Category Archives: Landscapes

Mapping the legal past

How often did you look this summer on a map? You no doubt checked an interactive map for the weather forecasts, and you might have used an app to guide you on the roads you took during your vacation. In this post I would like to look at interactive online maps, more specifically HISGIS systems, historical-geographical maps, which have a clear connection with legal history. The choice of maps is rather great, and I am sure you will pick the one most close to your own interests and curiosity.

Several overviews have helped me to bring together the maps I mention here, first of all the overview at Anterosis, a project of John Levin. The Historical GIS Research Network, is one of the oldest websites with an overview of HISGIS projects. Lately I noticed the Electronical Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), but the best current international overview of HISGIS websites has been created by the HGIS Lab, University of Saskatchewan. I dealt with a number of Dutch and Belgian project in an earlier post concerning the bicentenary of the Dutch Cadastral Service, and thus I thought I could hardly bring you my typical Dutch slant. However, I noticed last week a veritable portal with a number of interactive maps concerning Dutch culture and history which seems perfectly fit for inclusion here.

The British isles

Modern drawing of medieval Swansea

Let’s start the tour with the United Kingdom to honor the work of the team of the Historical GIS Research Network. I could mention a lot of projects concerning London, but Locating London’s Past can stand as a fine representative of other projects. A more general map project deals with Ordnance Survey Maps (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tithes are the subject of a project of the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Tracks in Time: The Leeds Tithe Map Project. Another project with tithes, Cynefin Project: Welsh Tithe Maps, brings us to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The project City Witness: Medieval Swansea contains some materials which I found particularly fascinating. Maps are only one aspect of this project with as one of its cores the story of nine men around 1300 about the hanging and miraculous survival of William Cragh. Among the textual witnesses used at City Witness is the manuscript Città del Vaticano, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Vat. lat. 4015, for which you can access online in DigiVatLib a digitzed version of a black-and-white microfilm. For Ireland one has to single out the project The Down Survey of Ireland: Mapping a change( Trinity College Library, Dublin) with information about this very early land survey made between 1656 and 1658, Ordnance Survey maps and three historical GIS maps.

Around the world

Cover Digital Gazetteer of the Song DynastySurely HISGIS projects are not confined to the United Kingdom or Europe. The best example to show this is perhaps The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty (University of California, Merced). A book about the rulers and administration of this Chinese dynasty (960-1276) was the starting point for Ruth Mostern and Elijah Meeks to create a much larger project to visualize the locations and extent of the power exercised by this dynasty. Ruth Mostern’s 2011 book provided the spur to start building this HISGIS.

It did cross my mind to look for projects dealing with Classical Antiquity, but I had a firm impression that interactive maps and the use of digital tools are far more common among classicists than among legal historians. The choice of online projects as shown at The Digital Classicist Wiki is stunning. I do not know where to start best with the plethora of projects. Elsewhere I came luckily across a pilot version of a modern representation of the Tabula Peutingerana created by Jean-Baptiste Piggin not yet mentioned in this wiki. Piggin tries to use his knowledge about diagrams to go beyond the Peutinger map website by Richard Talbert. You might want to follow the relevant posts about his project at Piggin’s blog. For an idea of what has been done for HISGIS and Classical Antiquity you can get a distinct idea at the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the Antiquity À la Carte application. It is possible to commission new features to be added to this set of interactive maps.

I propose to turn now to North America. Among the sites I would like to signal here are first of all projects with the closest affinity to normal maps. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Newberry Library, Chicago) should in my opinion be viewed in tandem with Lincoln Mullen’s project Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912. Quite different are projects such as Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and Redlining Richmond, a project around the House Owners’ Loan Corporation and the New Deal in this town. Social and economic history comes into view at IWW History Project: Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1935 (University of Washington). I could not resist adding here a digital collecion without HISGIS maps, but I am sure the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digitized at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for American history.

Inevitably some projects seems less easy to fit under one heading with similar projects. Close to geography are projects such as LandMark: Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands and Danske Herregaarde (Danish manors) of the Dansk Center for Herregårdsforskning. The Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871 (University of Victoria) is based on the actions of the colonial government in these Canadian regions.

Traces of slavery

One theme is clearly seen as most suitable for the use of HISGIS systems. It is striking how many sites for the study of the history of slavery use it to present sources or the results of research. Instead of going straight for matters connected in the first place with the United States of America or the United Kingdom it can be instructive to start elsewhere.

Header HGIS de las Indias

The HGIS de la Indias (Universität Graz) is a portal with a Spanish interface to interactive maps for the period 1701-1808. The Caribbean is the setting of Slave Revolts in Jamaica, 1760/1761. A Cartographic NarrativeTransatlantic Slave Trade is one of the most studied elements in the history of slavery. MCC Slave Voyage The Unity 1761-1763 is a website of the Zeeuws Archief, Middelburg about one particular ship of a Dutch slave trading company. At Mapping Slavery NL you can trace Dutch slave owners in several towns. There are books and websites for city walks along traces of slavery, foe example in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I could not readily find these links at Mapping Slavery NL.

For the United States we meet again Lincoln Mullen, this time for his project Mapping the Spread of American Slavery. The Texas Slavery Project focuses on a single state. For a long time it belong to the so-called Territories, the states joining the United States at a later point in time. Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond) is concerned with a later phase. The aftermath and long repercussions of slavery are a stake at Collective Violence: Mapping Mob Violence, Riots and Pogroms against African American Communities, 1824 to 1974. The United Kingdom comes into view with Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (University College, London). The University of Edinburgh has created the portal Cartographie des Mémoires de l’Esclavage.

Looking at this overview I am sure I have probably missed a number of projects, but it is my objective to make the visual impact of maps for literally mapping slavery and other subjects more clear. When you read descriptions as the topography of terror we are inclined to think only of the Second World War, but creating maps of other events and phenomena is every bit as helpful and important.

