Category Archives: Landscapes

Two centuries of mapping and locating

Banner How can a historian cope with all invitations to look at celebrations and centenary events? On this blog you will expect me to present a different look at such events. Last year the celebrations of 200 years Kingdom of The Netherlands started, and I did write here about the opening activities and a number of portals and websites launched for this occasion. These festivities come now to an end, and one particular aspect offers itself for attention in a posting.

One of the newly founded institutions in the new kingdom was the Kadaster, the land registry office. This week the modern Dutch land registry office launched an educational website called Tijdreis over 200 jaar topografie [Time travel through 200 years topography]. Lately I noticed some online projects concerning Dutch historical cartography and topography which deserve the attention of legal historians and others interested in Dutch history, too. This theme gives me also the chance to look in a second section at other projects with digitized Dutch maps and atlases. In the third and last section of this contribution I will look closer at a recent overview of Dutch digitization projects. I have created a PDF with a list of the most important links in this post.

Travelling in time and space

Bilingual map 1815 - Kadaster

Bilingual – Dutch and French – map, 1810 – source: Kadaster

The special website of the Kadaster succeeds in bringing something you might think existed already, but in fact it did not, although we will meet a slightly comparable project. On this interactive website you can start a time loop for the period 1815-2015 using the scale in the left sidebar, and view for every year – at least when available – a different map. You can stop the loop to contemplate the map in a particular year. Interestingly you can put in the name of a location in a free text search field, choose from the suggestions popping up or proceed with your own choice. You will end with a zoomed-in view of a particular place and zoom out at will.

While admiring this new digital tool it does not bring you quite what you expect from a land registry office. The educational website shows mostly regular topographical maps, and only when zooming in you can see maps with cadastral information. Of course one has to reckon with the production time itself of the first cadastral maps. The first map on the special website stems not from 1815, but shows the French départements with postal routes on a bilingual map created in 1810. The southern part of the later province Limburg is not included. As for 200 years Dutch land registry office, it was emperor Napoleon who decided in 1811 that this institution should come into existence. Only in 1816 work was resumed, and in 1832 54 offices of the land registry service were opened. Most of the first cadastral maps were created between 1812 and 1832. When the results of both cadastral and topographical maps became available some outstanding maps were created for wider use.

Combining geography, history and maps

Logo Wat Was Waar

The thought of putting historical information into a kind of GIS (Geographical Information System) is already some decades old. The last years convincing results of so-called HISGIS websites start to appear, often after promising beginnings, pitfalls, breakdowns and new design, both in terms of layout and technology. Perhaps closest to the idea behind the bicentennial map site of the Kadaster is the Dutch portal WatWasWaar [What Was Where] with a Dutch interface and an introduction in English. This portal offers you access to modern topographical maps with an overlapping layer with (links to) historical information and in particular other maps. You can set this website to show both a modern map and the pointers to historical information or show just one of these possibilities. I took the municipality Doorn in the province Utrecht as an example: you will find a number of cadastral, topographical and military maps, scans of the cadastral register (aanwijzende tafel), census information and even a nineteenth-century drawing of the manor Huis Doorn, from 1920 onwards the last domicile of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. In particular having access to the original cadastral maps at your screen is a great asset, and it is possible to filter for particular information and periods. There are also scans from map books for the region around Delft, Gelderland (Guelders) and Utrecht which bring you some locations in even greater detail.


More tuned to the needs of historians is the Dutch HISGIS portal. The portal started with a HISGIS for Friesland (Frisia), supported by the Fryske Akademy at Leeuwarden. Its regional background shines through in the absence of three Dutch provinces, North-Holland, Zeeland and Brabant. The modern province Flevoland is not even mentioned. However, you can find nationwide information about municipalities by clicking on the Nederland tab. For Brabant a pilot project has started with one municipality, Loon op Zand, a location famous for Europe’s largest area with moving sands and dunes, the Loonse en Drunense Duinen. A bonus are the sections for Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and even for Antwerp.

Reading the instructions (Uitleg) carefully is really necessary for this portal, for otherwise you would miss a lot on it. Although I have visited this HISGIS portal on earlier occasions I still find it not easy to get hold of specific information, but with due patience you can retrieve here much information. The quality of information depends also on the province of your research. For example, for the province of Utrecht you can look also at sketch maps (schetskaarten) showing the borders of each municipality; these documents, too, have been authenticated at the start of the process to chart all plots.

You must forgive me for mentioning here the great interactive map of the city of Utrecht created by Het Utrechts Archief, with not just historical locations and buildings shown on a modern map, but also access to older maps, images and much more. It really amounts to a HISGIS for the history of this city. The Drents Archief in Assen contributes map to AnnoDrentheNu, a website and an app enabling you to look at and walk using also historical maps.

Here are lions!

Photo of a youn lion - source: Hic Sunt Leones

Dutch municipalities are the subject of two related projects dealing with the history of towns and villages. Their borders have changed very much since the early nineteenth century, but there is another problem as well. Some names of locations are not unique. Even within a small country like the Netherlands some locations share names. An example: I thought Oosterend, “East End”, was only a village on the Frisian isle Terschelling, but there is another one as well. In Frisian, the second official language in my country, Easterein is now in Littenseradeel near Franeker, Aasterein is the Frisian name for the location on Terschelling,, and thus you can distinguish them. At Gemeentegeschiedenis [Municipal history] you can find the names of the 1100 municipalities existing in 1812 and all their successors up to the modern situation with just over 400 Dutch municipalities. You can search also for official place-names in the départements during the French occupation under Napoleon.

A second website, Histopo, also created by the team of Hic Sunt Leones [Here are lions] goes one step further and gives access to some 27,000 historical names of locations, hamlets, villages and cities. Apart from a repertory of municipalities since 1812 the creators acknowledge the use of two valuable sources which you would not immediately come up with. Nineteenth-century militieregisters (military draft registers) contain place names in many variant spelling, duly noted by the city archives in Amsterdam and put into two data sets. Another project at Amsterdam dealing with ondertrouwregisters, registers for the publishing of banns for couples wanting to marry, gives us place-names in sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The national crowdsourcing palaeographic project Vele Handen [Many Hands] deals with both the militieregisters on a nationwide basis, kept between 1811 and 1941, and the ondertrouwregisters between 1602 and 1811.

A third project of Hic Sunt Leones focuses on the historical names of streets in Amsterdam. Combining maps with all kind of data sets is the heart of each project featured here. Yet another Dutch website covers roughly the same subject, ErfGeo, with here, too, among the people in the project team members of Hic Sunt Leones. Here you can search for names of locations, and also for streets and even for buildings. My mother lived twelve years in Zwolle, and she remembered wondering about the Korte Ademhalingssteeg, “Short Breath Alley”, in Zwolle an alley once close to the scaffold at the main market place. ErfGeo can lead you to places no longer existin and show you the growth of cities based on the Atlas van de verstedelijking. It is even possible to ask for the nicknames of Dutch locations during Carnival! For the geographical information on your screen for a particular location these projects are not solely focusing on the Netherlands. The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names can be tuned to work with data sets using the special Getty Vocabularies portal.

Hic Sunt Leones, “here are lions” is the phrase used by early cartographers to indicate zones later termed terra incognita. Lately the use of this phrase and its actual presence on medieval and sixteenth-century maps has been questioned. A few weeks ago a news item described the discovery on the so-called 1491 Martellus Map at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of among other texts a longer phrase with the words in quibus leones, “where are lions”. Multispectral imaging enhanced the faded colours and texts at this map and reinforced its brightness and legibility.

As for more HISGIS projects the links section of the British Historical GIS Research Network and HGIS-Germany are good starting points. The idea of a HISGIS has also lead to several projects using maps within the humanities, ranging from Early Modern London and Locating London’s Past using John Rocque’s map from 1746 to the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt, the Pleiades gazetteer of the ancient world and Stanford’s delightful ORBIS for travelling in Classical Antiquity. Earlier this year I discussed the Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg.

The Low Countries and digitized old maps

It is a joy to write here about historical maps from the Low Countries. Faithful visitors of my blog will perhaps remember how I adduced the beautiful sixteenth-century town maps created by Jacob van Deventer in postings about a number of small Dutch towns. In its links section WatWasWaar points to a number of interesting projects with historical maps. As a finale to this post I will briefly list a number of projects. Even if some information might already be given here in earlier postings I like to bring them together here.

