Category Archives: Digital projects

Syria’s cultural heritage online, a case for open access

Logo Open Access WeekFrom October 22 to 28 the yearly Open Access Week will be held. Around the world there are initiatives to create open access in various forms. Institutions can choose for degrees of openness for their digital collections. The debate about open access to major scholarly journals is very important for the future of science and its presence in society. In some cases open access is most helpful in tracing, monitoring and preserving cultural heritage. For Syria this is even absolutely vital. In this post I would like to look at some projects aiming to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage. The war in Syria has taken the lives of too many people. Invaluable objects from its long history have been destroyed, and the same fate threatens today.

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

The UNESCO has created the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage. Its name sounds like The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This UNESCO observatory looks at buildings, movable heritage and intangible heritage, and it launches initiatives for their protection. You can find also information about the actions of UNESCO partners such as ICOM. The ICOM is home to the Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and the Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project, and ICOM has created other portals as well. ICOM works together with The Blue Shield, an organization which helps the coordination for saving and protecting cultural heritage in emergency situations. The UNESCO lists also other initiatives which aim specifically at Syria, some of the well-known, for example The Aleppo Project and the Damascus History Foundation. I could not help noticing Scanning for Syria, an international project led by Leiden University for scanning archaeological objects at Tell Sabi Abyad in the field and creating virtual reconstructions. You can find publications resulting from the excavations in open access in the Leiden University scholarly repository.

An important resource for finding such initiatives for Syria is the Syriac Reference Portal, but today I could not reach this website. Luckily I bookmarked a number of websites. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been created by the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Some of the results can be seen in the iDAi Gazetteer, an interactive map system which is connected with other georeferenced resources. The information for objects in Syria can be approached in several ways, in particular using iDAI objects.

Logo Syri-Ac

The Open Access Week mentions at its website many groups and events, but the very word Syria is sadly missing. It makes me more eager to proceed here to initiatives which offer more substantial contributions for Syria. Syri-Ac is a portal to resources for the Syrian language, literature and culture. There is a generous links section and a scholarly bibliography. Among the valuable sections the overview of digitized Syriac manuscripts stands out. You can use a sortable or a faceted version. The sortable version shows concise descriptions of the contents, and you can perform keyword searches. The faceted version allows you to filter quickly for languages, holding institutions, authors and genres.

The E-ktobe: manuscrits syriaques catalogue created at the IRHT/CNRS (Paris-Orleans) gives currently detailed descriptions of a restricted number of Syriac manuscripts. No doubt this resource will grow in strength. One of the largest online collections with Syriac manuscripts with manuscripts actually held in Syria is presented in the Virtual Hill Monastic Museum and Library, better known under its acronym vHMML. You can view manuscripts after registration. No registration is needed for the palaeographical introduction to Syriac scripts in the online School of the HMML. A perhaps unexpected number of digitized manuscripts and fragments containing items in Syriac can be found at the portal of the International Dunhuang Project, but thanks to Syri-Ac you are alerted to nearly 650 fragments. The Dunhuang project deals mainly with Tibetan texts and manuscripts found in the Chinese town Dunhuang.

Epigraphy is a scholarly field with a tradition for researching a part of Syria’s cultural heritage. Searchable Greek Inscriptions has an overview of online resources for Greater Syria and the East. In particular but not exclusively Palmyra is mentioned among the resources. The Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice has created The Ebla Digital Archives for royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE found in Ebla/Tell Mardikh. The closeness of Syria to ancient and modern empires comes into view at the Hethitologie Portal Mainz which deals with cuneiform inscription found in modern Turkey and northern Syria. The Khalili Research Centre of Oxford University is responsible for OCIANA, the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient Northern Arabia, an area which covered at least a part of southern Syria.

One of the general resources for Latin inscriptions is the Photographic Database within the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. You can also search for images of inscriptions at the EAGLE portal. With the EAGLE mobile app you can take photos of inscriptions in situ and compare them with the database.

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

This post could be much longer, but maybe it is important to realize projects can easily be overlooked. Initiatives do not come from just one country. Some countries have institutes in the Middle East which watch developments in Syria carefully, others follow the Middle East since decades both on location and from the outside. The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Alexandria, Virginia, has created the platform ASOR-Syrian Heritage with reports on damage inflicted to cultural heritage. The ASOR has a digital archive for its rich history in archaeological excavations. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has an extensive digital collection with photographs from the library of the American Geographical Society and also the Wisconsin Palmyrean Aramaic Inscription Project. Damage to archaeological sites in Syria is discussed in particular by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. Monuments of Syria preserves literally images of the situation in 2011 and gives links to a number of resources. These are just a few of the websites you, too, can find using the ever-active Ancient World Online blog maintained by Charles Jones. Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources is an online journal which helps you to find just what it promises

Just as we cannot take open access as granted, we cannot afford to think every project concerning Syria can be traced easily. Online maps such as the one concerning the civil war in Syria or a similar map at Edmaps are ready at hand, but you need to search for other resources. It is a lucky situation the results of research in the filed of Classical Antiquity can almost always be found in open access. In Europe many people can benefit from an autumn holiday week. For those who like to sit behind a computer screen or surf with a tablet there is every chance to discover next week lots of resources in open access about a country which goes through a dark period in its long history. For me it would suffice if this post invites you to find out more yourself.


Early Modern celebrations and legal iconography

Header Early Modern Festival Books, University of Oxford

Sometimes history is almost literally on parade. Events can be an occasion for festivities, and even stronger, an event can be organized as a feast. The signing of peace treaties is celebrated, as are the ascension to the thrones of monarchs and popes, their entries to cities, marriages and funerals. Historians search for eyewitness accounts to find out what actually happened, but there is attention, too, for the image rulers and other authorities wanted to convey, in particular views of law and order, justice and policies. The generic term for books published for such occasions is festival books. Their often lavish illustrations make them into a most interesting resource in the field of legal iconography. The very term festival books has somewhat misled me to view them only as a source for the history of art and culture. In this post I will look at some resources to approach festival books, and of course some of them are discussed in some detail. A number of festival books are no longer than a pamphlet, a genre which significance for legal history comes increasingly into view on my blog.

Representations of power

Earlier this year I could take over a copy of a study by Ria van Bragt, De Blijde Inkomst van de hertogen van Brabant Johanna en Wenceslas (3 januari 1356) [The Joyeuse Entrée of Joanna and Wenceslas as dukes of Brabant] (Louvain 1956; Standen en Landen/Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États, 13). This study deals with a charter granted to the States of the duchy of Brabant on the occasion of the Joyeuse Entrée, a document containing promises about the way the duke and duchess would rule. The charter became an example for later similar charters elsewhere, for example the 1375 Landbrief consented by Arnold van Horne, bishop of Utrecht. Such documents are primary sources for the political and institutional history of the medieval Low Countries, but the actual surroundings of both occasions remain largely hidden. In this contribution I will look at printed sources, but I am sure archival records exist for medieval entries and accompanying festivities, too.

Header Renaissance Festival Books, British Library

For years one the main online resources for Early Modern festival books was the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, created in cooperation with the University of Warwick. The British Library digitized 253 books from their holdings with more than two thousand festival books. The concise introduction to the collection focuses on the mixture of art history and political history offered by festival books, and the reference section points to a number of major studies and to two bibliographies. On the opening page of the collection you will find a list of subjects which can be associated with this genre. In the links section nine other collections are mentioned, and we will see a number of them in this post. You can also read a number of articles written by experts in the field of festival books.

The Early Modern Festival Books Database has been created in 2011 at Oxford as an updated and expanded version of Festivals and Ceremonies. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Court, Civic and Religious Festivals in Europe 1500-1800, edited by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Anne Simon (London 2000), rekindled my interest in festival books. The original bibliography described books in the collections of the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal – administrated by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) – and the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. In the database a fifth collection has been added with books held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. The menu of the database provides five ways to search for these festival books, 3000 items in twelve languages. You can search directly for particular works, proceed from the artists or places involved, the kind of event or the kind of festival elements, and for participants. Thus it is possible to search for events with everything from cannonades, horse ballets and orations to jousts, tableaux or water processions. The participants are seen as persons involved as key figures with particular festivities. When digital versions of books exist their URL is indicated.

