Category Archives: Landscapes

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 a 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.

An old boundary

What happened to the walking historian? Lately I did not often go for a walk. During springtime I made several long walks, and I promised to keep a story about one of these walks in stock.

In February Janjaap Luijt published a short note ‘De leeuwenpaal: grensconflicten tussen Utrecht en Holland’ (The lion’s post: boundary conflicts between Utrecht and Holland) in the journal Oud-Utrecht 81 (2010) 10-11, the first of a series of short articles on boundary-posts in this journal of the historical society for Utrecht Oud-Utrecht. On the cover of this issue two men pose in historical costumes in front of one of the old boundary-post discussed by Luijt.

An old boundar-post along the Hollandsche Rading

An old boundary-post along the Hollandsche Rading

I would like to add some information to Luijt’s article which clearly was meant to introduce the subject and to point to the present situation of these objects. Luijt sketches their history. The sixteenth-century posts were renewed in 1719, and eight of them again in 1925. Luijt mentions the 1531 peace treaty on the boundary between Utrecht and Holland. The Great Council of Malines also had to give judgment about the exact boundary. J.M.I. Koster-van Dijk published Gooilanders voor de Grote Raad 1470-1572 (Amsterdam 1979) in which she dealt with all cases brought before this court concerning the Gooiland, the most eastern part of the medieval county of Holland. Many historians have written about Gooiland.  On May 21, 1541 the Great Council pronounced an important verdict on the disputed boundary between Utrecht and Holland.

The boundary-post on the picture I took in early spring is situated at the Hollandsche Rading, a field name which literally means “The boundary of Holland”, a straight line in the landscape, nowadays part of the border between the provinces of Utrecht and North-Holland. The forest in the background is called Einde Gooi, “The End of Gooi”.

A team lead by Thom de Smidt and the late Jan van Rompaey published six volumes with calendars of the verdicts given by the Great Council of Malines between 1465 and 1581. In the fourth volume of the Chronologische lijsten van de geëxtendeerde sententiën (…) Grote Raad van Mechelen (Brussels 1985) it is indicated at no. 11 that several dossiers of one of the highest courts of the Low Countries refer to the 1541 case. The Werkgroep Grote Raad van Mechelen, the team of legal historians that has done so much to enlarge knowledge about the Great Council of Malines, published several books on cities, regions and even one on a country and their cases decided at Malines, for Haarlem, Amsterdam, Leiden, Gooiland, Delfland – the region around Delft – and Portugal. Checking the inventories of archival collections at Het Utrechts Archief made it clear that one could harvest also a nice number of cases concerning the city and diocese of Utrecht. Due to the renovation of the main Utrecht archive building it will not be easy to do research on the history of Utrecht in the near future. As always, some sensible planning and patience will help more than complaining about this situation. For this posting on boundary-posts it is clear how the presence of these historical objects can make one curious to know more about the history to which they refer.

Law, land and art

Law and the humanities, a subject likely to show up on my blog. However, this post has not as its first objective praising seminars on Law and Humanities, nor is it my goal to push anybody to start reading Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, though this is certainly a good idea. I hesitated myself when art came into my view for a post on legal history, but in fact a work of art was already a central element of my latest post.

This time I want to write about art objects with legal power. Kings and emperors had their sceptres, often beautifully crafted, and now often on display in museums around the world. However, the art objects to be discussed here empower people. They express their claim to lands that in times beyond written memory belonged to them.

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht at the Oudegracht

In 2001 the Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht (AAMU) was founded, the only museum in Europe which specializes in works of aboriginal art. Apart from its own collection the AAMU houses an art gallery. The AAMU held in 2005 an exhibition titled Law and Land. Art of the Spinifex People, which until then had been on tour through Australia. The Spinifex People who live in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia decided in the nineties of the last century to put forward a land claim. To support it they created in 1998 two Native Title Paintings, interestingly one by men and one by women. In 2001 the Western Australian Government accepted under the Spinifex Land Agreement the claim of the Spinifex People as decided by the Federal Court of Australia (FCA 1717; November 28, 2000).

Exhibition catalogue "Law and Land"

A fragment of The Women's Native Title Painting

The area of land to which the Spinifex Land Agreement applies covers 55,000 square kilometers, almost twice the size of The Netherlands. The concept behind the native title paintings is well-known thanks to Bruce Chatwin’s novel The Songlines (1987), a masterful evocation of the Australian landscape, Aboriginal culture and its struggle to survive in modern Australia. The Aboriginal people described in songs kept secret to outsiders in sometimes minute detail the landscape of their country. Perhaps one should think of the title paintings more as evocations than of straightforward representations of geographical elements. The Spinifex Native Title Paintings lead in 2001 to the start of the Spinifex Foundation which promotes the arts.

The Spinifex people had to leave the northern part of their land in the fifties because of British nuclear testing. This made it difficult for them to show continuous habitation following normal procedures for land claims. The 2000 agreement does not apply to the natural resources found in the region during the twentieth century, and thus for instance the rights of mining companies are not touched by it.

The Spinifex Native Title Paintings form a landmark in Australia’s legal history equal to the first admission of aboriginal documents in 1963, the Yirkalla bark petitions. In the late eighteenth century the view came into existence that Australia was terra nullius, land belonging to nobody, and this doctrine held sway for over two centuries. Only in 1992 the Mabo Case put an end to this doctrine (HCA 23; 175 CRL 1 (June 3, 1992)) in which verdict the concept of native title was recognized.

Much more can be said about the rights of the Aboriginal people and other indigenous Australian people. When I added some Australian addresses to my link collection of digital libraries it dawned upon me that some Australian things just happen to be in Utrecht, near at hand. The AAMU is worth a visit, although I could not help remembering immediately Chatwin’s description of Australian artists because of the presence of an art gallery. While musing about Chatwin’s view it would do more justice to say that people can be as versatile as the Australian Spinifex plant (Triodia pungens) which can be used in several ways. In order to survive in a desert, and more specific in the Nullarbor region, you simply have to be able to cope with different situations in different ways. Making traditional culture and land survive can call for unorthodox methods. Using art as an argument in law calls for fresh thinking, and this post is only meant as a glimpse of more. Anyway, today I liked to think about the desert on a particular rainy and stormy day.