Tag Archives: Asia

Mapping the legal past

How often did you look this summer on a map? You no doubt checked an interactive map for the weather forecasts, and you might have used an app to guide you on the roads you took during your vacation. In this post I would like to look at interactive online maps, more specifically HISGIS systems, historical-geographical maps, which have a clear connection with legal history. The choice of maps is rather great, and I am sure you will pick the one most close to your own interests and curiosity.

Several overviews have helped me to bring together the maps I mention here, first of all the overview at Anterosis, a project of John Levin. The Historical GIS Research Network, is one of the oldest websites with an overview of HISGIS projects. Lately I noticed the Electronical Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), but the best current international overview of HISGIS websites has been created by the HGIS Lab, University of Saskatchewan. I dealt with a number of Dutch and Belgian project in an earlier post concerning the bicentenary of the Dutch Cadastral Service, and thus I thought I could hardly bring you my typical Dutch slant. However, I noticed last week a veritable portal with a number of interactive maps concerning Dutch culture and history which seems perfectly fit for inclusion here.

The British isles

Modern drawing of medieval Swansea

Let’s start the tour with the United Kingdom to honor the work of the team of the Historical GIS Research Network. I could mention a lot of projects concerning London, but Locating London’s Past can stand as a fine representative of other projects. A more general map project deals with Ordnance Survey Maps (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tithes are the subject of a project of the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Tracks in Time: The Leeds Tithe Map Project. Another project with tithes, Cynefin Project: Welsh Tithe Maps, brings us to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The project City Witness: Medieval Swansea contains some materials which I found particularly fascinating. Maps are only one aspect of this project with as one of its cores the story of nine men around 1300 about the hanging and miraculous survival of William Cragh. Among the textual witnesses used at City Witness is the manuscript Città del Vaticano, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Vat. lat. 4015, for which you can access online in DigiVatLib a digitzed version of a black-and-white microfilm. For Ireland one has to single out the project The Down Survey of Ireland: Mapping a change( Trinity College Library, Dublin) with information about this very early land survey made between 1656 and 1658, Ordnance Survey maps and three historical GIS maps.

Around the world

Cover Digital Gazetteer of the Song DynastySurely HISGIS projects are not confined to the United Kingdom or Europe. The best example to show this is perhaps The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty (University of California, Merced). A book about the rulers and administration of this Chinese dynasty (960-1276) was the starting point for Ruth Mostern and Elijah Meeks to create a much larger project to visualize the locations and extent of the power exercised by this dynasty. Ruth Mostern’s 2011 book provided the spur to start building this HISGIS.

It did cross my mind to look for projects dealing with Classical Antiquity, but I had a firm impression that interactive maps and the use of digital tools are far more common among classicists than among legal historians. The choice of online projects as shown at The Digital Classicist Wiki is stunning. I do not know where to start best with the plethora of projects. Elsewhere I came luckily across a pilot version of a modern representation of the Tabula Peutingerana created by Jean-Baptiste Piggin not yet mentioned in this wiki. Piggin tries to use his knowledge about diagrams to go beyond the Peutinger map website by Richard Talbert. You might want to follow the relevant posts about his project at Piggin’s blog. For an idea of what has been done for HISGIS and Classical Antiquity you can get a distinct idea at the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the Antiquity À la Carte application. It is possible to commission new features to be added to this set of interactive maps.

I propose to turn now to North America. Among the sites I would like to signal here are first of all projects with the closest affinity to normal maps. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Newberry Library, Chicago) should in my opinion be viewed in tandem with Lincoln Mullen’s project Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912. Quite different are projects such as Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and Redlining Richmond, a project around the House Owners’ Loan Corporation and the New Deal in this town. Social and economic history comes into view at IWW History Project: Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1935 (University of Washington). I could not resist adding here a digital collecion without HISGIS maps, but I am sure the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digitized at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for American history.

Inevitably some projects seems less easy to fit under one heading with similar projects. Close to geography are projects such as LandMark: Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands and Danske Herregaarde (Danish manors) of the Dansk Center for Herregårdsforskning. The Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871 (University of Victoria) is based on the actions of the colonial government in these Canadian regions.

Traces of slavery

One theme is clearly seen as most suitable for the use of HISGIS systems. It is striking how many sites for the study of the history of slavery use it to present sources or the results of research. Instead of going straight for matters connected in the first place with the United States of America or the United Kingdom it can be instructive to start elsewhere.