A cultural atlas

Logo Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

The last website I want to introduce here is a portal created by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Dutch National Cultural Heritage Service) in Amersfoort. The new WebGIS: Themakaart Portaal offers 22 different maps and atlases covering Dutch cultural heritage. As for now the riches of this portal can only be viewed in Dutch, and I cannot imagine why a version in English has not yet been created or at least announced for the near future. The landscape maps are also accessible at Landschap in Nederland, the archaeological maps can be found at a sister site, Archeologie in Nederland. A possible starting point is the Kaart van de verstedelijking (Map of urbanization) where you can among other things view Dutch urbanization between 1200 and 2010 and look at city plans taken from the major cartographical project executed by Jacob van Deventer during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a pity that this cartographical portal does not contain all supporting information present at the landscape and archaeology portals. You can benefit from information about Van Deventer’s maps and the growth of 35 cities. On the other hand, can you really expect to find everything at a single portal? At least one of the maps has a very substantial connections with legal history, the map concerning the medieval and later development of fen regions (Agrarische veenontginningen). Newly developed regions often came under a specific jurisdiction. In the north west of the province Utrecht a region is known for a peculiar tax, the dertiende penning (thirteenth penny) which had to be paid until recently at the sale of landed property. These jurisdictions have yet to be added to this RCE map.

While looking at the map concerning flooding risks and cultural heritage I realize how much good maps are needed in regions of India, Nepal and Bangladesh suffering flooding right now, in late August 2017. Creating road maps for Nepal is one of the challenges the Red Cross – for example Missing Maps, American Red Cross – brought to the attention of the world. Volunteers are invited to use recent satellite photographs to make reliable maps for those striving to help people. Historical GIS systems can be as interesting as their modern forerunners, and there is space for legal historians to add to them anything they judge to be important.


The Schelde river, a disputed boundary

The Low Countries owe their importance not only to political developments. Geographic conditions play a major role, too. The picture of the Netherlands as a country below sea-level in the Rhine and Meuse estuaries has become a cliché. More to the south another river, too, had formed a mighty estuary. The Schelde, in English often spelled Scheldt, and in French known as the Escaut, has formed an estuary in Flanders and in the Dutch province Zeeland. In particular the Westerschelde has played an important role in Dutch and Belgian history. Cities such as Ghent and Antwerp own part of their prosperity to their position on the Schelde river. The Westerschelde is at some points the border river between Belgium and the Netherlands. In this post I will look at a number of the conflicts around this river.

Scheldt River Collection, Peace Palace LibraryTracing the history of these conflicts has become easier thanks to the Peace Palace Library in The Hague which has created a digital Scheldt River Collection with some 300 publications, 35,000 digitized pages in all. These publications are not only in Dutch and French, but also in other languages. The Peace Library devoted in 2015 a Library Special on its website to the Schelde with a link to a report on the current situation of this river and a list of the main conflicts and events since 1585, The Scheldt estuary case: From conflict to cooperation. In this contribution I will look both at the history of conflicts about the Schelde and at the digital collection of the Peace Palace Library.

Centuries of conflicts

The navigation on the Schelde had been already an issue long before the Belgian independence in 1839. During the Dutch Revolt in the sixteenth century the blockade of the Schelde massively damaged the trade to and from Antwerp, and prompted many Flemish merchants to go to the North. Amsterdam’s growth in economic power around 1600 is to a substantial degree due to an influx of merchants from Flanders, their talents and networks. However, this period does not come into view in the digital collection. The Peace Palace Library has digitized books from its own collection. Apparently fifteen works from 1784 and 1785 are the earliest available. Among these works is a treatise by someone more famous for his role in French history. Honoré Gabriel de Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791) published a treatise with the title Doutes sur la liberté de l’Escaut, réclamée par l’empereur; sur les causes & sur les conséquences probables de cette réclamation (London 1785). It was this work that brought Mirabeau to the attention of the general public in France. The Peace Palace Library digitized also a contemporary Dutch translation of this treatise. Some of the digitized publications discuss the role of the Schelde in Dutch and Belgian history starting with the medieval period, for example Charles Terlinden’s study ‘The History of the Scheldt’, History 4 (1920) 185-197, 5 (1921) 1-10, which sparked immediately a reaction from a Dutch historian, F. de Bas, ‘Another version of the Scheldt history’, History 5 (1921) 159-170.

The rivalry between the Dutch North and the Flemish South has not been the only cause for conflicts. The Dutch neutrality during the First World War made matters even more acute. After the First World War the attempts at a new treaty about the Schelde and the proposals to build a canal between the Schelde and the Rhine-Meuse estuary failed in the end in 1927 after heated national debates. More than one hundred publications in the digital collection bear witness to this prolonged affair. Legal historians, too, looked at the Scheldt question. The digital collection contains two publications by Ernest Nys, ‘Les fleuves internationaux traversant plusieurs territoires : l’Escaut en droit des gens’, Revue de droit international et de législation comparée 5 (1903) 517-537 (1903), and L’Escaut en temps de guerre (Brussels 1910). In 1940 Eduard Maurits Meijers published his study ‘Des graven stroom’, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie der Wetenschappen, Afdeling Letterkunde, new series, 3/4, pp. 103-205, in which he traced the medieval claims and jurisdictions on the several branches of the Schelde. Meijers thoughtfully added transcriptions of the main documents he discussed. In 1953 Chris van der Klaauw, between 1977 and 1981 the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, defended his Ph.D. thesis in history about the interwar relations between the Netherlands and Belgium [Politieke betrekkingen tussen Nederland en België, 1919-1939 (Leiden 1953)].

