500 years Utopia

Quentin Matsys, portrait of Pieter Gilles

Portrait of Pieter Gillis by Quentin Matsys – Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – source: Wikimedia Commons

This year I have succeeded so far in avoiding centenary celebrations, but some of them are definitely interesting from the perspective of legal historians. In 1516 Erasmus published his edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum graece, with for us a remarkable title, Novum Instrumentum (…) (Basel: Johann Froben, 1516; VD16 B 4196; online for example at the Swiss portal e-Rara). Even with all its shortcoming this edition proved to be a starting point for many developments in scholarship and theology. Legal historians might prefer to leave the onset of the Reformation to church historians and theologians, but they will certainly not want to forget another book published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia (Louvain: Dirk Martens, 1516; more bibliographic details in the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen).

The flood of literature about More, his book and his circle make it almost impossible to look at it without preconceived opinions and views. Is it possible to say something new, something worth reading at all within the compass of a blog post? However you may think about this state of affairs, I would like to present one of the main figures appearing in More’s Utopia. Pieter Gillis was a humanist scholar who merits attention for his work in the field of legal history, in particular with his edition of a source for the history of Roman law, yet another book printed by Martens in Louvain. In fact, it is seldom noted at all Gillis was a trained lawyer, and thus certainly prepared for his tasks as the city registrar of Antwerp. He is not the only lawyer you will encounter here.

First editions from Louvain

Why should authors in the early sixteenth century turn to Dirk (Thierry) Martens (1446-1534) for the publication of their books? The Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek has a fine article on him (vol. VI, col. 633-637). Martens printed his first book already in 1473 in his native city Aalst. He was among the earliest printers of the Low Countries. His first publication – published together with Johann of Paderborn – was a religious work, the Speculum conversionis peccatorum of Dionysius Cartusianus (Denis of Ryckel), a book digitized in the Flemish digital library Flandrica (GW 8420). From 1492 onwards Martens had his firm in Antwerp and since 1512 in Louvain, the only university town of the Low Countries. In 1491 he used for the first time in the Low Countries Greek type fonts. Printing the works students needed provided him with a stable market. Martens is even credited with promoting the use of the Roman type font. He was definitely a printer with some remarkable feats on his record.

Pieter Gillis (latinized Petrus Aegidius) (1486-1533) initially studied law at Orléans (1501). However, soon he became active as a corrector for the printing firm of Dirk Martens. Already in 1503 or 1504 he met Desiderius Erasmus, one of the authors coming to Antwerp to have his books published by Martens. In 1504 Gillis registered as a student at the university of Louvain, and in 1509 Gillis became the city registrar of Antwerp. In 1512 he got the degree of a licentiatus in law from the university of Orléans. Dealing with Gillis is indeed entering also the book trade of his time, one of the reasons I supply for the book titles in this post at least some bibliographical references. The NBW has a good biographical article on Gillis by M. Nauwelaerts (vol. I (1970), col. 4-7). A much older article in German by A. Rivier for the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie can also be consulted online (ADB (1875) 125-126).

The road to More’s Utopia

Ambrosius Holbein, image with More, Aegidius and Hythlodaeus

Ambrosius Holbein’s illustration with the protagonists of More’s Utopia – edition Basel 1518, p. 25; copy Yale University, Beinecke Library

Before going to More’s Utopia I must acknowledge here the great assistance offered in writing this post by the very useful and extensive International Thomas More Bibliography of Romuald Lakowski. The story of how More came to write Utopia scarcely needs retelling. As a diplomatic envoy he met Pieter Gillis in 1515. The two men became friends, and one of the fruits of their meeting was More’s book. In the prologue of Utopia More tells about his encounters with Gillis and Raphael Hythlodaeus, the stranger recently arrived from Brazil whose stories are the very heart of his book. When preparing this post I wondered where people would have found the famous images taken from the first edition of Utopia, the image of the island and the Utopian alphabet. Surely this last feature came into existence thanks to the suggestions and expertise of both Gillis and Martens. Lakowski provided me with the link to a digital version of the first edition of Utopia at a library where you probably will not expect a copy, the Gleeson Library of the Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. The digital books in this library cannot be found using regular online search tools such as the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog and the Universal Short Title Catalogue (University of St. Andrews). Other early editions such as the one published in Paris by Gilles de Gourmont in 1517 (Gallica) and the famous edition by Froben (Basel 1518) can readily be found in various libraries, the latter for example in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

The Latin text of More’s Utopia can be searched in several ways. You will find just the text in The Latin Library, and a colourful version at the Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch, based on the version created at the Oxford Text Archive. For a linguistic approach you can benefit from the search functions offered in the version at IntraText. At first I would have preferred to leave translations out, and thus honour the principle ad fontes so dear to sixteenth-century humanists, but having a translation within your reach is most helpful. The first translation of More’s Utopia was the work of a legal humanist, Claude Chansonnette (Claudius Cantiuncula). Interestingly Cantiuncula (around 1493-1560) had been at Louvain before going to Basle where he published his translation Von der wunderbarlichen Innsel Utopia genannt das andere Buch (…) (Basel: Bebelius, 1524; digitized at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Cantiuncula decided to translate only the second part of More’s book, not the first half. At this point it is most welcome to point to the bibliographical survey of people connected to Desiderius Erasmus, Contemporaries of Erasmus. A biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, [CE] P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto-Buffalo-London 1985-1987; reprint 2003). This work contains entries for Pieter Gillis (CE II, 99-101), Dirk Martens (CE I, 394-396) and Claude Chansonnette (CE I, 259-261), and of course for Thomas More (CE II, 456-459).

Among the modern German translations of Utopia the version of historian Gerhard Ritter (1898-1967) is still being reprinted. Ritter made his translation early in his career (1922). You can see in a post from last year my photograph of several pocket law books accompanied by the modern incarnation of Ritter’s translation which gives you also the Latin text.

A meeting of lawyers

Title page of Gillis' edition with the Epitome Aegidii

The title page of Pieter Gillis’ edition of the Epitome Aegidii – Louvain: Martens, 1517 – copy Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

The excellent website of Lakowski with its most useful bibliographies for many subjects concerning Thomas More and his Utopia taught me looking at legal matters around Thomas More is not something new. In this post I will just look at a few aspects. Let’s go back to Pieter Gillis who published in 1517 a number of sources in the field of Roman law. Dirk Martens printed his Summae sive argumenta legum diversorum imperatorum… Caii et Iulii Pauli Sententiis (USTC 403069; digital copy at the Digitale Sammlungen, Munich). The Latin title of his book is certainly long, but it does clearly indicate the constituing parts edited by Gillis. His work contains the editio princeps of the Epitome Aegidii, a shortened version of the Breviarium Alaricianum/Lex Romana Visigothorum, in itself a reworking of the Codex Theodosianus. The manuscript he used contained also a shortened version of Gaius’ Institutiones (Epitome Gai) and the Sententiae Pauli. Among the rare Early Modern editions of these texts is a very rare book by the famous Dutch book collector Gerard Meerman, Specimen animadversationum criticarum in Caii Jcti Institutiones (…) (Lutetiae Parisiorum: apud Merigot, 1747).

