Suriname’s slavery registers unbound

Start screen slavery regisyers, Nationaal Archief, Suriname

On July 1, 1863 slavery was officially abolished in Suriname. A ten-year transitional period followed during which former slave owners received a monetary compensation for each former slave. Since many years people originally coming from Suriname celebrate in The Netherlands on July 1 the feast of Keti Koti, “The Breaking of the Chains”. It is only fitting that last week the digital version of slave registers kept between 1830 and 1863, now hold by the Nationaal Archief of Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo, was launched by a number of institutions led by Coen van Galen at the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and Maurits Hassankhan at the Anton de Kom Universiteit van Suriname, with support from the Dutch National Archives in The Hague.

Last year I reported here on the project to move a number of archival collections concerning the history of Suriname from the Dutch Nationaal Archief to the NAS, and to digitize also a number of these collections. Collections with relevancy to legal history figure large among them. The digitization of the slavery registers is a key element completing the efforts for digital access and conservation, indexing the registers and making them much more accessible for researchers and the general public worldwide. In this post I will look at these registers and their online presence.

A crowdsourcing project

Logo crowdsourcing project "Maak de Surinaamse slavenregisters openbaar"In January 2017 the project for indexation and digitization of these slavery registers started, just after the transfer of important archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo. A campaign with the slogan Maak de Surinaamse slavenregister openbaar, “Make the Surinam slavery registers public”, proved effective. Some 600 people donated money for the project, and some 400 volunteers helped indexing the registers. To put the record straight, anyone could and can come to these archives to gain access to the original volumes, provided their material state is not too fragile. It is safe to assume that you need to come with good arguments to touch them now they can be consulted online. The Dutch National Archives did already provide public access. The operation to bring archival collections back to Suriname created a more urgent need for conservation and digitization.

The digitized registers now in Paramaribo [NAS, toegang (finding aid) 16, inv.nrs. 1-43] can be accessed using an index form shown above. On purpose the NAS has not placed these registers among its forty digitized archival collections. The Dutch National Archives provide also online access to the slavery registers among its ever-growing set of online indexes. You can download the index in its entirety (4,2 MB, zipped file). At this point something becomes clear when you look at the URL of this file, a web address in The Netherlands at the search portal Ga het NA of the Nationaal Archief in The Hague. The search form of this digital resource at both archives is almost, but not completely identical.

Accessing the slavery registers

Logo Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

You can use either a simple search form (Eenvoudig zoeken) with three fields, one for a free text search and two fields for setting a period, or go to Uitgebreid (Advanced search) with more fields. In the second mode there are additional fields from the slave name, the name of the mother, and the name of the slave owner. You can click on the search results in order to get both the information on a person, including also gender, references to the registers and the type of register – with its inventory and page number – and an image of the page in question. It is possible to zoom in at will to any image. Each scan has an individual URL, a URL from my country when viewing individual results, meaning there is one single database behind the two versions. By clicking on the field name in the results you can change their order. You will find either the names of owners or the name of the plantation and its location.

NAS, series 16, no. 34, fol. 2667

It is not my purpose to single out here any defects and omissions, but a few things are very visible. First of all the version hosted in The Hague contains additional information which is not or not yet provided at the website of the NAS. The section Achtergrond (Background) informs you about the information given in the search fields, with a second page about slavery in Suriname and the introduction of slavery registers and their survival. There are important losses, not in the least some registers of slaves owned by the Dutch colonial government. In the registers mutations such as birth and death, acquisitions and sales should be written down. A third page on Gebruik (Use) contains instruction on the use of the indexes and the interpretation of results, and also a handy list of common abbreviations in the registers. The other pages contain a colophon about the project and the user license (CC-BY-SA 3.0 NL).

A second thing to note is the incomplete translations in the English version of the search form. Even the simple search form has not yet been translated completely. The field names in the results screen have not been translated. A much sillier thing becomes also visible: In cases where there is no gender information, the volunteers entered the word Leeg (Empty). I suppose there are more concise and effective ways to convey the fact that no data have been entered in a particular field.

Viewing the context

Using to a large extent at this moment only Dutch for this project is not a particular lucky thing, and you can even extend this to the project website. Translations in languages such as English and Sranantongo are not just welcome, they are simply needed to really open this resource to people worldwide with interest in Caribbean history, the history of slavery or Dutch colonial history. For any project on Dutch colonial history in the East Indies contemplating translations into English and/or Bahasa Indonesia is luckily a natural thing. The project team states flatly these registers are a worldwide unique resource, the only series of its kind. On the project website some further, rather important explanations about the actual state of the slavery registers are offered. It appears no general index to the series existed. Some registers could be consulted on microfiches, but without one or more indexes searching would mean wandering in a jungle without much hope for any results. The thing to note here is that only in 2017 the need for an index was perceived as sufficiently urgent to start a project to deal with this sorry situation. Earlier on having only severely hampered access seems not to have led to constructive action. Van Galen and Hassankhan rightly stress the importance of the slavery registers for not only genealogical research, but as a key resource to connect with the manumission registers, neighbourhood registers of the city Paramaribo and other sources for Suriname’s history during the nineteenth century. The historic context and the slavery registers can enrich the information contained in them in both directions.

Surely we need to thank Coen van Galen and Maurits Hassankhan and the army of volunteers who succeeded in getting their tasks completed in time. Van Galen and Hassankhan provide on the project website a very useful page with four PDF’s with information that should immediately be included on the websites of  both versions of the online index. The project leaders provide a list with the names of plantations and other Dutch posts in 1834 (530 kB), a list with the names of free people in Paramaribo in 1846 (2,2 MB), both created by Huub van Helvoort, a list with first names of enslaved people on a number of plantations (70 kB), and even a list of letter forms, letter combinations and some Dutch words in nineteenth-century Dutch script (650 kB). It is good to see some basic historical skills are not forgotten! However, to my disbelief I did not find on the project website the URL of the index, not even after a few days… The slogan Open the slavery registers seems to have been at least temporarily forgotten by the web team. More down to earth, the current summer heat in my country, the gulf of enthusiasm about the launch, and the very end of the academic year created perfect excuses for forgetting to open literally the doors to the final results of the project also at the project website. The absence of news items from June and July 2018 is another indication for the sleeping state of the project website.

Such omissions and minor problems can be fixed quickly. I would urge anyone involved with this project to proceed as soon as possible with distributing lacking information to both versions and completing the translations. This succesful project well deserves this last effort to remove the barriers and chains which hindered easy access and practical use. The slavery registers of Suriname deserve interest from many corners.

A postscript

The uniqueness of these slave registers should be considered in the light of the presence of similar registers held at the Nationaal Archief Curaçao (finding aid 005, Archief Koloniale Overheid, nos. 1-1070).

