Category Archives: Digital projects

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.

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.

What’s in a word? Two ways of legal inquiry in the medieval common law

Startscreen Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Sometimes the name of a website can be deceptive. When I encountered the website Inquisitions post mortem with the subtitle Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Places & People my first thought went to the coroners’ inquests into the causes of unnatural deaths, a very rich resource telling us much about society in late medieval England. However, soon it becomes clear inquisitions post mortem (IPM) are something else, inquiries into the property of deceased tenants of the crown. In this post I will look both at these inquiries and at the medieval coroner and the sources documenting his inquests, and I will look at some other project websites as well.

What’s in a name?

My interest in the medieval coroner stems from the research for my master thesis in medieval history focusing on late medieval Utrecht. I used a rich resource in the holdings of Het Utrechts Archief, the registers for the Vechtkeuren (finding aid 701, Stadsbestuur van Utrecht, 1122-1577, inv.no. 234) from 1477 to 1528, now all digitized, with sometimes quite long and detailed descriptions about incidents concerning wrongdoing, verbal abuse and fighting. Even digitized transcriptions of these records are now available (finding aid 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties, inv.nos 3055-3060). They can offer you invaluable glimpses of much else around incidents. Likewise the inquests of the English coroners can show you in the description of accidents much about late medieval society, as in the study by Barbara Hanawalt, The ties that bound. Peasant families in medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) where coroners’ inquests are the only archival resource she used. She used inquests from London as one source among other records in her study Growing up in medieval London. The experience of childhood in history (Oxford, etc., 1993).

Doing English history can mean dealing with a wide variety of rolls, now kept at The National Archives (TNA). The general description at the website of the TNA of the coroners’ rolls and files for the JUST 2 record series reminds you the medieval coroner dealt also with matters such as deaths in prison, outlawries and felon’s confessions. One of his duties was to ascertain whether any object was involved in the death under scrutiny, because such objects were due to the crown as deodands. This record series contains 286 rolls for the period 1228-1426. Later rolls figure in other record series. You should note the use of both Latin and French. The earliest surviving rolls have been edited by Roy Frank Hunnisett, Bedfordshire coroners’ rolls (Streatley, Bedf., 1961) and used in his study The medieval coroner (Cambridge 1961). On my web page on the history of the common law you can find other editions by Hunnisett and also older calendars and editions of coroners’ rolls, a number of them available online. The TNA has a helpful concise guide How to search for coroners’ inquests indicating also other records series with inquests.

Logo Anglo-American Tradition

The coroners’ rolls are not available in digital form at the TNA’s website, but you can use photographs online at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition hosted by the O’Quinn Law Library of the University of Houston. On its startpage you will find at first a division of materials in several periods of English legal history. The AALT wiki helps you to navigate the digital materials, and it brings you for instance to lists of Anglo-Norman words in the digitized records. Citation Finder 1 helps you to find quickly the right items in eight record series organized by calendar years. A second Citation Finder gives for four record series, among them JUST 2, links to digitized single records. Due to their form you will find for each roll two image series, one for the recto side, the other for the verso (back). It is wise to consult the AALT’s PDF on navigation.

TNA, JUST 2/1, start verso side

The start of the verso side of the very first surviving coroners’roll – The National Archives, JUST 2/1, verso

It takes time to get adjusted to viewing the originals of these rolls, but adjusting to the handwriting might be another matter, as does for me refreshing my memory for the exact years of the reigns of English kings used by the TNA to indicate the time range of each roll. The AALT provides you on its index page with tutorials in English, German and French, three paleography exercises with Latin texts and three with English texts.

Among recent projects using coroners’ inquests is Everyday life and fatal hazard in sixteenth-cnetury England (University of Oxford). In particular the idea to present here every month a telling case helps to gain insight into cases of misadventure. The bibliography at this website is most useful. In 2014 two studies on medieval coroners appeared, by Rab Houston, The coroners of Northern Britain, c. 1300-1700 (London-New York 2014), and Sara M. Butler, Forensic medicine and death investigation in medieval England (London-New York 2014).

A different inquiry

The website Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Peoples and Places offers a compact startscreen with both search and browse functionality, a concise introduction, a news section and a blog section. Alas there is no additional information about the remarkable Boarstal Map from 1444, but it illustrates certainly the theme of places and properties. Mapping the Medieval Countryside is a project of the University of Winchester and King’s College London.

On the project website you can find not only a general introduction to the inquisitions post-mortem, but also a most useful series of articles headed Backgrounds on various aspects of the IPM. This type of inquest happened either with a special writ, or with the standard writ diem clausit extremum devised for inquisitions upon someone’s death. The escheator was the officer acting at a IPM, instructed by this standard writ or another. The written report of an IPM contained a number of standard elements, most often presented in a fixed order. With the inclusion of the time and place where the inquest was held, the names of jurors, the name of the escheator, information about the extent, value and location of lands, the date of death of the deceased, the name and age of the heir, and when necessary information about other royal rights involved, an IPM is a most valuable record. However, an escheator did not always note everything. Sometimes he was decidedly partial or he deliberatedly hid or altered information. On the website the place of the IPM within the process of inheriting is described, a fairly lengthy and complicated affair. A more detailed introduction to IPMs by Christine Carpenter merits your close attention. Her footnotes mention the main relevant scholarly publications.

Apart from the record of an IPM made for the Chancery a copy was also made for the ExchequerMapping the Medieval Countryside provides you with background information about both series of records, pointing also to the enduring importance of the early nineteenth-century Calendarium inquisitionum post mortem sive escaetarum (4 vol., [London], 1806-1828) for tracing IPMs. In some cases the document in the Exchequer series is the draft of the IPM. You will need to work with the tables of references as a concordance between old locations and modern designations. Some documents are missing, others may well be held as a part of other record series in the TNA or are kept elsewhere.

You might want to consult also the concise guide about IPMs on the TNA’s website. It mentions for example the existence of separate series of IPMs for a number of counties. This guide mentions also an article and two books for further guidance. The Wikipedia article on the IPM shows a global concordance between the reigns, calendars and relevant record series (C 132 to C 142 and E 149-150) without any indication of gaps and other record series. However, it does show clearly the uncalendared periods 1447-1485 and 1509-1660. The IPMs were held in Early Modern England as well. The Wikipedia entry scores with a nice number of references to historical literature about the IPM.

The article on IPM’s and historical research concisely shows the wide variety of subjects for which the IPMs contain information, for example family and inheritance, landholding and land use, demography and jurisdiction. In view of this rich material it is good to have here also a glossary of recurrent terms in these records. It reminded me of the glossary at the website of the project Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law (University of St. Andrews).

Mapping the Medieval Countryside focuses on medieval inquisitions post mortem (IPM), held between the mid-thirteenth century and the early sixteenth century, and within these centuries on the period 1399 to 1447. In the IPM the holdings of deceased tenants to the crown were registered. The two different periods mentioned at the start page make you curious about this difference. Here the history of research into IPM’s plays a large role. Printed calendars exist for the periods 1236-1447 and 1485-1509. A page about these calendars explains the development of the editorial policies between 1888 and 2010. The earlier calendars focused on the inheritance. The extent of lands and valuations were omitted, as were the names of jurors and the escheator. Many elements in an IPM document are repetitive, and thus it is alluring to summarize the contents in view of the enormous mass of archival records to be processed. For Mapping the Medieval Countryside it was logical to start with the latest published calendars for the period 1422-1447, and to add in a second phase an enhanced version of the calendars dealing with the period 1399-1422. The modern calendars note for each IPM both the record in the Chancery series and the copy in the Exchequer series.

