Tag Archives: Africa

Slavery depicted and described

The cover of the rare books catalogue on slavery

Image from Marcus Rainsford, “St. Domingo, of het land der zwarten in Hayti en deszelfs omwenteling (…)” (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1806), used on the cover of the catalogue

Sometimes I find a new subject for a blog post by looking in my list with possible themes, sources and legal systems, but every now and then a subject appears without any prior notice. This week I found in my mailbox an announcement about a new catalogue of a rare books seller on the subject of slavery. One of the major changes in world history is surely the way slavery became the object of massive criticism and protests after many centuries of more or less accepted existence. Legal history should provide space not only for the study of the history of legal doctrine, its teaching and legal institutions, but also for the impact of both elements on society. Slavery was kept in place and force by laws and customs. Anyway, slavery is a major subject pointing to the grim consequences of plain injustice and enchained human liberty, but such views, too, have their history. The catalogue (PDF, 3,8 MB) contains items from many countries and periods, and you will find here only a selection to make you curious for more. Many items have beautiful illustrations.

Yet another reason to look at this catalogue is the firm behind it. Thirty years ago the rare books firm publishing this catalogue had its seat at the lovely Oudegracht, the main medieval canal in the old city of Utrecht, but it has retreated to a more rural setting in the hamlet ‘t Goy, now part of the garden city Houten to the south-east of Utrecht. In fact this firm was probably the first antiquarian book firm which I dared to visit as a student. At its present pretty location in a renovated old farm you will find a second antiquarian bookseller who works with the other firm in association. This legal figure is rather interesting, because you will want to be sure who is the seller of valuable items. I will briefly look at this legal aspect, too.

From highlight to highlight

In order to present here a somewhat coherent choice I had better start with the book figuring on the cover of the catalogue shown above. No. 24 in the catalogue with 28 items is the Dutch translation of a work by Marcus Rainsford. Rainsford came to Haiti in 1799 and became an admirer of Toiussaint l’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion. No. 5 is a French translation of a work by Willem Bosman, Voyage de Guinée (…) (Utrecht: Schouten, 1705), according to the catalogue one of the earliest descriptions in print of West-Africa and the slave trade in this region.

Among the most important items is no. 3, an official transcript of the will of a slave owner on Jamaica, the merchant Joseph Barnes († 1829). It is good to note the attached probate form of the court of Doctors’ Commons, and a seal of the prerogative court of the archbishop of Canterbury. Rather special is also a book by Philip Howard, Slave-catching in the Indian ocean (…) (London 1873) who wrote about the Asian slave trade (no. 7). Very rare is the book of Bartholomeus Georgiewitz (Bartol Djurdjevic), Voyage de la saincte cité de Hierusalemme (…) (Liège: Streel/De la Coste, 1600), a book written by a former slave who spent 13 years in Ottoman captivity after the battle of Mohács in Hungary (1526) (no. 9).

The catalogue is really a jigsaw puzzle of items stemming from many countries. In a number of cases we find translations, for instance a French translation of Alexander Grailhe’s plea in the case of the will of the philantropist John McDonogh (1779-1850) (no. 12) who bequeathed a fabulous amount of money for the foundation of public schools in New Orleans and Baltimore with free access for both white and black children. Texas figures in no. 26 with an edition of Ordinances and decrees of the consultation, provisional government of Texas (Houston: National Banner Office, 1838).

North Africa is the region in a book ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de La Faye, Voyage pour la redemption des captifs aux royaumes d’Alger et Tunis (…) (Paris: Sevestre and Giffart, 1721) (no. 18). The story told here concerns three members of the Ordre de la Sainte Trinité who tried to free Christian slaves. East Africa is the subject in no. 11, with two French reports about languages in East and Equatorial Africa and slavery, the first published in Mauritius in 1846 , the second in Paris in 1850, with a letter by the ethnographer Eugène de Froberville. A Dutch translation of William George Browne, Nieuwe reize naar de binnenste gedeelten van Afrika, door Egypte, Syrie en Le Dar-four (…) (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1800), an account of travels in Egypt, Syria and Sudan figures as no. 6.

Dutch historians will note the works of two rather famous brothers, the politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp with a volume of letters about the end of the Dutch East India Company [Brieven aan een participant in den Oost-Indischen Compagnie (3 parts, Amsterdam: weduwe Doll, 1802-1803); no. 14], and a rare copy of a novel by his brother Willem van Hogendorp [Kraskoepol (…) (Rotterdam: Arrenberg, 1780) ; no. 15] about the dangers of harsh treatment of slaves. At the time of writing he was an official in the East India Company. A different slant on Dutch Caribbean history comes into view with no. 19, the illustrated album amicorum of Henry van Landsberge, governor of Suriname between 1859 and 1867, the period of the abolition of slavery in this Dutch colony (1863). British matters are at stake in two major reports about slavery for the House of Commons printed in 1848 and 1849 (no. 16).

Some reflections

In the paragraph above I have deliberately put some items together which might have been placed in a regional order in the catalogue, too, but the catalogue shows the random nature of the subjects covered in the books and manuscripts offered for sale.

