Category Archives: Digital projects

Streams of life and strife: Water as a legal matter in Roman law

Banner Roman Water Law

After six months I should finally fulfill my promise to honor here at least once a year the role of Roman law. You might almost call it the mother of all legal history! Luckily I found a subject in Roman law close to current interests. Water as a vital element of life was not absent in Roman law. Its presence is in fact manifold. The project Roman Water Law at the Freie Universität and the Humboldt Universität in Berlin helps to look at regulations concerning water and its uses according to an interesting scheme. Legal attention to water has a very long history.

A Roman look at water

The project Roman Water Law has found space on the Topoi platform which stands out for its distinctive graphic design. Topoi currently contains nearly twenty research collections and smaller projects on a variety of themes. Actually the website for Roman water law is the fruit of two research programs of the Berlin Exzellenzcluster Topoi held between 2012 and 2017, “Water from a legal perspective” and “Infrastructures from judicial, gromatic and political perspectives”. The core of the virtual collection is a combination of legal sources found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, three individual leges (laws) and the Codex Theosodianus with texts from Roman authors who touched the subject of water. The results are 572 entries with a Latin text and English translation to which one of ten newly defined categories have been assigned.

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana – Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla – image: Red Digital de Colecciones de Museos de España, http://ceres.mcu.es

The harvest for Roman laws in the technical sense, leges approved by the senate of the Republic, may seem meagre with just three laws. However, one of them, the Lex Flavia Irnitana from AD 91, was only found in 1981. The fragments of six out of originally ten bronze tables are now held at the Museo Arqueológico in Seville {Hispania Epigraphica, no. 5058). This law, dated around 91 BC, is the most complete surviving example of a Lex Flavia, a municipal law. Chapter 82 of the Lex Irnitana deals with drainage and creating and changing roads, paths, canals and sewers, for which only the duumviri, a pair of magistrates elected for one year, are authorized if there is a municipal decret for their actions.

When you look at the overview of the 572 entries you use first of all several filters. Thus you can quickly see that legal texts form the majority of the texts, only 73 items stem from Roman literature. Within the corpus of legal text the Digesta rule supreme with 435 entries. Among the literature are 22 entries from Frontinus. Cicero provides only six entries. Texts found in the Corpus agrimensorum have been cited and translated using the work of Brian Campbell, The writings of the Roman land surveyors. Introduction, translation and commentary (London 2000). It is no surprise to find Okko Behrends as one of the scholars involved with the Topoi project. He edited and translated with Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi for example the volumes on Frontinus and Hyginus in the Corpus agrimensorum romanorum [vol. 4 (1998) and 5 (2000)]. You can also filter by keyword. Some forty Latin terms are given for this purpose. An entry can have multiple keywords. You can choose to open the entries for just one keyword or add entries for other keywords or subjects as well.

The core of the project are the classifications added to each entry. There are ten main types of classes, starting with definitions (44), followed by

Right to use water
Constructions to use water – Process of construction and maintenance
Legal protection of water use
Urban praedial servitudes of water
Regulation of damages and prevention of damage caused by water
Consequences of changes caused by water
Water as a route of transport
Water as a border
Buildings at banks, coasts and beaches

Under the heading Urban praedial servitudes five texts are included concerning stilicidium, the right to discharge eavesdrip (drops of rain) and the legal actions available in case of flooding (flumen). I could not help noticing that seemingly the keyword flumen has been added to the three texts for stilicidium, and that in one of the two texts for flumen the action concerning aqua pluvia is also mentioned, but not entered as a keyword. Adding the right keywords is certainly not straightforward. I looked also at the twelve texts in rubric 7.4, Storms and natural disaster, a subspecies of changes caused by water. The clear distinctions, the crisp style and the concise descriptions of standard situations should provide food for thought for any modern lawyer struggling with legal problems and trying to write about them in a most sensible and understandable way. In Roman eyes the actual situation in a particular legal case had to be faced squarely in order to provide a just solution. Last year someone asked me about Roman law and plumbing.  I can reassure my acquaintance Roman lawyers said some very constructive things about plumbeae fistulae.

It is possible to download the database of Roman Water Law, created in the special Citable format created for digital humanities. It would have been more elegant to indicate the kind of tool to open it. On a tablet I could open it directly, otherwise you can use a simple text or code editor.

The variety at Topoi

Cover Becking, "Water management in ancient civilizations"

The Topoi project does not only bring digital results. Exhibitions are held and publications appear in print, too, for example the volume edited by Jonas Becking on Water management in ancient civilizations (Berlin 2018). An earlier publication touches the theme of Roman land surveying, Cosima Möller and Eberhard Knobloch (eds.), In den Gefilden der römischen Feldmesser. Juristische, wissenschaftsgeschichtliche, historische und sprachliche Aspekte (Berlin-Boston 2013). There is also an e-Topoi Journal for Ancient Studies available in open access. Received wisdom forbids me to create in this post also a nutshell guide to other relevant institutions in Berlin for the field of ancient studies. Just looking at the Topoi repository is a treat. You can look for example at ancient cylinder seals in 3D, astronomical diaries in cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia, a digital representation of the Pantheon, and the Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae. The Topoi cluster itself has many connections. With the Berliner Antike-Kolleg I mention an institution which has close connections to Topoi.

I leave it to you to explore yourself more texts included at Roman Water Law. Many uses of water come into view on the website and in the database. One of the few things missing are baths, but here we clearly enter the summertime of the northern hemisphere. Roman lawyers did discuss them, too! If you want to pursue such themes in Roman law I would like to point here again to Amanuensis, the application for searching Roman legal texts created by Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum, downloadable for both computers and smartphones. In an earlier post I introduced the app. It is good to know more texts have been included in it recently (version 4.0). Thanks to Ingo Maier a number of constitutions from Late Antiquity and the Latin Novellae of Justinian have been added, and thanks to Job Spruit also the Justinian Novellae in Greek. Hopefully the summer holidays give you a chance to relax and reload, and also to learn about and upload the latest version of such tools.

 

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200 years Monumenta Germaniae Historica, a story of editions, projects and scholars

Flyer "200 Jahre MGH-Editionen"Every year some subjects and themes are brought to your attention just because there is some jubilee or centenary. In the face of their sheer number I wisely do not venture to trouble you with all centennial or even bicentennial celebrations. For me the Monumenta Germaniae Historica are exceptional in many ways. In view of the scholarly impact on the field of medieval history, German and European history, and in particular many fields of legal history. A meeting in Frankfurt am Main on January 20, 1819 has had a very important influence on the shaping of history as a scholarly discipline taught at universities. The flow of editions produced in two centuries is one thing to marvel at, but the story of this institution is much richer. Some celebrations have already been held in January, but the last week of June 2019 has been chosen as the week with more events around this bicentenary. I will try to be as concise as possible, but the story of the MGH deserves space!