For me it is a fairly obvious matter to establish whether you can easily find all relevant digitized copies of a particular collection. However, the advanced search mode of the online bibliography with fourteen search fields does not contain a field for collection. The Victoria and Albert Museum has no longer information on its Piot Collection, neither does the website of the National Art Library housed in the V & A. The BnF offers a good introduction to the Collection Auiguste Rondel of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a subdomain for Festkultur Online with 314 digitized books which can be searched thematically with Iconclass. At the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek I could not find a page about its festival books

Logo Society for European Festivals ResearchIt is only natural to pursue this path for the other relevant collections mentioned at Renaissance Festival Books, a list repeated at the website of the Society for European Festivals Research of the University of Warwick. The Getty Institute in Malibu, CA, has a good introduction, and this institution has created a subset in its digital collections for 1,300 digitized festival books. The New York Public Library has a very brief page about the Spencer Collection without any indication of the festival books. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden offer no information for our subject, but you can search for festival books in their digital collection. The 102 digitized festival books in the library of The Warburg Institute in London are at the current version of the website only hinted at under the header cultural history. However, they can be found as a preset selection in the digital collections of the Senate House Libraries of the University of London; entering “Warburg Institute digital copy Festivals” in the keyword field will do the trick.

The crowning of emporer Charles V in Bologna, 1530

The pope and the emperor in the 1530 processsion after the coronation

Pope Clement VII and Charles V in procession at Bologna, 1530, February 24 – Nicolaus Hogenberg, ca. 1535-1539 – The Getty Institute, Malibu, CA, (CMalG) no. 1366-954 (detail of print 27, resized)

By chance The Getty Institute shows at its page about festival books an image showing the procession in Bologna in 1530 around the coronation of Charles V as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from a printed scroll by Nicolaus Hogenberg, published between around 1535-1539. Print 27 of this lavishly illustrated scroll shows the pope and the emperor, both wearing their crowns and riding on horseback under a beautiful canopy. If you think I indulge here in art history I would like to remind you of the study on the thought of medieval Italian lawyers about the crowning of emperors by Marco Cavina, Imperator triplici corona coronatur. Studi sull’incoronazione imperiale nella scienza giuridica italiana fra Tre e Cinquecento (Milan 1991). The emperor’s coronation in Bologna in 1530 was the last of its kind, and it was certainly not in all aspects similar to other coronations, if only already for its very location. Surely visual display was an important element of Charles’ coronation. The pope and the emperor had stayed for months in Bologna, but only after prolonged consultations it was finally decided to celebrate the coronation in this city.

Logo Heritage of the Printed Book database

While searching for more collections of festival books and if possible also digital versions I found an online bibliography created at the McGill University, Montreal, Theatrical space as a model for architecture. Here the focus is on temporary buildings and their relation with theatre. A focus on a single town and one singular princely court can be found at the website Mantova Capitale Europea dello Spettacolo with an Italian and English interface. The database of the Archivio Herla contains some 12,000 documents documenting theatrical spectacles during the long reign of the Gonzaga family (1480-1630), to be seen in connection with three other database at the portal Banche dati Gonzaga. It is seducing to pursue a quest for more websites and resources, but let’s least not forget the German project Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne. Theatrum-Literature der Frühen Neuzeit, the subject of an earlier post here. In the Early Modern world there was definitely an awareness of the theatrical side of life and printed publications about many subjects. For any research in the field of Early Modern printed books the Heritage of the Printed Book Database of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) can help you very much. It will help you for example in checking for the presence and absence of relevant works in the Oxford festival books database. Apart from the digital collections with festival books mentioned at the project websites under discussion I can at least add one specific digital collection created at the Beinecke Library of Yale University, Celebrating Italian Festivals, with 231 works.

Which texts and prints around the coronation of emperor Charles V in 1530 figure in Early Modern Festivals? The database mentions some twenty works, a number of them not dated. The Hogenberg scroll figures as no. 696, dated in 1532 with The Hague as printing location. The records points to a digital version of it in the British Library (signature 603.I.16), one of four copies in this library. This copy has not been colored, and like the copy at The Getty Institute it has no title page. For me it is interesting to notice also verses by the famous Neolatin poet Janus Secundus (1511-1536), a son of Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), president of the Hof van Holland (1516-1528) and the Grote Raad van Mechelen (Great Council of Malines) (1528-1532). I checked for this work also in the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, and a second copy in this library has been digitized, too (sign. 144.g.3 (1.)). The BL’s digital collection has 1529 as date of the coronation. Exceptionally the poem has been used as the identifying title, starting with the words Gratae et laboribus aequae posteritati. I was intrigued by the different versions of this remarkable print, and therefore it was only natural to check the catalogues of the other four libraries of the Oxford project. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a damaged copy (sign. 31.3.1 Geom. 2°). It is the only copy with this title in the HPB database. The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) has two entries for the same edition. The first entry mentions the copies of the BL, the second entry has been created for a copy in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce Prints b.31, both dated in 1532. The COPAC entry rightly shows a question mark behind this date. Henricus Hondius can only be associated with later editions.

Canonists in the 1530 procession

“Unnumerable canonists and legists”, plate 66 – Nicolaas Hogenberg, 1530-1536 – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, object RP-P-OB-78.624-30 [Frederik Muller, Nederlandsche historieprenten, no. 377-d/29]

To cut a long story short, this print can also be found in the holdings of museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Its catalogue contains references to the catalogues of historiated prints which document the various states and later use of the original plates. There are versions with and without blazons above the pageant. The lack of a title and the possibility to approach this work both as a book and as a print show nicely the difficulties you encounter when studying festival books. Book historians and art historians study them with their own approach and methods, and the way such prints are catalogued differs, too. Apart from the different versions you will have to be alert for individual copies and their aspects. In this case it should be no surprise that the Karlsruher Virtuelle Katalog can add only few copies, Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kupferstichkabinett and Pesaro, Biblioteca Oliveriana. When you check the library catalog for Pesaro and Urbino you will see it is an edition from 1582.

The Early Modern Festival Books bibliography and online database should be seen as one tool among others. I think I showed here one of the most remarkable but perhaps not totally representative examples which however also show some of the problems you might encounter when dealing with festival books. The database helps you to compare many aspects of books concerning major events and festive occasions, but it is asking too much to view it as a catalogue of existing copies of a particular work, sometimes even for the participating libraries. As legal historians we might prefer to stick to sources concerning the legal side of events such as the double coronation of Charles V. Marco Cavina’s study is by all means most helpful to look at doctrinal matters concerning imperial coronations from the thirteenth century onwards. Exploring visual resources can remind us how very much alive people and surroundings of such events were. Such events made indeed a graphic impact.

Deciphering letters about slavery and abolition

Start screen Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Easy access has become a byword not only for creating online versions of sources, but also for transcribing important source collections as part of efforts to bring them literally better into view for both scholars and the general public. The participants of transcribing and indexing projects certainly stand out from the crowd. Recently Boston Public Library partnered with the Zooniverse crowdsourcing program for a project concerning nineteenth-century letters about abolition and slavery. The Anti-Slavery Manuscripts was launched on January 23, 2018. The collection contains some 40,000 pieces from the 1830’s to the late 1860’s, after the Civil War, with at its heart documents and letters donated by the family of William Lloyd Garrison. Some 12,000 items in the collection have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth, the digital platform for cultural heritage collections in Massachusetts. Nearly 2,200 images have been selected for the first phase of this project. One of the themes in this collection is the role of women in the struggle for abolition. Deciphering these resources can at times be difficult, and it seems right to look here also at palaeography in the United States.

In my discussion of the project for these manucsripts I will look also at other crowdsourcing transcription projects. My search for American palaeography was not as straightforward as you might expect.

A community around abolition

At the start I want to stress the fact this project of Boston Public Library and Zooniverse runs smoothly. Almost four thousand volunteers have registered to transcribe letters, and the progress is good. You can follow the project on a special blog of the Boston Public Library. Besides the letters in the collection there are also pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, books and realia. If the letters show us a more intimate side of the abolitionist movement, the newspaper The Liberator (1831-1866) founded by William Lloyd Garrison might aptly be named the motor and public actor of the movement. Interestingly, in her blog post about the history of The LIberator Kelsey Gustin draws attention to the changes in the masthead of this weekly published newspaper. These images depict not only black and white people, but also use art to convey at least a part of the inspiration behind the movement.

Only issues for the years 1831-1842 and 1861-1862 of The Liberator have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth. You can find information about more complete versions of this Boston newspaper in licensed digital collections in the online database of the International Coalition On Newspapers (ICON), hosted by the Center for Research Libraries, Chicago. There are complete digitized runs in open access at Fair Use and The Liberator Files.

The collection at Boston Public Library contains materials from several abolitionist societies, among them the Female Anti-Slavery Society. Unity about opposition to slavery did not take away the very issue of the participation of women and women’s rights in general, and thus these matters, too, appear in the letters. The correspondence preserved here came from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Transcribing the letters

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

The 12,000 letters to be transcribed will be released in five sets, mostly in chronological order. There is a rather important blog post by Samantha Blickhan (IMLS) on the divisions of the fivesets and decisions to exclude a number of letters. Some of them have already been published in critical editions, in particular those of William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In one case, the Ziba B. Oakes Papers, bring a series of letters by a slave trader. The first set now visible contains the oldest letters from 1800 to 1839.