The story of Pieter Gillis’ edition is intriguing. What manuscript did he use? Surprisingly Marcel Nauwelaerts wrote in his article for Contemporaries of Erasmus about Gillis’ edition “of which is a manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Leiden (MS BPL 191 ba)” (CE II, 101). Is there truly a manuscript once owned or written by Petrus Aegidius? Many manuscript catalogues at Leiden can be consulted online in its Digital Special Collections. The manuscript Leiden, UL, BPL 191 BA can even be viewed online. The catalogue entry by P.C. Molhuysen makes it very clear this manuscript belonged to Paul Petau who wrote a brief summary of the content on the flyleaf. It seems Nauwelaerts was too eager to find a manuscript connected with Gillis. The manuscript has also been described within the online project Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections, but here, too, things are not completely straightforward. Searching for the Epitome Aegidii yields only the manuscript Leiden, UL, VLQ [Vossiani Latini in quarto] 119. When searching directly for BPL 191 BA you find it with as its title Epitome legis Romanae Visigothorum, which is in itself not wrong, but not complete either.

Finding out more about the Epitome Aegidii

Logo Bibliotheca legum

A few years ago Karl Ubl (Universität Köln) started the Bibliotheca legum, a project dealing with early medieval law in France. The project deals with many texts and a multitude of manuscripts, including those with Roman law texts and the early medieval codes conveniently known as the Völkerrechte, “laws of the nations”, because they were addressed to the populations of certain territories. The Breviarium Alaricianum, also known as the Lex Romana Visigothorum, is among them. The Epitome Aegidii, too, figures in this project, currently with thirty manuscripts. Here it becomes clear the Dutch manuscript portal should also refer to Leiden, UL, BPL 114, also consultable online. When you search for “Epitome edited by Aegidius” you will find it together with BPL 191 BA, but without Voss. lat. qu. 119. The Manuscripta juridica database at Frankfurt am Main uses the term “Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Breviarium Alarici”) (Epitome Aegidii)” and offers 25 manuscripts.

The Epitome Aegidii is also among the many subjects in the opus magnum of the late José Maria Coma Fort. His book Codex Theodosianus: historia de un texto (Madrid 2014) is also available online in the digital repository of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (PDF; 3,8 MB). Last year Faustino Martinez Martinez reviewed this book most approvingly for the online journal Forum Historiae Iuris. Here I can scarcely do justice to the efforts of José Coma Fort. He mentions Gillis at several turns and discusses his edition in detail at p. 371-375. He concluded the manuscript Gillis used is probably no longer extant. Coma Fort brings into relief the way Gillis’ edition was almost unknown until Meerman’s reimpression, and he looks in particular at the discussions concerning the Epitome Aegidii of humanist scholars such as Bonifacius Amerbach, Johannes Sichard and Johannes Cujacius. Did they willingly ignore the editio princeps? Even today it can be considered a rare book. One of the earliest general bibliographies, Konrad Gessner’s famous Bibliotheca universalis (Tiguri [Zürich] : Froschauer 1545; online at e-Rara) has an entry for Petrus Aegidius without his legal work (p. 543). The USTC has references to eleven copies. Using the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog I could add copies at Lausanne, Vienna (ÖNB, online) and Heidelberg. The Vatican Library, too, has a copy. The tenacity of Wouter Nijhoff and especially M.E. Kronenberg in creating together the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 (‘s-Gravenhage 1923-1971) comes only sharper into view for current scholars with so many resources within easy reach online. In their bibliography NK 15 is the entry for Pieter Gillis’ book, and NK 1550 deals with Martens’ edition of More’s Utopia.

Dirk Martens of Aalst printed at Louvain in 1516 yet another editio princeps, the first edition of the book on legal argumentation by a Dutch lawyer, Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), his Topicorum seu de locis legalibus liber, a work I studied for my Ph.D. thesis. In 2011 I presented here a post about the digital versions of several sixteenth-century editions of this book, incidentally one of my most often read posts. It is only fitting to revisit in the 200th post of my blog Louvain in 1516. At the end of this post I realize how I like to bring things together in one post. Hopefully you will not mind the way I led you here to such important resources as the Bibliotheca legum and José Maria Coma Fort’s great book on the transmission of the Codex Theodosianus!

A postscript

University College London organizes on June 30 and July 1, 2016 the graduate conference Imagined Worlds in the History of Political Thought, an event also in coniunction with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia. You can send a proposal for papers before April 15, 2016, by mail to conference@historyofpoliticalthought.net.

Messages on stones and histories in fragments

Banner Epigrafia 3-D

How can you make the memory of past actions last for later generations? In the Ancient World important matters were often committed in writing on stones. Studying inscriptions is one of the way historians dealing with Classical Antiquity approach their subject. Since the sixteenth century scholars versed in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, help to gain insights into a vast subject which deals with three continents and roughly two millennia. Only a fraction of possible sources have survived, and thus it is understandable and necessary historians want to make the most out of them. Access to new resources and wider access to existing sources are most helpful in refining and re-adjusting our insights about this period.

Lately a number of online projects has come to my attention which bring ancient inscriptions closer to our century. You can do this in particular by just following the notices about epigraphy at the indispensable blog Ancient World Online of Charles Jones. Old editions have been digitized, new inscriptions are increasingly edited immediately in the digital domain, and some projects literally give us a wider view of these sources. A few years ago I already noted here a project sponsored by a Californian firm to present clay tablets from Mesopotamia in three-dimensional view. A Spanish project, Epigraphia 3D, dealing with Roman inscriptions in 3D-view prompted me to write here again about inscriptions. In some cases I will also look at other ancient sources, in particular papyri, but Roman inscriptions will be the main focus point.

Preserved in stone

Logo Hispania Epigraphica

The project Epigraphia 3D is the result of the combined efforts of the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid) and the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida. Even if your Spanish is rather weak navigating the website is easy. Two galleries with three-dimensional images of inscriptions form the heart of the project. The first gallery (Galería 3D MAN) for the archeological museum at Madrid contains 37 images, the second gallery (Galería 3D MNAR) shows nearly 60 images from the collections at Mérida. It is simply great to look at stones with inscriptions and to view them as if you were walking around them. Inscriptions mentioning slaves should remind you about an element of Roman society and law calling for particular attention. The variety of formats is in itself already a lesson widening your horizons. For every object the relevant epigraphical databases referring to them are mentioned. It would be a great service to have for each object direct links to these databases. However, you can at least use the link to its original location at the well-known Pleiades interactive map of the ancient world. For Roman inscriptions in Spain the main online resource is Hispanica Epigraphica (Universidad de Alcalá) with an interface in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Epigraphy as a historical auxiliary discipline has long been dominated by scholars writing in German, French and English, and therefore a Spanish point of reference is actually very welcome. In fact there is even an impressive and extensive online guide (labeled Recursos) introducing you to epigraphy. The section with enlaces (links) will bring you to many of the more traditional online resources. Some of these projects try to cover not just Roman of Greek inscriptions. Trismegistos, a platform created at Cologne and Louvain dealing with papyri and materials restricted to ancient Egypt and the Nile valley, recently started covering also inscriptions from other regions. By the way, the list of the Trismegistos partners and contributors is another fine overview of the main projects for papyri and ancient inscriptions. The mighty Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby (EDCS) features now also a searchable map for Roman inscriptions all over Europe.