Advertisements

Diversity and unity: Raoul Charles van Caenegem (1927-2018)

Raoul Van caenegem - source: Academia Europaea, https://www.ae-info.org/On Friday June 15, 2018 Raoul van Caenegem passed away. Last week the legal historians of the Law Faculty at Ghent University, his alma mater, sent an in memoriam in a special issue of the Rechtshistorische Courant. The Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History published on June 25 a short notice about Van Caenegem. After some reflection about the right way to write here about Van Caenegem, translating these most fitting words from Flemish into English is probably the best thing to do.

Diversity and unity

After briefly mentioning his honours and awards the eulogy starts as follows: “The oeuvre of Van Caenegem is very diverse. A typical Van Caenegem story tells how he meets someone who expresses his admiration for his book. In such cases Van Caenegem did not reply “Which book?”, but remained friendly and tried to divine which book the other person could mean. Along his career Van Caenegem published about a wide range of subjects, making it difficult for relative outsiders to oversee his production. However, even knowing a small part of these publications leaves you mightily impressed. The editorial committee of the Rechtshistorische Courant will point here mainly to publications about legal history. Flemish medievalists do know him from his book on Flemish criminal law and criminal procedure in the fourteenth century, works inaccessible to foreign scholars because they have never been translated. It is the other way around with his Appels flamands, an edition of appeals from Flanders to the Parlement de Paris in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, widely read in France, but much less in Flanders.

The general public in Flanders knows Van Caenegem as the author of Geschiedenis van Engeland and Engeland Wonderland. His Flemish readers do not know generally about the praise of English legal historians for books such as Royal writs in England from the Conquest to Glanvill, The birth of the English common law and English lawsuits from William I to Richard I. English readers in turn might not know about the two general books on English history. Generations of Flemish students have toiled over Van Caenegem’s Geschiedkundige inleiding tot het recht, not knowing at that time this work has been translated meanwhile in languages ranging from English to Chinese, and that they are not used as student handbooks, but by graduate students and professors pf legal history and comparative law. Two other publications fit into the same row, Judges, legislators and professors and European law in the past and the future. Medievalists might pass these books, but they were able to benefit from the Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen and its later translations and adaptations such as the Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale. In this case Van Caenegem continued a work started by his own teacher François Ganshof, in other cases he was a pioneer without followers. For a general history of European procedural law you still have to turn to his synthesis in the History of European civil procedure. He was also the editor of many volumes and articles. There are two volumes for his English articles, but many could follow filling easily some bookshelves. We can point to his work on Flemish keuren – not only customary law, but also legislation by the Flemish counts, OV – and his studies about Galbert of Bruges.

The truly groundbreaking thing is Van Caenegem did not look upon old law as a national but an European phenomenon. Now it is commonplace to speak about European legal history, but this started only after 1990. Without diminishing the role of other great scholars we can safely say Van Caenegem’s handbook did play a vital role in this development. They helped lawyers all over Europe to realize this continent had once upon a time one common legal history, and that Europe is heading again to a shared legal culture. It is no coincidence that the European Society of Comparative Legal History awards since 2014 the R.C. Van Caenegem prize, named after the savant seen by this society as its great example. Van Caenegem himself did underline the fact European legal history in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period is not only a history of unity, but of diversity. Next to the great professors of the ius commune you can find the Grote Keure of Ghent. Long before the Brexit Van Caenegem emphasized how the common law was a strange element in the story of Europe. European law has many aspects. Van Caenegem knew as few others how to show this diversity for many branches of law: private law, criminal law, criminal procedure and public law. When you have an overview of Van Caenegem’s oeuvre you can only humbly confirm the words of an American scholar who many years ago said to a young student of Van Caenegem: You’ve been studying with God himself!”

A few words

I can confirm the mighty impression Van Caenegem could make when I remember my very first appearance for an audience of Belgian and Dutch legal historians. I felt instantly the presence of someone who was not only bodily, but also scientifically a giant with an inquisitive mind. In later years I knew also his kind but still towering presence. Fifteen years ago a vice-president of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences told how relieved he was when he finally knew how to address Van Caenegem without trembling to make a fault: mijnheer de baron, a consequence of the peerage bestowed on him.

For many years Van Caenegem served as a member on the governing board of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. He wrote in 2010 a lovely article about his own memories of great scholars for one of the scholarly journals of this institute, ‘Legal historians I have known: a personal memoir’Rechtsgeschichte/Rg 17 (2010) 253-299. Earlier this year I received a copy of the first Dutch edition (1962) of the Guide to the Sources of Medieval History. Even when it is clearly the work of both Ganshof and Van Caenegem you cannot escape from the thought Van Caenegem made already his imprint. For those thinking all his books have been mentioned above, I can mention at least one other book I have at home, Over koningen en bureaucraten. Oorsprong en ontwikkeling van de hedendaagse staatsinstellingen [On kings and bureaucrats. Origin and development of contemporary state institutions] (Amsterdam-Brussels 1977), a book on state formation, institutional history and public law. For decades Dutch legal historians and historians abroad saw his name on the cover of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. It will not help much to add here other things. We can only mourn with scholars at Ghent University the loss of Van Caenegem, we can share with them the profound gratitude for his countless services to European and legal history during his long and productive life.

A postscript

The blog of the association Standen en Landen / Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États published on June 19, 2018 an in memoriam in Dutch and French. On June 25, 2018 Maastricht University published a notice on its website with a drawing of Van Caenegem taken from his 2010 article in Rechsgeschichte/Rg.

Guidance to Early Modern legal procedure in the Dutch Republic

Cover "Procesgids Hof van Utrecht"Finding your way as a party or an advocate in trials in Early Modern Europe could be a daunting task. In our century some legal historians consider it important to offer some guidance to the way old courts worked. The Society for the History of Old Dutch Law has created a series called Procesgidsen with already nine volumes since 2000. This month appeared a guide written by J.M. Milo and E.G.D. van Dongen for the former provincial court of Utrecht [Procesgids Hof van Utrecht. Hoofdlijnen van het procederen in civiele zaken (Hilversum 2018; Procesgidsen, 10)]. A book presentation was held on June 8, 2018 in the inner city of Utrecht at the former building of this court, now one of the locations of Het Utrechts Archief. This post looks at the book presentation and of course at the new guide itself.

Ten guides

The former court of justice at Utrecht

Kaj van Vliet (Het Utrechts Archief) opened the session with a quick history of the historical premises of the old court. The Court of Utrecht was founded in 1530. At first its seat was close to the Habsburgian fortress Vredenburg (“Castle of Peace”). When the Dutch had freed themselves from the Spaniards, and after the demolition of the Vredenburg castle in 1579 the close association with the Spanish powers and authorities was no longer necessary or sensible. In 1580 the Reformation definitely took over in Utrecht. The court could move into the buildings of the former Benedictine St. Paul’s abbey. In the nineteenth century city architect Christiaan Kramm devised the facade still seen today. I show a part of the facade in the very banner of my blog. In the late twentieth century the rechtbank in Utrecht had to deal with a kind of diaspora with at least fifteen buildings. Some fifteen years ago a new building finally solved problems of space and coordination. I showed this building in my post on Lady Justice’s square.

Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief, The Hague), the editor of the guide series, invited us to imagine the fragmentation of the Dutch Republic which becomes very visible when you think of the different territories you will cross when travelling from the north, let’s say Groningen, to Holland. You had to face different jurisdictions, too. Brood underlined the way Marijke van de Vrugt wrote a draft for the Utrecht guide. At least two other guides are being prepared for the Society for the Study of Old Dutch law; these, too, will be published by Verloren. Emanuel van Dongen (Law School, Utrecht University) looked at one of the cases used in the guide to show the proceedings of the court. This case involved a charge of rape against lawyer and history professor Pieter Burman (1668-1741) in the early eighteenth century. The case kindled great interest among contemporary pamphleteers. Milo and Van Dongen had already discussed this case in their article ‘Echte mannen, woorden en daden. Eer en schuld voor het Hof van Utrecht in de achttiende eeuw’ [Real men, words and actions. Honour and guilt at the Court of Utrecht in the eighteenth century], Pro Memorie 19/2 (2017) 160-175. Kees van Schaik, a retired barrister who has mastered in three decades as few others the archival records of the Court of Utrecht (Het Utrechts Archief, finding aid (toegang) no. 239-1, Hof van Utrecht, 1530-1811), looked at a sixteenth-century case involving a lease of land by a farmer who had signed on purpose a very favorable contract which gave him space to escaping even these conditions.

Philip Langbroek, professor of justice administration and judicial organisation at Utrecht University, mused about the legitimation of Early Modern lawyers and their impact on law and justice. Did the overlap between the judicial elite and other elites damage the actual proceedings? This question is interesting, but Langbroek did not attempt to look at actual Early Modern cases, nor did he focus on the nomination of judges and lawyers admitted to the bar. J.O. Zuurmond, a judge at the current Rechtbank Midden-Nederland, put the proceedings of the second eighteenth-century case discussed in the guide – concerning an obligation to pay goods –  into the current way such cases are dealt with now by Dutch courts under new regulations – and computer systems – for civil procedure. The role of written documents will diminish radically. Finally, Michael Milo gave the first copy of the guide to E. Messer, vice-president of the Rechtbank Midden-Ned4erland

A new guide to the old Court of Utrecht

The volumes in the series Procesgidsen follow an established pattern of an introduction to the history of courts and the applicable laws, chapters about the jurisdiction, the judges and staff, the way proceedings in cases run according to the stilus curiae, the instructions and ordinances for court proceedings; a chapter or chapters showing one or more cases, sometimes also with an appeal procedure, and a guide to archival records and a concluding bibliography. The guides are mostly restricted to civil procedure. In this guide attention to archival records is shown by the effective use of images of procedural documents, but there is little guidance to the actual use of the records for the Early Modern court of Utrecht. However, all core elements of the series figure in this book, and the good use of photographs of legal documents is surely an asset, to be repeated in the upcoming volumes. Key passages of these documents have been translated which inter alia gives you an opening to Dutch palaeography in the way I lately discussed here.

Until recently researchers dealing with the former Court of Utrecht could benefit in particular from a book by Willem van der Muelen, Ordonnantie ende instructie op de stijl ende maniere van procederen, voor den hove van Utrecht, zoo in civile als crimineele zaken (…) (2 vol., Utrecht 1706-1707; online). He published a similar work for the city court, Costumen, usantien, policien ende styl van procederen der stadt, jurisdictie ende vryheid van Utrecht (…) (Utrecht 1709; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library). The phrase Costumen, usantien, policien ende stijl van procederen, to be translated as “Customary law, policy and procedural ordinance”, was used since the late sixteenth-century for similar works. The library of Het Utrechts Archief is home to a number of copies of these editions.

Sometimes a book or article can help you to overcome justifiable doubts about the feasibility of archival research into Early Modern courts. The series of books with essays on medieval ecclesiastical courts, edited by Charles Donahue Jr., did even more by inviting you to compare courts. The Dutch series Procesgidsen helps you to get quicker to the themes and subjects you want to study, and they help you to put these courts into perspective.

The Hafliðaskrá, a legendary law

Logo Islendinga Sogur, 2018This summer a very special commemoration will take place in Iceland. 900 years ago the first Icelandic laws, the Hafliðaskrá, came into existence. At the seventeenth International Saga Conference to be held at Reykjavik and Reykholt on August 12-17, 2018, the jubilee made it even into the title, Íslendinga sǫgur / 900 years Grágás Laws. What are the Gragas? What do we know about their relationship to this law? How does they relate to Icelandic sagas? I will try to provide an introduction to these laws and some answers to these questions. In two earlier posts Scandinavian laws came here already into view. The first post offered a general overview, and the second post looks at modern translations of Nordic laws.

Laws and literature

Medieval Iceland is famous for its sagas, legendary tales about Iceland’s medieval society with grisly stories, strong men and strange encounters. Icelandic is a language with roots in Old Norse. Approaching the sagas and the Edda, the most famous collection of sagas, is complicated by the existence of two versions, one in prose, the other in poetry.

Let’s first look at the Hafliðaskrá. If you would look in the Wikipedia in its various versions you will find only articles about this law in Icelandic, Swedish and Spanish. The lemma in the Icelandic Wikipedia is very short, the Swedish tells us more, and the Spanish points even to scholarly literature. The Hafliðaskrá is a set of laws proposed in the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, by Hafliði Másson and Bergþór Hrafnsson, a lögsögumaður, literally a law man, knowledgable about the law, a term not so far from the Latin iurisperitus. The Hafliðaskrá is also called the BergþórslögFor the first time in Iceland’s history laws were written down. The great paradox of the Hafliðaskrá is that there is no manuscript witness to its text. We know about it thanks to a saga. It is therefore unclear to which extent any laws issued in 1118 in the Hafliðaskrá are part of the Grágás law collection published around 1200.

Banner Handrit

For the Grágás 55 manuscripts are listed at the Icelandic manuscript portal Handrit, accessible in icelandic, Swedish and English. There is an entry for the Grágás in the English Wikipedia. By the way, this is the point to mention the online version of the Íslensk-ensk orðabók (Concise Icelandic-English Dictionary), online in the Icelandic digital collection of the University of Wisconsin. The etymology of the word Grágás is curious. Either they are literally the Grey Goose Laws, or they were supposed to have been written with goose quills. The bibliography by Halldór Hermannsson, The Ancient Laws of Norway and Iceland. A Bibliography (Ithaca, N.Y., 1911; Islandica, 4) has been digitized and can quickly be accessed as part of Cornell University’s Islandica: A Series in Icelandic Studies where the latest monographs in the Islandica series published since 2008 can be read online, too.