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer (detail) – Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575) had been charged in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project, the making of topographical and bird-view maps of the Low Countries. The surviving maps, the first set of reliable town maps for this region of Europe, have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

While preparing this post I noticed the link to a digital version of the famous seventeenth-century atlas created by Willem Blaeu at the website of the Regional Archives in Leiden. There is at least one other digital version of this atlas, using the copy in the library of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. This college, too,  has digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya portal for the cultural heritage of Catalonia. This portal in its turn helped me not to forget to mention the Dutch portal Memory of the Netherlands, with among the 133 digital collections the Atlantic World project of the Dutch Royal Library and the British Library containing a substantial number of old maps. The Royal Library contributes the Atlas Van der Hagen (around 1690) and the Atlas Beudeker (around 1750) with not only maps, but also topographical prints and drawings. The 2,600 drawings and prints of hamlets, villages and towns in the Atlas Schoemaker, also held at the Royal Library in The Hague, can give you vivid images of buildings and people in the Dutch Republic during the eighteenth century. In fact the word atlas in Dutch cultural institution can mean both an atlas with maps and a topographical-historical collection, for example the Atlas van Stolk in Rotterdam with many thousands digitized drawing and prints.

On using a new overview of Dutch digital projects

My last paragraph with its seemingly erratic stepping-stones might seem a personal whim, but I steered it on purpose to a project at the Royal Library. On September 10, 2015, I ended my post about Dutch pocket law books with a remark about a recently completed survey of Dutch libraries and their digitization projects. To my disbelief the final report Bibliotheekcollecties in het netwerk [Library collections in the network] published online by the Royal Library does not give you in the overview of actual projects the exact web addresses. Add to this hiding the link at their website to a version of the overview with URL’s included, and you might guess my misgivings. The Royal Library did send me in August a new version of this list, and for your convenience I have uploaded it here. It seems worthwhile to look at this overview and to check for digitized historical maps. If such a survey serves any scholarly purpose it should be that of a concise practical guide with sufficient indications of the scope and contents of collections.

The overview covers 514 collections and gives succinct information in tabular format. At Leeuwarden Tresoar, the combined Frisian regional archives and Provincial Library, have digitized a number of atlases, and there is a pilot for a new digital map collection with for now just five maps. A search for kaarten (maps) at this new portal learned me quickly to prefer the advanced search and filter for the document-type maps, because kaart in Dutch is also used for postcards… The Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam is said to digitize landgoedkaarten (manor maps), but no link is provided; the collection is to be found within the general digital image database at the VU. Interestingly the VU has created the portal VU Geoplaza for modern GIS maps. The link to the nearly 800 digitized maps of the university library in Groningen did contain a typing error. Overijssel in kaart is a portal for digitized maps from four collections in the province Overijssel. Probably the best known Dutch digital map collection is the one held by the university library at Amsterdam with 450 digitized maps which includes the collection of the Royal Dutch Geographic Society, In view of the sheer number of atlases and maps the selection is rather small, but really important. There is a section with seven city atlases covering not only the Low Countries, but even cities all over the world in Jansonius’ work Theatrum urbium (….) (Amsterdam 1657).

Banner Atlas der Neederlanden - UvA

The next link to a digital map collection in Amsterdam is unfortunately broken, but triggered my attention for atlases. Is there indeed no functioning digital version of the famous Atlas der Neederlanden, nine volumes containing rare maps made between 1600 and 1800? A quick search learned me that there is a selection of maps accompanying the project for a facsimile edition of this atlas published in 2013. The list fails to indicate for Amsterdam the presence of digitized maps in the Suriname collection 1599-1975, Of course the quality of the information in this survey led by the Royal Library depends to some extent on the information provided by the institutions organizing projects for digital maps, but it seems little checking and updating has been done, nor is there a good explanation for the many collections without any indication of a URL. I cannot help noting these defects for a library which can boast a major role in many international projects bringing it justifiably great prestige.

We had better look at the collections indicated in the list and find the working web addresses ourselves, and thus I did. The digital map collection of the Royal Tropical Institute is now managed by Leiden University. The list duly notes that a large number of these maps – in fact some 7,100 – can also be reached in the image database of this research institute. In its digital collection Alterra maps Wageningen University shows maps made in the twentieth century dealing with the physical geography of the Netherlands. For Wageningen this list points to the filter for maps in the library catalogue at Wageningen University, but except in a few cases not to digital maps. Conspicuously absent in the list is the university library in Utrecht. There used to be a separate subdomain for digitized maps, but now you can at least find them using the advanced search mode of the library catalogue and check for digital availability. The special collections in Utrecht have great holdings in map collections which can be searched on collection level in a useful repertory.

Logo Caret-Tresoor

Anyone vaguely aware of the history of Dutch cartography knows there is much more to be found, and of course an updated overview – only in Dutch – can be found online at the website of the scholarly journal Caert-Tresoor (old Dutch for Treasury of Maps). Between 2005 and 2010 a number of online map collections has been presented in the section @ la Carte. A quick look at this website gives you digital maps at the regional archives in Groningen, typically missed in the overview where at least a number of libraries at regional archives have been included, but for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem and its maps do not appear at all. The Beeldbank of the Technical University Delft is mentioned, but there is no indication of its contents, though this image database does contribute to WatWasWaar. Has the Royal Library by any chance been misled by the lack of maps in the project database at the portal Kenniscentrum Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland [Knowledge Center Digital Dutch Heritage]? Filtering for cartographical materials offers you some forty digital projects, but alas only a few of the projects presented here show up. To be honest, maps are often included indistinctly within these projects.

This post shares a defect with a number of earlier postings, my clear wish to include many things within the compass of one post! I leave it to you to check the PDF of the list for your own research and to add map projects from the descriptions at Caert-Tresoor. At the national level it is justifiable to mention the digital maps of the Nationaal Archief, and to point to the maps dealing with a much wider territory at the digital portal Atlas of Mutual Heritage, an interactive map accessible in Dutch and English leading you to many objects and bibliographical information, with for example another atlas by Blaeu – held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna – and many rare maps concerning Dutch colonial history, worldwide trade and the history of the Dutch India Companies.

Uncharted digital territories

You might search for the right words doing justice to this kind of overviews, but I had rather use my time and energy to create an overview tailored to my specific need of knowing about a particular type of document within Dutch digital collections. When I could not find any reliable list of digitized pamphlets apart from the seventeenth-century mazarinades I started creating it myself. Surveying the holdings of cultural institutions has successfully been done at the collection level for Dutch museums which led to the creation of a number of regional websites for cultural heritage, often with the word Erfgoedhuis in its name, and in some cases to regional portals for digitized cultural heritage. In my country some themes and subjects are well served indeed with national digital platforms for materials concerning maritime history (Maritiem Digitaal), etnographic collections (Stichting Volkenkundige Collectie Nederland), university collections(Academische collecties), medical collections (Medisch Erfgoed), and also military history (Militair Erfgoed).

There are several gaps and weaknesses in the overview supplied by the Royal Library, with even no changes and corrections between the version of May 2015 and the latest one. Its lack of order is just another characteristic. However, you have to appreciate some dificulties in creating any consistent overview. Should one skip the libraries of archival centers? Should one create separate entries for each document type in a digital collection, or list them in a separate field for each entry? The list contains a number of abbreviations to indicate the presence of meta-data and physical objects, but they have not been used consistently. Strange is the exclusion of the Royal Library’s own digital collections, including the Delpher portal. The editors have listed some digital collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they skipped its collections at the Social History Portal.

It would certainly make a difference if we could access such information in an online database. The very creation of a database would demand solid thinking about the things to include or exclude, and above all concern about reliable input and maintenance. I am sure the Dutch Royal Library is capable of doing this. In fact the Metamorfoze website of the Royal Library offers already a succinct overview of Dutch digital projects which received financial support from the Dutch government. Out of sheer curiosity I looked for any project with maps, and I found the Bunkerarchief, a project at the Nationaal Archief concerning Dutch military defense with scans of some 9,000 maps and drawings made in the twentieth century. Luckily the online inventories of archival collections at the Dutch National Archives do tell you about the presence of scans of materials, but this large collection merits special mention in their research guide for maps and drawings. Here, too, a translation into English of the website or at least useful summaries would be most welcome.