History, nationalism, Romanticism

Logo MGH, Munich

The start of the project we now know as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica happened in a particular time and place. Horst Fuhrmann analyzed concisely in his splendid book on the scholars of the MGH the start of this enterprise and much more, and I follow here his lead [Sind eben alles menschen gewesen. Gelehrtenleben im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Monumenta Germaniae Historica und ihrer Mitarbeiter (Munich 1998; online, MGH (PDF))]. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803, according to the late Peter Landau more important in Germany’s history than the reforms created by Napoleon, after the Napoleonic wars and the establishment of a new political order in Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) there was time in Germany to look backwards. You would assume that a number of people influenced by Romanticism founded the Gesellschaft für ältere deuttsche Geschichtskunde. the society for the study of older German history, but Lorenz vom Stein (1757-1831) and his visitors were not the archetypical romantics. This lawyer and former Prussian minister met at Frankfurt am Main with four delegates of the Bundestag, the central organ of the Deutsche Bund (1815). Vom Stein was known for his proposals for reforming public law and administration. Instead of looking back at the past he wanted to work to rebuild and strengthen Germany as a nation. The project originally set out to publish a number of sources in a relatively short time span, maybe ten years. Vom Stein had been in contact with leading German romantics to ask for their opinion and support.

In the first years the project met with some approval but also with indifference, criticism and even derision. Metternich subjected the first volumes to censorship. One of the ironies was the fact a team of students was sent to Paris to copy medieval manuscripts, because they were more bountiful and better accessible in the French capital than in other major libraries. The German states did not want to put money into the MGH. An offer for funding the project came not from German politicians, but from the Russian tsar. Vom Stein politely declined and spend a lot of his own money. In 1820 an accompanying journal was started, the Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, the ancestor of the current Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters. From 1823 onwards an archivist from Hannover, Georg Heinrich Pertz (1795-1876), led the small team around Vom Stein. He designed the division of the editions into five major series, the Scriptores for editions of works dealing with history, the Leges with legal resources, the Epistolae for letters, the Diplomata for charters, and the Antiquitates for other sources. Pertz stayed with the Monumenta for fifty years.

Fuhrmann, himself a former president of the MGH, was quite right in writing a story about scholars as people, ordinary mortals with great gifts and sometimes wilful personal characteristics. The strife between Pertz and Georg Waitz (1813-1886) was not only a matter of different visions of history and scholarly practices, an archivist developing on his own the historical-critical method to edit sources against a scholar trained by Ranke, but also a clash of two humans. Some projects stemming from the MGH belong to the Vorarbeiten, preliminary works such as the Regesta Imperii started by Johann Friedrich Böhmer who later on after quarrels with the MGH decided to edit a series Fontes rerum Germanicarum (4 vol., Stuttgart 1843-1868). Others, too, had their trouble with the MGH and started their own series. Philipp Jaffé edited after his break with Pertz the series Bibliotheca rerum Germanicarum (6 vol., Berlin 1864-1873). Thus the MGH delivered not only its editions, but set path-breaking examples of using the historical-critical method. It became a model for projects abroad by the very fact they initially stuck to just publishing sources, not scholarly monographs. Controversies about its role and aims led to other important scholarly projects in the field of medieval history.

A human history

With Philipp Jaffé (1819-1870) we encounter perhaps the most tragic of all Monumentisten. Jaffé had studied in Berlin, and without getting a Ph.D. he started his own projects. The first edition of his Regesta pontificum Romanorum, a work listing 11,000 papal acts and charters up to 1198, appeared in 1851. In these years he studied medicine in Berlin and Vienna, believing he had no chance to make a career as an historian being a Jew. However, Ranke considered Jaffé his very best student and made him the first ausserplanmässiger professor in all Germany. Between 1854 and 1862 he worked for the MGH. On the title pages of the six volumes of the Scriptores series Jaffé helped editing his name was not mentioned. In 1863 a feud developed between him and Pertz, who eventually wanted to deny him access to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Jaffé started his own series with major source editions. He got estranged from his family, converted to Lutheranism, and in growing isolation he took his life in 1870, a fact that shocked the scholarly world.

It is impossible to follow here the MGH and its contributors through all its history, if only for the sheer number of scholars for which you can find photographs at the MGH website. Jews had indeed a great role for the published editions. In particular Harry Bresslau, the author of the Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Hannover 1921; reprint 1976; online, MGH) felt hurt under antisemitic attacks. During the period of the Third Reich Ernst Perels and Wilhelm Levison were among the targets of the Nazi regime. The MGH became a Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, but Nazi control was not total. In 1939 Levison could find a refuge in Durham. In 1944 the MGH had to leave Berlin for Pommersfelden near Bamberg. In 1949 the institute came to Munich where the MGH found in 1967 its current location in the main building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. You can find the titles of the MGH’s own publications about its history on this web page.

The library collection of the MGH is now famous for its riches, but it was only after getting in 1907 the books of Ludwig Traube and in 1911 those of Oswald Holder-Egger a substantial library came into existence [see Norbert Martin, ‘Die Bibliothek der Monumenta Germaniae’Bibliotheksforum Bayern 19/3 (1991) 287-294]. One of the special qualities of the online catalogue is the presence of links to reviews of works in the Deutsches Archiv. Nowadays we may take dMGH, the digital MGH, for granted, but such projects are solely possible with financial means and other support by institutions as for example the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The MGH have a legal status under public law as an institution for the Freistaat Bayern with subventions by other Bundesländer. I have been fortunate to work in 1997 and 1998 with the library staff of the MGH, and my fond memories of these days prompt me to write here, too. Apart from the vast collection with printed books on the history of medieval Europe the Virtueller Lesesaal offers a lot of books in several sections. Here I would like to single out the digital version of Paul Oskar Kristeller’s Latin manuscript books before 1600. A list of the printed catalogues and unpublished inventories of extant collections (4th edition, 1993; supplement, 2006; revised digital edition 2016). This indispensable guide has been revised and updated by Sigrid Krämer and Birgit Christine Arensmann.

A mighty enterprise

The time with just five massive series of editions is long ago, a mighty fleet of series has sailed into our century. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica in its printed form take many shelves in a library and make a mighty impression. In the early eighties the very stacks with the folio volumes of the MGH collapsed in the rather new library of the history department in Utrecht, luckily before opening hours. Apart from a library catalogue you might better use the yearly leaflet with an overview of the editions which duly was posted near these stacks. In 1997 even the library of the MGH decided to catalog again all editions since 1826.

Legal historians will within the old series and the current program of edition projects first of all turn to the Leges and Diplomata series. In the Leges series there are currently projects for sources such as the Collectio Gaudenziana (Wolfgang Kaiser), the Collectio Walcausina (Charles Radding), a part of the Leges Langobardorum, capitularies, formulae, and even for the most intriguing and difficult corpus of Pseudo-Isidorian decretals, just one example of a project which cannot be seen properly without looking to other forged collections around it. More soberly it is also an example of a project running over many decades. If you remember Antonio Agustín’s reluctance in the late sixteenth century to pronounce a clear verdict, a forgery or genuine material, even though he was in the best position to do this, you will understand the courage of scholars such as Horst Fuhrmann, Schafer Williams, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes and now Eric Knibbs to proceed in their wake with finally producing a critical text edition. Among other projects in this series are editions of medieval councils, a new edition of Regino of Prüm, royal constitutions, the glosses to the Sachsenspiegel, and the Latin version of an other treatise on German law, the Schwabenspiegel. It is good to see here attention for several kinds of legal systems

The publications within the Diplomata series may seem more straightforward. The sheer mass of charters issued from the Carolingian period onwards is indeed much greater than one could calculate in the first half of the nineteenth century. Nowadays not only charters of kings and emperors are being edited, volumes for some princes have appeared, too, and also for the Latin kings of Jerusalem. For the charters of the emperors Henry V and Henry VI there is even a digital pre-edition online, for the latter only for German recipients. Dieter Hägemann and Jaap Kruisheer, assisted by Alfred Gawlik, edited the two volumes of Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland (2 vol., Wiesbaden 1989-2006) with the charters of the only Roman king from the Low Countries. It is also the only case in which a Dutch scholar worked on a volume published for the MGH.

