Tag Archives: Comparative law

Two laws and one trial

Banner The Amboyna Conspiracy TrialSometimes even a history blog cannot escape from current affairs, but the opposite happens, too: a historical event comes unexpectedly into view and you keep thinking about it. A few weeks ago I encountered the project The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial (Monash University) about a famous trial in 1623 on the island Ambon, part of the Moluccas islands in the southeastern part of the vast Indonesian archipelago, close to Sulawesi, East Timor, New Guinea and Australia, thus explaining the interest of a team at an Australian university led by Adam Clulow. Among the partners for this project launched in 2016 were the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the Dutch Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the India Office Records of the British Library. The website of the project invites the users to ponder the question on which side they stand. In particular the educational aspects of this website merit attention. Here I use both Ambon and Amboina to refer to the island.

Yet another reason to write here about the Dutch East India Company is the upcoming exhibition at the Nationaal Archief in The Hague, De wereld van de VOC [The World of the VOC] that will be on display from February 24, 2017 to January 7, 2018.

A clash of emerging empires

Poster "De wereld van de VOC" - Nationaal \archief, Den Haag

The story of the trial in 1623 is seemingly simple and straightforward. The Dutch authorities on the island Ambon, officials of the Dutch East Indian Company, arrested a Japanese soldier who had behaved suspiciously. Under torture he and fellow Japanese mercenaries confessed to know about a conspiracy of the English to capture the Dutch fortress. In a span of two weeks Englishmen, too, were captured and tortured to gain confessions. Under Dutch criminal law torture was considered one of the legal means in a trial. The Early Modern maxim “Tortura est regina probationum”, torture is the queen of proves, is not mentioned at the project website. On March 9, 1623 twenty prisoners were executed by the Dutch.

The creators of the Amboyna website are quite right in seeing this trial as a focus point of history. The Dutch and the English competed for the most profitable trade in spice. In fact the name of the Moluccas in Dutch – now in Dutch Molukken – was for many years “Specerij-eilanden”, The Spice Islands. A treaty signed in 1616 seemed a rather peaceful start of Dutch relations with the inhabitants of the Moluccan Islands, but in 1621 governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen decided to invade these islands, aiming in particular at Banda, known for its nutmeg, apart from Grenada the only spot on earth where you can find large quantities of this fruit which also produces yet another spice, mace.

Treaty with Banda, 1616

From 1610 to 1619 Ambon was the central location of the Dutch overseas empire in South East Asia. Coen and his troops killed in 1621 thousands inhabitants of Banda and the surroundings islands on the pretext that they had broken the treaty by trading with other nations than the Dutch, be they English, Spanish or Portuguese. This background of ferocious and ruthless violence close to genocide did not predict a peaceful continuation of relations with the indigenous people nor with other European countries. It is indeed the very story that forever divides those applauding the Dutch energy and colonial expansion, and those who condemn the events and the whole period as an unforgivable and inhuman step in mankind’s history. A few years ago one of the episodes of the television series on the Dutch Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age) centered around the 1621 massacre at Banda (the fifth episode, Een wereldonderneming [A world enterprise]. In January 1623 Coen was succeeded as governor of the Dutch Indies by Pieter de Carpentier.

The website of The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial gives you a timeline with for each day the texts of the confessions made by the arrested suspects. Four exhibits give you a chance to deepen your knowledges about the two East India companies and the spice trade, the role of Japanese mercenaries, trials in Dutch and English law and the uses and role of torture, and the publicity about the trial. Adam Clulow wrote about the Japanese soldiers in his article ‘Unjust, cruel and barbarous proceedings : Japanese mercenaries and the Amboyna incident of 1623’. Itinerario 31 (2007) 15-34. More recently he published The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (New York, 2014), reviewed for example by Martine van Ittersum for the Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden / Low Countries Historical Review 130/4 (2015). Her main criticism is Clulow’s insufficient information about sources in Dutch and Japanese archives. When eventually news of the trial reached Europe, it sparked off a stream of publications. Just browsing the Knuttel, the famous catalogue of Dutch pamphlets shows you a substantial rise in the number of pamphlets issued in 1624 and 1625, but English pamphleteers were even more active. The website features in the “Archive” section only pamphlets in English. You will find in this section some twenty-five sources and a number of paintings and portraits.