You have to register in order to participate in the project, but anyway when you click on Transcribe in the menu bar you will view the tutorial explaining the way you enter your results. On the right there is a toolbar for navigation. In the top left corner you can enlarge or scale down the image, or go to other pages of a document. The Field Guide gives practical guidance to decipher letter forms and other elements of writing, and instructions to present such elements consistently and correctly in your transcription. After finishing a piece or when you have questions you might want to visit the forum at Talk for news, frequently asked questions, and for discussions about matters presented by the participants. Zooniverse Team member @GrifftinTranscribes answers questions as a specialist in nineteenth-century handwriting.

Screen shot Field Guide

When you notice you can open the Tutorial whenever you click on Transcribe in the menu bar or using the button to the left of the images, you would expect the same navigation for the Field Guide. In fact both elements become visible as pop-up-only screens. I was not able to detect their exact web addresses.Screenshot explanation on abbreviations

The Field Guide deals with fourteen subjects. The team behind the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts takes no risks and instructs participants explicitly to leave abbreviations as they are found in the letters. For further information they point to a web page of the National Archives and Records Administration for their projects under its Citizen Archivists umbrella. However helpful in many ways, this page does not contain every element of a full-grown palaeographical manual. When you visit the History Hub, a support community concerning American history managed by the NARA, you will encounter in the user forums a lot of very useful communities, including one for legislative records, but on this platform questions about handwriting have not yet been given a corner of its own.

An endearing and lively blog post about the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts has been written by Lisa Gilbert, an instructor who reports on the experience of 8th graders (13 tot 14 years old) who tried to read a letter from the collection in Boston. Line after line they struggled to understand the text. The struggle helped the teenagers to get an idea of what it meant to fight for abolition or for any political idea. Awareness of the fact how many questions you can ask from a single document was another thing becoming clear.

The uses of palaeography

If historians had read documents exclusively by fighting their way through original documents, instead of learning how to deal with all kind of scripts, not just from one century or in a single document genre, little could have been accomplished. The study of old scripts and their context is one of the earliest historical auxiliary sciences. Manuals and guides, including classic books on forms of abbreviations, exist in fair numbers. Since February 2017 I have tried to find online tutorials for palaeography and to create a commented overview of them on my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Sometimes it took quite an effort to find a tutorial or at least a digital version of a recent guide, in other cases it was almost a question of choosing the best. One of the things I spotted was a division in the United States and the United Kingdom between manuals aiming at reading genealogical records, and tutorials dealing with other historical records. The United Kingdom is well served with a large number of tutorials for dealing with either manuscripts or archival records, with also at least three websites for Scottish resources, but there seem to be few online tutorials for American palaeography.

You will find sources in American history written in many languages, and certainly not only European. For Southern states you must reckon with Spanish and French resources. The difficulty to read Dutch script from the Early Modern period in archival sources concerning New York has been the subject here of a post in 2015 about the transcriptions and editions of these invaluable materials. For the history of Pennsylvania sources written in German are important. It can be most useful to rely on palaeographical guidance for Early Modern records in these languages, even when they deal more specifically with records written or still held in Spain, France, Germany or the Low Countries. It can be wise to look at resources for Canada, too, but in fact my harvest for Canada is until now distinctly meagre.

Let’s look at these online resources aiming specifically at the United States and Canada. For Canadian history I have not yet found a resource which deserves to be recognized as a tutorial. The only resource I found for Canada after repeated searches is a contribution by Leah Grandy for Early Canadiana, aptly called ‘Skills for historians of the future: palaeography’, and her two posts on palaeography (here the second) at the blog of The Loyalist Collection, University of New Brunswick. There is a Study Guide Colonial Handwriting, created in connection with the Indian Converts Digital Collection, Reed College, Portland, Oregon. The study guide accompanies a digitized version of a 1727 book on Indian converts. You can test your knowledge of Early Modern handwriting with an online tool of Reed College, Early American Handwriting. DoHistory has created How to read 18th century British handwriting, a companion to Martha Ballard’s diary for the years 1785-1812 [Augusta, ME, Maine State Library, ms. B B 189]. The State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh have published three consecutive blog posts, What Does That Say? Deciphering the handwritten records of Early America. The posts present colonial documents. They provide also a bibliography and links to digitized works. Perhaps the most surprising tutorial comes from the Smithsonian Institution. Reading Colonial Handwriting is part of the section Just for Kids! of the virtual exhibition Out of the mails created by the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Two of the manuals mentioned in this paragraph deal only with eighteenth-century documents. To say the least, American history covers by all means a much longer period.

The need for an online tutorial for American palaeography was the subject of a short blog post by Ricc Ferrante on the blog of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, ‘Is there a place for palaeography in the archives?’ (January 23, 2018), incidentally also the day the Boston Public Library launched its project. The Smithsonian Institution Archives deal with the history of this research organization with many branches. The SI Archives support also the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers and its transcription center. It provides general tips for transcribing, and also more specific instructions for transcribing historical documents, and eight other sets of guidelines, for example for transcribing the papers of the Freedmen’s Bureau which dealt with abandoned properties after 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Just as the NARA for Citizen Archivists the Smithsonian Institution provides substantial transcription guidance. Explaining such rules is definitely important, but they do not substitute palaeographical guidance.

Ferrante did not find quickly an online palaeographical manual for American documents, and thus he choose some of the websites mentioned in the fine overview in the Folgerpedia of online resources for English palaeography. The quality of this overview is excellent, but it can suggest no online tutorials for American handwriting exist. Ferrante started his search for an online manual when he tried to read a handwritten journal from the mid-1840’s. He signals also the difficulty to read old cursive scripts for those who have not received any instruction in cursive writing, and he hesitantly admits a place for palaeography for historical periods after the Middle Ages.

The development of palaeography as an auxiliary historical science started mainly for dealing with medieval documents and manuscripts, but it widened its territory soon. Historians can choose to study only printed – or typed – resources, especially for modern history. However, we know how important it is to use letters and diaries, drawings, poems and daily notes – scribbled or in capitals – from the Civil War, First World War, the Depression Era, the New Deal or the Second World War.  These sources help to give us vivid details in order to understand these periods better or to raise questions about our understanding and views. In official records, too, we can encounter handwritten elements. In my training as a historian following courses in palaeography was optional. I still remember the collective sigh of satisfaction after our first lessons, because getting the skills to read original documents felt immensely practical.

The absence of online tutorials covering several periods of American history does not mean nothing can be done. In particular the series Script Tutorials of the Brigham Young University helps you reading texts in seven languages, but the focus is clearly on genealogical records. However, at some point you will want to consult other resources genres, too. Tax registers and military records contain valuable information about your ancestors, and it would be a pity if you are unable to read them by lack of some necessary skills which can be taught and learned without too much effort. Apart from universities archives often offer courses.

Zooniverse has several projects concerning or touching American history, for example on African-American Civil War soldiers, and The American Soldier about the aftermath of the Second World War. Projects on the League of Nations in the digital age and concerning coded information during the Civil War are currently paused. For these telegrams you can benefit from a blog post with the title ‘Now I Know My (19th-Century) ABCs’ by Mario Einaudi (Huntington Library). Of course other crowd transcription projects exist. A cursory look at the overview of such projects provided by the American Historical Association should suffice you of their widespread occurrence.

I could find little about palaeography on the website of the AHA and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The useful and concise AHA Guide to Archival Research has a short paragraph about the need for palaeographical skills, with some lines worth quoting: “Get ready to read script. Do not be surprised when 15th-century documents are not typed”. This piece of advice is found typically in the section on research abroad, but you will read older scripts already when dealing with the colonial period. The fact this guide is also downloadable with the title Research Trip Tips is telling. Skills and competence in dealing with unfamiliar scripts is only implicitly reckoned among the capability to interpret historical records in the 2005 AHA report about essential skills for the MA in history degree. The SAA certainly brings into view the variety of skills archivists do need today.

