Category Archives: Digital projects

Medieval sources for Normandy’s (legal) history

Startscreen Norécrit (detail)

Musing about a possible goal for a holiday this summer France is bound to enter my thoughts! Thus it made me really happy to find a new portal about French regional history with an European dimension. The portal Norécrit. Aus sources de la Normandie. Pratiques de l’écrit das la Normandie médiévale is a project at the Université de Caen Normandie bringing you a tripartite online corpus with sources for legal history, ecclesiastical administration and the history of medieval archives and libraries, in particular for the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. In earlier posts I looked here at Norman customary law and at the cultural heritage in the form of manuscripts from Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres. What kind of sources can you find at Norécrit? How does the version presented at the new portal differ from earlier (online) editions?

Familiar and unfamiliar

Logo Craham, Université de Caen Normandie / CNRS

The portal Norécrit came to my attention thanks to the Réseau des médiévistes belges de langue française (RMBLF) which offers a calendar of scholarly events concerning medieval studies in Europe, and much else, too, such as notices about new publications and online projects. Let’s first chart the institutional constellation for Norécrit. The portal is the fruit of a team at the Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (MRSH), and more specifically its unit Centre Michel de Boüard – CRAHAM (UMR 6273). Earlier on this centre launched in cooperation with numerous other institutions already the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. You can read more about the CRAHAM also at its blog Les Échos du Craham.

Law in medieval Normandy

The first section of Norécrit is directly concerned with medieval legal history. The équipe for this section is led by the director of CRAHAM, Laurence Jean-Marie. Under the heading Ecrits nomratif et vitalité économique. Les coutumes des villes et des ports you will find nineteen texts with customary law. Those for harbors contain regulations for tolls, they are not just tariff lists. The introduction states clearly we should not expect too much uniformity. Many texts are not official statements, but instead more privately produced text collections. Texts concerning forestry law have not been included. The Grand Coutumier de Normandie is not mentioned at all, since these texts have clearly a more local range. The Coutumes de la prévôté d’Harfleur (1387) is the first text edited at Norécrit, and the edition comes with a useful introduction and a presentation of the sources. A nineteenth-century edition used only one archival source, but here three medieval sources have been used for the new edition. You can browse the text using the sommaire or use the search function (recherche). This section brings a most valuable addition for the study of customary law in Normandy.

Viewing church life in the archdiocese Rouen

Administration par l’écrit dans l’Église du XIIIe siècle is the theme of the second section, led by Grégory Combalbert, and more specifically the development of the use of written records in the archdiocese Rouen covering the territory of Normandy. Three sources brought together here can show you church life during the thirteenth century in great detail. Apart from a pouillé, an overview of parishes in this archdiocese and episcopal acts from three bishops the main resource here is the famous register of archiepiscopal visitations created by Eudes (Odo) Rigaud, archbishop from 1248 until 1275.

I suppose I am not the only scholar remembering reading about him in the great synthesis of medieval ecclesiastical history by the late Sir Richard William Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth 1970). The concise introduction to the visitations refers to both old and modern literature about this very active archbishop and his register. The edition by Théodose Bonnin, Regestrum visitationum archiepiscopi Rothomagensis : journal des visites pastorales d’Eude Rigaud, archevêque de Rouen 1248-1269 (Rouen 1852) can be consulted online at Gallica as can also the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. latin 1245, alas only taken from an old but serviceable microfilm. It is wise to look at the full description of this manuscript at the website of the BnF, too, because it points you to some scholarly articles and the English translation by Sidney M. Brown with an introduction by Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan, The register of Eudes of Rigaud (New York-London 1964).

A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 - Paris, BNF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v - image source: Paris, BnF
A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 – Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v – image source: Paris, BnF

The document with an overview of parishes in the archdiocese Rouen between 1236 and 1306, too, is preserved in a manuscript held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Ms. Latin 11052). Léopold Delisle published an edition of the text in 1894. The manuscript has been digitized in full color at Gallica, and you can find a succinct description in the online Archives et manuscrits catalog of the BnF.

Acts of four archbishops of Rouen between 1231 and 1275 form the third and last element in this section. Currently only acts up to 1257 are presented in the online edition. For some acts of Eudes Rigaud copies are found in his register. The edition contains both the texts of original charters and of later copies. The critical apparatus and annotation are all you can desire. It has to be noted that some seventy acts of the 154 acts stem from Eudes Rigaud. This Franciscan scholar and archbishop was clearly in many ways exceptional, but even when you acknowledge the bias caused by his zealous personality he remains most remarkable.

The archives and libraries of monasteries

The third axe of the project at the Université de Caen is led by Marie Bisson and focuses on one particular and very singular abbey, the Benedictine abbey under royal protection of the Mont Saint-Michel. The projected corpus of texts at Norécrit has not yet been completed. As for now you will find liturgical texts, followed by De abbatibus, the chronicle written by abbot Robert de Torigni about earlier abbots, and a subsection with sources concerning miracles happening at or touching Mont Saint-Michel. In a later phase of the project a corpus of texts written and reunited by Dom Thomas Le Roy in 1647 and 1648 will be published, and also the Constitutiones abbatiae Sancti Michaelis (1258) and statutes issued by pope Gregory IX. The constitutions will be edited from the manuscript Avranches, BM, 214, f. 9-16, and the papal statutes are at fol. 8-9 of this manuscript which you can view online in the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. In fact you will find there a description of this manuscript and already the incipits and explicits. It would be helpful if the French team provides this link at Norécrit, too. As an excuse for not doing this they can point to the online journal Tabularia. Sources écrits des mondes normands médiévaux with in the 2019 issue a critical edition of De abbatibus with translations in English and Italian by Pierre Bouet, Marie Bisson and others [‘Écrire l’histoire des abbés du Mont Saint-Michel 3. Édition critique et traduction’]. As a bonus they can point to the blog Mondes nordidiques et normands médiévaux.

