Category Archives: Digital projects

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 post 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 lost 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. 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 (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 can you 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 advance 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 amorph 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 acrossall 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 the DCH as 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.

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.

Power and colour. Illuminated French charters

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

Multiple perspectives

Logo of the blog Carta Franca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charters in context

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

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

The medium is the message

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

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

A shared past. Zeeland and the Dutch slave trade

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

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

A very active company

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance and protest

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

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

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

Using the archives of the MCC

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

Logo CCvM / MCC - image Zeeuws Archief

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

Startscreen "Into the triangle trade"

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

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

New vistas to be explored

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

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

Three new databases for Roman law

Start screen Infames Romani, PoolCorpus

An aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting scholarly research was and is restricted access to archives, libraries and museums. Online materials became even more important for both teachers and students than they did already before 2020. Classicists have embraced the possibilities of the internet and grasped also the use of digital humanities to widen and deepen their research, and to present the results in often interesting ways. At my blog and website I try to find and follow projects with a connection to legal history. While updating and reassessing the information about Roman law on my website I encountered at least three databases that I had missed earlier on or are simply still rather new. I certainly would like to make here some amends for the times Roman law came only seldom here into view. Apart from a presentation of the three databases I will also briefly mention some of the latest additions to my links list for Roman law. In this year’s Open Access Week it is good to know these resources can be accessed freely.

The Romans and infamy

The first database I would like to present is Infames Romani, the project of Clément Bur hosted at the PoolCorpus platform of the Institut National Universitaire Champollion (Albi-Rodez-Castres). It was a pleasant surprise to find this new element on a platform created for hosting biographical and prosopographical databases which until recently focused on students at French universities, mainly during the Early Modern period. Clément Bur wrote his PhD thesis La citoyenneté dégradée : une histoire de l’infamie à Rome (312 av. J.-C. – 96 apr. J.-C.) (Rome 2018), published by the École française de Rome. The database builds on his thesis concerning citizens whose behaviour or position in society led to marking them or simply made them infamous. People not just lost certain civic rights, they were outright degraded also by humiliating and infamous penalties.

The database with 210 cases distinguishes six penalties, everyone of them with subcategories, and a number of general cases. You can search by name, period, the kind of penalty with additional subcategories. Bur limited his research to the late Roman Republic and the first century of the Roman empire. Entries contain the text or texts mentioning a person and references to scholarly literature. In this introduction to the database Bur explains concisely his scope and aim, his definition of persons affected by infamy. He indicates the main resourced used for his corpus, and he mentions a few specific categories not included.

Start screen Trials in the Late Roman Republic

Among the databases Bur used one deserves some attention here. I wonder how I had not seen earlier on the database for Trials in the Late Roman Republic based on Michael Alexander’s Trials in the Roman Republic 149 BC to 50 BC (1990; 2nd ed., 2007) and extended by him, Tracy Deline and Federico Russo with the cooperation of others. The creation of this website started already in 2014, and because it is not a new database I will mention it only briefly here. The book has been converted both to HTML and XML. You can search the database with an XPath form or with Balbus. A second version of the database is currently work in progress. The TLRR database contains 391 cases, treated very summarily, and thus in this succinct form it has clearly to be consulted in tandem with Alexander’s monograph, available as a PDF at the TLRR website.

Roman bastards, a title with a twist

Start screen Roman Bastards Database

The team behind the Roman Bastards Database surely has a very sharp definition of Roman bastards, illegitimate children, but I hesitated to put this database here as the first item. Its title might easily be seen by the general public as a project for studying the most horrible Romans with the lowest characters and most brutal manners, the kind of persons figuring as the bad guys in movies with Roman history as its background or pretext. In their database Maria Nowak and Małgorzata Krawczyk of the Uniwersytet Warszawski bring together evidence on illegitimate offspring during the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

This database allows both searching and browsing, the last way not yet for legal sources alas, and you can use the analytical tools section for creating graphs of the occurrence of terms or their geographical distribution. The database contains currently 1828 items. Information about persons is divided over eight fields. Eight other fields contain information about the source for this person, with information about the exact text, the role of the person in the source, its date and provenance, links to online sources and references to scholarly literature. My first impression is that this database allows detailed searching for its subject, with as a bonus when needed links to external resources such as inscriptions and papyri. Some elements are not yet up and running, for example the list of abbreviations. The team scores points with clear user instructions.