When you search at the website of the SAA and in The American Archivist (AA) you will find palaeography in many cases associated with medieval and European sources, but you might want to read articles such as Laetitia Yeandle, ‘The evolution of American handwriting in the English-speaking colonies’, AA 43 (1980) 294-311, and Alfred E. Lemmon, ‘The archival legacy of Spanish Louisiana colonial records’, AA 55 (1992) 142-155. Laura Schmidt’s fine guide Using Archives: A guide to effective research – also downloadable (PDF) – mentions reading skills in particular in a paragraph about scheduling time for the unexpected. Sometimes my memory comes back of a visit to an archive more than thirty years ago where I found myself dumbfounded by a document in front of me. I was unable to even start an attempt to decipher it. Online tutorials and many digital collections with archival records can provide you with the same shock which should make you think and reconsider your abilities.

In 2016 The Junto: A group blog on Early American History, an initiative of young historians, brought Archives around the Atlantic, a series of contributions on doing research in archives and libraries in Spain, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Reading skills figure in some of the posts, but seldom as a central or essential skill. The Dutch period of the East Coast has been completely overlooked in this series. Sometimes there is a hint to use the library of an archive to consult relevant literature and manuals. I would agree in principle that you should acquire knowledge of the nation’s palaeography you will encounter probably most times in your particular field of Early American history, but there will be moments when you have to cross linguistic and palaeographical borders. Some areas changed from Spanish into French possession. For Canada you will need both French and English palaeography.

American palaeography, a distinct field

In this post we made a journey from a very particular subject, sources concerning the abolition movement, to sources for American history more generally. Perhaps trained historians are those who generally will less often need online tutorials in their professional life, but others do not benefit from their head start. Relying solely on palaeography from one country ignores the fact migrants to the United States came from many countries, and not only in those states known during the first half of the nineteenth century as The Territories. If people increasingly do not any longer learn cursive writing, any form of training to read cursive scripts becomes necessary. It is paradoxical to create exhaustive transcription guides to ensure enhanced fidelity for editions, and at the same time to assume everything is readable without preparation or instructions. The need for a distinct palaeographical approach of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will steadily grow.

In my opinion Zooniverse is in the position to help creating rather quickly a basic palaeographical manual for American history using both the Field Guide of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts and the blog post of Mario Einaudi created for Decoding the Civil War. If they consider themselves unable to achieve this, a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s transcription center is one of the logical directions to take. Surely one or more a state archives, university libraries or major research libraries such as the BPL, the Newberry Library in Chicago or the Huntington Library are capable of combining forces to create it, and perhaps add materials for advanced needs. It will help not only the volunteers in transcription projects, but anyone interested in American history and able to view the massive digital collections with images of American handwritten documents. Of course there are classic printed guides such as Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1998) and Harriet Stryker-Rodda, Understanding colonial handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1986), but there is room for online manuals, too.

Doing history calls for many skills. When you cannot readily start deciphering written records because you do not have reading skills, you are unable to interpret them and use them in your research. Others might help you to read archival records in some cases, but not always. Palaeographical skills can be decisive for the success of your visit to a local archive or to an archive which you can only reach after a voyage. Let reading skills accompany your historical voyages, be they virtual travels at your computer screen, reading books with images of written documents and manuscripts or visiting archives to use historical records!

A twin approach to the inquisition in the medieval Languedoc

Startscreen project Doat 21-24, University of YorkWhen you mention medieval law some themes will inevitably come up, such as the ordeal and torture. A third theme, the inquisition, is only with great difficulty lifted from its eternal shadow of contempt and utter rejection. One form of inquisition has attracted attention from both scholars and the general public, the medieval inquisition in Southern France, more precisely in the Languedoc. On previous occasions I discussed here a seventeenth-century edition of a medieval manuscript held at the British Library and a medieval register held at Toulouse which can now both be consulted online. In this post yet another representation of this manuscript will come into view, and I will look in particular at a project in York which focuses on a number of seventeenth-century transcriptions of medieval manuscripts and archival records.

Manuscripts, registers and editions

Inquisition register, 1245 - Toulouse, BM, 209, f. 2r (detail)

Inquisition register, 1245 – Toulouse, BM, 209, f. 2r (detail) – image: BVMM (IRHT/CNRS),

The project The Genesis of Inquisition Procedures and the Truth-Claims of Inquisition Records: The Inquisition Registers of Languedoc, 1235-1244 in York led by Peter Biller started in 2014 and will run until 2019. Dealing with the medieval inquisition in the Languedoc is a vast territory, but the focus on a single decade is surprising, no doubt dictated by the resources the team at York wants to use. The manuscript at the center of an earlier post, Toulouse, Bibliothèque Municipale, ms. 609, contains depositions from two years, 1245-1246. Jean Duvernoy provides a complete transcription of Touluse BM 209 at his website. In my 2011 post I had to report severe shortcomings in the quality of the digital version provided by this library, but in its appearance within the Bibliothèque virtuelles des manuscrits médiévaux (IRHT) the register is now displayed in full glory. You can enlarge the images which show perfectly sharp photographs, waiting to be deciphered by anyone. My second post was a report on my search for a digital version of the edition of the famous inquisitorial register kept by Bernard Gui published by Phillippus van Limborch in his Historia inquisitionis (Amsterdam 1692). Van Limborch edited the texts in a manuscript now held at the British Library, Add. 4697, edited by Annette Pales-Gobilliard in Le livre des sentences de l’inquisiteur Bernard Gui, 1308-1323 (2 vol., Paris 2002). In this post I tried also to provide a starting point for online research concerning the inquisition in the medieval Languedoc.

The project of Jean Colbert and Jean de Doat

The project at York focuses on four manuscripts in the Doat collection held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). Jean de Doat (around 1600-1683) served as the president of the chambre des comptes in Navarre. In 1663 the French minister Jean Colbert charged Doat with an expedition to create transcriptions of historical records in southern France. A century ago Henri Omont published an article with an edition of some documents about Doat’s project which made him travel for five years in southern France to numerous archives, monasteries and other locations [‘La collection Doat à la Bibliothèque nationale. Documents sur les recherches de Doat dans les archives du sud-ouest de la France de 1663 à 1670’, Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes 77 (1916) 286-336; online, Persée]. The clerks transcribing the archival reocrds wrote in a large fluent and very legible script. Tables of contents help those wanting to use the transcriptions. During the French Revolution many archives and libraries in Southern France were destroyed or suffered heavy losses, thus making Doat’s results more important. The scale of Doat’s project may seem large, but in comparison to the contemporary work of the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur his expedition it seems definitely smaller. Some 200 manuscripts of the Mauristes held at the BnF have been digitized.

You will find descriptions of the 258 surviving Doat manuscripts concerning the Languedoc in the online database Archives et manuscrits of the BnF. At the website Catharisme you can download a useful compilation of the pages concerning these manuscripts (PDF) taken from the manuscript catalogue. Alas the title page of the early twentieth-century publication has not been included, and a page with bibliographical references (p. xiiii) has also been omitted. It took me some time to find Doat’s manuscripts are located under Département des manuscrits, Provinces françaises, Languedoc Doat. The notices have been taken from Philippe Lauer, Bibliothèque nationale. Collections manuscrits sur l’histoire des province de France. Inventaire, vol. I: Bourgogne-Lorraine (Paris 1905; online, Gallica), with descriptions of Doat’s manucripts on pp. 156-192. A modern article about the Collection Doat is Laurent Albaret, ‘La collection Doat, une collection moderne, témoignage de l’histoire religieuse méridionale des XIIIe et XIVe siècles’, in: Historiens modernes et Moyen Âge méridional (Toulouse 2014; Cahiers de Fanjeaux, 49) 57-93.

Doat 24, f. 7v-8r

Paris, BnF, Languedoc Doat 24, f. 7v-8r – image: Gallica

By now you will have noticed the fact that the project at York deals with manuscripts containing transcriptions of registers, in themselves archival records. Doat’s transcriptions were originally destinated for the library of Colbert which entered the French royal library in 1732. Biller and his team have chosen as resources the manuscripts BnF, Languedoc Doat, nos. 21 to 24 (Lauer I, p. 160). The online manuscript catalogue of the BnF takes you not only to digital versions of these manuscripts in Gallica – alas only for Doat 21 and Doat 24 of the four registers in the York project – but also to digitized bibliographical fiches concerning them. Jean Duvernoy has made transcriptions of (parts of) several Doat manuscripts, for example for Doat 22 (f. 1-106, Bernard de Caux, 1243-1246). A number of Duvernoy’s transcriptions can be downloaded as PDF’s. On the Catharisme website you can find transcriptions and French translations of Doat 23 by Ruben Sartori. Biller introduces the core of the registers Doat 21-24, the work of a Dominican friar called Ferrier about whom there is not much information, apart from his functions and his Catalan origin. Duvernoy notes the exact folios (Doat 22, f. 108-296, Doat 23, and Doat 24, f. 1-257). The preponderance of depositions by aristocratic people is most remarkable and leads to the hypothesis of a missing register with other depositions, maybe some 700 complementing the 85 depositions present in Doat 21 to 24. Ferrier has been credited with writing a manual for inquisitors, edited long ago by Adolphe Tardif, ‘Document pour l’histoire du processus per inquisitionem et de l’ínquisitio heretice pravitatis‘, Nouvelle revue historique du droit français et étranger 7 (1883) 669-678, available online at Gallica, taken from a manuscript referred to as Barcelona, Bibliothèque de l’université, no. 53.