Three windows on medieval Normandy

After creating the Bibliothèque virtuell du Mont Saint-Michel with numerous digitized manuscripts, most of them held at Avranches, it is not by coincidence this abbey figures large, too, at the new Norécrit portal. Its preeminence simply cannot be denied, but the portal helps to create a more balanced view in the two other sections. It is is splendid to see customary law at a local and municipal level, thus helping to place the Grand Coutumier de Normandie in its original context. In the Bibliothèque David Hoüard, Bibliothèque numérique de droit normand you can find numerous digitized resources concerning law in Normandy from the Middle Ages onwards. You might want to look also at the blog for the project RIN CONDÉ  (Constitution d’un Droit européen : six siècles de coutumiers normands). By the way, Gallica has among its Essentiels du droit a fine section with books and medieval manuscripts around the Coutume de Normandie. The second section of Norécrit brings together precious and interesting sources on medieval church administration and canon law. When searching for synodal statutes from Rouen you can find fourteen texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Corpus synodalium created at Stanford University.

The connections between Normandy and England, and the position of this duchy within France are obvious reasons for looking at Normandy as a region with European importance already in the medieval period. Hopefully my brief introduction to Norécrit and references to some accompanying projects and blogs helps you to put Normandy into perspective as more than just a lovely region for a summer holiday in France!

A digital approach to the Early Modern inquisition in Portugal

Banner e-Inquisition

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

Records from four centuries

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


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

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

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

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

An addendum

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

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

Getting close to medieval papal registers

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

Logo XVIth congress 2022

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

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

Finding papal registers from the Middle Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guidance to records of the medieval papacy

Logo ArchiveGrid

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

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

Finding digitized papal records and manuscripts

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

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

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

Logo Metascripta, Vatican Film Library

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

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

Many roads, many wishes

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

A postscript

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

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

Social justice and American legal history

Banner "Gun Regulation and Legislation", HeinOnline (detail)

This week I received a message about free access to four portals touching the theme of social justice in the USA. Several times I expressed here my wish not to forget themes such as injustice, discrimination, violence and abuse of law. Sometimes good laws can be indeed the remedy to set things right, but alas there are examples where law and justice themselves are the very core and root of evil situations instead of doing what they are meant to do. I seldom discuss here the licensed products of the major firms offering online legal information, not just because they focus on contemporary law, but because access is restricted to those working or studying at universities, research centers and law firms. Many of these products figure prominently in online guides to legal resources, and I do not need to repeat them here.

In 2016 I looked here at some length at the slavery portal of HeinOnline. The same firm has now created a Social Justice portal with free access after registration to four more or less related resources. Apart from the slavery portal legislation about guns, the struggle for human rights and social justice since the second half of the last century, and the Open Society Justice Initiative are available, the latter with a clear focus on the contemporary world. In 2018 I looked here at the historic gun laws database created at Duke University, and it is only logical to compare both resources in some detail. Even if a number of these resources are already a few years available it is interesting to look at them here.

Social justice in various perspectives

Banner with four items at the Social Justice portal (detail)

The four resources now available through the new Social Justice portal are not completely new. Slavery in America and the World was launched in 2016. Gun Regulation and Legislation in America appeared online in 2019. A year later came Civil Rights and Social Justice, and in 2021 HeinOnline launched the digital library for the Open Society Justice Initiative. I could quickly register for combined open access to the four portals

Let’s start here with the resource on gun regulation and legislation in America. This resource is a digital library, and not a database as offered with the Repository of Historical Gun Laws by the team of Duke University. Only a few items date from before 1900, and the vast majority, more than 600 items, date from the period since 1950. In fact it seems this resource takes at its starting point the end of the long period covered by Duke’s database. Here you will find various types of documents, such as congressional hearings, legislative histories, reports of the CRS and the GAO, three periodicals, Supreme Court briefs, and also scholarly articles. The digital library is about relevant regulation and legislation, but not a resource for actual laws, statutes and other legislative acts. You can browse all items and sort them by title, author, date or subject, but you will probably want to use the advanced search mode where you can create sharply defined searches, in particular for document types. The real snag comes with scholarly articles. Being able to sort them in many ways should not hide the fact they are only accessible online to subscribers of the respective legal journals, a thing noted in the introduction. You cannot search these articles with the advanced search mode. Some solace is certainly offered by the bibliography, but alas you can only browse it ordered by title and author.

My first impression of HeinOnline’s resource on gun regulation is that it offers a digital library around gun regulation and legislation documenting legislative history with some additional information, in particular a bibliography. This resource does offer you much in open access, but not everything. I suppose you might be able to find preprint versions of more recent scholarly articles in a number of American institutional repositories, giving you at least the factual information of articles, but not automatically in a legally citable format. It seems to me this resource can be viewed to some extent as the sequel to Duke’s gun laws database, but with a focus on the legal history around laws and regulation. There seems to be room for a similar digital library dealing with pre-1950 legal history, and also for a database containing federal and state regulations in whatever form after 1930. HeinOnline certainly scores with the accompanying LibGuide to this resource. an element visible also without registration, as are a total of currently 65 guides.

The road to civil rights and social justice

The second resource which I would like to present is the portal on civil rights and social justice. The introduction rightly points to the long march, the pitfalls and setbacks during the long and slow march to equal rights, and most specifically to the role played by law and justice. I started using the advanced search mode sorting all items, more than 36,000, in ascending chronological order. Some undated items and items from the 1940s appeared first, followed by publications from 1734 and 1761. With item 100 you reach the year 1846. The main focus of this digital library is the period 1950 to 2000 with some 20,000 items, and it is good to note already some 10,000 items from the current century. Some 7,000 items stem from the Commission on Civil Rights. Some document types are present here as in the gun regulation digital library, but the Statements on Essential Human Rights Archive is a distinguishing feature. By the way, the icon in the advanced search mode pointing to Venn-Diagram Search only helps you to create search strings with AND. There is also a feature to use the FastCase system for subscribers to this system. The scholarly articles here, too, cannot be searched within the advanced search mode, but instead there are five sorting options and just two search fields. I am not familiar with HeinOnline’s subscribed resources, but this seems definitely below its usual standard of searchability. All in all there are some clear blemishes, but Civil Rights and Social Justice is a rich and most interesting resource, and its existence in open access is indeed most welcome. It is a true companion to the earlier slavery portal.