A textual database for Justinian’s Digest

The third database in this post comes not as an online relational database, and not even as web pages using PHP or MySQL. For the Justinian Digest Marton Ribrary (University of Surrey, Guildford) has developed in 2020 a relational database which you can download and install yourself. The SQLite database has been written in Python and comes with sample queries. Ribrary developed this database in 2020 clearly to facilitate the integration of the Digest’s text – taken from the well-known Amanuensis app for Roman law – with some other resources, in particular the data created by Tony Honoré about Roman lawyers and their language.

Ribrary notes there are at least five other online versions of the Justinian Digest. He aims at a more structured presentation allowing more than just philological research, but also use as an artificial intelligence resource. In my view it is in the end helpful to be able to access and use texts in different formats. They allow for different approaches. Of course I added to my website the versions of the Digest in online libraries with Latin texts which did not yet figure on it. By mistake Ribrary suggests the Perseus Digital Library has a digital text of the Digesta. The Corpus Iuris Civilis is only part of its catalogue of texts.

A quick look at some recent additions

The typical thing to do with my web page for Roman law was first of all repairing broken links, a never ending task. During searches for correct URL’s I sometimes discover new projects well worth including, too, and this redeems my efforts. The section with the various original texts for Roman law needed a clearer layout. When necessary translations in print have been separated from digital versions.

This month I checked again the DigilibLT: Biblioteca digitali di testi latini tardoantichi created at the Università di Piemonte Orientale. Earlier on no legal texts from Late Antiquity were present at this portal, but in 2020 this has changed. The DigilibLT comes with an Italian and English interface. You can both read – and after registration download – several legal texts as PDF or TEI files. There is a PDF in English with an overview of the texts included and the editions used.

Among online journals for Roman Legal history The Journal of Juristic Papyrology deserved a place. It appears since 1946 and available in open access. In the section with bibliographies I could add TOCS-IN: Tables of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists, hosted by the University of Toronto and the Université Catholique de Louvain, an online service with both an English and a French search interface. After adding the first two databases discussed here it was only logical to add the Prosopographia Imperii Romani of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the database version of the biographical lexicon for the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

My web page ends with a number of online resources and portals helping you to find quickly texts, tools and other materials concerning classical Antiquity. I was much impressed by the commented list presented as Open access resources in 2020 and 2021 by the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, London. The section on law could be a bit more extensive, but for other subjects the choice of links offers a splendid fleet of resources now available in open access, for example for subjects such as epigraphy and papyrology. This list is a good reminder that only by looking wide and far, and sometimes quite close to your own town or country other scholars and institutions make great efforts to help the scholarly community at large. Gaps and omissions can be filled when you look around carefully, but also by the help of kind people alerting others to things that might be of interest to them. I would like to hear, too, about such things! Hopefully this spirit of cooperation will remain a cherished and stable element, too, in the present world where individualism can steer you away from communicating with others.

Bringing together European historical bibliographies

Logo European Historical Bibliographies

Making lists and overviews is one of my typical habits. I am always glad to find online overviews of projects and websites or portals to an entire range of projects. Thus every now and then I used the portal European Historical Bibliographies (HistBib), hosted by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW). Only last week I saw this portal had been archived on January 14, 2021. It is clear I do not regularly use this portal, but having quick access to these historical bibliographies can be most useful. In this post I will report on my efforts to find a similar commented overview of these important online resources, because using the right bibliography can make a huge difference for your research. Almost all reources I mention are accessible in open access. Among other reasons to create a new list is the fact yet again a relevant database, the Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis, will disappear in its current form in July 2021.