Map of the Schelde estuary, 1784

The search function for this digital collection is rather restricted. There is only a free text search field. A bit more disturbing is the chronological order of presentation. At the very end of the chronological list you will find some publications with the year of publication marked 19XX and also those with the year of publication between parentheses. All digitized publications are only available as PDF’s. It would be very helpful to have a map of the Schelde estuary, or better, a series documenting not only the changing Dutch and Flemish frontiers, but also the changing shapes of the various isles of Zeeland, lands newly reclaimed and added as polders, and the changing river branches. Mirabeau already added a map to the first edition of his treatise in 1784. The second edition mentioned the presence of a map explicitly in the title. As a solace I offer here a screen print of the map in the digitized copy of the first edition. If you want to pursue a search for digitized old maps you might want to look about my contribution of last year about 200 years Dutch cartography and historical-geographic information systems.

Banner EHB

How wide is the coverage of this digital collection? I could not help thinking of visiting the website of i-Hilt, the center for the History of International Law at Tilburg University. In July 2016 the center launched a new version of its online bibliography, a PDF with nearly 400 pages. I had not expected to find just one publication referring directly to the Schelde, Alain Wijffels, ‘Flanders and the Scheldt Question. A Mirror of the Law of International Relations and its Actors’, Sartoniana 15 (2002) 213-280. It might look like a classic example of having a famous case almost at your doorstep – the distance from Tilburg to the Schelde is some fifty kilometers – and somehow almost overlooking it… Randall Lesaffer provides very useful basic reading lists for the history of international law, including historiography and methods. The links section of i-Hilt is also worth checking. I checked the Digitale Bibliografie voor de Nederlandse Geschiedenis, and alas I could find just thirty publications about the Schelde, and even less for studies dealing with the conflicts. One of the articles not to be missed is by Frits Doeleman, ‘Zeggenschap op de Honte’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 43 (1975) 24-43. Its very title is a warning to look beyond the mere word Schelde! Cardholders of the Dutch Royal Library and users at subscribing institutions can use the bibliographical and iconographical database of the former NCRD, with for the Schelde nearly 70 items, most of them publications, but alas since some ten years not updated. Of course I looked also at the Belgian counterpart of the DBNG, the Bibliographie de l’Histoire de Belgique / Bibliografie van de Geschiedenis van België – BHB-BGB with its trilingual interface and more relevant results than in the DBNG. These bibliographies can be found at the portal European Historical Bibliographies. Returning to the question of this paragraph I think it is safe to conclude that the Peace Palace Library performs a real important service for scholars in presenting this digital collection.

I checked also for the presence of digitized books concerning the Schelde in Delpher, the digital library of the Dutch Royal Library, but I noticed only few of the books now available online thanks to the Peace Palace Library. At Delpher in particular the relevant works published around 1785 are present, and they can be viewed in more ways. The library catalogue of the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek contains only a few books dealing with the Schelde problems, and unfortunately I could not reach the website of this fine library in Middelburg. The Zeeuws Archief has in fact more relevant publications in its holdings. The archival collection concerning pilots on the Schelde is particularly interesting [Rijksloodswezen, 6e District, Monden van de Schelde, (1808) 1835-1950 (1966)].

In Belgium you should look in particular at the websites of the Felixarchief, the municipal archive of Antwerp, the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, and the Museum aan de Stroom, situated on a quay of the Schelde. These websites have multilingual interfaces. The Anet meta-catalogue enables you to search with one action in many libraries at Antwerpen, including the university library. The Flemish digital library Flandrica, too, contains some items documenting Flemish history around the Schelde river. The Short-Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV) helps you tracing books printed in Flanders between 1500 and 1800.

After looking at this new digital collection I am aware much more can be said about the Dutch province Zeeland which indeed is a province of islands and sea. Floods took sometimes a great toll on the areas adjacent to the several branches of the Schelde. Whole polders have thus disappeared. Ironically there is a modern dispute about the last polder reclaimed from the Westerschelde, the Hedwigepolder. The history of international law is one of the many possible approaches to the history of a river which both connected and divided the Low Countries. The Schelde connects and divides even today in some respects.

Mapping Australia, an encounter between art and maps

Start of the exhibition In my latest post the importance of maps for combining both classical and digital approaches for historical research got some attention. It is not a coincidence that I would like to follow this trail by looking at a number of examples, but I had not expected that an exhibition in Utrecht would become the focus point. The Dutch king opened on October 3, 2016 the exhibition Mapping Australia. Country to Cartography (AAMU, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht). Old maps and modern visions of maps created by Australian artists with aboriginal ancestors are presented here together. The exhibition is a part of the commemoration of 400 years Dutch discovery of Australia in the so-called Dirk Hartog Year, named after the Dutch schipper who in 1616 involuntarily sailed to the west coast of Australia. It offers a good opportunity to look at the digital presence of relevant maps showing Australia at the portal Old Maps Online and the recently redesigned portal Memory of The Netherlands. In 2010 I looked here briefly at this remarkable museum and its collection of law poles.

On the map

Late 17th century Dutch map of

Hollandia Nova – “Kaart van den Indischen Archipel, tusschen Sumatra en Nova Guinea (…)” – late 17th century – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe, no. 344

The exhibition at Utrecht shows mainly but not exclusively Dutch maps of Australia. There are also more general maps of the southern hemisphere. The maps have been chosen from the holdings of Utrecht University Library and the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Some 2,000 old maps held at Utrecht have been digitized and can be found online at Old Maps Online. The maps held at The Hague come from a special map collection created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe). The map to the right is one of the items on display at the AAMU and happens to feature prominently in a thematic dossier about Australia at the website of the Nationaal Archief. Among the digitized items of the Nationaal Archief is Abel Tasman’s journal from 1642 (NA, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 121). Tasman, made also drawings of the coastal areas he saw.

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

Perhaps the most stunning historic object comes from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The very fact it is held in their holdings struck me forcefully. You could argue that the Dirck Hartogh tin dish is not just an object of Dutch maritime history, but also a telling object in Australian history. Dirck Hartogh ordered the carving of his arrival on October 25, 1616 with the Eendraght on the west coast of Australia at the island which still bears his name, Dirk Hartogh Island. Willem de Vlamingh found this dish eighty years after the landing, replaced it with a copy, and brought the original dish back to Amsterdam. Thus the oldest object from Europe that ever touched Australian soil returned to its point of depart in Europe.