Gragas - ms. GKS 1157 fol., f. 84

The Grágás in the Konungsbok – Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, GKS 1157 fol., f. 84r – source: Handbok i norrøn filologi,
https://folk.uib.no/hnooh/handbok/index.html

Scholars view two manuscripts as the main textual witnesses of the Grágás, the Konungsbók [GKS 1157 fol., since 1979 in the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, Reykjavik; written 1240-1260] and the Staðarhólsbók [Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, AM 334 Fol., written 1260-1281], both accessible online at Handrit, the digital library of Icelandic manuscripts, The Konungsbók manuscript was held for a long period at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, hence its Latin designation Codex Regius. The Grágás were edited by Vilhjálmur Finsen, first from the Konungsbók, published as Grágás: Islændernes lovbog i fristatens tid (…) in four volumes between 1852 and 1870. Finsen added a Danish translation. The first volume of his edition is online at Baekur, the central Icelandic digital library, but you can find all four volumes in the Internet Archive. In 1879 Finsen’s edition of the Grágás in the Staðarhólsbók appeared. Peter Foote, Andrew Dennis and Richard Perkins translated the Grágás into English [Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás (2 vols., Winnipeg 1980-2006)]. You can read the text of the Grágás in Finsen’s edition (vol. 1) also online at the Icelandic Wikisource. Another online version of the first volume of Finsen’s edition is in fact a reprint [Grágás. Konungsbók (Odense 1974)] which mentions other translations, in Latin, Hin forna lögbók Íslendínga sem nefnist Grágás. Codex juris Islandorum antiquissimus qui nominatur Grágás, Johan Frederik Vilhelm Schlegel (ed. and transl.) (Hafniae 1832) and in German, Islandisches Recht. Die Graugans, Andreas Heusler (transl.) (Weimar 1937), published in the series Germanenrechte of the Akademie für Deutsches Recht, an institution created in 1933 to support ideas of the Nazi regime about law and order in the Third Reich. J.F.W. Schlegel (1765-1836) was a Danish nephew of the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel. Heusler (1865-1940) was a Swiss medievalist and a specialist of Germanic and Scandinavian languages literature. Earlier he published for example a study on criminal law in the sagas, Das Strafrecht der Isländersagas (Leipzig 1911; online, Internet Archive).

German scholars have continued to study the language of the Grágas in great detail, leading to studies like such as Wortschatz der altisländischen Grágás (Konungsbók) by Heinrich Beck (Göttingen 1993). More recently appeared the monograph by Hans Henning Hoff, Hafliði Másson und die Einflüsse des römischen Rechts in der Grágás (Berlin 2012) who studies the person of Hafliði Másson and looks at the influence of Roman law and Christianity on laws in medieval Iceland. He also gives an overview of early Icelandic laws and their manuscript transmission.

While reading about the Grágás it becomes clear this name has been used only since the sixteenth-century. It must be remembered, too, that Iceland lost its independence in the years 1262-1264 to Norway. There is a very substantial distance in time between the surviving manuscripts and their redaction in their rather loose form transmitted over the centuries. Only a few leaves from the twelfth century with laws knwon later from the Grágás have survived [AM 315 d fol, dated 1150-1175]. Alas they are only partially readable at the surface without special light and other modern tools. At Handritin heima, a website in Icelandic, Swedish, Danish and German, you will find palaeographical and codicological guidance to medieval Icelandic manuscripts. We must remember in particular the efforts of Árni Magnússon (1668-1730) to save Icelandic manuscripts and books, but in 1728 a fire in Copenhagen destroyed many printed books and luckily only a smaller number of manuscripts in his house. Lost forever were thus early versions of famous texts such as the Heimskringla. For the prose version of the Edda the Codex Traiectinus, a manuscript written on paper around 1600 and held at Utrecht since 1643 (Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, ms. 1374; digital versionSpecial Collections UB Utrecht) is one of only four more or less complete surviving manuscripts.

Banner Stofnún Arni Magnússonar

The Stofnún Arna Magnússonar (SAM) in Reykjavik honours Magnusson’s heritage and scholarly work and promotes research in the field of Iceland’s cultural history. The institute hosts a number of projects and databases. Six language projects are presented at the Malid portal. The SAM has also created the Íslenskt textasafn, an Icelandic textual corpus, and the ISLEX Orðabókin, a multilingual online dictionary for the various Scandinavian languages. One of the projects awaiting completion is an online catalog of Icelandic manuscripts in Canada and the United States.

The University of Copenhagen has become the home of the Den Arnamagnæanske Kommission, a commission founded in 1772 to govern the Arnamagnæanske Stiftelse, the foundation that safeguarded Magnusson’s manuscripts, books and papers. You can read online at Baekur the 1889 catalogue of the 3,000 manuscripts of which 1,400 remain in Copenhagen. The Danish institute has created a separate website about medieval Nordic manuscripts and the online Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog, a dictionary for Old Norse and Icelandic prose. The project for The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary has so far resulted in a series of translations and studies, and an indispensable bibliography which you can download. Creating the dictionary will be a work for many years. At Septentrionalia you can find a PDF version of Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen’s Grundwörterschatz Altisländisch (1999).

There is a clear tradition of studying Icelandic law in connection with Icelandic literature. This tradition is at work, too, in the choice of themes in the section around the Grágás of the conference in August 2018. Among the themes are the contrast between oral and written culture, the history of legal and administrative institutions, ecclesiastical versus secular law, and of course law and legal culture in the Icelandic sagas. The role of legal knowledge in politics and the historiography of medieval law and legal culture, too, will come into view. One of the things shown here at several points is the need to look at resources in neighbouring Scandinavian countries when you are studying one of them., but of course it is wonderful to go to all these Icelandic digital resources with their short names! While writing the last paragraphs of this post the weather in my country was rather hot. Hopefully it did not lead me to serious errors or omissions. Comments and additional information are always welcome, and to many posts I have added postscripts. Let’s hope the weather and volcanoes on Iceland will not disturb the conference in August.

A broad view on broadsides

Broadside "John Bull, can you wonder at crime", ca. 1860

Broadside “John Bull, can you wonder at crime?”, ca. 1860 – image The Lawbook Exchange Ltd. (no. 11 in the catalog)

It is the happy liberty of any blogger to choose themes and subjects at will, but sometimes they advert themselves readily. The last years I have written a few times about recent catalog of antiquarian booksellers. In this post I would like to look at a catalog concerning thirty American and British broadsides. Broadsides and pamphlets, including even broadside ballads, have figured here on several occasions. It led me eventually to creating an overview of digital pamphlet collections at my website. This time I will also discuss a matter which is very visible but not always seen in its full implications. Every item in the catalog is offered for a prize which is closely linked with its rarity. Which criteria are commonly used? Is it possible to establish more about the presence of rare books in the collections of libraries and other institutions? Where is the line between a general approach and more detailed procedures? Some roads may be well known, others might not be as obvious as you tend to assume.