Header HGIS de las Indias

The HGIS de la Indias (Universität Graz) is a portal with a Spanish interface to interactive maps for the period 1701-1808. The Caribbean is the setting of Slave Revolts in Jamaica, 1760/1761. A Cartographic NarrativeTransatlantic Slave Trade is one of the most studied elements in the history of slavery. MCC Slave Voyage The Unity 1761-1763 is a website of the Zeeuws Archief, Middelburg about one particular ship of a Dutch slave trading company. At Mapping Slavery NL you can trace Dutch slave owners in several towns. There are books and websites for city walks along traces of slavery, foe example in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I could not readily find these links at Mapping Slavery NL.

For the United States we meet again Lincoln Mullen, this time for his project Mapping the Spread of American Slavery. The Texas Slavery Project focuses on a single state. For a long time it belong to the so-called Territories, the states joining the United States at a later point in time. Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond) is concerned with a later phase. The aftermath and long repercussions of slavery are a stake at Collective Violence: Mapping Mob Violence, Riots and Pogroms against African American Communities, 1824 to 1974. The United Kingdom comes into view with Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (University College, London). The University of Edinburgh has created the portal Cartographie des Mémoires de l’Esclavage.

Looking at this overview I am sure I have probably missed a number of projects, but it is my objective to make the visual impact of maps for literally mapping slavery and other subjects more clear. When you read descriptions as the topography of terror we are inclined to think only of the Second World War, but creating maps of other events and phenomena is every bit as helpful and important.

A cultural atlas

Logo Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

The last website I want to introduce here is a portal created by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Dutch National Cultural Heritage Service) in Amersfoort. The new WebGIS: Themakaart Portaal offers 22 different maps and atlases covering Dutch cultural heritage. As for now the riches of this portal can only be viewed in Dutch, and I cannot imagine why a version in English has not yet been created or at least announced for the near future. The landscape maps are also accessible at Landschap in Nederland, the archaeological maps can be found at a sister site, Archeologie in Nederland. A possible starting point is the Kaart van de verstedelijking (Map of urbanization) where you can among other things view Dutch urbanization between 1200 and 2010 and look at city plans taken from the major cartographical project executed by Jacob van Deventer during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a pity that this cartographical portal does not contain all supporting information present at the landscape and archaeology portals. You can benefit from information about Van Deventer’s maps and the growth of 35 cities. On the other hand, can you really expect to find everything at a single portal? At least one of the maps has a very substantial connections with legal history, the map concerning the medieval and later development of fen regions (Agrarische veenontginningen). Newly developed regions often came under a specific jurisdiction. In the north west of the province Utrecht a region is known for a peculiar tax, the dertiende penning (thirteenth penny) which had to be paid until recently at the sale of landed property. These jurisdictions have yet to be added to this RCE map.

While looking at the map concerning flooding risks and cultural heritage I realize how much good maps are needed in regions of India, Nepal and Bangladesh suffering flooding right now, in late August 2017. Creating road maps for Nepal is one of the challenges the Red Cross – for example Missing Maps, American Red Cross – brought to the attention of the world. Volunteers are invited to use recent satellite photographs to make reliable maps for those striving to help people. Historical GIS systems can be as interesting as their modern forerunners, and there is space for legal historians to add to them anything they judge to be important.

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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

Old laws in a new world: The case of New Amsterdam

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

In my latest post I almost lamented the emphasis on European history on my legal history website. In order to make up for any deficiencies I decided to choose a subject outside Europe for my next post. Ironically I arrived at New Amsterdam 1647-1661 thanks to the European History Primary Sources portal. This portal brings succinct records for digitized source collections of whatever nature, tagged with basic information about countries, languages, periods, subjects and resource type. The subject colonial provided an entrance at the EHPS portal for this digital collection created by the New York City Department of Records and Administration. The contents of this digital collection are mainly original and translated ordinances and regulations, a theme firmly within the scope of my blog. In fact the very preponderance of legal resources made me very curious about this collection. Other ordinances from Dutch colonies during the Early Modern period are now also available online elsewhere. Here I will look briefly at those digital collections, too.