Old Maps Online has gained its importance as a quick way to find historical maps precisely because it brings together maps from different angles, countries and perspectives. In the case of Australia it matters enormously to have rapid access to these old Dutch maps because they contain details not presented on other maps, and thus they have influenced cartographers elsewhere very much. Any reader of Simon Garfield’s On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does (London 2012) will be aware how not only the actual shape and contents of a map are important, but also the visions mapmakers create. The combination of rich collections from several countries, each bringing both maps printed nearby and in foreign countries, makes Old Maps Online into the rich and invaluable resource it has become.


The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains now 132 collections from 84 institutions. You can search for these collections and institutions, or choose a preset theme. The theme Maps and atlases yields nearly 19,500 results. However, this filter has been programmed to include also topographical drawings. You can adjust the filters to include only maps which brings you to some 1,400 maps. If I choose for marine charts (365 items) you cannot search immediately for a specific location. In its current look it is more practical to look for a location in general and subsequently narrow your search to maps or charts. The portal gives access to an impressive total of nearly 800,000 items. Depending on your search question, either a general question which you want to explore or a more restricted one, you will encounter many interesting items. It is still possible to view the famous topographical collections such as the Atlas Schoemaker directly. This double use of the word atlas should serve as a reminder that even though digital materials might have been digitized with a view to historical research the sources themselves were not made with this intention. For the purpose of this blog post you should perhaps begin with the digitized atlases from the holdings of the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Mapping with a different mind-set

Artistic maps at the exhibition

Maps created by Judy Watson

The historical maps of Australia form a major part of the exhibition at Utrecht, yet the modern art works which either mirror old maps or reflect concepts of space and spatial representation attract rightfully your attention. In particular the work of Judy Watson invites you to rethink the role of maps, especially the names of locations. The Dutch and English deliberately gave their own names to Australian locations which of course had and have their own names given by the indigenous people of Australia.

Lawpoles at the AAMU, UtrechtApart from drawings and paintings there are also minor objects to be seen, such as beautifully carved shells, and some larger objects, a number of law poles. Interestingly, the law poles belong to the main collection of the AAMU. They are part of a series of contemporary art works which have helped setting the boundaries of land belonging to indigenous people. This theme was itself the focus point of an exhibition at the AAMU in 2010 about which I reported here briefly. I cannot help thinking now that these law poles are here very much museum objects instead of being elements of the present state of affairs in Australia regarding indigenous people. The past years a number of contemporary Australian art works has been shown around Australia in travelling exhibitions.

Place names of Australia - viedo installtion by Judy Watson

Any of my thoughts to be just looking at an art exhibition was dispelled when I spotted among the place names projected in a video installation by Judy Watson on a map of Australia Cape Grim and the Cape Grim Massacre. Watson’s point is not only recording such grim places as Cape Grim and Suicide Bay on Tasmania, but showing the sheer impact of a majority of English and Dutch names for Australian locations. The Dutch might not have occupied physically much Australian territory at any time, but giving locations a Dutch name was definitely done with to commerce and control. Van Diemen Land and Tasmania are not exceptional examples of lasting Dutch influence. I would like to mention here the online Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Centre for Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, where you can pursue this approach and much more.

Reading the sources

Logo Wat Staat Daer

At the website of the Dirk Hartog Year you can find in the section Dirk’s Library information about his life and voyages for the Dutch East India Company, and not as you might expect books about him or even his personal library. I could not help inspecting the transcriptions of some of the historical records – including the tin dish from 1616 – and noticing gaps and misunderstandings. Instead of frowning upon this situation it is better to point to a brand new website about Early Modern Dutch palaeography, Wat Staat Daer? [What Is Stated There?]. Three archives in the province Noord-Brabant launched this website earlier this month. Even if it is not a tutorial it does give you not only a number of documents to decipher, but also a digitized version of a handy booklet by Willem Bogtman, Het Nederlandsche schrift in 1600 [Dutch Handwriting in 1600] (Amsterdam 1938; reprint 1973) showing you the variety of forms of letters in Dutch documents. Some users of Wat Staat Daer? point to an online tutorial for Early Modern Dutch palaeography of the University of Amsterdam. One user gives the link to a website for Dutch sixteenth-century palaeography using records of criminal justice at The Hague for a very short period, 1575 to 1579; in particular the reference section is very useful. Hopefully these websites help also all those investigating traces of Dutch history in locations from New York to Brazil and from South Africa to Sri Lanka and Indonesia or the global impact of the Dutch East India Company. The VOC Kenniscentrum and the Atlas of Mutual Heritage are among the virtual harbors where your research into the history of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie can start. The municipal archive in Amsterdam has a special page about Dirk Hartogh, with a discussion also of the various spellings of his name.

For those wondering why I do not mention here the Digital Panopticon, a project combining data from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the Convict Transport Registers Database and the First Fleet to create a history of English and Australian people over the centuries, I did so here in an earlier post about the Digital Panopticon. This project is not only a showcase for digital humanities, it showcases also legal history in fascinating ways.

Among the many activities of the Dirk Hartog Year some of them are clearly connected to the events of 1616, its immediate impact and historical influence. The Western Australia Museum created a small but interesting online exhibition, 1616 – Dirk Hartogh. At the website of the Duyfken 1606 Replica you can find more information about important Dutch voyages to Australia in the seventeenth century. This autumn the replica of the Duyfken is sailing along Australia’s west coast in remembrance of Dirk Hartog’s journey. The Nationaal Archief gives an overview of other Dutch activities concerning “1616” in 2016 and 2017. The Dutch National Archives have produced a glossy magazine with the flawed title Boemerang. Nederland-Australië 400 jaar, which you can download as a PDF. I feared it was only available in Dutch, but luckily the website of the Dirk Hartog Year contains a link to the English version. The choice of subjects in this colourful magazine is really not narrow-minded. It would be one-sided to leave out here the websites of the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, but enough is enough. For me writing this contribution has been in some way a voyage of discovery, although I have collected over the years a selection of links to websites touching Australia’s legal history on my legal history website. Hopefully I can seduce you to look out for uncharted territories, to rethink the importance of historical and linguistic borders, and to get inspiration from artists who raise difficult questions about our own time.

