Tag Archives: Charters

Charlemagne’s Europe, a construction

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While busy with updating the congress calendar of my blog I spotted an announcement about a project at King’s College London, The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe. The website consists of a database containing one thousand early medieval documents, mainly charters. The database is surrounded with a series of useful guides, instructions, a bibliography and a selection of links. The first aim of the database is to create a unified framework to extract socio-economic and prosopographic information from the selected charters. A second aim is stimulating research into these early medieval legal documents themselves.

As a medievalist I have been trained to use all available written evidence to its utmost extent. My first frown when looking at this database was caused by the fact that not all surviving relevant documents, some 4,500 records, have been included here, but perhaps I expect too much. The database is clearly still in a beta phase. The list of charter editions from which documents have been extracted is fairly long. Some collections have been included entirely, for example the charters in the Diplomata Karolinorum series of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and from many others at least a few items have been selected. From the edition of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores all charters between 768 and 814 have been included.

It is probably wise to remember that we are looking in fact at a pilot project, and not to judge it too quickly. If you insist on having more materials immediately at your disposal, you can relish the presence of many online resources indicated in the splendid array of useful links. In this post I will tell you about my first experiences with the website of this project. The decision to create a database for researching Carolingian charters was not an easy choice. The visions behind this project are relevant for many comparable projects. What are the benefits of this project? Does it help to get closer to the legal realities within the Carolingian empire? Does it help us to refine our perceptions of legal history?

Back to basics

Chronicles and charters are the basic materials for doing historical research on subjects from medieval history. In a way the focus on charters of this project brings you back to a familiar playground. When you start to use the database in its simplest way, by browsing charters, you are immediately struck by the multitude of available filters, not only for classic attributes as the transmission date, repository and place names, but for many more determining elements. The filters help you to analyze a corpus of documents in a very structured way and helps to make comparisons possible on a sound base. In particular connections between people and changes in roles – and status – can become much clearer than they were before.

However, I could not help thinking that somehow you will find here only information that has been already labelled by others, but in fact the project team has done a lot more. They insist on making clear the multiple roles and significance of the information in charters. The student guide of the website gives good examples of the tiny differences in very similar charters that should make on think matters anew. In one charter a person is described as the abbot of a monastery, in the next example he is not. The first example mentions the patron saint of a church, in the next charter this information is not present. The examples show also the necessity of distinguishing the location where the charter was created, the place of a donation, places within a certain territory, and unidentified place names. Tucked away in one of the paragraphs of this guide is the very important remark that the database does not give you the actual text and images of charters. Links to digital versions will be added in the coming months. This basic feature, or should one say: basic lack, deserves more emphasis than just an oblique reference.

Results for DKar I:117

The selection of documents already included in the database was made with an eye to the greatest possible range of places, regions and types of transactions. It should not surprise you that I concluded that even the city of Utrecht, in the Carolingian period decidedly at a distance of the most important places and persons, is present in the database. The charter DKar I:117 (June 8, 777) proved to be a very instructive example. Utrecht is not only the name of the bishop’s see but also of his diocese. The charter was granted at Nijmegen. Several locations in the charter are within the diocese of Utrecht, a number of them at unidentified locations. The recipient of the grant is count Wigger for Alberic, the rector of St. Martin’s at Utrecht. Alberic is a priest. Charlemagne is credited with three qualities: king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and patrician of the Romans. This is the only example of Utrecht in the database, but it contains enough to place it in a wider context. In 778 Alberic became the bishop of Utrecht. Gaining such personal information is one of the aims of the project.

Seemingly strange is the missing location of the Upkirika, one of the objects granted. The database gives for individual elements the exact wordings, and the location super Dorestad places this church at least clearly in the region surrounding this well-known trade centre south-east of Utrecht. Apart from properties the grant includes also a toll right. The image above does not show the large clickable map where you can see identified locations. To the left of the map is a list of all locations mentioned in a charter. A second overview mentions place relationships. In DKar I:117 Leusden is a place within a smaller territory, in Flettheti. I was somewhat mystified that the database has as a place entry Utrecht, territory (Flehiti), and not inversely Flehite, with as description “territory in Utrecht”. The procedures behind place relationships are discussed in an interesting contribution on the project website.