At the portal British History Online you can find digital versions for almost every relevant calendar of inquisitions post-mortem. Two calendars for IPMs concerning London, too, have been digitized. Mapping the Medieval Countryside offers more search facilities, and it has the great asset of some 48,000 names of jurors entered for the period 1399-1422.

An IPM - source: Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Mapping the Medieval Countryside provides us on the page about the documents with some images of IPMs, however, without any reference. I show the largest image here above. It proves to be quite a task to find some images elsewhere. In the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented of the Folger Shakespeare Library you can look at an IPM from 1599 mentioning the Globe theatre [TNA, C 142/257/68]. The Bodleian Libraries show in their digital collections the IPM concerning John Paston, dated around 1466 [MS Don c. 93]. I had almost overlooked the exercise with an IPM from 1489 [C 142/23/116] in the TNA’s Latin paleography tutorial. Surely a tour of digital collections of county record offices will bring you more results.

It is perhaps good to mention here explicitly we can use images for a number of record series at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition thanks to great efforts of volunteers who did their best to create a clear presentation of digital images. When you realize how much work goes into this website, you will not start complaining about the absence of images of IPMs at the AALT website, nor feeling miserable about missing some other record series. At British History Online you can find many digitized guides and calendars, but not calendars with coroners’ inquests, with as the main exception four volumes with Middlesex County Records. The English Medieval Legal Documents guide of the Gould School of Law, University of Southern California, helps you to find the titles of relevant works and bibliographies.

Visiting medieval London

Logo Medieval Londoners

With Shakespeare you think also of London, and because I mentioned London already here for the coroners it is only fitting to end in this town. A few days ago Fordham University launched the portal Medieval Londoners with a database to search for late medieval Londoners. This portal has also a very detailed resources section. In the subsection for written sources you can find a substantial commented list of legal records. On the page for resources concerning property the IPMs are mentioned. The virtual exhibition Medieval London created by students of Fordham Unirersity in 2015, 2017 and 2019 with exhibits about medieval objects and locations in London can be found at the portal under Pedagogy. Among the links at Medieval Londoners you can find the London Medieval Murder Map (Manuel Eisner, Violence Research Centre, Cambridge University) based on coroners’ rolls for nine years in the first half of the fourteenth century. The map brings you to some 140 murder cases.

Maybe you want to immerse yourself into the history of medieval London and Londoners with a recent book. The volume of essays Medieval Londoners, Elizabeth New and Christian Steer (eds.) (London 2019; hardcover, ePub and PDF) can form your starting point. If I had not already started writing about the medieval coroner and the inquisitions post mortem I could well have decided to devote a post to this very interesting portal concerning medieval London. Combining both resources for your research is certainly challenging, but at least I could tell you here something about a number of medieval legal records wtth very particular qualities.

A postscript

At the website Medieval Genealogy you can benefit from abstracts of coroners’ inquests in Northampshire created by Stephen Swailes and an overview of digitized editions, calendars and abstracts of inquisitions post mortem.

Against racism, for justice

These weeks see worldwide demonstrations and outcries against racism after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a victim of police violence. What can we do to stop this violence? Which approaches can help to expose racism? What is our own role? It is a real challenge to add here something worth of your time and attention that has not already been said more eloquently and argued more convincingly by others. In my own country a recent report showed more traces of racism exist than Dutchmen would like to admit. Therefore it is not possible to tell others to change, and at the same time not look at your own country.

However, remaining silent is exactly one of the problems around racism. In this post I will try to look at some aspects of racism in the United States connected with law and justice. Just listening to people telling us about the impact of racism is one of the most important steps towards a society where people truly enjoy equal rights. A focus on oral history resources is perhaps closest to my own perspective and knowledge. The ultimate aim of the struggle against racism is to achieve a greater measure of justice for all.

A brief look at the Netherlands

In April 2020 the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau [Social and Cultural Planning Office] published the report Ervaren discriminatie in Nederland II [Experiencing discrimination in the Netherlands II] (PDF, 2,4 MB) with an English summary. A quarter of the Dutch population indicated they have experiences of discrimination. The degree of discrimination is different for various groups, and this indicates there will not be just a single solution leading to a more inclusive society. The report shows not only people with a different origin perceive discrimination, but their numbers are surely high, and they perceive it stronger than other groups. They mention things such as not getting a job because their name sounds foreign. Buying a house can be difficult when some estate agents accept wishes not invite them as prospective buyers, even when these agents know this kind of discrimination is not allowed. People told they did not get a job because their place of birth is outside the Netherlands.

The Dutch situation does not stem only from a colonial past in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Labor immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, too, arrived in my country. Many of them have now a Dutch passport, but they and their children do experience forms of exclusion, just because of their names and the perception people have of them. The single most important matter is probably not being aware at all that people experience this exclusion. You might be tempted to thing outright racism does not exist anymore, but suggestive regards, telling remarks and bad jokes exist. My tiny country with just seventeen million inhabitants can seem a paradise, but it is part of a larger world. It may be hard to believe, but it cannot be denied forms of racism and exclusion exist in the Netherlands, too, and you cannot blame just one political party or whatever organisation for fostering racism. Multiple causes are at work.

Eyes wide open, ears willing to listen

Racism touches individual persons, groups and eventually an entire nation or country. It will not do to state you have no idea of any form of exclusion, inequality, injustice and outright violence. It would mean you think you live somewhere else, in another world. Admitting and acknowledging it happens in the very same world where you live, and perhaps not in your own safe haven, but alas surely in many other places, is a starting point. A second thing is harder to achieve, admitting you have probably distinct blind spots in your perception. On the level of a country this might lead to not understanding almost two nations exist within one country. A third thing is the temptation to think in compartments, with “we” on the good side, and “they” on the other side. A fourth difficulty is the great seduction of either deciding for others or letting the government decide about such people, as if you can create a distance from others, instead of listening first of all to others, to their perceptions, feelings and grievances, to their views about ways of building society and administering justice.

In my study I sit across a cupboard with books. A few years ago I put right behind the screen of my computer at eye height a number of books about justice, as a sign not to forget about justice when studying law and legal history. The things staring in your face can be hard to detect, a fact of life.

Logo Black Past

When I started thinking about writing as a legal historian about current events I quickly saw some websites providing you with very good overviews of online materials to start studying African-American history. The Library of Congress marks 22 of its 424 digital collections as directly touching this subject. The Digital Public Library of America has 27 primary source sets concerning African Americans. A good starting point is the Black Past portal with its great range of subjects and themes. Its page on research guides and websites for African-American history is most helpful. It is only natural to mention here the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and its digital resources guide. Pursuing a road to the history of racism within the history of the United States brings you to institutions and portals such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Facing History and Ourselves, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and the National Council on Public History. Two other museums have to be mentioned here, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, the latter with an oral history project. No doubt some of the websites and projects I mention here figure also in this online overview of Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources.