Portrait of P.A. Tiele

The wide geographical range of subjects is daunting for most scholars and cataloguers. Each description follows the time-honoured practice of a concise bibliographical description, followed by the price, a summary of the contents and information about the author, the publisher and when necessary the rarity of an item. The descriptions end with a string of abbreviated titles and numbers, references to specialized bibliographies, national bibliographies and sometimes also collective library catalogues. In a number of cases I can determine to which publication or website a reference points, but at many turns I can only assume there is specialized scholarly literature with which I am not familiar. For me this catalogue would benefit from full references, but others will no doubt see familiar landmarks. I fail to understand why the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) has not been used everywhere, be it even only to state “not in KVK”. The references to NCC stand for the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, a licensed online meta-catalogue for Dutch university libraries maintained at the Royal Library, The Hague. “Tiele” can stand for a variety of publications by Pieter Anton Tiele (1834-1889), librarian of Utrecht University Library. Tiele published major catalogues of pamphlets in Dutch holdings, a catalogue of the manuscripts in Utrecht UL, a catalogue of Frederik Muller’s collections of travel accounts, and the catalogue of the Bibliotheca Thysiana in Leiden, to mention just his most important contributions. The French and English Wikipedia have short articles about him. For Dutchies there is the website of the Dr. P.A. Tielestichting which promotes research into book history. In one case I could easily identify an abbreviation of a library. JCB stands for the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, Providence, RI, renown for its rich holdings for American and Caribbean history and culture.

The things that strike me every time when I see announcements and catalogues of the two associated rare book firms Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books are the shared phone and fax numbers. Antiquariaat Forum started in 1970 and acquired Asher Rare Books in 2010. Forum Rare Books is active on Twitter for both firms (@ForumRareBooks). To complicate things, there is a third firm at the Tuurdijk 16 in ‘t Goy, Forum Islamic World. The terms of sale of the three firms follow normal book selling practice governed under Dutch law and the rules of the international antiquarian book world, but I cannot help musing about the liability of the seller when things go wrong, and pure humanly who represents a firm on a particular moment. Luckily, Forum is a member of the two major Dutch book selling associations and of ILAB, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. I cannot detect the required registration number of the closest Chamber of Commerce, but surely you will find it on the invoice. On the other hand new buyers have to provide their credentials. Bas Hesselink of Forum Rare Books is known in my country also for the way he speaks about old books and prints in the Dutch television program Tussen Kunst & Kitsch (“Between Art and Kitch”) in which the general public brings objects for appraisal by art experts in the setting of museums.

My concern in writing about this catalogue comes also from my curiosity where these items will eventually be found. Some of them form a substantial enrichment of our knowledge of painful aspects of Early Modern history, and hopefully we will find most of them in the custody of public institutions.

Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books, catalogue 2017 Slavery – ‘t Goy (Houten), Netherlands

A journal for the legal history of Morocco

Logo RMHDLast year I heard about the plans for a new legal history journal, the Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit (RMHD). This month the happy news arrived about its upcoming launch. As I was about to write a brief announcement I read online two contributions about Morocco’s legal history, one in Dutch about the new journal in the Flemish Rechtshistorische Courant edited at Ghent University, the monthly bulletin for the legal history of the Low Countries, one at the Legal History Blog about a book published in 2014 concerning law and history in Morocco. It seems worthwhile to connect both items here with a third announcement on a volume of scholarly articles about the centenary of the Moroccan code of contractual law.

Researching Morocco’s legal history

Let’s start here with translating some of the words of Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent University) wrote in the Rechtshistorische Courant about the new journal led by Fouzi Rherrousse (Université Mohammed Premier Oujda): “We can only applaud this initiative for a Moroccan journal for legal history, because it will be the first of its kind in the Arab world. It will try to answer a great need. There is scarce attention for Morocco’s legal history, the subject is not included in the curriculum of the law faculties. It is to be hoped that the new journal changes this situation and gives an impulse to the study of legal history in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. In a globalising world this is also important for European legal historians”. A number of European scholars has joined the comité de lecture, and others are even members of the editorial board.

By some lucky coincidence the Legal History Blog posted a brief announcement about a book the ever-vigilant team of this very active blog apparently had missed earlier. They wanted to make good this omission, for they deem it an important study. The book in question is Etty Terem, Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco (Stanford, 2014). At the publisher’s website you can read the summary, the first chapter and the start of the second chapter. Terem studied a book in eleven volumes published in 1910 by a Moroccan scholar, al-Mahdi al-Wazzani (1849-1923) called al-Mi`yār al-jadīd, the “New Standard Measure”. Al-Wazzani collected many thousand fatwās, legal decisions, pertaining to Mālikī law. He did this just before France got de facto hold of a large part of Morocco. The treaty of Fez in 1912 divided Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate, apart from the international enclave Tanger and a number of other ports. Terem invites you to look closely at the role, meaning, interpretation and impact of this massive legal collection.

Cover of "Le livre jubilaire"The centenary volume I mentioned above [Le Livre jubilaire. Centenaire du Dahir formant Code des Obligations et Contrats, Fouzi Rherrousse (ed.) (Oujda 2017)] was signalled at Histoire du Droit des Colonies, a French portal for colonial legal history. The Dahir was officially published on August 12, 1913. The delay between the centenary and the publication of this scholarly volume does certainly not diminish its importance. In the first section scholars write about contract law and obligations as an element of European legal history, and about different ways of codification in past and present, literally from classical Antiquity to the twenty-first century. The second section contains nine articles on the Code des obligations et des contrats, for example on the preparation by French lawyers of this code of law, Spanish influences, the impact of Roman law, the role of an Italian lawyer, and also the role of this code between law and economic influences.

The website Histoire du droit des colonies alerts also to the 2016 international conference Regards croisés sur l’histoire du droit [Different regards on legal history] held at Oujda. It underlines the role of a series of centenaries in Morocco’s legal history, with not only the Dahir, but also the first official gazette, the Bulletin officiel. The organizers rightly deplored the absence of legal history at the law faculties, only ancient law is an obligatory subject. They want to free the subject from rough generalisations, shame and confusion about the past of Morocco, and the danger of unreflected changes in current law.

Blog posts are usually not long, and I am afraid my average posts are much longer than many readers will expect, but this time I think it is better to offer only a short contribution to be continued at some point in the near future. Pursuing this path will ask some real efforts, think only of the variety in transliteration of Arab names and book titles. There exists a recent selection of texts by Islamic lawyers from the past, Islamic legal thought : a compendium of Muslim jurists, Oussama Arabi, David S. Powers and Susan A. Spectorsky (eds.) (Leiden 2013) to which Etty Terem contributed a fragment from the opus magnum of al-Mahdi al-Wazzani. You might also want to Iook at the French website Colonialcorpus. The most recent issue of the online legal history journal Clio@Themis contains articles in several languages around the theme Revues et empires coloniaux. I have not yet found a web page or website for the new Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit, nor has the first issue appeared in print, but nevertheless I want to wish Fouzi Rherrousse and his team good luck in paving the roads for more space for and more attention to the legal history of Morocco, North Africa and the Arab world.

 

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.

Legal history at the World LII

Logo WorldLIINearly five years ago I announced here the aim of spanning in my blog centuries, cultures and continents. I quickly discovered some of the implications of this statement. Not only did I take up the challenge of dealing with aspects of legal history in many periods, regions and cultures, but in many posts I have also pointed to projects and initiatives that succeed in fulfilling this aim to considerable extent. In this post I will look at a project that does not only deal with contemporary law on a vast scale, but also with legal history worldwide.

The World Legal Information Institute (World LII) is not a single monolithic organization, but more a consortium of several participating institutions. Some branches of the World LII are relatively well-known, others merit to get more in the spotlights. Here I will look at some examples of resources most valuable for research in the field of legal history. Even if there are clear gaps, lacunae and omissions in the presentation of these resources at the portal site of the WorldLII or at the website of a particular supporting institution, they deserve al least some attention.

Serving lawyers and historians all around the world

With at present some 1250 databases for more than 120 jurisdictions, and fourteen supporting institutions and branches the World LII is a truly multinational organization. The World LII is a member of the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), as are most of its partner institutions. One of the earliest institutions launching a website with free legal information is the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, founded in 1992. Initiatives such as the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), currently in the midst of updating and supported by the Library of Congress, and Globalex (New York University), too, belong to this movement, but they have scarcely created any space for legal history. GLIN does support the World LII.

Generally the guides at GLIN and Globalex succeed certainly in providing adequate basic information about contemporary law. The guide to Scots law and Scottish legal history by Jasmin Morais and the guide to Cambodian history, governance and legal sources by Jennifer Holligan and Tarik Abdulhak at Globalex are notable and fine exceptions. Yemisi Dina’s guide at Globalex for Caribbean law does at least realize the historical background of the region she describes. Hopefully legal historians are also increasingly familiar with research readily accessible at the portal of another member of FALM, the Social Science Research Network / Legal Scholarship Network (SSRN/LSN).

Logo AustLIIThe institutions working together under the aegis of the World LII stand out for their massive presentation of and free access to legal resources, be they constitutions, laws, statutes, case law or law reports. The World LII also provides you with a nice selection of websites of materials pertaining to legal history. This page leads you also to one of the major selections of resources for legal history at the Word LII, that for Australia, which is not completely surprising, because the Australasian Legal Information Institute is at the very heart of the World LII. The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) provide staff and technological support behing the AustLII and World LII. By the way, UTS has an interesting Anti-Slavery portal with an online course about the continuing struggle against slavery, forced labour and trafficking, and a section with contemporary Australian case law.

Connecting contemporary law and legal history

Let’s look a bit deeper into World LII. For this objective I would like to look at the Torres Strait Islands. These islands are situated in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. if you search for the Torres Straits at World LII you get some 22,000 results. When you look at the databases providing materials for these results you will immediately notice that you cannot confine yourself to resources about Australia, from the Commonwealth or even from the Australian state of Queensland directly adjacent to the Torres Strait. The example of the Torres Straits can easily be multiplied. The western part of New Guinea was between 1945 and 1962 governed by the Dutch. Before the Second World War this part was at least within the sphere of Dutch influence in the Indonesian archipelago.