Mapping Australia: Country to CartographyAboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht – October 4, 2016 to January 15, 2017

Of manors, towers and castles

Living near Utrecht with its beautiful old inner city and many monuments from earlier centuries can make you wish to look around this town in the heart of the Netherlands to find more monumental buildings or remains of them. People watching last year on television the start of the Tour de France from Utrecht may have looked at some point to a spectacular aerial photo of a castle and the park around it. The castle of Haarzuilens is the largest castle in my country, and it is really in a class of its own. Since 2013 I live almost in the backyard of the former manor Huis Voorn of which only the two eighteenth-century dovecotes survive, a memorial of seigniorial rights, worthy of a post here. Some castles show all the archetypical elements of the fairy castle with one or more towers, battlements and a moot surrounding the premises. Some are accompanied by follies, nineteenth-century – or even earlier – fake buildings, some have become themselves to a large extent reinvented houses.

Thus many buildings are only castles by virtue of their name. The importance of castles for legal history is surely their connection with jurisdiction and rights, and in my country even with the very shape of newly cultivated grounds, in particular in marshy regions. In this post the walking historian rides again! In fact I did ride to these houses by bike. Most of my examples will come from the southeast corner of the province Utrecht, the Kromme Rijngebied, an area named after an old meandering branch of the Rhine. Along and near the Langbroekerwetering, a stream made for drainage of this originally swamp area, there were some forty fortified houses, and luckily for you I will not visit them all, but you might become curious for more indeed.

A tour of castles in Utrecht

The tower of Den Ham, VleutenLet’s start with a most imposing tower at Den Ham near Vleuten, nowadays part of the city of Utrecht. In the mid-nineteenth century most of the fortified house around it has been demolished. The freestanding tower with seven floors is the largest one still standing in my country. The tower is actually for sale, now for only (!) € 1,750,000. I did not put here on purpose a picture made in January 2015, but it can serve to remind you of the problem of heating an old building enough to be comfortable for people in our century! The fortified house ranked as many other stately buildings in Utrecht as a ridderhofstad, literally a knightly manor giving its owner entrance to the States of Utrecht as a member of the gentry. This rule only developed during the sixteenth-century when a first version of a list was published. Thus the States of Utrecht tried to deal with the proliferation of castles, manors and other major private homes and possible claims to qualify for its membership.

Kasteel Heemstede, Houten - photo November 2013The range of castles and manors in the province of Utrecht goes from the tower of Den Ham to almost fairy-tale castles such as Haarzuilens, but I would like to look here at an example closer to the Kromme Rijn river, Heemstede near the former village Houten, now a garden-city to the south-east of Utrecht. Its splendid outlook could convince you it was always as grandiose as it looks now. However, its present incarnation is in fact just a faithful copy of the original building which was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago. It is now home to a hotel. The surrounding grounds have been converted into a golf course. The Amsterdam-Rhine canal with its busy traffic runs close to it.

Castle Beverweerd, Odijk Near the village of Odijk is castle Beverweerd. Until a few years ago it was home to a public school. As you can gather from my picture it is situated in lush surroundings. From the meadow across the castle it becomes clear a number of medieval elements have been added quite recently. Adding such elements is not a new development, it follows closely practices starting in the nineteenth century. I will show you an example in the next section of this post.


Another tower not far from Odijk is located almost at the beginning of the Langbroekerwetering, the main stream created to develop the marshes into a cultivated area. Sterkenburg, “strong fortress”, certainly looks as a stronghold. The flag at the top of the tower adds an element familiar from television series with tales about courageous knights and damsels in distress. Alas I could not take a photograoh to this fortified house because the trees surrounding it make it impossible to view this house completely. To the left of the tower is the main building. In order to make up for the lack of details I could think of nothing else but turning around and taking a picture of the dovecote in the meadow adjacent to Sterkenburg and its grounds. To be sure, this dovecote is indeed a nineteenth-century folly, but something more is the matter in the south-east corner of the province of Utrecht. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century it became fashionable for rich Dutchmen to buy old castles and manors as summer houses.

A matter of rights

The folly of SterkenburgBuying yourself as a landowner a nice large summer resort is one thing, gaining access to the States of Utrecht by getting hold of a place with the eagerly sought rank of a ridderhofstad was surely as important. The presence of other buildings around your reinvented castle or old manor helped to show off your wealth, the sheer size of your landed property. In the case of follies or other embellishments your taste, too, became visible.

Rhynestein, CothenSome castle-like manors suggest a particular right. In the village of Cothen Huis Rhynestein is located at the Kromme Rijn river directly opposite to the village church. Not only a manor, but also a gate survive. The local situation might suggest the lords of Rhynestein did nominate the vicar of this parish. In his book Het Kromme Rijngebied in de middeleeuwen (Zutphen, 1993), the most important and detailed study on the medieval geographic and institutional history of the Kromme Rijn area Cees Dekker showed at many turns that you cannot reach any of such easy conclusions. The sheer number of institutions and people with claims and rights in this area is truly bewildering. Only long familiarity with the relevant archival collections, the experience and all other qualities of a medievalist-archivist par excellence which Dekker impersonated, and a keen personal knowledge of this region could bring his research to bear such rich fruits.