As for the newer series it is sensible to look here at just three series. In the series MGH Hilfsmittel we find works such as Uwe Horst, Die Kanonessammlung Polycarpus des Gregor von S. Grisogono. Quellen und Tendenzen (Wiesbaden 1980), the Wortkonkordanz zum Decretum Gratiani, Timothy Reuter and Gabriel Silagi (eds.) (5 vol., Wiesbaden 1990), the monograph of Rudolf Pokorny and Hartmut Hoffmann, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms. Textstufen – Frühe Verbreitung – Vorlagen (Wiesbaden 1991), and the printed edition of Linda Fowler-Magerl, Clavis Canonum. Selected canon law collections before 1140 (2005). Her work is now available online in a database with a German and English interface. Danica Summerlin and Christoph Rolker have added new canonical collections to the database.

The series Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica is one of the oldest series to supplement the original program. You can choose at will in this series for classic studies. I mention here for legal history Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953), Horst Fuhrmann, Einfluß und Verbreitung der pseudoisidorischen Fälschungen von ihrem Auftauchen bis in die neuere Zeit (3 vol., Stuttgart 1972-1974), the six volumes of the congress Fälschungen im Mittelalter (6 vol., Stuttgart 1988-1990), Harald Siems, Handel und Wucher im Spiegel frühmittelalterlicher Rechtsquellen (Stuttgart 1992), and Maike Huneke, Iurisprudentia romano-saxonica. Die Glosse zum Sachsenspiegel-Lehnrecht und die Anfänge deutscher Rechtswissenschaft (Wiesbaden 2014).

Within Studien und Texte, the third series which I like to mention, you will find indeed both source editions and monographs, such as Stephan Beulertz, Das Verbot der Laieninvestitur im Investiturstreit (Wiesbaden 1991), and Sascha Ragg, Ketzer und Recht. Die weltliche Ketzergesetzgebung des Hochmittelalters unter dem Einfluß des römischen und kanonischen Rechts (Wiesbaden 2006), the first of a number of recent volumes in this series with studies and editions concerning medieval inquisitions. For your convenience I refer to the page on medieval legal procedure of my legal history website where I have included these works.

Time to celebrate

Flyer Bock auf MittelalterIn its long and illustrious history the Monumenta Germaniae Historica had to deal with many crises and decisive moments. Think only of the 1880 fire in the house of Theodor Mommsen in Charlottenburg which destroyed working materials of the Monumenta, his personal library and some precious manuscripts in his custody! Remember the periods with a stifling political climate under the dark times under the Nazi regime. During the Second World War some materials were stored in a mine which was destroyed in 1945. Many projects suffered setbacks when editors failed to do their jobs properly, when death came too soon for experts dealing with most difficult matters, or clashes happened between scholars. The presidents and the Zentraldirektion have to steer between many rocks. Sometimes the presence of particular scholars is most helpful. From my own period I cherish the memory of Reinhard Elze, former director of the Deutsches Historisches Institut, who walked each day from his home to the MGH in the Ludwigstrasse. I think his steady rhythm and kind presence helped everyone in a way to stay focused and open to people and ways to solve problems of any kind. The funny poster makes me remember the way Horst Fuhrmann could make jokes and show his happiness.

The program for the jubilee contained events in Berlin in January, the festivities of last week in Munich, and a symposium to be held at the DHI in Rome on November 28-29, 2019 on “Das Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1935 bis 1945 – ein “Kriegsbeitrag der Geisteswissenschaften”? [The research institute of the Reich for the study of older German history, 1935-1945. A war contribution of the humanities?]. The DHI and the MGH were forced to merge in 1935. What impact did the control of the Reich have, and not only for substantially widening the budget? On June 28 a discussion panel rightly stressed the international character of the MGH has today. In 1947 the MGH for the first time elected corresponding fellows, then and ever since from abroad. The flyer for this event shows a list with more than fifty scholars from Europe, the USA and Japan. The main scholarly meeting on June 28 and 29 dealt with the theme Quellenforschung im 21. Jahrhundert [Research on sources in the 21st century].

What laurels does the MGH need? The founders put a crown of oak leafs around the motto in Latin which defies translation, but inspiration and labor of love is the very heart, not only the forests of medieval Germany. Using the older volumes with the introductions in Latin, slowing down your reading speed to digest the wealth of information in the double apparatus of the annotation, checking the Deutsches Archiv for thorough articles, concise information about new works, and the yearly messages of the Zentraldirektion on the progress of editions in preparation, lokking at the website for new books in the holdings of the MGH which you might want to use yourself, too, you realize the contributors to the MGH put all their talents into helping to create sure foundations for research, Grundlagenforschung. They challenge you do your own tasks in a similar dedicated way. Let’s hope the staff and fellows of the MGH can continue to work for the community of scholars in the fields of medieval law and history!

 

De rebus digitalibus: Doing digital legal history

Logo DH 2019 at UtrechtWhile the virtual world and the real world steadily become interwoven, it can sometimes seem legal history is only at the fringe of the digital turn. On the other hand all kinds of information and resources can be found online today. Using such resources does have an impact on the form and practices of legal history. Some scholarly events aim among other things at creating space for reflection and discussion about the tensions between older forms of doing history and alluring new ways and methods to pursue research goals. This year’s international congress of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) will be held at Utrecht from July 9 to 12. In this post I will look at its program of DH2019, and also at the call for papers of a conference on digital legal history to be held at Frankfurt am Main on March 19-20, 2020, organized by the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte. It is only logical to compare the program and aims of DH2019 with the call for papers of DLH2020. Even if using the tools and methods of digital humanities may seem Latin to you, the importance of this digital approach will certainly grow, and knowing about them is useful.

Varieties and complexities

The main theme of next month’s conference in Utrecht is complexities. The way complex models are created to represent complex realities is to be addressed, as are the manifold questions about digital scholarship itself on a theoretical, social and cultural level. There is a variety of networks and mazes at work in the field of digital humanities. New generations of scholars arrive, with different perspectives and skills. If this sounds almost too much of a good thing for a four-day conference, you will see that some workshops start already on July 8. For the special focus of this conference, digital humanities in Africa, a workshop for African scholars, DH – the perspective of Africa, will be held from July 1 to 5 at the Lorenz Center of Leiden University. On July 8 there will be a workshop at the Royal Library in The Hague on Libraries as Research Partner in Digital Humanities. The venue of DH2019 is not a university building, a conference center or a large section of an hotel, but the TivoliVredenburg music center where hosting music from many periods and styles in five concert halls has become regular business.

The variety of subjects in the conference programme is truly impressive. Let’s look first of all for subjects in close connection with legal history. Renana Keydar and Yael Netzar will talk about finding out about the perception of threat by the Israelian police force. Georg Vogeler and two of his colleagues will discuss the ways to export charters into TEI P5 (Text Encoding Initiative). Marie Lavorel will talk about ways to preserve the oral histories of survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. The opening address of DH2019 will be held by Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town). He will make a case for being aware of the complexities, not only as a challenge, but as chances. In her closing keynote Johanna Drucker (UCLA) will speak about ecological sustainability and its impact on the ethics of digital humanities. The use of energy for computers leaves a large footprint on our planet. Tito Orlandi will give the Busa Lecture in which he will discuss the history of digital humanities and the apparent lack of a paradigm for this field. The lecture is named after Roberto Busa (1913-2011), the pioneer of using computers to deal with a textual corpus, the Corpus Thomisticum with the works of Thomas Aquinas. In 1980 his Index Thomisticus was completed.