Among the organizations issuing statements about racism and the death of George Floyd is also the American Historical Association. The AHA statement has been endorsed by seventy-five scholarly organizations. This statement focuses on the history of police violence, and it urges to learn from history, even if the facts abut structural injustice and ingrained violence are not welcome, because they damage the image people had of America and Americans.

Oral history

Logo American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Perhaps you would prefer to use visual resources to tell stories of the position of African-Americans in the United States, the racist behaviour against them and the actions of individuals, organizations, state and federal institutions to change society and uphold human rights in a truly equal way for every American citizen. In my view using oral history brings home the message that people tell stories of their lives, of injustice and humiliation, of their efforts against all odds to change things. Looking at television and listening to radio broadcasts of public networks in the United States can certainly show something else, the relative invisibility of African Americans during many decades. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a great resource to pursue this research direction.

Logo Oral History Association

At the website of the International Oral History Association you will find a substantial number of links to sites with oral history projects in the United States. The Oral History Association (OHA) is the organization in the USA for oral history. The OHA, too, issued a statement about the death of George Floyd. The OHA gives you a long list of oral history centers in the United States, To give an example, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNH) does work in the field of oral history, in particular within the project Voices of Minnesota. Within this project of the MNH a number of resources concern African-American history. The Minnesota Digital Library is a portal to other projects and collections for Minnesota’s history, and to an oral history transciption style guide. At Minnesota Reflections you can find some 2,000 oral history interviews, the majority of them with texts, a substantial number with recordings and nearly fifty with moving images.

Logo Place Matters

Writing here “moving images” was at first a literal quote from a search by format for oral histories at Minnesota Reflections, but of course the other meaning of moving images is most expressive and powerful. Other words, too, are these days most telling. While preparing this post I was struck by the very name of a project for community history in New York City, Place Matters. The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, has created Stories Matter Software allowing you to clip, index and export audiovisual recordings to avoid some of the difficulties with transcriptions of interviews. The links list of the center in Montreal is impressive, too. The skills of oral historians, their examples and guides, both in the United States and elsewhere, can help to document also the tragic events in Minneapolis and the reactions of people and institutions.

Listening to the stories about the events in Minneapolis and following the world wide reactions is one thing, pondering their meaning and preserving their memory is important, too, but naturally thoughts go also to ways to tackle racism and exclusion.

Talking from your own position

At the end of this concise post I am very much aware that my overview of resources can seem too detached, taken too much from a virtual helicopter view, as if this would be possible. I am not writing from Olympian heights, but definitively with an ocean between me and America. The news from the United States touched me. I try to think about it, and at the same time I feel emotions, too. In my overview you will notice I gave detailed attention to some resources, other figure only with their name and web address. I tried not to focus only on racism and police violence, and therefore I mentioned first a number of institutions which deal with many aspects of American history.

At my blog I try to look at legal history in its manifold incarnations. Not only positive elements in historical laws, law courts or legal education come into view. Several posts focused on parts of the history of slavery, for example my post on the digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. Violence in the United States was the subject of a post in 2018 on historical gun laws.

I will not and I cannot offer here political advice or show legal roads to eliminate forms of racism, to reform the police force or to diminish endemic violence and the use of guns in the United States. In a recent conversation about what you can do yourself, even at a great distance, we mused about the importance of communication, of listening to each other behind words and moods, about the need for awareness of cultural differences in communication. Changing the way police officers talk with others, prepare themselves for non-violent communication instead of the proverbial Shoot first, ask questions later, and reflect about their image in the eyes of others, is not the quickest and easiest thing to do, but certainly worth an effort. In the same conversation we talked also about the power of symbols and the role of emotions.

As for real stumble blocks for political change in the United States I could not help remembering the way voters have to register for elections. From the viewpoint of a country where being registered in a municipality and fulfilling some simple criteria such as age and not being excluded from the vote by a verdict of a court, leads automatically to receiving your voting card, this is a remarkable situation. It is a challenge for all Americans to gain insight into the many ways African-American citizens can be hindered in exercising their civil rights to full extent as anyone else, to realize what impact such things have, and to understand how this feels in the face of a history of exclusion, open or veiled racism, and injustice. Looking critically at your own country, your own role, your own prejudices and quick opinions, is something we all can do. It might imply leaving your own bubble, changing your own role and perspectives. In 2017 I ended a post about the United States with words that fit here, too: The old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

A postscript

Among the many links you could possibly add to this post I would like to mention Archivists Against History Repeating Itself and Archives For Black Lives, both with resource lists.

Retracing looted and lost art after 75 years

IRP-logoAmidst the current situation around the COVID-19 virus worldwide commemorations take place of the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago. After two generations work continues on retracing objects of arts and other objects belonging to a shared cultural heritage which were taken from Jewish people by the Nazi regime or stolen by others. The process of giving back such objects is often as difficult as retracing art objects at all, not in the least because legal matters impose themselves, too. In this post I will look at a number of relevant projects, in particular at a web portal with a central function. The International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property (shortened to IRP) is a branch of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), with a portal concerning archives and their holdings as another branch.

Combining resources

The situation in the occupied European countries during the Second World War had similarities and major differences. After the war national institutions were founded for doing research on a dark and deeply troubling period, first of all by bringing together relevant documents and archival records. Tracing the fate of Jews and other persecuted people was a most important research motive, but other themes, too, called for attention. Survivors of the concentration camps often found little help from authorities and judges in regaining possession of their belongings. In the years of reconstruction their appalling situation was often simply ignored. Research along national lines has inevitably limits.

In 2014 the movie The Monuments Men, based on the book by Robert Edsel (London-New York 2009) brought the work of curators, archivists, art historians and others near the end of the Second World War and its aftermath to rescue works of art in Europe to the attention of the general public. The website of The Monuments Men Foundation informs you about its activities. However, in this project the focus is on works of art taken from galleries and museums, not so much on private collections. Nowadays The Art Loss Register helps both individuals and institutions to recover stolen works of art.

The IRP is a special portal supporting the recovery of cultural heritage stolen, confiscated or in whatever way taken away during the Second World War. Things get complicated in the face of museums and even nations acquiring items from the collections of Jewish art dealers and collectors. In fact I have to state my explicit wish not to comment on the outcome of legal cases such as the Goudstikker case and the case of the Koenigs collection. Perhaps it better to admit we now see things from a distance, and we should be aware we can see only some parts of a chaotic period which does not allow for easy extrapolation of conclusions, apart from fearing things were grim, grey or indeed beyond imagination.

At the IRP portal you can search in the databases of eleven institutions. Some of these databases cover several countries, but you got to be aware you cannot search every database of these institutions with one search interface. For this reason the IRP portal rightly states it is a demo. The Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Mémorial de la Shoah, the British National Archives, the Nationalfonds der Republik Österreichs für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, the Belgian State Archives, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American National Archives and Record Administration are included in the central search function of this portal.

It is remarkable the resources of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Amsterdam), home to the IRP portal, are not yet included in the central search interface. Thus the list of resources – under the heading Institutions – with ample information about accessing databases elsewhere is most important. The tab Collections brings you either to the central search interface or to the resource notices. Sometimes you do not land directly at the right section for a particular collection. In my view you can currently skip the Collections tab. The search interface has an advanced mode where you can enter terms for artist, location and techniques, but a notice alerts you this works only with some of the databases. Mentioning exactly for which it works or not would be a welcome addition, and a clear order of the institutions, be it by alphabet or by country, would be helpful, too. However confusing this may seem, it has the major benefit of shaking you clear of the idea to find something with just one search action at a single central resource, and it helps you to confront the fact things have been entered into databases in different ways. The IRP does help you to go in the right direction when you use its information carefully.

Logo NIOD

One of the obstacles in approaching these databases is the need for the use of standards, and not just at the interface level. The NIOD has helped creating with other Dutch archives a thesaurus for terms around the Second World War and the Netherlands. This thesaurus is a key element of the portal Oorlogsbronnen [War resources]. At the IRP portal the NIOD mentions only its archival collection concerning the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the unit of the Nazi regime looting Europe for works of art and other objects of European cultural heritage.

On its website the NIOD has created a section Expert Centre Restitution (interface in Dutch and English). This centre hosts the database Herkomst gezocht / Origins unknown. Its core is information about works of art either taken form Jewish people or acquired in dubious other ways and at some time – or still – present in the governmental Netherlands Art Collection (Nederlands Kunstbezit). Here, too, there are warnings about the completeness of the information. The NIOD point also to the website Museale verwervingen vanaf 1933 with information about works acquired by Dutch museums between 1933 and 1945 in suspicious ways such as theft, sale under pressure and confiscation. At the IRP portal is currently no indication whether such resources will be included in the future or not. The database of Museale verwervingen, accessible in Dutch and English, has not been updated since December 2018. Its overview of links and the succinct bibliography with mainly Dutch studies are worth mentioning. While preparing this post I noticed the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has very recently digitized seven archives of art dealers between 1850 and 1950. In its holdings the RKD has archival collection of nine art dealers, among them the art firm Goudstikker. Although I am not unfamiliar with art history I have not conducted special research concerning the Dutch part of the history of stolen, looted and lost art around and during the Second World War, but these digitized archives are valuable new resources, accessible with an English and Dutch interface.

The Dutch websites figure here for a clear reason, not just to honour my regular Dutch view as a recurring element of my posts. It is perhaps wise to mention briefly some of the databases not yet included in the central search layer of the IRP Portal. In some cases the IRP’s overview makes clear an institution has not just one relevant database. Several institutions have archival collections concerning the Einsatzgruppe Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Only the database Cultural Plunder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is directly included in the IRP one-step search. On the website of this project you can also find archival guides for a number of countries, and a section on looted libraries. Lost Art is a database of the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, with an interface in German, English and Russian. The WGA-Datenbank of the Landesarchiv Berlin can be consulted in German and English, and there is a useful introduction on the website of this institution concerning the Wiedergutmachungämter (restitution offices). The University of Heidelberg is mentioned at the IRP portal for its project German Sales 1901-1945 with nearly 10,000 auction catalogues. The website with the database at ArtHistoricum contains much information besides the database. The portion of this project with German Sales 1930-1945 is included in the provenance databases of the Getty Research Institute.

The resources overview at the IRP portal is precious, and exactly for this reason you would expect explanations about the way more databases will be integrated into its search function. The differences between databases are a challenge to scholars and the IRP team dealing with them. It is sensible to view the portal as a tool supporting the use of these databases, and not, or not yet, as a complete replacement of searches to be conducted in individual databases. On purpose I indicated the languages used at other project websites. It would be helpful to have at least some elements of the IRP portal in various languages. In fact not only English is used in the IRP resources overview.

An unfinished history

Among websites and projects that deserve at least mentioning here, but perhaps also inclusion at the IRP portal, are other projects concerning looted and lost art. The most often mentioned projects are the Claims Conference and Looted Art of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. The art library of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz has a succinct commented list – available in German and English – with the main relevant projects and databases. The Swiss Federal Office for Culture has a section on its multilingual website for looted art from the Nazi period, with a list of links. I would like to mention here two websites not included in these overviews. Auction Catalog Segmentation is a French resource created by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art with a focus on the auction catalogues of the Parisian firm Drouot between 1939 and 1945. The Landesarchiv Berlin and the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin have created a website Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken focusing on books taken from research libraries. This library participates with five other institutions at Looted Cultural Assets, with currently some 31,000 provenance records and information about 8,000 persons. Not just libraries work here together, but also the Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum and the Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden in Hamburg.

Logo EHRI

How can the memory of the twelve years of the Nazi period and its history of violence, genocide and other atrocities be kept alive? The EHRI project is one of the efforts of scholars to help studying the darkest part of this period. In Berlin one of the memorials is named Topographie des Terrors. Many German memorials and other websites can be found in the extensive links list of the Gedenkstättenforum. The portal Gedenkorte Europa 1939-1945 helps you to find more places of memory in Europe. However, I will not try to answer this question with only information about initiatives for remembrance. The actions to retrace, recover and restitute objects to their owners or successors, and the efforts to entangle legal questions about the rightful ownership of such objects are part of the aftermath of the Second World War and form in a way part of its remembrance. Sometimes the stories about looted art form a painful part of the aftermath when they brought further appalling humiliation to survivors and their families. Acts and places of remembrance should not hide the ways the stories of the Second World War have also been ignored, kept silent or made invisible. Sorting things out legally about objects is one thing, bringing some kind of justice to people in the face or irreparable human and material loss and injustice done to them is another challenge. Behind these objects is the history of persons with for each her or his individual history and the history of persecuted groups during a terrible period of human history.

Searching digitized Dutch archival collections

The archives and records are accissibleThe crisis around the COVID-19 virus has stopped normal life in many countries. Many people work at home using digital connections to their office. Public institutions are closed, including archives, libraries and museums. Websites offering easy access to cultural heritage resources and other platforms for their virtual presence with digitized resources and open data have become quite important for everyone who wants to know about the holdings of archives, libraries and museums, let alone for scholars wanting to do research about subjects connected with resources in these institutions. For them having access to online finding aids and catalogues is one thing, being able to investigate sources using indexes, transcriptions and digitized images is a second much valued matter.

Some institutions are rightly famous for their clear presentation of digitized resources, others present some highlights, others have digitized materials, but these are not always easily found. In this post I report from my own experience in March 2020 in finding and accessing their resources. Of course I will focus here on resources for legal history. I could have reported a bit earlier but for the pleasant reason at least one Dutch archive seduced me to start researching some very interesting documents. However, in this case is perhaps better to report from work in progress, and to help first people wanting to start doing research with materials from Dutch archival institutions. The other post will follow soon.

Visible and hidden treasures

When creating a website or digital platform one can design it mainly with a view to the own institution or much more with current and new visitors in mind. I have seen many websites with two menus, one at the top aiming more at the expected public and the other with often practical things such as office hours and background information. In view of their rich holdings many archives face the challenge not to focus too much on famous collections, but to offer also a general introduction.

In this post I will scarcely mention the guides and help offered for genealogical research. Registers for baptism, marriage and burials and the modern civic registration have almost everywhere been indexed and even digitized. Searching for persons is often made easier by using the personen view which enables you to search for persons in several archival collections with one search action. Dutch archives often have a beeldbank (image gallery) for digitized drawings, prints and photographs. Building plans, a particular kind of drawings, can not always been shown at websites due to copyright reasons. Archives increasingly put a special button or link on their homepage with an explanation how to get access to building plans. Historic newspapers (kranten) are often displayed on a separate website. The archival systems and the choice of software play a role here, too, in deciding where to place specific materials. In January 2019 I wrote a post about the launch of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, a portal presenting medieval and later charters in Dutch holdings, a project which literally was built using the system of the firm behind the Archieven portal.

There are several ways to put digitized archival records online. In some cases there is a dedicated platform for particular resources, or they are presented at a subdomain. Other options are a partnership with other local or regional institutions for cultural heritage with its own platform or international cooperation with other archives. In a fairly large number of cases digitized items are connected directly with the online finding aids of Dutch archives. Depending on the system an icon appears either at the collection level or at the series or item level signalling their presence. Digital library catalogues often offer the choice to search only for digitized items. It is amazing to see Dutch archives only rarely offer a similar search facility.

At this point it is maybe wise to point to my own experience of the past week. A showcase at the website of an archive made me curious about a particular document which was presented without a reference. Even though the image suggested it might indeed been digitized, I had to start with a general search action, not with entering a special digital entrance. The point is that in some cases you will find out about things, however difficult the way to find something you might want to call a hidden gem. However, when offering finding aids archivists most certainly give access to their collections. “Hidden” can be a relative matter, not pointing to obvious ways and entrances is something else.

Logo Dutch Digital Heritage Network

In 2019 Dutch archives themselves were called upon by the foundation Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland (Digital Heritage Netherlands, DEN) to contribute to visible, usable and sustainable digital heritage, and to participate in the efforts of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, available in Dutch and English. For many years DEN presented the projectendatabank, a database for Dutch digitization projects on its website, but this did not return after a redesign of the website. In the section for visible digital heritage the envisaged users are divided into three kinds, the general public, education and professional users. Alas the English section is somewhat reticent about this matter. After a preparatory report on the situation in 2017 (Nulmeting digitaal erfgoed) reports have been made about behavorial profiles of users, the availability and usability of resources for education, and a report on customer travels (Klantreizen Digitaal Erfgoed, 2019). None of these reports is available in English. It seems a report about the specific wishes of professional users has not yet appeared. Eight profiles have been defined for potential users, ranging from people searching entertainment and gaming to persons wanting to search or experience. The ninth user, the visitor who goes to an institution in person, is not forgotten. Better visibility of highlights and treasures is a clear wish, but not the one most often expressed. The report on customer travels tells about the ways users find information and their comments on the experience to reach their goals. it is sobering to read the comment it was not encouraging having to search yourself when you finally arrived at the website of an archive or museum.

Surely archives are aware their holdings are not immediately visible and tangible as the objects in a museum and the books in a library, but on the other hand they hold the keys to surprises and research adventures. Items in an archival collection are part of a context which is every bit as important as the items. I must confess my shame when I saw the derelict website of an earlier combined effort of Dutch archives to present themselves at Ons DNA | De Nederlandse Archieven (Our DNA: The Dutch Archives), its ugliness crowned by a notice “© 2020”. Its initiative for a yearly prize for the most interesting archival item of the year, the Stuk van het jaar competition, stopped after four editions. The project for the yearly History Month supported this initiative, yet another platform that certainly can help to bring archives into view.

Against these negative results stands the appreciation of the biographical-genealogical tv series Verborgen Verleden, the Dutch version of Who do you think you are?, and the tv series Historisch Bewijs of the Rijksmuseum about historical objects put to the test. Forensic research and archival research are combined in this series that amounts to a kind of historical crime scene investigation, but it does shed light on some famous objects and periods in Dutch history. The episodes about the sword used to behead Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and the question of determing which is the real book chest among three chests used by Hugo Grotius to escape in 1621 from castle Loevestein even have a legal history twist. It is not clear whether activities surrounding the commemoration of 75 years liberation can continue, but here Dutch archives certainly contributed successfully to the Second World War portal Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen. Its bilingual offspring Oorloglevens [War lives] just won a prestigious GLAMi Award.

However important the efforts led by DEN for a common approach and a national infrastructure for access to digitized cultural heritage in the Netherlands, these efforts will not led to immediate changes in the visibility of digitized archival records. In March 2020 DEN called for the creation of a national digital collection Coronavirus in Nederland, and many archival institutions quickly responded with initiatives which will eventually will be assembled in a central digital collection. The focus of Dutch Digital Heritage Network seems to be on access at thematic portals, portals for specific sectors and provincial heritage portals, as indicated in the recent report Organisatie van het aggregatielandschap (PDF). I looked at the portals Brabants Erfgoed and Collectie Gelderland where you will find from archives mainly their image collections.

Mapping digitized archives

Logo ICA

The heading of this paragraph would have been a fine title for this post, but it only came into view when I saw the new interactive map of digitized archives created by the International Council for Archives. The announcement by ICA (@ICArchiv) of the map and the invitation to join in this action comes with an online form to add your institution and fill in details about finding aids, digital collection(s) or a crowdsourcing project you would like to highlight. I cannot blame you for going immediately to the interactive map launched on April 1, 2020. This is serious indeed and not a joke for April Fools’ Day.

As announced my overview of digital collections in Dutch archives does not mention image galleries, projects for newspapers and digitized records for genealogical resources. Such digital collections luckily already exist for a couple of years, and publishing digitized finding aids is common practice. My overview aims at the levels following these services which have proved to be very helpful for many people, be they ordinary citizens, history aficionados or scholars.

Some archives use the trick to create a subset within their archival collections for those which have been digitized. Thus the Zeeuws Archief (Zeeland Archives) in Middelburg present fifteen digitized collections. You can view this website also in English. I had expected to find very quickly, within a few steps, the digitized archival collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they were not immediately visible. I distinctly remember some years ago you could reach them quicker.

Clear overviews of digitized resources can be found for a number of regional archives, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg, with both images and transcriptions for charters on a subdomain, at the Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena in Heusden, and at the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht in Wijk bij Duurstede with a special collection for digitized transcriptions and indexes. The Waterlands Archief in Purmerend has a section for digitized highlights. At the Historisch Centrum Overijssel (Zwolle and Deventer) you can find digitized microfiches and microfilms, including those for some of the medieval manuscripts in the Collectie Emmanuelshuizen.

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

A number of archives works with separate platforms. In the three northern provinces Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe the regional archives have set up platforms with both digitized genealogical records and other resources. At Alle Friezen you can find by clicking on the tab Bron (Resource) for instance records of the nedergerechten, lower tribunals, and also notarial records and registers of other tribunals. For Groningen Alle Groningers offers in the field of justice and order access to acts of lower tribunals and inheritance taxation documents. The Drents Archief in Assen offers for the province of Drenthe not just resources at Alle Drenten, but also a nifty subset with records of Alle Kolonisten, the “colonists” of several nineteenth-century colonies for the poor with the collective name Koloniën van Weldadigheid. You can use indexes, browse images of original registers and also read letters. By the way, these three provinces all have a special website for its archival network, the Groninger Archiefnet, the Fries Archiefnet (interface Dutch. Frisian and English) and the Drents Archiefnet which offer searchable overviews of online finding aids and also thematic overviews. A good example in this category is also the municipal archive of Bois-le-Duc, Erfgoed ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which put notarial acts, a number of other collections and especially the famous scabinal registers of the Bosch Protocol on a dedicated platform.

