blog informed you about initiatives for their safeguarding and digitization. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. In yet another project at Djenné photographs are being digitized (EAP 449).

Luckily, there is more!

Often I apologize at the end for the length of my contributions, but this time I am happy to point to the links section of the EAP portal which will bring you to a nice number of projects all over the world for the digital conservation and presentation of rare and endangered manuscripts and records. You might be tempted to say that the efforts of the Endangered Archives Project can deal only with a limited number of projects, but luckily the British Library is not the only cultural institution and research institute to look beyond the borders of a country. Often these institutions have to face the threats of budget cuts, and a political climate in favor of focusing on projects which benefit solely the own nation, or they even have to fall back to provide only fairly basic services.

The British Library and all involved in similar projects deserve the gratitude of scholars, of peoples and countries whose cultural heritage is or will be rescued thanks to them. Scholars should be encouraged to look beyond their own culture and national history in order to perceive its peculiarities much sharper and to understand its importance in greater depth. Let’s hope such arguments can convince those responsible for setting cultural agendas and developing research strategies with lasting results. Digitization will be one step in a much longer process, and no doubt digital retrieval and presentation will change its outlook as has been the case already since the earliest uses of computers by historians and lawyers alike.

A postscript

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles.