Category Archives: Peoples

A few words

Old Supreme Court Room, Capitol (1808)

The Old Supreme Court Room, later the Law Library, in the Capitol, designed by Benjamin Latrobe – image: Digital Public Library of America / Digital Library of Georgia

This year I waited long, perhaps too long, before finally writing something about the sequence of events from election, confirmation and the attack at the Capitol to the inauguration of a new president of the United States. I will not take on the mantle of a prophet seeing the future by looking into the past to explain anything about these momentous events. By now so much words have been devoted to them, and to the foreseeable future, that I will not bother you with my personal views on this situation. Instead I will simply give here an overview of my posts concerning the United States published here in the last years. You will see a number of themes that can be easily connected with the latest events and developments in the United States.

In order to alleviate to some extent any disappointment I will add here a short paragraph on an institution that came very much into sight this month. In fact I plan to look in an upcoming post on a number of similar institutions in other countries.

(Almost) a nutshell guide to American legal history

The best thing to do is probably to give here a commented list with some of my blog posts concerning or touching upon the United States:

When you click on the word United States in the first paragraph of this section you will be led to all my posts with this tag, and hopefully you can be happy with my selection. For me it was rather interesting to see how often I wrote about America at my blog. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie you can pick your choice among the links for the United States on the pages for digital libraries and archives.

A brief look at a particular institution

The flag of the US Capitol olice - image source{ Wikimedia Commons

At the very heart of the events at January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. was the United States Capitol Police (USCP). Tragically, an officer of this federal police force died in the events, but more tragically on that day the USCP did at first not succeed in protecting the Capitol. The USCP did not employ its full sworn strength of 2,000 women and men. On the history page of its website the USCP explains it came into existence in 1800, but only after a number of incidents an act was passed in 1828 for its formal establishment. Among the incidents was the attack by the British army destroying the Capitol, a fact not mentioned on this page. This part of the USCP website has not yet been updated. You will bear with me being a legal historian for noticing on that page the merger with the Library of Congress police in 2009. The website of the White House Historical Association has a section on the events in August 1814.

Is it possible a part of the USCP was actually deployed around the Library of Congress on January 6, 2021? I can understand no blog post about the events of January 6 has yet appeared at In Custodia Legis, the official blog of the Library of Congress Law Library. I cannot help noticing the USCP does not have a motto beyond Protect and Secure Congress, but the Latin motto surely has a very similar intention. Legal historians will at some point in time start writing about the events of 2020 and 2021, and in view of the mass of written and audiovisual materials an early start at preserving materials is not amiss. The digital life of materials is sometimes suprisingly brief! The Library of Congress should be one of the places to preserve the memory of these troubled times. It is reassuring to see how the services of this library and in particular the Law Library have grown in recent years. Even faithful visitors of its website can be surprised by the wealth of materials made accessible online in 2020.

I suppose as an historian you should feel an itch when writing about current events, if only to remember your own views take form within the present, influenced no doubt by the past. The present enables you to see a few things at close hand, but even so often you will have difficulties to see larger developments and to stand at the right distances for seeing vital connections, ruptures and continuities. Interpreting facts will come soon enough. As for other interesting police forces and their history they will appear here, too, in 2021.

Studying the American constitution

Logo of ConSource annoucing the ove to Quill

At a moment when the turmoil around the election of a new president of the United States of America is still living history, thoughts naturally turn to the key elements in the administration and government. The nomination of a new judge to the Supreme Court did not immediately lead to more stability. Political division in the Congress seems to harden. It is no wonder people look at the American constitution as a beacon of light and direction. In this post I will look at some of the online resources for studying the American constitution, in particular ConSource, just before it will become fully integrated with The Quill Project (Pembroke College, Oxford). At some points I will look also at other useful resources.

Digital resources for and around the US constitution

Logo The Quill Project

The Quill Project of Pembroke College, University of Oxford, the new home for ConSource created by the Center for Constitutional Studies, Utah Valley University, has certainly the US constitution as its core, but it is also home to other projects concerning legislation and constitutional history. I confess my surprise about the presence of these projects. The American constitution has so many aspects that even a dedicated website can touch only a number of them. A look at the original ConSource website can help to keep a clear focus.

At ConSource you can choose items in the menu bar at the top of the screen or go to the four sections indicated at the start page. The Library is the central element where you can use a research browser or enter eight different collections, for example for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the amendments, constitutional debates, the Federalist Papers and reactions to them, and state constitutions and charters. The Index is an index in three sections, for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments, and a section for the amendments 10 to 27. The section on education contains videos, lessons plans and information on some other projects concerning education about civil society.

Federalist Paper No. 1, 1787

The Federalist Paper No. 1, 17, 1787 – images source: ConSource

The other approach at ConSource goes through four sections, starting with Documents which turns out to be the Library, the Constitutional Index, the videos and the lesson plans. There are several ways to search and filter the documents collections. It is good to see here also a collection concerning Magna Charta. Interestingly, both the original edition of the Federalist Papers and transcriptions of these pamphlets are given. Resources with original documents are indicated with a scroll icon. There are 21 videos for a wide range of topics, among them one concerning the role of legal history for interpreting the constitution. The lesson plans contain not only units concerning the constitution, but also for the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention and the history of the constitution in the early republic.

Finding the constitution in a new context

Start screen Center for Constitutuional Studies, Utah Valley University

How do these rich resource figure at The Quill Project after conversion? Even without looking deeply into the new online presence it is good to see immediately a user guide. One of the main differences with ConSource is the navigation. In my view it is wise to start with the items in the top menu bar, unless your item of choice is visible in the selection at the start page. Here the Library has two main sections, one for resource collections and one for commentary collections. However, the layout below the links to these section starts with a section labelled Negotiations. You can find here five collections concerning the constitutions and related central documents, and also two section on Utah legislative history. For some unclear reason there is no alphabetical or chronological order, nor have the Utah items be marked with a different symbol or color, things that can be easily mended. With such riches at your finger tips you will want to benefit also from the Reader’s Tools. At this web page you will find things in a very clear and sober layout. The Compare Tool is surely one of the things you will like to use.

When you see some minor problems with the layout in the paragraph here above it is not entirely by chance the overview of resource collections contains some elements which had better been set apart quickly, such as Quill Project News and Forthcoming Events. There is no clear order for the 33 collections, but you will smile when seeing the weather reports collection during the constitutional convention! It is great to have access here to letters edited for the Electronic Enlightenment project. There are eight commentary collections, a number with less chances for confusion or unclear layout, yet I cannot honestly detect a clear order here, too. The inclusion of materials about the creation of the electoral college for the election of the US president is most welcome. If you think I jotted down only some quibbles you might try to find a specific resource using the Reader’s Tools. I tried to locate the Federalist Papers, but alas I could not find them, maybe because some search index does not work correctly, but more probably they have not or not yet been transferred to the new platform.

Negotiations are the central theme at The Quill Project. Being somewhat an outsider to American legal history I can only applaud the attention to the fact the major documents of Early American legal history are the fruits not just of Founding Fathers defending principles with their best qualities, but of debates which did not happen in a laboratory. Decisions were made, postponed or cancelled under live conditions of debate, shrewd or honest use of rhetorical powers, and even under changing weather conditions, and in some years facing clear and present dangers. In my view The Quill Project does help with its resources in open access to break current debates about the American constitution and some of the amendments out of a straightjacket focusing too narrow on a restricted number of resources. The label originalism should indeed be reserved for that kind of framework. This portal helps you to see how origins are elements among many other things. It shows the constitution as an historical document coming into existence after many years of political and legal experience and debates.

Logo Law Library of Congress

At the end of this post you might be waiting for my usual service of a variety of other relevant links. However, in this case it would be foolish to make your own selection of links. A number of libraries at American law schools provide you with sure guidance to materials for constitutional history, a number of them in open access, others licensed and often only accessible at universities and research libraries. I mentioned a number of resources for legal history in open access in my post about the resources portal for the history of slavery in the United States. The Law Library of Congress is the obvious starting point for any research touching upon the US constitution. Its logo deserves a place at the very start page of the Library of Congress!

For those more interested in actual political action around the constitution in the early American republic and the way one of the Founding Fathers worked I would like to point to the digital collection Jefferson’s Three Volumes created by Princeton University. It offers apart from the history of three volumes of papers purposedly and explicitly put together by Jefferson himself and disastrously torn apart by the action of archivists a kind of time capsule. These documents in “3. volumes bound in Marbled paper” stem from his period as Secretary of State between 1790 and 1793. They show graphically the kind of information he daily received, his drafts and sometimes neat copies of his reactions and own actions. For me these documents make him more human. They do not diminish the fact he was indeed a Founding Father. In view of the fact resources can be part of licensed online collections you might want to consult my generous selections of resources for American history in open access in the form of digital libraries and digital archives at my legal history portal Rechtshistorie.

Digital access to the slavery registers of Curaçao

Slavery register 57, fol. 636

Slavery register 57, fol. 636 – image: Nationaal Archief, Curaçao

On August 17, 1795 a slave revolt started on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao, some seventy kilometers north of Venezuela. Exactly 225 years after Tula’s Revolt the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao presented the searchable online version of the Slavenregister, eight slavery registers from the nineteenth century. Two years ago I wrote here about the launch of the digitized slavery registers from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in Latin America. The two projects invite a comparison. I will look also at other online resources for the history of the Dutch Antilles, six Caribbean islands with a history of Dutch colonial rule.

Researching Dutch Caribbean slavery

Logo Nationaal Archief, Willemstad, CuracaoThe announcement at the website of the Nationaal Archief, located in Willemstad, the main town of Curaçao, gives you some background to the project done in cooperation with scholars of the Radboud University Nijmegen, led by Coen van Galen, and the University of Curaçao. The late Els Langenfeld laid the foundation for the project with her transcriptions. Apart from eight slavery registers also two emancipation registers have been digitized and indexed. The Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague, helped with creating the database for the data and the digital images. In its announcement about the launch the Dutch national archives give more information. The slavery registers cover the period 1839 to 1863. The emancipation registers stem from 1863. You can find at the website in The Hague a video in Papiamentu about the project, and there is a message from the Dutch minister for Education, Culture and Sciences. The registers at Willemstad can also be searched at the website of the Dutch Nationaal Archief. By the way, recently the Dutch national archive integrated its search portal Ga het NA into its main website. The Dutch archive also provides a guide to these records. There is a version in rudimentary English of the search interface without a version in English of the guide; the Dutch version is not mentioned. The original records can be found at the Nationaal Archief Curaçao, 005, Archief Koloniale Overheid, inventory 3, Hoofdambtenaar Arbeidszaken, inv.nos. 53-60 (slavery registers), and  005 Archief Koloniale Overheid, inventory 16.6 Burgerlijke Stand/Bevolking/Registratie, inv.nos 116-117 (emancipation registers).