Justice and open society

Logo Open Society

Living in an open society is easily taken for granted when it looks like all roads are open to you and that you can choose at will what to do and how to live and express yourself. Alas for many people this is not their reality. After looking here at two resources of the new portal, and in 2016 already at the slavery portal, should bring the message home that much needs to be done and much patience is needed in creating and maintaining a stable open society. It is a bit confusing that both the initiative of the Open Society Foundatione and HeinOnline’s digital resource have the same name. Adding the word Publications as on the actual search page would repair this quickly.

This small digital library has a worldwide scope and range. You can select three document types (briefing paper, publication and report). Only after selecting a document type you can put them in a chronological order. Alas only with the latest item you see immediately a publication date. A look at library catalogs and their standard features would decidedly enhance the overview of items. There are currently 45 publications, 127 briefing papers and 126 reports. It is a bit irritating that you have to navigate back to choose another document type. The advanced search mode makes things easier indeed.

Before you think I am just in a grumbling mood I decided to look for items specifically aiming at my own country within this digital library. There is a 2015 report from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Dutch branch of Amnesty International on ethnic profiling. These institutions wrote in 2018 a report for the UN Committee against Torture on ill-treatment in the context of counter-terrorism and high-security prisons. OSJI and TRIAL International published together in 2019 a briefing paper on universal jurisdiction law and practice in the Netherlands. As in my 2020 post ‘Against racism, for justice’ it is sensible to look first at your own country or situation before trying to assess the situation elsewhere. Seeing these three publications is a sobering thing for me.

Commercial core business and additional open access

How should one look at the open access activities of HeinOnline? Answering this question is not a straightforward thing to do, at least not for me. I suppose similar firms have their own open access products as well, but at this moment I can only immediately remember LLMC Digital which since a few years brings increasingly resources in open access for US legal history, both on the federal and state level, and for some other countries, too, at its open access section. Its Civil and Human Rights Law portal offers some documents in open access, but it is mostly a portal, as is the Indigenous Law portal.

However, today my main aim is bringing to your attention the four resources in open access created by HeinOnline, one of them for an institution acting worldwide for the cause of rights making a truly open society possible. HeinOnline has chosen themes connecting the past with the present in a very clear way. I mentioned in particular the good use of the LibGuides system with clear commented information, only lacking the touch of distinguishing with symbols between licensed resources and resources in open access. This seems to me a thing too often neglected in the guides offered by libraries, even after two years of lockdowns and restricted live access to scholarly and cultural heritage institutions. At some points the four resources clearly betray their origin from a firm focusing on contemporary law, sometimes as an advantage and sometimes as an obstacle for historical research. Let’s use them for your own benefit as a researcher, but I think they should indeed enjoy wider circulation as an addition to digital public history.

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

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

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

Precious traces of material surroundings

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

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

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

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

Eight collections of inventories

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

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

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

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

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

Some early impressions

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

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

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

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

Header website Medeival Academy of America

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

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

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


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

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

Some afterthoughts

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

Reframing a medieval bureaucracy: Databases for papal charters

Flyer "Papsturkunden ohne Ende"

At my blog medieval canon law is a special subject. Lately I have written here a few times about medieval charters. In 2020 I devoted a very long post to a number of papal charters from the fourteenth century issued around an interdict on the Dutch city of Dordrecht. This year the quadrennial congress on medieval canon law will hopefully take place in St. Louis from July 17 to 23.. Another scholarly event scheduled for this month came into view as a subject worth attention here. On February 17-18, 2022 a conference will be held on the theme “Papsturkunden ohne Ende”: Datenbanken ohne Ende? / “Actes à l’infini”: des bases de données infinies?, the endless stream of papal charters in view of the endless powers of modern relational databases. Scholars will deal with a number of projects for such databases. In this post I propose to look at some of them a bit longer, either because of their importance or because they are new of relatively new.

By chance I saw a notice about a project for a portal enabling you to search in numerous databases with medieval charters, Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). It figures in a paper in Luxembourg, too, and it seems natural to present this resource and its many facilities here, too, to add depth to the description of databases for papal charters.

Three related perspectives

The scholarly meeting in Luxembourg comes with a triple subtitle: Databases, interoperability and shared solutions. It is indeed one thing to put information into a database, another thing to exchange information and metadata, and thirdly there is the matter of not inventing the wheel again but borrowing consciously from best practices elsewhere, and preferably working together on solutions. French and German scholars find each other here first of all in a project around the medieval kingdom Lotharingia which gave its name to the Lorraine region now in France. Recently Harald Müller, Hannes Engl, Michel Margue and Timoth Salemme presented their project INTERLOR in the article ‘Vorstellung des Forschungsprojekts «INTERLOR – Lotharingien und das Papsttum. Interaktions-,Integrations- und Transformationsprozesse im Spannungsfeld zwischen zentraler Steuerung und regionaler Eigendynamik (11. – Anfang 13. Jahrhundert)»’, Studi di Storia Medioevale e di Diplomatica n.s. 5 (2021). This project with scholars from Aachen and Luxembourg will focus on the cathedral cities of Liège and Metz, on the presence of Premonstratensian and Cistercian monks, secular power and the perception of the papacy.

On February 17, 2022, papers will be presented about a number of existing databases and the new database for INTERLOR. Thorsten Schlauwitz (Erlangen-Neurenberg) will speak about the database version of the Regesta pontificum romanorum. The Aposcripta database for papal letters is the subject in a paper by Julien Thery (Lyon). Rolf Große and Sebastian Gensicke (Paris) will discuss the project Gallia Pontificia and more specifically regests for acts of the archbishops of Reims. Muriel Foulonneau and Timothy Salemme (Luxembourg) present the new INTERLOR database, and a round-table discussion will be the conclusion of the first day.