Locating valuable digital collections can be a daunting task. In a digital world you still need reliable guides to information if you have to know more than the ever active global web company and its famous search engine brings you. I should have made a screen print of its name which showed at its start screen this weekend a heart with the Dutch national colours and a crown to honour the festivities celebrating the Kingdom of the Netherlands! You have read here the names of many libraries and archives, but museums, too, have maps in their holdings. Maps help us to realize that historical events and developments took place in particular surroundings, sometimes barely charted, sometimes mapped again and again to inform and please people. Maps help us to chart the past and to discern the variety of perspectives, limits and borders seen, perceived and created by people living in past centuries.

These days you cannot escape from seeing the grim reality of borders, and I feel awkward not to mention here this fact. We cannot be strangers to current events. VU GeoPlaza has in its links section a link to another VU project, Death at the Borders, showing one dot for each dead migrant on his or her way to Western Europe from 1999 until the end of 2013. An interactive map of the Mediterranean shows regions scarcely seen in the main media. Current figures about migrants going to Europe can be found at the online map of the Missing Migrants Project of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.

A postscript

Banner Archiefzoeker

While musing over my experiences in tracing digitized old Dutch maps it crossed my mind to use the Archiefzoeker, the inexhaustible concise guide in Dutch to digital collections all over the world. Eric Hennekam, its indefatigable creator, has put together nearly 5,500 collections. He announces new additions often at Twitter (@erichennekam) or at his blog Point de vue. I immediately found a recent posting about the mobile app of Old Maps Online, a marvellous portal where you can also find digitized maps held at the Dutch National Archives and Utrecht University Library.

Searching with precise search terms can yield much here, but for maps and atlases there is in the Dutch language a particular problem. When looking for the Dutch word kaart the nearly eighty results contain not only maps, but also gezinskaarten and persoonskaarten, family files and personal files in population registers, and prentbriefkaarten, postcards. Even the words kaartenbak, card file, and inspectiekaart appear, the latter for an inspection map of the Dutch Food Authority. Using the word atlas brings you also to a morphological atlas and an atlas of Dutch literary authors. The atlases with maps within The Memory of the Netherlands are not yet included, but some topographical atlases are present.

For more precise results tagging and classifying entries is sorely needed, because it is now rather cumbersome to find the things you are really looking for. Creating a mass of information should be followed by clear cataloguing in order to make the information useful and to ensure clear search results. Any grumblings over broken links, incomplete information or silly mistakes are another matter: constructive comments and contributions are most welcome…

A safe investment almost 400 years on

The bond issued in 1648

This week news came out about the upcoming payment of interest to Yale University on a perpetual bond issued in 1648 by a Dutch water authority, the Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams. Next week its legal successor, the Hoogheemraadschap Stichtse Rijnlanden, will pay the sum of € 136,20 ($ 154), the interest over twelve years. Yale’s Beinecke Library bought the bond in 2003 as a cultural artefact. Not only Bloomberg brings this news item which attracted quickly attention at Twitter, but elsewhere, too, this news has been noticed, for example at the Indrosphere blog by Indrajit Roy Choudhury. On my blog I have devoted some space both to the history of water authorities and the history of shares and stocks, and thus it is logical to write here also about this particular story.

Logo Stichtse Rijnlanden

At the website of the Stichtse Rijnlanden it becomes soon clear how this modern water authority is responsible for a much larger area than only the lands adjacent to the Lek, a branch of the Rhine in The Netherlands, for which the old hoogheemraadschap had been founded. The website of the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rjnstreek en Lopikerwaard, the regional archive at Woerden, offers a concise history of this institution. In 1285 a dam had been placed in the Hollandse IJssel to prevent the water of this river to stream into the Lek near the village of Vreeswijk, now a part of Nieuwegein. After floodings in this region of the diocese Utrecht due to neglect of this dam bishop Jan van Diest published in 1323 an ordinance for its maintenance. The schouwbrief of 1323 was followed by more instructions, in particular by ordinances published on behalf of Charles V in 1537. “Bovendams” means “ahead of the dam”, in this case up to Amerongen, to the east, 33 kilometers. From the dam westwards another water authority came into existence dealing with the Lekdijk Benedendams up to the town of Schoonhoven.

The article in Dutch points to a number of modern studies concerning this water authority. Pride of place should go to an older study by legal historian Marina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams: een onderzoek naar de beginselen van het dijkrecht in het Hoogheemraadschap, voornamelijk in de periode 1537-1795 (Assen, 1961). Its long title mentions not only the hoogheemraadschap, but also the term dijkrecht, dyking law. Marijke Donkersloot-de Vrij, a specialist in the field of historical cartography, edited the volume of essays De Stichtse Rijnlanden: geschiedenis van de zuidelijke Utrechtse waterschappen (Utrecht, 1993). The most recent major study, Ad van Bemmel’s De Lekdijk van Amerongen naar Vreeswijk: negen eeuwen bescherming van Utrecht en Holland (Hilversum, 2009) stands out for its colourful photography.

Getting money for major investments

In the media the news about the payment to Yale University was received with some smiles. Does this institution really need this small sum? The Beinecke Library is this year closed for a major renovation and will open only in Fall 2016. Nowadays it is not easy to work on a building site and stay firmly within your budget, and thus even this Dutch payment can be most welcome. Incidentally when you check the collections website of the Beinecke Library it becomes clear that this record (Gen. Mss. File 565) was a gift from the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management in 2009, a statement which seems to contradict the assertion at Bloomberg about Yale paying $ 24,000 in 2003 to acquire this bond.

Map of the Lekdijk near Honswijk, 1751

Map of the Lek and the dykes near Honswijk, 1751 – Woerden, RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard, Lekdijk Bovendams, inv. no. 1154-H

The bilingual website Beursgeschiedenis/Exchange History has a short article showing the 1648 bond is not the oldest surviving one from this hoogheemraadschap, but one from 1624, since 1938 in the possession of the New York Stock Exchange, thus one of the oldest surviving shares worldwide. The 2,5 percent interest yields even today 15 euros. The bonds of 1648 were issued specifically to build a krib, a pier in the Lek near the hamlet of Honswijk, now situated within the municipality Houten. Maintaining such piers and fighting against piers and other structures at the other side of the river kept the hoogheemraadschap busy for centuries. You can download the archival inventory from the website of the RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard (PDF, 74 MB). Like other Dutch water authorities the hoogheemraadschap was an independent authority which could proceed in court against for instance the counts of Culemborg or the States of Guelders. The website for the history of stock exchange does call to attention the fact that even the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht, in medieval times often deadly enemies, both invested money in the maintenance plans of water authorities.

Light on some details

Some elements in this week’s story need elaboration. You can shake your head in disbelief about a rich university welcoming a payment of just over one hundred dollars, but you might also marvel at the fact of the longevity of institutions vital for the protection of areas threatened by the powers of mighty rivers or seas. Issuing perpetual bonds or rents was not an invention of the Dutch Republic. Medieval rents issued by cities are documented for regions such as Tuscany and Flanders since the thirteenth century. Water authorities could levy taxes to get money, but these taxes were meant to cover the costs of normal maintenance.

Banner Utrechts Archiefnet

To my surprise I found the archival collections of both the water authorities for the Lekdijk Bovendams and Lekdijk Benedendams in the regional archives at Woerden. The archival inventory (finding aid) for the Lekdijk Bovendams had been created in 1980 at the former provincial archive in Utrecht, but a few years ago it was decided to bring a large number of archival collections kept at Het Utrechts Archief to regional archives in the province of Utrecht, and thus you can find currently materials much closer to their origins at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Wijk bij Duurstede and Woerden. Luckily there is a nifty search site for archives in the modern province Utrecht, the Utrechts Archiefnet, but precisely archival records kept at Woerden can only be searched online at its own website. Interestingly the banner of the Utrechts Archiefnet shows a map with at the bottom the Hollandse IJssel and the Lek.