A legislative legacy

Earlier this year I enjoyed reading Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam. A history of the world’s most liberal city (2013) about the rich history of the Dutch capital. In a conversation someone pointed me to his book about the early history of New York The island at the center of the world (2004) which I still had not read. In his book about Amsterdam Shorto dedicated a chapter about the impact of Amsterdam on New York (“Seeds of influence”), yet another reason to get hold of his study about the colorful history of the Dutch colony on American soil.

At the moment of writing the digital gallery consists of just fifteen images and the series of municipal bylaws created between 1647 and 1661. The Municipal Archives and the Municipal Library of New York City will soon add more digitized items to this gallery.

An early Dutch record from New York - image NYC Department of Records

The first ordinance issued by Peter Stuyvesant as Director-General of New Amsterdam, May 31, 1647 – NAR, BK 1

The heart of the digital collection is made up of ordinances and regulations. As for now there are four distinct series, the first with original Dutch records between 1647 and 1661, the second for a manuscript with translations of Dutch records (1647-1654), the third with a digitized version of a manuscript by E.B. O’Callaghan from 1868 with ordinances of New Amsterdam (1647-1661), and the fourth a digital version of the first volume of Berthold Fernow’s Records of New Amsterdam (7 volumes, New York, 1897-1898).

The first section gives you an immediate experience of the surviving resources from the Dutch period of New York. Dutch historians will recognize a smooth seventeenth-century hand, and for others this kind of handwriting is vastly different from English handwriting of the same period. The manuscript with translations of the register shown in the first section might be the work of Cornelius van Westbrook or Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan. The third section gives a manuscript by O’Callaghan with his translation of the same register. In the last section Fernow took over O’Callaghan’s translation of the first register. The digital version shows only the translation of the same register (up to page 49).

The register has been used to create a portrait of Stuyvesant, busy regulating daily life, in particular formulating policies ensuring the common good and adjusting affairs. The general impression is that of working out policies instead of working to ensure justice. Nevertheless I saw also an undated prayer for opening council meetings. If you would look in more detail you would for instance notice the ruling urging to pay Indians correctly for their work (September 28, 1648) and the order on the conveyance of real estate in courts convened by the Director-General (February 7, 1650). This raises the general question of ordinances concerning private law, other laws, the borders of jurisdiction and the functioning of courts.

The first register is given an honoured place, but somehow I had expected more. It is nice to see the different stages from transcripts to translation, and it shows Charles Gehring and all working in his trail were not the first to deal with the records of the Dutch colonial period of New York and surrounding settlements and areas. Those dealing with Dutch palaeography would certainly welcome here a transcription of at least a part of this hallowed register. Let’s say it without hesitation, this digital gallery is really a showcase, if not for its content, then surely for using in its web address proudly the new domain .nyc, anyway shorter than the .amsterdam domain.

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

Russell Shorto’s book appeared eleven years ago and it has become a classic work, even to the degree that its references remain unchanged in later impressions. For the latest scholarship about colonial New York and the New Netherland period you can turn to the only website Shorto refers to, the New Netherland Project, nowadays called the New Netherland Institute (NNI). This institute maintains a bibliography, and it has created an impressive digital library with both older publications and editions, and also digital versions of its own publications. In 2010 the New Netherland Research Center opened in the same building in Albany, NY, where the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are housed, too.

The logical question to ask here is what we can find here concerning legal history. Property law is written large for example in the three volumes of the Register of the Provincial Secretary (1638-1660). Here, too, is the luxury of a digitized version of the first attempts at translation, Gehring’s modern translation and digitized images of the register itself. Three volumes have been edited with the Council Minutes for the period 1638-1656, a primary source for the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings of the Director General and Council of New Netherland. The sixteenth volume in the publication series gives us Laws and Writs of Appeal (part I, 1647-1663). The second part of volume 16 contains translations of court minutes from Fort Orange (1652-1660). Again property law is the subject of the translated Land Papers (1630-1664). Fort Orange became eventually Albany. There are minutes of the court of Albany from 1668 to 1685, now kept at the Albany County Hall of Records. The list grows really long! The Van Rensselaer Manor comes into view, too, as are the New Netherland Papers of Hans Bontemantel, a director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West Indies Company. Dutch colonial history elsewhere is also present, in the Curaçao Papers (1640-1665) (volume 17), here with a transcription, translation and images .