The list of useful links at The Making gives for the Netherlands only the online version of the registers of the counts of Holland and Hainaut between 1299 and 1345 and a link to the online list of medieval cartularies and modern editions at TELMA. In the list of charter sources only the Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant tot 1312 (ONB) has been included. However, a number of Dutch and Belgian charter editions (oorkondenboeken) is even available online. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (OSU) has been digitized by the Huygens Institute, as are the ONB – in a partnership with a foundation for the history of Brabant –  and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (ONH). The portal Cartago leads you to charter editions for Friesland, Groningen and the German region Ostfriesland. Medieval charters from Belgium will become available online in 2015 within a project called Sources from the Medieval Low Countries, supported by the Belgian Royal Historical Commission. You can use a cd-rom with the Belgian Thesaurus diplomaticus from Brepols. The URL for the Diplomata Belgica does not yet function. Among the Scandinavian diplomataria the Svenskt Diplomatarium is not mentioned, perhaps because the oldest document in it dates from 817, just outside the period under consideration here. On that ground you could also exclude the Diplomatarium Norvegicum which starts in 1050. I am sure this and similar information will be swiftly added or corrected.

Apart from browsing for charters you can browse for agents and places with a similar wide range of filters. Conceptually the very act of creating of a charter is seen as amounting to a fact, called a factoid, with connections to places and peoples, and probably changing them, too. It is very advisable to read the contributions at the website about the choice to create a database instead of opting for the use of “mark-up” texts.

By the way, choosing Utrecht as an example in this post is not a random act. The Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies has a fine tradition of research into many subjects of the Carolingian period, including legal history, for example the history of penitentials, see Rob Meens, Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). The latest project Charlemagne’s Backyard looks at the rural history of the Low Countries in the Carolingian period, combining both written and archeological evidence.

A first impression

Are there similar projects where you can find more? The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe does use data from the Nomen et Gens project at Tübingen with prosopographical and onomastic information from the eight century. CharteX deals with charters from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The use of maps in the project of King’s College London reminded me of the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt. It is certainly wise to use this geographical information to check and corroborate search results in the KCL’s project. It is surely possible to give more examples of digital projects which support your research into Carolingian legal documents, such as the Carolingian Canon Law Project led by Abigail Firey (University of Kentucky), and the Bibliotheca legum (Karl Ubl, Universität Köln) with the socalled Völkerrechte.

It is a silly joke but The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe is still a bit in the making. The rebuttal by the project team to this remark is really justifiable: They assemble the very evidence to help you to question the truth behind the assumption that Charlemagne and his successors aimed at creating something like a European presence. When you combine the data contained in their database with printed and online editions of Carolingian charters, and preferably also with any other kind of legal documents from this period, you will be able to get a much more detailed view of Carolingian society, the networks and relations. The Making is not the definitive answer to research questions, but it does deserve inclusion in your digital toolkit when doing Carolingian legal history. One of its great merits is its refined conceptual framework for studying and analyzing medieval charters. Even without a working database the approach to Carolingian charters is worth close study. 2015 is just a few days old, there is enough time this year to look at legal history with new eyes!

Carved in stone: runes and Nordic law

When I started creating the blog roll for my blog, an important element of most blogs, I very soon found a blog using the same design as I do and touching subjects as medieval law which are also in my sphere of interest. Jonathan Jarrett is a very active blogger on the history of tenth-century Europe. When you look at his blog roll you will see he does not only point to many other blogs but also to a host of very useful websites in the field of medieval studies. One of the sites mentioned by Jarrett helped me to find the subject for this post on runes and Nordic law. You will soon see the Dutch twist to this theme!

Late Antique and Early Medieval Inscriptions is a portal created by Mark Handley to printed information and websites concerning inscriptions from Late Antiquity onwards into the Early Middle Ages up to 900 AD. Outsiders might not be completely aware that inscriptions are not the most commonly used source for medieval historians. It takes special training to decipher the texts after having learned the various scripts, and what is more, you will have to acquaint yourself with other technical matters as well before you can safely try to give an interpretation of such inscriptions.