The second session on February 18 will look at the roads from textual corpora to textual databases and the chances for data mining of medieval charters. Here Dominik Trump (Cologne) will look at the hybrid edition of the so-called Kapitularien, decrees of the Carolingian rulers, now available online in the project Capitularia – Edition der fränkischen Herrschererlasse. Problems of indexation of medieval charters will be addressed by Sergio Torres (Paris). Nicolas Perreaux (Paris) will discuss data mining, stylometrics and semantics in connection with the project and database Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). Thus this database is indeed for a good reason also a theme in my post.

How will historians use such resources? This question is leading in the paper by Sébastien de Valériola (Brussels) who will look at data mining and data-driven research. Finally Bastien Dubuisson (Luxembourg and Namur) will speak about the transition from database to code for implementing stylometric research for medieval history. This is perhaps the best place to mention the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (“C²DH”).

A look at two databases

It will not do to present here all databases in the compass of a single post. I give at least the URL’s of existing databases. I could not yet find the URL for the INTERLOR database. Finding such databases is helped by a page of the CEMA website with a list of projects in many European countries.

Some databases attract your attention because they aim at providing access to documents from a long period and from a wide range of places. The Aposcripta database is hosted at the Telma portal for databases with medieval charters of the IRHT in Paris (Twitter @aposcripta). The project takes its name from the expression apostolica scripta, a term used by popes for their letters. This database was launched in 2017. It contains currently some 22,000 items, some 14,000 of them from the thirteenth century and nearly 2,800 letters from the twelfth century. These numbers are rather low. You could already find in the first printed edition of the Regesta pontificum romanorum more than ten thousand summaries of papal charters up to 1198. However, Aposcripta scores points with its impressive overview of editions used and mentioned. Entering ten thousand items and more issued per annum after 1300 will be quite a feat. Aposcripta rightly warns you not to expect everything in an edition also in its database, stressing the fact it is more a search tool than a digital archive.

With Aposcripta you get an idea of the sheer mass still awaiting digital treatment. The question of interoperability comes inevitably into view for the Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA) hosted also in Paris (Twitter @Carta_Europae). Even a restriction to currently twenty digital resources for this portal is understandable. The tabs of the search screen of CEMA open new vistas. I have seen various online textual corpora and their search facilities, and I have repeatedly mentioned here the wonders of Philologic4, in particular for the Corpus synodalium, a database and repertory at Stanford for medieval synods and statutes discussed here in 2020. CEMA offers multiple ways of searching in 270,000 charters. Even if I did not immediately spot a chronological filter this is probably just an oversight on my side, and more to the point a sign of my bias as a historian keen on temporal precision! Speaking of another way of representation, the Regesta pontificum Romanorum has a geo browser.

CEMA has undoubtedly most interesting qualities bringing research concerning medieval charters on a new level of depth and possible comparisons. It scores also with a bibliographical database for source editions which builds for instance on the earlier CartulR database of the IRHT for editions of French cartularies. Some 2,700 editions have already been included in the new database.

Into the future

In view of all things now at your disposition in these databases it feels a bit too strict to mention here some gaps or seemingly missing projects. You would expect the inclusion of more existing projects for CEMA. It does raise the question of standards for data exchange and interoperability. Just one of the Scandinavian Diplomataria is currently harvested for CEMA. The fine project for medieval charters from the territories of current Belgium in Diplomata Belgica would seem most fit as a further extension. Can some of the digitized Dutch editions of charters in oorkondenboeken available at the resources platform of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam, also be among future additions? The database with medieval and Early Modern charters held in Dutch archives, the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, discussed here in 2019, is probably too much a resource for archivists than a tool for the field of diplomatics.

Writing this post and mentioning the Corpus synodalium created by Rowan Dorin and his team in Stanford I remember his warnings at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 about creating and maintaining databases for the future, the seduction of putting in all available materials, and the need for the use of widely recognized standards with a view to things as a conversion to another database or extraction into some other system. It is not just a matter of bringing the water from a number of lakes into a new sea, and leaving the result unattended afterwards.

In my opinion the meeting in Luxembourg helps you to welcome the differences between databases with their various earlier history in print as road signs to paths you might explore. It would be most tempting to create an all-encompassing database for medieval charters with images, transcriptions and scholarly commentaries. For textual research you will want access to a kind of corpus, and this wish is every bit as valuable. Bridging distances between scholars from nations with a history of both wars and fruitful mutual influence is one thing, bridging gaps between scholarly approaches in neighboring disciplines is certainly a serious goal, too. I am sure the scholars participating in this conference and working on the projects I concisely mentioned in my post are quite willing to share their experience building on the sometimes very old research traditions behind them. Their openness to new tools and questions are a sign of the vitality of these projects and the teams currently responsible for bringing them into our century.

Translating Justinian’s Digest with DeepL, a multiple challenge

The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome - image Wikimedia Commons
The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome – image Wikimedia Commons

This post is a tale of the unexpected. Last week I received a message about a new translation of the Digesta Justiniani, the famous sixth-century compilation of texts by the classical Roman lawyers. Soon two things became clear: It was not just a single new translation into one particular language, but into a number of languages, and these translations were not the fruit of just one scholar, but mainly the product of the online translation tool DeepL. Béla Pokol, a Hungarian lawyer at the Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest, used the powerful DeepL tool for translating the Digest into fourteen (!) European languages. For this project he had to process some 45,000 pages. You can download the translations as PDF’s from the section Law Working Papers of the online journal Jogelméleti Szemle. Journal of Legal Theory. A cordial exchange of questions and answers with Béla Pokol followed quickly. Here I will look first of all at the Dutch translation, but whenever necessary other languages will figure here, too. I will try to distinguish carefully between the input of DeepL and Pokol’s own efforts.

DeepL takes the plunge

I suppose normally you would use the translation function of the browser created by one of the Big Tech Firms for occasionally translating some information in languages which are clearly out of your range of linguistic capacities. In these cases you get a rough idea of the core of a text, with for example a number of words even left untranslated. The seduction of DeepL’s offer to bring really good translations from and to a great number of sounds for me simply too good to be true. So far I received just once a translation created by DeepL which I ignored completely by going straight for the English original of an article.