Apart from resources from Australia, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe the World LII does even include materials concerning the polar regions. You can approach historical resources at World LII by country. At the moment of writing seventeen countries are listed. I would single out the database with colonial cases for China and Japan, a resource developed at the Macquarie Law School, Sydney, even if this is the sole historical resource included at the World LII portal for both countries. The series of cases starts around 1850. Anyway, you can find more links to colonial cases at this webpage of the Macquarie Law School. The set of colonial cases of Constantinople for Turkey at the World LII, too, stems from a project at this law school. These cases from the Supreme Consular Court date between the 1850’s and 1930.

However, the World LII portal brings you more history than included at its history page, although its selection of historical databases for New Zealand is impressive. In particular for historical cases it is possible to find much more, but alas this can be a hit and miss affair. At this point the fourteen branches can be most helpful. Among the fourteen institutions is for instance the LawPhil project for the Philippines. in its section on jurisprudence you can start in the year 1901.

In the vast fields of the common law it is good to know that behind World LII are both the British and Irish LII and the Commonwealth LII. In fact you are bound to use materials at both these portals when dealing with legal history concerning the United Kingdom and countries included within the British Commonwealth. It is again Scotland which provides historical materials, Scottish Court of Session decisions since 1879, and decisions of the High Court of Justiciary since 1914.

The Asian LII leads us for example for Japan to laws since 1896, but the series starts really in 1947. For legal information about the many islands groups of Oceania which have become independent countries, often with the British Commonwealth, the Pacific LII is often the only available starting point, and even the only easily accessible resource center. The often very young legal history of these countries is amply documented by the databases of the Pacific LII. Some islands are severely threatened by rising sea levels, and it is important for them to start working quickly to preserve their legal heritage. In my recent post about the Endangered Archives Projects of the British Library you can read about one of these projects. It is true that it can take some effort to find historical materials, but even so often your efforts will be rewarded as more resources become available.

The pages of the World LII pointing to other legal history resources contained for me at least one pleasant surprises. At the portal of The Napoleon Series you will find not just resources about France and the period around 1800. At a page about government and politics the links range is truly worldwide, featuring both articles and databases from the Balkan to Cambodia. Although you find at that page mostly articles, and even short articles, they certainly help to provoke your own thoughts and questions.

Two directions in legal history

It is easy to moan about or criticize the lack or absence of particular historical materials within the databases of the World LII. Similar initiatives such as GLIN, Globalex, LLRX and Justia, to mention just a few of them, all lack the indispensable databases – or links to them – of the World LII. In fact the organization behind World LII encourages scholars to suggest new resources. Anyway the initiative of the World LII does not completely leave legal history out in the dark. You might even defend the position that it does help creating curiosity about the history of jurisprudence, law and legal institutions by its very scale and offering a number of resources which might be most useful for your research. Its approach definitely starts in the presence. Any research happens in the present, even if scholars devote them solely to history. The World LII helps us not to confine legal historians exclusively to periods already centuries ago. It might be wiser to acknowledge the fact that the present is our starting point, and not to imagine we can look at history from a distant and impartial imaginary point of view, with as its ultimate illusory goal the creation of definitive history.

A second important feature of the World LII and similar institutions is the free online access to materials offered thanks to their efforts. Many online legal materials can only be consulted at subscribing institutions, and they make this possible at sometimes very substantial costs. Historical materials, too, are often only readily available online thanks to commercial initiatives.

Speaking for myself, I would surely enlist the services of the World LII and its partner institutions whenever possible, feasible and wise, because I am convinced one person living in one country, somewhat familiar with the history of one country, region or continent can only see a part of the whole. Nowadays it is a cliché to say that getting to know the unfamiliar is the exclusive way towards truly understanding yourself and your own context, but this comparative starting point does contain more than a bit of truth. Posts at a blog such as this one contain grains of truth, and you are cordially invited to view them as just a stepping stone for more. I hope to return here soon with another post delving deeper into the theme of the scope of historical research for our century.

Saving threatened archival collections

Banner Endangered Archives Project

The postscript to my recent post about the exhibition on Roman crime at Nijmegen helped me to find the subject of this post. In this postscript I mentioned the decision of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam not yet to give back the items on view at its Crimea exhibition to the lending museums in Ukraine. This post introduces you to an initiative to save archival collections worldwide threatened either by material deterioration, poltical situations or simply by the ongoing progress of modernization in the country or region where they are located. The British Library has set up the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) on a truly massive scale with the aim of digitizing archival records and manuscripts in a few hundred (!) projects. On September 7, 2014 the completion of several projects was announced at the accompanying Endangered Archives blog. Within two months, between July and September, a million images has been added to the online results of EAP, enough reason for me to look a bit more closely to this audacious project and its composing elements.