Banner Discover Yale Digital Content

At its collections website the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows for the 1648 bond not an image of the original bond but only the modern talon, the leaflet with notes about payments of interest. The Beinecke’s inventory record gives only the immediate provenance of this bond; information about its earlier provenance is absent. The portal Discover Yale Digital Content does list the bond, but precisely for the original document at first no image seemed available. It took me some time to realize that Stichtse Rijnlanden provides with the news item on its website a direct link to the image at the Beinecke Library. It appears a second record (!) for the original bond has been filed as “Lekdijk Bovendams [water board bond]“, with as signature “Uncat. MS Vault File”.

What shall I say here about the double records for the twin items? I suppose we witness the archivists and librarians at work. It is instructive to see at one hand a very detailed indication of subjects using LC Subject Headings, and in the other record just “Business records” and “Certificates”. The more general description gives you the precise dimensions of both items, and the other one has already been included in Yale’s Orbis general library catalog with a cautious remark “In process-material”. It will be a challenge to merge both descriptions into one record. It will be necessary to look at the back of the bond to decipher ownership indications and to confirm the information of the talon: the verso has a note that in 1944 an allonge was issued. The names of former owners are faded or crossed out, and I cannot decipher them quickly, too. “J.J, de Milly” is clear, as is a note about the States of Utrecht from 1652. Dealing with such dorsal notations is one of the goals for which the historical auxiliary sciences have been developed. In fact Yale might consider bringing these items to the Rare Books Room of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, a fitting place for a document with clearly not only a cultural value but also connections to legal, economic and financial history.

No easy answers

Logo RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard

How shall we sum up the results of this post? This week’s news item can easily be expanded. At PrefBlog I read a nice rejoinder pointing to a sale in 2000 at Christie’s in New York of yet another payable bond issued by the Lekdijk Bovendams in 1634 which was sold for $ 47,000, twice as much as Yale paid in 2003 for their bond. A genealogist tracing the history of the Van Blanckendael family also came across the 1634 bond and asked the regional archives in Woerden about the perpetual bonds. The RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard responded in 2011 drily that the archive of the hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams contains several obligations from 1624 and 1638, and even from 1595. However, these obligations are not payable anymore, with two cuts in the document they have been cancelled. Not only national governments, cities and commercial companies issued rentebrieven, perpetual bonds, but other authorities, too, benefited in the past from the capital market.

Safeguarding the densely populated Netherlands is still the business of the Dutch waterschappen and hoogheemraadschappen. The one for the Lekdijk is remarkable because it dealt only with the dykes along the Lek and Nederrijn, not with the polders inside Utrecht. It literally pays to have institutions created only for this purpose. Regions afflicted in recent years by river floodings in other countries can tell you about the disastrous impact of neglected dykes. A few years ago the village of Wilnis in my own province Utrecht was hit unexpectedly by a flood caused by a dyke that imploded during hot summer weeks without any rain. The etymology of Wilnis, “wildernis”, wilderness, might wryly serve as a warning of what can become of areas struck by the forces of water running freely.

Last but not least there is the matter of describing, conserving and storing archival records stemming from abroad in orderly fashion. The libraries at Yale University contain an astonishing wealth of materials from all over the world, and most often one can only admire the sheer skills in making them useful and accessible for the scholarly community at large. Last week the Findit search website was launched for sarching digital images at Yale University Library, with a clear notice that seven other digital collections at Yale are to be searched separately. Perhaps the double efforts for the rare still active Dutch bond are a blessing in disguise, even if it shows uncoordinated work. Maybe it is a case of not getting in touch immediately with scholars at Yale who could have saved the librarians and archivists from this situation. Years ago librarians at Munich taught me the fifteen minutes rule for cataloguing: when you cannot figure it out within a quarter of an hour, stop and get help. Getting things right is a hard thing to do. In this case scholars at Yale Law School and its marvellous library would have been most happy and willing to assist, and when necessary they would not hesitate to ask for help from all over the world, in order to bring light and truth true to Yale’s motto Lux et Veritas.

A postscript

David Schorr commented at the blog Environment, Law and History on September 21, 2015, my statements about the unique independent character of Dutch water institutions. In particular irrigation districts, too, tend to be independent institutions. I should have been alarmed by my own use of the notorious word unique! The next thing to question is the way such institutions carried out their jurisdiction. Some Dutch waterschappen had in principle the right to inflict the death penalty for not complying with their ordinances. The blog of David Schorr, Adam Wolkoff and Sarah Mikov is well worth following.

Yale Insights published in 2007 an interview ‘What is a long life worth?’ with William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst confirming the purchase of the bond at an auction in 2003. They tell something about other loans and perpetuities. Goetzmann edited the essay volume The origins of value. The financial innovations that created modern capital markets (Oxford, etc., 2005) covering the history of loans from Babylon to modern times, where you can find an article by Goetzmann and Rouwenhorst, ‘Perpetuities in the Stream of History. A Paying Instrument from the Golden Age of Dutch Finance’ (pp. 177-187) dealing in detail with the 1648 bond. The Yale School of Management has created an online exhibit on the history of securities, Origins of Value. You can consult online an interesting bachelor thesis by Mark Hup, Life annuities as a resource of public finance in Holland, 1648-1713. Demand- or supply-driven? (B.A. thesis Economics, University of Utrecht, 2011) (PDF).

Going the long roads: Legal history and The History Manifesto

Cover This year saw in June some twenty conferences in the field of legal history, but now in August the congress calendar of my blog shows no events. It is summertime and scholarly life, too, goes at a slower pace and in different rhythms! During my holiday I could find much time for reading, and without events to attend I hope to read more this month.

One of the books offering itself for a reading in calm and quiet surroundings bristles with energy. Last year Cambridge University Press published The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, both as a book in print, as an e-book, in a web version and as a PDF. In 2014 I read it very quickly, and indeed its style helped me to fly through its pages. However, if the proposals and visions of the two authors make any sense, a more detached second reading is needed. What’s in it for legal historians? Do Guldi and Armitage have a message for them, or even multiple messages? What are the challenges facing the various fields and corners of legal history? Can we safely follow its recommendations and examples, or are there different directions which will be more rewarding? In this post I offer a personal view about this provocative book.

A call to arms

The opening words of The History Manifesto echo the Communist Manifesto which did indeed stir minds and governments. Both texts are divided into an introduction and four chapters, and they share the use of incisive and trenchant statements. However, with 125 pages for the main text the 2014 manifesto is really a book, not just a pamphlet-length treatise, In addition forty pages of notes and an index for persons and subjects place it in another category.

A summary of the book by Guldi and Armitage is not out-of-place here. The authors start with an introduction which depicts the humanities in a state of crisis. The following chapter looks at the origins of the modern concept of the longue durée, associated with Fernard Braudel and the impact of the French Annales school of historiography. In the second chapter they investigate the place of research concerning long-term developments in historical research between 1950 and 2000. The third chapter discusses the amount of attention historians paid in the twentieth century to such matters as worldwide changes in climate, inequality and the ways governments function. The last chapter is a plea to ask the great questions and to use Big Data in new ways that bring sound analyses for the problems of our times leading to actions for the future. One of the themes in the conclusion is the public role of history and historians in our century.

The great seduction of Guldi and Armitage is the invitation to combine without questioning two assumptions, the importance of history and the urgent need to follow the directions they indicate. I would not be a historian if I did not believe in and practice history with all its qualities. The second assumption is presented in a most enticing way. Guldi and Armitage are skilled story tellers, and it feels safe to join them in their explorations. The prophetic tone of the new manifesto brings a smile, because it makes you feel you are at last in good company with people who can see through the layers of society and open vistas of a world where historians and their research are almost bed fellows to power, guardians of the truth and the common good, and councillors with sound counsels. “Historians of the world, unite! There is a world to win – before it’s too late”. Even if there is a spectre haunting the modern world, you can find here a benevolent spirit ready to save mankind.

Guldi and Armitage are serious historians, but you cannot miss the ideological overtones of the manifesto. It would be wrong to dismiss the manifesto as nothing but a resurfacing of left ideologies. In fact they point not only to values and visions worth defending and promoting in their view, but they are also clear about the supposed neutrality of a world reigned by capitalism and neoliberalism. They point to research showing the impact of capitalism not only for the economy, but in particular also for the environment.