Logo Digital Epigraphy and Archaeology

The Digital Epigraphy and Archeology Project led by the University of Florida has as one of its aims creating a toolbox for making three-dimensional inscriptions from squeezes, paper casts of inscriptions. with a nice showcase of 3D images of various ancient and medieval objects. The other projects on this website are a virtual museum of world heritage with 3D-images, seemingly now filled with just one object, and a section on interactive classical theatre. My first impression is that of a pilot project, and in fact it made me search again for projects showing more results. i could fairly quickly find a very relevant example which uses the freeware Sketchfab technology, a 3D-image of the famous Law of Gortyn, a legal text cut into the stones of a city wall on the island of Crete. You can find the Greek text online in the Searching Greek Inscriptions database, and an English translation in Paul Halsall’s Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University).

A bird-eye’s view

Logo Europeana Eagle

Reading about maps helping you to trace quickly inscriptions all over Europe – in fact I spotted a number of them found within my own neighbourhood – wets the appetite for more. You would like to be like an eagle finding inscriptions everywhere! The Epigraphia project shows in its bottom banner a number of logo’s, unfortunately not directly clickable, and one of them is to the Europeana Eagle project, a new branch of the Europeana network with magnificent online portals for several major subjects and themes in European history. It is infuriating that Europeana fails to give a quick list to them at its galaxy of sites. I have looked here in two posts especially at Europeana Regia with manuscripts from the libraries of three medieval kings. Currently the Eagle project covers nine online collections, including Hispania Epigraphica, the EDCS and the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH). The EDH has a clickable map of Europe bringing you to specific regions. Eagle contains now some 300,000 items.

Somehow I must be a bit old-fashioned when I worry about not seeing immediately at Eagle any reference to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, but surely this has been connected to the main databases for searching Roman inscriptions. For those worrying about a too exclusive view at and use of inscriptions it is reassuring to see among the nine collections harvested at Eagle the Arachne database (Universität Köln) for archaeological objects. In my view Eagle scores with one particular feature, a mobile app for the two main platforms which enables you to view inscriptions in situ and check for their presence within Eagle. The app can even tell you whether Eagle contains similar inscriptions.

For scholars and everybody

Banner Ancient Lives

Greek and Latin can be formidable barriers to understand the classical world, yet the attraction of Classical Antiquity remains strong as ever. Precisely the inventive use of digital technologies has opened the world of classical studies to a much wider public. Interestingly the inverse connection, too, has started. Recently I encountered the crowdsourcing project Ancient Lives, a partnership between the Classics Faculty of the University of Oxford and the Zooniverse initiative. It is most remarkable that the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection (P. Oxy), almost the Holy Grail of papyri from ancient Egypt, should figure in a collaboration of classicists and the general public. Asking people to get involved in transcribing papyri is audacious indeed, even if you can see the appeal of this treasure to scholars worldwide. The Oxyrhynchus papyri is also one of the largest papyri collections. Nearly 80 volumes have been published for their critical edition. In view of the many aspects of creating this edition it becomes understandable to call upon people outside Oxford to help with one phase of the editorial process, creating reliable transcriptions which of course have to be checked and fortified by a critical apparatus. Imaging Papyri is the main project dealing with the Oxyrhynchus papyri.

On purpose I mention this project for papyri at Oxford, even if it seems to be a turn away from inscriptions. Exactly this effect can be viewed, too, at Oxford. There are at least two other epigraphical projects at Oxford I would like to include here. A focus on Egyptian papyri might almost blend out another project for sources from Egypt, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions for the study of some 550 inscriptions and monuments with inscriptions. It is important to notice here the use of EpiDoc, an international initiative to develop a tailor-made version of TEI XML for publishing inscriptions online. With the Vindolanda Tablets from Northern England in the first and second centuries CE we encounter a resource particular close to daily life in a Roman province. The Vindolanda fort was situated south of Hadrian’s Wall. A concise virtual exhibition accompanies the online edition. The tablets contain not only complete documents and letters, but also drafts and school exercises. The presentation with at the left an image of a tablet, in the middle a transcription and at the right a translation is readily usable, and the search functions are most helpful. These tablets help you to look at Roman law in the context of daily life. They show encounters between the Latin culture and the peoples newly brought into the Roman empire or living at its borders.

A number of the websites highlighted here contain lists of links to other epigraphical projects, and thus you can easily expand my post to look beyond my personal interests. To round off my tour of projects I would like to look briefly at two other British projects dealing with inscriptions in regions where their very survival has become a matter of grave concern. King’s College London has created websites for the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT) and for the Inscriptions of Roman Cyrenaica (IRCyr), regions in modern Libya, a nation with currently almost no functioning state, where ancient monuments a prey to rivalling armed groups.

Histories in fragments

Lately I looked at the project portal Fragmentary Texts which aims at bringing together research concerning lost texts from Antiquity and their afterlife in fragments. The links section of this portal gives you a nice overview of various projects dealing with the fragments of ancient authors. One of the reasons this project resonates for me is the fact that the study of legal history in ancient times also very often deals with fragments. Complete texts are actually exceptional. We might forget that for example the Twelve Tables, the praetorian edict and the texts of classical lawyers are mainly known from reconstructions. The textual transmission of Justinian’s Digest is nearly complete, but in its turn it contains enough elements of elder texts to allow scholars to reconstruct such texts which no longer exist independently. Only since two centuries we have a complete text of Gaius’ Institutiones when a palimpsest manuscript was finally discovered in Verona.

Inscriptions can help completing ancient texts or show a different textual transmission. Graffiti in Pompei sometimes help scholars to find the right wordings of famous quotes from literary texts. When you study Justinian’s Digest and Code you will note the inscriptiones, the preliminary references giving the names of consuls or the reference to the work of a classical lawyer. The very word inscriptio might remind you to look beyond manuscript sources, and to study law also in relation to its role in society. Reading for instance about the special inheritance rights of Roman legionnaires who had served many years with the Roman army, something linked with the concept of the peculium castrense, comes much more into life when you can look at military diplomas and inscriptions bearing witness to their lives and activities. Instead of only admiring such objects in a museum or knowing about editions of the texts engraved on them it is now possible to connect your own research and interests with them on many levels.

Let’s end here with pointing to three blogs. Two blogs of the Hypotheses network deal with ancient epigraphy, the French blog Épigraphie en réseau of the EpiDoc project, worth reading even if not updated seriously since 2012, and the Spanish blog e-pigraphia: Epigrafia en Internet, very much kicking and alive. Current Epigraphy is another blog that you might want to consult to keep up with developments in an old but vital part of Classical Studies. Studying inscriptions from other periods is of course also a most interesting theme, but here I prefer to remain close to Classical Antiquity.