Thirty broadsides

Last week the Lawbook Exchange Ltd., a well-known firm from Clark, New Jersey, alerted to a new catalog figuring thirty American and British broadsides, and also one French item. You can view the catalog online or download a PDF version (2,4 MB). You can change the order of the items in eight ways, depending on your wish to see them in alphabetical or chronological order of the titles or the authors, or perhaps starting with the highest prize. The highest prize in this catalog is for the broadside A brief account of the execution of six militia men!!, published in 1828 in the campaign against Andrew Jackson. The catalog refers to a bibliography by Shaw and Shoemaker who did not record this publication.

The second highest prize is for a British broadside published around 1850 with a satirical attack on lawyers, Beware Important Caution Beware of a Pair of Bipeds (…), a broadside which looks like an official notification. The staff of The Lawbook Exchange states they were unable to find any copy of this broadside Let’s not forget to mention at least the only French broadside of the catalog, an arrêt of the Conseil du Roi concerning merchants published at Aix-en-Provence in 1765. The catalog comments that the survival of this notice meant to be posted at market places is remarkable, and adds “No copies located on OCLC”.

Logo KIT Karlsruhe

I could have taken you here on a tour through a number of broadsides concerning trials, but somehow the notices about the rarity of the items caught my eyes and kept resonating. The simplest thing to note is that OCLC is the firm behind WorldCat, by no means the only product of this firm. WorldCat is a meta-catalog harvesting its results directly from a vast number of library catalogs all over the world. In this respect it differs from the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) which uses mainly national and regional union catalogs which may lag behind in the actual state of library holdings. One of the reasons to look beyond WorldCat is the fact some rather large libraries have not yet joined WorldCat. Utrecht University Library, not the smallest Dutch library, will join only in August this year, yet another thing that made me reflect.

The KVK gives you access to German and Swiss regional catalogs. It dawned on me regional catalogs in other countries might well exist, even if they are not or not yet accessible using the KVK. At first I did not readily find a single resource for national union catalogues and regional catalogs. I cannot hide the fact the Dutch union catalog, the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, is only accessible at subscribing libraries and for their cardholders. A second Dutch union catalog, the Catalogus Plusbibliotheken (WSF), leads you in open access to the holdings of fourteen Dutch research libraries. For Belgium I could quickly trace Antilope, a city union catalog for Antwerp, and Cageweb, a meta-catalog for the libraries of Ghent University, two valuable resources which supplement UniCat, the union catalog of Belgian university libraries.

The KVK does indeed include all German regional catalogues. Some of the five regional catalogues – GBV, KOBV, HEBIS, SWB and BVB – cover libraries in several Bundesländer, a thing which clearly escaped me. For a number of smaller regions and some cities there are smaller sets taken from a main regional catalog. Instead of guiding you to them you might benefit also from two other German union catalogues for a particular kind of libraries, the Kirchlicher Verbundkatalog and the Virtueller Katalog Theologie und Kirche, an offspring of the KVK.

A gateway to gateways and catalogs

Banner ShareILL

I did not find a good overview of relevant catalogs until I realized I had searched with a focus on meta-catalogs. Using the term (national) union catalog proved to be crucial. I finally arrived at ShareILL with among its finding aids and tools its impressive list of gateways and union catalogs. The list thoughtfully refers also to a number of union catalogs for serials, but the most important thing is the inclusion of a number of regional catalogs, making me curious about more examples. Let’s stick here with British and American libraries, but it is of course possible to mention other interesting regional catalogs. For 25 libraries in London and the surrounding area you can benefit from Search25. The Serials Union Catalogue (SUNCAT) has a useful overview of comparable projects and union catalogs. Alas some links seem to be broken, but you can for example use the UK Union Catalogue of Chinese books hosted at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Valuable are also the references to projects for a survey of special collections, MASC25 for the London area, hosted at University College London, and RASCAL for special collections in Ireland. The SCORE project for searching printed British company reports survives in an archived version created by the National Archives.

The list at ShareILL for the United States looks rather short, but it includes the vast overview of Z39.50 compliant libraries created by the Library of Congress. The overview deal also with union catalogs in other countries, and although it indicates regional catalogs these are almost only public libraries. The Library of Congress provides a special Z39.50 entrance to these catalogs, for example for the Five Colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMass Amherst). The overview does mention Melvyl, the central catalog of the university libraries within the University of California, nowadays fully searchable at a subdomain of WorldCat. I was aware of the CARLI regional catalog for research libraries in Illinois, but at first I found only a few other examples, the JerseyCat for New Jersey and the WRLC Catalog of the Washington Research Libraries Consortium. At LibWeb, the most extensive survey of libraries worldwide, you can easily find regional library consortia in the United States, but only seldom you will encounter research libraries in the very names of projects. I am sure there is more than meets the eye! For the purpose of this post I must mention at least New York Heritage, a portal to digitized collections in the state New York, and the digital collections of the New York Public Library. The NYPL refers to digitized versions in licensed collections of copies of two other editions of the 1828 anti-Andrew Jackson pamphlet (Shoemaker no. 32473). An overview of union catalogs for states in the United States can be found at the website accompanying Godfrey Oswald’s Library World Records (3rd ed., 2017), and he gives even more overviews of union catalogs elsewhere in the world.

In my view it makes sense to refer to specific libraries or even to digital collections when you deal with specific items. For no. 26, a broadside from 1783 announcing a tax in Massachusetts, the staff of The Lawbook Exchange rightly point to a bibliography of early Massachusetts imprints, but they could have referred also to libraries such as Harvard University Library, the Boston Public Library, the library of Boston College, the Boston Athenaeum or the Massachusetts Historical Society. For Confederate imprints pointing to the Boston Athenaeum is surely advisable, because there is for these imprints both a digital collection and a digitized bibliography.

The road of bibliographies

Mentioning Shoemaker brings me to bibliographies of a particular kind. Specialized bibliographies, both in print and online, are a second resource to gain information about books concerning a particular period, author, subject, publisher or publications from a particular town or country. In the case of Shaw and Shoemaker we need to distinguish between the printed bibliographies by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, American bibliography; a preliminary checklist for 1801-1819 (New York, 1958) and the multi-volume publication A checklist of American imprints 1820-1829 (10 vol., New York, 1964-1973). The licensed online version by the firm Readex abbreviated as Shaw-Shoemaker has as its full title Early American Imprints II; Shaw-Shoemaker 1801-1819, with some 36,000 imprints. For a book or pamphlet printed in 1828 the references in the catalog with thirty broadsides are to the printed edition.

If you look closely at the items in the catalog with thirty broadsides you will notice not every description contains references to online catalogs and relevant bibliographies. For no. 1, $50.00 Reward! The Above Reward will be Paid for the Recovery the [sic] Body of Miss Jennie Warren (…), a broadside from Illinois printed in 1875, we read it is an unrecorded broadside, without indicating which resources have been used. In this case you might conclude thus when you do not find this broadside in the CARLI union catalog for Illinois, the Library of Congress, the KVK, and perhaps as an addition the general catalog of the American Antiquarian Society. Thanks to an initiative of the University of Michigan you can perform full text searches in the digitized version of the National Union Catalog Pre-1956 imprints in the Hathi Trust Digital Library, searching the title of this particular broadside in the online version is challenging. To me it seems more convincing to indicate where you sought without any result than to state merely something is unrecorded.