On the website promoting The History Manifesto there is ample space for discussion and criticism. The original version published in October 2014 has been followed in February 2015 by a corrected version with an accompanying revision notice. One of the salient features revised is a graph at page 44 depicting the percentage of Ph.D. theses written in the United States dealing with historical subjects during long periods. The alleged “downfall” of interest in long periods was less steep than suggested. One can frown about the very choice of American theses where a comparative perspective or a similar sample of published history books might have been more convincing. British and American history together provide the majority of examples, even if former British colonies are present, too. China gets more space than Japan.

At first I had no intent of looking at this book through Dutch glasses, but on second thought this, too, is useful. At page 65 Guldi and Armitage list a number of infrastructural projects “where nations have assumed responsibility for preserving life into the future”, among them “the government-built dykes of the early modern Netherlands”. The typical Dutch thing about the medieval and later dykes up to 1700 is that the overwhelming majority has been built by local governing bodies with whom resided full authority and jurisdiction. Centralized efforts to restore areas claimed by the floods of 1530 did utterly fail. In the seventeenth century the large land reclamations north of Amsterdam such as the Beemster (1612) and the Schermer (1635) succeeded thanks to the efforts of private investment companies. In the same paragraph the authors make the point that central authority is not always a prime mover, and here the Dutch dykes would have fit in excellently. This might seem a tiny detail, but historians have to deal with both details and larger contexts, especially when you want to give tell-tale details. As for the importance of the history of water management the manifesto does point to the studies of Terje Tvedt.

Short periods, long periods and legal history

Logo The Republic of Letters

Instead of picking at possible faults and mistakes it is perhaps more rewarding to look at the fruits of The History Manifesto that are interesting for legal historians. Do Guldi and Armitage look at legal matters in the past apart from inequality and injustice, and cite research in the fields of legal history? They do indeed, and I will give here a summary overview.

In the first chapter the influence of Theodor Mommsen and Henry Maine is mentioned with approval as an influence on various social history studies by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Paolo Grossi’s research about the history of property figures in a footnote. Later on it is no surprise that ownership figures prominently, for example Aaron Sakolski’s Land Tenure and Land Taxation in America (1957) who wrote about the views of major legal historians about the history of ownership. The two authors point to older studies such as Eugène Garsonnet, Histoire des locations perpétuelles et des baux à longue durée (Paris 1878) which helped Braudel during the fifties in creating his concept of the longue durée. Paul Warde traced the impact of real and perceived wood shortage on emigration using court records from many places in Europe. The series of digitized criminal court records of the Old Bailey between 1673 and 1914 is proudly present, as is Colin Wilder’s project Republic of Literature (RL) where legal texts are linked to a vast network of scholars and students and the ways they influenced German society in the Early Modern period. The datasets and the conceptual model behind RL are open to scholars for doing their own research. Paul Johnson and Stephen Nicholas studied criminal records in England and Wales between 1812 and 1867 which contain the height of the accused in order to find evidence for any improvement in living conditions. The history of slavery and its changing interpretations appear in every chapter. Using the contents of probate inventories as a kind of testing ground for all kind of changes is another example of sources familiar to at least a number of legal historians, In the final chapter Guldi and Armitage cite a possible study to words for emotions in court records as an example of future research for which historians are in their view exceptionally well equipped.

While looking for the relationship between attention to long periods and legal I was somewhat mystified by the role allegedly played by Quentin Skinner. Guldi and Armitage present him (pp. 47-48) as a defender of contextual scholarship who attacked those favoring grand theories including attempts at long-term history. Skinner did certainly criticize those who tried to construct fanciful histories of ideas, but in his later publications he certainly did not avoid major subjects such as republicanism and freedom in Early Modern Europe, a time range of three centuries. I cannot help thinking about the proverb coined by George Bush “Who is not against us is for us”. Another saying, “Why should facts hamper my theory?”, is probably closer to the mark.

Blessings in disguise

As a medievalist I am used to the fact that results in studies dealing with long periods and major themes cannot be transplanted ceteris paribus to medieval studies. For The History Manifesto legal history mainly serves as a stepping stone or sometimes as an approved guide for a particular subject or problem. To do justice to the facts one should note that the website of the Republic of Literature, too, does in its present state only refer to the titles of legal texts as examples chosen from Roman and medieval law.

However, it is one thing to depreciate a book completely. and another thing to signal problems concerning the aims, scope, scale and value of a book. If I would make here only negative remarks about their book, I would take the trees for the forest. Guldi and Armitage express their genuine and sincere concern about the practice of history and its impact on society. The authors did a sincere job, and they could benefit from comments on lectures and early drafts by noted historians such as Peter Burke, Paul Freedman. Lynn Hunt and John Witt. You might have heard too often about crises in the historical trade and within the humanities, but even the ideological tone of The History Manifesto does not harm the main argument about the importance of choosing relevant subjects to be studied within a sufficiently long time span. Sometimes it is necessary to look just before and after a particular period to gain real insights, but even so often the micro-historic approach of telescoping into very short periods will pay off.

One of my greatest hesitations with the summons of The History Manifesto is the wish to be close to those in power, in order to give sound counsels and guide long-term policies. We had better watch out to remain independent as far as possible, and not sacrifice this for a clear role in current affairs. The results of historical research can shed light on the present, but they seldom contain infallible guidance for the immediate future or decades ahead of us.

The second major fault of The History Manifesto is perhaps more devastating. The authors highlight at several turns aspects of legal history, but somehow for me it sounds hollow. Generally I do not like to attack the main thrust of a book, but is it not very strange that a book with much attention to struggles against racism, inequality, slavery, environmental threats and the unfair distribution of wealth does not put legal history at its center? Uses and abuses of powers, legal doctrine and institutions, legislation and justice are not just at the periphery of such matters. They are part and parcel of these problems, prime movers and causes, channels of consequences to many events and solutions.

Jo Guldi and David Armitage want historians to tell stories that matter. Just choosing a long period in itself is not enough, and just dreaming about the chances of Big Data is no help, but creating and presenting sizeable answers when accessing and analyzing massive information is an aim not easily to accomplish. This book needs to be read with a red pencil. Your copy should be full with question marks and underlinings, emoticons and marks of approval, wonder and disbelief. The real question is not what these two distinguished scholars do within the provocative chapters of their double-length pamphlet, but what does it mean for your own future research practice, or from a reader perspective, what kind of history might be more rewarding than the studies I preferred until now? Combining the strengths of micro-history and a more synthetic approach within serial contextualism is one of the roads advocated by Guldi and Armitage. The study of revolutions, be it the French, the Industrial, the Russian or the Green Revolution, is helped both by studies with a narrow focus in location and time to look beyond the glamour and clamor of the great cities, and by attempts to create new syntheses building on existing studies, studies that will cover much longer periods. In the manifesto revolutions are a clear example, but it could be as helpful to look in this way, too,at the similarities and differences in riots and revolts, surely somewhat smaller events, but nevertheless often resonating long afterwards. You might find some inspiration in a post about the history of riots on my blog.

In fact studying riots can take you right into living history. The riots after the death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, got world-wide attention. The Washington University in St. Louis, MO, has created the digital archive Documenting Ferguson, and you can look also for example at a Ferguson research guide created by the University of Arizona and a similar guide from Michigan State University. This university has also put online a special guide concerning riots and trials touching upon African-American history, Outrageous Justice: Riots, Lynchings, False Accusations and Court Trials with numerous links to websites about trials and courts.

As far as the world extends

Cover Entanglements in Legal History

What are the new roads, scopes and aims of legal historians nowadays? A few paragraphs ago I wrote on purpose about transplanting. Looking at different legal systems is not only a practice in the field of comparative law. In the twentieth century Stephan Kuttner, David Daube, Alan Watson looked across the supposed borders of legal systems, and other scholars have followed their example. The latest issue of the journal Rechtsgeschichte-Legal History / Rg 22 (2014) is dedicated to transnational legal history. The preface by Thomas Duve, one of the two directors of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, makes clear how this institute seeks to include the whole world in is research, without forgetting its own history of research focusing on European legal history, fittingly symbolized by the new Helmut-Coing-Weg near the institute. It points to new roads with its publication series Global Perspectives on Legal History (GPLH), with the first two volumes already available not only in print but also as PDF’s. The first volume, Entanglements in Legal History: Conceptual Approaches, Thomas Duve (ed.) (GPLH, 1; 2014), sets an agenda for future research. The essays in this volumes look back at the positive and negative sides of earlier research, they chart the impact of colonial and imperial history, and look in more depth at legal transfers and reception of law in the field of international law since 1800. The second volume, Derecho privado y modernización. América Latina y Europa en la primera mitad del siglo XX, María Rosario Polotto, Thorsten Keiser and Thomas Duve (eds.) (GPLH, 2; 2015), looks at the interplay between European and Latin-American history in the field of private law during the first half of the twentieth century.