With separate access to the introductions of all sets, a guide to weights and measures, and last but not least both the original guide to Dutch papers created by Charles Gehring in 1977 and 1978 and its digital successor (2011-2012), you can only wish to have an online directory to the older phases of Dutch palaeography to try to decipher some of the images and to look more closely at Dutch words in the transcriptions. Luckily the magnificent multivolume Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal has become available at Leiden in a fine searchable version. The link to the digital collections of the New York State Archives does at first only lead to a free text search and four browsing filters (collections, places, repositories, state agencies), but I could quickly spot the collection for the Dutch settlement at the Delaware river (just one document from 1656), the administrative correspondence for the Dutch colony in New York (231 documents) and colonial council minutes with for example the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance.

Elsewhere, too, you can find digitized sources from the Dutch colonial period in the United States. At a branch of Ancestry is a useful links collection called New Netherland and Beyond. The section about the Dutch period (1621-1664) is the one to go for my purpose. You will find here for example A.J Van Laer’s selections from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts (1908) also dealt with by the NNI, and generally digitized versions of the finding aids, reports and translations created by Van Laer, O’Callaghan and Fernow.

Interestingly Dutch ordinances from the Early Modern period are in particular available online for the Dutch colonial period. The Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch history has created a digital version of the West-Indisch Plakaatboek within its project The Dutch in the Caribbean World c. 1670 – c. 1870. The digital Plakaatboek Guyana 1670-1816 has been launched in February 2015, and this project dealing with Essequibo, Berbice and Demerary, too, is accessible with an English interface. The Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811, Jacobus Anne van der Chijs (ed.) (17 volumes, Batavia, 1885-1901) has been digitized partially at Oxford (vol. 1-3), but it is available completely – and nicely searchable, too – within the Colonial Collection of Leiden University Library. The version of Van der Chijs at Sejarah Nusantara, a portal for colonial history created by the Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, is even better searchable. For the Kaapse Plakkaatboek (6 vol., Cape Town, 1944-1951), edited by M.K. Jeffreys and S.D. Naudé, the first free volumes appear in the digital books section of the firm aiming to be the One and Only Web Firm. The two volumes of the Ceylonees plakkaatboek, Lodewijk Hovy (ed.) (Hilversum, 1991) deal with the period 1638-1796; in arrangement with the publishing firm you can view large parts of it online in the same virtual library as for its South African counterpart. Hovy added to his edition a book-length introduction. The Dutch presence in Brazil was an element in my post last year about Brazil’s legal history, but there is not yet a general edition of ordinances. By the way, in the Dutch language both spellings plakaatboek and plakkaatboek exist side by side, yet another difficulty to trace these modern editions and their older predecessors.

Mapping the early history of New York

By now it should be clear how necessary it is to view the digital gallery of one early register within a larger context, for example that of the Dutch colonial enterprises, but it is certainly wise to look also at other countries and their activities on the American continent. Even the English colonies show great differences. A monolithic view tailored to the taste of those wanting rapid answers caters for a substantial niche, but it does not bring you answers with subtle nuances or even new questions.

Shorto makes a case for looking anew at both the origins of New York and the United States. Looking at the Dutch period and the legal transplants effected by the English can help to see American legal history in more depth, beyond the battlegrounds of originalism. Shorto tries to create a new picture of Peter Stuyvesant (around 1611-1672), yet it might seem he overstates his case. I cannot help thinking that one tries to make out much of relatively scarce resources. The translated documents show more pieces of a puzzle, and maybe indicate we have to deal with several puzzles with large gaps or with maps showing empty areas.

In fact when preparing this post I did not just look at sources indicated at the website of the New Netherland Project. The Fordham University in Nw York City has created a digital collection of old maps showing New Amsterdam, New Netherland and New England. In Chicago the Newberry Library presents an interesting gallery with maps for American colonial history, initially made for educational use. A particular link with New Amsterdam is provided by the digital slavery collections of the New York Historical Society. Even if they do not deal directly with the Dutch period it is seducing to look at them in connection with the certification in 1665 by Peter Stuyvesant of land grants to manumitted slaves, digitized at the NNI.