I would feel perfectly happy when for example the 1836 ordinance on market law in Albany (no. 2) was not found in the New York State Library in Albany, the New York State Archives and the New York Public Library. There is a union catalog for libraries in New York, ConnectNY. No. 4, a broadside about the trial and execution of Henry Anderson in 1822, presented as an item unrecorded in WorldCat and the British COPAC, can nevertheless be found in WorldCat with even a link to a digitized version in Harvard University’s crime broadsides project. The point for me is not to point to any fault or omission, but to underline the need for a consistent approach. For no. 21, Ein neues Lied von der Mord-Geschichte des Joseph Miller (…) (s.l., s.n., [1822]) the bibliographical information is very substantial. Hermann Wellenreuther counted in Citizens in a Strange Land A Study of German-American Broadsides and Their Meaning for Germans in North America, 1730–1830 (University Park, PA, 2013) sixteen editions of this text. It seems this is indeed an unrecorded copy of a most rare edition. PennState University Libraries have created a digital collection with some 1,890 items for these German broadsides which were especially published in Pennsylvania.

Broadsides in digital collections

Banner Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders - Harvard Law School

Trial pamphlets and broadsides have been lucky in digitization projects. My interest in the thirty broadsides of this catalog is also linked with my general interest in digitized pamphlets and broadsides. A few years ago I started with a page on my legal history website for digital collections in this particular field. Apart from the collection mentioned above at Harvard Law School I have checked for the presence of the broadsides under discussion also in the Trial Pamphlets Collection of Cornell University Library. You will spot in my overview at least fifteen digitized collections with broadsides in the United States. In the United Kingdom only a few collections deal explicitly and exclusively with broadsides. On the other hand broadside ballads are rightly regarded as a distinct subgenre, and I have recorded digital collections dealing with them. You might want to read my 2017 post about broadside ballads.

In December 2017 a three-year cataloging project at Het Utrechts Archief ended for some 5,000 Early Modern municipal and provincial ordinances. Archives are the place where you can expect ordinances which have sometimes been published both as pamphlets and as broadsides. In a splendid volume with scholarly articles about Early Modern broadsides, Broadsheets. Single-sheet publishing in the first age of print (Leiden 2017), edited by Andrew Pettegree, the presence of broadsides in archives is a subject which Pettegree rightly mentions in the introductory chapter. Broadsides have not always received the attention they deserve. Their ephemeral nature has been taken for granted. Some of the leading bibliographical projects for Early Modern books even excluded broadsides, among them the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) and the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV). However, the STCV has now started to include Flemish broadsides as well, and even gives them a paragraph in the cataloging manual. Pettegree notes Anton van der Lem has entered sixteenth-century broadsides for the STCN. The introduction by Pettegree is a must-read for anyone interested in broadsides. For Italy Pettegree mentions projects and books concerning governmental publications printed as broadsides. In a post two years ago I could even point to digital collections with Italian Early Modern bandi from Rome, Bologna and Venice. What holds true for Early Modern editions can to a large extent be extended to later editions.

Multiple roads to go

At the end of this rather long post I guess we just touched the surface of a subject deserving detailed attention. Is it possible to give a concise rule for indicating facts about the uniqueness or common presence of old books, prints and broadsides? WorldCat contains information from more libraries than any other resource, but I find it often cumbersome to find in WorldCat which library contributed the information about a specific item. The KVK is strong for European collections and does harvest apart from national union catalogs a number of regional catalogs. We have seen it is possible and feasible to use these regional library catalogs whenever this is sensible. Sometimes you will point to a few libraries where you expect items to be, such as the Library of Congress, major national and university libraries. Legal historians will think of the holdings of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. The Vatican Library is of course another institution with very rich holdings. Specialized bibliographies help very much to gain deeper insight.

In the face of an increasingly international public it makes sense to enlarge the references to them in order to prevent an impression of sharing arcane information with the happy few who are nourri dans le sérail. I would prefer putting the references in a separate paragraph of the description of an item in a book seller’s catalog. By looking also at archives and their collections you can do justice to the fact broadsides are different from books. In archives you might find more broadsides than you expect. Awareness of both archival collections in libraries and of books and broadsides in the holdings of archives broadens your view and can be most helpful. How to achieve this? Scholars, librarians, archivists and antiquarian booksellers need each other and the services they can provide.

To sum up, mention where you searched for information, thus honouring the principle of responsible incompleteness, use both WorldCat and the KVK, remember also to use the catalogs of libraries and archives nearby, or look at specific libraries, and use relevant printed and online bibliographies. Any time you can add something important from your own knowledge and experience you should feel free to put it into action! In an increasingly virtual world it is good to remember you will find these bibliographies – and access to licensed online resources – in research libraries. As users we should wake up when we read words like rare and unique, but let’s not blame a book seller for wanting to create an interest in his goods.

The Lawbook Exchange Ltd., Clark, NJ: 30 Broadsides, May 8, 2018

Comparing law professors of the past

Sometimes I feel the sad duty here to write about recently deceased legal historians. In a brief post you will read foremost about the person, but much less about his background, the places where worked as a judge, a law professor or in other professions. Today I would like to look here at some projects which bring many law professors of the past together. I will focus on a French and a Spanish project, though projects from other countries will not completely be overlooked. In some cases I will look at individual professors, too.

I was alerted to both projects thanks to a blog that started in March 2018, The Making of Legal Knowledge, a international blog with a French and Italian subtitle on legal history and its historiography.

Looking at generations in France

Screen print SIPROJURIS

The first project in this post is already a few years active, but I spotted the second one only recently. Let’s start in France with the database of SIPROJURIS, an acronym for “Système d’information des professeurs de droit (1804-1950)”, an information system on law professors between 1804 and 1950. Siprojuris is a project of Catherine Fillon (Université Saint-Étienne) with the support of Jean-Louis Halpérin (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) and Frédéric Audren (CNRS). Many other French scholars contribute to this project. The database can be approached in three ways, by looking at the professors (enseignants), at their institutions (établissements) and at the disciplines they taught (enseignements). The corner called Statuts provides welcome information on the legal and educational position of French law professors from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and thus you can find out about the differences between a chargé de cours, a chargé de conférences, a professeur suppléant, a professeur titulaire sans chaire and of course those with the fullest possible positions. There are even a few paragraphs about the rank of law professors during the Ancien Régime. The page Sources dépouillées (Sources used) looks at the kind of sources used to compile the database. Information in the Quidam database of the Archives nationales de France has been corrected whenever necessary. It is important to note that a number of dossiers kept at Fontainebleau is since 2014 not accessible.