Logo Nationaal Archief, The hague

The search interface in Curaçao allows you to filter directly for a particular register. In the advanced search mode you can search six fields separately. Unfortunately I did not succeed in using the advanced search mode in three different browsers. Search results can be sorted by clicking on the respective headings of the columns, a quality that could perhaps be more visible with arrows. There is also a guide to assist your search questions. Its Dutch counterpart has only filters for the type of register, and there is only a simple free text search field and a choice for sorting the results for all fields except one field of the registers, by name, gender, the mother’s name, entry date and exit day (uitschrijfdatum), either the day of the emancipation or another date noted in an entry.

The search interface in The Hague does not show the name of the eigenaar, the owner of enslaved people, nor do you see them in the list with search results. Only when you click on an individual search result the name of the (former) owner becomes visible. Luckily the owners does show up in the uitleg (explanation) – in Dutch again – about the fields. You can download in The Hague a zipped file with the index to the registers as an XML file. The efforts for assistance and explanation are important, but at the moment of writing it seems some efforts are needed to get things working properly. It is good to note here the fields with subsidiary information about the owner. However, here, too, the presentation of search results in Curaçao is different, with two blocks of fields against a single column with the fields at The Hague.

Both the absence of the owner field in The Hague and the disfunction of the advanced search mode in Curaçao are substantial problems. Again as with the project for the slavery registers from Suriname only the Dutch version is complete. The very presence of a video in Papiamentu underlines the need for search interfaces, guides and explanation is this language and in English. In view of the Caribbean region a Spanish version would be most sensible, too. The archive in Willemstad calls itself on its website a Porta pa Historia, but that door needs to be open not just in Dutch. The Dutch national archives provide a searchable index of manumissions of enslaved people on Curaçao between 1722 and 1863. Even the heading Vrij van slavernij (manumissies) has not been translated in the English version of this index.

The Dutch and the Caribbean

If digitizing a resource is important for historical understanding and if you know the general public will appreciate your efforts, it is only normal to do a proper job. The two versions of this new resource can cause some frowns, but I will certainly not deny the importance of being able to use the database for the Curaçao slavery and emancipation registers. Let’s look briefly what other resources can be readily found online nowadays.

Curacao ISTORY - The Tual exhibit

In the Digital Library of the Caribbean Curaçao figures with only a few items. For the neighbouring island Aruba you can find some fifty items. Bonaire, a third island within the Dutch Antilles, is absent. In 2019 the Nationaal Archief of Curaçao, the Maduro Foundation and the National Archaeological and Anthropological Museum launched the history portal Curaçao | HISTORY with virtual exhibits on several subjects, You can use a timeline to choose a theme, for example Tula’s revolt. Surprisingly the abolition of slavery in 1863 is present only with a printed proclamation in Papiamentu. At the Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform are digital collections of institutions at Curaçao, the Dutch Royal Library and Leiden University. The Archivo Nacional Aruba has some digital collections, in particular audiovisual materials.

Startscreen portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History launched some years ago the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670- c. 1870 with a guide to archival sources, legislation and ordinances. In fact the West Indisch Plakaatboek edited by J.Th. de Smidt, J.A. Schiltkamp and T. van der Lee  (5 vol. in 3 parts, Amsterdam 1973-1979) is its very core. At the Delpher platform you can find digitized official gazettes for the Netherlands, the Antilles, Indonesia and Suriname. Leiden University has created a separate entrance for Caribbean Books, some 950 in total, but only 200 are available in open access. Within its Digital Special Collections you can find a number of collections owned by the KITLV / Royal Dutch Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. Four Dutch ethnological museums, among them the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, have created a shared collections portal (interface Dutch and English). Recently the Tropenmuseum showed the exhibit Afterlives of Slavery. The old website of the Foundation for Dutch ethnological collections does still function. The Tropenmuseum has a digital collection on slavery with some 1,700 items at the heritage portal The Memory of the Netherlands.

In January I visited De grote Suriname tentoonstelling, a truly major exhibit on the history of Suriname at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the church next to the royal palace on the Dam Square. This exhibit succeeded in showing an overview of Suriname’s history with the widest possible variety of subjects and themes, thus enabling you to get a more integrated view of this country and its history. Let’s hope the digitized slavery and emancipation registers for Curaçao, too, will help to foster a better understanding of a crucial period in the history of this island. The aftermath of slavery continues up to today. Its story needs to be told not just in Dutch.

A postscript

Some remarks here about the quality of the search interfaces for this project might seem harsh, but a few things make them at least understandable. Knowing about the (former) owners of enslaved people is perhaps the most asked question when using these registers. Depending on the name of the owner freed slaves often received their name. The general public wants to know also about the background of the owners. Many of them lived in the major towns of the Netherlands. Their wealth was to a considerable extent built on the fruits of slave labor. Finally I think both archives should realize they could create the database thanks to the research and efforts of the late Els Langenfeld. It is not just a question of presenting material in your own holdings online, but also acknowledging the fact this has become possible thanks to a person whose memory should be honored by using her transcriptions and index to the fullest possible extent. Perhaps it is only a question of changing the layout to make the owners more visible from the start. The current layout should not be a stumbling block to having the data in full view.

Against racism, for justice

These weeks see worldwide demonstrations and outcries against racism after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a victim of police violence. What can we do to stop this violence? Which approaches can help to expose racism? What is our own role? It is a real challenge to add here something worth of your time and attention that has not already been said more eloquently and argued more convincingly by others. In my own country a recent report showed more traces of racism exist than Dutchmen would like to admit. Therefore it is not possible to tell others to change, and at the same time not look at your own country.

However, remaining silent is exactly one of the problems around racism. In this post I will try to look at some aspects of racism in the United States connected with law and justice. Just listening to people telling us about the impact of racism is one of the most important steps towards a society where people truly enjoy equal rights. A focus on oral history resources is perhaps closest to my own perspective and knowledge. The ultimate aim of the struggle against racism is to achieve a greater measure of justice for all.

A brief look at the Netherlands

In April 2020 the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau [Social and Cultural Planning Office] published the report Ervaren discriminatie in Nederland II [Experiencing discrimination in the Netherlands II] (PDF, 2,4 MB) with an English summary. A quarter of the Dutch population indicated they have experiences of discrimination. The degree of discrimination is different for various groups, and this indicates there will not be just a single solution leading to a more inclusive society. The report shows not only people with a different origin perceive discrimination, but their numbers are surely high, and they perceive it stronger than other groups. They mention things such as not getting a job because their name sounds foreign. Buying a house can be difficult when some estate agents accept wishes not invite them as prospective buyers, even when these agents know this kind of discrimination is not allowed. People told they did not get a job because their place of birth is outside the Netherlands.

The Dutch situation does not stem only from a colonial past in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Labor immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, too, arrived in my country. Many of them have now a Dutch passport, but they and their children do experience forms of exclusion, just because of their names and the perception people have of them. The single most important matter is probably not being aware at all that people experience this exclusion. You might be tempted to thing outright racism does not exist anymore, but suggestive regards, telling remarks and bad jokes exist. My tiny country with just seventeen million inhabitants can seem a paradise, but it is part of a larger world. It may be hard to believe, but it cannot be denied forms of racism and exclusion exist in the Netherlands, too, and you cannot blame just one political party or whatever organisation for fostering racism. Multiple causes are at work.

Eyes wide open, ears willing to listen

Racism touches individual persons, groups and eventually an entire nation or country. It will not do to state you have no idea of any form of exclusion, inequality, injustice and outright violence. It would mean you think you live somewhere else, in another world. Admitting and acknowledging it happens in the very same world where you live, and perhaps not in your own safe haven, but alas surely in many other places, is a starting point. A second thing is harder to achieve, admitting you have probably distinct blind spots in your perception. On the level of a country this might lead to not understanding almost two nations exist within one country. A third thing is the temptation to think in compartments, with “we” on the good side, and “they” on the other side. A fourth difficulty is the great seduction of either deciding for others or letting the government decide about such people, as if you can create a distance from others, instead of listening first of all to others, to their perceptions, feelings and grievances, to their views about ways of building society and administering justice.

In my study I sit across a cupboard with books. A few years ago I put right behind the screen of my computer at eye height a number of books about justice, as a sign not to forget about justice when studying law and legal history. The things staring in your face can be hard to detect, a fact of life.

Logo Black Past

When I started thinking about writing as a legal historian about current events I quickly saw some websites providing you with very good overviews of online materials to start studying African-American history. The Library of Congress marks 22 of its 424 digital collections as directly touching this subject. The Digital Public Library of America has 27 primary source sets concerning African Americans. A good starting point is the Black Past portal with its great range of subjects and themes. Its page on research guides and websites for African-American history is most helpful. It is only natural to mention here the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and its digital resources guide. Pursuing a road to the history of racism within the history of the United States brings you to institutions and portals such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Facing History and Ourselves, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and the National Council on Public History. Two other museums have to be mentioned here, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, the latter with an oral history project. No doubt some of the websites and projects I mention here figure also in this online overview of Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources.

Among the organizations issuing statements about racism and the death of George Floyd is also the American Historical Association. The AHA statement has been endorsed by seventy-five scholarly organizations. This statement focuses on the history of police violence, and it urges to learn from history, even if the facts abut structural injustice and ingrained violence are not welcome, because they damage the image people had of America and Americans.

Oral history

Logo American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Perhaps you would prefer to use visual resources to tell stories of the position of African-Americans in the United States, the racist behaviour against them and the actions of individuals, organizations, state and federal institutions to change society and uphold human rights in a truly equal way for every American citizen. In my view using oral history brings home the message that people tell stories of their lives, of injustice and humiliation, of their efforts against all odds to change things. Looking at television and listening to radio broadcasts of public networks in the United States can certainly show something else, the relative invisibility of African Americans during many decades. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a great resource to pursue this research direction.