More than a dozen

Banner European Historical Bibliographies

When using HistBib my impression was always that it covered more or less some twenty countries, but I should have looked more closely. For Germany five bibliographies were shown. HistBib contained bibliographies for only twelve countries with an additional bibliography for Eastern Europe. It soon becomes clear a number of links had not been updated, nor had there been any effort to widen its scope to cover more countries. Reading at the portal about a conference on historical bibliographies organized by the BBAW did not lighten up my mood, because this, too, did not work as a spur to update the portal and to maintain correct links to bibliographies and contributing organisations. Perhaps the portal was more a project for a couple of years than a lasting and durable presence in the virtual world. However, the BBAW does continue its online bibliographic service for the Jahresberichte für deutsche Geschichte.

Surely one of the leading thoughts to end the HistBib portal can have been the assumption that it is easy to find these European historical bibliographies with the Great and Omnipresent search firm. Surely some national libraries would provide the kind of list I expected, but often these institutions refer to HistBib. The news of its closure travels slow! In many other cases libraries put a small number of historical bibliographies in a list with often only an alphabetical order. Retaining the original names which are not necessarily in English is not helping you to find easily the right item, and often any comment is lacking, let alone an indication of open or licensed access.

Although telling the full tale of my brief quest for a complete overview replacing HistBib would be instructive, I think it is better to help you here with examples of a few helpful lists and commented overviews, and adding at the end my own concisely annotated list of current online historical bibliographies for a larger number of European countries.

Historicum, the portal with the Deutsche Historische Bibliographie, one of the five online bibliographies for German history, does you the service of not only mentioning the other four, and the twelve country bibliographies available at HistBib, but also links to other bibliographies for German history and further relevant resources. Heuristiek, the portal for historical heuristics at Ghent University, has a page with bibliographies for Early Modern history, alas only in alphabetical order and without comments, but at least with indications of those bibliographies only accessibie for staff and students of Ghent University. Another Belgian university, the Université de Liège, has in its Guide bibliographique en Histoire a page Bibliographies transpériodes with in clear sections both national and historical bibliographies for a number of European countries. The page contains a fair amount of useful comments and indications about bibliographies in print and online. For Scandinavian countries the Safir portal of Lund University proved most helpful. The page on Bok- och bibliothesväsen contains in clear sections with commented links what you expect from a research institution, inluding useful cross references.

It was a joy to see that the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford put in a blog post published in 2009 about an online bibliography for Spanish history a generous list of other similar online bibliographies. A few years ago I applauded here the online guides for British legal history created by the Bodleian Libraries. However, this information at first seemed not to have been included at the main website or in its LibGuides. In fact it looked like some of these bibliographies could not be traced at all at this website or in the research guides. Enter Oxford Bibliographies, but alas I could not quickly detect in this rich resource the kind of list provided elswehere in Oxford. In this case I hope sincerely I did not search properly, and I would be glad to put things right; luckily I could rather quickly find an overview for nine countries in the research guide of the Bodleian for Early Modern history.

One list?

My search for an overview at least giving you the information at HistBib was not as straightforward as you might like it to be. Among the most helpful resources are databases, but you are tempted to skip them because they do not always show up readily for online search engines. The German Datenbank-Infosystem (DBIS) proved to be helpful. The search results lead to separate pages with well-organized information about resources. Although sometimes you approach subjects from a more general level this does help you to broaden your vision.