On my blog the British Library received a few years ago criticism for its policies concerning the digitization of British newspapers. Last year I expressed some disappointment at the low number of digitized legal manuscripts at the British Library, but this time the library shows itself as a most generous cultural institution. The EAP portal is accessible in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Safeguarding cultural heritage in situ and in virtual space

The EAP spans the world in a awe-inspiring way. Among the most interesting aspects is for example the fact that researchers and institutions themselves can apply for grants, often starting with a pilot project. The BL provides a framework to support projects. There is no grand scheme of the British Library dictating the goals and direction of general progress. Typically, EAP does not focus on national archives unless they are in dire need of support, and such projects will not cover all materials under the aegis of EAP. Items documenting the pre-industrial history of a country are the first to come under consideration for new projects. The grants support university projects as well as independent scholars. Of course EAP has contacts with the International Council on Archives and UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

The EAP has created five regions for the projects supported by the EAP: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Let’s start with a look at the overviews of each region to spot projects which touch directly upon law, government and administrations. In the second part of this post other projects with law, the judiciary or other aspects of legal matters constitute a major aspect.

In the overview for Africa you can find for example EAP 607, a project for the preservation of Native Administration records between 1791 and 1964 held at the National Archives of Malawi. The Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho were the subject of EAP 279, where a wide variety of documents and records has been digitized. Colonial history looms large in a number of African projects, for instance in EAP 474, a pilot project for the preservation of pre-colonial and colonial document at Cape Coast, Ghana. In EAP 443 nineteenth-century documents for the Sierra Leone Pubic Archives have been digitally preserved, thus saving the history of a British Crown colony and the impact of slavery, to mention just a few aspects.

For the Americas, too, one can pint easily to projects aiming at preserving documents and records concerning the history of slavery and colonialism. EAP 184 started to support the preservation of records of the African diaspora in the archives of the Cuban province Matanzas. The material condition of these records decays rapidly. In Peru EAP 234 aimed at saving the colonial documentation within the holdings of the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima Metropolitana, with records reaching back to 1562. 100,000 notarial records at Riohacha and the peninsula La Guajira in Colombia documenting an important entrepôt of Caribbean and Central American trade are at the centre of EAP 503. Hurricane Ike in 2004 was only the last threat to archives with govermental records in Grenada which resulted in 132 reordered and digitized volumes (EAP 295).

The number of EAP projects in Asia is much larger than for the Americas. I could not help feeling particularly interested in some projects concerning Indonesia because of its link with Dutch history. EAP 229 and EAP 329 are two related projects dealing with endangered manuscripts in the province of Aceh on the island Sumatra. The digitization of nearly 500 manuscripts helps preserving the cultural and intellectual history of this region. The Dutch fierce attacks on Aceh during the nineteenth century were already a threat to this history, as was the devastating tsunami in 2008. A substantial number of the digitized manuscripts in this project contain texts on Islamic law.

Tavamani document - EAP 314

Legal history is a central element in EAP 314, a project for the digitization of Tamil customary law in Southern India. The documents of village judicial assemblies between 1870 and 1940 are the subject of this project of the Institut Français de Pondichéry. You can follow this project at its own blog Caste, Land and Custom – Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950), where you can find also an overview of other relevant EAP projects for India. The recent huge increase in digitized materials within EAP is to a large extent due to the 750,000 images of some 3,000 books printed before 1950 in eight public libraries in Eastern India near Calcutta which have been digitized within EAP 341. The number of EAP sponsored projects in India is really large. On my legal history portal Rechtshistorie I had already put a number of links to digital libraries in india, but EAP brings substantial additions to my overview.

Although I am woefully aware that I skip here a lot of interesting projects in Asia I would like to mention at least two European projects. EAP 067 is a project to digitize extremely rare materials, mainly from the twentieth century, about the Roma’s in Bulgaria, including not only ethnographic and musical items, but also for example a manuscript of a history of the gypsies. Keeping these materials at all was often dangerous for the Roma during the communist period in Bulgaria. A second project deals with the results of archaeological excavations between 1929 and 1935 in the Kyiv region of Ukraine (EAP 220).

For those worrying about the length of this post it might be a relief to read that within EAP there has been only one project from the Oceania region. In EAP 005 the Australian National University created inventories of materials at the Tuvaluan National Archives. This group of islands in the Pacific is in acute danger of being flooded.

Preserving the history of law, customs and government

The project concerning the preservation of manuscripts written in the Vietnamese Nôm script between the year 1000 and the twentieth century in EAP 219 is an example of documents threatened by sheer memory loss. The Nôm script went out of use around 1920. For decades teaching this script had been forbidden. The Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Hanoi had collected materials before 1954, but no proper inventory had ever been made, and the present storage conditions are poor. The 1,200 surviving manuscripts offer information about laws, courts, imperial decrees and land ownership, Within EAP 272, a project for ephemera and manuscripts in Nepal, a number of manuscripts all dating around 1808 contain legal texts.

Drafting a list of EAP collections with materials concerning legislation, jurisprudence, courts and other legal institutions is not an easy thing to do. The EAP website allows simple and advanced searches at item level, but as for now you cannot search for a particular subject or theme at the collection level. This is certainly a blemish, but not an impossible situation. A search for laws shows you only a few projects, but for EAP 144 you get directly a number of digitized manuscript from this project for Minangkabau (Sumatra) manuscripts. Anyway you can retrieve a list of all 240 projects; the short descriptions can be expanded. You can also search for projects using an interactive world map. Browsing the various projects is no punishment, but an object lesson in appreciating the rich varieties of human culture.