Logo Oral History Association

At the website of the International Oral History Association you will find a substantial number of links to sites with oral history projects in the United States. The Oral History Association (OHA) is the organization in the USA for oral history. The OHA, too, issued a statement about the death of George Floyd. The OHA gives you a long list of oral history centers in the United States, To give an example, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNH) does work in the field of oral history, in particular within the project Voices of Minnesota. Within this project of the MNH a number of resources concern African-American history. The Minnesota Digital Library is a portal to other projects and collections for Minnesota’s history, and to an oral history transciption style guide. At Minnesota Reflections you can find some 2,000 oral history interviews, the majority of them with texts, a substantial number with recordings and nearly fifty with moving images.

Logo Place Matters

Writing here “moving images” was at first a literal quote from a search by format for oral histories at Minnesota Reflections, but of course the other meaning of moving images is most expressive and powerful. Other words, too, are these days most telling. While preparing this post I was struck by the very name of a project for community history in New York City, Place Matters. The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, has created Stories Matter Software allowing you to clip, index and export audiovisual recordings to avoid some of the difficulties with transcriptions of interviews. The links list of the center in Montreal is impressive, too. The skills of oral historians, their examples and guides, both in the United States and elsewhere, can help to document also the tragic events in Minneapolis and the reactions of people and institutions.

Listening to the stories about the events in Minneapolis and following the world wide reactions is one thing, pondering their meaning and preserving their memory is important, too, but naturally thoughts go also to ways to tackle racism and exclusion.

Talking from your own position

At the end of this concise post I am very much aware that my overview of resources can seem too detached, taken too much from a virtual helicopter view, as if this would be possible. I am not writing from Olympian heights, but definitively with an ocean between me and America. The news from the United States touched me. I try to think about it, and at the same time I feel emotions, too. In my overview you will notice I gave detailed attention to some resources, other figure only with their name and web address. I tried not to focus only on racism and police violence, and therefore I mentioned first a number of institutions which deal with many aspects of American history.

At my blog I try to look at legal history in its manifold incarnations. Not only positive elements in historical laws, law courts or legal education come into view. Several posts focused on parts of the history of slavery, for example my post on the digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. Violence in the United States was the subject of a post in 2018 on historical gun laws.

I will not and I cannot offer here political advice or show legal roads to eliminate forms of racism, to reform the police force or to diminish endemic violence and the use of guns in the United States. In a recent conversation about what you can do yourself, even at a great distance, we mused about the importance of communication, of listening to each other behind words and moods, about the need for awareness of cultural differences in communication. Changing the way police officers talk with others, prepare themselves for non-violent communication instead of the proverbial Shoot first, ask questions later, and reflect about their image in the eyes of others, is not the quickest and easiest thing to do, but certainly worth an effort. In the same conversation we talked also about the power of symbols and the role of emotions.

As for real stumble blocks for political change in the United States I could not help remembering the way voters have to register for elections. From the viewpoint of a country where being registered in a municipality and fulfilling some simple criteria such as age and not being excluded from the vote by a verdict of a court, leads automatically to receiving your voting card, this is a remarkable situation. It is a challenge for all Americans to gain insight into the many ways African-American citizens can be hindered in exercising their civil rights to full extent as anyone else, to realize what impact such things have, and to understand how this feels in the face of a history of exclusion, open or veiled racism, and injustice. Looking critically at your own country, your own role, your own prejudices and quick opinions, is something we all can do. It might imply leaving your own bubble, changing your own role and perspectives. In 2017 I ended a post about the United States with words that fit here, too: The old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

A postscript

Among the many links you could possibly add to this post I would like to mention Archivists Against History Repeating Itself and Archives For Black Lives, both with resource lists.

Retracing looted and lost art after 75 years

IRP-logoAmidst the current situation around the COVID-19 virus worldwide commemorations take place of the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago. After two generations work continues on retracing objects of arts and other objects belonging to a shared cultural heritage which were taken from Jewish people by the Nazi regime or stolen by others. The process of giving back such objects is often as difficult as retracing art objects at all, not in the least because legal matters impose themselves, too. In this post I will look at a number of relevant projects, in particular at a web portal with a central function. The International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property (shortened to IRP) is a branch of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), with a portal concerning archives and their holdings as another branch.

Combining resources

The situation in the occupied European countries during the Second World War had similarities and major differences. After the war national institutions were founded for doing research on a dark and deeply troubling period, first of all by bringing together relevant documents and archival records. Tracing the fate of Jews and other persecuted people was a most important research motive, but other themes, too, called for attention. Survivors of the concentration camps often found little help from authorities and judges in regaining possession of their belongings. In the years of reconstruction their appalling situation was often simply ignored. Research along national lines has inevitably limits.

In 2014 the movie The Monuments Men, based on the book by Robert Edsel (London-New York 2009) brought the work of curators, archivists, art historians and others near the end of the Second World War and its aftermath to rescue works of art in Europe to the attention of the general public. The website of The Monuments Men Foundation informs you about its activities. However, in this project the focus is on works of art taken from galleries and museums, not so much on private collections. Nowadays The Art Loss Register helps both individuals and institutions to recover stolen works of art.

The IRP is a special portal supporting the recovery of cultural heritage stolen, confiscated or in whatever way taken away during the Second World War. Things get complicated in the face of museums and even nations acquiring items from the collections of Jewish art dealers and collectors. In fact I have to state my explicit wish not to comment on the outcome of legal cases such as the Goudstikker case and the case of the Koenigs collection. Perhaps it better to admit we now see things from a distance, and we should be aware we can see only some parts of a chaotic period which does not allow for easy extrapolation of conclusions, apart from fearing things were grim, grey or indeed beyond imagination.

At the IRP portal you can search in the databases of eleven institutions. Some of these databases cover several countries, but you got to be aware you cannot search every database of these institutions with one search interface. For this reason the IRP portal rightly states it is a demo. The Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Mémorial de la Shoah, the British National Archives, the Nationalfonds der Republik Österreichs für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, the Belgian State Archives, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American National Archives and Record Administration are included in the central search function of this portal.

It is remarkable the resources of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Amsterdam), home to the IRP portal, are not yet included in the central search interface. Thus the list of resources – under the heading Institutions – with ample information about accessing databases elsewhere is most important. The tab Collections brings you either to the central search interface or to the resource notices. Sometimes you do not land directly at the right section for a particular collection. In my view you can currently skip the Collections tab. The search interface has an advanced mode where you can enter terms for artist, location and techniques, but a notice alerts you this works only with some of the databases. Mentioning exactly for which it works or not would be a welcome addition, and a clear order of the institutions, be it by alphabet or by country, would be helpful, too. However confusing this may seem, it has the major benefit of shaking you clear of the idea to find something with just one search action at a single central resource, and it helps you to confront the fact things have been entered into databases in different ways. The IRP does help you to go in the right direction when you use its information carefully.

Logo NIOD

One of the obstacles in approaching these databases is the need for the use of standards, and not just at the interface level. The NIOD has helped creating with other Dutch archives a thesaurus for terms around the Second World War and the Netherlands. This thesaurus is a key element of the portal Oorlogsbronnen [War resources]. At the IRP portal the NIOD mentions only its archival collection concerning the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the unit of the Nazi regime looting Europe for works of art and other objects of European cultural heritage.

On its website the NIOD has created a section Expert Centre Restitution (interface in Dutch and English). This centre hosts the database Herkomst gezocht / Origins unknown. Its core is information about works of art either taken form Jewish people or acquired in dubious other ways and at some time – or still – present in the governmental Netherlands Art Collection (Nederlands Kunstbezit). Here, too, there are warnings about the completeness of the information. The NIOD point also to the website Museale verwervingen vanaf 1933 with information about works acquired by Dutch museums between 1933 and 1945 in suspicious ways such as theft, sale under pressure and confiscation. At the IRP portal is currently no indication whether such resources will be included in the future or not. The database of Museale verwervingen, accessible in Dutch and English, has not been updated since December 2018. Its overview of links and the succinct bibliography with mainly Dutch studies are worth mentioning. While preparing this post I noticed the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has very recently digitized seven archives of art dealers between 1850 and 1950. In its holdings the RKD has archival collection of nine art dealers, among them the art firm Goudstikker. Although I am not unfamiliar with art history I have not conducted special research concerning the Dutch part of the history of stolen, looted and lost art around and during the Second World War, but these digitized archives are valuable new resources, accessible with an English and Dutch interface.

The Dutch websites figure here for a clear reason, not just to honour my regular Dutch view as a recurring element of my posts. It is perhaps wise to mention briefly some of the databases not yet included in the central search layer of the IRP Portal. In some cases the IRP’s overview makes clear an institution has not just one relevant database. Several institutions have archival collections concerning the Einsatzgruppe Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Only the database Cultural Plunder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is directly included in the IRP one-step search. On the website of this project you can also find archival guides for a number of countries, and a section on looted libraries. Lost Art is a database of the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, with an interface in German, English and Russian. The WGA-Datenbank of the Landesarchiv Berlin can be consulted in German and English, and there is a useful introduction on the website of this institution concerning the Wiedergutmachungämter (restitution offices). The University of Heidelberg is mentioned at the IRP portal for its project German Sales 1901-1945 with nearly 10,000 auction catalogues. The website with the database at ArtHistoricum contains much information besides the database. The portion of this project with German Sales 1930-1945 is included in the provenance databases of the Getty Research Institute.

The resources overview at the IRP portal is precious, and exactly for this reason you would expect explanations about the way more databases will be integrated into its search function. The differences between databases are a challenge to scholars and the IRP team dealing with them. It is sensible to view the portal as a tool supporting the use of these databases, and not, or not yet, as a complete replacement of searches to be conducted in individual databases. On purpose I indicated the languages used at other project websites. It would be helpful to have at least some elements of the IRP portal in various languages. In fact not only English is used in the IRP resources overview.