Chances for new research

In 2016 the exhibit Origins – Light on New York’s founders will start. At the accompanying website the portraits of some iconic Dutch figures look already at you. Let’s hope this occasion will be just another spur to delve into the early sources of New York’s history and of American colonial history in general. It would be most welcome if at least some scholars and in particular legal historians study aspects of that early history starting with the original sources and reading the Dutch of the founders. Shorto makes you see the people, hear the many languages, smell the filth of the colony and the fresh air of a green island, and takes you on a voyage back in history much in the style of a novel. Exactly his fluent style and evocation of people and events make me shiver sometimes when I feel his imagination gets too strong. L.J Wagenaar wrote in 1995 in his review of Hovy’s edition of Dutch ordinances for Ceylon these sources provided him with living images just like a novel.

Russell Shorto cannot be faulted for using with verve a style that might be termed journalistic. His books make you curious for more. He raises questions and new views, and books with these qualities are as important as book with answers. He challenges us to write as lively as he can, to do the hard work in searching, studying and analysing resources, formulating new theories and creating vast vistas we would not have dreamt of before.

Here I will honour Shorto by pointing in his way to a fact that might shed light on Stuyvesant. I am finishing this post at the Frisian island Terschelling, a familiar location for readers here. Near the village Midsland-Noord, a new part of the old village Midsland, is a spot with sands and heath called Stuyvesant, perhaps best translated as “moving sand”. Peter Stuyvesant came from a village in West-Frisia. Even without pursuing this toponym in full depth it hints at a certain quality of things eternally moving, partially hidden, partially blowing in your face, a presence which slip though your fingers like sand. My country can still boast a number of these moving sand regions as nowhere else in Europe. Just like New York Terschelling is blessed with a bay offering itself as a perfect natural harbor… There are limits to our knowledge, but they will move with every new question, with every new concept and view guiding our quest for perceiving the realities of the past. Legal sources might be tapped in ways yet untried, and historical sources can be read very differently when you put them side by side with the traces and sources of legal history.

A postscript

After finishing this post I felt slightly awkward about not mentioning any resources at the New York Public Library. For historical maps of early New York one can start with the online exhibition Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-2009. Among the digital collections of the NYPL are early maps. The research guide Sea Blazers and Early Scriveners: The First Guide Books to New York City introduces you not only to these early guide books, but gives you also quick access to relevant literature in the holdings of the NYPL.

Gathering all strengths for Nepal

Stay strong Nepal - ANHS-HimalayaSince Saturday the first news came about the major earthquake that hit Nepal its sheer size and impact become slowly more visible. You can follow the international news coverage for example at the dedicated earthquake page of the Nepal Research portal. On Tuesday some Dutch people who had been in Nepal returned and told on television about their experience and the situation in particular regions and locations. On Wednesday it was announced that the Netherlands would be charged with coordinating the relief efforts. Because of the immense number of airplanes now coming to Kathmandu it is often not possible to land or to fly away from Kathmandu Airport. In this post I will try to create a succinct overview of major online resources for contemporary Nepal and resources concerning its history and culture. The damage done to historic buildings is just one of the things affecting the people of Nepal.

Last week I did by chance search for online resources for legal history in Asia. It took me some time before I became convinced that it is useful to give here such an overview, because it took me a lot of time to find information and resources. You might ask yourself what is the use of digital libraries and collections in dealing with the impact of an earthquake. One can point to the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters, to mention just two examples. The availability of resources, be they material goods or information in print or online, and the presence of trained people at the locations with the most casualties and the greatest damage will make a huge difference. You will notice, too, that I have included at some turns legal materials and materials related to Nepal’s legal history, because this subject serves at this blog as the starting point for any contribution.

Access to resources about and from Nepal

The Library of Congress has among its country studies a guide to Nepal, but unfortunately this study dates from almost twenty years ago. The study can also be found on the website for country studies. Luckily the Law Library of the Library of Congress has a selection of links to more up-to-date information about Nepal. The LoC’s Global Legal Monitor show current legal information. Globalex (New York University) has probably the most extensive overview of the contemporary legal system in Nepal, with some attention to the history of this country. The Asian Legal Information Institute offers online access to Nepali legal resources. The United Nations started in 2014 with an information center in Kathmandu.