Closer to my country I am happy to see the very quick publication of the papers read during the last Dutch-Belgian Legal History Days in Brussels, December 2014, a biennial event which gives the floor in particular to young legal historians. Dave de ruysscher and four other scholars edited the volume Rechtsgeschiedenis op nieuwe wegen / Legal history, moving in new directions (Antwerpen-Apeldoorn 2015). Not only the Low Countries, but also the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Argentina figure in this volume. Of course much more could be mentioned. Let three examples suffice: John W. Cairns published this summer Codification, Transplants and History: Law Reform in Louisiana (1808) and Quebec (1866) (Clark, NJ, 2015) and Martin Vranken published Western Legal Traditions: A Comparison of Civil Law and Common Law (Sydney 2015). Earlier I wrote here about the Digital Panopticon, a larger than life offspring of the Old Bailey Online project, spanning the oceans and centuries between Britain and Australia and court records as its backbone.

Qua Patet Orbis, “as far as the world extends”, is the motto of the Dutch Marine Corps founded in 1665. Its history of world-wide presence right until now reminds me that we cannot shake off entirely the impact of colonial history and imperialism. Being aware of traditional perspectives and biases is often already an effort, and taking new directions might easily become just a slogan. The book of Jo Guldi and David Armitage deserves at the very least your attention to check for cobwebs in your own thinking and actions. Legal historians might not be able to change the world by the force of their research, but they cannot completely ignore the major problems of our century, such as violence, racial tensions, slavery, human traffic, fundamentalist movements, the weaknesses of civil society and the destruction of natural resources. Legal historians are well equipped to gauge the impact or lack of impact of laws, the workings of bureaucracies, the shifting meanings and connotations of words associated with justice and injustice, equality and equity. It would be a shame to create only results to save yourself a place within the ivory towers of the academic world, and luckily I trust that many legal historians are simply too human and wise to enclose themselves.

A wood in the polder

When I visited Delft this summer it was years ago I bicycled to the nearby tiny village ‘t Woudt, which means literally “The Wood”. However, ‘t Woudt is situated in the polders to the west of Delft, and you will not detect any wood in my pictures.

't Woudt near Delft

In fact I would have dearly liked to take more photographs on one of the few sunny afternoons of this summer, but the battery of my camera got empty. The tiny village, a hamlet is a more apt word, is dominated by the imposing medieval church. The buildings in ‘t Woudt are rightly classified as monuments.

The church of 't Woudt

The church looks rather formidable because its tower has been inclosed by the extended side-aisles. I added on purpose the detail that I took a bicycle to reach ‘t Woudt, because the road to Wateringen behind the church is not open to cars. The N223 road from Delft to De Lier and other villages has an exit for ‘t Woudt, but you can drive only the few hundred meters to this lovely spot, within two kilometers of the A4 highway connecting The Hague to Delft.

Stories to tell

For weeks I have been thinking what kind of story is behind ‘t Woudt. The first story is partially a story of onomastics, the auxiliary discipline that deals with the etymology of names. Toponymy is the study of place names. ‘t Woudt is now a part of the municipality Midden-Delfland. Originally it belonged to the manor Hof van Delft, literally “Garden of Delft” or “Court of Delft”, for the most part now a neighbourhood of Delft itself.

To the south-west of Delft is another place name with a wood in its name, Abtswoude. Toponymical studies have shown this name was formed by an act of popular etymology. The medieval name was Popta’s Woude, “The Wood of Popta”. In the nineteenth century this name had been transformed to Papswouw. People thought this place name meant “the wood of a priest”. In a funny way they decided to upgrade the place name to Abtswoude, “Abbot’s Wood”, because of the popular belief in the existence of a monastery on this spot in medieval times.

Now it is very difficult to imagine actual woods in a classic Dutch polder. In this fen country a wood can hardly exist. Perhaps to add to the confusion about Abtswoude, and to create a new chapter in Dutch landscape planning, a land art project near Abtswoude was started in the late twentieth century in the form of a wood surrounding a hill of only five meters. The wood is called the Abtswoudse Bos, and the core of the project is even called Moeder Aarde, “Mother Earth”. The whole area of just 190 hectare is situated on the outskirts of Delft.

The A4 and the Raad van State

The A4 road reaches from The Hague Delft only to stop in the midst of the polder. After decades of discussions, protests and several juridical procedures at the judiciary branch of the Raad van State, the highest advisory council of the Dutch government, on July 6, 2011, it was finally decided to build the missing six kilometers of this highway to Rotterdam. The new part of the A4 will run at a distance just 1500 meters from the Abtswoudse Bos.

The Raad van State has also the role of a court of appeal in cases concerning administration. Lately the double role of the Raad van State, founded in 1531 by Charles V, becomes more subject to criticism because it is a clear example of a situation – governed by the special law for the Raad van State (1962) – in which the governing power has to be separated from the judiciary. The court branch has to judge cases which have been discussed in or which were advised upon by the council itself. In October the Raad van State opened its renovated building. Surely the external renovation with a better use of its palace in The Hague at the Kneuterdijk was needed and successful, but an internal renovation, too, is needed to survive and function properly in this century. The Dutch queen is formally the head of the Raad van State, but the vice-president leads in daily practice the council. Due to their position the vice-presidents have got nicknamed viceroy of the Netherlands. These months the nomination of a new vice-president is another point of debate. Instead of being aloof to party politics the vice-president’s function might get more politicized.

Old and new landscapes

Having brought together a medieval hamlet, a romantic belief in the existence of a medieval monastery, a newly planned wood and land art project, and the completion of the final trajectory of the A4 I do not know whether to smile or to shake my head in disbelief. The Dutch polders can show you a rich variety of different landscapes. It seems most practically to keep in mind Dutch landscapes have been shaped and are being shaped by man. One could almost suggest the neologism manscape… Between The Hague and Leiden you will find the artificial lakes of the Vlietlanden directly next to the A4. The high-speed railway between Amsterdam Airport and Rotterdam was custom-built with a number of tunnels to protect the scenery of the classical Dutch polder as much as possible. Interestingly a separate institution has been founded to deal with complaints about damages caused by this railway. In daily life you have to picture the densely populated province of South Holland as an amazing mix of villages and towns surrounded by the remains of polders and more graphically by railways and highways, with to the east the largest more or less intact polder zone, the archetypical Groene Hart, the Green Heart of the Netherlands.

As for medieval monasteries around Delft, to the north-east of Delft is Sion, now part of Rijswijk – the Ryswick of the 1697 peace treaty -, the spot of a monastery of Austin Canons, founded in 1345 and demolished in 1572. The canons found around 1490 a Roman milestone near Monster in the Westland region. A part of the grounds survived as an estate long owned by the Van Hogendorp family. Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp (1762-1834) helped in 1813 decisively in creating the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sketching a draft for the new constitution – subsequent versions of the Dutch constitution can be found here – and getting the family of Orange-Nassau on the new Dutch throne. I had hoped to find more information on individual monasteries in the lavishly illustrated volume De middeleeuwse kloostergeschiedenis van de Nederlanden [The medieval monastic history of the Low Countries], edited by Paulina de Nijs and Hans Kroeze (Zwolle-Ter Apel 2008), but this is not the case. Characteristically romantic phantasy lacked geographical precision. I suppose I will hardly succeed in cycling around Delft in one day to visit all places mentioned in this post. Hopefully there is enough here for reflection on the facts and stories presented.