Placcaet, Knuttel no. 3548 - image The Memory of the Netherlands

“Placcaet…”, an ordinance against the first pamphlet concerning the Amboina trial – Knuttel no. 3548 – copy Royal Library, The Hague – image: The Memory of the Netherlands

The presentation of sources for The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial should indeed alert you to what you see and read. For many documents a brief analysis of the text and impact is given, but not for all documents. Some items show just one page of a pamphlet or archival record. No pamphlet is presented here in its entirety. For documents in Dutch a partial translation is given, but no transcription. One of the pamphlets, Waerachtich verhael vande tijdinghen gecomen wt de Oost-Indien (…). Aengaende de conspiratie ontdeckt inde eylanden van Amboyna (Knuttel no. 3547), online at the portal The Memory of the Netherlands, originally printed in Gothic script (Knuttel no. 3546) was quickly translated into English as a part of the pamphlet A true relation of the unjust, cruell, and barbarous proceedings against the English at Amboyna in the East-Indies (London 1624; digital version at The Memory of the Netherlands). In its turn a Dutch translation appeared of this English reaction (Knuttel no. 3549, online version). The Amboyna project site does not mention nor contain the ordinance (plakkaat) of the Dutch General States forbidding in August 1624 the distribution of the first pamphlet because it would harm the relations between the Dutch and English East India companies [Placcaet… (The Hague 1624; Knuttel no. 3548, online version)]. Clearly this act did not work to suppress the news of the events in the East. Anyway thanks to the original contemporary translations it is substantially but not completely possible to rely on them.

The database The Early Modern Pamphlets Online for Dutch pamphlets and the German Flugschriften does still work despite an announcement about it being shut down on January 1, 2017. You can freely use this online catalogue, instead of going to the subscribers-only commercial version. The Hathi Trust Digital Library has digitized the catalogue of pamphlets held at the Dutch Royal Library [W.P.C. Knuttel (ed.), Catalogus van de pamfletten-verzameling berustende in de Koninklijke bibliotheek (9 vol., The Hague 1890-1920)], and you can use the search function of this version to search in its text.

The “citations” for the archival items and documents at the Amboina website are the titles of the items, with sometimes a very much abbreviated indication of the location and archive. For the colorful painting in the Museum Rumah Budaya in Banda Neira no indication is given when it was created. I can imagine this is exactly the question teachers or instructors want their students to solve. The image of the 1616 treaty with Banda above is marked “Contract with Banda, 3 May 1616”. Here, too, you might think it would spoil the things students have to do if I would give here more information about this source. I had expected a list with full references for all items in an appendix to the project, tucked away in the teachers’ corner. The start page of the digital project shows part of an engraving showing the torturers and their victims. In a corner of the image you can find a reference in small print giving the reference to this image from the collections of the Rijksmuseum (object no. RP-P-OB-68.279, cat. no. FMH 2328-7). The engraving was published in 1673, not nearly fifty years earlier.

Header TANAP Archives

However, when you start checking you will find several textual witnesses to this treaty, thus making it seem that the image of this treaty – or any other archival record – was taken at random among the registers and originals held at the Dutch Nationaal Archief. The TANAP portal is a great gateway to search for many aspects of the Dutch East India Company both in Dutch, British, Sri Lankan and Indonesian archives. In the combined inventories you will find at least three items with the 1616 contract. The important point is that these inventories do not provide you with digitized images, hence the usual need for good references for documents and images. I would almost leave it to you to search in the TANAP portal for the events at Ambon, but I feel rather certain one of the registers used is Nationaal Archief, inventory 1.04.2, no. 1080, because “VOC 1080” is often mentioned in the citations. Inventory 1.04.02 at the website of the Nationaal Archief contains more than 4 million scanned pages, but not for this register.