The ADHO has a number of special interest groups (SIG) which nicely show the sheer width of digital humanities. Apart from libraries and DH currently SIG’s exist for literary stylistics, audiovisual data, global outlook, geospatial software and its uses, and for linked open data. Just looking at these subjects helps you to view digital humanities as a house with many rooms and space for more things to come.

My first impression of the program and the variation in themes and subject is that this conference deals with a number of territories that seem largely uncharted by legal historians. In particular subjects in world history can seem sometimes unconnected to legal history. In the second half of this post we will see how the MPIeR steps in to bridge such gaps.

Digital legal history

In some posts at my blog I have tried to look at the presence of digitized materials for doing legal history outside the Anglo-American and European sphere. Thus I looked for example in 2010 at South Africa and in 2014 at Brazil. In 2017 I discussed here digitized resources for the legal history of Suriname and last year more specifically the digitized slavery registers of Suriname. The death of Fidel Castro prompted me in 2016 to write about Cuban legal history. In yet another post I looked here at HISGIS and legal history. Digital projects are very often here discussed here.

However, digital humanities are not absent around more traditional themes and subjects. A nice combination of studying both the United Kingdom and Australia in the field of criminal law is found within the projects of the Digital Panopticon cluster, concisely presented here. The Exon Domesday, the manuscript with the Domesday register for South-West England held at Exeter Cathedral, is the subject of a project using a number of tools from the field of digital humanities.

Logo Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

It is perhaps wiser to look at the call for papers of DLH2020. The call starts with a summary of the various ways digitization and computers affect the field of legal history. Digital tools are used to gather information, they can assist in the exploration and analysis of information, and they help you to publish and connect research results. Databases offer access to legislation and to case law, in a number of cases for considerable historical periods, too. A second main point is the way digital humanities transcend the borders of disciplines. Apart from the problems inter- and transdiscplinarity pose themselves, adjusting existing digital tools, approaches and methods to meet such problems can have a major impact even when changes seem slight. Such unexpected turns can in the end also prove to be most helpful and literally path-breaking. However, the presence of digital humanities has not yet led to decisive changes in the ordinary practice of legal historians. The MPIeR dedicated in 2016 a part of issue 24 of the journal Rg/Rechtsgeschichte-Legal History to contributions discussing the role of digital humanities for legal history. The Law and History Review, too, published an issue on Digital Law and History [34/4 (2016)] with a focus on Anglo-American practice.

The purpose of the DLH 2020 conference will be first of all to get a more complete and balanced view of digital humanities and legal history, both on the theoretical level and in actual practice. The call of papers contains a fair number of possible questions for papers and posters: What do digital humanities bring that would not have been possible without them? How do they influence your approach and methods? Can we use methods of analysis common to DH also for legal history? What chances are there to use modelling to deal with questions concerning legal history? What about using Big Data or engaging in data-driven research? Which limits confront legal historians? Are there possibilities in DH we clearly can use to our benefit? An important question comes at the end of the call of papers: what resources are lacking until now? Proposals can be submitted before September 15, 2019 to dlh@rg.mpg.de.

The set of questions reminds me very much of the question medievalists asked and ask about other disciplines. You might not be able to use approaches, tools and methods without some modification, but it is by all means interesting and important to know about them. I think that it is wise to be aware with Tito Orlandi that no clear paradigm for DH bhas yet been developed, and this means it is also possible to contribute to the construction of this paradigm or at least to building best practices from many perspectives. Digital humanities will touch almost every field of humanities. Scholars of Classical Antiquity have perhaps taken a lead in using elements of digital humanities, not only for their own benefit, but also for making their set of disciplines – discipline in the singular will not do here! – also accessible to a wider public. Entering the fields of digital humanities can hold its surprising, but it is no longer an uncharted world where angels fear to tread. The conferences in Utrecht and Frankfurt am Main can surely help you to get in contact with those people who have taken the plunge into the world of digital humanities.

 

Clairvaux, a monastery and a prison

Screen shot "The monastery and the prison"

Every now and then you across projects which attract immediately your curiosity. In Autumn 2018 the blog L’agenda du médiéviste alerted to an online documentary with the title Le cloître et le prison. Les espaces de l’enfermement, “The monastery and the prison. Places of confinement”. The website of this project was launched on September 26, 2018. The documentary is the fruit of the Enfermements project in which several French institutions work together. Not only the abbey of Clairvaux did function as a prison, other locations have a similar history. In this post I will look both at the documentary and the project website.

Between walls

The medieval abbey of Clairvaux occupies a special place in the Enfermements project. The abbey was founded in 1115. In 1808 it became a prison which functioned until 1971. The official closure is announced for 2022. 900 years of Clairvaux’s history were celebrated in 2015. The medieval manuscripts of Clairvaux are held at the Bibliothèque municipale de Troyes and can be viewed online. Alas the special portal Bibliothèque virtuelle de l ‘abbaye de Clairvaux for these manuscripts does not function currently. You can find the medieval cartularies of Clairvaux using CartulR, a resource of the IRHT/CNRS. Archival records of this abbey are also held in Troyes by the Archives départementales de l’Aube. Among its digitized collections the AD de l’Aube presents fifteen late medieval registres de l’officialité de Troyes, registers of the official, the ecclesiastical judge of the bishop.

The website of Le cloître et le prison has six main sections. The Avant-propos explains the goals and background. The glossaire is a glossary with not just terms from the monastic and incarcerated life in France. Even the Rasphuis and Spinhuis in Amsterdam are mentioned. You had best navigate this glossary using the icon on the rather small top bar of your screen. A chronology of Clairvaux helps you to see developments in their succession. In the bibliography you will find information about archival documents and images, printed sources and scholarly publications.

Screenprint of Le cloître et le prison with a part of the chronology fo the 19th century

The section with videos, Visite vidéo, takes most space in the exhibition, and equally in the helpful sitemap. Jean-François Leroux, already forty years president of the association to save the cultural heritage of Clairvaux, acts as a guide in the videos. There is no question about the quality of his calm explanations, but sometimes he seems somewhat tired, but in comparison with other more enthusiastic reporters this might well be a pleasant change. At a number of turns the team of this portal does not hesitate to use materials from other prisons, even from outside France.

The tour of the premises starts with the location nowadays called Le Petit Clairvaux, the site of the first monastery, sometimes nicknamed by medievalists Clairvaux I. The nine following sections deal with the main site, starting with the cloister walls. For each items a short motto has been chosen, often with verbs opposing each other. For the eight section, Quartier punitive, the verbs Surveiller – punir, survey and punish, are a choice clearly referring to the study by Michel Foucault. Apart from the videos each section has an accompanying text, photos and at least one archival document. There are also some interviews with experts of the team. The navigation of the website is stylish, with a key and lock for the main menu, and in the video section a quill pen to go to the menu with the ten sections of Clairvaux. It was possible to follow the preparations for project at Twitter (@enfermements), but it has been very quiet after August 2018.