Huis Hardenbroek, Driebergen-RijsenburgOften the key to in-depth knowledge of a castle is getting hold of its archives. Castle Hardenbroek has been and still is in the possession of its founders, probably at least since the early fourteenth-century, with the exception of a dire period of nearly a century when the family had been forced to sell the ancestral home. Twenty years ago the castle archives were entrusted to the care of Het Utrechts Archief, the combined municipal and provincial archives of Utrecht. Hardenboek is located in the village Driebergen-Rijsenburg, but it is actually very close to Langbroek and Cothen.

A note on Dutch archival collections

Logo Het Utrechts ArchiefMany archival collections of castles and manors in the province Utrecht are kept at Het Utrechts Archief, a central point in this small province, and not in the smaller regional archives at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Woerden and Wijk bij Duurstede. Luckily the portal site of the Utrechts Archiefnet makes it possible to search directly in the online finding aids of both Het Utrechts Archief and the four regional archives in the province of Utrecht. Lately the arrival at Utrecht of a very substantial number of archival records for Hardenbroek from the Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the Gelders Archief in Arnhem has given a new push to finish the new inventories for Hardenbroek that will replace the provisional finding aids published in 2000. I use the plural inventories on purpose. In a way the new finding aids will open the road closed by the beautiful gate on my picture.

Logo NKSYou can find more about Dutch castles for example at the website of the Dutch center for castles and manors with a good links section and also at Kastelen in Nederland. There is a special website Utrechtse buitenplaatsen for manors and castles in the province Utrecht. Relevant images can be found online for example in the image database of the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Dutch National Service for Cultural Heritage that has also created a database to search for monumental buildings. Het Utrechts Archief offers online access to almost all its finding aids. You might still benefit from the printed guide to archives in the province Utrecht by A.N. Beets, H.L.Ph. Leeuwenberg and J.G. Riphaagen (eds.), De archieven in Utrecht (Alphen aan den Rijn 1985), the eleventh volume of the series with overviews of Dutch public archival collections (PDF, 9 MB). At present only the volumes 3 to 14 of this important series with a deceivingly long title, Overzichten van de archieven en verzamelingen in de openbare archiefbewaarplaatsen in Nederland, are available online at the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, however among them at least also the last volume, the guide to private archival collections in the Netherlands [H.J.H.A.G. Metselaars (ed.), Particuliere archieven in Nederland (1992)]. The volumes for Drenthe and Gelderland have not yet been digitized, but the separate volume concerning archives in Amsterdam can be viewed online. Even if you have no particular interest in the history of castles and manor these invaluable guides merit your attention for legal history, because the volumes start with a map of jurisdictions before 1795. Sometimes the venom is in the end, but here there is a bait waiting for you!

For the common good: International legal history and collective action

Every month there is a growing chance of encountering some kind of commemoration of historical events and figures. Sometimes these festivities are indeed an opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes, but often these occasions can seem too much of a good thing. In recent years there has been a proliferation of international days, some of them just a funny parody, for example on March 31 the sixth Hug A Medievalist Day! On April 14, 2016 it is the International Legal History Day. At least one university, Harvard, organizes today a seminar about the practices and challenges of doing international legal history. It seems Harvard Law School wants to launch this day as a new tradition.

In this post I will look at two initiatives dealing with a concept which touches many countries and regions all over the world. Commons are shared stretches of land used and owned by several people. Commons can be defined as a type of collective action. An international research project is at the heart of this post, and I will also look at a digital library which helps you to trace relevant literature about commons. One of the features of this post will be the combination of global phenomena with local examples transcending the boundaries of nations and states.

Sharing lands, goods and much more

Header Institutions for Collective Action

When I first saw the portal of Institutions for Collective Action (ICA) I was genuinely surprised by the all-encompassing umbrella used to bring a number of institutions under one denominator. Commons are perhaps the institution most quickly associated with collective action, and they will certainly fill much space here, but there is more. Merely contemplating what kind of actions you will define as collective actions is in my view already a fruitful exercise. Five types of collective actions figure at the portal: commons, guilds, waterboards, beguinages and co-operatives. The ICA portal cites on its homepage Bertrand Russell’s dictum ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation’. Currently there is a set of case studies from eight countries for the five types, with 23 examples for commons, four for guilds, eight for waterboards and only two for co-operatives, and typically for beguinages six examples from the Netherlands and Belgium. The eight countries are apart from Belgium and the Netherlands the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Rumania, Spain and Uganda. The cases from Rumania concern commons, the example for Uganda is a co-operative project for micro-finance. In fact there are more countries: in the section for guilds France, Italy, Germany and China are added.

One of the strengths of this portal is the comprehensive coverage of many aspects of research into institutions for collective actions, and thus you are really looking at a veritable portal. You can consult not only the case studies and general overviews, but also online bibliographies, glossaries, datasets and sources, and you might be interested in the announcements of scholarly events. The section with debates highlights a number of general and specific questions about the types of collective actions figuring on the portal. These questions will certainly help you to refine your own analysis. I found in particular the discussion of the various forms of institutions for water management illuminating. The perspective on Dutch institutions becomes sharper thanks to the comparison with Spanish institutions. I really learned here something also about the Dutch variety of these institutions and the need to look at them more closely. The page with links to related projects shows the context of this project in which scholars at Utrecht have substantial roles. An offspring of the ICA portal are several projects which work with crowdsourcing. Inviting the public to participate in research projects by transcribing or indexing sources is in itself a kind of collective action. The heading Citizen Science is fitting indeed.

Website Vele Handen and the Ja, ik wil project

At least one of them should attract your curiosity because of its legal nature, the project Ja, ik wil (“Yes, I do”) for the transcription of pre-marriage acts between 1578 and 1811 from the municipal archive in Amsterdam, a resource with much more information about people going to be married than you will find elsewhere. The transcribing portal Vele Handen (“Many Hands”) contains more information about the project (in Dutch). In its turn this project serves a much larger research project of the ICA team to compare marriage patterns.