Projects with legal aspects are no exception. Using the tag Governmental records at the EAP blog helped me in tracing some relevant projects. EAP 688 is a new project for digitizing deed books from the Caribbean island Saint Vincent during the slavery era (1763-1838). EAP 561 aims at creating inventories of and digital versions of records for landownership in imperial Ethiopia. At Accra, Ghana, witchcraft trial records will be digitized (EAP 540). A project to make inventories of court and police records from the period 1820-1960 and digitize some of them has been successfully executed in Gambia (EAP 231). Ecclesiastical records from colonial Brazil are the subject of EAP projects such as EAP 627 leading to the digital archives at Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies created by the Vanderbilt University.

Several projects deal with manuscripts from Mali. Not only in Timbuctu a vast number of manuscripts is still present. Last year the threat of massive destruction of this unique legacy by terrorists became a very real menace; a post on this blog informed you about initiatives for their safeguarding and digitization. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. In yet another project at Djenné photographs are being digitized (EAP 449).

Luckily, there is more!

Often I apologize at the end for the length of my contributions, but this time I am happy to point to the links section of the EAP portal which will bring you to a nice number of projects all over the world for the digital conservation and presentation of rare and endangered manuscripts and records. You might be tempted to say that the efforts of the Endangered Archives Project can deal only with a limited number of projects, but luckily the British Library is not the only cultural institution and research institute to look beyond the borders of a country. Often these institutions have to face the threats of budget cuts, and a political climate in favor of focusing on projects which benefit solely the own nation, or they even have to fall back to provide only fairly basic services.

The British Library and all involved in similar projects deserve the gratitude of scholars, of peoples and countries whose cultural heritage is or will be rescued thanks to them. Scholars should be encouraged to look beyond their own culture and national history in order to perceive its peculiarities much sharper and to understand its importance in greater depth. Let’s hope such arguments can convince those responsible for setting cultural agendas and developing research strategies with lasting results. Digitization will be one step in a much longer process, and no doubt digital retrieval and presentation will change its outlook as has been the case already since the earliest uses of computers by historians and lawyers alike.

A postscript

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles.

Remembering slavery

How to deal with major questions, problems and conflicts in history? How should one write about them as a blogger? Subjects such as the abuse of power, law and justice, the undeniable role of violence, wars, the exclusion of people from society, and the outright systematic persecution of people for whatever reason, cry out for probing questions and research from many perspectives. Here I have promised several times not to avoid such themes and problems. One of the reasons that my first posting of 2013 occurs only late in January is exactly devoting time to one of the subjects which cannot be excluded from legal history. In my country the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 will be commemorated. In this post I will look at some publications and websites dealing both with slavery as a general subject and with the history and aftermath of slavery in Suriname. Until 1975 Suriname, situated between British and French Guyana, was a Dutch colony. I will not aim at any kind of exhaustive treatment of the abolition of slavery in this country.

Slavery and Suriname

The commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in the year 1863 has thus far in particular received attention on Dutch television in the NTR-VPRO series De slavernij [Slavery] broadcasted in 2011. The series centered around the search of the Dutch singer Roué Verveer for his ancestry. The very fact that background information was presented by a well-known Dutch anchorwoman was criticized by some people complaining she figured as a kind of all-knowing presenter high above the black singer who seemed only to ask questions which he could not answer himself. Whatever the value of this critique, in the book accompanying the series, De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu [Slavery. Human traffic from colonial times until the present] (Amsterdam 2011) edited by Carla Boos and a team of scholars, his quest for the history of his family is barely touched upon.

The website of the series presents a very well equipped nutshell guide to genealogical research for Surinam ancestors. In fact it is a model of its kind, and I have searched in vain for a similar comprehensive treatment of the subject at other websites. Surely, the Dutch Nationaal Archief offers a guide to its own online databases concerning slavery in Suriname, even in English. It is one thing to have access to digitized manumission and emancipation registers, but knowing how to use them is a prerequisite dealt with very clearly at the TV series website. A possible complaint about the website is much more a request, the need for translation of the Dutch version into English and Papiamento. The book by Carla Boos offers a very readable and lavishly illustrated introduction to the history of slavery in general, the slave trade in Africa, the Dutch Atlantic slave trade, slavery in Suriname and its living memory. The choice of documents written by all kind of people to tell stories from inside is excellent. The only things missing are a good overview of the images, and registers for subjects and names.

On a website for Dutch history on television and radio you can find several earlier items in a dossier on slavery, for example on the slave trade between Vlissingen (Flushing) in Zeeland, the Dutch fortress Elmina in Ghana, and Tobago in the Caribbean. Some digitized books about the history of Suriname can be found in the project Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO) which focuses on the period 1780-1800. In its digital collection Suriname 1599-1975 the library of the University of Amsterdam has digitized several old maps of Suriname and a small number of books, including the Dutch translation of Johan Gabriel Stedman’s book about his travels. You can also view an abridged version of this translation on a separate website – using Shockwave – but you can use more easily the complete version at EDBO. In the Digital Library for Dutch Literature you can find not only novels concerning Suriname and books in Dutch by authors from Suriname, but also the text of several editions of the Surinaamsche Almanak from 1820 onwards. This yearbook contains for example lists of plantations, their locations, owners and administrators. Documentation about the sea voyages made by slaves and their traders can be found in particular in the online database concerning the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of Emory University.