If you look at the screen print of the chronology you can gather already two elements from the long history of Clairvaux, the ongoing construction, demolition and reconstruction of the buildings and its place in French history. The chronology mentions under the year 1834 the incarceration of political prisoners, but with examples from the late nineteenth century, Auguste Blanqui between 1872 and 1879, the anarchist Peter Kropotkin in the years 1883-1886, and even Philip of Orléans in 1890, albeit in his case lodged away from other prisoners.

In this virtual exhibit the most interesting element, the comparison of monasteries and prisons, is the central element. I feel hard pressed to focus here on one particular aspect. It is exactly the variety of aspects which is brought here into view. When you remember the title of the study by Uwe Kai Jacobs, Die Regula Benedicti als Rechtsbuch: Eine rechtshistorische und rechtstheologische Untersuchung [The Rule of St. Benedict as a book of law. A study in legal history and legal theology] (Cologne, etc., 1987) it is less surprising to look at monks and nuns as persons living under a strict regime with punishments for transgressions on premises clearly designed to make such things possible. You might want to read also the study by Elisabeth Lusset, Crime, châtiment et grâce dans les monastères au Moyen Âge (Turnhout 2017). The strength of the virtual exhibit is the combination of videos showing the present locations at Clairvaux with explanations about both periods as an abbey and as a prison and proper use of historical document and images. The intuition that places with a common dining room or canteen are an institution or a company is not new!

Looking behind and beyond walls

The abbey of Clairvaux is not the only famous building in France which at a certain point was turned into a prison. In Paris the Conciergerie first was a palace, the Palais de la Cité which for centuries housed the Parliament the Paris, with only a number of prison cells. During the French Revolution it became a full-scale prison. The abbey of Port-Royal in Paris served as a prison between 1790 and 1795. Between 1793 and 1863 the abbey at the Mont-Saint Michel was home to a prison. The abbey of Notre-Dame de Fontevraud, once the royal abbey of the Plantagenets, was used as a prison between 1812 and 1963. You might try to find more examples at the website of the Centre des Monuments nationaux, but somehow the search function did not work correctly.

At this point one should by all means invoke the various service of the bilingual Criminocorpus platform (CNRS), strangely absent in the production of this audiovisual project. At this portal you can read both as a PDF and in a browsable version the Guide des archives judiciaires et pénitentaires en France (1800-1958) by Jean-Luc Farcy. He puts these monasteries converted into prisons in a group of prisons for those having to serve long terms, typically in old castles, fortresses and some abbeys. Clairvaux served in this quality for several French départements. Criminocorpus has virtual exhibits on Fontevraud and on Paris prisons after the fall of the Bastille.

It is really interesting to explore this virtual exhibit around the abbey of Clairvaux. The partnership of organization for cultural heritage, archival institution, research groups and communication design offices succeeds in telling an intricate history in a way earlier generations would not have thought feasible or sensible. Let Le cloître et le prison be one of your guides to the wealth of stories about this famous monument!

 

Sending a sign by signing: A Dutch petition from 1878

Start screen "Volkspetitionnement 1878"

Elections and choices make headlines this month. On March 20, 2019 elections were held in the Netherlands for the provincial councils and for the water management boards. The results of the election for the Provinciale Staten matter for the continuity of the current cabinet, because members of the Staten will elect senators later this year. To all political turmoil a terrible shooting incident in my peaceful home town Utrecht on March 18 added an atmosphere of shock, disbelief, grief and much more, depending on your closeness to the spot and the people afflicted. Last Friday a silent march has been held to the square where a woman and two men were killed. I had to reflect about a theme for a new post.

Last week the online Revoke Article 50 petition in the United Kingdom called my attention. Instead of stepping into the vexed questions around the Brexit I think looking at a late nineteenth-century petition is well worth attention here. The Volkspetitionnement 1878 [People’s Petition 1878] was held as a plea to secure space and governmental subvention for Christian education. Some 300,000 Protestants and 164,000 Catholics signed this petition. In the project led by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen the data of the petition have been used to create a searchable database and an interactive map. This petition was held in a period with a much smaller electorate, just 100,000 men, and even before the first Dutch political party came into existence.

Creating attention

Logo Vele Handen

The project to create online access to the 1878 petition is a project of many institutions and also the general public. In 2016 the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam started the project after the Dutch National Archives had made 11,000 scans. At the crowdsourcing platform Vele Handen [Many Hands] volunteers could read the scans and enter the data into a database. In June 2017 the project website was launched. The Nationaal Archief in The Hague has a concise news item about the project on its website, with a link to the scans of the original petition [NA, finding aid no. 2.02.04, Kabinet des Konings (The Kings’ Cabinet), inv.nos. 4482-4502 (Protestants) , 4541-4547 (Catholics)].

In 1878 a law was passed in the Dutch parliament which stipulated only general public schools for primary education could receive financial support from the government. Christian political leaders felt injured and sought a way to get this law repelled. Among these leaders was no lesser figure than the Protestant theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) who founded in 1872 the newspaper De Standaard [The Standard], in 1879 the first Dutch political party, the Anti-Revolutionaire Partij, and in 1880 the Vrije Universiteit. From 1901 to 1905 he acted as prime minister. You might want to look for his published works in the Kuyper Digital Library and the vast Kuyper Bibliography in the digital collections of Princeton Theological Seminary. His legacy is among the cores of the documentation center for the history of Dutch Protestantism, the HDC of the Vrije Universiteit.

The project website gives a good overview of the actual history of the 1878 petitions, and I use the plural on purpose. In 1877 the liberals had gained power. While Dutch Protestants had already for decades followed the changes in Dutch education, the 1878 law brought first of all Dutch Catholics into action. In June 1878 they launched three petitions, respectively to the members of the Tweede Kamer, the Senate and king Willem III, raising respectively 148,000, 164,000 and 164,000 signatures. A month the better organized protestant movement succeeded in raising 305,000 signatures within one week. However, on August 17, 1878 the king confirmed the new law. On the project website you can find a succinct bibliography (PDF) about this movement which did not reach its immediate goal, but certainly helped creating political awareness and stressing the need for a more effective organization of political opposition.

A scan of signatures from Oudenbosch, 1878 - source: Nationaal Archief

A scan of signatures from Oudenbosch, 1878 – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, collection 2.02.04, inv.no 2546, scan 162

At the project website you can search for individuals who signed one of the petitions, using their family names and for locations, or use the interactive maps to gain insights into the number of signatures placed in particular provinces and locations by a specific religious denomination or by both denominations. For each person who signed at least his name and (abbreviated) Christian name, residence and denomination have been registered, but the results page provide also space for other information, notably profession and the number of children, and a link to a scan of the page with the signature. I could not resist to check whether of my ancestors signed the petition. In my line of descent some names return regularly, and many of them lived in the western part of the province Noord-Brabant, mainly in Breda, Etten-Leur and Oudenbosch. One of the two Hendrikus Vervaart’s in Oudenbosch is surely my great-grandfather. I compared this scan with his signature in the marriage registration held at the West-Brabants Archief in Bergen op Zoom. Provided additional information has been entered in the database or that you have found elsewhere information about an ancestor, this resource surely adds color to the history of your family. You can press a button Informatie toevoegen (Add information) to enrich the data. It is nice to see the double use of crowdsourcing in this project.

Beyond quick success

To say the least, the Protestants and Catholics of 1878 would surely find the cooperation for this digital project remarkable, but in fact both movements found each other as political partners in dealing with the Schoolquestie, the question about the way to get funding from the government for schooling along denominational lines. In 1879 Kuyper formed a political party. In 1888 a first Dutch cabinet led by the confessionelen was formed which succeeded in getting equal financing of neutral and denominational schools. Over the years this political cooperation was not always easy, but a century later the major Catholic party and two Protestant parties merged into one political party.