Enter Béla Pokol who at the very least has designed a kind of ultimate test for DeepL, translating from a dead language like Latin into modern languages, and not just a general text from classical literature, but the very core text collection of Roman law. Classical Latin has a complex syntax and a rich idiom. The classical lawyers seem to prefer a less rich vocabulary, but their concise and trenchant arguments set a great challenge for translators. To mention just a few modern examples, the Dutch team led by Job Spruit worked between 1993 and 2011 on their translation in twelve volumes of the Digest, Code, the Justinian Institutes and the Novellae [Corpus Iuris Civilis. Tekst en Vertaling]. The German team led by Okko Behrends started in 1995 and reached with the fifth volume published in 2012 only D. 34. The recent project for a version of the Digest with Latin text and an Italian translation was first published in five volumes between 2005 and 2014; the web version was launched in 2017. In 2011 I wrote here a post on recent and older translations for Roman law. At the page for Roman law of my legal history website Rechtshistorie I mention more translations, a number of them available online.

The idea for using DeepL to tackle the intricacies of the Digest came after Pokol had used DeepL to translate his book Juristocracy from English into seven languages, with surprisingly few errors. He enlisted the help of his daughters to deal with the new challenge of the Digest, because he had noticed only a small number of translations of the Digest into modern European languages. Hence the decision to aim at fourteen languages, starting with Hungarian, followed by French, German, Portuguese, Spanish. Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Rumanian, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Polish and Russian. It took Pokol and his daughters a year to produce the 45,000 pages of these translations.

First impressions

For the aim of this post I decided to look first at the translated results, and only afterwards at DeepL. How should one quickly assess the quality of these translations? As a matter of fact many years ago I selected three passages in the Digest for translation into four languages which figure at my legal history website as Exempla iuris Romanorum. D. is a text on fraud, D. 19.2.59 a text about a building agreement, and D. 32.52.3 a text about hereditary law. I add to them the first case from the Digest I ever encountered, D., a case of deadly damage caused by a collision of two carts on the slope of the Capitol. A fifth check was quickly found, too, using the words plumbum, lead, and balineum, bath, both terms frequently used in connection with water, as can be seen in the Topoi database in Berlin on Roman water law discussed here in 2019. As a quick reference I used the Amanuensis tool of Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum.

The Dutch translation created by Pokol using DeepL has 3921 pages. The first translation seems really good (p. 261), especially when DeepL succeeds in keeping everything in a single sentence. Spruit and Wubbe, the Dutch team for D, 4, used two sentences in their translation of D. The second example, D. 19.2.59 figures at pp. 1363-1364. Here I hesitate about the building being destroyed (verwoest), the verb concutio does mean to shake heavily. DeepL puts in the word ongeluk as a partial translation of acciderit. The case about a will speaking about books in D. 32.52.3 fares less well (p. 2164). In the first part the word bibliothecas has been translated as bibliotheken (libraries) but it is clear bookshelves are meant. In the second part the word scrinia does not mean writing tables but chests. Some words have more than one meaning, and it is vital to use the one clearly meant in the context of a case.

The case with the mules and two carts on the Capitol hill (D. killing a young slave is somewhat longer than the fragments here above. At first DeepL impressed me with a clear disposition of this complicated case (p. 681). The mule-drivers (muliones) become only once koetsiers, coachmen. However, translating the term lege Aquilia by “Lex van Aquilia” is decidedly odd. This law and another Roman law, with few exceptions, remains in Dutch untranslated. I cannot plod here through every occurrence of the word lead. In D. 32.35.3 the bath of Iulianus becomes the Julianabad (p. 3241), a very early homage to a former Dutch queen, instead of het badhuis van Julianus or het Juliaanse badhuis. Tibur has been left untranslated, but it is clearly Tivoli, and the word scitis has been promoted to Scitis. In the leges preceding this case DeepL has more luck with some difficult names of locations.

A multiple challenge

On closer inspection there are very real problems. The translation of the references to the works of Roman lawyers is a matter of some wonder. The book title membranae is translated as Perkamenten, parchments. Spruit cum suis opt for Notities (Notes). At some point an author Callistratus is mentioned, a name not mentioned at all within the Digest. The title page of the translation provides a clue to the origin of some of these problems. Pokol has not created a translation from the Latin original, but from the English translation by Samuel Scott, The Civil Law, including the Twelve Tables… (17 vol., Cincinnati 1932). This fact alone severely diminishes the value and possible importance of the translation under review here. It does matter much less which faults can be attributed to DeepL or to Pokol since the very starting point is awkward, and not what one would expect someone to do.

In his article ‘The enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott’, Roman Legal Tradition 10 (2014) 1-37 Timothy Kearley devotes pages 29 to 32 to an assessment of the value of Scott’s translation of the Justinian corpus. Reviewers accorded it mostly only value as a introduction for students and as a quick reference tool. Apart from mistakes in his translations they faulted Scott for ignoring the edition by Mommsen and Krüger and generally being less aware of the latest (German) scholarship. Kearley expands his views in his study Lost in Translations. Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early Twentieth-Century America (Durham, NC, 2018).

What is the value of Pokol’s efforts? He wrote to me his explicit aim was helping modern lawyers to have “a speedy online help” for Roman law and to make it a living heritage. Alas as a reference tool the current translation is marred by a lack of running titles indicating on each page the title of the Digest. In some titles, in particular D. 50.17, De regulis iuris antiqui, the numbers of the leges are not given correctly. Book 50 ends with leges numbered above 1000. This has simply escaped his attention. Pokol did not include the introductory constitutions and the Index Florentinus. It shows definitely he aims indeed at lawyers in general, and not at students and scholars who want to study Roman law for its own sake. Let it be clear Pokol did not at all attempt to translate the Latin original of the Digest. In his view the Hungarian translation of the Digest by DeepL is quite good.