Slave traders and slaves

Slave traders and slaves – image from http://www.ninsee.nl

The activities for this year’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery can be followed most easily using the website of the NinSee in Amsterdam, the Dutch central institute for the study of the Dutch slavery past and heritage. The NinSee publishes studies and source editions in its own publication series. However, in my opinion it is a failure this website offers its information only in Dutch. If I have learned just one thing from the 2011 tv series it is exactly you cannot isolate the history of slavery from general history. The selection of scholarly literature about Dutch and Atlantic slavery on the website does redress this imbalance a bit. The NinSee institute is housed almost next door to the municipal archive of AmsterdamDigitized old maps of Suriname are abundantly present on the website of the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal for digitized collections concerning the Dutch cultural heritage you will find many thousand digitized objects related to Suriname from a number of Dutch collections. Among them are apart from the Royal Tropical Institute the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam – its main website can be viewed in seven languages, and the collection can be searched at a separate subdomain – and the Royal Netherlands Institute of South East Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, with its own digital image library. Six Dutch ethnological museums work together for a portal website where you can search their collections, but you can still search online separately in the collections of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden or its library catalogue. Perhaps it is wise to mention here also the project Caribisch Erfgoed [Caribbean Heritage] for the digitization of photographs taken between 1886 and 1970 by the Brothers of Tilburg, a Catholic educational congregation long active in Suriname.

At the start of a commemoration year leading up to the first of July, the very day on which in 1863 the abolition of slavery in Suriname was formally proclaimed, it becomes increasingly clear for me how important it is to view this history from many perspectives. While reading about Suriname I had also on my desk Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011). Last year I wrote a post about the Athenian democracy, and I am sure I will learn more about it when taking the role of slavery in ancient Greece into account. Learning about slavery also sheds light on the practice of commemorations in contemporary society. One of the commemorations I will surely write about here in 2013 is the bicentenary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

A postscript

At the website of the Stichting Oud-Vaderlands Recht, the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law, Dutch readers can find an overview of exhibitions, symposia, recent publications and websites concerning Suriname and slavery. One of the most salient new digital projects is an interactive map of the houses of slaveholders in Amsterdam in 1863 created by Dienke Hondius and her history students at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Protecting manuscripts in Mali to save cultural heritage and history

This month armed groups have been fighting in Mali. In a number of towns in this West-African country manuscripts are kept, sometimes in regular libraries, sometimes in the homes of families who try to preserve valuable sources for the history of their country. Timbuktu is the almost legendary town, the capital of a region with the same name. As for its name, the French spelling Toumbouctou can be found, too. Recently Tuaregs have tried to conquer Timbuktu in order to add it to a new Touareg state. The importance of the manuscripts present in Timbuktu and other cities in Mali has long been recognised. This week an appeal has been launched for the protection of these irreplaceable sources for the history of Mali, and more generally for West-Africa. The West African Research Association of the African Studies Center at Boston University is most active in promoting this urgent appeal. The IFLA, too, backs the appeal. Before more ruthless acts of violence take place with possible damage to people, their homes and belongings action is needed.

In this post I will look at research projects and digitized manuscripts from Mali. These projects might well preserve at least a part of the manuscripts and records that have survived sometimes for centuries, but are now closer to destruction than ever before.

The manuscripts of Timbuktu

The UNESCO has recognized the importance of the manuscripts in Timbuktu. Timbuktu itself was added in 1988 to the World Heritage List. Timbuktu has been home to a university since the fourteenth century. The manuscripts have been added to the Memory of the World register. With some disbelief I found only ten images in the UNESCO’s photobank for this project. Despite all efforts to study manuscripts in and from Mali the results to translate, edit and preserve them are still relatively meagre. The website of the Timbuktu Educational Foundation in Alameda, Ca., is one of the sites providing basic information on Mali and Timbuktu.

Today it was perhaps in illustration of this situation that even information on one of the largest relevant projects at the University of Oslo seemed at first to have disappeared. Between 2000 and 2007 Norwegian scholars have worked in a project for the preservation and promotion of the African literary heritage which led to an article and a provisional list of the manuscripts in the Ka’ati Library. More publications have resulted from the Toumbouctou Manuscripts Project sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the University of Cape Town. You can download three publications from the website, including a guide to the script used in these manuscripts. After registration you get full access to the database with transcriptions of manuscripts.

The African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress has digitized 32 Islamic manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, both in Timbuktu. The manuscripts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century are accompanied by presentations about Timbuktu and the history of Mali. The manuscripts can be searched in various way. Among the subjects are jurisprudence and Islamic law. The Library of Congress has also created an online exhibition on the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu which covers much the same ground. In view of the current situation in Mali it is helpful to use the guide to web resources on Mali at the website of the Library of Congress.