Other archives offer good access to a number of digital collections. The Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum (BHIC) in Den Bosch offers access to criminal sentences between 1811 and 1930, and to the resources concerning the juges de paix (1811-1838). The central search page of the BHIC for archival collections contains rich digitized resoures for legal historians, in particular concerning the court of the Raad van Brabant (1586-1811), and also access to notarial acts, seals and permissions for having weapons. However, it is not immediately clear you will find here digitized materials. Only after starting searching in these collections icons indicate this. You might expect icons, too, in the Archievenoverzicht, the overview of archival collections. Perhaps the firm of this archival system used by many Dutch archive can quickly come with a simple additional icon within the archival overview. The West-Brabants Archief, Bergen op Zoom, indicates with icons in its browsing view for archival records the presence of scans; by clicking on Bron you can filter for particular document genres.

For the province Utrecht Het Utrechts Archief has several almost completely or partially digitized collections. At least one partially digitized collection, toegang 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties [Collection photocopies and transcriptions] contains a number of digitized transcriptions of medieval and sixteenth-century records, mainly for the city Utrecht, but some also for the States of Utrecht. It seems inside knowledge is necessary to realize that the medieval materials of the Domkapittel, the cathedral chapter (toegang 216-1), and also the medieval records of the city Utrecht (1122 to 1577, toegang 701) have been digitized quite recently. A biblical proverb says your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing, but this does not hold true for the subject of digitization. Not just now, in a period of social isolation and virtual contacts, but generally such information should be communicated swiftly. It is a most natural thing to do, moreover because it has been financed ultimately by tax payers.

Let’s end here with an example from Limburg. The Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg in Maastricht has both a digitized collection on its own website, for notarial acts, and a collection on an external platform, the Early Modern visitation registers of the diocese Roermond held at the diocesan archive.

And now…

It would not bring very much here if I added here also information about the provinces Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Noord-Holland en Zuid-Holland. You might think I mentioned all regional archives in Brabant or Utrecht, but in fact I am not even close to presenting them all. I want to make one exception. When I saw the webpage with an overview of transcriptions at the Regionaal Archief Alkmaar I knew this would at some point return here in a post, because a substantial number of these transcriptions deal with legal records. It seems most practical to create a PDF with my current overview. Of course there are oversights and omissions, but this is natural for work in progress, to be updated as soon as possible.

A few months ago I read with great interest the study of Huub Sanders, Het virus der betrokkenheid. Het Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1935-1989 (Amsterdam 2019; online, OAPEN / AUP). Sanders tells us not only about the vital role of some of the early foreign staff members of the IISH in acquiring important collections. In general some staff members gained superb knowledge of materials, but they could be very reluctant to share information. It took a lengthy reorganization to foster the communication of such tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi). Many people will simply know the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is most famous for its scanning on demand of archival records. The set of indexes with digitized images is justly famous, and the crowdsourcing project for Alle Amsterdamse Akten is one of the largest of its kind (access after free registration). However, the recently redesigned central website of this rich archive still lacks an English version, but when searching the finding aids you can tick a field for only results with scans. On the other hand, the page of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam about the approach and practice of digitization is very interesting.

Dutch archives have successfully digitized finding aids, genealogical records, images, newspapers and charters, and they offer quick and clear access to them. A number of other collections has been partially or entirely digitized, too. These efforts of archivists deserve our thankfullness and appreciation. The segment with these other collections should become more visible, either on the websites of archives or on a portal. The data about Dutch archives at the Archiefwiki can help in creating an interactive map or adding to the ICA map. In my view the most used archival system in the Netherlands allows for the quick creation of a subset of largely digitized collections, following the example of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland where you can filter directly for charters with or without images. I mentioned also the subset Alle kolonisten of Alle Drenten. Knowing this already exists makes its implementation elsewhere in the systems of the same provider more urgent.

It is up to archives to place the link to their subset at the startpage of their websites or at any spot they deem logical. Digitizing materials is one of the things archives now regularly do. I cannot see any good reason to hide this anymore. Excuses about communication strategies, difficult access to the layout of a website or the way to change the display and filters of the finding aids should no longer stop anyone doing this. One of the oldest firms for computer technology used the slogan “The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer”. Archives are now closed, but every bit as much open as normal, and archivists are busy helping the public. The hashtag #closedbutopen has a special dimension for any archival institutions with digitized collections.

Digitized Dutch archives – Indexes, transcriptions and images – March 2020 (PDF)

An addition

In my post I did not mention two most valuable projects helping you to find transcriptions and indexes. An important guide to indexes and transcriptions of archival records held by Dutch archives is offered at Digitale Bronbewerkingen Nederland en België, available online since 1997. The English version is no longer updated, but it still exists. In a number of cases digitized materials are noted as well. The same team has created more platforms. For legal historians Regelgeving in de Nederlanden offers an overview of transcribed resources ranging from ordinances to versions of the Dutch constitution since 1798.

As for actions concerning Dutch digital heritage, there is not just a manifesto issued in 2018 about the visibility and durability of collections, but even an interactive map where you can check which institutions signed their adherence to it. KVANBRAIN, since two years the platform of the Dutch Society of Archivists and the BRAIN initiative for archives, shows on its website a quality handbook, Kwaliteitshandboek voor de Nederlandse archieven, developed by BRAIN in 2013, with in particular on pages 19 and 20 statements about the visibility of digitized records and the duty to mention what has not been digitized. A kind of seven-year itch is not strange…

An update

The Dutch Nationaal Archief did not figure in this post because there were no clear indications on its website about digitized archival collections or parts of them. However, since September 2020 a new version of the NA website offers a clear choice to search for digitized materials, with even a filter for different file types. There is a list indicating which collections contain digitized materials (PDF), also as a .csv file. The announcement on this important changes is only available in Dutch. The Nationaal Archief is also the regional archive for the province Zuid-Holland

In Maastricht the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg has created an overview of digitized archival records in an Excel file. The only quibble with it is the absence of admittedly sometimes very long names of the archival fonds, only the number of the finding aid is given. The digital collections of Tresoar in Leeuwarden for Frisia are currently offline. Luckily the Alle Friezen platform works normally.

The Dutch Republic, order and ordinances

Startscreen Entangled Histories

Last year ordinances rightly figured here in a post about the Dutch book trade in the seventeenth century. Printing and publishing ordinances on behalf of authorities formed a stable core business for printers and publishers. In 2019 a project started to digitize Belgian and Dutch Early Modern printed collections of ordinances, the socalled plakaatboeken. In January 2020 the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Dutch national library, published at KB LAB, its digital humanities platform, the results of the project Entangled Histories: Ordinances of the Low Countries.

For a very particular type of ordinances a study appeared recently, also in January 2020, which forms a perfect candidate for a comparison between research using archival and printed resources at one side, and the use of datasets on the other side. This post shows ordinances also at the crossroads of government, politics and medicine at a point in time where this has become a new reality.