Looking deeper into DeepL

It brings us to the final question of this post, the value of DeepL for translating classical Latin into any modern European language. DeepL offers currently 26 languages. Apart from European languages only Chinese and Japanese are now included. Arabic, Hindi and Swahili are absent. The inclusion of Finnish and Hungarian, two Finoegrian languages, is remarkable. Polish and Russian, too, are languages with a number of very real difficulties. Swedish and Danish are present as Scandinavian languages. There is simply no Latin to test here with DeepL at the moment of writing. DeepL does succeed in faithfully translating English into Dutch at a notable level for fairly difficult texts as the ones used here as tests. It might make you certainly curious about the way it would work as an assisting tool, for example when translating a textbook for Roman law into another language.

To give DeepL quickly a second chance to prove it can produce something convincingly adequate when faced with a text offering some difficulties I entered the text of my recent contribution ‘A dictionary for the Spanish colonial empire and canon law’ for a translation from English to Dutch. Using the free version of DeepL without a trial period this meant each time only 5,000 signs could be entered, roughly half of my post. The translation of the first half contained only a few problems, and in the second part with many Spanish words these were correctly left untranslated, and only some easily detectable glitches in the syntax occurred.

For your interest – and perhaps consolation! – I looked around briefly for other online translation tools which do include Latin. I found a few websites featuring both Dutch and Latin. Translatiz depends on Google Translate. In its Latin-Dutch translation of D. 32.52.3 the word legatis becomes luitenants, lieutenants. ImTranslator seemed at first to offer besides Google also Microsoft and PROMT for Latin-Dutch, but the two last do not offer this functionality. A search in Dutch for tools made in the Low Countries brought me to Webtran where you get only a word for word translation for Latin-Dutch filled with silly mistakes, and not even clear sentences at all. Opentran and the Dutch version of I Love Translation join the ranks of tools with insufficient qualities for translating legal Latin. Remembering just in time Cicero’s vehement sigh Quousque tandem abutere nostra patientia, Catilina? I will leave it at that for now, even though these tools did solve this particular question correctly.

It is a feat to climb the Capitol Hill of faithful translation from any language and for any subject! No doubt sooner or later an online tool will appear which will be able using artificial knowledge to produce translations from Latin, not only for regular classical texts with their own peculiarities, but also for legal texts. Classicists are keen in using digital humanities to sensible ends. The challenge remains to learn yourself sufficient Latin and to find reliable translations made in years of toil and endless care for details, and secondly to have all necessary capacities for understanding the way Roman lawyers thought, argued and acted. A good translation is an act of interpretation in itself, a necessary foundation for further research. Meanwhile we can benefit from a substantial number of older and newer translations for Roman law. As for having an impact on modern lawyers and legislators the quality and vitality of thinking and writing about law and legal history by legal historians should seduce people to enter the realm of Roman law in all its manifestations through the centuries until now.

French laws between 1795 and 1799

Startsecreen LexDir

Interpreting the French Revolution is a kind of historical industry. New interpretations and fresh assessments sometimes seem to tumble over each other or follow in relatively quick succession. Some watersheds remain visible, at least for those not immersed in the latest relevant literature. The fall of Robespierre and the end of the Great Terror in 1795 mark a period, as does the coming to power of Napoleon in 1799. The period between 1795 and 1799 with the Directoire might seem a minor interruption of the chain of revolutionary developments.

In my series of posts on the French Revolution I have put legal developments at the centre. With the completion and launch of a database with legislation enacted between 1795 and 1799 it becomes possible to look again at sweeping views of the character of the French Revolution. Did it really only destroy the Ancien Régime or did it build lasting structures at a legal level? Did only Napoleon erect a final new legal order with his Code civil and Code penal? Let’s look here at the database La Loi de la Révolution française 1789-1799, available at the ARTFL platform of the University of Chicago. What are the qualities of this project long known for its acronym ANR LexDir?

Legislative activity under the Directoire

Ttitle page of the "Corps législatif"

In 2015 I published here my post ‘Laws and the French Revolution’. Whatever the merits of this contribution with lots of information concerning digital projects featuring information related to French legal history in the late eighteenth century, it remains a surprisingly often visited post. Over the years I have made some adjustments and additions to it. The French research project ANR LexDir started some ten years ago, but only now I spotted news about its completion and the launch of the database at the end of the international scholarly meeting La Directoire fait sa loi! held by the Université Paris 1 Panthéon- Sorbonne on September 9-11, 2021. You can download the program (PDF) of this event.

The sheer number of laws and decrees enacted between 1789 and 1799 is much larger than you would guess at first. Modern national parliaments and the European Union do have a substantial legal production nowadays, but the members of the revolutionary assemblées succeeded in creating a massive quantity of legal enactments. How did they have any spare time for steering the French Revolution through all perils?! At the ARTFL platform the project team with Yann Arzel Durelle-Marc, Anne Simonin and Pierre Serna underlines in their concise introduction the fact the French Revolution was a highly legal phenomenon, something already noted by Jules Michelet with his vignette “le triomphe du droit”. The new resource should enable you to put such statements in due perspective.

The new platform at ARTFL offers not only the legislation published between 1795 and 1799, but also the laws published since 1789 in the Collection Baudouin which remains separately available. The Collection du Louvre – with eighteen volumes covering the years 1791 to 1794 – is the source for a part of the legislation covered also by the Collection Baudouin, with 85 volumes for the period 1789-1799. Its volumes 68 to 85 cover the Directoire from October 1795 to December 1799. In fact if you like to focus on either one of these collections you can directly go for them at the search interface.

With the database at the ARTFL platform comes the rich search functionality of Philologic4. Not only you can browse for a particular year and use a general free search option, but also a recherche avancée enabling you to look at contexts, collocation and chronology of laws. The advanced search mode allows you to filter out headings, to skip indexes, to use either normal (Gregorian) or revolutionary dates, and to filter for subjects and titles of laws, to mention only the most important features. These filters are also at hand in a filter panel to the right of search results. You can present results with only the exact text or show them in their context. My first impression is that of a veil lifted from an amorphous mass of information. The feeling you can search here in full depth is most attractive and promising.