An unfinished history

Among websites and projects that deserve at least mentioning here, but perhaps also inclusion at the IRP portal, are other projects concerning looted and lost art. The most often mentioned projects are the Claims Conference and Looted Art of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. The art library of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz has a succinct commented list – available in German and English – with the main relevant projects and databases. The Swiss Federal Office for Culture has a section on its multilingual website for looted art from the Nazi period, with a list of links. I would like to mention here two websites not included in these overviews. Auction Catalog Segmentation is a French resource created by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art with a focus on the auction catalogues of the Parisian firm Drouot between 1939 and 1945. The Landesarchiv Berlin and the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin have created a website Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken focusing on books taken from research libraries. This library participates with five other institutions at Looted Cultural Assets, with currently some 31,000 provenance records and information about 8,000 persons. Not just libraries work here together, but also the Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum and the Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden in Hamburg.

Logo EHRI

How can the memory of the twelve years of the Nazi period and its history of violence, genocide and other atrocities be kept alive? The EHRI project is one of the efforts of scholars to help studying the darkest part of this period. In Berlin one of the memorials is named Topographie des Terrors. Many German memorials and other websites can be found in the extensive links list of the Gedenkstättenforum. The portal Gedenkorte Europa 1939-1945 helps you to find more places of memory in Europe. However, I will not try to answer this question with only information about initiatives for remembrance. The actions to retrace, recover and restitute objects to their owners or successors, and the efforts to entangle legal questions about the rightful ownership of such objects are part of the aftermath of the Second World War and form in a way part of its remembrance. Sometimes the stories about looted art form a painful part of the aftermath when they brought further appalling humiliation to survivors and their families. Acts and places of remembrance should not hide the ways the stories of the Second World War have also been ignored, kept silent or made invisible. Sorting things out legally about objects is one thing, bringing some kind of justice to people in the face or irreparable human and material loss and injustice done to them is another challenge. Behind these objects is the history of persons with for each her or his individual history and the history of persecuted groups during a terrible period of human history.

Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, three Asian city states

Sometimes events can seem rather unique, but historians have been trained to be wary of this claim. Since weeks the city state Hong Kong is in the grip of political turmoil. The legal and political status and future of this special administrative region in China is at the core of the disputes and actions. It is not a new idea to look at the law of both Hong Kong and Macau together, but I decided to add a third town in South East Asia to the comparison in this post. What have these city states in common apart from their geographical situation around a harbor? In this post I will look at a number of digital archives and libraries which bring you to important resources for the legal and cultural history of these interesting Asian cities.

Three of a kind?

It is tempting to start here with the colonial period of the three harbors. Macau was the oldest European colonial town in China, founded by the Portuguese in 1557. In and around Hong Kong people have lived already some 5000 years. For Singapore on the Malaysian peninsula there is a reference from the second century BCE. From the fourteenth century onwards there is more continuity for Singapore, but it is also clear the Portuguese destroyed the city in 1613. I prefer to treat the three towns here at first separately.

Startsscreen "Memória de Macau"

With currently some 600,000 inhabitants Macau is the smallest of the three cities. They live on a territory of just 30 square kilometer, making Macau the most densely populated spot on earth. Macau’s fortunes depended initially strongly on the position of the Portuguese commercial empire. Even though the Portuguese influence became weaker, Macau became attractive as a pivotal point in intra-Asiatic commerce. Since 1999 Macau is a special administrative region of China. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, actually a tunnel and a bridge with a length of 42 kilometer, connects since 2018 Hong Kong with Macau.

A search for digital resources concerning Macau yielded quickly some important results. The portal Memória de Macau was only launched in April 2019. It brings you to digitized books, archival records, maps, audiovisual materials and images of museal objects in Macau. The portal offers also a chronology of Macau’s history which you can even filter for events in politics and law, and there are of course sections on the arts and culture. Memória de Macau is accessible in Portuguese and Chinese. For searching the legal history of Macau the Base de Dados de Legislação de Macau (LEGISMAC) brings you not only to current law in Macau, but also to laws and other legislative acts since 1855. At Fontes Macau-China, sécs. XVI-XIX, part of the Observatório da China you will find a digital library with Early Modern books, its contents are viewable with a Portuguese, Chinese and English interface. The Biblioteca Digital da Fundação Jorge Álvares in Lissabon is a small digital library with digitized books about Macau and China. In the UM Digital Library Portal of the Wu Yee Sun Library, Universidade de Macau you can consult among other things Chinese worksWestern books on China and rare Western books. For Macau the digital library at the portal on Portuguese colonial history Memórias de Africa et do Oriente contains only nine titles.

The Arquivo de Macau has digitized the official gazette, the Boletim do Goberno / Boletim official de Macau, for the period 1850-1999, you can view the issues with a Portuguese, Chinese or English interface. In 1993 the Chinese government announced the legal framework for Macau from 1999 onwards. It is referred to as the Basic Law (here the English translation).

Hong Kong’s long history

Start screen Historical laws of Hong Kong Online

A similar search for digital collections concerning the (legal) history of Hong Kong took me much more time. Only the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute came immediately into view. This branch of the WorldLII contains not only modern legislation and jurisprudence, but also Privy Council Judgments (1861-1997), historical laws (1890-1964), and also first instance and appeal judgments since 1946. The University of Hong Kong Libraries offer access to Historical Laws of Hong Kong Online as a part of the Hong Kong University Library Digital Initiatives, a portal to several digital collections, including sections for rare books, legislation and war crime trials. I should have spotted at Historical Laws of Hong Kong Online the link to a page with several other online resources, for example Hong Kong Government Reports Online (1842-1941). The Hong Kong Public Libraries have among its digital collections a general Hong Kong Collection and for example old newspapers since 1853. The Run Run Shaw Lbrary of the City University of Hong Kong has a portal for its Digital Special Collections. Hong Kong Memory is a portal for digitized cultural heritage, mainly for the arts, geography, audiovisual collections and oral history. You can consult a number of historical maps at HK Maps. For Chinese rare books there are a digital collection of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Library and the Hok Hoi Collection of the Hong Kong Public Libraries with classic Chinese literature.

Two archives founded by the government of Hong Kong preserve archival records, the Government Records Service, with three digital collections and three virtual exhibits, and the Legislative Council Archives, founded in 2012. Within The Hong Kong Heritage Project you find the archive of the Kadoorie family and much more. A number of digitized archival collection for Hong Kong has been digitized by libraries. The Hong Kong Public libraries have digitized some 48,000 digitized archival records of the city council between 1965 and 2000 in their collection Municipal Council Archives. The Chinese University of Hong Kong Library, too, offers digitized archival records. In the Land Deeds Collection there are 160 land deeds and six volumes of fish-scale registers, from the mid-seventeenth to the twentieth century. In the Sheng Xuanhei Archive you will find digitized documents and transcriptions concerning a very influential merchant and politician (1844-1916) who initiated many projects. At Open Public Records of the UK National Archives this university gives you access to dozens of digitized documents from various series held at Kew. With the Elsie Tu Digital Collection (Hong Kong Baptist University) we come closer to this century. This collection contains speeches and publications of a scholar who followed closely political and legal developments in Hong Kong during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Her university presents also the HKBU Corpora, two linguistic corpora, the Corpus of Political Speeches (1789-2015) and The Chinese/English Political Interpreting Corpus (1997-2017), with in both corpora speeches from the USA, Hong Kong and China.

In Hong Kong some 7,5 million people live on an area of 1,100 square kilometer, which brings this city a rank lower than Macau but still very high in the list of most densely populated places of our planet. The British took over power in 1841, formally stabilized in the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. The extension of Hong Kong’s territory came about in 1898 with the treaty concerning the 99 year-period of British rule over Hong Kong. During the Second World War the Japanese army occupied Hong Kong. In 1997 British sovereignty was transferred to China, entering the current period of fifty years until 2047 as a special administrative region within China.

A look at Singapore’s history and its digital presence

Heading "Straits Settlements Gazette", 1890Government

Heading of the “Straits Settlements Gazette”, 1890 – image source: Books SG, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/index.htm

With Singapore we go from China to the most southern point of the Malaysian peninsula, close to the Indonesian archipelago. The destruction of this town in 1613 is a clear break in its history. In 1819 a British trading post was established which gained in 1824 the status of a British colony. In 1824 an Anglo-Dutch treaty created a clear separation between Dutch and British territories in Malaysia and the islands of the Dutch East Indies. From 1826 onwards Singapore was a part of the Straits Settlements, governed from British India. From 1867 to 1942 Singapore was a Crown Colony. The harbor became in the twentieth century known for its facilities for the British fleet. Although it was deemed to be unassailable for enemies, the Japanese could take over Singapore in 1942 very quickly. After the Second World War a turbulent period followed from which Singapore eventually emerged in 1965 as an independent republic. Singapore has currently some 5,6 million inhabitants on a territory of 7,800 square kilometer leading to a ranking for population density between Macau and Hong Kong. One of the things I realized while looking at Singapore is the major role of Chinese people in its history.

When you look at digital libraries in South East Asia it is good to start perhaps with the Asean Digital Library, a portal hosted by the National Library Board, Singapore and founded by the Association of South East Asian Nations. For Singapore this digital library contains some 26,000 items. The National Library Board of Singapore presents digitized old books and manuscripts in several subcollections at Books SG. Among the books labelled Politics and government you will find a number of issues of the Straits Settlements government gazette. Among the digitized titles I would like to mention two recent guides, The rare materials collection : selections from the National Library Singapore (2017), readable online, and the volume 50 records from history : highlights from the National Archives of Singapore (2019), downloadable as a PDF (264 MB), with in the latter a number of important documents for Singapore’s legal history.

The NLB has also created a section Newspapers SG with some Malaysian newspapers. The educational portal Roots created by the National Heritage Board looks at Singapore’s history and cultural heritage since 1819. At Legal Heritage the Singapore Academy of Law brings you not a digital library, but a guide to Singapore’s legal history. Lee Su-Lin, a librarian at the National University of Singapore created with Historical sources of Singapore Law a guide to (digitized) materials for researching Singapore’s legal history. You can benefit also from the guide to Singapore Primary Sources by her colleague Nur Diyana. The National University of Singapore offers digitized historical maps of Singapore (from 1846 onwards), a HISGIS for Singapore and the Singapore Biographical Database dealing with Chinese personalities in Singapore’s history The NUS Libraries have a large section with digitized Chinese materials pertaining to Singapore, including historical newspapers. At Singapore Statutes Online you can find three constitutional documents and a few acts from the colonial period.