A postscript

Both for those who think my post was too short and those who think it was (again!) too long follow here for your benefit and quick reference some of the newest additions about epigraphy at Ancient World Online: the Claros database (Madrid) with a concordance for Greek inscriptions, Axon; Silloge di Iscrizioni Storiche Greche (Università Ca’Foscari, Venice) the projects at Berlin for the Inscriptiones Graecae (IG) and Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae (ICG) with Christian inscriptions in Greece and Asia Minor, the Inscriptions of Israel / Palestine (Brown University) and even some of the latest issues of the Année Epigraphique in open access. All of them would perfectly suit another post on epigraphy. I should have pointed also to the digital library of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), New York, home to the AWOL blog, and at at the very least I can give here a link to the digitized publications about ancient law and inscriptions.

On March 10, 2016, Sarah E. Bond published Epigraphy Enchiridion, a post on her blog about online handbooks and guides for Greek and Latin Epigraphy.

The power of words: Some thoughts about Umberto Eco

Image of Umbert Eco - photographer unknown - source: Wikimedia Commons

Umbert Eco – photographer unknown – source: Wikimedia Commons

The death of Umberto Eco (1932-2016) makes the world mourn a most versatile author. In fact you might do him justice by seeing him almost as a true uomo universale. In his writings, both his scholarly work and his novels, the thing resonating within you long afterwards was and is the encounter with a mind full of curiosity about the world, culture and life at large. As a small contribution in remembrance of a great intellectual I will look here at a few aspects of a period close to his heart, the Middle Ages. With The Name of the Rose Eco did not only write a great detective novel and a philosophical treatise about visions of reality and truth, but he returned in a way to the territory where his career started. This novel is marked by elements of law and justice, reason enough to have a look at it here.

A story in black and white

Eco’s great story, set in the early fourteenth century, has not just one central narrative thread, the quest of William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso of Melk to solve crimes and the mysteries surrounding them. The Name of the Rose is also a book about confrontations between old and new ways of thinking and action, and of strife even between people at both sides. The Franciscan William of Baskerville meets a formidable opponent when the Dominican friar and inquisitor Bernard Gui arrives on the scene of the monastery in Northern Italy. Both religious orders came into existence shortly after 1200. They almost fought each other to receive able men into their ranks. The different ways of living and preaching inspired them to outshine each other. Now Bernard Gui (around 1262-1331) was a historical figure. Interestingly he was not only the most famous inquisitor of his time, but also a very active historian of his order, see A.-M. Lamarrigue, Bernard Gui. Un historien et sa méthode (Paris, 2000).

Cambridge Uniersity Library, ms. Ff 3.18,fol. 1r

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, start of II-I; England, circa 1320-1340 – Cambridge, UL, ms. Ff 3.18, fol. 1r – image: Cambridge University Library

800 years ago the Dominican order was founded. Part of the worldwide jubilee celebrations is the virtual exhibition A pipeline from heaven: eight centuries of Dominican books created by Cambridge University Library. Among the manuscripts shown in the online gallery you can find the Summa Theologiae, the major work produced by Thomas Aquinas. I searched in this exhibit in vain for the inquisition and Bernard Gui, but let’s first remember how Eco started as a scholar with writing about Thomas Aquinas. Eco’s Ph.D. thesis dealt with the views on art of this Dominican philosopher and theologian. Aquinas wrote many of his works using the scholastic method of distinctions using questions and answers. Argument after argument is dissected in a seemingly cool and calm way. Personal views or involvement seldom surface. Eco succeeded in pinpointing Aquinas’ views of art in his discussions of perception, contrary to the opinions of eminent scholars such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Once you realize this, it is easier to see how this discovery influenced Eco’s later scholarly and literary works.

When William of Baskerville reads and explains the telling signs which contain clues to unravel what happened at the Benedictine monastery infected by crime, Eco knowingly plays with scholarly views of medieval and modern philosophy. Using and focusing on signs was for some time the very heart of the vogue for microhistory. The Italian word connected with the microhistory paradigm is spie, traces. Eco was virtually the founder – together with Roland Barthes – of semioticsthe theory of signs, their meanings and relations. In the thirteenth century a number of Dominican friars set out to write both manuals and encyclopedias covering all kinds of knowledge. Very soon the papacy realized that their deep theological knowledge made these friars fit to become inquisitors. Bernard Gui himself wrote a manual for inquisitors, edited by Michel Mollat, Bernard Gui. Manuel de l’inquisiteur (Paris 1926, reprint 1964; Les classiques de l’histoire de France au moyen âge, 8-9). Gui made notes and instructions and carefully documented his activity in the Languedoc in another manuscript [Le livre des sentences de l’inquisiteur Bernard Gui (1308-1323), Annette Pales-Gobillard (ed.) (Paris 2002)]. David Burr (Virginia Tech) has translated a number of the texts in this edition, in particular Gui’s views on detecting heresy. Gui mentions among other heretical matters the views on poverty of the Franciscan writer Petrus Olivi which figure in Eco’s novel, too.

As part of the Dutch jubilee celebrations of the Dominican order the journal Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven [Journal for Spiritual Life] published a special about Dominican history [Het hart op de tong. 800 jaar dominicaanse verkondiging (TGL 72/1 (2016)] with an article by legal historian and theologian Daniela Müller (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) on Bernard Gui (pp. 27-35), summarizing in Dutch at the same time a part of her recent research about medieval heresy and the position of women. Müller writes Gui served his order also as a procurator generalis at the papal court in Avignon, and even became involved in the canonisation of Thomas Aquinas. He also acted as a papal nuntius. Müller’s recent research about Gui’s protest against the decision of pope Clement V compelling bishops and inquisitors to work together is real news (see her article ‘Der Bischof und der Inquisitor’, in: Ketzer und Kirche. Betrachtungen aus zwei Jahrtausenden, Daniela Müller (ed.) (Münster 2014) 237-262).

For Bernard Gui words and views did not stand independent of beliefs and practices. You might say he read the views of people as signs of religious convictions and adherence. He outright connected particular expressions with heretical views, even if he had not yet asked specifically about the latter. Eco succeeded most powerfully in showing one of the major faults of the inquisitorial procedure, the combination of the function of persecuting officer and judge in one person. Is it a play on his own name – Eco means echo in Italian – that the other main character in The Name of the Rose, Jorge of Burgos, the monk killing so many of his brethren, also acted as a staunch persecutor of new views and a terrible self-appointed judge? Eco would have spoilt his novel by placing the motto Only connect used by Virginia Woolf at the start of his first novel, but surely this is the most concise clue to his book.

The joy of writing and sharing knowledge

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Eco involved himself in Italian life and culture with his own column for a newspaper and regular appearances on television. In a number of his books, for example about the history of beauty, he left behind him his familiar territories of medieval history and current philosophy, and reached out to a much larger audience. Among these books I personally most like his work touching on the history of language research, La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993), translated into nearly twenty languages, as you can check in the Index Translationum of UNESCO. The history of the search for the perfect language brought Eco in many cases to authors expressing their own theory about the original language of humanity. Even Dutch was in the seventeenth century sometimes presented as the language spoken in Paradise! Having started with studying the world where Latin was the lingua franca this subject certainly made Eco smile. His command of European languages made him the ideal author for this theme.