For two reasons I feel prompted to write here about runes. The first impulse comes from Chris Wickham’s book The Inheritance of Rome. A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (2009). One of the images in his book shows the famous Jelling runestone set up by the Danish king Harald Blåtand (Bluetooth). In my hometown Utrecht we happen to have a full-scale copy of this stone, as do by now ten other cities. In January I stumbled for a posting by surprise on a digitized seventeenth century treatise on runes by the Danish historian Ole Worm, [Runir] seu Danica literatura antiquissima (..) (Hafniae [Copenhagen] 1651). It took me some time before I could bring both leads together in a post.

The Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone came to my city in 1936 as a gift from Danish friends of The Netherlands to celebrate 300 years Utrecht University. The stone stands between the Academiegebouw, the central building of Utrecht University, and the medieval cathedral. On the Jelling stone one side has been inscribed in runes. Two other sides of the stone show images and the sequel of the inscription.

A plaquette explaining the Jelling runestone

It is very thoughtful that at least a plaque in bronze was provided in 1936 with the stone to explain something of its significance, but more is needed to gain insight into the history and meaning of this rather large object. The Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen has devoted a special website to Jelling and the Jelling runestone. Wickham writes that king Harald ruled from 958 until 987. Around 965 he was baptized. Harald ruled Denmark from Jelling where he put this stone to commemorate his father Gorm.

On Mark Handley’s splendid portal to early medieval inscriptions you can use nearly 500 links to all kind of websites for this subject. For this post I looked to websites telling me more about runes and about the Jelling runestone. Among the databases I quickly found the Scandinavian Runic-text Database (Samnordisk runtextdatabas) at Uppsala Universitet where you can download a database with runic inscriptions, Rundata 2.5. Its interface is only in Swedish in which language I am not very fluent, and therefore this tool takes sometime before you can use it. The Jelling runestone has the signum DR 42. Luckily the website is linked to a forum on runes, the Uppsala Runforum with a generous link collection, and thus I arrived at the website Danske Runeindskrifter of the Nordisk Forskninginstitut, the University of Copenhagen and the Nationalmuseet in Kopenhagen. Although the search interface of the database on this website is only in Danish, somehow searching here was easy. Three inscriptions are to be found at Jelling. Scholars have designated the large stone as Jelling-sten 2, with the number DK SJy 11. In English the text of the inscription is translated as:

King Haraldr ordered these kumbls made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.

indicates a king. Kumbl, kuml in modern Danish, is the word for a monument. The stone was rediscovered only in 1586. Ole Worm saw a notice in the church at Jelling stating this year.

A drawing on the Jelling runestone

The interpretation of the Jelling runestone is complicated by the two images carved on it. Wickham flatly states: “Harald was Christian, but the imagery of the stone is not”. Ole Worm made a famous drawing of the images in his Danicorum monumentorum libri sex (1643). The pages 326 to 338 of his book deal with the Jelling runestone. Incidentally five books by Worm have been digitized at the university of Strasbourg. The inscription below the drawing has been duly noted.

The main figure on the Jelling runestone

This image elicited even more confusion and discussion. For a long time it was assumed Christ was pictured, but only in the nineteenth century scholars concluded the figures represents king Harald. Here, too, one can discern another inscription.

Runes and Nordic law

The modern study of runes has suffered from the abuse of this script and the racist ideology of the German Third Reich. The rune for the letter S was used in the emblem of one of its most deadly organizations. Its use is forbidden in present-day Germany. I remember attending a seminar in Munich where it was made very clear that it is virtually impossible to detect anything German in early medieval Europe. On top of the historical abuse of runes the imagery of the Vikings and the popular imagination still fired by their reputation for ransacking and plundering has deeply marked the way Scandinavian history is looked upon. The Vikings were both raiders and traders. The grim stories collected in the Edda and in particular in the Icelandic sagas picture this northern region as a dangerous area of medieval Europe. It is necessary to be aware of this background, but at the same time one needs to step backwards and to look at Scandinavia’s medieval history in all its aspects, including laws and legal culture.