The main answer to the question of finding one list is in the end simply negative. For some countries there is currently not any online historical bibliography, or even not one in print, or not anymore. Some countries were for centuries part of another country. Iceland in particular is an example. Some countries are too small to make efforts for a separate historical bibliography sensible at all, sometimes a historical bibliography has been integrated into a national bibliography or search portal. Often you will want to find literature for a particular period in European history or for a period in the history of a single country or a region. Using national bibliographies can mean you face nationalist influences, but you cannot evade nationalism by simply ignoring its existence. Creating a commented list of national bibliographies comes with the clear need for some annotation about creators, hosting institutions, time range and the presence of interface in more than one language. I am afraid I cannot immediately succeed in offering all these elements in my own attempt at a list. Many online research guides with a page for online bibliographies mention also union catalogues and digital libraries, and even mix them with each other. To me this seems a failure to see the need for clear distinction between national bibliographies, historical bibliographies, national meta-catalogues and digital portals. It is not just a matter of personal taste that information becomes more valuable by its structure, presentation and annotation.

In my memory in the eighties going to the card catalogue at Utrecht University Library implied you had to pass first the stacks with printed bibliographies. Thus even if you did not use them you could not be totally unaware of them. Faithful readers will recognize my quib about those people who know and use bibliographies and those who do not. I suppose this memory influences me in wanting to see or create this overview. You might think I prefer web pages with relevant information, but having tagged information in a database is more powerful. Over the years I have become more aware of the hard work done by librarians, catalogers and bibliographers to help scholars. Bibliographical resources can be extremely helpful for your research, not in the least by showing you contexts and the fact you can build on or critically review earlier relevant publications. Bibliographies are as important as (meta-)-catalogues and online repositories. 

A provisional list

While working on this post and gathering information concerning online historical country bibliographies I surely realized bibliographies in print can still be very important, too. The list here below has a clear focus as one of its qualities. Another wish for creating a similar list of online bibliographies for legal history for particular, too, grew on my mind. I do mention some examples on my legal history website Rechtshistorie, mainly on the pages for digital libraries, the history of the common law and Old Dutch law. However that may be, I prefer to stick to the purpose of this post. As for the new list with for now just concise comments and indications, it is surely open for comments, corrections and enhancements, and I am still contemplating the right permanent spot for it, perhaps here at the page with research guides. At my website the page for digital libraries seems the logical location, because you can find there already useful overviews of gateways to official gazettes, constitutions, foreign treaties, and a number of bibliographies for early printed books. A search for a bibliography for early printed books from Sweden eventually led to this post and this list, however uneven and in some details surely amusing, too. It is funny to see at least one database which has been integrated into another one some years ago yet still existing also on its own. It is disturbing to note the second bibliography for this country is scheduled for disappearance in its current form by June 30, 2021. In this respect my Dutch view in this post is not happy.

The opening of this list with two websites for Eastern Europe is a tribute to online research portals for Eastern European and Slavic studies. I was much impressed by the country guides for this region created by the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

A postscript

Amazingly the HistBib portal could again be visited at is old web address in November 2021, without any modification. The Dutch Royal Library announced the DBNG will eventually resurface as part of the Dutch GGC cataloguing system hosted by OCLC, without indicating a timeline or a new URL. Here below I added a resource for finding articles on Icelandic history.

European historical bibliographies online

Eastern Europe

Bibliotheks- und Bibliographie-Portal, Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung, Marburg – – publications since 1994
The European Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies (EBSEES) – – functioning between 1991 and 2007, no longer updated; interface English


Österreichische Historische Bibliographie (ÖHB), Universität Klagenfurt – – from 1945 onwards


Bibliografie van de Geschiedenis van België / Bibliographie de l’Histoire de Belgique (BGB-BHB) – – covers 1952-2008; interface Dutch, French and English
BGB-BHB, Archives de l’État en Belgique – publications since 2009; interface Dutch, French, German and English

Czech Republic

Bibliografie dějin Českých zemí (BDCZ), Czech Academy of Sciences – – interface Czech, English and German – with also digitized bibliographical yearbooks 


Dansk Historisk Bibliografi , Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen-


Bibliographie annuelle de l’Histoire de France (BHF), CNRS and Bibliothèque nationale de France – – search interface in English


Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JBG), Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften – – publications 1949-2015; interface German and English
Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JDG), BBAW, Berlin – vol. 1-14 (1925-1938) –
Historische Bibliographie Online, Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag and Arbeitsgemeeinschaft historischer Forschungseinrichtungen (AHF) – – publications since 1990, no longer updated since 2015
Deutsche Historische Bibliographie (DHB), Historicum – – with links to other (regional) bibliographies, in particular the Virtuelle Deutsche Landesbibliographie, and other bibliographic resources – a simple search in the search field of the top menu bar leads to the beta version of an interface in German and English
Bibliographischer Informationsdienst, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich – – for 20th century history, access after registration, with a PDF-archive


Humanities Bibliographical Database (Humanus) – – with a section for history; interface Hungarian, English and German
EHM: Elektronikus Periodika Archivum (EPA) – Humanus – Matarka (for Hungarian journals since 1800) – – a portal with access to Humanus and three other resources, in particular for journals


– Íslandssaga í greinum [Icelandic history in articles], Gunnar Karlsson and Gudmundur Jónson, National University Reykjavik – – a database with 13,500 articles, updated until 2005, for some journals until 2015


Irish History Online, Royal irisch Academy, Dublin – – with links to external resources for Irish history


Bibliografia Storica Nazionale (dal 2000) (BSN), Giunta Centrale per gli Studi Storici – – publications since 2000; interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish
BSN Catalogo Retrospettivo – interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish


Lietuvos Istorijos Bibliografia – interface Lithuanian and English


Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis (DBNG), Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague and Huygens Institute, Amsterdam – – interface Dutch and English – no updates after 2016, end of current service June 30, 2021
Historie in Titels (HinT) – – licensed resource, not anymore updated since 2005, originally created at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) – interface Dutch, English and German


Historisk bibliografi (Norhist), Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo – – for the period 1980-1997


Bibliografia historii polskiej, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – – access seems to be currently unsafe or disabled; appears with a notice “offline”


Indice Histórico Español (IHE), Revistes Cientifiques de la Universitat de Barcelona – – a bibliographical journal
Modernitas: Bibliografia de Historia Moderna, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (CSIC) –
Indices, CSIC – – a general scientific bibliography with attention to the humanities; interface Spanish and English


Svensk Historisk Bibliografi – digital 1771-2010 (SHBd), Kungliga Biblioteket, Stockholm – – also available as an app


Bibliographie der Schweizergeschichte (BSG), Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Bern – – interface German, French, Italian and English

United Kingdom

Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) – – licensed resource hosted by Brepols

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.

Studying the American constitution

Logo of ConSource annoucing the ove to Quill

At a moment when the turmoil around the election of a new president of the United States of America is still living history, thoughts naturally turn to the key elements in the administration and government. The nomination of a new judge to the Supreme Court did not immediately lead to more stability. Political division in the Congress seems to harden. It is no wonder people look at the American constitution as a beacon of light and direction. In this post I will look at some of the online resources for studying the American constitution, in particular ConSource, just before it will become fully integrated with The Quill Project (Pembroke College, Oxford). At some points I will look also at other useful resources.

Digital resources for and around the US constitution

Logo The Quill Project

The Quill Project of Pembroke College, University of Oxford, the new home for ConSource created by the Center for Constitutional Studies, Utah Valley University, has certainly the US constitution as its core, but it is also home to other projects concerning legislation and constitutional history. I confess my surprise about the presence of these projects. The American constitution has so many aspects that even a dedicated website can touch only a number of them. A look at the original ConSource website can help to keep a clear focus.

At ConSource you can choose items in the menu bar at the top of the screen or go to the four sections indicated at the start page. The Library is the central element where you can use a research browser or enter eight different collections, for example for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the amendments, constitutional debates, the Federalist Papers and reactions to them, and state constitutions and charters. The Index is an index in three sections, for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments, and a section for the amendments 10 to 27. The section on education contains videos, lessons plans and information on some other projects concerning education about civil society.