The team at York will first of all prepare an edition of the four Doat registers with English translations, but other questions will be addressed, too. There is a tendency in modern scholarship to see medieval heresy to a substantial extent as a construction of people in the medieval Catholic church. In this view the depositions are the very point where medieval people and views on heresy and church come together. The role of inquisitors, their background and the historical context need to be studied in all necessary detail to test this powerful hypothesis about the creation of heresy as a concept aimed at prosecution. In view of the lack of modern editions of texts and archival records concerning medieval law in general, and more particular for resources concerning medieval canon law and forms of medieval inquisition, it is understandable to work first on critical editions. Among the features of the project website is the Literary Supplement with announcements of new publications, in the texts section translations of some legal consultations and a number of interrogations from Toulouse BM 209, and a bibliography, mainly of translations in English and French. Biller mentions the role of seventeenth-century historiography in religious history, not only for the mainstream Church but also for other possibly dissenting movements.

Peter Biller is one of the contributors to the volume Cathars in question, Antonio Sennis (ed.) (York 2016). In fact Biller wrote the final contribution, ‘Goodbye to Catharism?’ (pp. 274-312). In this volume Mark Gregory Pegg makes a case to dismiss the phenomenon of Cathars and Catharism as a misguided concept propelled by the field of Religionsgeschichte [‘The paradigm of Catharism, or the historian’s illusion’, pp. 21-52]. I alluded already to the work of R.I. (Bob) Moore who views the combats of the Church against heresy in a very different light than those tracing the history of the Cathars. Cultural anthropology, the histoire des mentalités and church historians have worked in certain directions which have not always been fruitful. It is far from me to pronounce here quickly any judgment on an ongoing discussion, but I would certainly point to medieval canon law as one of the matters to be taken seriously by medievalists and other historians wanting to study the Languedoc between 1000 and 1350.

Those waiting for the edition of Doat 21-24 by Peter Biller and his team can get an idea of the work to be done by looking at the two volumes L’herètica pravitat a la Corona d’Aragó: documents sobre càtars, valdesos i altres heretges (1155-1324) edited for the Fundació Noguera by Sergi Grau Torras, Eduard Bega Salomó and Stefano M. Cingolani (2 vol., Barcelona 2015), accessible online as PDF’s (vol. I and II). The book gives a succinct introduction to the sources edited. The team edits a number of items preserved in the Doat registers. The editors provided also a useful basic bibliography. The Fundació Noguera has created PDF versions of a lot of its recent publications which include editions of medieval sources, for example in the series Diplomatarios. A turn in the direction of the Iberian peninsula in a period during which the influence of the kingdom of Aragon was a major factor in southern France is not amiss.

Long awaited

Banner "The Great Inquisition"

I was happy to discover not only the project at York and the splendid new digital version of the register at Toulouse, but also a database created by Jean-Paul Rehr with his edition of some depositions in the register. Rehr’s pilot edition is the result of a student project for the international project Digital Editing of Medieval Manuscripts (DEMM). Rehr uses the possibility to navigate easily to particular places and people. When unexpectedly visiting the site of this project I looked immediately for editions touching upon legal history. A second project at DEMM related to the medieval inquisition concerns an edition of a fifteenth-century treatise Signa hereticorum from Bohemia, edited by Teresa Kolmacková. A third project by Hugo Fradin looks at the Judicium Veritatis, an allegorical representation of virtues searching truth and a theatrical play, both set around pope Clemens VII. The use of digital tools and various ways of representations with source images and an edition are the core of the DEMM project. Digital tools have not appeared until now in the York Doat 21-24 project.

BAV, ms. Vat. lat. 4030, f. 1r

Città del Vaticano, BAV, ms. Vat. lat. 4030, f. 1r – image: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana,

While finishing this post I could not help thinking of yet another famous source for the history of the medieval inquisition, the register compiled by bishop Jacques Fournier, Bernard Gui and others concerning the interrogations of Cathars in the Foix region between 1318 and 1325. Jean Duvernoy’s edition in three volumes (1965) and his 1978 translation have been used by many scholars, but there were some justifiable doubts about the quality of his edition, most outspoken by A. Dondaine [‘Le registre d’Inquisition de Jacques Fournier. A propos d’une édition récente’, Revue de l’Histoire des Religions 178/1 (1970) 49-56; online, Persée]. As a part of the digitization project at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana the manuscript Vat. lat. 4030 has been accessible online since February 2017.  Jean-Baptiste Piggin mentioned it on his blog in a post in his famous series on newly digitized manuscripts in the Vatican Library as an item reproduced in low quality. However, in 2018 there is a colour version, with a thin and at some points irritating watermark. Maybe the British Library will one day create a digital version of Add. 4697, and add it to its wonderful collection of digitized manuscripts!

Among the things to note in this post is first of all the role of earlier scholars starting already in the seventeenth century. I wanted to underline also the coexistence today of access to classical editions, old and modern transcriptions, and archival and manuscript resources, often accessible online. We could see here registers which classify clearly as archival records nevertheless already for centuries in the holdings of libraries. Another thing to note is how seemingly new views might be not so new after all, but only not yet received in particular circles, schools of thought and even speakers of a different language. A world in itself is at stake in the records concerning the inquisitions. In this case they stem from a particular region in a restricted period, which should not make us jump to quick generalisations about medieval Europe. The interrogations by inquisitors give us stories, but even with growing knowledge about their questions the words remain to be interpreted with utmost care and attention, and with a command of skills which in many cases only teams and scholars from several disciplines can bring together.

A postscript

jean-Paul Rehr kindly alerted me to the new website De heresi which will eventually present the content of Doat 21-24 with a focus on persons and places.

Suriname’s slavery registers unbound

Start screen slavery regisyers, Nationaal Archief, Suriname

On July 1, 1863 slavery was officially abolished in Suriname. A ten-year transitional period followed during which former slave owners received a monetary compensation for each former slave. Since many years people originally coming from Suriname celebrate in The Netherlands on July 1 the feast of Keti Koti, “The Breaking of the Chains”. It is only fitting that last week the digital version of slave registers kept between 1830 and 1863, now hold by the Nationaal Archief of Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo, was launched by a number of institutions led by Coen van Galen at the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and Maurits Hassankhan at the Anton de Kom Universiteit van Suriname, with support from the Dutch National Archives in The Hague.

Last year I reported here on the project to move a number of archival collections concerning the history of Suriname from the Dutch Nationaal Archief to the NAS, and to digitize also a number of these collections. Collections with relevancy to legal history figure large among them. The digitization of the slavery registers is a key element completing the efforts for digital access and conservation, indexing the registers and making them much more accessible for researchers and the general public worldwide. In this post I will look at these registers and their online presence.

A crowdsourcing project

Logo crowdsourcing project "Maak de Surinaamse slavenregisters openbaar"In January 2017 the project for indexation and digitization of these slavery registers started, just after the transfer of important archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo. A campaign with the slogan Maak de Surinaamse slavenregister openbaar, “Make the Surinam slavery registers public”, proved effective. Some 600 people donated money for the project, and some 400 volunteers helped indexing the registers. To put the record straight, anyone could and can come to these archives to gain access to the original volumes, provided their material state is not too fragile. It is safe to assume that you need to come with good arguments to touch them now they can be consulted online. The Dutch National Archives did already provide public access. The operation to bring archival collections back to Suriname created a more urgent need for conservation and digitization.

The digitized registers now in Paramaribo [NAS, toegang (finding aid) 16, inv.nrs. 1-43] can be accessed using an index form shown above. On purpose the NAS has not placed these registers among its forty digitized archival collections. The Dutch National Archives provide also online access to the slavery registers among its ever-growing set of online indexes. You can download the index in its entirety (4,2 MB, zipped file). At this point something becomes clear when you look at the URL of this file, a web address in The Netherlands at the search portal Ga het NA of the Nationaal Archief in The Hague. The search form of this digital resource at both archives is almost, but not completely identical.