In fact inscriptions in runic script do not very often contain legal texts. Legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia, too, use seldom runes. Perhaps more manuscripts with laws in runic scripts might have existed once, but only one example has survived. In Danish medieval law it is restricted to the Skånske Lov (Scanian Law), transmitted in runic script only in the Codex Runicus, a manuscript written around 1300 (Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, ms. AM 28 8vo) and once owned by Ole Worm. Other medieval manuscripts with the Scanian Law use the normal alphabet. The website Handrit enables you to find quickly and sometimes very extensive information on medieval Scandinavian manuscripts at Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Some manuscripts have been digitized for this website.

Inscriptions with runes are sometimes witnesses of powerful kings, but they did not legislate using runes. You can check this for inscriptions from Bergen in the Rune Type database of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Oslo. At the website for Danish runes links are provided to relevant websites on runes. Pride of place should go to the Runenprojekt Kiel which leads you to runes in the Futhark script and the places where these have been found in Europe. For The Netherlands only three inscriptions in Futhark are mentioned. The Kulturhistorisk Museum of the Universitetet i Oslo has a runic archive. In Sweden the Swedish National Heritage Board presents a substantial section on runes on its website, including a digital version (PDF) of part 3 of the Gotlands runinskrifter.

Digitized sources for medieval Nordic law

I had better concentrate here on medieval Nordic laws and lead you to some digitized medieval manuscripts containing these texts, and to other digital collections. In March 2011 a manuscript from the Swedish Royal Library returned after 300 years to Copenhagen. The manuscript Codex Holmiensis 37 with the Jyske Lov, the provincial law for Jutland, is now at the Danish Royal Library and can be consulted online; a full description and bibliography are additional assets. At Lund University Library another manuscript with the Jyske Lov has been digitized for the Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library (Mh 18; 14th century), and also a manuscript with the Skånske Lov and also the Skånske Kirkelov (Mh 41; 15th century). A German translation was published in 1593 and has been digitized at Heidelberg (Dat Rechte Judske Lowbock (…) (Schleswig 1593)). Another version in German appeared in print in 1717 (Das Jütisch Low-Buch (…) (Flensburg 1717)). Schleswig-Holstein belonged for many centuries to Denmark. At Lund more legal manuscripts from Scandinavia have been digitized, among them the Sjaellaensfare logh, the laws of Sjaelland (Mh 23; 15-16th century). A critical edition of the Skånske Lov, the Jyske Lov and other medieval Danish laws can be found in Danmarks gamle landskabslove med kirkelovene [Denmarks old provincial laws and ecclesiastical laws], Johannes Brodnum-Nielsen and Poul Johannes Jorgensen (eds.) (8 vol., Copenhagen 1933-1961). Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, AM 4 4to, is another digitized manuscript with the text of the Jyske Lov, this time dating from around 1300.

For later Danish laws I can at least offer the links to text versions of the Dansk Lov issued on behalf of king Christian V in 1583 – edited by Vilhelm Adolf Secher – and the Kongeloven af 1685 (Lex Regia). It is good also to point to the project for the digital editions of the works by the great Norwegian scholar Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) who in many of his works mentions the old Nordic laws and his views on law and justice.

It is not sensible nor possible to provide here a complete overview of digitized legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia. The digitized legal manuscripts at Lund contain texts in Old Norse, Swedish and Danish, and this points to the fact that the history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden is closely related. In this post I also mention texts from Iceland, and these, too, cannot be neglected. On Sagnanet, the portal to digitized books and manuscripts with the medieval literature of Iceland, you can find also some texts on jurisprudence (Lögfræði) and legal literature (Lögbaekur). The Swedish Kungliga Biblioteket has not digitized any legal manuscript, but on the website at least two legal manuscripts are briefly introduced, the Kalmar or Åbo manuscript of the Magnus Eriksson Landlag (Magnus Eriksson’s Law of the Realm) (B172) and the Äldre västgotenlag (Elder Westrogothic law) (B 59). The Ediffah project helps searching for manuscripts and archives in both the Swedish Royal Library and five Swedish university libraries.