The holdings of archives, libraries, museums and galleries in Singapore can be searched conveniently using the One Search portal. Thus you can look at inventories of the National Archives of Singapore. At its digital portal Archives Online you can look for example at a section for government records with also parliamentary papers – and at the Straits Settlements Records (1826-1946), Overseas and Private Records. The Singapore Policy History Project of the NAS is also worth your attention.

Of course important collections relevant to the subjects of this post can be found elsewhere. In the Cambridge Digital Library you can find the collection Voices of civilian internment: WWII Singapore. Among digitized items of the vast collections of the Royal Commonwealth Society you find can some panoramic photographs of Hong Kong, Macau and Kanton (Guangzhou) made in the early twentieth century.

Three or four harbors?

When you look at old maps of Macau and Hong Kong the latter is often difficult to spot, but yet another harbor to the north in the Pearl River Delta is quite visible, Guangzhou, to the Western world long known as Canton. Guangzhou is situated some 145 kilometer north of Hong Kong. To mention just one characteristic about Guangzhou, Cantonese is one of the major forms of the Chinese language. Singapore and Guangzhou figure in the top ten of largest harbors of the world. It would have been interesting to look here also at Guangzhou, for example at the Guangzhou National Archives, but it is perhaps better to admit I spotted it rather late.

While preparing this post on the history of three Asian ports another thing became very visible for me. In the Human Development Index of the United Nations, a quite detailed overview with several sections, you will find in the main HDI list just behind the top on place 7 Hong Kong, and on place 9 Singapore. Macau is not included in the HDI, but it would rank around number 17. China currently figures at place 88 of the HDI main list. The three city states of this post simply belong to the richest countries and areas of our world. Two of these three ports hold a stable place among the world’s busiest harbors.

Inevitably there are some clear lacunae in my post. It would be most useful to know about digital versions of the historical gazette(s) for Hong Kong, not just for Macau and Singapore. I referred only briefly to the historical and current constitutions which can be swiftly found using one or more of the portals for constitutions worldwide. Incidentally, I have listed a dozen relevant portals for constitutions at the digital libraries page of my legal history portal Rechtshistorie, where you will also see the archives I mention here. The page for digital libraries brings you also to the major portals for official gazettes and treaties. I have not looked closely at the development of the legal systems in the three city states, but this calls for more space, time and knowledge – both of the legal systems involved and of Portuguese, Malay and Chinese! – to engage with them here in real depth and width. The selection of resources for their cultural and legal heritage shows at the very least the need to use multiple perspectives. Perhaps the largest deficit here is the lack of references to (legal) sources in and about China and its history, and the omission of a perspective from China. On my website I mention a number of digital libraries with Chinese books and also a number of archives in China, but I point only to a small number of resources on China’s legal history. Finding digital resources with digitized old books for Malaysia is an even greater challenge, but it is also advisable to turn to bibliographical research. The Asean Digital Library has digitized some 1,300 items from the National Library of Malaysia.

Whatever the outcome of the current conflicts in Hong Kong, it is surely influenced by the fact people live here literally packed on the shores of a thriving harbor and an important Asian economy. The people of Hong Kong are acutely aware of the legal, economical and political differences with China. These differences stand both for the success of Hong Kong and the challenges it faces. All over the world major towns have to deal with problems national governments find difficult to address. A number of cities worldwide cooperate in networks such as Metropolis and United Cities and Local Governments. The city states of this post stand out as not just remarkable legal cases for doing comparative law and comparative legal history, but as communities in densely inhabitated towns at pivotal points in the world economy and at the frontiers of major countries which have and show their own interests in them. The mixed legal systems of Hong Kong and Macau are a mixed blessing. All three towns in this post have a long history of great changes which will encourage them to face current problems, too.

Ordinances and the book trade of the Dutch Republic

Some periods in history pose the problem of being too familiar. The Roman Republic, the Italian Renaissance, the Dutch Republic, the French Revolution and the Second World War are among the obvious examples. Sometimes scholars proclaim they can offer radical new interpretations of a period and its major developments, but often their studies reach this goal only to a limited extent. In this post I will look at a book focusing on one particular trade in the Dutch Republic. The authors make a fine case to put the book trade and the role of printed works at the very heart of the Dutch Golden Age, the seventeenth century. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen studied in The bookshop of the world. Making and trading books in the Dutch Golden Age (New Haven, CT, 2019) not only the beautifully produced books now found in libraries, but also ephemeral prints, such as pamphlets and ordinances, which were less likely to survive. Pettegree and Der Weduwen visited numerous libraries and archives to trace these sources, and they point to resources showing traces of books now lost. Their work touches directly on Dutch legal history, enough reason to create space here for their stimulating study.

Ongoing research

Logo STCN

In March Pettegree and Der Weduwen, both working at the University of St. Andrews in the team for the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), visited the Netherlands. Apart from giving lectures and doing research in a number of archives and libraries, they acted as keynote speakers at an afternoon session on March 28, 2019 about the Dutch Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) held at the Royal Library in The Hague. The STCN set standards for a high-level description of Early Modern printed works, putting the lessons of analytical bibliography into practice. Initially newspapers, broadsheets and pamphlets were excluded from the STCN, and also in particular academic dissertations. The USTC started as a bibliography for books printed in France during the sixteenth century, but it has opened its nets for all printed works from incunables up to the year 1700.

In The bookshop of the world the authors advance well beyond the commonly held view of the Dutch Republic as a country with Europe’s most active and most respected printers catering for the whole world. Their research into printed works which in a number of cases survive in unique copies leads them to the assertion books formed only one-quarter of the printed works in the Dutch Republic. Newspapers, pamphlets, ordinances and foremost very ordinary simple books for daily use take the lion’s share of the production and trade in printed works, and more than that, these works provided printers and publishers with regular work and stable profits.

Pettegree and Der Weduwen bring this new book and its bold claims as a synthesis of a number of studies they published in the last ten years. A number of volumes with essays edited and co-edited by Pettegree function as substantial building blocks, for example Broadsheets : single-sheet publishing in the first age of print (Leiden 2017) and with Flavia Bruni Lost books. Reconstructing the print world of pre-industrial Europe (Leiden 2016), the last volume also available online in open access. Earlier Pettegree published with Malcolm Walsby the bibliography Netherlandish books : books published in the Low Countries and Dutch books published abroad before 1601 (2 vol., Leiden 2011). Der Weduwen is known for his study Dutch and Flemish newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, 1618-1700 (2 vol., Leiden 2017). It is hardly conceivable how a similar synthesis could be written without detailed studies on these subjects. Among Pettegree’s other books I must at least mention The book in the Renaissance (2010) and The invention of news. How the world came to know about itself (2015). The idea for the book about Dutch books can remind you also of a collection of his own articles Pettegree published in 2007, The French book and the European book world.

The main sources to support the claims of Pettegree and Der Weduwen are themselves products of the vibrant Dutch book trade. In the late sixteenth century Dutch book traders independently created book auctions, accompanied by auction catalogues, as a new phenomenon of the European book trade. Dutch publishers early on included advertisements in the newspapers they printed, including announcements of new books and book auctions. Some very popular books were reprinted almost every year. However, in some cases we know about them only because they figure in an auction catalogue which mentions one or two editions or in the stock catalogues some publishers issued, yet another new medium. Pettegree and Der Weduwen realized how city councils paid for ordinances printed as broadsheets to be fixed at public buildings, thus offering to printers a reliable source of income. Almanacs, prayer books and catechisms, other religious works and all kinds of manuals may not have survived the centuries in large numbers, but these often small-sized works helped printers and publishers to survive. Printing a too large or a too small number of copies of a work catering for a more educated public might well ruin a firm or hamper its functioning for many years. Some inventories exist which show the large number of unsold books and paper stocks with many thousand sheets in the shops of printers who went bankrupt. Such numbers of sheets allow for extrapolating the annual number of books printed in the Dutch Republic. I do not want to spoil your reading with the actual number offered by the two authors!

An archival turn

The bookshop of the world is a fascinating book, not only for its views on the Dutch book trade, but even more for its vision of the Dutch Republic in which printed works formed a key element in communication. While reading the explanations of political developments and events in the seventeenth century time and again I marvelled at the natural way they underlined the important role of printed works. I even started wondering if this had been presented ever before in such a convincing way, yet based on painstaking and often daring research.

At Het Utrechts Archief a project for the description of some 5,000 Early Modern ordinances issued by the city of Utrecht and the States of the province Utrecht was finished in December 2017. It is more sensible to search for ordinances in archives, but as long scholars researching the Early Modern print world focused on books they first and foremost visit libraries. Archives would more readily make efforts to create finding aids for archival collection than spend money, time and expertise on describing pamphlets and ordinances. Not only ordinances were printed separately, resolutions of the Staten-Generaal and other States appeared thus in print. Last year the Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History in Amsterdam started the project REPUBLIC to digitize all early Modern resolutions of the Staten-Generaal. In 2018 Annemiek Romein (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam and Universiteit Gent) started blogging at Bona Politia about her project to create better access to Dutch legislation in all its forms during the Early Modern period.

Logo Trinity College Dublin

Pettegree and Der Weduwen did visit numerous archives and libraries all over Europe searching for copies of known printed works and copies of unrecorded editions, and they will continue to pursue the path of personal inspection. It is difficult to highlight any institution with unexpectedly rich Dutch collections, but I think legal historians will want to know about the Fagel Collection held at the library of Trinity College Dublin. In 1802 this library succeeded in buying en bloc the library of Hendrik Fagel (1765-1838). Fagel, the last of an illustrious line of griffiers, heads of the chancery of the Staten-Generaal, had to sell his voluminous private library built by him and his ancestors since the 1670s. Whether you look at his books, the ordinances, the pamphlet collection or the maps the riches are astonishing. At least 500 pamphlets in Dublin are not recorded anywhere else. The volume edited by Timothy R. Jackson, Frozen in Time: the Fagel Collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 2016) can tell you more about this private library, and the generous bibliography on the website of the Fagel Collection offers you still more.