The Spirojuris database sets 1804 as its terminus post quem, but when a person did teach already before 1804 you will find also information about this earlier period. Jean-François Berthelot (1744-1814) taught for example already in Paris since 1779. Thus this database helps you to gain insight in personal continuity between the Ancien Régime and the nineteenth century. Information about persons has been divided on seven tabs, for external life dates (élements biographiques), training and qualifications (Formation et diplômes), university career, scientific production and information on family matters. bibliographical information and an interactive map. The length of the bibliographical section with an overview of publications differs widely in length and substance.

The heading Enseignements has a few surprises in stock. First of all the number of distinct subjects taught at French law faculties is striking, more than 200. The well-known diversity of subjects in modern law schools is not a new thing. The tradition of major and minor legal subjects is another factor which explains this high number, and this division explains to a certain extent also the different kind of chairs and charges. By clicking on a discipline you get an overview which you can sort by starting and end date. You can also search for a particular discipline and filter for a particular period.

Among the qualities of Spirojuris is the fact it enables you to look beyond professors teaching in Paris. You can see much better the differences between Paris, its central place in France and its relations with other towns and regions. The inclusion of the law faculty at Algiers – from 1907 – onwards is another asset. Sadly on the days I looked at Spirojuris the section on law faculties and other institutions did not work.

The Spirojuris project is connected to the Héloïse network for digital academic history, an European for similar projects. Their website gives an overview of relevant repositories and databases.

While writing about Spirojuris I remembered two virtual exhibitions about French nineteenth-century lawyers. You can find these exhibitions on the special page for virtual exhibitions of my legal history portal Rechtshistorie. The Special Collections of the University of Missouri have created a small online exhibit on the Life of Geofroi Jacques Flach (1846-1919). Flach was born in Strasbourg. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the German army captured his native town. Flach decided to go to Paris. He became a specialist in the field of comparative law, but he also studied a wide variety of subjects in legal history. In 1920 6,000 books from his library were acquired by the University of Missouri. The second virtual exhibition, Paul Viollet (1840-1914): “Un grand savant assoiffé de justice”, Université Paris-I, is much more elaborate. It tells the story of an archivist who became the librarian of the law faculty at Paris. He led the construction of a new law library, and he became also a law professor. It is no coincidence that he was interested in legal history, publishing a number of manuals on French legal history. Viollet was not afraid to take a stand in contemporary debates. He defended the rights of indigenous people at a time this was not at all fashionable.

Teaching law in Spain

Header Diciconario de catedráticos

The second project in this post is duly noted at the Héloïse platform. For Spain the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid is home to the Diccionario de catedráticos españoles de Derecho (1847-1943). Scholars from twelve Spanish universities helped to create this online dictionary; you can find under Miembros information about them and a list of the entries they contributed. The rather special time period, 1847 to 1943, has its own explanation. In 1847 the first ranking of catedráticos (professorships) was established, and in 1943 the regime of general Franco issued the Ley de Ordenación Universitaria which led to the expulsion of some seventy law professors, here found under the heading Depurados. The methods followed for creating this biographical dictionary and the main sources used are explained under Metodologia. You can easily go to the lists of professors for sixteen universities.

The overview of subjects (Materias) shows fifteen main subjects, but for example for Historia del derecho, legal history, you will find also the specific names of variant titles and adjacent subjects. Among the subjects I saw Oratoria forense, “legal rhetorics”. Perhaps French students did not need lessons to speak eloquently, or is there indeed a connection with views about the rational and scientific against a more theatrical way to present facts? Apart from the expelled professors there is also a section on professors who went into exile (Exilio) at other moments and for other reasons.

The main difference between the French and the Spanish project is the fact that Spirojuris has a searchable database. Of course the pages for a particular professor have great similarities. Instead of tabs for different aspects the Spanish website has made anchors enabling you to jump immediately to the things you want to know. For many professors the Spanish project provides also a portrait photo. The Spanish project is far more detailed than its French counterpart. The French project clearly aims at providing information with a standard format, something surely necessary when you want to create an effective database. The section Documentación gives a chronological list of recent publications around the project or concerning a particular law faculty, a scholarly field or a school of thought and its impact.

Beyond France and Spain

The overview of resources at the Héloïse platform is the natural place to start when you look for other projects with similar aims for other countries. In the overview at Héloïse he closest to the two projects discussed here above comes the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum (RAG) for graduated scholars in the Holy Roman Empire between 1250 and 1550, but this resource offers you not only professors, let alone only law professors. The links section of the RAG is rich and varied, but it does not contain something akin to Spirojuris and the Diccionario. For France you will certainly want to know about the databases in the Pool Corpus of the Institut Nationale Universitaire Jean-François Champollion, but the university databases deal either with individual universities (Paris, Caen, Toulouse) or with foreign students in Early Modern France.

A few years ago I looked here in other posts at legal portraits, at medieval prosopography and at medieval tombstones. I hoped to find something among the links in these posts, but alas they do not bring me further for today’s subject. I thought there was a similar resource for Belgium at the Belgian Digithemis platform, but you will find there a database for Belgian magistrates. The links section of Digithemis brought me to another French project, also concerning magistrates, the Annuaire rétrospectif de la magistrature, XIXe-XXe siècles (Jean-Claude Farcy and Rosine Fry, Université de Bourgogne),

For Italy I checked the links section of the Centro interuniversitario per la storia della Università italiane (CISUI, Bologna), but you will find apart from a project on the arts and medicine faculties and a project for medieval Siena and Perugia only projects for individual universities. CISUI strangely does not mention the bilingual project at Bologna with the colourful title Amore scientiae facti sunt exules (ASFE), “Love for science made them exiles”, with databases giving for the Early Modern period the names of students at Bologna (Onomasticon Studii Bononiensis), for all Italian universities doctoral degrees conferred (Italici Doctores), and Iter Italicum, the presence of foreign students at Italian universities between 1500 and 1800.

However, there is one resource for German-speaking countries indeed worth mentioning. Using a very simple web design Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) succeeds in publishing a legal history portal with many sides. A major feature is the section for the biographies of contemporary jurists, Wer ist wer im deutschen Recht, and a similar section Wer war wer im deutschen Recht for deceased German lawyers. Koebler brings us succinct standardized biographies, without sacrificing important details. For twentieth-century lawyers he is keen on noting their whereabouts and role(s) during the Third Reich. Koebler does not restrict himself to law professors, but includes also persons with other roles in the legal world of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Koebler helps with references to biographical publications, too.

I suppose you should see my notes on Italy and Germany as an embellishment of a post focusing on France and Spain, but making comparisons is after all the theme of this post. The two projects have different qualities, and it is interesting to see how the French and the Spanish team approached their goals, set limits and designed a structure for the online presentation. Both projects made me curious to look at other countries. Hopefully you enjoy looking in these resources as much as I do. If you know about other projects well worth presenting here, do not hesitate to contact me about them!