The World Digital Library has within its collections 32 manuscripts from Timbuktu, all from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, the very selection discussed here above. The Center for Research Libraries has created a digital library on the theme Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu with 209 documents from the nineteenth century, again from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu.

At Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the Melville J. Herskovits Collection with Arabic manuscripts from West Africa contains a number of manuscripts from Mali. The catalogue to this collection can be searched online. Northwestern University has a digital collection Maps of Africa with some 100 maps. Stanford University provides a fine list of web resources on Mali, but apart from the projects already mentioned no other project for Mali’s manuscripts is included. Even the Internet Library for Sub Saharan Africa, a meta-catalogue and portal maintained by a number of German institutions, does bring only few projects relevant for Mali not yet mentioned here, but for anything else this portal can help finding answers or paths to answers on many subjects. The first project is based at Timbuktu, the Sauvegarde et Valorisation pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique. It has in particular helped renovating three libraries, and in creating a digital collection of manuscripts at Timbuktu, to be found at the Aluka portal with some three hundred manuscripts. Being accessible only to paying licensed users is a major drawback to view these digitized manuscripts at Aluka. The second project is La Bibliothèque des Manuscrits Anciens de Niger at the University of Niamey in Niger. This library holds manuscripts with texts from several countries in West Africa. Plans for digitization are announced in the library calendar.

Initially I did not find the actual location of the West African Arabic Manuscript Project, but in the end the URL itself is clear enough. In the project the Al-Furqan Foundation, the Centre Ahmad Baba in Timbuktu and Northwestern University combine their forces.This bilingual website (English and Arabic) offers a database with descriptions of some 23,000 manuscripts in several West African countries, including Mali. The introduction to the Timbuktu records explains that now some 9,000 manuscript descriptions from Timbuktu have been entered into the database. Between 1990 and 1998 five volumes of the catalogue of manuscripts in Timbuktu have appeared which have been used for the database. These manuscripts constitute a third of all manuscripts presently entered. This fact shows the importance of Timbuktu very well. A first simple search in the database – approachable in English, French and Arabic – for law as a subject yields already more than 900 results. Much more manuscripts have still not been recorded. The “digital library” of the Al-Furqan Foundation is in fact a manuscript catalogue. At present it contains some 7,000 manuscripts from Mali.

The National Library of Mali in Bamako is mentioned as one of the partners of the Réseau francophone numérique, a consortium of a number of national libraries in France and francophone countries around the world, but alas no item from Mali is included in this digital library.

A double challenge

When writing this post it became soon clear I face here two challenges, dealing with Africa and with Islamic law from the position of someone trained in European history and law. At my website and here I try to present subjects and themes from all over the world. Until now Asia, Africa and Latin America have been almost absent here. This post will certainly not redeem these gaps. In fact you might agree that slavery is another subject painfully avoided here, as is colonial history. In my latest post I did mention slavery in medieval Italy, not exactly the time and place where I had most expected to detect traces of slavery. It is only sensible not to put several major themes or subjects into one post, but I promise my readers that I will every now and then try to put an Eurocentric and anglophone approach aside.

Having made thus a solemn promise to present here a wider variety I will not hesitate to return briefly to this post’s subject. I would like to point you to a very useful list of digitized Islamic manuscripts at Archivalia, and to the website of the Islamic Manuscript Association. For this post I could use my notes for pages with relevant links on African law and Islamic law that I will eventually add to my legal history website. Writing about subjects stemming from every era, country and civilization need preparation if you want to create a result worth reading.

For your convenience I give an overview of digitized manuscripts:

Islamic manuscripts from Mali, Library of Congress – also at the World Digital Library
Timbuktu Manuscripts, Aluka-World Heritage Sites/JSTOR
– Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu, Center for Research Libraries

A postscript

Both for the background of Mali’s history, the importance of the Timbuktu manuscripts and the actual situation an article for The Root, ‘Fabled Timbuktu in Peril from Malian Coup’, by Michael Gomez of New York University will tell you much more than I was able to do here. The Africa department of Radio Netherlands Worldwide brings more details on the capture and current situation of Timbuktu and civil war in Mali.

A second postscript

There is a second town in Mali home to many manuscripts, Djenné. I briefly mentioned a number of projects for safeguarding endangered archives in Djenné in a post in September 2014 about the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. The website of the Djenné Manuscript Library gives a list of manuscripts. For the Dogon country the pilot project EAP 764 will deal with archival collections in Bandiagara. Among the new fundraising projects for Timbuctu is T160K.

In 2013 the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, too, is involved in digitizing amnuscripts from Timbuktu. For this goal the library received in 2014  a grant from the Dutch Prince Claus Fund. From January 28 to 30, 2015, a conference was held at Bamako, Mali to discuss plans for the future conservation and digitization of manusrcipts in Mali. You can now consult nearly 2,000 digitized manuscripts from Timbuctu at the vHMML (use the advanced search mode); you need to register for free to get full access to these manuscripts.

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles. In this volume is an essay by Sophie Sarin, ‘In the shadow of Timbuktu: The manuscripts of Djenné’ (pp. 173-187), which you can download separately (PDF).

In 2014 Brown University, Providence, RI, digitized the only manuscript from Timbuktu in their holdings with magical and mystical treatises.