Some reflections

At the meeting around the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands in March both the staff of the STCN and the USTC emphatically encouraged people to send their thoughts and comments about these database directly to them by email. I cannot and will not hide my enthusiasm about The bookshop of the world which rightly has been published also in a Dutch translation {De boekhandel van de wereld. Drukkers, boekverkopers en lezers in de Gouden Eeuw (Amsterdam 2019)], but of course it is possible to make some remarks. There is a clear need to be aware of the different qualities of the STCN and the USTC. Pettegree and Der Weduwen applaud the high standards of the descriptions in the STCN. Such information makes it possible to distinguish clearly between editions, editions with only a changed title page and new editions. In this sense the USTC and comparable catalogues need the power and skills of analytical bibliography. In its turn the USTC has started to become a truly universal catalogue for printed work published in Europe between the start of printing in the mid-fifteenth century and the year 1700. The original cores of the USTC are the two bibliographies of sixteenth-century French editions, French vernacular books : books published in the French language before 1601, Andrew Pettegree, Malcom Walsby and Alexander Wilkinson (eds.) (2 vol., Leiden, etc., 2007) and Books published in France before 1601 in Latin and languages other than French, Andrew Pettegree and Malcom Walsby (ed.) (2 vol., Leiden, etc., 2012). USTC casts its nets now considerably wider, but this would be unthinkable without such large-scale bibliographies produced over the years.

Logo STCV

At the meeting in March Steven Van Impe (Hendrik Conscience Erfgoedbibliotheek, Antwerp) told his public about the way the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV) is not just the Flemish counterpart of the STCN, not just a little sister doing a sister act, as he put it. From the start the STCV did not only include books, but also newspapers, broadsides and pamphlets. This was simply more feasible for the STCV because even now the total number of entries is after twenty years just below 50,000, whereas the STCN has a total content of closely to half a million works. The STCV publishes an online version of its manual for book description, and there is a yearly series of four seminars with each time fifteen participants willing to become bibliographers of Early Modern printed works. Thus the STCV team trains both scholars and staff members of institutions with relevant holdings in contributing to the STCV. In my view this training program is exemplary.

Among other things to note is the fact Dutch ordinances in the Early Modern period were printed from 1600 onwards which makes it much easier to read them. The excuse of not being able to read such legal resources is simply wrong. For such printed works it is now increasingly possible not to plod in a library through unwieldy printed volumes which sometimes lack sufficient indices or offer only a selection of ordinances. Instead it is wiser to go to an archive, ask for their copy of a publication with Early Modern ordinances and use their library to find editions of individual printed ordinances. You will appreciate the difference between reading an often much later edition of an ordinance, and handling the original edition, sometimes even in either a broadside or pamphlet format. You might imagine yourself listening to the city crier announcing the latest rulings, hearing them read by the vicar in your village church after the Sunday service or pushing with your elbows to get in front of the newest ordinances posted at the city hall or elsewhere in town.

A book with nearly everything?

Only when I had almost finished reading The bookshop of the world I noticed some omissions. The first concerns our knowledge about the books and book collections of women. The authors have not encountered any auction catalogue or other sources showing a woman’s book collection. It is possible to point to at least some catalogues pertaining to books held by Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), the first female student at Utrecht University who became a polyglot author corresponding with many scholars. In Utrecht she lived for many years literally next door to theologian Gisbert Voetius, well known for his opposition to Descartes. PIeta van Beek succeeded with support from Joris Bürmann in her study ‘Ex libris’. De bibliotheek van Anna Maria van Schurman en de catalogi van de Labadistenbibliotheek (Ridderkerk 2016) in tracing six catalogues concerning her books and the collection of the Labadist sect she had joined in 1669. Van Beek edited the texts of the catalogues and even added images of two catalogues. The library of The Grolier Club in New York owns five of these very rare catalogues. Van Beek suggests when Anna Maria van Schurman left Utrecht in 1669 for Amsterdam to follow Jean de Labadie she probably asked a theology student to get her books auctioned under his name [Catalogus variorum & insignium librorum praecipue theologorum D. Aemilii à Cuylenburg (…) (Utrecht 1669; copy Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek)]. Two auctions with books from the Labadists took place at Altona, and thus they can escape scholarly attention when you search only within the Dutch Republic. It is perhaps useful to note here you can search freely even without licensed access to Book Sales Catalogue Online. You can even see some images of the books you find. This exceptional case confirms in particular how you must cast your nets as widely as possible to ascertain facts about Dutch book printing and ownership.

The second omission I noticed touches on the publication of legal works. In chapter 12 concerning the printed publications of people trained at university level theology and medicine get more attention than jurisprudence. Pettegree and Der Weduwen flatly state legal works in print were mostly imported from abroad, which is basically a correct statement for works in Latin, and that only few Dutch lawyers published their works in the Netherlands. Here it seems the authors did not notice for example the series Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten (…) concerning the works published by professors of jurisprudence at a particular Dutch university, for which you can even find two volumes online (PDF), the Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Universiteiten van Groningen en Harderwijk tot 1811, B.S. Hempenius-Van Dijk et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2013) and Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Utrechtse Universiteit tot 1811, edited by Margreet Ahsmann, Robert Feenstra and Corjo Jansen (Amsterdam, etc., 1993). They could have used also Douglas Osler’s Catalogue of books printed in Spain, Portugal and the Southern and Northern Netherlands from the beginning of printing to 1800 in the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main 2000).

Title page of Willem van Alphen, “Papegay ofte Formulier-boeck van alderhande requesten (…)”, 1642 – copy Ghent, University Library

You can search for the works of Dutch legal authors of the seventeenth century in the STCN such as Paulus Voet, his son Johannes Voet, Arnoldus Vinnius, Antonius Matthaeus II and III, and others, and make up your mind about their presence. Surely it makes sense to distinguish between works on Roman and natural law, and publications about Dutch law, both in fact these authors often published about both subjects. Pettegree and Der Weduwen are right to look in this study in particular for the more popular works that were less likely to survive in libraries. Recently I looked at the models for legal actions at court compiled by Willem van Alphen, secretary of the Hof van Holland in The Hague, in his Papegay ofte formulier-boeck van allerhande requesten (…) (first edition The Hague: for J. Verhoeve, 1642; online, Ghent University), a book reprinted four times during the seventeenth century. In 2017 I have written here about the books written by Simon van Leeuwen, not a university professor. The STCN currently has some 4,560 titles from the seventeenth century with the subject code Law, and this figure should be viewed in the light of its overall total of printed works.

Let these remarks not stop you from benefiting from an important and most readable study! Some attention to legal books serving the needs of the ordinary notary or barrister would have completed Pettegree’s and Der Weduwen’s most readable and convincing vision of the Dutch Republic as a country with an explosion of printed works exerting influence at any level, and some major innovations in the world of books. Law and jurisprudence were part and parcel of this society which thrived on communication in print.

A postscript

On December 5-6, 2019 a conference will be held in Liège on Printing and disseminating the Law in the Habsburg Netherlands, the Dutch Republic and the Prince-Bishopric of Liege in the Early Modern period (16th-18th century). The call for papers is out, with as deadline June 30, 2019. You can send your proposals to Renaud Adam and Nicholas Simon.

Syria’s cultural heritage online, a case for open access

Logo Open Access WeekFrom October 22 to 28 the yearly Open Access Week will be held. Around the world there are initiatives to create open access in various forms. Institutions can choose for degrees of openness for their digital collections. The debate about open access to major scholarly journals is very important for the future of science and its presence in society. In some cases open access is most helpful in tracing, monitoring and preserving cultural heritage. For Syria this is even absolutely vital. In this post I would like to look at some projects aiming to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage. The war in Syria has taken the lives of too many people. Invaluable objects from its long history have been destroyed, and the same fate threatens today.

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

The UNESCO has created the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage. Its name sounds like The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This UNESCO observatory looks at buildings, movable heritage and intangible heritage, and it launches initiatives for their protection. You can find also information about the actions of UNESCO partners such as ICOM. The ICOM is home to the Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and the Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project, and ICOM has created other portals as well. ICOM works together with The Blue Shield, an organization which helps the coordination for saving and protecting cultural heritage in emergency situations. The UNESCO lists also other initiatives which aim specifically at Syria, some of the well-known, for example The Aleppo Project and the Damascus History Foundation. I could not help noticing Scanning for Syria, an international project led by Leiden University for scanning archaeological objects at Tell Sabi Abyad in the field and creating virtual reconstructions. You can find publications resulting from the excavations in open access in the Leiden University scholarly repository.

An important resource for finding such initiatives for Syria is the Syriac Reference Portal, but today I could not reach this website. Luckily I bookmarked a number of websites. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been created by the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Some of the results can be seen in the iDAi Gazetteer, an interactive map system which is connected with other georeferenced resources. The information for objects in Syria can be approached in several ways, in particular using iDAI objects.

Logo Syri-Ac

The Open Access Week mentions at its website many groups and events, but the very word Syria is sadly missing. It makes me more eager to proceed here to initiatives which offer more substantial contributions for Syria. Syri-Ac is a portal to resources for the Syrian language, literature and culture. There is a generous links section and a scholarly bibliography. Among the valuable sections the overview of digitized Syriac manuscripts stands out. You can use a sortable or a faceted version. The sortable version shows concise descriptions of the contents, and you can perform keyword searches. The faceted version allows you to filter quickly for languages, holding institutions, authors and genres.

The E-ktobe: manuscrits syriaques catalogue created at the IRHT/CNRS (Paris-Orleans) gives currently detailed descriptions of a restricted number of Syriac manuscripts. No doubt this resource will grow in strength. One of the largest online collections with Syriac manuscripts with manuscripts actually held in Syria is presented in the Virtual Hill Monastic Museum and Library, better known under its acronym vHMML. You can view manuscripts after registration. No registration is needed for the palaeographical introduction to Syriac scripts in the online School of the HMML. A perhaps unexpected number of digitized manuscripts and fragments containing items in Syriac can be found at the portal of the International Dunhuang Project, but thanks to Syri-Ac you are alerted to nearly 650 fragments. The Dunhuang project deals mainly with Tibetan texts and manuscripts found in the Chinese town Dunhuang.

Epigraphy is a scholarly field with a tradition for researching a part of Syria’s cultural heritage. Searchable Greek Inscriptions has an overview of online resources for Greater Syria and the East. In particular but not exclusively Palmyra is mentioned among the resources. The Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice has created The Ebla Digital Archives for royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE found in Ebla/Tell Mardikh. The closeness of Syria to ancient and modern empires comes into view at the Hethitologie Portal Mainz which deals with cuneiform inscriptions found in modern Turkey and northern Syria. The Khalili Research Centre of Oxford University is responsible for OCIANA, the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient Northern Arabia, an area which covered at least a part of southern Syria.