Monasteries in medieval Holland: a postscript

I would like to help those searching for medieval monasteries in the Low Countries by pointing to the Signum network for the social-economic, institutional and juridical history of medieval ecclesiastical institutions in the Low Countries. The scholars in this network do research on such institutions both in present day Belgium and the Netherlands. The website of Signum has been recently refurbished. Among the reviews of recent publications is a review of the book edited by De Nijs and Kroeze. At this moment (early December 2011) the useful links section is not present anymore. One of the links mentioned was the so called kloosterlijst maintained at the Free University Amsterdam, a database with concise information on some seven hundred medieval monasteries within the modern Dutch borders. For Delft only you will find thirteen convents…

Water control, a legal matter

Water is a matter of life and death. For a country like the Netherlands with the ground level for more than fifty percent below sea level water control has got for centuries several additional dimensions. Water control can mean controlling the quality of water for drinking, irrigation and other purposes, it can also mean getting water out of a district to ensure a good water level for farming, it can mean protecting such districts against flooding by the sea and rivers. Major parts of the Netherlands lie within the estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Escaut (Schelde).

To the best of my knowledge the Western Waters Digital Library (WWDL) is one of the largest cooperative digital libraries. Some twenty institutions from several states contribute to this project on the history of water control in the United States, mainly participants of the Greater Western Library Alliance. The WWDL presents a great variety of documents and images on many subjects, and also finding aids for collections. You will not only find information about irrigation projects, but also on the great dams and their impact on the quantity and quality of water, and in particular information from and about people involved with many projects concerning water.

The peculiar legal nature of Dutch institutions for water control in the broadest sense of the word is their independent origin and – at least to a considerable extent – still independent status. A Dutch waterschap or hoogheemraadschap is not a municipal, provincial or national institution. Some of the waterschappen occupied themselves only with a part of a region, but since a major reorganization in the nineties of the past century only a small number of large water control boards exist, six hoogheemraadschappen and some twenty waterschappen. The modern provinces Friesland and Limburg have now each only one waterschap. A waterschap had and has its own governing body, organizes its own elections for representatives and its board, collects itself special annual taxes, creates its own regulations (keuren), including penalties to be inflicted. In history some waterschappen could even threaten to impose the death penalty for major infractions against its bylaws, for example not complying to orders to repair dikes or not helping against the imminent threat of a flood.

Windmill near Oud-Zuylen

A windmill near Oud-Zuylen, to the north of Utrecht, now in the care of the hoogheemraadschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht

The history of waterschappen has not been neglected by Dutch legal historians. One of the great pioneers was Sijbrandus Johannes Fockema Andreae (1904-1968, grandchild of another legal historian with the same name (1844-1921), the latter mainly remembered for his useful overview of sources for Dutch legal history – the Overzicht van oud-nederlandsche rechtsbronnen, A.S. de Blécourt and A.M. van Tuyll van Serooskerken (eds.) (2nd ed., Haarlem 1923; reprint Alphen aan den Rijn 1981) – and his 1910 facsimile edition of the first edition from 1631 of Hugo GrotiusInleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid. Fockema Andreae junior defended in 1934 a thesis on the history of the hoogheemraadschap of Rijnland, the region around Leiden. Some of the works of a slighty earlier scholar, Anton Albert Beekman, have a rather special form: his study Het dijk- en waterschapsrecht in Nederland vóór 1795 (2 vol., The Hague 1905-1907) is a glossary of old Dutch law, and he contributed also a similar volume to the Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek, the dictionary of Middle Dutch. Let’s mention in passing also his major contribution to the eight volumes of the Geschiedkundige Atlas van Nederland (The Hague 1915-1932), a historical atlas of the Netherlands for which he drew all maps.

I could cite many more recent studies. Many touch not only water control but also the reclaiming of land in the fen regions of Holland, the creation of the archetypical Dutch polders. Landmark studies are Hendrik van der Linden’s De cope (Assen 1956; reprint Alphen aan den Rijn 1980) which focuses on the classic medieval reclaiming campaigns, J.L. van der Gouw’s De ring van Putten (s.l. 1967) and perhaps Martina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams (Assen 1961). Using the online bibliography for Dutch history you can easily search for more relevant titles.

A pumping engine from 1918

A pumping engine building from 1918, built for the former waterschap of Achttienhoven, near Utrecht

In the second part of this post I would like to focus on one institution. Leiden is situated on a minor branch of the Rijn, the Leidse Rijn. This river gives its name to the hoogheemraadschap Rijnland. Fockema Andreae worked for many years for this institution. On the website of Rijnland – and also on the website of Delfland – you can find instructive texts in English about the present day working of these water control boards. Rijnland has to deal with both inland water and the sea. By the way, these institutions do occupy themselves with water quality control, too, but drinking water in my country is generally provided by special companies. Some cities founded their own drinking water company. It is needless to say that conflicts of interest can develop between these companies and the water control boards, between farmers wanting a certain water level for their herds or crops and biologists preferring another level for rare plants and animals.

Rijnland has been often the subject of studies and source editions. The oldest surviving registers have been published for the Society for the Study of Old Dutch Law, De oudste bestuursregisters van het hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland (1444-1520). Regesten van de handelingen van dijkgraaf en hoogheemraden, J.H.M. Sloof (ed.) (Leiden 1999). A section of the Rijnland website is devoted to its heritage, with an image database in which you can find also old documents, artefacts, online finding aids and a treasure gallery. One can find further materials for the history of this heemraadschap at the Regionaal Archief Leiden. This archival centre, too, has an online searchable image database. You will find for example building construction drawings submitted to the hoogheemraadschap.

Sometimes the struggle against water has been lost. In the Westerschelde the socalled Verdronken Land van Saeftinge, “The Lost Land of Saeftinge”, is a silent witness to the power of floods and the consequences of insufficient action to keep water out. It is one of history’s splendid ironies that the Hertogin Hedwigepolder from 1904, the last reclaimed land area in the Westerschelde, lies directly next to an area lost definitively after 1570. A sixteenth-century treatise on dike building, the Tractaet of dyckagie by Andries Vierlingh (circa 1507-1579), gives detailed information on the building and maintenance of dikes. Vierlingh sharply criticized those people who fail to fulfill their duties. The 1920 edition by J. de Hullu and A.G. Verhoeven has been digitized by the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, The Hague. The Dutch government has conceded in principle to the Belgian government to give the Hertogin Hedwigepolder back to the river in order to guarantee safe sailing for large modern vessels on the Westerschelde on their way from or to Antwerp. This decision has yet to be enforced, and protests against it in the province of Zeeland are vehement. Dutch readers can meet both very different landscapes in an intriguing chapter of a wonderful book by Kester Freriks, Verborgen wildernis. Ruige natuur & kaarten in Nederland (“Hidden wilderness. Rough nature and maps in the Netherlands”; Amsterdam 2010).

Did you spot anywhere in this post the Dutch National Water Management Agency, Rijkswaterstaat? Did I mention the plans to add the waterschappen to the provinces? You can figure out yourself that when you add national and provincial institutions to my sketch of Dutch water control at a meso and micro level things are still complicated. In my opinion creating or having independent institutions for water control is not only a phenomenon for institutional historians but a subject worth of further investigation. This century will witness the growing importance of natural resources, will perhaps even see battles and wars for water, and you are invited to contemplate the example of a region with in this respect a special balance of powers.

Disaster and digital heritage in New Zealand

One of the unforgettable scenes in The Bone People, Keri Hulme’s famous novel, brings the reader to the remains of a boat built by the Maori ancestors of Joe, which comes only to the surface after a minor earthquake. This week New Zealand has been forcefully hit by a major earthquake. People have been killed by it, many more people got injuries, houses and other buildings have become ruins or are severely damaged. How to rebuild lives and houses? How can one heal the wounds? What has become of all kind of things that form ties with the past, with New Zealand’s cultural heritage?

On my website for legal history the page with digital libraries is on the brink of becoming a separate section. One of its shortcomings is its organization along national borders, for frontiers have changed over the centuries. Colonial history has often destroyed older borders and memories of them. Luckily some digital libraries are the fruit of international cooperation. Looking at my list today I can at least see quickly which collections are important for New Zealand. The libraries I list for New Zealand happen to be not just important for legal history but for the history and heritage of this country at large. Australia, too, will show up in this post because of the historical connections within the former British Empire.