Apart from digitized manuscripts in particular charters from Scandinavia can be searched online using the Diplomatarium Danicum, the Diplomatarium Norvegicum and the Regesta Norvegica. The Danish charter project is connected to a project presenting Danish medieval texts, among them the Jyske Lov (Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek (KB), NKS 295 8vo), the Skånske Kirkelov (KB, NKS 66 8vo) and the Flensborg Stadsret (Flensburg, Stadtarchiv, Perg. 12 x 17). The Norwegian charter project is a part of the Dokumentasjonprosjektet which leads you to archaeological material, an online dictionary and more texts. One of the digitized manuscripts with a Norwegian law text contains the Magnus Lagabøtes landslov in the Hardenbergs Codex (Copenhagen, KB, GKS 1154 2°). Bergen University Library, ms 1836, is a fragment from a later version of this law, Magnus Lagabøters Nyere Landslov. At Bergen you can also search in the database of the Diplomsamling, a collection with some 1250 charters, 300 of them dating before 1600.

You can search specifically for manuscripts in the REX catalogue of the Danish Royal Library, and you can look in REX also in the holdings of other Danish libraries. One of the digitized manuscripts at Copenhagen worth pointing at is the Södermannalagen of king Magnus Eriksson (KB, NKS 2237 4°), since March 2011 deposited at the Royal Library in Stockholm. Among the Codices Latini Haunienses are some law texts in Latin. Swedish charters can be searched in the Svenska Diplomatarium database of the Riksarkivet in Stockholm.

Digital libraries in Norway do provide online access to source editions on medieval Norse law. The rather restricted search interface of NBDigital, the digital library of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Olso, may take some time to adjust to, but you can find many digitized books on legal history and relevant source editions. Using the Ask website of Bibsys you can benefit from an advanced search form. In the Bokhylla of the Norwegian Digital Archive you can use for example the volumes of Norges gamle love indtil 1387 [Old laws of Norway until 1387] (5 vol., Christiania 1846-1895), Danske kirkelov (…), Holger Rørdam (ed.) (3 vol., Copenhagen 1883-1889), books on medieval and early modern seals (sigiller), and sources for ecclesiastical history. The Digitalarkivet itself brings you to a rich variety of sources: census records, ecclesiastical administration (kirkebøker), pledge registers and a general searchable database for all these sources. One of the largest Norwegian research projects is concerned with tingbøker, court proceedings, including cases concerning witchcraft. There is a database for searching witchcraft trials. A number of editions of seventeenth-century proceedings is accessible online.

For Danish medieval legal history it is useful to be aware of the DigDag project, a historical-geographical atlas for Denmark until 1600, and of the Adkomstregistrering 1513-1550 which provides information on persons, place-names and documents. The Statens Arkiver, the Danish National Archives, offer a number of services at their website; the Danish version lists more than the German and English version! Swedish archival records are being digitized in ArkivDigital, a project completely accessible only for subscribers. The Swedish National Archive has a central database for searching archival collections in Swedish archives. A number of record series in the Swedish Riksarkivet can be searched online, and also a substantial number of databases, for example court proceedings from the dombok for Värmland in the seventeenth century. The Finnish National Archive, too, has started a digital archive. This institution takes also responsibility for the digital Diplomatarium Fennicum for medieval charters from Finland.

The Swedish National Library has digitized a number of Swedish books printed before 1700 (Svenskt tryck före 1700). Among them are an edition of city bylaws, Sverikes rikes stadz lagh (…) (Stockholm 1628) and privileges for merchant towns, Biärkoa Rätten (…) (Stockholm 1687). At Lunds Universitet you can find digitized texts of many laws in the Fornsvenska textbanken, a linguistic corpus for Old Swedish for which critical text editions have been used, in particular the Samling af Sveriges Gamle Lagar edited by Carl Johan Schlyter and others between 1827 and 1877.