One of the general resources for Latin inscriptions is the Photographic Database within the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. You can also search for images of inscriptions at the EAGLE portal. With the EAGLE mobile app you can take photos of inscriptions in situ and compare them with the database.

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

This post could be much longer, but maybe it is important to realize projects can easily be overlooked. Initiatives do not come from just one country. Some countries have institutes in the Middle East which watch developments in Syria carefully, others follow the Middle East since decades both on location and from the outside. The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Alexandria, Virginia, has created the platform ASOR-Syrian Heritage with reports on damage inflicted to cultural heritage. The ASOR has a digital archive for its rich history in archaeological excavations. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has an extensive digital collection with photographs from the library of the American Geographical Society and also the Wisconsin Palmyrean Aramaic Inscription Project. Damage to archaeological sites in Syria is discussed in particular by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. Monuments of Syria preserves literally images of the situation in 2011 and gives links to a number of resources. These are just a few of the websites you, too, can find using the ever-active Ancient World Online blog maintained by Charles Jones. Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources is an online journal which helps you to find just what it promises

Just as we cannot take open access as granted, we cannot afford to think every project concerning Syria can be traced easily. Online maps such as the one concerning the civil war in Syria or a similar map at Edmaps are ready at hand, but you need to search for other resources. It is a lucky situation the results of research in the filed of Classical Antiquity can almost always be found in open access. In Europe many people can benefit from an autumn holiday week. For those who like to sit behind a computer screen or surf with a tablet there is every chance to discover next week lots of resources in open access about a country which goes through a dark period in its long history. For me it would suffice if this post invites you to find out more yourself.

Deciphering letters about slavery and abolition

Start screen Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Easy access has become a byword not only for creating online versions of sources, but also for transcribing important source collections as part of efforts to bring them literally better into view for both scholars and the general public. The participants of transcribing and indexing projects certainly stand out from the crowd. Recently Boston Public Library partnered with the Zooniverse crowdsourcing program for a project concerning nineteenth-century letters about abolition and slavery. The Anti-Slavery Manuscripts was launched on January 23, 2018. The collection contains some 40,000 pieces from the 1830’s to the late 1860’s, after the Civil War, with at its heart documents and letters donated by the family of William Lloyd Garrison. Some 12,000 items in the collection have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth, the digital platform for cultural heritage collections in Massachusetts. Nearly 2,200 images have been selected for the first phase of this project. One of the themes in this collection is the role of women in the struggle for abolition. Deciphering these resources can at times be difficult, and it seems right to look here also at palaeography in the United States.

In my discussion of the project for these manuscripts I will look also at other crowdsourcing transcription projects. My search for American palaeography was not as straightforward as you might expect.

A community around abolition

At the start I want to stress the fact this project of Boston Public Library and Zooniverse runs smoothly. Almost four thousand volunteers have registered to transcribe letters, and the progress is good. You can follow the project on a special blog of the Boston Public Library. Besides the letters in the collection there are also pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, books and realia. If the letters show us a more intimate side of the abolitionist movement, the newspaper The Liberator (1831-1866) founded by William Lloyd Garrison might aptly be named the motor and public actor of the movement. Interestingly, in her blog post about the history of The LIberator Kelsey Gustin draws attention to the changes in the masthead of this weekly published newspaper. These images depict not only black and white people, but also use art to convey at least a part of the inspiration behind the movement.

Only issues for the years 1831-1842 and 1861-1862 of The Liberator have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth. You can find information about more complete versions of this Boston newspaper in licensed digital collections in the online database of the International Coalition On Newspapers (ICON), hosted by the Center for Research Libraries, Chicago. There are complete digitized runs in open access at Fair Use and The Liberator Files.

The collection at Boston Public Library contains materials from several abolitionist societies, among them the Female Anti-Slavery Society. Unity about opposition to slavery did not take away the very issue of the participation of women and women’s rights in general, and thus these matters, too, appear in the letters. The correspondence preserved here come from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Transcribing the letters

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

The 12,000 letters to be transcribed will be released in five sets, mostly in chronological order. There is a rather important blog post by Samantha Blickhan (IMLS) on the divisions of the five sets and decisions to exclude a number of letters. Some of them have already been published in critical editions, in particular those of William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In one case, the Ziba B. Oakes Papers, bring a series of letters by a slave trader. The first set now visible contains the oldest letters from 1800 to 1839.

You have to register in order to participate in the project, but anyway when you click on Transcribe in the menu bar you will view the tutorial explaining the way you enter your results. On the right there is a toolbar for navigation. In the top left corner you can enlarge or scale down the image, or go to other pages of a document. The Field Guide gives practical guidance to decipher letter forms and other elements of writing, and instructions to present such elements consistently and correctly in your transcription. After finishing a piece or when you have questions you might want to visit the forum at Talk for news, frequently asked questions, and for discussions about matters presented by the participants. Zooniverse Team member @GrifftinTranscribes answers questions as a specialist in nineteenth-century handwriting.

Screen shot Field Guide

When you notice you can open the Tutorial whenever you click on Transcribe in the menu bar or using the button to the left of the images, you would expect the same navigation for the Field Guide. In fact both elements become visible as pop-up-only screens. I was not able to detect their exact web addresses.Screenshot explanation on abbreviations

The Field Guide deals with fourteen subjects. The team behind the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts takes no risks and instructs participants explicitly to leave abbreviations as they are found in the letters. For further information they point to a web page of the National Archives and Records Administration for their projects under its Citizen Archivists umbrella. However helpful in many ways, this page does not contain every element of a full-grown palaeographical manual. When you visit the History Hub, a support community concerning American history managed by the NARA, you will encounter in the user forums a lot of very useful communities, including one for legislative records, but on this platform questions about handwriting have not yet been given a corner of its own.

An endearing and lively blog post about the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts has been written by Lisa Gilbert, an instructor who reports on the experience of 8th graders (13 tot 14 years old) who tried to read a letter from the collection in Boston. Line after line they struggled to understand the text. The struggle helped the teenagers to get an idea of what it meant to fight for abolition or for any political idea. Awareness of the fact how many questions you can ask from a single document was another thing becoming clear.

The uses of palaeography

If historians had read documents exclusively by fighting their way through original documents, instead of learning how to deal with all kind of scripts, not just from one century or in a single document genre, little could have been accomplished. The study of old scripts and their context is one of the earliest historical auxiliary sciences. Manuals and guides, including classic books on forms of abbreviations, exist in fair numbers. Since February 2017 I have tried to find online tutorials for palaeography and to create a commented overview of them on my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Sometimes it took quite an effort to find a tutorial or at least a digital version of a recent guide, in other cases it was almost a question of choosing the best. One of the things I spotted was a division in the United States and the United Kingdom between manuals aiming at reading genealogical records, and tutorials dealing with other historical records. The United Kingdom is well served with a large number of tutorials for dealing with either manuscripts or archival records, with also at least three websites for Scottish resources, but there seem to be few online tutorials for American palaeography.

You will find sources in American history written in many languages, and certainly not only European. For Southern states you must reckon with Spanish and French resources. The difficulty to read Dutch script from the Early Modern period in archival sources concerning New York has been the subject here of a post in 2015 about the transcriptions and editions of these invaluable materials. For the history of Pennsylvania sources written in German are important. It can be most useful to rely on palaeographical guidance for Early Modern records in these languages, even when they deal more specifically with records written or still held in Spain, France, Germany or the Low Countries. It can be wise to look at resources for Canada, too, but in fact my harvest for Canada is until now distinctly meagre.

Let’s look at these online resources aiming specifically at the United States and Canada. For Canadian history I have not yet found a resource which deserves to be recognized as a tutorial. The only resource I found for Canada after repeated searches is a contribution by Leah Grandy for Early Canadiana, aptly called ‘Skills for historians of the future: palaeography’, and her two posts on palaeography (here the second) at the blog of The Loyalist Collection, University of New Brunswick. There is a Study Guide Colonial Handwriting, created in connection with the Indian Converts Digital Collection, Reed College, Portland, Oregon. The study guide accompanies a digitized version of a 1727 book on Indian converts. You can test your knowledge of Early Modern handwriting with an online tool of Reed College, Early American Handwriting. DoHistory has created How to read 18th century British handwriting, a companion to Martha Ballard’s diary for the years 1785-1812 [Augusta, ME, Maine State Library, ms. B B 189]. The State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh have published three consecutive blog posts, What Does That Say? Deciphering the handwritten records of Early America. The posts present colonial documents. They provide also a bibliography and links to digitized works. Perhaps the most surprising tutorial comes from the Smithsonian Institution. Reading Colonial Handwriting is part of the section Just for Kids! of the virtual exhibition Out of the mails created by the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Two of the manuals mentioned in this paragraph deal only with eighteenth-century documents. To say the least, American history covers by all means a much longer period.

The need for an online tutorial for American palaeography was the subject of a short blog post by Ricc Ferrante on the blog of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, ‘Is there a place for palaeography in the archives?’ (January 23, 2018), incidentally also the day the Boston Public Library launched its project. The Smithsonian Institution Archives deal with the history of this research organization with many branches. The SI Archives support also the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers and its transcription center. It provides general tips for transcribing, and also more specific instructions for transcribing historical documents, and eight other sets of guidelines, for example for transcribing the papers of the Freedmen’s Bureau which dealt with abandoned properties after 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Just as the NARA for Citizen Archivists the Smithsonian Institution provides substantial transcription guidance. Explaining such rules is definitely important, but they do not substitute palaeographical guidance.

Ferrante did not find quickly an online palaeographical manual for American documents, and thus he choose some of the websites mentioned in the fine overview in the Folgerpedia of online resources for English palaeography. The quality of this overview is excellent, but it can suggest no online tutorials for American handwriting exist. Ferrante started his search for an online manual when he tried to read a handwritten journal from the mid-1840’s. He signals also the difficulty to read old cursive scripts for those who have not received any instruction in cursive writing, and he hesitantly admits a place for palaeography for historical periods after the Middle Ages.