I first read The Name of the Rose as a student of medieval history. Although I did find at first his proliferation of extracts from medieval authors close to going through an overturned card file I had no doubt whatsoever of his skills as a great story-teller. The joy of writing and sharing is visible everywhere in his writings. Since I first read this book I have reread it several times, and my admiration for it has grown. While writing this post I noticed how many tags I can use for classifying my musings about Eco. We are lucky to see in Umberto Eco someone defying normal classifications. He was a great scholar, and even his faults and flaws have turned into art. Few scholars have been as candid and full of humour as Eco about his own mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but Eco’s legacy will continue to help us perceiving signs, detecting hidden perceptions and connections. He makes you transcend the world of books and marvel at the Book of the World.

Challenges for doing global legal history

Header History and the Law

It is one thing to praise the virtues of global legal history, but the roads to start doing global legal history are often challenging. Are there any roads? How much pioneer efforts are needed to make this approach sensible and fruitful, or should we allow for risks and pitfalls? In this post I will look at a project which is in fact more a consortium of projects dealing with themes in several periods and locations in Asia. On my blog I have looked sometimes at individual countries, in particular Japan and Nepal. I mentioned resources concerning India’s legal history in a post about the projects of the Center for Research Libraries, but these posts did not convey an overall view of research concerning legal history in Asia. For contemporary law in Asia you might want to check my 2014 post about the World Legal Information Institute. In other words, it can do no harm to focus here on Asia.

At the center of this post is History and the Law: Exchanges of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas, a joint project between Cambridge University and Harvard University. There are two websites for this project, and at some turns you are guided suddenly to the Harvard website or vice versa. The Center for History and Economics of both universities is home to this large-scale project.

Legal histories at multiple levels

The subtitle of History and the Law offers a clue to the approach favored by the teams of Harvard and Cambridge. “Exchange of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas” sets the scene for bringing together concepts and ideas from different spheres. A second thing to note at the outset is the research network of the project which is cast much wider than just scholars working at these two famous universities. A third thing to note at the outset is perhaps that the latest scholarly event within the network happened in 2014. The last event was probably the two-day workshop on Petitions and Political Cultures in South Asia (Cambridge, Magdalen College, June 4-5, 2014). However, even in its dormant state it is well worth looking at some key elements. I would have expected here to find an overview of published results, reports on workshops and possibly a number of selected bibliographies. Nevertheless it seems to me most interesting to look beyond these wishes.

The section Reading Legal Documents contains just one text. The introduction of Fei-Hsien Wang’s paper gives a nice and compact example of the working of copyright in early twentieth-century China when each publisher had to get for each publication a separate act from the local authorities acknowledging its copyright. The history of copyright law is also part of another project at Cambridge. The section with interviews contains five interviews. Many scholars will immediately recognize Mitra Sharafi (School of Law, University of Wisconsin), creator of the marvellous blog South Asian Legal History Resources. Her blog is simply the clearing house and portal for anyone doing serious research in this field, in particular for India’s legal history. Sharafi’s selection of digital and digitized resources can stand any comparison.

The main projects which seemed to me at first to be conceived within the framework of History and the Law as daughter projects with separate websites are Sites of Asian Interaction: Networks, Ideas, Archives and Cordial Exchanges: Britain and France in the World since 1700. On closer inspection they should be seen as sister projects, even when in particular the Asia project does deal also with legal history. Both are certainly worth looking at on their own. Where I offer criticism here below these do not touch upon these two projects.

The section with digital resources at History and the Law comparison to other websites and portals invites just such comparison. There is a general section with only six websites. Alas the link to the fine guide of Harvard Law School to online legal materials in open access is currently broken, no doubt a victim of the current redesigning project of its website. Maintaining more than 130 online research guides is a feat in itself. The bibliographical section brings you just four web links, all outside History and the Law, but the sheer weight of Mitra Sharafi’s blog does something indeed to redress the balance. At the website of the University of British Columbia the bibliography on Law and the South Asian Diaspora created by Renisa Mawani has simply vanished. Before going to the main section let’s note the website at Cambridge of the Center for History and Economics with a digital version consolidated index of admissions to the Inns of Court from ‘Indian’ and other non-British-born entrants between 1859 and 1887. The very label “CHE Projects” where you find this creates an expectation for more.

Many resources?

The major part of the corner with digital resources at History and the Law gives us five sections dealing with digital archives and collections, organized in five geographical sections (Europe, USA, East Asia, South Asia and Africa). At this point it is perhaps better to describe this website more as uncompleted than as dormant. Just five links in the European section, with three of them for the United Kingdom, is close to nothing. The link to the project for the Privy Councils Papers Online is not correct. You will want to visit the website at Exeter, and you might like to visit the Exeter Imperial and Global Forum. The “US section” luckily does not only mention projects in the United States, but just mentioning a single Canadian blog is simply poor. Law and Revolution is the research blog of Malick Ghachem (School of Law, University of Maine) where the revolutionary period on Haiti around 1800 is the starting point for discussing the Atlantic revolutionary tradition. With eight links the South Asia section is a bit better, even if it focuses solely on India. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Goa are absent. With a few letters removed from the end of its URL the link to the digital library of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics does work properly. The section on East Asia does refer to project concerning China, Taiwan, Japan and Mongolia. Just seven links is very meagre, but most of them are not easily found at all. Let the record show the section for Africa contains a single item, the Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuctu (Center for Research Libraries, Chicago). Finally the links section contains seven links, among them three blogs, and I was truly surprised to find here even my own blog.

Should one really wonder about this state of affairs? In the case of Mali you might have a look at a post published here in 2012. A few years ago the web page with links for British legal history of the Law Faculty at Cambridge simply disappeared, and my friendly question to bring it back to life went unanswered twice. At my own legal history portal Rechtshistorie I have saved a version from 2012 from the Internet Archive. Of course I searched for it again today at both the websites of Cambridge’s law faculty and the Squire Law Library, but in vain. I can imagine a sad explanation about the missing overview and the poor quality of the lists presented here, such as illness of a webmaster, but I had rather not speculate here anymore. The project at Cambridge and Harvard ran mainly between 2004 and 2009, and the growth of available digital resources is certainly thus strong that it is hard to imagine the number of projects simply not existing five or ten years ago. The disappearance of websites during the same period is a necessary reminder that not all things online will reach eternity.

The Harvard website of History and the Law has a good page telling about the project’s objective to look at its themes in the sequel of the vogue for the transnational turn and the 2008 banking crisis. I had not yet seen the virtual exhibition Bubbles, Panics & Crashes. A Century of Financial Crises, 1830s-1930s of the Baker Library at Harvard Business School, a product of the Cambridge-Harvard project Exchanges of Political and Economic Ideas since 1760. The Baker Library has also created a digital collection showing some of the riches of the South Sea Bubble collection, and a project site aiming explicitly at comparing the financial upheavals in 1720 with current events, Historical Returns. Linking Ideas Across Time.