Looking for more

Of course I am woefully aware that I have missed a lot of information due to my inadequate knowledge of Scandinavian languages and relative unfamiliarity with Nordic research institutions and their websites. At my pags on digital libraries l have not yet put anything on Denmark… No doubt you can find more using general websites on Scandinavian culture. A nice example is Kulturnät Sverige. Let’s not overload this post and give you just one example from the numerous projects listed at this portal, the digital Svenska ostindiska kompaniet archiv at Göteborg University Library. A number of Danish digital resources for legal history have been brought together by the Kongelige Bibliotek. I found this only after I had finally spotted the Kulturperler search interface on the KB’s manysided website…

You can also find useful information in the ViFaNord, the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Nordeuropa und Ostseeraum, a cooperative project of the universities in Kiel, Greifswald and Göttingen. At the very least ViFaNord will bring you to some websites for specific projects. With some luck I found a Danish website on rape, Voldtaegt, with a page on the history of Scandinavian law pointing to several online sources. For modern Scandinavian law it might be useful to go to Juridisk Nettviser. Hopefully this post satisfies to some extent the curiosity of those interested in the history of law in Scandinavia. It gives you a taste of this subject, at the best a menu card, but not a diner or the complete Scandinavian kitchen.

A practical postscript

Having at your disposal a nice selection of links to digitized sources is one thing, reading texts in medieval Scandinavian languages is something else. I did not mention the Medieval Nordic Text Archive (Menota). For this project a number of links to relevant dictionaries have been put together for your convenience. Menota itselfs brings you to digital editions of mainly literary texts, among them the Heimskringla, and brings you also a fine links selection. A concise guide to Scandinavian studies is provided for example by the UCLA Universitiy Library. For information about current research on legal history in Scandinavia I somehow missed the article by Heikki Pihlajamäki, ‘Legal history in the Nordic countries. A short story of Nordic legal history’, Clio@Themis 1 (2009).

A second postscript

In 2013 Ditlev Tamm and Helle Vogt made a short movie on Translating Medieval Danish Law. In this introduction to their project for the English translation of medieval legal texts from Denmark they show several manuscripts kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. A second movie with Tamma and Vogt in Danish from Det Juridiske Fakultet at the University of Copenhagen focuses somewhat longer on Danmarks Gamle Lov. The University of Aberdeen has a project The Medieval Nordic Laws in coopration with the Ubniversity of Stockholm.. The team will translate law texts and create the Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary. Since Autumn 2014 there is an accompanying blog with a useful overview of laws and editions to be included.

The coming of Christianity to Scandinavia is the subject of a book by Anders Winroth, The conversion of Scandinavia. Vikings, merchants and missionaries in the remaking of Northern Europe (New Haven, Conn., 2012), and you will enjoy also his The Age of the Vikings (Princeton, NJ, 2014).

The world of history

Yesterday the 21st International Congress of Historical Sciences (ICHS) started in Amsterdam. One of its central themes is water, and this is surely worth the attention of historians, too. Today Amsterdam certainly offered lots of water when in a few hours over 40 mm rain came down, a small quantity compared to the ongoing rains that afflict the people of Pakistan and China. Other nations and people suffer daily from the lack of any water. History on the grand scale will inevitably miss the details which matter most for ordinary people. What about the connection between water and law? Law is by no means a neglectable detail, not for ordinary people nor for historians retracing their footsteps. Let’s have a look at the programme of the ICHS organized jointly by the Dutch Royal Historical Society, the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch Royal Library (The Hague) and the International Institute for Social History.

On Tuesday August 24, a session will be held on “Ethics, History and Law”. At stake here is in particular the grasp of politics on historical research. The four papers in this session touch widely different subjects. Antonis Liakos will discuss the abuses of history by politics and the influence of history in politics. Pierre Nora will present a paper on the French legislation about history and remembrance of the past between 1990 and 2008. Paolo Pezzino dives into a classic juridical matter, the role of historians as experts in court. Jörn Rüsen will reflect on the role of history and remembering the major traumatic experiences of the past century.