How should one appreciate the value of this new online resource? It is one thing to be able to use digitized works, for example in the splendid selection Essentiels du droit of the Gallica digital library showing you many sources for French legal history, but searching in these sources is another thing. A database gives you new search opportunities. Having at your disposal all revolutionary legislation coming from the capital and being able to use it as a textual corpus helps you to put materials from outside Paris from the various départements into more and deeper relief, to mention just one possible approach. In the next paragraph we will see how French revolutionary legislation does not have to be studied as a single or isolated subject.

The wonders of ARTFL


Some recent additions at the ARTFL platform merit particular mention, too. The section What’s new at ARTFL has much to offer! The ten volumes of the Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre have become available online. You can use the Philologic Federated Bibliography for bibliographic research across all ARTFL resources.

Most interesting for legal historians and everyone else is the first version of the Intertextual Hub, a portal for searching with one search action in a number of resources, among them nearly 26,000 French revolutionary pamphlets digitized by The Newberry Library in Chicago, the Archives parlementaires and also revolutionary laws, the latter with an English search interface. Add to them the Journaux de Marat and eighteenth-century works on political thought and economy for the Goldsmith-Kress collection, and you will agree with me this new hub is indeed most valuable. Among similarly searchable resources elsewhere I should mention the newspaper Le Moniteur Universel (1789-1830). Florida State University has created a searchable version of this gazette nationale.

In view of the riches awaiting you both in this alluring Intertextual Hub and in the database with French revolutionary legislation from 1789 until the end of 1799 you will probably not want to read here much longer than absolutely necessary! I will end with warm thanks to the research team in Paris and the ARTFL staff at Chicago for bringing this project to a successful conclusion. I had best offer you here below the links to the complete series of my posts concerning legal history and the French Revolution.

The first article in this series, ‘Laws and the French Revolution’, appeared in February 2015. The second article came in June 2015, ‘Some notes on the history of tolerance’. A third post was published in March 2016, ‘Images and the road to the French Revolution’. The fourth post from August 2016 focused on legal briefs before, during and after the French Revolution, ‘Legal rhetorics and reality in Early Modern France: The factums’. Among earlier posts you might still like to look at ‘Rousseau at 300 years: nature and law’ (2012).

A dictionary for the Spanish colonial empire and canon law

This year I follow my tradition of starting the new year with a post featuring either the law of an empire or an empire, and this year I offer the former. A constitutive element of the international project based at Mainz for the School of Salamanca is a political-legal dictionary. In an earlier post I mentioned the dictionary only briefly, because at tha time it did not yet exist. However, things have changed since 2017, and it is certainly interesting to look now in more detail at the form, contents and progress of the Diccionario Histórico de Derecho Canónico en Hispanoamérica y Filipinas, Siglos XVI-XVIII. Using the simple abbreviation DCH has particular consequences for finding this online dictionary. Anyway, the DCH is not the first dictionary appearing at my blog.

Studying Spanish colonial law

Research into Spanish legal history and colonial laws and legislation in the Spanish colonial empire in Latin America is in particular associated with the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory (MPILHLT) in Frankfurt am Main. Last year its name changed a lot by adding a third department for legal theory to the two departments for legal history, and by removing the word European from its name. Speaking of names, nowadays the term School of Salamanca is no longer linked exclusively to sixteenth-century thinkers teaching at this Spanish university, nor is it confined to law or theology.

The core of the project of the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz for the School of Salamanca is a digital collection with 116 works mainly published in the sixteenth century. At the website you can also consult the series of working papers published by the research team. The project website describes as an objective a dictionary for juridical-political languages with eventually some 200 entries, taking their cues from both Spanish and Latin words. Entries will appear from 2020 onwards, but no entries are visible at the project website. This dictionary is a separate aim, not to be confused with the DCH, as Ana Arango kindly pointed out to me.

At this point you must be aware absolutely of the role of the MPILHLT within this project. At its website the information has been placed on a number of web pages. There is a general page for this cooperation with the Akademie in Mainz, but you will have to navigate also to the web page for the School of Salamanca. This page alerts you to the blog of the Mainz website, where the blog is found under the heading News. The Frankfurt page for the Salamanca project does not mention its own page for the Historical Dictionary of Canon Law in Hispanic America and the Philippines 16th-18th century (DCH). On that page you will find the actual entries now available halfway at the heading Blog, not the one and only spot where you would indeed expect it to appear.

Let’s not hide the fact I had noticed the abbreviation DCH at the Frankfurt website earlier on, especially among the new releases, but somehow the direct link with this project was not clear for me. In a way it is just a small revenge of using too much abbreviations… At the third Salamanca page in Frankfurt, the one for Salamanca Publications in the publications section, the DCH is yet absent. Actually the series of published entries for the DCH can be found also at the SSRN page of the MPHLHT where they appear in the chronological sequence of publication.

To be honest, this situation is only temporary, but it is a nice example of a dilemma between providing information about final results and preliminary publications. In a town with much attention to system theory this should make you smile! The two institutions should not hesitate to give the new temporary form of the DCH at the Hypotheses network simply its due as a perfectly sensible solution for the time being. No doubt plans for the definitive form of publication are being contemplated right now.

The DCH as work in progress

There was a time when great dictionaries were published only in print, often at a slow pace. Decades after the start the final volume would appear at last, and decades afterwards some supplement could be printed. This simple picture does not exist anymore. Many dictionaries have been digitized or their new edition appears both online and in print.

At the DCH blog – also present at Twitter, @DiccionarioDCH – you should not jump immediately to the published entries. It is wiser to look first at the explanation about its structure (Estructura). The entries – 120 is their number mentioned here, elsewhere a total of 200 or 300 entries is stated – will be organized according to the order of the five books in the Decreatles Gregorii IX, the Liber Extra published in 1234 on behalf of pope Gregory IX. The decretals in this official papal collection were divided into five books headed Iudex, Iudicium, Clerus, Connubia and Crimen. Church councils in the Spanish New World used this division also, as did the major European handbooks for canon law in the Early Modern period. There is a table showing this division and the entries currently available under each heading. Four general entries on canon law, moral theology, the Patronato Real and historiography will function as introductions.

The nature and form of this dictionary can best be tasted in the most recent published entries which all mention immediately the DCH blog. I restrict myself to two entries, Vicarios under the heading Iudex and Sentencia under Iudicium; the links here are to the introductions on the DCH blog.