Federalist Paper No. 1, 1787

The Federalist Paper No. 1, 17, 1787 – images source: ConSource

The other approach at ConSource goes through four sections, starting with Documents which turns out to be the Library, the Constitutional Index, the videos and the lesson plans. There are several ways to search and filter the documents collections. It is good to see here also a collection concerning Magna Charta. Interestingly, both the original edition of the Federalist Papers and transcriptions of these pamphlets are given. Resources with original documents are indicated with a scroll icon. There are 21 videos for a wide range of topics, among them one concerning the role of legal history for interpreting the constitution. The lesson plans contain not only units concerning the constitution, but also for the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention and the history of the constitution in the early republic.

Finding the constitution in a new context

Start screen Center for Constitutuional Studies, Utah Valley University

How do these rich resource figure at The Quill Project after conversion? Even without looking deeply into the new online presence it is good to see immediately a user guide. One of the main differences with ConSource is the navigation. In my view it is wise to start with the items in the top menu bar, unless your item of choice is visible in the selection at the start page. Here the Library has two main sections, one for resource collections and one for commentary collections. However, the layout below the links to these section starts with a section labelled Negotiations. You can find here five collections concerning the constitutions and related central documents, and also two section on Utah legislative history. For some unclear reason there is no alphabetical or chronological order, nor have the Utah items be marked with a different symbol or color, things that can be easily mended. With such riches at your finger tips you will want to benefit also from the Reader’s Tools. At this web page you will find things in a very clear and sober layout. The Compare Tool is surely one of the things you will like to use.

When you see some minor problems with the layout in the paragraph here above it is not entirely by chance the overview of resource collections contains some elements which had better been set apart quickly, such as Quill Project News and Forthcoming Events. There is no clear order for the 33 collections, but you will smile when seeing the weather reports collection during the constitutional convention! It is great to have access here to letters edited for the Electronic Enlightenment project. There are eight commentary collections, a number with less chances for confusion or unclear layout, yet I cannot honestly detect a clear order here, too. The inclusion of materials about the creation of the electoral college for the election of the US president is most welcome. If you think I jotted down only some quibbles you might try to find a specific resource using the Reader’s Tools. I tried to locate the Federalist Papers, but alas I could not find them, maybe because some search index does not work correctly, but more probably they have not or not yet been transferred to the new platform.

Negotiations are the central theme at The Quill Project. Being somewhat an outsider to American legal history I can only applaud the attention to the fact the major documents of Early American legal history are the fruits not just of Founding Fathers defending principles with their best qualities, but of debates which did not happen in a laboratory. Decisions were made, postponed or cancelled under live conditions of debate, shrewd or honest use of rhetorical powers, and even under changing weather conditions, and in some years facing clear and present dangers. In my view The Quill Project does help with its resources in open access to break current debates about the American constitution and some of the amendments out of a straightjacket focusing too narrow on a restricted number of resources. The label originalism should indeed be reserved for that kind of framework. This portal helps you to see how origins are elements among many other things. It shows the constitution as an historical document coming into existence after many years of political and legal experience and debates.

Logo Law Library of Congress

At the end of this post you might be waiting for my usual service of a variety of other relevant links. However, in this case it would be foolish to make your own selection of links. A number of libraries at American law schools provide you with sure guidance to materials for constitutional history, a number of them in open access, others licensed and often only accessible at universities and research libraries. I mentioned a number of resources for legal history in open access in my post about the resources portal for the history of slavery in the United States. The Law Library of Congress is the obvious starting point for any research touching upon the US constitution. Its logo deserves a place at the very start page of the Library of Congress!

For those more interested in actual political action around the constitution in the early American republic and the way one of the Founding Fathers worked I would like to point to the digital collection Jefferson’s Three Volumes created by Princeton University. It offers apart from the history of three volumes of papers purposedly and explicitly put together by Jefferson himself and disastrously torn apart by the action of archivists a kind of time capsule. These documents in “3. volumes bound in Marbled paper” stem from his period as Secretary of State between 1790 and 1793. They show graphically the kind of information he daily received, his drafts and sometimes neat copies of his reactions and own actions. For me these documents make him more human. They do not diminish the fact he was indeed a Founding Father. In view of the fact resources can be part of licensed online collections you might want to consult my generous selections of resources for American history in open access in the form of digital libraries and digital archives at my legal history portal Rechtshistorie.