Choosing your approach

In my post on the book trade and ordinances in the Dutch Republic I looked at the study of Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on Dutch book production and sales during the seventeenth century. They pointed out how vital the task of printing and publishing ordinances was for printers and publishers. Each order for a single ordinance meant printing a fixed number of copies for which a low quantity of paper was needed, and best of all it guaranteed an immediate sum of money from the issuing authority, all factors making publishing and printing a stable business. The authors rightly concluded that the chance of printing and selling ephemeral works on a regular basis was probably essential for the success of the Dutch book trade.

Pettegree and Der Weduwen could not only locate rare editions in archives and libraries all over Europe, they also studied stock catalogues and auction catalogues for editions now lost. As members of the team for the Universal Short Title Catalogue they add information about existing copies of newly detected works to this online resource.

Getting hold of ordinances was important also for those authors venturing to create printed collections of ordinances called plakkaatboeken. A number of authors worked at provincial courts where you could expect to find the largest possible relevant collections. Finding out about these printed collections is much helped by using library catalogues with clear information about the nature of these works. The spelling of the very word plakkaatboek was not yet standardized, and thus you can encounter forms such as placaetboeck or placcaetboek. A few months ago I wrestled to locate digitized versions of the main collections for the Dutch Republic and Flanders in order to add them to my web page about Old Dutch Law. This task was hampered by the fact some digital libraries provide a link to an entire multivolume set, but others give you only links to each individual volume of a particular set.

However, even having online access to digital versions of these works, preferably combined with index volumes to them which I mentioned whenever available, is just the beginning of your research. These online versions are only to a limited extent searchable. Some digital versions have behind the screen an OCR-ed version, but it is notoriously difficult to get sufficiently reliable results when scanning Early Modern editions with the ordinary OCR process. These editions use several print types which pose difficulties in correct rendering, not to mention ligatures for certain letter combinations and abbreviations. Exactly for coping with this point the project of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, led by Annemiek Romein, comes into its strength.

The project Entangled Histories: Ordinances of the Low Countries set out to provide reliable texts in three ways. First of all existing scans of digitized books were improved by creating new scans using HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) with the Transkribus software. A second step was establishing each ordinance – or other element – as a distinct textual unit. The third step was enabling computerized categorisation of these units using a pre-established model. The project website provides explanations for each step.

The results of Entangled Histories are given as datasets, decidedly in plural. On the page explaining access to them it is stated the data are available in five formats, Alto, Page, XML, .docx and .txt for each book. An implication of this variety is the absence of a straightforward toolkit to use these data, because you can pick out your own format and determine the way you will handle them. The datasets are accessible at the Zenodo platform, with a separate page at Zenodo giving you a list of all works included. A quick overview is possible when you search with the tag Entangled Histories at Zenodo. The page with examples does not deal with the end result of the digital process, but with the models used for training the computers of Transkribus to read the pages.

Nearly 110 volumes for a total of 40 works have been included in this project. A number of them contain also texts on customary law (coutumes or costumen), statutes and other regulations. It is most thoughtful of the team at the Dutch Royal Library to include these works as well. The title of each dataset begins with an abbreviations pointing to the library from which a copy has been used. It seems only for one index volume accompanyng a plakkaatboek a dataset has been created, the Generale inhoud van alle de placaten (…) Groot Utrechtsch Placaetboek (Utrecht: Van Poolsum, 1733). You can deplore the absence of some editions from the sixteenth century, but this fact highlights only the clear need for decisions for any project.

It is possible to create your own workflow with these datasets and save them online. I had expected Annemiek Romein (Universiteit Gent), who created the project during her period in 2019 as a researcher in residence at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, to create also a searchable textual corpus which you might access online, but this has not happened. Romein and the project members did not lock the data into only one format allowing only restricted research possibilities. In January 2020 I contacted Annemiek Romein to explain such decisions. She explained to me textmining was not the principal aim of this project. The version of a text coded in XML can be used for an online searchable edition. The focus of this project was more on the use and comparison of OCR and HTR scanning. In the overview of the volumes included you can use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) address to go directly to a particular dataset. A direct combination of the datasets with the original scans cannot be offered at this moment, because these scans were made by the Grand Omniscient Firm for the cooperating libraries.

In view of this situation it is perhaps wise to remember such decisions for this project with datasets would have been entirely within the reach of the former Dutch NCRD institute for documentation on legal history and legal iconography. The NCRD had its office at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. The institute had been created by the KB and Dutch universities. At some point in its history the board of directors had to decide whether the database with a bibliography and scanned images, still only accessible under license, would run at a single computer or become available on more computers on a network. In my view Dutch and Belgian legal historians should not only start using the datasets of Entangled Histories, but also start working together to create its own infrastructure, both in the real world and in virtualibus, in order to combine knowledge and efforts in the field of digital humanities. No doubt the Foundation for Old Dutch Law could play a role in such matters, too.

Approaching lethal illnesses

Cover "Per imperatief plakkaat"

Until this point you might have become impatient with me about the promised second part of this post, a particular subject which can be linked with our own times. You might have wondered why I seem to search solace in writing about a glorious period in Dutch history which was not so happy for many people, as if nothing else happens in the world right now. The study of A.H.M. Kerkhoff, Per imperatief plakkaat. Overheid en pestbestrijding in de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden [By strict order. Government and fighting plagues in the Dutch Republic] (Hilversum 2020) deals with policies and ordinances against the plague and other contagious diseases during the Early Modern period. At the publisher’s website is a preview of the first fourteen pages of this book.

The main question in Kerkhoff’s study is why it took almost three centuries before the Staten Generaal, the central governing body of the Dutch Republic, decided to enact general measures againt contagion in periods with threats of plague. Kerkhoff starts his study by looking at the first successfull policies against contagion made by Italian cities around 1400. He even translated a statute against the plage issued in Ragusa in 1377. It needs stressing these Italian towns were in some cases large city states, a fact other states might have noticed, too. However, for centuries local Dutch towns issued their own pestordonnanties. Only in 1664 the Staten Generaal came with an ordinance pertaining to all provinces and other regions. Other authors, for example Leo Noordegraaf and Gerrit Vlak, De gave Gods. De pest in Holland vanaf de late middeleeuwen (Amsterdam 1996; online, Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (PDF)), did certainly mention this ordinance, but they and others focused on one region or on a single town. In the Groot Placaet-boek (…) Staten Generael ende (…) Staten van Holland en West-Vrieslandt (…) edited by Cornelis Cau et alii (9 vol., ‘s-Gravenhage-Amsterdam 1658-1795) the second volume contains the ordinance issued on July 31, 1664 by the Court of Holland, Zeeland and West-Friesland (II, col. 3171-3174). A few days later the States of Holland came with its own resolution concerning measures to be taken. Kerkhoff combines research in archives with the use of relevant historical studies. Using digitized collections of ordinances or even the new datasets, provided you can tune them quickly to your preferred way to approach them, can be most helpful to support more traditional ways of research, and it will also be most instructive to become better aware of the restrictions and limits of both approaches.

Kerkhoff wants to show that the political will to impose measures in the most general possible way was more important than medical views of contagion control. The author briefly mentions some examples of modern diseases which confronted Dutch authorities in recent decades and reminds us of the clash of interests in the debates about the policies against these diseases. With currently the new corona virus as a very real and growing presence in many countries this study seems to have been written with an uncanny intuition about the return of such matters of grave concern. Medical and epidemological knowledge, wisdom and vision are certainly needed to deal with different views about actions against this virus. With yet another project on its way at the Huygens Instituut for the digitization of the resolutions of the States of the provinces in the Dutch Republic between 1576 and 1795 and their reIease in a open access research environment I am sure a combination of the datasets of Entangled Histories with these resolutions will open new vistas and roads to ask new questions, to probe deeper into them and shed new light on older studies and views.