Nepals legal history

In Nepal the Nepal Law Commission, too, has put legal materials on its website, including historical constitutions, laws, treaties, statutes, bylaws, rules and regulations, to be found under the heading Documents – Law Archives. However, this website has not been updated since 2011. In her selective bibliography at her blog South Asian Legal History Resources Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) mentions just two items concerning Nepal, both by Mara Malagodi, Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: equality, identity, politics, and democracy in Nepal (1990-2007) (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013) and an article, ‘Ivor Jennings’s Constitutional Legacy beyond the Occidental-Oriental Divide’Journal of Law and Society 42/1 (2015) 102-26. Last year Sharafi published Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). As for recent studies about Nepal it is good to mention John Whelpton, A History of Nepal (Cambridge, etc., 2005) and Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan (eds.), Nepal in Transition. From People’s War to Fragile Peace (Cambridge, etc., 2012). It can do no harm to use the compact information about Nepal and its history compiled at WHKMLA, and you will find there a number of links, too. A good look at relevant Wikipedia articles can bring you much information, too.

Digitized books and open access

A number of websites in Europe and the United States give access to digitized books and documents dealing with Nepal. The section Ostasiatica of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has digitized some 50 works about Nepal. In the Hathi Trust Digital Library you have full access to some 70 books. A number of digitized items at Digital Himalaya deal with Nepal, in particular for maps, in the Rare Books section and the section for research journals. Among these journals is the very important Regmi Research Series, with translation of some Nepalese constitutions and other legal materials, and both an English-Nepali and a Nepali-English dictionary. You can also consult the 2001 census of Nepal, and last but not least benefit from the very substantial links collection crowning this digital portal. Cornell University, too, has digitized the volumes of the Regmi Research Series with documents in translation, and Cornell has also digitized a number of Nepali text books. At Cornell the department of Asian Studies has created its own selection of relevant links. Old Maps Online helps you find you without delay a great number of relevant historical and also more recent maps held in twenty libraries from many countries showing Nepal, Kathmandu and other locations and regions within Nepal.

At Southeast Asia Visions, yet another Cornell website, you can find 350 digitized Early Modern travel accounts concerning this region. As for scholarly journals from Nepal, you can access a number of open access journals for Nepal through DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) or go directly to Nepal Journals Online. By the way, I did find nothing touching specifically on Nepal in a first quick search in the companion Directory of Open Access Books, but maybe other search terms will bring you more. In the OAPEN Library, another open access initiative, I could find at least some studies about natural disasters. When you use the forces of the advanced search mode at BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) you can find a substantial number of recent scholarly articles and books about and from Nepal, but also older works. BASE works with some 3,500 repositories all over the world. Only four of them are in Nepal, and only Nepal Journals Online is now up and running. The blog The Himalayas and Beyond, too, helps tyou o track current research.

The telling images

Header Nepal Picture Library

Images say more than thousand words, and in this respect one of the most important links at Digital Himalaya is to the Nepal Picture Library where you can find a number of photo collections. Digital Himalaya also mentions a project at Brown University, Providence, RI, with images of Buddhist mural paintings in three monasteries in Mustang in a Tibetan region of Northwestern Nepal. It is also useful to look at the resources of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, although naturally the focus is strongly on Tibet.

Not just one language

One of the problems in helping Nepal is the variety of languages. Nepali is the main language, but in a number of regions other languages are used. The French project Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale (CNRS, Paris) deals with eight languages in Nepal. In Leiden the International institute for Asian Studies, too, has shown interest in some languages spoken in Nepal. Another major research institution, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, supports the Endangered Language Archive. SOAS, too, has a useful selection of relevant links for South Asia. For Nepal one can find in this selection in particular the Hindi Script Tutor which helps you learning the Devanagari script used also for Nepali, and a link to Mountain Voices with texts and translations of interviews, amounting also to an important resource for oral history. The Digital South Asia Library (University of Chicago) is in particular helpful with its repertory of online dictionaries for languages in South Asia and the overview of bibliographies, with among them also Chicago’s South Asia Union Catalogue.