Banner Digital Library of the Commons

The main organization dealing with the history and current situation of common is the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC). At the website of IASC, too, you can find an overview of online resources. Some years ago I already encountered the Digital Library for the Commons, a digital collection at Indiana University, but so far I had not started to place this initiative in a wider context. The digitized literature in this library deals with commons on literally every continent, even Antarctica, but not the Arctic region. The simple search mode, the advanced search mode and the filters for browsing are most helpful. In my view it is stimulating to look here, even if you do not quite find what you are searching for.

Although it is easy to expand the fairly summarized information presented here it might work better to keep this contribution shorter than usual. Environmental history is just an example that can be connected with studying commons. At the blog Environment, Law and History you can pursue this direction. Global legal history and comparative legal history do not appear here for the first time. The theme of international legal history deserves attention, and not just on one particular day every year, but the idea is surely valuable. When I started this blog I promised my readers to look for themes and subjects from around the world. There are enough countries, regions and landscapes about which I can write here. Perhaps it is more important to discuss them here not for the sake of completeness, but preferably and more interestingly in connection with the kind of problems and questions which belong to the world of legal history.

The edges of medieval law

Cover "The edge of the world" (Penguin edition, 2015)Every now and then a book comes along that grabs your attention. The Dutch translation of Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: How The North Sea Made Us Who We Are (2014) with its beautiful cover lured me into buying in the end the Penguin edition (2015) and starting to explore its contents. After a number of recent books about the role in European history of the Mediterranean, in particular the one by David Abulafia, a kind of antidote extolling the importance of the North Sea and the regions around it in medieval times is surely welcome. Michael Pye belongs to the line of British authors outside academia who year after year present us with vigorously written and entertaining history books. Awareness of the many corners of history and the importance of detail studies does not diminish the secret longing for history in the grand manner. Does Michael Pye, trained at Oxford in modern history, succeed in creating a convincing history of this part of Europe? In this post I will look in particular in the way Pye deals with medieval law. Law and justice get a large space in his study, sufficient justification to deal with it here.

Twelve chapters and an introduction

Pye organized his book in twelve chapters with some 320 pages, embellished by two maps and twelve full colour images, and fortified by nearly fifty pages with end notes giving substantial references to scholarly literature. It needs perhaps underlining these facts before starting to analyze its contents. Pye aimed to discuss matters scholars regularly research, he uses their research and thus he deserves attention both by the general public and at a scholarly level. In a captivating introduction Pye skilfully sets the scene for his book and points to some of the problems daunting the historiography of the countries around the North Sea. He is quite right to refer to the bias caused in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by nationalist views, and to warn for their partial survival, in particular our respect for Bede the Venerable and his book on the history of the English people. Bede’s work cannot been read as a historical work of our times. There are clear limits to his knowledge and method, and powers guiding his vision of Christianity and its coming to British isles. The quality of this introduction is most promising for the following chapters.

The first chapter has a provocative title, ‘The invention of money’. Were the Frisians the first people to use money in the lands north of the Rhine left empty by the Romans? Pye argues this region became already in the eight century a trading zone where Franks, Frisians and Saxons traded commodities with each other, even luxury goods. I could not detect a clear chronology in this chapter. Putting the town of Tiel between Utrecht and Arnhem is a bit awkward when Tiel is some forty kilometers to the south-east, and Arnhem seventy kilometers to the east of Utrecht. Dorestad makes more sense as a point of reference. The second chapter about the way this early medieval society was to some extent definitely a world of the book, seems to me much more convincing.

The two following chapters are perhaps the best part of Pye’s book. He succeeds in creating a view of the role of the Vikings in Western Europe and Scandinavia which goes way beyond the clichés of savage men from the North destroying the peace brought by Charlemagne to his new empire. There was more to the Vikings than only violence and pillaging. They were traders who enlarged the range of early medieval trade. They traded not only in Russia, but came even to Byzantium. In the end they, too, became settlers who founded even new port towns. A number of new books, for example those written by Anders Winroth, can give you a fuller portrait of the Vikings and their impact, but Pye gives in fifty pages a fresh picture with much relevant material and discussions of important topics.

Laws are everywhere

Let us not plod here through every chapter in chronological order. One of the reasons you might want to read Pye’s book carefully is his attention to medieval law and legal matters. The space he creates for showing and discussing law and justice is a relief after reading history books which relegate law to a tiny corner or dismiss it in a few paragraphs as a dull matter.

Pye’s sixth chapter, ‘Writing the law’, gives in nearly thirty pages his first main discussion of medieval law. He describes the way the early medieval ordeal was succeeded by a new approach to facts. Pye uses Merovingian formulae and carefully notes the views of learned men in the ninth century who already opposed the ordeal, but his indication of time is sloppy. The rise of lawyers as a profession leads him to speculate about the rise of professions in general. Surely this a major development in medieval society which needs a through investigation and explanation. One of my troubles with this chapter is the zigzagging between centuries and subjects, including the use of runes, the creation of letters of exchange and the forgery of charters. For me there is a fine line between telling stories which bring something fundamental, and a way of writing where just one example after another serves to make a point. In the end you read a loose narrative chain posing as a convincing argument, instead of a patient analysis of a number of cases for a single matter, question or hypothesis. There is a distinct tendency in this book to impress with short stories and vignettes, leaving me in the end somewhat breathless.

On the other hand I cannot leave this chapter judged only on some rather external characteristics. Is the waning of the use of the ordeal the only thing that really mattered? Why does Pye look closely at the use of runes on artefacts, but not at Scandinavian laws? Why does he completely miss the renewal of legal procedure and the increasing role of counts and kings, in particular in Flanders, Normandy and England? Pye mentions two articles by Raoul Van Caenegem, but he seems unaware of this scholar’s monographs and editions. He tends to cite very often new literature and to look only seldom at older studies. Scholarly literature in German or Dutch is almost absent, which is remarkable for a book written for a substantial part in Amsterdam with the aid of the staff at the university library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He simply misses the fundamental recent articles by Winfried Trusen and Lotte Kéry about the growth and background of the inquisitorial method, nor does he mention any book about medieval judges. Pye writes for example about the importance of judging intention, citing an article from 1964 by John W. Baldwin, but apparently not using his book about the social views of Peter the Chanter.