Approaching digitized pamphlets, broadsides and chapbooks

Cover of a sixteenth century pamphlet - image: The Newberry, ChicagoAmong digital collections with old printed works pamphlets, broadsides, broadside ballads and chapbooks have theit own place. You can find a fair number of them in the largest digital libraries. Commercial firms, too, have created some vast pamphlet collections. However, the number of digital collections in open access for this genre is surprisingly large, and not restricted to the Anglophone world. In some ways these cheap printed works have become priceless, because they record ephemeral and fleating information with a resemblance to social media in our own time. Finding such digital collections is one thing, making them better accessible proved to be another challenge. Recently I completed at Zotero a new searchable form of my list of digital collections devoted to these genres which in my view makes them much more accessible.

Adding value to a list

Logo Zotero

When I started to create a list of digital pamphlet collections my purpose was already not to list them only in whatever sensible order, but to present them with comments on their contents and scope. For years a division in a section with some general themes and periods, and a section in alphabetical order by country seemed sufficient. Occasionally people thanked me for my efforts in compiling this information, no complaints about shortcomings have ever been filed. Of course I could benefit from remarks about lacunae and oversights.

However, a tiny third section with “Other themes” certainly was visible and stood as a kind of question mark about this order of things. Some themes touched only a few countries, others illustrated the growing impact of Europe in other parts of the world, some of them would merit inclusion under another heading, too. At some point I started a section on chapbooks, and later on also for broadside ballads. A post here about complaintes criminelles, French broadside ballads about crimes and trials, prompted me into making space for this genre as well. Politics, government, law and crimes are among the themes of ephemeral printed works. However cheap the paper or crude the illustrations, they, too, form a source for legal history, in particular for the image of law and justice, and even for legal iconography. Festival books, too, deserved inclusion on my list. In 2018 I discussed here a number of digital collections with festival books.

In order not to make anyone unhappy when seeing an interesting collection only accessible at subscribing institutions and for their cardholders, I focused almost exclusively on collections in open access. I listed only those licensed collections when you can at least browse and search them, leaving you with at least some substantial information, even without final complete access. Some licensed collections contain many thousand items, but some digital collections in open access are equally rich in numbers. The first image in this post shows a pamphlet printed in Lyon in 1561 from the holdings of The Newberry Library in Chicago, a collection with 38,000 items in the Internet Archive, also searchable with Philologic4 (ARTFL, University of Chicago). On a separate section of its website The Newberry informs you about many aspects of this project, including data versions of the entire set.

Some projects give you not only digitized items, but also access to an online catalogue or a virtual exhibit. For some subjects bibliographies exist. Sometimes even more can be found: The catalogue of the priceless collection of early editions of works by Martin Luther at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, many of them pamphlets, amounts to a bibliography worth mentioning. When you start counting the number of similar cases it becomes clear that even a commented list can offer you only a restricted number of services, let alone a bare list.

Qualities and quantity

How can you make the various kinds of information in a list better accessible? Having information at your hand is one thing, using it to gain knowledge leading eventually to insight is another thing. When you reach a certain number of items in a list, catalogue or bibliography it may become advisable to store them electronically, not only in a text program, but in some kind of information storage and retrieval system. I contemplated creating an online database, either in a specially created format or at an existing platform. A few months ago I looked rather closely at an online database for the humanities in order to deal with a much longer list. The benefit of accompanying visualization seemed most interesting. For this shorter list a chance encounter with a sophisticated bibliography at Zotero quickly led me to this platform.