Accessing the slavery registers

Logo Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

You can use either a simple search form (Eenvoudig zoeken) with three fields, one for a free text search and two fields for setting a period, or go to Uitgebreid (Advanced search) with more fields. In the second mode there are additional fields from the slave name, the name of the mother, and the name of the slave owner. You can click on the search results in order to get both the information on a person, including also gender, references to the registers and the type of register – with its inventory and page number – and an image of the page in question. It is possible to zoom in at will to any image. Each scan has an individual URL, a URL from my country when viewing individual results, meaning there is one single database behind the two versions. By clicking on the field name in the results you can change their order. You will find either the names of owners or the name of the plantation and its location.

NAS, series 16, no. 34, fol. 2667

It is not my purpose to single out here any defects and omissions, but a few things are very visible. First of all the version hosted in The Hague contains additional information which is not or not yet provided at the website of the NAS. The section Achtergrond (Background) informs you about the information given in the search fields, with a second page about slavery in Suriname and the introduction of slavery registers and their survival. There are important losses, not in the least some registers of slaves owned by the Dutch colonial government. In the registers mutations such as birth and death, acquisitions and sales should be written down. A third page on Gebruik (Use) contains instruction on the use of the indexes and the interpretation of results, and also a handy list of common abbreviations in the registers. The other pages contain a colophon about the project and the user license (CC-BY-SA 3.0 NL).

A second thing to note is the incomplete translations in the English version of the search form. Even the simple search form has not yet been translated completely. The field names in the results screen have not been translated. A much sillier thing becomes also visible: In cases where there is no gender information, the volunteers entered the word Leeg (Empty). I suppose there are more concise and effective ways to convey the fact that no data have been entered in a particular field.

Viewing the context

Using to a large extent at this moment only Dutch for this project is not a particular lucky thing, and you can even extend this to the project website. Translations in languages such as English and Sranantongo are not just welcome, they are simply needed to really open this resource to people worldwide with interest in Caribbean history, the history of slavery or Dutch colonial history. For any project on Dutch colonial history in the East Indies contemplating translations into English and/or Bahasa Indonesia is luckily a natural thing. The project team states flatly these registers are a worldwide unique resource, the only series of its kind. On the project website some further, rather important explanations about the actual state of the slavery registers are offered. It appears no general index to the series existed. Some registers could be consulted on microfiches, but without one or more indexes searching would mean wandering in a jungle without much hope for any results. The thing to note here is that only in 2017 the need for an index was perceived as sufficiently urgent to start a project to deal with this sorry situation. Earlier on having only severely hampered access seems not to have led to constructive action. Van Galen and Hassankhan rightly stress the importance of the slavery registers for not only genealogical research, but as a key resource to connect with the manumission registers, neighbourhood registers of the city Paramaribo and other sources for Suriname’s history during the nineteenth century. The historic context and the slavery registers can enrich the information contained in them in both directions.

Surely we need to thank Coen van Galen and Maurits Hassankhan and the army of volunteers who succeeded in getting their tasks completed in time. Van Galen and Hassankhan provide on the project website a very useful page with four PDF’s with information that should immediately be included on the websites of  both versions of the online index. The project leaders provide a list with the names of plantations and other Dutch posts in 1834 (530 kB), a list with the names of free people in Paramaribo in 1846 (2,2 MB), both created by Huub van Helvoort, a list with first names of enslaved people on a number of plantations (70 kB), and even a list of letter forms, letter combinations and some Dutch words in nineteenth-century Dutch script (650 kB). It is good to see some basic historical skills are not forgotten! However, to my disbelief I did not find on the project website the URL of the index, not even after a few days… The slogan Open the slavery registers seems to have been at least temporarily forgotten by the web team. More down to earth, the current summer heat in my country, the gulf of enthusiasm about the launch, and the very end of the academic year created perfect excuses for forgetting to open literally the doors to the final results of the project also at the project website. The absence of news items from June and July 2018 is another indication for the sleeping state of the project website.

Such omissions and minor problems can be fixed quickly. I would urge anyone involved with this project to proceed as soon as possible with distributing lacking information to both versions and completing the translations. This succesful project well deserves this last effort to remove the barriers and chains which hindered easy access and practical use. The slavery registers of Suriname deserve interest from many corners.

A postscript

The uniqueness of these slave registers should be considered in the light of the presence of similar registers held at the Nationaal Archief Curaçao (finding aid 005, Archief Koloniale Overheid, nos. 1-1070).

A broad view on broadsides

Broadside "John Bull, can you wonder at crime", ca. 1860

Broadside “John Bull, can you wonder at crime?”, ca. 1860 – image The Lawbook Exchange Ltd. (no. 11 in the catalog)

It is the happy liberty of any blogger to choose themes and subjects at will, but sometimes they advert themselves readily. The last years I have written a few times about recent catalog of antiquarian booksellers. In this post I would like to look at a catalog concerning thirty American and British broadsides. Broadsides and pamphlets, including even broadside ballads, have figured here on several occasions. It led me eventually to creating an overview of digital pamphlet collections at my website. This time I will also discuss a matter which is very visible but not always seen in its full implications. Every item in the catalog is offered for a prize which is closely linked with its rarity. Which criteria are commonly used? Is it possible to establish more about the presence of rare books in the collections of libraries and other institutions? Where is the line between a general approach and more detailed procedures? Some roads may be well known, others might not be as obvious as you tend to assume.

Thirty broadsides

Last week the Lawbook Exchange Ltd., a well-known firm from Clark, New Jersey, alerted to a new catalog figuring thirty American and British broadsides, and also one French item. You can view the catalog online or download a PDF version (2,4 MB). You can change the order of the items in eight ways, depending on your wish to see them in alphabetical or chronological order of the titles or the authors, or perhaps starting with the highest prize. The highest prize in this catalog is for the broadside A brief account of the execution of six militia men!!, published in 1828 in the campaign against Andrew Jackson. The catalog refers to a bibliography by Shaw and Shoemaker who did not record this publication.

The second highest prize is for a British broadside published around 1850 with a satirical attack on lawyers, Beware Important Caution Beware of a Pair of Bipeds (…), a broadside which looks like an official notification. The staff of The Lawbook Exchange states they were unable to find any copy of this broadside Let’s not forget to mention at least the only French broadside of the catalog, an arrêt of the Conseil du Roi concerning merchants published at Aix-en-Provence in 1765. The catalog comments that the survival of this notice meant to be posted at market places is remarkable, and adds “No copies located on OCLC”.

Logo KIT Karlsruhe

I could have taken you here on a tour through a number of broadsides concerning trials, but somehow the notices about the rarity of the items caught my eyes and kept resonating. The simplest thing to note is that OCLC is the firm behind WorldCat, by no means the only product of this firm. WorldCat is a meta-catalog harvesting its results directly from a vast number of library catalogs all over the world. In this respect it differs from the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) which uses mainly national and regional union catalogs which may lag behind in the actual state of library holdings. One of the reasons to look beyond WorldCat is the fact some rather large libraries have not yet joined WorldCat. Utrecht University Library, not the smallest Dutch library, will join only in August this year, yet another thing that made me reflect.

The KVK gives you access to German and Swiss regional catalogs. It dawned on me regional catalogs in other countries might well exist, even if they are not or not yet accessible using the KVK. At first I did not readily find a single resource for national union catalogues and regional catalogs. I cannot hide the fact the Dutch union catalog, the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, is only accessible at subscribing libraries and for their cardholders. A second Dutch union catalog, the Catalogus Plusbibliotheken (WSF), leads you in open access to the holdings of fourteen Dutch research libraries. For Belgium I could quickly trace Antilope, a city union catalog for Antwerp, and Cageweb, a meta-catalog for the libraries of Ghent University, two valuable resources which supplement UniCat, the union catalog of Belgian university libraries.

The KVK does indeed include all German regional catalogues. Some of the five regional catalogues – GBV, KOBV, HEBIS, SWB and BVB – cover libraries in several Bundesländer, a thing which clearly escaped me. For a number of smaller regions and some cities there are smaller sets taken from a main regional catalog. Instead of guiding you to them you might benefit also from two other German union catalogues for a particular kind of libraries, the Kirchlicher Verbundkatalog and the Virtueller Katalog Theologie und Kirche, an offspring of the KVK.

A gateway to gateways and catalogs

Banner ShareILL

I did not find a good overview of relevant catalogs until I realized I had searched with a focus on meta-catalogs. Using the term (national) union catalog proved to be crucial. I finally arrived at ShareILL with among its finding aids and tools its impressive list of gateways and union catalogs. The list thoughtfully refers also to a number of union catalogs for serials, but the most important thing is the inclusion of a number of regional catalogs, making me curious about more examples. Let’s stick here with British and American libraries, but it is of course possible to mention other interesting regional catalogs. For 25 libraries in London and the surrounding area you can benefit from Search25. The Serials Union Catalogue (SUNCAT) has a useful overview of comparable projects and union catalogs. Alas some links seem to be broken, but you can for example use the UK Union Catalogue of Chinese books hosted at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Valuable are also the references to projects for a survey of special collections, MASC25 for the London area, hosted at University College London, and RASCAL for special collections in Ireland. The SCORE project for searching printed British company reports survives in an archived version created by the National Archives.