The massive response to these petitions made especially the Catholics more visible in the Netherlands. Their existence in a nation styling itself as totally “Reformed” had almost been denied by historians. It showed in a graphic way the very limited franchise to vote of the late nineteenth century. It proved to be a spur to Abraham Kuyper to develop his visions of Christian life and organization in modern society, famously abbreviated as sovereignty in your own circle. He helped shaping a country which became for decades dominated by societal pillars, zuilen, subsections of a society in which one could live to a large extent from the cradle to the grave without serious interaction with other groups.

As for the present role of petitions and their future, I do not think historians can provide blueprints for the future, but they can make you pause for thought and reflection, and help you to see current developments in multiple perspectives. The website of the Volkspetitionnement 1878 offers a window on a very interesting period in Dutch politics and government, if only already for the fact it was composed of four petitions.

Legal history at Medieval Digital Resources

Banner Medieval Digital Resources

In the tenth year of my blog I feel the need to look back at some telling contributions. In a number of posts I compared portal for legal history, for medieval history, and even two major national digital libraries. In this post I would like to look at one particular portal for medieval studies, Medieval Digital Resources (MDR) created for the Medieval Academy of America. This portal was developed between 2014 and 2016. The project was launched in December 2018. Somehow I have not noticed the launch of this portal. In view of the efforts behind it and the criteria for inclusion and description it seems most interesting to discuss MDR here in detail, with some particular questions as a focus: What place does legal history hold at this portal? How does its place reflect the many roads of legal history?

Aiming high

Logo MDR

The explicit aim of the portal is ” to provide access to websites that contain content of interest to medievalists and meet the Academy’s scholarly and technical standards of web presentation”. In my view this leads to two goals, selecting resources which are sufficiently interesting for scholars, and at the same time considering the quality of the virtual representation. I see here two questions: Do resources meet scholarly needs and standards? How well is their technical realisation? The Medieval Academy of America thanks a number o people in the acknowledgements, in particular Maryanne Kowalweski for designing the database assisted by Lisa Bitel and Lisa Fagin Davis. A team with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers helped to give MDR its present shape.

You can approach the resources brought together at MDR in three ways. It is possible to browse for resources in alphabetical ordering, supported by an alphabet and a section Recent additions. A second way is offered by the search interface with multiple fields. You can search here directly for the title and description of resources, the date range and subject, the type of resource, the geopolitical region and the original language. You can also search for the original author or creator, the type of digital resource, the license, the modern language and the project status. A number of fields work with dropdown menus. The third approach is using the search field descriptions. Here you can find lists of descriptors for five search fields: subject, source type, region, original language and type of digital resource. You can look at the notes about the names of medieval authors which tells us catalogers will enter author names only when a sufficient amount of material within a resource stems from a particular author. The page about project status explains the criteria for giving a project included in MDR a particular status. The MDR depends on good input and suggestions from scholars, and thus the suggestion form is an important element of the website, as is the feedback form.

The page about standards explains at its end the reviewing process for new suggestions and the way the team behind MDR will deal with suggestions, but the sets of standards and criteria take up most space. The first set focuses on scholarly quality: meeting normal standards, the need for explicitly stating aims, goals and methods used, including providing collection parameters, and bringing a substantial contribution or innovation. Digitized monographs are excluded.

The second set of standards deals with access and design. The first criterion is meeting prevailing digital standards, with as examples the NISO standard for digital collections, Dublin Core and IIIF (International Image Operabiliity Framework). The second criterion is the need for metadata and consistent maintenance of content, interface and platform. Image quality according to regular standards is a third criterion, and the fourth criterion is wide availability and easy navigation. The fifth criterion calls for clear and correct dealing with publication rights, copy rights and credentials.

The third set of rules of inclusion explains the definitions used for complete, ongoing and pending projects. A pending project is “new and incomplete”, or unstable because the content is minimal, maintenance is absent or irregular, and thirdly “or that are longer publicly available”. Could it be the word “no” is missing the last clause?! The criteria for an ongoing project are consistent monitoring and regular updates over a year, with portals, databases and collections as examples. A complete project is fully realized and maintained, and a curated image or text collection and a thematic bibliography are given as examples.

Whatever you may think of this project in its present state, the explicit use of standards and the explanations about the criteria to be followed are in se very useful. It helps you to ascertain qualities not only subjectively or from impressions.

Selecting in practice

I had firmly convinced myself to look here first of all at sources you can connect with the study of medieval legal history, but it seemed also interesting to look which projects with the status “Complete” have been included so far at MDR. Nearly thirty projects have been assigned the status Complete. The very first result is the website of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV). Surely the ASV should figure here, but I could not help noticing a number of things about the notice. The term archives has not been used for a searchable field of this description. The modern language of the ASV is only stated as English, but of course you can view this website in Italian. Reading the description of the collections guide, “The downloadable guide lists the over 600 different collections, but not individual manuscripts of their contents.”, offers some food for thought, starting with the fact this guide (PDF) is in Italian. The collections of the ASV are generally archival collections, not manuscript collections as in its neighbour, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In view of the number of collections at the ASV it is silly to expect for every collection full descriptions in a 96-page PDF. The choice of subjects given for the ASV, just three (diplomatics, manuscript studies and papacy) is fairly restricted, even if the additional description mention the wide variety of subjects, including legal history.

However, the main reason I start to frown when reading this description is the presence of the term Catalog in the list of resource types noted for the website of the ASV. An archive has finding aids and inventories, indexes, repertories and other tools to create access to its holdings. Personally I deeply respect the ASV for its various qualities, but you will not find any online finding aid on its website or on a separate portal. The online overview of archival collections at the ASV in ArchiveGrid is based on the Michigan project (1984-2004). Older printed guides can still be very useful. The most recent guide has been created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998) which incidentally goes beyond the ASV. You might want to read also the introduction to the ASV at the website of the Vatican Film Library, St. Louis University. Somehow the MDR notice about the ASV seems not to have been carefully reviewed. I am aware that in American use the word manuscripts can also mean papers of archival records, but its use here is not very lucky.

Looking again at the MDR search interface you will remark the absence of a search field for institutions or type of institution, and thus you will need filter yourself when searching for an archival institution. On the other hand you can filter using the preset combined fields for textual evidence for particular genres of archival records. Let’s have a quick look at some other projects at MDR having the complete status. The medieval manuscripts digitized for Europeana Regia are no longer available at its original URL. It is now available in an IIIF compliant form. The Orbis Latinus dictionary figures in the 1909 version digitized by Columbia University. The updated 1972 version is mentioned, but the notice does not indicate this version, too, has been digitized at Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online. The version of Columbia University is in German, only the introduction and some further links are in English. The notice for the Piccard Watermark collection lacks information about its language (German). The fact this kind of material evidence is also present in printed books and can be used for studying book history should become clearer. In his very early and short review of MDR on December 4, 2018 at Archivalia Klaus Graf suggested another resource concerning watermarks, the Memory of Paper, is more in place.