Susana Frias gives a crisp and clear summary of her article Vicario. She looks at the various positions of the vicario, in particular at his role as a judge delegated by a bishop, but she mentions other types of vicars as well. She gives examples of the context, for example the tension between religious orders and bishops, ad the growing influence of the Spanish crown on ecclesiastical institutions. This summary helps a reader much. Her contribution, downloadable from SSRN, has 23 pages, with abstracts at SSRN in Spanish and English. Frias’ article has ten sections. After a few lines about the pope as the Vicar of Christ she deals with the vicar-general of a bishop, the vicario capitular functioning during a sede vacante in a diocese. The vicario foraneo is a judicial official representing episcopal jurisdiction in a district. A vicario coadjutor is the figure closest to a parish vicar, an assistant to the curate. With the vicario apostolico we encounter another familiar figure in canon law, the administrator of a region without diocesan organization. The function of the vicario castrense was created in the seventeenth century as an army chaplain. The last vicars in this article are the vicarios within religious orders, the officials representing the provincial, sometimes for visitations as a visitador. In the last section (pp. 17-23) Frias offers a concise historiographic conclusion and a substantial list of primary sources and secondary literature used for this contribution. With ample references to the sources in each section this is clearly the kind of dictionary article which can both help you quickly to gain basic knowledge and offer you also the necessary background information.

Faustino Martinez divides in his abstract his contribution Sentencia on verdicts into two sections, a general section on the place of verdicts within a trial, and a section focusing on developments and characteristics of verdicts within the Spanish empire. This is exactly also the abstract in Spanish and English at SSRN. I had expected to find at the beginning of his article with 48 pages a visual overview the headings of the subsections, but he lists in fact the nine sections in the last lines of his introduction. An indication of their respective importance would be welcome. After ten pages it is clear the section Elementos y modos de la sentencia is such part of his contribution (pp. 7-17). All other sections are rather short but densely packed with information. I would single out the sections on nullity of sentences and on abuse of justice by starting a process based on invalid claims. They put things really into relief. The section on typical developments in the Spanish colonial empire, too, is relatively short (pp. 32-38), as is the historiographic balance which points out a substantial number of matters to be investigated. There is much space at the end for the primary sources and scholarly literature. On balance the subject deserves indeed a long and intricate contribution with relatively short sections. On purpose I have not tried to summarize every section, because this would not tell you how much Martinez has to offer here, both on Spanish and colonial legal history.

The DCH in context

How should one judge this scholarly project? At some point during writing my mind turned to the project Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. This dictionary has a similar long and telling title, Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (8 vol., Stuttgart 1972-2007), edited by Reinhard Koselleck, Werner Conze and Otto Brunner. GG contains in 9000 pages some 120 articles on a number of key concepts for German history, politics and society. This example must surely at some moments have crossed the minds of the Salamanca team, too. I suppose we should applaud the fact we can consult online in open access the entries of the DCH! The DCH is an international project dealing with a much wider part of the world forthe Early Modern period.

My two choices for first impressions of the DCH happen to deal in particular with institutional history. The strong point of the DCH and the Salamanca project at Frankfurt am Main and Mainz is its aim of putting things at their right place within wider contexts, and thus institutions get their due. For me the veil from the abbreviation DCH has been lifted! You can learn a lot from the entries that have already appeared, starting with the bibliographical sections, but I am sure you will encounter much else that is interesting for your own research and general knowledge of the vast Spanish colonial empire and its impact on Latin America’s history and society.

As for the sources used you can bet the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main has several editions or even several copies of the main works used by the team. It is sensible to look beyond the works digitized for this purpose. Apart from the portal for the School of Salamanca you can look also at De Indiarum iure. My earlier post does point to some other projects elsewhere as well, but it told you less about some digital resources now available. For copies of works held by libraries and archives in Latin America you might want to look also at my web page for digital libraries. In particular in Mexico there is a large number of digital libraries. For tracing Early Modern works you can benefit from the Catálogo Colectivo de Impresos Latinoamericanos hasta 1851 (University of California at Riverside), a union catalog for Latin American imprints, and a number of bibliographical projects and works for and from Mexico. My remarks about the visibility of the DCH blog will no doubt soon be superfluous, because curious readers surely will find the DCH quickly. Our thanks should go to the international team making such a project feasible. Bringing canon law into view as a major element of the Spanish transatlantic empire and its legal history is just one of its qualities.

A postscript

On January 19, 2022 the first of the four general introductory chapters was published. Faustino Martinez contributed an article on procedure in canon law. I should like also to alert you to the series of colorful videos created by the research team for the DCH blog.

For those interested in the development of the Spanish language in their colonial empire it is useful to mention here the Corpus Electrónico del Español Colonial Mexicano (COREECOM), a project of the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas at the Universadad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Ana Arango kindly pointed me to the fact the dictionary for political-juridical thought of the School of Salamanca project in Mainz is a different project. Hopefully this difference can be indicated at the crucial points of the websites for both dictionaries.

It can do no harm to mention here the digital collection of Spanish legal documents (15th-19th centuries) created by the Library of Congress. 106 documents were labeled Canon law. At its crowdsourcing platform By The People the Library of Congress runs a campaign for transcribing these records, Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents.

I would like to point here also to the digital versions in open access of the volume The School of Salamanca: A Case of Global Knowledge Production, edited by Thomas Duve, José Luis Egio and Christiane Birr (Leiden-Boston 2021; Max Planck Studies in Global Legal History of the Iberian Worlds, vol. 2; online, (PDF, 50 MB)), and to Conceptos, autores, instituciones. Revisión crítica de la investigación reciente sobre la Escuela de Salamanca (2008-19) y bibliografía multidisciplinar, Celia Alejandra Ramirez Santos and José Luis Egio (eds.) (Madrid, 2020; online (PDF, 1,8 MB)).

Power and colour. Illuminated French charters

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

Multiple perspectives

Logo of the blog Carta Franca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charters in context

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

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

The medium is the message

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

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