At Zotero you can create online bibliographies with facilities for rapid reshuffling and exporting in any layout according to the styles preferred by research institutions and journals. You can restrict access to yourself or a group, or invite people to work together on a project. It is possible to create sections in a bibliography, and, for me very interesting, you can create and use tags, labels and classifications at will. Combining tags is very easy and effective for finding information and relating it to a wider context. Thus Zotero can function to a certain extent as a relational database. Using tags is also most sensible when you deal with collections in a variety of languages. Zotero uses icons for particular kinds of information,, be they books, videos, web pages, statutes or cases. It is also possible to import data using scripts.

In my searchable overview I use icons sparingly. Putting the items into Zotero manually gave me a chance to look again at digital collections. Some of them had grown substantially, some of them are at a slightly or completely different web address, some of them lacked sufficient descriptions. It was pleasant to discover for some collections a web directory, a bibliography or other useful information well worth mentioning. I decided to mark the tags for genres within a collection with colours, and also catalogues and bibliographies. Thus for example collections with both pamphlets and broadsides stand out, as do those with a catalogue or a bibliography. I was able to add also the major separate collections with digitized pamphlets from the First World War which you can find at my blog Digital 1418.

Looking at the new overview I am surprised by the ways you can now relate collections to each other in new ways. In fact these combinations sometimes helped me to add or refine tagging, or I could quickly add a collection that should figure here, too. Some gaps have become more visible, too. To mention just a few examples, until now I have included only few collections with pamphlets concerning the Second World War, and the number of collections concerning women is low, too. There is a substantial number of collections from Spain, but Portugal is currently absent. How about links to digitized catalogues for famous pamphlet collections?! Such examples stress the fact overviews will always remain work in progress.

Digital durabiblity and visibility

Logo the Mmeory of the Netherlands 2020

There is always some reason to adduce here my Dutch view, but this time I am not happy with a change in the digital presence of some Dutch pamphlet collections. The relevant collections that could conveniently be found under the aegis of The Memory of the Netherlands portal have been moved to a new subdomain of the Delpher portal for digitized Dutch books, journals and newspapers. At the old web address a project using the same name, Geheugen van Nederland [The Memory of the Netherlands] announces for a general public new efforts for enhanced visibility of digitized cultural heritage collections. You would have expected the creation of redirects for the old links to the relevant collections, both in Dutch and English, but this has not or not yet happened. The old links were definitely not permalinks, and it seems not all old links have already been turned into permanent links.

In view of the ongoing campaign for digital visibility, sustainability and usability led by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network this is simply inexplicable. Creating a new platform with currently just three themes and giving the old portal a new logo seems to have been more important than realizing the impact of the change of addresses. The absence of effective and wide communication this summer about this change adds to the paradox of removing a working portal with substantial contents for an almost empty shop window. Just one example of the impact: The Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, an important contributing institution, still gives links for its web projects at The Memory at the old Dutch version. In the English version of these links for only one collection the link to the new platform has been set, for other collections the old links lead to error messages. The Memory of the Netherlands is a cultural heritage portal with rich collections in open access in need of good maintenance and a new lifespan. In fact, this portal, too, helped me to think about adding yet another genre of popular prints to my overview. Hopefully the current awkward situation can soon end by putting things into order.

Whatever you may think of this unlucky affair, it underlines the fact some efforts are needed for creating and maintaining a digital portal. In my case I commit myself to continuity and renewal for my list and the searchable overview with working URL’s for more than two hundred digitized collections for pamphlets and related genres, and a score of supporting websites. If you spot any broken link in the list or the new overview, please do not hesitate to contact me by mail. Hopefully this service for scholars and anyone interested can achieve its aim of assisting to find your way to these sources in the virtual world.

Digital access to the slavery registers of Curaçao

Slavery register 57, fol. 636

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

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

Researching Dutch Caribbean slavery

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

Logo Nationaal Archief, The hague

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

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

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

The Dutch and the Caribbean

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

Curacao ISTORY - The Tual exhibit

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

Startscreen portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World

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

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

A postscript

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