The list at ShareILL for the United States looks rather short, but it includes the vast overview of Z39.50 compliant libraries created by the Library of Congress. The overview deal also with union catalogs in other countries, and although it indicates regional catalogs these are almost only public libraries. The Library of Congress provides a special Z39.50 entrance to these catalogs, for example for the Five Colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMass Amherst). The overview does mention Melvyl, the central catalog of the university libraries within the University of California, nowadays fully searchable at a subdomain of WorldCat. I was aware of the CARLI regional catalog for research libraries in Illinois, but at first I found only a few other examples, the JerseyCat for New Jersey and the WRLC Catalog of the Washington Research Libraries Consortium. At LibWeb, the most extensive survey of libraries worldwide, you can easily find regional library consortia in the United States, but only seldom you will encounter research libraries in the very names of projects. I am sure there is more than meets the eye! For the purpose of this post I must mention at least New York Heritage, a portal to digitized collections in the state New York, and the digital collections of the New York Public Library. The NYPL refers to digitized versions in licensed collections of copies of two other editions of the 1828 anti-Andrew Jackson pamphlet (Shoemaker no. 32473). An overview of union catalogs for states in the United States can be found at the website accompanying Godfrey Oswald’s Library World Records (3rd ed., 2017), and he gives even more overviews of union catalogs elsewhere in the world.

In my view it makes sense to refer to specific libraries or even to digital collections when you deal with specific items. For no. 26, a broadside from 1783 announcing a tax in Massachusetts, the staff of The Lawbook Exchange rightly point to a bibliography of early Massachusetts imprints, but they could have referred also to libraries such as Harvard University Library, the Boston Public Library, the library of Boston College, the Boston Athenaeum or the Massachusetts Historical Society. For Confederate imprints pointing to the Boston Athenaeum is surely advisable, because there is for these imprints both a digital collection and a digitized bibliography.

The road of bibliographies

Mentioning Shoemaker brings me to bibliographies of a particular kind. Specialized bibliographies, both in print and online, are a second resource to gain information about books concerning a particular period, author, subject, publisher or publications from a particular town or country. In the case of Shaw and Shoemaker we need to distinguish between the printed bibliographies by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, American bibliography; a preliminary checklist for 1801-1819 (New York, 1958) and the multi-volume publication A checklist of American imprints 1820-1829 (10 vol., New York, 1964-1973). The licensed online version by the firm Readex abbreviated as Shaw-Shoemaker has as its full title Early American Imprints II; Shaw-Shoemaker 1801-1819, with some 36,000 imprints. For a book or pamphlet printed in 1828 the references in the catalog with thirty broadsides are to the printed edition.

If you look closely at the items in the catalog with thirty broadsides you will notice not every description contains references to online catalogs and relevant bibliographies. For no. 1, $50.00 Reward! The Above Reward will be Paid for the Recovery the [sic] Body of Miss Jennie Warren (…), a broadside from Illinois printed in 1875, we read it is an unrecorded broadside, without indicating which resources have been used. In this case you might conclude thus when you do not find this broadside in the CARLI union catalog for Illinois, the Library of Congress, the KVK, and perhaps as an addition the general catalog of the American Antiquarian Society. Thanks to an initiative of the University of Michigan you can perform full text searches in the digitized version of the National Union Catalog Pre-1956 imprints in the Hathi Trust Digital Library, searching the title of this particular broadside in the online version is challenging. To me it seems more convincing to indicate where you sought without any result than to state merely something is unrecorded.

I would feel perfectly happy when for example the 1836 ordinance on market law in Albany (no. 2) was not found in the New York State Library in Albany, the New York State Archives and the New York Public Library. There is a union catalog for libraries in New York, ConnectNY. No. 4, a broadside about the trial and execution of Henry Anderson in 1822, presented as an item unrecorded in WorldCat and the British COPAC, can nevertheless be found in WorldCat with even a link to a digitized version in Harvard University’s crime broadsides project. The point for me is not to point to any fault or omission, but to underline the need for a consistent approach. For no. 21, Ein neues Lied von der Mord-Geschichte des Joseph Miller (…) (s.l., s.n., [1822]) the bibliographical information is very substantial. Hermann Wellenreuther counted in Citizens in a Strange Land A Study of German-American Broadsides and Their Meaning for Germans in North America, 1730–1830 (University Park, PA, 2013) sixteen editions of this text. It seems this is indeed an unrecorded copy of a most rare edition. PennState University Libraries have created a digital collection with some 1,890 items for these German broadsides which were especially published in Pennsylvania.

Broadsides in digital collections

Banner Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders - Harvard Law School

Trial pamphlets and broadsides have been lucky in digitization projects. My interest in the thirty broadsides of this catalog is also linked with my general interest in digitized pamphlets and broadsides. A few years ago I started with a page on my legal history website for digital collections in this particular field. Apart from the collection mentioned above at Harvard Law School I have checked for the presence of the broadsides under discussion also in the Trial Pamphlets Collection of Cornell University Library. You will spot in my overview at least fifteen digitized collections with broadsides in the United States. In the United Kingdom only a few collections deal explicitly and exclusively with broadsides. On the other hand broadside ballads are rightly regarded as a distinct subgenre, and I have recorded digital collections dealing with them. You might want to read my 2017 post about broadside ballads.

In December 2017 a three-year cataloging project at Het Utrechts Archief ended for some 5,000 Early Modern municipal and provincial ordinances. Archives are the place where you can expect ordinances which have sometimes been published both as pamphlets and as broadsides. In a splendid volume with scholarly articles about Early Modern broadsides, Broadsheets. Single-sheet publishing in the first age of print (Leiden 2017), edited by Andrew Pettegree, the presence of broadsides in archives is a subject which Pettegree rightly mentions in the introductory chapter. Broadsides have not always received the attention they deserve. Their ephemeral nature has been taken for granted. Some of the leading bibliographical projects for Early Modern books even excluded broadsides, among them the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) and the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV). However, the STCV has now started to include Flemish broadsides as well, and even gives them a paragraph in the cataloging manual. Pettegree notes Anton van der Lem has entered sixteenth-century broadsides for the STCN. The introduction by Pettegree is a must-read for anyone interested in broadsides. For Italy Pettegree mentions projects and books concerning governmental publications printed as broadsides. In a post two years ago I could even point to digital collections with Italian Early Modern bandi from Rome, Bologna and Venice. What holds true for Early Modern editions can to a large extent be extended to later editions.

Multiple roads to go

At the end of this rather long post I guess we just touched the surface of a subject deserving detailed attention. Is it possible to give a concise rule for indicating facts about the uniqueness or common presence of old books, prints and broadsides? WorldCat contains information from more libraries than any other resource, but I find it often cumbersome to find in WorldCat which library contributed the information about a specific item. The KVK is strong for European collections and does harvest apart from national union catalogs a number of regional catalogs. We have seen it is possible and feasible to use these regional library catalogs whenever this is sensible. Sometimes you will point to a few libraries where you expect items to be, such as the Library of Congress, major national and university libraries. Legal historians will think of the holdings of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. The Vatican Library is of course another institution with very rich holdings. Specialized bibliographies help very much to gain deeper insight.

In the face of an increasingly international public it makes sense to enlarge the references to them in order to prevent an impression of sharing arcane information with the happy few who are nourri dans le sérail. I would prefer putting the references in a separate paragraph of the description of an item in a book seller’s catalog. By looking also at archives and their collections you can do justice to the fact broadsides are different from books. In archives you might find more broadsides than you expect. Awareness of both archival collections in libraries and of books and broadsides in the holdings of archives broadens your view and can be most helpful. How to achieve this? Scholars, librarians, archivists and antiquarian booksellers need each other and the services they can provide.

To sum up, mention where you searched for information, thus honouring the principle of responsible incompleteness, use both WorldCat and the KVK, remember also to use the catalogs of libraries and archives nearby, or look at specific libraries, and use relevant printed and online bibliographies. Any time you can add something important from your own knowledge and experience you should feel free to put it into action! In an increasingly virtual world it is good to remember you will find these bibliographies – and access to licensed online resources – in research libraries. As users we should wake up when we read words like rare and unique, but let’s not blame a book seller for wanting to create an interest in his goods.