In the main programme there are three sessions focusing in law.  There will be also sessions on history and human rights, and on slavery. Another session combines Scottish networks on the Atlantic and the history of legal attitudes to piracy. In other sessions some papers touch law and legal history at least in their titles. Billy K.L. So speaks about company law reforms and business modernization in China and Japan in the early 20th century, Anne Redgate discusses liturgy, law and self-representation in medieval Armenia and England. Ana Sofia Ribeiro will focus on sexual violence in 18th century Portugal, and Marianna Muravyeva will talk about legal attitudes to sexual violence in modern Russia. Torsten Feys’s subject is shipping interests and American immigration laws, and Joanna Woydon brings Polish schoolbooks on the 1981 martial law to our attention. Maria Cmierzak tackles the attitudes of the lawyers who reformed the Polish constitution during the last century, and Ditlev Tamm will speak about the transmigration of legal scholarship.

The ISCH hosts also separate programmes. The largest programme is organized by the International Federation for Research in Women’s History. I feel a bit disappointed that only three out of eighteen sessions deal substantially with law: there will be sessions on nationalism, imperialism and women’s rights, on the global struggle for women’s citizenship, and on women’s freedom and civil rights in the African diaspora. The Commission Internationale de Diplomatique represented by Theo Kölzer has organized a session on charters. Papers will concern documents concerning the judiciary in medieval Sicily, medieval Italian merchants and their documents, a notary from medieval Lucca, testaments in Portugal and Spain, and public documentation on devotional practices in medieval Zaragoza. The Commission Internationale de Démographie Historique will held eleven sessions at the International Institute for Social History. Three sessions focus on inheritance law from a comparative perspective. Two other sessions deal with the question whether family systems are only beneficial to land-owning families. With respect to legal history this program looks promising. In fact it makes up for any apparent or real absence of subjects concerning law and history.

It is definitely too early yet to say anything about the success of this major international congress which is convened every five years. It is indeed a question whether more legal history would benefit the ICHS, or that legal historians would win by giving attention to this congress series. It is up to legal historians to be present themselves at such congresses or to opt for other ways of exchanging results from ongoing research, to look at their own research from a comparatist’s view or simply to meet other researchers which deal with the same period, country, region, people or whatever phenomenon or historical event.

The Dutch VPRO television reports daily about the Amsterdam ICHS on its own history website (only in Dutch). At the opening session the Canadian historian Jean-Claude Robert, secretary of the ICHS,  gave a lecture on the history of water management in Canada, a subject which is prominent in Dutch history, too. Reading about the very different appreciations of water depending on its role and impact I could not help thinking of the website about wetlands in Pakistan and the communications network on Pakistan wetlands. What will happen to these wetlands now one has to face another, more terrible impact of water? How can historians help reconstructing life and landscapes in devastated regions? The disasters caused by water in this and other regions are not just a regional problem but a challenge to the global community.

Lex scripta

Lex scripta, “written law”, a thing you would almost take for granted. Our medieval ancestors coined the phrase quod non est in actis, non est in mundo, “what is not noted in acts, does not exist in the world”. Written evidence started to become the only evidence admitted in court, yet oral proceedings and oral pleading exist until today. I could continue musing on this theme, but today I would like to bring something else to your attention. Thanks to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, affectionately abbreviated to Penn Libraries, you can now find the digital proceedings of the second Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, held October 30-31, 2009, under the title Lex Scripta: The Manuscript as Witness to the History of Law.

In the proceedings of this two-day symposium edited by Lynn Ransom you will find papers by Abigail Firey, Edward Peters, Kathleen E. Kennedy and Susan L’Engle on medieval manuscripts. Jonathon Brockopp discusses early Islamic legal manuscripts -alas there is not yet a PDF of his and L’Engle’s presentations- and Georg Vogeler writes about the forms of presenting charters online. Timothy Stinson reports on the concluding panel discussion concerning the digitization of medieval legal documents. Hugh Cayless addresses the subject of open licensing and images of medieval manuscripts.

The symposium last year was also held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Henry Charles Lea, the great historian of the medieval inquisition, whose library has been held since 1926 by Penn Libraries. At the symposium Edward Peters discussed Lea’s early work and his views on medieval canon law. Speaking of medieval canon law: it is never too late to visit the new website of ICMAC, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio or International Society of Medieval Canon Law, launched last February at the University of Toronto!