A postscript

In June 2020 the first tranch of some 5,000 scanned pages with resolutions of the States General appeared on the Dutch crowdsourcing platform Vele Handen. The REPUBLIC project, too, works with Transkribus. Volunteers will check the scans and correct the computerized transcriptions.

Annemiek Romein, Sara Veldhoen and Michiel de Gruijter published the article, ‘The Datafication of Early Modern Ordinances’, DH Benelus Journal 2 (2020) about the Entangled Histories project.

Charters, cartularies and rolls

Startscreen ANR Rotulus

However fragmentary the transmission of medieval sources may be, the sheer number of charters and cartularies is still impressive. Some cartularies saving the text of charters were not made in the usual codex form of manuscripts, but as rolls. This phenomenon is the subject of the French research project ANR Rotulus at the Université de Lorraine and the accompanying blog, also called Rotulus. Looking at material evidence can help you to avoid looking at sources only as texts. In this post I will look at this project, and no doubt there are also examples of such roll cartularies or cartulary rolls outside France. One of the reasons to look at this subject now is an upcoming scholarly event in April.

A different form

The project ANR Rotulus that will run from 2019 to 2021 is an initiative of the Centre de Recherche Universitaire Lorrain d’Histoire (CRULH), based in Nancy and Metz. The project was prompted by the presence of some sixty cartularies in roll format (“cartulaires-rouleaux”) in the French database for cartularies CartulR – Répertoire des cartulaires médievaux et modernes at the Telma platform of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes (Paris and Orleans). It was possible to add another sixty cartulary rolls to those already identified. The team of ANR Rotulus has created a very well organized bibliography on the use of rolls in medieval society. Eight years ago I wrote a post about the best known medieval use of rolls, for accounting purposes. In a post about heraldry and legal history I mentioned a number of heraldic rolls.

Logo Rotulus blog

At the Rotulus blog you can find announcement of scholarly events concerning medieval rolls. On April 3 and 4, 2020 a workshop will be held at Yale University on the theme “L’édition numérique et les manuscrits en rouleaux médiévaux” [The digital edition and manuscripts in roll form]. The workshop will deal with subjects such as the palaeography and cataloging of medieval rolls, and with the transcriptions of manuscripts and critical editions. There will be an introduction into best practices in digital editing, and the use of XML and TEI will come into view. The workshop will be hosted by the group of scholars united around the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in the project Digital Rolls and Fragments. At the heart of this workshop will be a devotional roll written in Latin and Middle English, dated between circa 1435 and 1450 (Takamiya MS 56, digital version). Of course you can find more (digitized) rolls and scrolls at the Beinecke. You will forgive me mentioning here English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500–1800 by Kathryn James, curator of Early Modern books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library, just published by Yale University Press. The website of ANR Rotulus mentions a meeting later this year on the theme Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire [Functions of cartulary rolls: social and contextual approaches to a documentary genre], to be held at Metz on November 5-6, 2020.

A recent contribution at the Rotulus blog focuses on a cartulaire-rouleau held at the Bibliothèque Municipale of Angers from the abbey of Notre-Dame du Ronceray. This twelfth-century cartulary consists of six rolls, each of them measuring nearly six meters by 29 centimeters and containing six to eight parchment sheets (MS 844, 845, 846, 847, 848 and 848b). The library at Angers posted a somewhat longer and illustrated version of this post on its own blog. This roll cartulary is duly mentioned in the CartulR database (no. 1383), the material units have each its own description on the level called Exemplaire-tradition where it becomes clear it has the form of a roll (rouleau). The database CartulR has a useful glossary showing among other things the variety of cartularies.

On November 14 and 15, 2019 a conference was held at Angers about the diversity of cartulary rollis. Both the material side of these documents as also their place within diplomatics, the historical auxiliary science for studying charters and related resources, came into view. Among the subjects to discuss was the need for creating a special database with a repertory of cartulary rolls. The second day of this event, held at the Archives départementales de Maine-et-Loire in Angers, ended with a presentation of some roll cartularies in the holdings of this regional archive.

The team of ANR Rotulus very sensibly looks at all forms of medieval rolls in order to understand their uses and development. Why did cartulary rolls come into existence? What role could they have? Who did benefit from this particular form? Is it an exclusively ecclesiastical or monastic format? Half of the cartulary rolls repertoried untll now stems from priories. Rolls from Cistercian monks and from nuns form a distinct minority. Approaches to uses of literacy and gender history, too, will have to be invoked to interpret and understand such facts. Of course I checked CartulR for the presence of cartulary rolls. One example among the 65 results is currently held outside France. The Rijksarchief in Bruges has a roll cartulary for the collegiate chapter of Saint Sauveur in Harelbeke (CartulR, no. 5213). The team of ANR Rotulus has not yet added to CartulR the sixty cartulary rolls which they spotted.

Beyond France

Startscreen Materiale Textkulturen

It is only logical to look beyond France for the existence and role of cartulary rolls. CartulR does contain information about some Spanish and Italian cartuiaries, but for these countries no cartulary rolls are mentioned. Recently Stefan G. HolzJörg Peltzer and Maree Shirota edited the volume The Roll in England and France in the late Middle Ages (2019; available in open access), a publication included in the bibliography of ANR Rotulus. This volume is part of a book series published for the Sonderforschungsbereich at the university of Heidelberg concerning Materiale Textkulturen. At the blog of this project you can read a post about this volume (Materiale Textkulturen, Band 28) which is a product of the subproject Rollen im Dienst des Königs [Rolls in the king’s service].

Among cartulary rolls outside France those of Margam Abbey held at the National Library of Wales are easily spotted. The Discovery portal of the National Archives in Kew brings you quickly to at least seven examples in various English archives, but not at the National Archives themselves. I was a bit troubled by the fact the Gaunt Roll held at the East Sussex Record Office (GLY 1139) did not show up at first at Discovery in a simple search for cartulary roll. In the Répertoire des cartulaires d’institutions religieuses médiévales sises dans l’espace wallon actuel (Pratiques médiévales de l’écrit, Université de Namur) you can find in its 2017 overview three examples kept in Tournai. It is tempting to add more examples to this post, but I am confident the interest of some of my readers will be kindled enough to find out more about this remarkable resource type.

An addition

At Archivalia Klaus Graf noted I could have mentioned examples of cartulary rolls from Germany. You could indeed start searching at Archivportal-D with terms such as KopialbuchKopiar and Rotul or Rotulus. Searching with the terms Urkunden and Rotul* brings substantial results.

The situation around COVID-19 led to the posponement of the meeting in November 2020. The new date and program is announced by ANR Rotulus in Metz, March 25-26, 2021: Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire.

You might want to look at rolls and other forms of reading in roll form in other periods and settings. The online book of Jack Hacknell, Continuous Page: Scrolls and Scrolling from Papyrus to Hypertext (The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2020) contains twelve chapters on very different subjects connected with continuous reading.