The Lawbook Exchange Ltd., Clark, NJ: 30 Broadsides, May 8, 2018

Comparing law professors of the past

Sometimes I feel the sad duty here to write about recently deceased legal historians. In a brief post you will read foremost about the person, but much less about his background, the places where worked as a judge, a law professor or in other professions. Today I would like to look here at some projects which bring many law professors of the past together. I will focus on a French and a Spanish project, though projects from other countries will not completely be overlooked. In some cases I will look at individual professors, too.

I was alerted to both projects thanks to a blog that started in March 2018, The Making of Legal Knowledge, a international blog with a French and Italian subtitle on legal history and its historiography.

Looking at generations in France

Screen print SIPROJURIS

The first project in this post is already a few years active, but I spotted the second one only recently. Let’s start in France with the database of SIPROJURIS, an acronym for “Système d’information des professeurs de droit (1804-1950)”, an information system on law professors between 1804 and 1950. Siprojuris is a project of Catherine Fillon (Université Saint-Étienne) with the support of Jean-Louis Halpérin (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) and Frédéric Audren (CNRS). Many other French scholars contribute to this project. The database can be approached in three ways, by looking at the professors (enseignants), at their institutions (établissements) and at the disciplines they taught (enseignements). The corner called Statuts provides welcome information on the legal and educational position of French law professors from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and thus you can find out about the differences between a chargé de cours, a chargé de conférences, a professeur suppléant, a professeur titulaire sans chaire and of course those with the fullest possible positions. There are even a few paragraphs about the rank of law professors during the Ancien Régime. The page Sources dépouillées (Sources used) looks at the kind of sources used to compile the database. Information in the Quidam database of the Archives nationales de France has been corrected whenever necessary. It is important to note that a number of dossiers kept at Fontainebleau is since 2014 not accessible.

The Spirojuris database sets 1804 as its terminus post quem, but when a person did teach already before 1804 you will find also information about this earlier period. Jean-François Berthelot (1744-1814) taught for example already in Paris since 1779. Thus this database helps you to gain insight in personal continuity between the Ancien Régime and the nineteenth century. Information about persons has been divided on seven tabs, for external life dates (élements biographiques), training and qualifications (Formation et diplômes), university career, scientific production and information on family matters. bibliographical information and an interactive map. The length of the bibliographical section with an overview of publications differs widely in length and substance.

The heading Enseignements has a few surprises in stock. First of all the number of distinct subjects taught at French law faculties is striking, more than 200. The well-known diversity of subjects in modern law schools is not a new thing. The tradition of major and minor legal subjects is another factor which explains this high number, and this division explains to a certain extent also the different kind of chairs and charges. By clicking on a discipline you get an overview which you can sort by starting and end date. You can also search for a particular discipline and filter for a particular period.

Among the qualities of Spirojuris is the fact it enables you to look beyond professors teaching in Paris. You can see much better the differences between Paris, its central place in France and its relations with other towns and regions. The inclusion of the law faculty at Algiers – from 1907 – onwards is another asset. Sadly on the days I looked at Spirojuris the section on law faculties and other institutions did not work.

The Spirojuris project is connected to the Héloïse network for digital academic history, an European for similar projects. Their website gives an overview of relevant repositories and databases.

While writing about Spirojuris I remembered two virtual exhibitions about French nineteenth-century lawyers. You can find these exhibitions on the special page for virtual exhibitions of my legal history portal Rechtshistorie. The Special Collections of the University of Missouri have created a small online exhibit on the Life of Geofroi Jacques Flach (1846-1919). Flach was born in Strasbourg. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the German army captured his native town. Flach decided to go to Paris. He became a specialist in the field of comparative law, but he also studied a wide variety of subjects in legal history. In 1920 6,000 books from his library were acquired by the University of Missouri. The second virtual exhibition, Paul Viollet (1840-1914): “Un grand savant assoiffé de justice”, Université Paris-I, is much more elaborate. It tells the story of an archivist who became the librarian of the law faculty at Paris. He led the construction of a new law library, and he became also a law professor. It is no coincidence that he was interested in legal history, publishing a number of manuals on French legal history. Viollet was not afraid to take a stand in contemporary debates. He defended the rights of indigenous people at a time this was not at all fashionable.

Teaching law in Spain

Header Diciconario de catedráticos

The second project in this post is duly noted at the Héloïse platform. For Spain the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid is home to the Diccionario de catedráticos españoles de Derecho (1847-1943). Scholars from twelve Spanish universities helped to create this online dictionary; you can find under Miembros information about them and a list of the entries they contributed. The rather special time period, 1847 to 1943, has its own explanation. In 1847 the first ranking of catedráticos (professorships) was established, and in 1943 the regime of general Franco issued the Ley de Ordenación Universitaria which led to the expulsion of some seventy law professors, here found under the heading Depurados. The methods followed for creating this biographical dictionary and the main sources used are explained under Metodologia. You can easily go to the lists of professors for sixteen universities.

The overview of subjects (Materias) shows fifteen main subjects, but for example for Historia del derecho, legal history, you will find also the specific names of variant titles and adjacent subjects. Among the subjects I saw Oratoria forense, “legal rhetorics”. Perhaps French students did not need lessons to speak eloquently, or is there indeed a connection with views about the rational and scientific against a more theatrical way to present facts? Apart from the expelled professors there is also a section on professors who went into exile (Exilio) at other moments and for other reasons.

The main difference between the French and the Spanish project is the fact that Spirojuris has a searchable database. Of course the pages for a particular professor have great similarities. Instead of tabs for different aspects the Spanish website has made anchors enabling you to jump immediately to the things you want to know. For many professors the Spanish project provides also a portrait photo. The Spanish project is far more detailed than its French counterpart. The French project clearly aims at providing information with a standard format, something surely necessary when you want to create an effective database. The section Documentación gives a chronological list of recent publications around the project or concerning a particular law faculty, a scholarly field or a school of thought and its impact.

Beyond France and Spain

The overview of resources at the Héloïse platform is the natural place to start when you look for other projects with similar aims for other countries. In the overview at Héloïse he closest to the two projects discussed here above comes the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum (RAG) for graduated scholars in the Holy Roman Empire between 1250 and 1550, but this resource offers you not only professors, let alone only law professors. The links section of the RAG is rich and varied, but it does not contain something akin to Spirojuris and the Diccionario. For France you will certainly want to know about the databases in the Pool Corpus of the Institut Nationale Universitaire Jean-François Champollion, but the university databases deal either with individual universities (Paris, Caen, Toulouse) or with foreign students in Early Modern France.

A few years ago I looked here in other posts at legal portraits, at medieval prosopography and at medieval tombstones. I hoped to find something among the links in these posts, but alas they do not bring me further for today’s subject. I thought there was a similar resource for Belgium at the Belgian Digithemis platform, but you will find there a database for Belgian magistrates. The links section of Digithemis brought me to another French project, also concerning magistrates, the Annuaire rétrospectif de la magistrature, XIXe-XXe siècles (Jean-Claude Farcy and Rosine Fry, Université de Bourgogne),

For Italy I checked the links section of the Centro interuniversitario per la storia della Università italiane (CISUI, Bologna), but you will find apart from a project on the arts and medicine faculties and a project for medieval Siena and Perugia only projects for individual universities. CISUI strangely does not mention the bilingual project at Bologna with the colourful title Amore scientiae facti sunt exules (ASFE), “Love for science made them exiles”, with databases giving for the Early Modern period the names of students at Bologna (Onomasticon Studii Bononiensis), for all Italian universities doctoral degrees conferred (Italici Doctores), and Iter Italicum, the presence of foreign students at Italian universities between 1500 and 1800.

However, there is one resource for German-speaking countries indeed worth mentioning. Using a very simple web design Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) succeeds in publishing a legal history portal with many sides. A major feature is the section for the biographies of contemporary jurists, Wer ist wer im deutschen Recht, and a similar section Wer war wer im deutschen Recht for deceased German lawyers. Koebler brings us succinct standardized biographies, without sacrificing important details. For twentieth-century lawyers he is keen on noting their whereabouts and role(s) during the Third Reich. Koebler does not restrict himself to law professors, but includes also persons with other roles in the legal world of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Koebler helps with references to biographical publications, too.

I suppose you should see my notes on Italy and Germany as an embellishment of a post focusing on France and Spain, but making comparisons is after all the theme of this post. The two projects have different qualities, and it is interesting to see how the French and the Spanish team approached their goals, set limits and designed a structure for the online presentation. Both projects made me curious to look at other countries. Hopefully you enjoy looking in these resources as much as I do. If you know about other projects well worth presenting here, do not hesitate to contact me about them!