Pye’s ninth chapter, ‘Dealers rule’, is perhaps the best part. His presentation and discussions of merchants and trade exemplified in the German Hansa is vigorous. The Hansa wanted to be established a rule of its own built on sheer power, trying to keep outside the normal power relations and legal frameworks by concentrating on the sea. Pye has a keen eye for the particular position of merchants in late medieval society. He rightfully shows how the Hansa in a way continued the practices of earlier merchants. This chapter owes it force certainly also to the quick association one can make nowadays with the role of international trade and multinational firms.

The tenth chapter, ‘Love and capital’, very much centers also around law and legal customs. Pye discusses here the role of matrimonial and hereditary law helping women to secure a position within marriage and outside it, for example living as beguines in one of the great Flemish beguinages, or trading in the absence of their husband. Incidentally, when telling the story of a woman living as a beguine at Bruges who was abducted in 1345 by her family, Pye does use an article in Dutch, helped by Dutch scholars, but only in this case. Only two pages after he started telling this story he gives the year when this happened. If it is really important particular developments in Northern Europe were so pivotal in European and world history, I would prefer to know more exactly when and where something happened. Just two maps to figure out the position of a particular town or location mentioned in this book is simply not enough. The British Isles, the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the Baltic need separate maps. It weakens an interesting chapter. His case for the growing independence of medieval women, too, would have deserved more careful research. Bringing in medieval views of sexuality seems to mask the somewhat one-sided documentation of this chapter. It is one thing to bring social and economic history together with legal history, but something else to create a convincing chapter which does not consist only of colourful stories and brilliant side remarks. Dutch readers will remember the book by Matthijs Deen about the Frisian isles and the Wadden Sea [De Wadden. Een geschiedenis (Amsterdam, 2013)], a book with both space for good stories and calm analysis.

You should not think I did not like reading this book. It is a splendid read, and some of Pye’s ideas and views are really worth close consideration. The short eleventh chapter offers a captivating sketch of the impact of the plagues, starting with the Black Death in 1348, and the way they serves as a kind of ultimate terror calling for stricter control of social life by laws and regulations. Pye succeeds also in making you aware of medieval views and the changing role of rational thought in them, but here, too, he acts sometimes as if he was the first to discuss this matter. By chance I received this week a select bibliography of current scholarship about the impact of the Black Death, which makes me more cautious about generalizing views. Alas Pye selects his reading list very arbitrarily.

The Book of Everything

In the two last chapters Pye brings his story to his own period, the Early Modern history of Europe. Medieval developments paved the way for the world hegemony of the Dutch empire in the seventeenth century. It was not just a case of the Dutch winning with much luck their struggle for independence against the mighty Spanish forces, but having at their disposal all the skills, knowledge and connections needed to establish a sea-born empire thanks to the migration of merchants from Flanders who head to leave Antwerp. Seemingly novel ways of finance were not so new. I could not help grinning reading the last chapter with on the back of my mind the books by Russell Shorto about Amsterdam and New York. Trade, cultural exchange and fierce convictions to create by all means space for unhampered trade and commerce were surely important for the success of the early Dutch Republic.

The Edge of the World promises to give us a completely new history. One cannot fault an author for his ambition, but Pye has made things difficult for himself. Even Johan Huizinga did not try to tell in The Waning of the Middle Ages the complete story of the fourteenth and fifteenth century in France and the Low Countries, but restricted himself on purpose to medieval literature. Huizinga had published a scholarly edition of legal sources from Haarlem [Rechtsbronnen der Stad Haarlem (‘s-Gravenhage, 1911)]. However, he did not use legal materials and accounts as primary sources in his 1919 book, enough for one critic to remark privately it was only a novel. Pye does refer in his notes to a number of printed editions, but he seldom uses archival records or manuscripts. I am totally convinced a historical novel can sometimes help you to understand a period much better. The Dutch author Hella Haasse succeeded in her 1949 novel Het woud der verwachting [“In a dark wood wandering” (Chicago, 1989)] in evoking France in the late fourteenth century, and at some turns she even surpassed Huizinga’s insights and evocative style.

Too often Pye supposes a particular story can stand for a number of corroborating sources. It makes him somewhat careless and cavalier with his source materials. It is one thing to turn the lights on the many colours of medieval history and society, but the very glitter of little stories too good to leave out has taken over here from critical examination. A round of killing your darlings would have helped very much. Geography and maritime history really suffer. Pye sells too many alluring stories as if only they provide us with the causes of changes and insight into forces behind continuities. His enthusiasm is admirable, but it does also mar this book.

Only on finishing my own review I have looked at some of the reviews of Pye’s book in the Anglo-American World and in Dutch media. The opinions and reviews show a wide spectrum from admiration for a writer choosing narrative above analysis and his own way to deal with a vast subject, to outright dismissal – Adam Nicolson in The Spectator – because at too many turns Pye got his facts wrong, something journalists and historians should truly worry about. Such facts have blunt or sharp edges which can hit equally painful. On the other hand scholars should rightfully and sincerely accept the challenge of doing a better job themselves. We need imagination and vision, keen perception of perspectives, skills to squeeze out the meaning of written sources and artefacts, unflagging attention to get things right, respect for truth, a willingness to question and learn, and the courage to combine fine analyses with good writing. Deep thinking and rethinking will not make the history of Northern Europe grey. It will help to show the many hues of blue and green on the waves sailed by all kinds of medieval people.

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 NetworkHGIS-Germany and HGIS Links (Jessica DeWitt, University of Saskatchewan) 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…

Old maps in Belgium

At the Cartesius portal you can view digitized old maps of the Low Countries from the holdings of a number of Belgian instutions. The Studiekring Historische Cartografie has another useful selection of digital map collections.