Manuscripts and documents in Nepal

The past days I have not succeeded in getting access to the website of the Nepal National Library in Kathmandu. The Kaiser Library in Kathmandu has considerable historical holdings. A number of collections in Nepal has been the subject of projects sponsored by the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) of the British Library, mainly in cooperation with the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Lalitpur. EAP aims at conserving, describing and digitizing fragile and threatened archival collections, documents and manuscripts. EAP 066 dealt with some 50 periodicals and 140 monographs. EAP 166 was a project concerning some 6,500 rare negatives and photographs in two collections at the MPP. In EAP 171 a pilot study was conducted at the SOAS for Nepali manuscripts from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. EAP 272 is another project at the MPP, this time for ephemera and manuscripts mainly from the past century, but it included also older manuscripts. The fifth EAP project (EAP 676) aimed at conserving and digitizing seventeen privately held collections in Lalitpur with Buddhist manuscripts written in Sanskrit. The 10000 images in this collection have been published online in January 2015. The EAP blog at the British Library brings you news about this project. The University of Hamburg, too, works on the preservation and cataloguing of Nepali manuscripts, supported by its own office in Kathmandu. There is an online catalogue of the microfilms created within this project.

Scattered around the world more digital collections with objects from Nepal can be found. The University of Washington has some twenty music instruments in its ethnomusical holdings. In the Huntington Archive of Ohio State University you can find at least 800 images concerning Nepal. In the past anthropologists have collected materials in Nepal. Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) is just an example. His papers are at the British Library, and you can consult an online inventory of these papers thanks to the efforts of Cambridge University. The Muktabodah Indological Research Institute in Emeryville, CA and New Delhi has not only digitized manuscripts, but also created searchable e-texts in its digital library. The Indology.info website is a portal to research initiatives and the various digital libraries with Vedic, Tibetan and Buddhist texts. The EAP projects for Nepal are not mentioned at this portal.

I would have loved to continue here with digital art collections, but their sheer number worldwide as represented at Himalayan Art has convinced me that there is no need to double its efforts.

The balance between quick reactions and completeness

Header Savifa

Sometimes help is needed immediately. Those victims still alive but buried under the stones and concrete of collapsed buildings need help now, and the people suffering from wounds and diseases need basic treatment or even surgery at the spot. However, in order to achieve the most humanly possible some kind of overview, some measure of preparation is needed. Epidemic diseases might occur. Roads are still blocked in many regions, communication is often impossible or hampered severely, and you can reach any villages only by walking long paths.

While writing this post I often thought that I should not try to outdo myself in bringing this amount of online resources together. A number of considerations changed my view. First of all, a number of resources within Nepal cannot be reached at all. Secondly, yesterday I could not view one of the major online resources, the Tibetan and Himalayan Library. A third consideration came in a very late stage. I would dearly like to have discovered much earlier the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Südasien at the University of Heidelberg, abbreviated with the acronym SaViFa. I did not spot this service quickly on other websites at Heidelberg, such as those of the Südasieninstitut and its Kathmandu office at Lalitpur, and I overlooked SaViFa at the overview of other relevant Asian research resources in Heidelberg. Hopefully others more versed in Asian matters will have reacted already more efficiently than I can do.

SaViFa with an interface in German and English gives you with a first simple search for Nepal some 200 links to all kinds of online resources. The SaViFa portal offers many possibilities of its companion virtual portals and the special subject collections in Germany to refine your searches for particular resource types, regions, subjects and periods. CrossAsia, a service of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the other major German portal for research on Asia, focuses clearly on East and Southeast Asia.

Let’s not wait any longer, may this post go its way! I promise to create a PDF with a more helpful arrangement of the many resources presented here in a sometimes rambling way, and of course I will try to correct any grave omission and factual mistakes. In my experience it is most rewarding to get familiar with subjects and cases far outside your usual territory. I learned a lot from finding my way into Nepal, a country on the roof of the world. Hopefully the world will continue and renew its efforts, and arrive and preferably stay with adequate help to rescue and support the people and treasures of that collapsed roof.

A postscript

Already while writing this post I was sure I would overlook some important resources. i would have liked to mention here much more, but alas it turns out to be rather difficult to find resources even at some universites with very promising holdings. However, the very least I can do is pointing you to a recent overview of digital resources for South Asian legal history created by Mitra Sharafi, a guest blogger at the inexhaustible Legal History Blog. I have seen some online library guides with either information already found elsewhere, very concise or lacking descriptions of resources, and this is a strong contrast with Digital Himalaya, a model of its kind among digital portals. It is a comfort to have Sharafi’s guidance and helpful comments about South Asian resources in these posts and at her own blog.

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.