Using the general term legal in the free text search fields brings you to four projects. It is good to see here Diplomata Belgica, a project which figured here prominently in my recent post about Dutch charters. The three following projects are the Internet Medieval History Sourcebook, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe – my subject in another post – and RELMIN, a project concerning religious minorities, briefly mentioned here, too. I could not help noticing RELMIN is described as an ongoing project, but in fact it is only maintained, and it provides translation not only in French, but also in English. The description at MDR is bilingual! The description of the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe mentions legal documents explicitly

By all means you might start asking me why I devote space to these defective aspects of the MDR database, as if it has no right to exist in its current form. However, it is only fair to assume that a project with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers aiming to achieve goals which follow strict, even rigorous standards, should itself show high qualities, too.

Medieval law in focus

Let’s stick with legal history in the following paragraphs. I will look in MDR at projects filed with the subject Law, Law – Civil, Law – Crime and Law – Religious law. I will look also at some key resource types associated with medieval jurisdiction and authority. I will honour the attention of MDR to both textual and material evidence. Charters and legislation offer textual evidence, seals form also material evidence.

Searching for the general subject Law brings you at present 23 items. The alphabetically ordered list with 22 results shows foremost general resources, but starting from Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France you are sure law is not far away. The French scholarly journal Cahiers de Fanjeaux devotes issues to matters of religious law, in particular heresy and inquisition. With The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library and the project for medieval Welsh law you arrive safely in the fields of legal history. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) does contain a substantial number of editions of legal texts and sources, and within the French TELMA project charters occupy an important place. The filter for civil law brings you to three results: British History Online, the bibliography of the Feminae project and again the MGH. For religious law as a subject MDR brings you to five results starting with the Digital Scriptorium again to Feminae, the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is present again, and you will find the digitized versions of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca. Clearly the subseries MGH Concilia with editions of medieval councils has not been taken into consideration, as are manuscripts with conciliar texts within Europeana Regia or in the Digital Vatican Library, to mention just two MDR resources. For the subject category Law – Crime I saw only British History Online and Feminae.

For charters MDR shows currently four projects, the original French charters from before 1121 at the TELMA portal, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe, RELMIN and the TELMA portal. Diplomata Belgica has not been tagged with the term Textual evidence – Charters. The subject category Textual evidence – Legislation yields nine results in MDR. A search for seals in MDR brings you only to British Museum Collections Online. A search for courts brings you to British History Online, the French charters of TELMA and the Internet Medieval History Source Book. In the following section I will look at the implications of this situation regarding legal history for a general opinion about the qualities of MDR.

A beta version?

When I first encountered Medieval Digital Resources I had positive expectations about its content and quality. You might think my opinion of MDR has sunk dramatically in view of the way resources for legal history are currently presented, or are present at all.  However, I think it would be foolish to judge this gateway after analyzing only one subject in some detail. Anyone hopes to find something for his or her favorite subject. Alas another thing is perhaps more disturbing. When you search for items linked for a particular modern language, let’s take Danish, it is somewhat mystifying to get more than one hundred results without Danish being explicitly mentioned when you check these results. Of course I checked for Dutch also as an original language, and here it becomes clear that in the entry for the database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections Middle Dutch has not been entered explicitly as an original language. In due time the database for manuscripts with literary texts in Middle Dutch, the Bibliotheca Manuscripta Neerlandica et Impressa (BNM-i) should be added to MDR, too.

For some subjects the MDR is already very rich, for example for music. For other subjects you would like to see more than one or two scattered references, for example for palaeography. In a general search for the word archives you would expect to see the MDR entry for the online catalog Archives et manuscrits of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but it does not show up. In early March 2019 the MDR database contained just 136 items. Yet nowhere on the website it is presented as a beta version, and the term “growing collection” is simply too vague. On the contrary, the preparations started in 2014, and the team worked on the database until 2018. Medieval Digital Resources now looks like a pilot for a much grander project.

One of the problems I see in the MDR database is the lack of a good working distinction between literary texts and non-literary textual resources. Another problem is how to deal with resources with a very wide coverage: Do you enter all themes and subjects separately or is there a category “General”? Perhaps more serious is the approach to resources which focus on a particular language, source type, region, theme or subject, and to other resources where these are present at a more secondary level. A thorough control of the current entries and the preset filters might be helpful and is certainly feasible in view of their current number.

The team of MDR faces some very real challenges. How to steer between the justifiable wish to include projects according to strict rules in clear presentation, and the very real need to provide a sensible web guide for medievalists? If you want to get an impression of the sheer width of medieval studies you might want to look at the online Medieval Studies Bibliographies originally created by Charles Wright and now provided by ARC Humanities Press. You could start comparing for example the coverage in its bibliography for medieval Christianity and ecclesiastical sources the sections on the papacy and on canon law and councils. The ordering of sources and scholarly resources is not really clear, and comments are absent or very concise. However, Wright very wisely divides matters over nearly twenty bibliographies, including a general overview for medieval studies. I suppose you will acknowledge the fact that in daily practice we might rely often on some resources which are not absolutely perfect. You need also guidance to use the proper resources, preferably in their most reliable and updated version. The massive Handbook of medieval studies. Terms – methods – trends, Albrecht Classen (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin-New York 2010) has more than 2700 pages.

Despite my reservations and critical remarks I cannot help admiring the idea to provide a commented gateway to resources using review to clear standards. By starting with just 130 resources the MDR exposes itself to criticisms. You cannot hide the fact that a project with eighteen team members from an institution promoting excellence in medieval studies should have started differently after five years of preparation. I had expected to see already a tag IIIF compliant added for projects with digitized medieval manuscripts. Perhaps it is wiser to start enhancing MDR with a focus on countries such as England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Germany, and to add only gradually additional resources following a plan for particular subjects, languages and resource types. It seems wise to make such things clear right from the start. Technically I found MDR rather slow functioning. Among the projects I encountered at MDR I had not yet used the licensed ACLS Humanities E-Book collection with nearly 300 books in the subject category European 400-1400. The selection contains an electronic version of Anders Winroth’s The making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000).

If Medieval Digital Resources will become worth visiting and using in the future, some quick measures are necessary. Hopefully scholars are willing to suggest new resources for inclusion. However excellent it will eventually become, I am sure maintaining standards and doing ordinary maintenance will be core matters for the team working to make MDR successful.

 

Digital approaches to medieval charters

Start screen DCN

On January 25, 2019 the Digitale Charterbank Nederland [Digital Charter Database Netherlands, DCN] was launched at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. In this project the Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch History of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences works together with Het Utrechts Archief, many other Dutch archives, and the IT firm De Ree in Groningen to create an online database with not only medieval charters, but also charters written between 1500 and 1800. Among the speakers at the presentation was Els De Parmentier (Ghent) who made an illuminating comparison with the Belgian project Diplomata Belgica. It is only natural to compare both projects and to report on some early impressions.

The third attempt succeeds

In fact two previous attempts at the Huygens Institute to create an online database for all medieval charters in Dutch holdings had not reached their goal. Almost by chance financial support of the Dutch Science Foundation NWO, the presence of an archivist, Karel Engbers, who had recently joined the staff of the IT firm De Ree which supplies an archival system use at many Dutch archive, and the preparatory work of the Huygens Institute together resulted within eighteen months in the current database.

The DCN has a search screen with both a simple search and an advanced search mode which opens by clicking on arrows. The advanced mode is fairly restricted. You can search for phrases and for single words, and you can set a time period to limit the search results. The search tips lead you to the Dutch archives portal created by De Ree. The portal has a search interface in Dutch, English and German, but the page with search tips is only available in Dutch. In the top menu you will not find in the English and German version the choice for newspapers (kranten) and the very useful guide to institutions with holdings for cultural heritage (erfgoedgids).