Online or in print

How can we explain most convincingly the somewhat sad state of affairs of the websites of this joint project? I would like to use Occam’s razor to provide here a clear explanation. I think it all boils down to a complicated joint program with too much actors and factors influencing its success. In an age where success is more and more measured by its very online presence this project might have scored very high in terms of the international network supporting the project, the range of themes, regions, and periods, and probably of publications in peer-reviewed journals, but this does not make it immediately visible online. If it has been a success you would by now expect to see a full-blown online presence with up-to-date information instead of two rather empty virtual showcases which impair the reputation of both centers. In a way this might offer some consolation to all scholars keen on organizing and steering similar projects, and in particular those who have seen the failure of such projects. History and the Law somehow stands in between two worlds where the printed world and virtual world today are merging together. Even if you are successful it depends on so many factors to be seen as successful.

In my experience you will need a team to create overviews of digital resources which combine a sensible approach, consistent quality, coverage and longevity. The number of daily visitors for Rechtshistorie tells me something about the need for such overviews. The section for Asia on my page for digital libraries covers just one aspect of digital resources, even when I sometimes deliberately put in digitized archival records to make up for any real or supposed lacunae.

Logo Sejarah Nusantara

A number of countries in Asia is still absent on this page. From a Dutch point of view the very small presence of Indonesia is just inexplicable. The National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta has at the very least digitized a number of rare books which should have captured my attention. Last year the digital collection Sejarah Nusantara of the Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia was launched with documents and archival records created between 1600 and 1800. Following the blog of the South Asian Libraries Group is only one of the remedies I propose. A team would long ago have made at least some provisions. Working to create and maintain my website and this blog contributes in many ways to my views on legal history. Facing mistakes, omissions and gaps is part and parcel of that experience.

For some countries and subjects it can be difficult to track down relevant online resources. Try searching with The Inevitable Search Engine for websites containing links to the major digital libraries for South Asia and East Asia… The best I can do is to promise to keep up the good work, and to invite you most cordially and sincerely to bring relevant resources to my attention. One of the qualities I strive for at my website is accompanying each link with a concise description. In this way I offer at least more than just a list. A number of links often appears here before I put them at the right page of my portal site. At the end of this post it seems to me worth repeating: If you want to make an international project successful today in itself and in the eyes of the general public, you have to pay careful attention to its virtual presence. Choosing a webmaster or – preferably – creating a web team should not be an afterthought but an integral and decisive part of your plans and actions.

A postscript

The link to the guide for free legal research resources of Harvard law School Library does work again. In particular the section on foreign and international law is worth checking.

The edges of medieval law

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

Twelve chapters and an introduction

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

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

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

Laws are everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Everything

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

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

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

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

Looking for and beyond origins

Finding the origin of something can be fascinating, and this kind of search can bring you much more than just a satisfying conclusion. The direction in which you search for a particular origin can be revealing in itself. Often it is tempting to search within the framework and the borders of current nations and states, but some origins are to be found in periods before these territorial units were shaped or are just outside our normal view of things. In this post I will look at some examples of searches for origins and the way they can bring us at the best partial answers, and in the worst cases only the views of history’s winners.

One of the major current movements with attention to origins is the trend in the United States to search for the original meaning of elements in the American Constitution, especially for the interpretation of a number of the famous amendments. I will not advocate here any particular way to tackle specific questions or to complete quests in this field, but it is tempting to write a kind of nutshell guide to a number of relevant primary sources. Today you can find an increasing number of them in online digital collections. Thus you can check the marvellous Founders Online (National Archives) with papers from six influential Founding Fathers. Interestingly this project includes records from the colonial period (1706-1775), a valuable hint the history of the United States did not start ex nihilo. At The Founders’ Constitution (University of Chicago), a web version of the book by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (5 vol., Chicago, 1986) you can consult the sources in the works of philosophers and other authors of many ideas discussed and taken up by the founders of the United States.

Last year I looked here at the legal history of New Amsterdam, and some legal elements from the Dutch period survived into later centuries. For almost every founding father there are separate digital collections, in particular for the first presidents. It is possible to widen their circle with others, for instance with The Federalist Papers (Library of Congress), also available at Founding Fathers, where you can find conveniently many other key documents. Among the most valuable extensions of this inner circle are the digital projects for the John Jay Papers (Columbia University), the digitized books from the library of John Adams (Boston Public Library), and the digitized archival records in The Papers of the War Department (1784-1800). The Library of Congress provides anyone interested with a quick guide to digital versions of core documents in its web guide Primary Documents in American History.

However valuable these digital resources might be, it seems they leave out a substantial part of American history. Some vigorous recent alerts on social media and blogs, and in particular the launch of a new digital collection have made me aware of this painful truth. Even my own collection of relevant digital libraries shows the same lacunae, apart from some exceptions which will feature here. It is not just a case of something missing, but a number of people who lived in the Americas are almost absent. It dawned on me that I have been seduced to look too much along the lines of nations and states still present on contemporary maps. To make things worse, there is a problem in designating these people, and this explains also to some extent my omissions. Where are the original inhabitants of both North and South America? Where are the people defeated by the conquistadores? Where are the various tribes we used to name Indians? How useful and truthful is it to use words as native or indigenous people?

In this post I will look at some new digital projects concerning the “colonial period” of the United States, and I will try to provide here some information about projects bringing us to resources and primary sources concerning the people living in the Americas before and during the period shaped by the presence of people from Europe. If I succeed here in documenting here at least some of the gaps and omissions, it is of course just a first step in doing things better in the future, and not a definitive answer to some of the questions to be addressed here.

Colonies and their context


Among the prompts for writing this post is the Colonial North American Project at Harvard University. In this digital collection items from many institutions at Harvard will eventually appear. At present I could find some 120 items when searching very globally for Indians, and this number stands in relation to a current overall number of 2,200 digitized items. With the advanced search mode you can pursue much more detailed questions. Various Indian tribes and aspects of relations of the colonies with both tribes and individual persons might well come more into view when more archival records and books will have been digitized.

Where should one start looking for materials concerning the original inhabitants of the Americas? The Indigenous Law Portal of the Library of Congress can serve as a starting point. One of its strengths is the indication at the very start of both divisions along the frontiers of nations and a more general approach. You can use selections for Alaska, Canada, the United States, North America and Mexico, and you will find links to a number of major relevant portals. The portal was launched in 2014. Interestingly it was Jolande Goldberg, a bibliographer trained as a legal historian, who developed a new classification system, the KIA-KIX series, for the relevant materials in the Library of Congress; this part of the story is nicely told in a post on the In Custodia Legis blog. The portal contains in the United States section first of all a massive and yet compact listing of links to websites, projects and collections elsewhere, and you can narrow your search to large regions or go to a specific current state within the USA. Earlier on the Library of Congress had already digitized a number of Indian constitutions, ranging from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Their sheer number will be a surprise.