The development of palaeography as an auxiliary historical science started mainly for dealing with medieval documents and manuscripts, but it widened its territory soon. Historians can choose to study only printed – or typed – resources, especially for modern history. However, we know how important it is to use letters and diaries, drawings, poems and daily notes – scribbled or in capitals – from the Civil War, First World War, the Depression Era, the New Deal or the Second World War.  These sources help to give us vivid details in order to understand these periods better or to raise questions about our understanding and views. In official records, too, we can encounter handwritten elements. In my training as a historian following courses in palaeography was optional. I still remember the collective sigh of satisfaction after our first lessons, because getting the skills to read original documents felt immensely practical.

The absence of online tutorials covering several periods of American history does not mean nothing can be done. In particular the series Script Tutorials of the Brigham Young University helps you reading texts in seven languages, but the focus is clearly on genealogical records. However, at some point you will want to consult other resources genres, too. Tax registers and military records contain valuable information about your ancestors, and it would be a pity if you are unable to read them by lack of some necessary skills which can be taught and learned without too much effort. Apart from universities archives often offer courses.

Zooniverse has several projects concerning or touching American history, for example on African-American Civil War soldiers, and The American Soldier about the aftermath of the Second World War. Projects on the League of Nations in the digital age and concerning coded information during the Civil War are currently paused. For these telegrams you can benefit from a blog post with the title ‘Now I Know My (19th-Century) ABCs’ by Mario Einaudi (Huntington Library). Of course other crowd transcription projects exist. A cursory look at the overview of such projects provided by the American Historical Association should suffice you of their widespread occurrence.

I could find little about palaeography on the website of the AHA and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The useful and concise AHA Guide to Archival Research has a short paragraph about the need for palaeographical skills, with some lines worth quoting: “Get ready to read script. Do not be surprised when 15th-century documents are not typed”. This piece of advice is found typically in the section on research abroad, but you will read older scripts already when dealing with the colonial period. The fact this guide is also downloadable with the title Research Trip Tips is telling. Skills and competence in dealing with unfamiliar scripts is only implicitly reckoned among the capability to interpret historical records in the 2005 AHA report about essential skills for the MA in history degree. The SAA certainly brings into view the variety of skills archivists do need today.

When you search at the website of the SAA and in The American Archivist (AA) you will find palaeography in many cases associated with medieval and European sources, but you might want to read articles such as Laetitia Yeandle, ‘The evolution of American handwriting in the English-speaking colonies’, AA 43 (1980) 294-311, and Alfred E. Lemmon, ‘The archival legacy of Spanish Louisiana colonial records’, AA 55 (1992) 142-155. Laura Schmidt’s fine guide Using Archives: A guide to effective research – also downloadable (PDF) – mentions reading skills in particular in a paragraph about scheduling time for the unexpected. Sometimes my memory comes back of a visit to an archive more than thirty years ago where I found myself dumbfounded by a document in front of me. I was unable to even start an attempt to decipher it. Online tutorials and many digital collections with archival records can provide you with the same shock which should make you think and reconsider your abilities.

In 2016 The Junto: A group blog on Early American History, an initiative of young historians, brought Archives around the Atlantic, a series of contributions on doing research in archives and libraries in Spain, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Reading skills figure in some of the posts, but seldom as a central or essential skill. The Dutch period of the East Coast has been completely overlooked in this series. Sometimes there is a hint to use the library of an archive to consult relevant literature and manuals. I would agree in principle that you should acquire knowledge of the nation’s palaeography you will encounter probably most times in your particular field of Early American history, but there will be moments when you have to cross linguistic and palaeographical borders. Some areas changed from Spanish into French possession. For Canada you will need both French and English palaeography.

American palaeography, a distinct field

In this post we made a journey from a very particular subject, sources concerning the abolition movement, to sources for American history more generally. Perhaps trained historians are those who generally will less often need online tutorials in their professional life, but others do not benefit from their head start. Relying solely on palaeography from one country ignores the fact migrants to the United States came from many countries, and not only in those states known during the first half of the nineteenth century as The Territories. If people increasingly do not any longer learn cursive writing, any form of training to read cursive scripts becomes necessary. It is paradoxical to create exhaustive transcription guides to ensure enhanced fidelity for editions, and at the same time to assume everything is readable without preparation or instructions. The need for a distinct palaeographical approach of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will steadily grow.

In my opinion Zooniverse is in the position to help creating rather quickly a basic palaeographical manual for American history using both the Field Guide of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts and the blog post of Mario Einaudi created for Decoding the Civil War. If they consider themselves unable to achieve this, a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s transcription center is one of the logical directions to take. Surely one or more a state archives, university libraries or major research libraries such as the BPL, the Newberry Library in Chicago or the Huntington Library are capable of combining forces to create it, and perhaps add materials for advanced needs. It will help not only the volunteers in transcription projects, but anyone interested in American history and able to view the massive digital collections with images of American handwritten documents. Of course there are classic printed guides such as Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1998) and Harriet Stryker-Rodda, Understanding colonial handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1986), but there is room for online manuals, too.

Doing history calls for many skills. When you cannot readily start deciphering written records because you do not have reading skills, you are unable to interpret them and use them in your research. Others might help you to read archival records in some cases, but not always. Palaeographical skills can be decisive for the success of your visit to a local archive or to an archive which you can only reach after a voyage. Let reading skills accompany your historical voyages, be they virtual travels at your computer screen, reading books with images of written documents and manuscripts or visiting archives to use historical records!

The many sides of Belgium’s legal history

Banner Digithemis

In the ocean of legal websites you encounter very different sites. There are relatively few attempts at creating portals. When I saw the Digithemis portal for Belgian legal history and discovered its qualities it was only a matter of time before I would write about it here. Digithemis has been created by the Centre d’Histoire du Droit et de la Justice, Université Catholique Louvain-la-Neuve. Currently there is no portal site for Dutch legal history, and thus there is every reason, not only for Dutchmen, to look at this website. It might well inspire scholars in other countries, too.

Simple layout and rich contents

Logo CHDJ, Univers't Catholique, Louvain-la-Neuve

One of the powerful aspects of this website is its simple layout, with an implicit promise you will not get lost here. The subtitle Système numérique d’information historique sur la Justice is best translated as “digital system for historical information about justice”. Under the first heading Applications three databases are presented. The first, Belgian Magistrates, is concerned with officials in the Belgian judicial system. The database contains personal information, details about nominations, jurisdictions and institutions. Cubes, the second database, gives you judicial statistics, information about the number of cases and given verdicts in Belgian courts of justice. As a matter of fact I was hunting for websites with historical statistics when I ran into Digithemis. The third section brings us a bibliographical database for Belgium’s legal history. The database is the fruit of cooperation between the CHDJ at Louvain-la-Neuve and the project BeJust 2.0 – Justice et Populations.

In the second section, Ressources documentaires, you will find four subjects: legislation, doctrine, jurisprudence, and surprisingly again judicial statistics. Under Legislation you can find the French versions of the various codes of Belgian law, bulletins of the Ministry of Justice (circulaires), legislation concerning the judicial structure of Belgium, and a similar section for Congo during the colonial period. For doctrine you can look at a number of legal journals, at mercuriales, discourses pronounced at the start of the judicial season by the attorneys general, and there is a bibliographical database for criminology with some 8,500 entries. The corner with jurisprudence seemed at first straightforward: for arrêts of the Cour de cassation between 1832 and 1936 you can consult the Pasicrisie, alas currently not available, and for the period 1937-2011 there is a similar site, but here I can see only verdicts between 2002 and 2015. A very much contested period in Belgium’s history comes up with the online version of La jurisprudence belge depuis le 10 mai 1940The section for judicial statistics is enhanced by a historical overview and a concise bibliography.

The section Expositions virtuelles contains two virtual exhibits. The first, Classified, looks at Belgian military intelligence forces. The second one, Mots de la Justice [Words of Justice] is concerned with images and imagery of law and justice. The accompanying congress in Bruges earlier this year has figured on this blog at the time the bilingual catalogue was published.

The next stop of this tour are the contributions, As for now there are only two scholarly articles. The Lignes de temps interactives show interactive timelines for three subjects, women and legal professions, the Belgian judicial organisation, and the jury d’assises. In particular the timeline for women in the legal profession is telling. Ten short videos with presentations in French and Dutch about recent research are the last element of this section.

Logo BeJust 2.0

Finally the links section of this website confirms its claim to be a portal for legal history. The concise choise of links concerns Belgium, France, digital resources, and some Transatlantic websites and projects. In the right sidebar you can browse for interesting items in a RSS feed. This portal does build on other major projects in Belgium, starting with BeJust 2.0. Other portals often have an events calendar, but it seems Françoise Muller and Xavier Rousseaux wisely have built a compact portal with space for future extensions. The footer of the portal mentions the 2016 prize of the Fonds Wernaers awarded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) for the best scientific website.

More statistics

Logo Lokstat

I found the attention to statistics a strong feature of this portal. I could not help noticing that it might be useful to add a more general website for Belgian statistics to this portal. The University Ghent has created the Lokstat project, an abbreviation of Lokale statistieken, local statistics. This project currently offers local statistics taken from the 1900 census in Belgium, with additionally an agricultural census from 1895 and an industry census from 1896, this one accompanied with maps. It would be interesting to combine these data with judicial statistics.

As a Dutchman admiring these efforts of a neighbour country I have not yet found similar Dutch judicial statistics at a special platform. The Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS) has made a fine website for Dutch Censuses 1795-1971, accessible in Dutch and English. At CBS Historische Collectie you can consult digitized reports from almost two centuries. For the field of law and justice there are mainly reports from the second half of the twentieth century, for example prison statistics (1950-2000), crimes between 1950 and 1981, juvenile criminality (1974-1981) and crime victims (1980-1984). A quick look at general publications since 1813 in this digital collection shows judicial statistics were part and parcel of the yearly overviews. For four Dutch provinces there are yearbooks since the 1840’s (Provinciale verslagen).

It is not because you find everything at particular websites, but because they help you to look further, to value information, to think about problems you want to study or to contact scholars or read their work, that portals such as Digithemis deserve a warm welcome and attentive followers. Digithemis should serve as an invitation for the creation of similar portals for other countries and regions, too.