The second half of the DCN starts screen

I did not want to go immediately to another track of this post, but you can hardly escape from the crucial role played by the archival system of De Ree. In fact the start page of the DCN looks below the introduction very much like the result pages of the Archieven portal. On the right you can use filters for archival institutions (diensten, shortened from archiefdiensten), the presence or lack of images and other files (bestanden), and for toegangen, finding aids. By the way, Het Utrechts Archief figures large with more than 25,000 charters, but as for now only for some 6,600 items digital images have been provided. For each charter you can go directly to the relevant finding aid. Currently the database of the DCN contains already 170,000 charters with for some 24,000 items digital images.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and thus two invited speakers, Hans Mol (Leiden University and Fryske Akademy) and Ronald van de Spiegel at the presentation gave an early report about the functions of the DCN. Finding all occurrences of the abbot (abt) of Middelburg proved to be not straightforward. The use of wildcards is of course important in view of the different spellings of names and locations. With the DCN you can chart for example the changes in the preponderance of papal and royal charters or measure the importance of towns. More disconcerting is the way the datations of charters can led to a presentation of results with in the date field the number 1000 – or another year starting with 1 – instead of the date in the description. In order to work properly the archival system needs to have correct input in its own datation field of the finding aid. Instead of blaming this particular system – or any system for that matter – you will have to look more carefully at the quality of the original input created by archivists. Some crucial fields might have been left empty, and sometimes even a clear indication you are dealing with a charter might be absent. The institutions using De Ree’s system can continuously add and correct their data, but those institutions which do not use it cannot easily update their data within the DCN.

Karel Engbers (De Ree) explained how he urged to widen the selection of charters mentioned within the finding aids at the beginning of the project and during its unfolding. He urged for instance to include also specific genres of charters, and also the occasions where only a top-level description is given, even the most superficial ones like “a bundle of charters, 1350-1550”.

A look at Diplomata Belgica

Startscreen Diplomata Belgica (detail)

Maybe you will already have some ideas about the DCN, but I think you can see them much clearer when you compare the DCN with Diplomata Belgica. In fact I would have preferred to write here about this outstanding digital project much earlier, but things went different. The subtitle of this website with a French and English interface clearly sets its limits and character, “The diplomatic sources of the Medieval Southern Low Countries”. You will find here charters from the territories corresponding more or less with the current country Belgium. The word diplomatic stems from the auxiliary historical science diplomatics, the discipline dealing with medieval charters. For practical reasons, the sheer number of medieval records, this discipline often halts at the year 1300, and only seldom much later, up to 1340.

In her lecture Els De Parmentier made it very clear how you can use Diplomata Belgica to search for very specific questions about medieval charters, giving you a very comprehensive range of fields with both diplomatic and additional information, in particular the presence of religious orders. Apart from the main search interface you can use the interface Recherche Tradition / Tradition Search to search for the textual transmission of charters: as original or as a separate copy, in particular repositories, the writing material, the name of manuscripts and even the Stein number for French cartularies. Perhaps the most important information of De Parmentier’s lecture was the attention to the multiple way you can study charters: within the text of a document, in documents with the same actors, documents with identical compositions, and for example in documents issued by a particular person or institution for the classic research into the working of medieval chanceries. I will leave out here her comparison with other digital projects for medieval charters, for example those at the French Telma portal, the Digitaal Oorkondenboek Noord-Brabant, the Cartago project for charters from Frisia, Drenthe and Groningen, the registers of the Hainault counts of Holland (1299-1345), the international Monasterium project. the Anglo-Saxon charters and the DEEDS project. Each of them has many qualities, but all are slightly different in their approaches. Their common denominator is the choice of approaches founded on diplomatics.

Two approaches to charters

Some impressions become clear after De Parmentier’s lecture. In its current form the DCN is mainly what it shows on your screen, a set of charters filtered from the online finding aids of a large number of Dutch archives and from data sets – and images – provided by some other archives. You can see quickly where to go for rich holdings, but the crucial quality of the data provided by these archival institutions is very clear, too. It is a bit silly to see lots of charters dated in 1000, 1040 or 1085 when you know the actual number of charters for these years is much lower. The time range of the DCN goes considerably beyond the normal scope up to 1300 of (digital) editions of charters for particular regions or princes to include charters issued between 1500 and 1800.

The DCN faces a serious problem with the way datations of charters are handled due to the quality of the input provided by holding institutions. Sometimes one date field with incorrect or insufficient information can lead to a wrong representation of the actual date range. Instead of grumbling about this state of affairs it is perhaps wiser to check the actual input and the cases which are or seem incorrect. The larger lesson is for many digital projects you will need to use fields in a correct way, think only of such standards as EAD (Encoded Archival Description) and Dublin Core, and of course for your own digital presence and services. Sooner or later you will want to share information. Many Dutch archives offer their finding aids also as open data, yet another spur for checking interoperability and correct working before connecting to other projects or presenting data to the general public. In a finding aid archivists describe items as succinctly as possible but uniquely distinguishable from other items, and it should be no surprise descriptions do not contain all possible information, let alone full transcriptions. Some archival institutions provide transcriptions, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg.

The DCN website mentions a diplomatic definition of charters, a single act written on parchment or paper pertaining to a legal situation or a legal action – e.g. a sale, a donation – made legally valid by the internal and external characteristics of the deed, such as a seal or a signature. For me the use of the phrase bevoegd persoon (authorised person) seems almost to exclude private persons. The phrase ‘Charter’ is de archiefterm, “[a] charter is the archival term”, wordings written by Jan Burgers, the project leader (Huygens Institute and University of Amsterdam), is simply not correct. In the latest version of the Dutch archival terminology (2003) a charter is defined as a document containing an act validated by one or more seals or a notary’s sign. This definition clearly differs from the definition in the famous Dutch manual by Muller, Fruin and Feith (1898) who saw a charter as the expedition (grosse) of an oorkonde, to be distinguished from a concept or a final version (minuut). The 2003 definition is much clearer about the documentary nature and more succinct. It is foremost an archival definition, and not primarily a concept from or defined by the needs of diplomatics. Luckily the explanations by Burgers about the importance of charters as historical sources are on spot.

Logo Huygens Institute / ING

In my view the Digitale Charterbank Nederland is a tool which reflects archival practices and needs. Its great power is the way you can look at charters within their archival context instead of seeing them only as specimens of a separate documentary genre, and having images of them on your screen. The search possibilities of the DCN are somewhat restricted, even when you allow for the way you can focus on a single archival collection. It is only wise to remember two earlier attempts to create this Dutch charter database failed. Hopefully the problem with the dates in the charters can be solved quickly by the contributing archives and De Ree. Thus we will have at our disposal a primarily archival tool which supplements other Dutch digital projects for medieval charters, such as the digitized versions provided by the Huygens Institute of the oorkondenboeken for Utrecht (OSU), Holland and Zeeland (OHZ), and Gelre (Guelders) and Zutphen (OGZ). Creating links between these editions and the DCN is one of the things that will enhance this database. In particular the coverage with digital images in the DCN is still a bit low, but no doubt this will change rapidly. The qualities of the DCN should also become rapidly available with an English, French or German interface for all scholars worldwide wanting to use charters in Dutch holdings for their research. Without some understanding of archives, archival theory and the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatics, palaeography, chronology and sigillography you will and cannot tap completely the wealth of information charters can provide.