The Digital NZ – Á-Tihi Aotearoa of the National Library of New Zealand is a portal to digitized sources at several cultural institutions. Matapihi is a more general portal of New Zealand’s national library  to find digitized materials. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington has among its projects for example He Pātaka Kupu Ture – The Legal Maori Archive, with sources on Maori legal history. Early New Zealand Books, a digital library of the University of Auckland Library, presents online a number of digitized early editions printed in New Zealand. Sources pertaining more strictly to legal history are present in the digital collection for Colonial Case Law of the Macquarie Law School in Sydney. In fact it is a portal to several sites on historical cases, with a very useful links collection, also for New Zealand. It mentons for instance the New Zealand’s Lost Cases at the Victoria University of Wellington. The Oceania Digital Library is an international digital portal created by the University of Auckland Library, the University of California at San Diego Libraries and the University of Hawai’i Library for the cultural heritage of Melanesia, Polynesia en Micronesia.

One of the most remarkable initiatives for digital libraries I have seen is the New Zealand Digital Library at the University of Waikato. Behind this modest title you find in fact a portal to several digital libraries, not only for New Zealand but for other countries as well. The Greenstone digital library software is used in particular for a number of development initiatives and humanitarian services worldwide. Among the so-called “user contributed collections” is the website “Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project” concerning the hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005. At first it might seem wry to find among the projects also the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters. However, it shows also the outward bound mentality of New Zealand, and these efforts to help worldwide deserve respect and support. I could mention many more links. The website of the Christchurch City Libraries has a well-organized links section, with a special page for links on earthquakes.

Christchurch City Libraries also present a very useful set of legal links. You can follow their tweets for the latest news from Christchurch. For modern law cases the New Zealand Legal Information Institute is the first site to visit; the databases with cases on intellectual property go back to the late fifties and sixties. The Victoria University of Wellington houses an exhaustive website on Indigenous Peoples and the Law which reminds you that continents and subcontinents have a very distinct history before modern nations came into existence. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch gives on its library website an extensive guide to online resources for modern law in New Zealand. To round off for today, let us not forget the legal historians of Australia and New Zealand, united in one society. New Zealanders and Australians try to bridge gaps between a continent and an archipelago. Perhaps we can do something for them, starting with showing our sympathy with the people of Christchurch.

Redeeming the woods of The Hague

When you leave the central railway station of The Hague you will see the Malieveld, a part of the Haagse Bos, the wood of The Hague. The Malieveld is one of the main Dutch places for major demonstrations. The connection with demonstrations on large squares readily explains my interest in the Malieveld. In fact the story goes back to 2006 when the burgomaster of The Hague suggested the Malieveld as the building location for a new Dutch national museum. Five years ago historians showed evidence of an act from 1576 issued by William of Orange forbidding the sale of the Malieveld and the adjacent wood with the objective to cut down its trees. The website of VPRO television´s history channel has a very useful notice on this princely act, with links to the original text and a modern transcription of it, and this forms the starting point of my post.

The Malieveld in The Hague

A part of the Malieveld in The Hague

On February 21, 2011 the Dutch newspaper Trouw brought this again to the attentions of its readers. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing a horsed man dressed as William of Orange addressing people at the Malieveld before a debate on natural conservation in the province of South Holland. The debate on February 19 was organized by the Dutch Society for Natural Monuments, the National Forest Service which owns the Haagse Bos, and the Foundation for the Landscapes of South Holland. I will not touch upon this debate concerning the possibilities for new policies that cuts in the budgets might bring.

Jaap Buis started his majestic study Historia forestis. Nederlandse bosgeschiedenis (2 vol., Wageningen-Utrecht 1985) – available online at the E-depot of Wageningen University – with a short history of Dutch woods and forests. The woods around The Hague were not mentioned as woods in the late Middle Ages, but still as wilderness. The Haagse Bos was created in the fifteenth century. Its maintenance and use as a hunting ground costed lots of money. In 1574, during the early phase of the Dutch Revolt, The Hague was briefly captured by Spanish forces. William of Orange, himself one of the richest aristocrats of the Low Countries, needed money for the continuation of his struggle against the king of Spain, and he proposed the States of Holland to sell the Haagse Bos. Protests by the citizens of The Hague lead on April 16, 1576 to the signing of the Acte van redemptie.

The Institute for Dutch History has created an online database with the correspondance of William of Orange. The Dutch pater patriae got his nickname, William the Silent, not because of his abundant correspondence – some thirteen thousand letters have been tracked down! – but because of his skill in saying almost nothing with much words. In this act the prince of Orange made the citizens of The Hague promise to pay 1500 guilders from the sale of melted down church bells, and 1000 guilders from waiving the right to get back this sum which they had loaned to the prince. William promised in return that the bosch ende warande, the woods and park, would be forever geredimeert ende affecteert, reclaimed and looked after, and that these grounds will never be sold or put to sale for the purpose of cutting down its trees. All this would have to be maintained in full accordance with the old uses and servitudes known to the auditor and bailiff of North Holland.

A point initially missed by journalists and politicians was the fact that this act does not forbid any sale of the woods, but only a sale aiming to get rid of the woods, supposedly to sell the tress as timber and rent out the grounds as building parcels. Buis notes that in 1795 the National Convention was close to selling the Haagse Bos, but the proposal did not get a majority vote (see Buis, I, 14-15 and 328-333).

The Institute for Dutch History shows on its website only the text in a register of the Court of Holland (Hof van Holland, 44, fol. 112r-113v). The original letter has not been traced. The municipal archives of The Hague present the story on their website with a photograph of a copy from 1593 and a translation in modern Dutch. The year 1593 is no coincidence because Maurice of Orange issued in 1593 a new ordinance for the Haagse Bos. William’s act from 1579, the ordinance from 1593 and subsequent relevant documents can be found in the Groot placaet-boek (..) Staten Generael (9 vol., The Hague 1658-1796), the major collection of the acts and statutes issued by the Dutch General Estates, starting in the eight volume, page 654. The set can be consulted online in the section with old printed sources for Dutch history in the Digital Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Using the website Archieven, an online database for searching in many Dutch archival collections, I found another item at the municipal archives in The Hague, a dossier of the municipal council from the period 1947 to 1953 concerning building plans on the Malieveld and the Koekamp (Gemeentebestuur 1953-1990, no. 5348) which mentions the 1576 Acte van redemptie. Nil novi sub sole! Among the digitized materials in these archives is the Jaarboek “Die Haghe“, the yearbook of the Society for The Hague’s history, and thus you can also check online the 1905 edition of the act from 1576.

The word redemptie sounds very much like the religious word redemption, and indeed its meaning is not far from the religious concept. In legal texts redemption means buying off or reclaiming something. I could check the meaning of the Dutch legal term in a reprint of a small legal dictionary from the eighteenth century, Franciscus Lievens Kersteman’s Practisyns woordenboekje of verzameling van meest alle de woorden in de rechtskunde gebruikelijk (Dordrecht: Blussé, 1785; reprint Groningen 1988), edited with an introduction by J.E. Ennik and Paul Brood. This “Practicioner’s Dictionary or Collection of Almost All Words Used in Jurisprudence” is really useful for understanding older Dutch legal texts. The Institute for Dutch Lexicography in Leiden makes available online not only the Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal but also dictionaries for Middle Dutch and Early Middle Dutch, and even a dictionary of yiddish words in Dutch. The Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal confirms and expands the meaning given by Kersteman.

The old name of The Hague, Den Haag, is actually an abbreviated form of ‘s-Gravenhage, literally “the hedge of the count”. In the thirteenth century count Floris (Florence) IV of Holland had bought grounds near the village Van der Hage. The counts clearly liked this spot next to a lake, nowadays the Hofvijver. Count Floris V built a large hall, now the Ridderzaal of the Dutch parliament. Since the fifteenth century the county tribunal, too, resided at The Hague. The main pastime of the counts was hunting on the grounds around The Hague. When the dukes of Bavaria came to reign over Holland in 1358 and decided to stay in The Hague all signs were positive for creating a real court like surrounding in which the old sport of hunting was not forgotten.  The court was both hunting lodge and a place to hold court, including attention to literature as shown by Frits van Oostrom in his acclaimed study Court and culture: Dutch literature, 1350-1450 (Berkeley, Ca., etc., 1992).

Living near a princely hunting ground was not easy for the citizens of The Hague. Today the Malieveld and the Haagse Bos form a much-needed green area in the city which houses the Dutch parliament and government and a number of international institutions. The Hague is the residence, too, of Queen Beatrix. As long as the 1576 act is not contested in court the fields and woods near the centre of The Hague are ready to receive people for a demonstration or just for a walk to muse over the amazingly long impact of William’s act.