A new resource on the legal history of violence in the United States

Banner Repsoitory of Historical Guin law - Duke University

At least on a few occasions even historians who try to remain detached from contemporary matters cannot escape from them. A blog dealing with law and history inevitably will touch major themes such as injustice, inequality, violence and slavery, things that are still present in our world, and are definitively not only history. The four themes mentioned here set a challenge to anyone thinking and writing. The subject of violence I have chosen for this post does not come completely unexpected. This month I read a notice about a new scholarly resource on the history of legislation about arms in the United States. Joseph Blocher and Darrell Miller (Duke University School of Law) have created a repository of historical gun laws. I will discuss here its contents and functions. By looking briefly at some contemporary resources on violence I will not shut out the present here entirely.

Finding laws

Blocher and Miller explain the way they compiled the information for their repository quite clearly. The first thing to notice is that the database does not contain the latest laws, statutes and other regulations. You will find English laws starting in the Middle Ages up to 1776, American legislation for the colonial period from 1607 to 1791, the year the American constitution was ratified, laws around the Fourteenth Amendment, and legislation up to the National Firearms Act of 1934. Colonial legislation has been limited to legislation in later American states. The legislation entered into the repository has been taken from regular resources such as well-known licensed databases on legislation by the Congress and state statutes, the Making of Modern Law, Yale Law School’s Avalon project and more general sources. A search for items mentioning the word gun was performed for the Session Laws. In the Making of Modern Law Blocher and Miller searched for the words gun(s), rifle(s) and pistol(s). The editors decided not to include every local regulation for every period. Sometimes a statute merely repeats earlier legal enactments. The spelling of older texts has been adjusted. On the blog of Duke Law School Blocher and Miller told on April 4, 2018 more about their project which contains currently some 1,500 items. They propose to add continuously newly discovered statutes, to expand the information for the colonial period, and of course they will correct factual errors.

Instead of creating at the outset a database with complete coverage of all possible legislation the two scholars at Duke did very sensible aim to deliver a set of materials which cover a most substantial period with due attention to colonial history. In the repository you can search at will using the free text field, and set filters for seventeen particular themes, for example militia regulations, hunting, manufacturing, sensitive places and times, race and slavery, and involvement of minors. It is possible to limit your search to specific years, and you can search for English law and for legislation from one or more states. The repository gives the texts of provisions, labelled with the usual current legal reference. A link to the sources used is also given. Thus you will find an act about the storage of weapons enacted on March 24, 1629 by the state Virginia with the reference 1629 Va. Acts 151, Acts of March 24, 1629, Act 5, and in this case a link to a digitized version in the Internet Archive of The statutes at large, being a collection of all the law of Virginia (…) (New York,1823). This statute at page 151 of the edition dealt with potash and nitre (saltpeter), vital ingredients for gunpowder.

The repository has six statutes on storage between 1607 and 1776, and eight from 1776 to 1791, and you will find 54 statutes on this subject from 1791 to 1861. Storage is the subject of 191 statutes in this database. I would not have labelled a statute of king Alfred from 890, the oldest law in the repository, about the way one has to carry a spear under storage, but under carrying weapons. The source used for this law is not given. In the edition of F. Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (3 vol., Halle, 1903-1916) it is probably the statute no. 33 (I, 68-71). Of course this is only a detail, and one that can be quickly adjusted. The possibility of classifying statutes under two labels is certainly a matter needing attention. However, the important thing is that this repository enables you to pose questions about a particular genre of gun laws with a more than reasonable chance to find sufficient coverage. Thanks to the project Early English Laws I could quickly search for this medieval law.

At this point it becomes interesting, too, how we encounter laws with a relation to racial matters in the Duke repository. I will not spoil here your own curiosity by giving here a number of results for all subjects. For race and slavery you will find an overall total of 38 results. Here I cannot help thinking about Hein’s massive digital collection Slavery in America and the World where you can certainly find more or at least make valuable comparisons of the coverage. In 2016 I have discussed here at length some of its flaws and omissions, but it is a very valuable collection. Some quick searches among slavery statutes brought me already dozens of statutes which seem relevant for comparisons. Minors and other persons deemed irresponsible occur in 67 results in the Duke repository. Apart from statutes and regulations you will see also references to state constitutions and codes of law.

From the past to the present

It is not a regular thing to encounter a database with matters from the ninth to the early twentieth century. One of the compliments you must make to Blocher and Miller is that the quality of the repository makes one thirst for a sequel into the present. I suppose the editors reckon with the ability to find relevant legislation quickly, using either the licensed databases accessible at American law schools and elsewhere in research libraries, or the marvellous sets of digitized legal materials put online by the Law Library of the Library of Congress, together with links to other resources in open access. If you want to find online more about American legal history you can benefit from Legal History on the Web, the portal site of the Triangle Legal History Seminar at Duke University, for Blocher and Miller perhaps too obvious to mention!

It is impossible to ignore the current turmoil and debate about violence and gun laws in the United States. It would mean ignoring an elephant in the room. I was surprised the ever vigilant team of the Legal History Blog had not yet written something about the Duke repository. Maybe other recent news from Duke University was considered more pressing. The urgency of the situation around the use, abuse and possession of arms is clear to me, but here I can and will not offer my thoughts about possible remedies. For further information you can consult online websites such as the Gun Violence Archive, the Mass Shooting Tracker based on crowdsourcing, and Mass Shootings in America of the Stanford Geospatial Center. Projects such as Every Town for Gun Safety and The Trace bring news and background information concerning shootings, gun related violence, gun possession and gun laws in a larger context. At Mother Jones you can find a dataset concerning mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and 2018. SafeHome has an online dossier Gun Laws vs. Gun Deaths with maps showing the differences between American states.

Judicial statistics can generally be found at the website of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Its page on weapon use will be at the focus of your attention. Those with access at a subscribing institutions can use the online edition of the Historical Statistics of the United States, where you can buy also two-day access to individual parts of it, or you can use the open access version of Historical Statistics of United States, Colonial Times to 1970 provided by the United States Census Bureau which brings you also to statistics for individual states. For statistical comparisons between countries one might start at the Swedish portal for historical statistics with as its core data for 21 countries.

If I had decided to follow here the path of historical statistics I would have added a second post. I am well aware more can be said, and that there are probably other online entrances to this kind of data, but I had rather not hide the main line of this contribution. The shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 led to massive protests. In my view the database created by Blocher and Miller is one of the things helping to reflect on the development of law and justice concerning weapons in the history of the United States. They perform a service to the public. Hopefully others, and in particular law schools, lawyers and other legal scholars are willing, too, to consider what difference they themselves can make by studying the impact of visible and hidden violence, and how laws, statutes and other regulations work and worked to achieve justice for the victims and anyone hurt by violence. Its role in American history and in legal history needs study in all its aspects.