Another vast subject of legal history is touched upon by many of the digital exhibitions also presented on the website of Penn Libraries at their Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Jewish law is one of the main subjects in the Judaica Online Exhibitions. This last section, too, helps to confirm the merits of the plural name Penn Libraries. Let’s not forget to mention the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) with information on manuscripts from the Schoenberg collection and the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, the enterprise to bring together information on the sales and presents whereabouts of medieval manuscripts.

An addendum: these digital proceedings are really not the only materials concerning medieval canon law now available online. In particular The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is worth visiting.

A second addendum : Jörg Erdmann wrote a study called “Quod est in actis, non est in mundo”. Päpstliche Benefizialpolitik im sacrum imperium des 14. Jahrhundert (Tübingen 2006) published by the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome. At the DHI website you can find statistical appendices to his book.

Yet another postscript: some images accompanying Kenneth Pennington’s lecture Legal Manuscripts and Books in Cyberspace can be found at his own website.

Charting medieval charters

Picture your average nineteenth-century historian working with medieval sources: accounts and charters are his daily bread, his life is a seemingly dull existence in dark and dusty rooms surrounded by his beloved sources. Picture your average armchair historian today: surfing the web hour after hour, plodding through many worthless websites, and still seldom finding quickly what you are looking for. If our grandfathers could look today for medieval charters online, they would be stunned at the number and the form of the digital charterbooks, Urkundenbüchercartulaires and oorkondenboeken you can access at home. The question for us is more often: where to start? It is the good old Virtual Library, and in particular the German branch in Munich, VL Geschichte, that offers a fine starting point. And yes indeed, as used to be the practice in the nineteenth century, you will need to know German to read the judicious comments on the websites presented there. At the very least admit that it is at last a page with detailed comments!  Call it a rite of initiation to the historian’s trade, but anyway it reminds you of the fact it will not do to just read the edition of a charter and to use it immediately for any purpose.

Charters have a juridical content -and form, too, very often- but they are not just juridical records. Auxiliary disciplines such as paleography and diplomatics which assist the interpretation and use of charters exist already since the late seventeenth century, and history does cross regional, national and linguistic borders. Roughly speaking one can distinguish sites which present only the texts of medieval charters, accompanied by the annotations of the editor(s), and sites which offer both the original charters and an edition, sometimes also a digitized version of the original edition. Deciphering the original handwriting can be quite a feat, understanding annotation is not always straightforward business. Two examples of websites on charters: the most ambitious and far ranging project is probably Monasterium, “das virtuelle Urkundenarchiv Europas”, with apart from summaries and digitized images useful information such as glossaries, reference works and institutions, and 140,000 charters online from Austria, Germany and Italy; the site can be viewed in nine languages. The Codice diplomatico della Lombardia medievale (secoli VIII-XII) provides enriched editions of charters from existing editions, and also a repertory of notaries (as yet only for Pavia). The developments in early medieval Lombardy have been seminal for the development of notaries on the continent, a point stressed by Kees Cappon on January 29, 2010, in his inaugural lecture at the chair for the history of the notariate at Amsterdam University. The CDLM-project is developed in collaboration with Scrineum, a consortium for the study of medieval sources and books in Northern Italy, with its own online journal.

The internet offers also guides to the more familiar printed form of sources. Columbia University has a page which guides you to editions of medieval papal documents, but unfortunately papal registers after pope Innocent III are not mentioned at all. It is only fair to mention the digital collections at Columbia University Libraries which include the Digital Scriptorium, the Advanced Papyrological Information System and the John Jay Papers. If you insist on finding online at least the titles of those papal registers after 1216 the bibliography by Thomas Frenz at the Universität Passau should be your safe haven. Frenz treats also paleography, heraldry and medieval Latin. The French portal Ménestrel for medieval studies has fine sections on Diplomatique and Cartulaires. Searching the wealth of French cartularies is even easier using cartulR, the repertory of medieval and modern cartularies created at the IRHT in Paris and Orléans. French researchers have not hesitated to give the CNRS network site on diplomatics a Latin name, De rebus diplomaticis.  An updated edition of G.R.C. Davis’ Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain and Ireland (first edition 1958) is scheduled for publication in a few months by the British Library. Let’s end this post with a link to Scottish charters and cartularies at Glasgow University, because there you will find also a useful links selection in English.