Category Archives: Libraries

Canada´s confederation at 150 years

Official banner Canada 150

With the summer approaching you can be busy enough to almost miss events such as centenary celebrations. Thus the celebration of 150 years Canadian confederation, a major step to Canada´s independence almost escaped my attention. Centenary celebrations should not stand in the way of other subjects, but I think this one is interesting enough for a post here. At the heart of this contributions are the main constitutional documents in Canadian history, both before and after 1867. It will be instructive to make a tour of the major online portals with historic and current constitutions.

Before and after 1867

The websites which bring us online versions of constitutions worldwide often restrict themselves to current versions, but happily there are exceptions. Some portals give primarily historical versions. The Archivio delle Costituzione Storiche (Università di Torino) gives for Canada only documents from 1871 to 1943, and only in English. The Digithèque MJP (Université Perpignan) gives a very generous selection of constitutional documents concerning Canada, a number of them located at this portal and other elsewhere. The wealth of information from Perpignan, including an overview of major facts in Canadian history, is such that it is helpful to have a direct link to its version of the 1867 act. Canada is absent among the German translations at Verfassungen der Welt, but the English version is present at its Anglophone counterpart, International Constitutional Law (Universität Bern). I could not find quickly any Canadian document in the Avalon Project (Yale Law School).

William F. Maton created the webpage Canadian Constitutional Documents, with first of all a consolidated version of the British North America Act 1867, followed by later constitutional documents up to 2001. Alas the Spanish page gives no Spanish translations of the texts, only a translation of the introductions and explanatory notes. The Constitutional Society offers only the English version of the 1867 act. Among the facsimiles at The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism, 1776-1849 there are simply no documents relating to Canada, which helps to create the false impression no such documents came into being before the mid-nineteenth century. The Constitution Finder (University of Richmond School of Law) contains for Canada seven documents (1867, 1982, 2011). In the Constitute Project of the University of Texas at Austin you will find only the current version of the Canadian1867 act. A Russian project for constitutions worldwide brings you Russian and French translations of the Canadian constitution (1867, 1982, 1989).

Logo Canadiana

I made this tour of websites for the history of constitutions because it appeared that the URL for Canada in the Making at the digital portal Canadiana was broken, and also for checking the other web addresses of constittutional portals. The English version of Verfassungen der Welt had moved to a new URL, and I had to update the page for digital libraries at Rechtshistorie where you can find a section with these portal sites. The Internet Archive saved the pages of Canada in the Making, evidently an educational resource which got skipped at Canadiana without a trace. It seems there has developed a paradox between its absence and the abundance of sister portals for Canadiana, a general portal for online resources, the Héritage/Heritage portal for archival collections, and Early Canadiana Online, to mention only the most important offsprings. If you search for the word constitution at Early Canadiana Online you will get nearly 3,000 results.

Canada in the Making featured not only Canadian constitutional history, but also sections on aboriginal treaties and relations, and on pioneers and immigrants. The very words used for these two sections can cause frowns, and you might guess they explain at least a part of its disappearance. The section on constitutional history starts its story in the seventeenth century, and makes it sufficiently clear that the 1867 act is surely a milestone, but decidedly not the only one in Canadian history.

For a concise introduction to Canada’s constitutional history the page of the online Canadian Encyclopedia on this subject and separate pages about the 1867 constitution and other major acts are most rewarding. Dutch readers will recognize in particular the role of unwritten conventions in Canadian law which closely resemble Dutch constitutional law.

Logo Then/Hier

One of the gateways to educational resources for Canadian history is the bilingual portal Then/Hier. You might expect some attention to the curent celebrations, but this portal shows no signs of them. Among the teaching resources is a section on constitutional history, and if this is not enough for your taste you might have a look at the generous selection of links at Then/Hier, both in Canada and elsewhere.

If you want to continue a search for digital resources you should have a look at the Canadian National Digital Heritage Index (CNDHI), a portal for searching digital collections. At its start the number of collections included was rather small, but now it seems the team behind CNDHI has put in a lot of effort to create a sensible covering of available digital collections. A simple search with the word constitution resulted in nearly 500 hits.

On my legal history portal I put on the digital archives page the CNDHI among the general resources concerning Canadian archives. The first section of this page leads you to general overviews and gateways to digital inventories and finding aids, the second section brings you to digital archival collections. The links for Canada should help you to pursue your own interests. In the final section you will find among specific tools, sites and societies of archivists also The Association of Canadian Archivists. Writing here about Canadian history has been for me a stimulus to continue to make my overviews of digital archives and libraries better tuned to the needs of legal historians. I can recommend visiting the Borealia blog for much more information about current research on early Canadian history.

A postscript

Some sessions at the upcoming conference Canada’s Legal Past: Future Directions in Canadain Legal History (Calgary, July 17-18, 2017) will deal with Canada’s constitutional history. The Law Society of Upper Canada will organize on September 27, 2017 at Toronto the symposium Lawyers and Canada at 150. The blog of the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History keeps you informed about scholarly events and publications.