Just how large the challenge is to approach the history of original inhabitants is very clear at the portal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. This portal mentions status tribes, Inuit, Métis and non-status Indians, and urban original people. Many of the tribes refer to themselves nowadays as First Nations. Here, too, the very number of tribes, groups and other units will be an eye-opener. Until now I had just missed the concept First Nations on my page with digital libraries. Among the links I had included for Canada until now you might perhaps first go to Peel’s Prairie Provinces (University of Alberta), a portal with digital collections containing a substantial number of books about Indian tribes.

Another thing is clear for me, too. It will not help to lament about lacks, gaps and omissions. Some of the links on my digital libraries page do touch the subject of indigenous people. In fact, this page does gather a number of things not easily found elsewhere at all, and it might become necessary to divide the information on a number of sister pages. Lately I have added to some of the sections for continents a list of general projects which touch several countries. These links used to be positioned near the end, but now they can be found in a better position.

North America


Banner Turtle Talk

Several ways offer themselves to find out more about current indigenous law and earlier periods. One of the tools will be for example finding a blog that helps you to become aware of current matters and which might offer also a repertory of useful resources. In my view the Turtle Talk blog of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law does fit into this description, and its blogroll brings you to more blogs.

For the United States I did see in the past six years a number of relevant projects:

For Canada my links collection might be meagre, but luckily I did find two collections tucked away on my page for virtual exhibitions in the field of legal history. Libraries and Archives Canada created a digital collection called Aboriginal Documentary Heritage, and there is a small collection around the first settlement with native people in 1899, Treaty 8. It proved to be relatively easy to find more relevant digital collections in Canada, and in order to make this post not too long, I will offer here just a list:

The History Education Network / Histoire et Éducation en Réseau offers a useful repertory of digitized primary sources for Canadian history, yet another starting point for further research. I was aware of projects such as Early Canadiana Online, but I had simply overlooked its section on Aboriginal Studies with some 900 digitized titles. The wealth of specific collections for a particular theme does not always diminish the value of more general portals. Only when you decide to create a database for links collections and provide sufficient tagging you can largely avoid such omissions. Such projects require the forces of teamwork or crowdsourcing. My appeal on my website for additions and corrections is not just a kind gesture or a rhetorical phrase, but a very serious question!

Latin America, Australia and New Zealand

For South America, too, I can point to some digital collections. In Chile the Memoria Chilena: Salas Virtuales created by the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile does have a section Derecho indiano as a part of a larger field termed Política y legislación. The University of Arizona is home to the Morales de Escarcéga Collection, accompanied by a virtual exhibit. For two of the historic people in Latin America I can at present not point to a digital collection, but instead we have at least the guidance of a fine virtual exhibit at the Tarlton Law Library (University of Texas at Austin) with a bibliography devoted to Aztec and Maya Law.

At least a part of the legal history of the aboriginal people in Australia is documented in two digital collections, Founding Documents: Documenting a Democracy of the National Archives of Australia – with 110 digitized documents – and Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project (University of Melbourne). Centers have been founded to study indigenous people and law, for example the Indigenous Law Centre of the University of New South Wales. New Zealand can point to the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (Victoria University of Wellington) with among their projects for example He Pātaka Kupu Ture – The Legal Maori Archive. The New Zealand Digital Library is in fact a portal to several digital collections, one of them concerns Indigenous People. The Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the subject of a virtual exhibition of Archives New Zealand which puts on display not only this treaty from 1840, but also the subsequent treaties.

Instead of giving here more examples it is better to mention just the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library, yet another galaxy of resources discussed here earlier. In many cases projects focus on minorities in many parts of our world whose cultural heritage needs urgently to be described and preserved, or they document historical phases threatened to disappear completely. The very short lengh of this section should at least remind me there is a lot of work to!

Some steps towards a search strategy

Banner database Smithsonian Libraries

If you want to find more virtual exhibitions about indigenous people all over the world you can benefit as much as I have done so far from the marvellous database of the Smithsonian Libraries. Virtual exhibitions often provide a basic bibliography, bring you telling images and point to other relevant websites. Some of them are in a class of its own, and I cannot help pointing to the virtual exhibit about Aztec and Maya Law of the Tarlton Law Library, not just because Mike Widener helped creating it, but because of its excellent qualities.

Indigenous people live on all continents, and it is simply not feasible to present here an exhaustive search strategy. In this section I will look at some tools guiding you to digital collections with a focus on the United States, but often you might find materials relating to other countries, regions and people. Let’s start with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a portal created with the support of an increasing number of digital projects; I wrote here about it in 2013. The DPLA portal serves as an aggregator of these projects and you can enjoy the harvest. A blurb on the website tells us there are now nearly 12 million digitized items in the DPLA. When you use the subjects tab you will find a list in either alphabetical or descending order with the number of items for a particular subject. The general subject United States is used for 450,000 items, the highest number for any subject. The term Native Americans is good for nearly 70,000 items, Indians of North America for 22,000 items, and Indigenous population yields some 6,000 items.

A few weeks ago I noticed the link to the project Opening History of the Grainger Engineering Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign did not function anymore. This project was launched in 2007, and consisted of nothing less than an exhaustive searchable database for finding digital collections created by libraries, museums and archives in the USA concerning US history. When you still might mutter I did exclude aspects of history from my website you might question yourself why you never or seldom used this resource for doing North American history. The change of the university’s name into University of Illinois has to be taken into account for the changes in many web addresses. Under its new name IMLS Digital Collections and Content – and a new logo cleverly suggesting you look at a beta version of DPLA – you can search among some 2,400 digital collections. If this is too much of a good thing, you might like to look at two web guides of the Library of Congress, the first for State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical and Cultural Materials Collections, the second called State Resource Guides. When you use these overviews it might be enlightening to compare them with the links put together as Resources for Doing Legal History provided by the American Society for Legal History. A very practical need for historical research can be served by HISGIS systems such as the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Chicago, Newberry Library).

In an exchange with Klaus Graf a year ago at Archivalia – this happened originally at its old address – we discussed concisely the overviews of a number of suppliers of systems for digital collections. Graf admired the overview by Bepress of book and archival collections created by users of its Digital Commons system. However impressive this and four other lists of collections using this system are, they remain just alphabetically organized lists. I will not repeat here my discussion of other suppliers, but in my view the best representation of digital collections powered by the same system is the Collection of Collections database for the CONTENT-dm system, a product of OCLC. You can use the simple search or the advanced search to find collections for a particular subject. For tracking down a relevant collection among the nearly thousand digital collections you simply need a relational database. Since many of these collections are either based in the United States or deal with aspects of its history it is good to have a look at it. Part of the fun here is that the overview, too, has been built using this very collection system. In fact other suppliers, too, provide a database to search for particular digital collections using their systems. Alas there is only a list of examples for the open access Greenstone system.

Facing complexity

Let me close the circle of this post and return to the colonial period, and more specifically to New Amsterdam. The digital collections of the New York Public Library are a mer à boire. It is a joy to look at them and it makes your curious about what else you might encounter. Among the digital collections of Harvard University you should take a look at other projects concerning colonial history, Images of Colonialism: Africa and Asia and Harvard in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

If you conclude there is not a single gateway to the history of indigenous people, this mirrors exactly the challenge facing our world. The UNESCO devotes a section of its portal to indigenous people. If you want to look at current indigenous law, you could start with the concise research guide at Globalex. The complexity of matters touching indigenous people, the complexity of talking in a sensible and direct way about them, is not something coming out of the blue. History and law, legislation, jurisprudence and treaties, court decisions, legal education, the use of languages and much more come together here.