A portal for the history of the common law

Screenprint online guide to the history of common law, Bodlieian LibrariesSometimes things arrive really unexpectedly. Good introductions and guides to any research field can help you enormously in getting started, gaining an overall view of things and offering openings to wider context. At my own website for legal history, Rechtshistorie, I offer introductions to several legal systems and their history. Recently a couple of online subject guides were launched by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford which deserve attention here. They amount in fact to a portal. I will focus on the guide to the history of common law, but the other guides are worth visiting, too.

Common law in manifold variety

Logo Bodleian Libraries

A first glance at the new subject guide shows first and foremost an almost overwhelming mass of subjects. It is really a choice to present between thirty and forty subjects on separate pages instead of ordering them a bit by putting for example particular periods or royal courts under separate headings. The first row of headings clearly leads you to more general subjects and some specific sources, the Year Books and law reports. It is easy to point to themes and subjects you might want to add or remove here. Forest law makes a surprise appearance, but you might want to add for example the Inns of Court. Some reshuffling is surely possible, perhaps first of all bringing periods at one level or putting the items in alphabetical order. Anyway I have not yet seen any LibGuide with such a high number of subpages.

In my review of this research guide you must forgive me my personal picks among the headings! Local legal officials is a page giving you general guidance to a fair number of these officials, and understandably sheriffs, constables, justices of the peace and coroners receive most attention here, apart from general information about local government. You will find much more about medieval coroners on my own common law web page.

Under Commentary you will find information about the major current standard works about English legal history and you will be sent also to great historians such as Maitland, Holdsworth, Milsom, Vinogradoff and of course Blackstone. The heading Treatises & Authorities brings you to classic writers such as Coke and Hale, and also to older treatises (Bracton, Britton), but also again to Blackstone. The references to online versions are both to licensed editions only accessible at subscribing institutions, and to free accessible versions. If you have access to subscribers-only materials you are lucky indeed. The free versions give sometimes only a translation of a particular source, a thing not always indicated here.

Among the periods to review here I have chosen a classic era, 1066-1216. The overview of regnal years is most useful, and the choice of electronic resources with both laws and treatises is a good one, as is the choice of studies which you should consult. A second era, 1820-1914, clearly stems from the volume in the Oxford History of the Laws of England. Here the attention to reports is indeed welcome, but I did not find a reference to the U.K. Parliamentary Papers (Proquest). A separate page about the history of Parliament would be very useful, but going to Legislative history solves this apparent omission. On the page about Ireland I missed the Dippam portal with the Enhanced British Parliamentary papers on Ireland. By the way, some pages in this guide have an URL with numeral codes, others contain words which are more recognisable to human eyes. The page on Scotland is strong on important studies and less full for online resources.

The online guide for the history of the common law shows its sheer width by containing a page on canon law. It offers a nutshell guide bringing you to introductions by James Brundage and to some well-chosen studies (Richard Helmholz, Anders Winroth and Stephan Kuttner) and (online) resources. English students starting to discover medieval canon law might want to read also the compact book by Dorothy Owen, The medieval canon law : teaching, literature and transmission (Cambridge 1990).

A web of online guides

The Bodleian Libraries have created similar guides to ancient lawRoman law, the legal history of Western Europe and the history of international law. Using the Bodleian’s general overview of more than one hundred online law research guides the list on the starting page of their LibGuides for law and history can be extended to medieval Scandinavian law and Roman law in translation, a subject dear to me. This overview of translations is very useful. I noticed in particular the online version of excerpts from Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Font (eds.), Women’s life in Ancient Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook in Translation (2nd edition, Baltimore 1992), which deserves inclusion at my own Roman law page. On the page on medieval Scandinavian law I expected a reference to The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen, mentioned here last year. Yet another nutshell guide of the Bodleian Libraries is Witchcraft and the law in Early Modern Europe and the USA: Bad magic by Isabel Holoway. Hannah Chandler contributes an online guide to criminal and judicial statistics, 1800 to present day.

At the end of this quick review our thanks should go to the Bodleian, especially to Elizabeth Wells and Margaret Watson for their courage and librarianship to create five guides covering important fields of legal history. To me it is clear that you can frown at the very number of individual subjects and periods in the guide to the history of common law, but at the same time it invites you also to rethink your assumptions. I remember visiting somewhere an online guide based on LibGuides with many subdivisions which in the end scarcely helped to find the rich resources of the library and university. Personal taste, preferences and concrete research interests will influence your opinions about these guides. However, the most important conclusion is that the Bodleian Libraries and other libraries using LibGuides do not hesitate to face the challenge to give guidance in the virtual world, too, and thus redefine themselves for new service to student and scholars in the age of digital information. With the guides dealing with themes and subjects in legal history the law guides of the Bodleian Libraries set an example to which other institution can aspire. The very presence of LibGuides has already inspired many libraries to create sensible guides to many subjects, and it is good to see legal history among them.