Sometimes you need to be pushed into action. Last week a tweet of David Armitage brought me to Rebecca Onion’s article at Slate on the colonial trade in North American slaves, more precisely, “Indians”. Yet another spur to write was this week’s post about Chief Justice Roger Taney at the Maryland Appellate Blog. I might perhaps have chosen ‘First Impressions’ as my title! This post is more or less a field report. It might be impossible to see and understand everything, but I am convinced you cannot reach perfection. You can only make faults and mistakes if you start at all with looking beyond your comfort zone and the tacitly agreed limits of a discipline. Keeping a portal on legal history up to date will always include making minor and major adjustments, spotting omissions, and gaining insight. To rephrase words of Timothy Radcliffe, if you want to debate the results, let’s talk about them, not to win an argument, but to become wiser together.

Serving the history of medieval law

Photo Frank SoetermeerThe medieval relation between Roman and canon law can in a way be summarized by the expression utrumque ius, “both laws”. Medieval lawyers working in the field of the learned law saw both legal systems as twins. One of the major stumble blocks in understanding the nature and medieval development of either system is exactly the stubborn way in which modern scholars often refuse to look in the garden of their neighbours. Sadly, these days a scholar who had the courage and all qualities to avoid this false separation and to bridge supposed and real gaps is no longer with us. This week the electronic news bulletin Rechtshistorisch Nieuws of our colleagues in Ghent contained a short obituary on Frank Soetermeer (February 7, 1949-January 6, 2016). Instead of focusing solely on his scholarly work I would like to honour him with some personal memories.

The first time I really met Frank Soetermeer was at the Gravensteen in Leiden in 1990. For many years the legal historians of Leiden had their offices in the old county prison. During a coffee break I saw a poster with an announcement about the International School of Ius Commune at Erice. Just when I had finished reading its text Frank Soetermeer showed up and told me he would be one of the scholars teaching that year. On arrival in Sicily I realized that apart from the poster and the encouraging words of Frank Soetermeer I did know hardly anything else about this event for graduate students! Soetermeer gave his audience a very fine lecture about the production of legal manuscripts at medieval universities. He spoke about his research with natural authority in calm but fluent French, and I shared the admiration for him with the other graduate students attending. That same year he gave me a copy of his dissertation, De pecia in juridische handschriften (diss. Leiden; Utrecht 1990).

Originally Frank Soetermeer came from Rotterdam, but he lived for many years in Utrecht and taught at Amsterdam. He visited Leiden regularly for the famous Friday afternoon seminar about medieval legal manuscripts held every winter and spring. A few years after the Second World War legal historian E.M. Meijers and palaeographer Gerard Lieftinck founded this seminar. Legal historians from several Dutch universities, be they versed in Old Dutch law or papyrology or just a young curious student, and a palaeographer of world renown, Peter Gumbert, met at the Gravensteen to read together the often tiny handwriting of remarkable manuscripts. In a year with river floods threatening the town of Culemborg we were fortunate to have in Leiden a medieval legal manuscript normally kept at the municipal archives of the former town. Few of us could possibly have seen as many manuscripts as Frank had, and we felt lucky with his presence. As on the photograph shown here a smile was never far from his face, but as often his eyes showed question marks signalling questions and points to be investigated. I remember Frank arriving at the Gravensteen almost always wearing a hat, a tradition he clearly enjoyed.

Few Dutch dissertations have been translated both into Italian and German. Soetermeer’s outstanding Ph.D thesis was translated as Utrumque ius in peciis: aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologna fra due e trecento, Giancarlo Errico (trad.) (Milan 1997) and Utrumque ius in peciis: Die Produktion juristischer Bücher an italienischen und französischen Universitäten des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts, Gisela Hillner (trad.) (Frankfurt am Main 2002). Frank discussed earlier research into the pecia system which had focused mainly on the field of medieval theology and on book production in Paris, and looked systematically at its use at the law faculties of medieval Europe. Fourteen articles have been reprinted with English summaries, additional information, corrections and useful indices in the volume Livres et juristes au Moyen Âge (Goldbach 1999). A very useful introduction in English to his studies of the pecia system is to be found in his article ‘Between Codicology and Legal History: Pecia Manuscripts of Legal Texts’, Manuscripta 49/2 (2005) 247-267. His article about Hostiensis (Henricus de Segusio) in Ius Commune 26 (1999) has been digitized in Frankfurt am Main. A quick look at his writings as included in the database with scholarly literature of the Regesta Imperii project at Mainz reveals he contributed nearly thirty biographical articles to the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, often abbreviated as BBKL or the “Bautz”. A fair number of his articles can be accessed in their original form or as preprints at Academia.

Only a few of Frank’s articles focused on medieval canon law, in particular ‘The origin of Ms. d’Ablaing 14 and the transmissio of the Clementines to the universities’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 54 (1986) 101-112, and ‘La proportion entre civilistes et canonistes à l’Université de Bologna vers 1270’, in: El Dret Comú i Catalunya: actes del IIIer Simposi Internacional, Barcelona, 5-7 de novembre de 1992, Aquilino José Iglesia Ferreirós (ed.) (Barcelona 1993) 151-166, but particular his contributions to the BBKL show his affinity and deep knowledge about canon law and major canon lawyers such as Guillaume Durand, Bernhard de Montmirat (Abbas antiquus), Oldradus de Ponte, Guido de Baysio (Archidiaconus) and Petrus de Sampsone.

On rare occasions I saw Frank in my home town Utrecht. The few times this did happen we both looked slightly bewildered, because Frank did travel much and we just did not expect to see each other in Utrecht. One of the happiest memories of briefly meeting Frank in Utrecht was when I saw him with Nella Lonza and their child. The happiness of Frank, of this couple with their child, is indeed a memory to treasure. It is with disbelief that I have to use the past tense in writing about him. If I had to single out any of his articles it would have to be ‘La carcerazione del copista nel pensiero dei giuristi bolognesi’, in: Gli ultramontani. Studi belgi e olandesi per il IX centenario dell’Alma Mater bolognese (Bologna 1990) 121-139, also in the Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 6 (1995) 153-189. Masters in Bologna and elsewehere argued about the way one could compel a scribe to finish writing a legal manuscript, including the small initials, see his study ‘Un problème quotidien de la librairie à Bologne: «Minora» manquants’, in: Excerptiones iuris. Studies in Honor of André Gouron, B. Durand and L. Mayali (eds.), (Berkeley 2000) 693-716. Frank Soetermeer showed how you cannot confine the study of law at the medieval universities to just one discipline. In his work he traced with patience and precision the impact of the learned law in medieval Europe, an impact beyond the pages of the manuscripts concerning legal doctrine. With the death of Frank Soetermeer we have lost a fine scholar, a true gentleman, a loving father and a steadfast companion of his beloved, a man to be remembered.