If you want mores images at your screen you can combine the riches of The Memory of the Netherlands with for example the portal Atlas of Mutual Heritage. The TANAP portal has a fine links selection, and the introduction to the history of the VOC by F.S. Gaastra is most substantial and supported by a fine bibliography. For more links you should visit the site of the VOC-Kenniscentrum. An important general source are the reports of the governors of Ambon, edited by G.J. Knaap, Memories van overgave van gouverneurs van Ambon in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw (The Hague 1987), digitized by the Huygens Instituut, and you will no doubt be interested in the digitized resolutions of the Dutch Staten Generaal from 1575-1630.

The educational purpose of the trial website is very clear in the section Your Verdict. Six major questions are fired at you to help you to come to a balanced verdict about the trial. In my view it is one thing to ask these questions, and another thing to create real full access to relevant documents. However judicious the choice of selections, however wise the suggestions for analysis, you will learn from having at your disposal images of the complete documents, transcriptions and translations, with full references to track them again, and this holds true also for paintings and portraits. This lack of exact information mars the quality of this digital collection. The team has in mind to create similar projects around two other conspiracy trials, but now it seems at some turns that some basic information has been left out to create a smooth and convincing selection. Your judgment on these matters will also depend on your preference for a working educational project which stresses the importance of independent thinking and weighing of facts and views, certainly a major and important aim, or a preference to create a showcase for doing real historical research around a historical cause célèbre.

Amidst of all things surroundings this case it is instructive to see the shocked reaction at Batavia (Jakarta), since 1619 the VOC headquarter at Java, of the superiors of Isaacq de Bruijn, the Dutch advocate-fiscal, the senior officer leading the investigation at Ambon. We have to bear in mind that the position of the various members of the VOC united in a number of kamers (chambers) in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other cities, and the Staten Generaal in The Hague was many thousand miles away. The interaction between the two circles, and even between Java and Ambon was not quick to say the least. It reminded me of a famous article by the late Cees Fasseur (1938-2016), ‘Een koloniale paradox. De Nederlandse expansie in de Indonesische archipel in het midden van de negentiende eeuw (1830-1870)’ [A colonial paradox. The Dutch expansion in the Indonesian archipelago in the mid-nineteenth century (1830-1870)], Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 92 (1979) 162-186. It is the model article in a student guide by P. de Buck for writing history papers and master theses, Zoeken en schrijven : handleiding bij het maken van een historisch werkstuk (first edition Haarlem 1982). It seems this configuration of powers and distances can be dated two centuries earlier.

Meanwhile in Holland

Is this only a Utrecht view of things? Let me at least bring you to a diary of someone from Utrecht who could in principle have had first hand knowledge. Aernout van Buchell (Buchelius) (1565-1641) from Utrecht has figured here a few times already. He was not only interested in history, but was also between 1619 and 1621 a member of the Amsterdam chamber of the Dutch East India Company as a delegate of the States of Utrecht. In 2011 Kees Smit made a transcription (PDF) of a manuscript by Van Buchell at the Nationaal Archief [1.11.01.01, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, 256 (old 1882 A VI 8 2)]. It contains some drawings, including a map showing Ambon and a drawing of Fort Amboyna (f. 37v-38r). At f. 102v he wrote in May 1624: “Het jacht, dat den 4. januarii 1624 was van de stat Nieu Batavia ofte Jacatra uuyt Java geseilt, is in mayo gearriveert, brengende tijdinge dat drie schepen, wel geladen, veertien dagen ofte drie weecken, als men verhoopten, soude volgen, ende noch drie schepen bijcans toegerust lagen op de custen van Cormandel. Verhaelden meede van eene conspiratio bij eenige Engelsche ende inwoonders op Amboyna, meinende het casteel aldaer te veroveren. Maer waren gemelt, eenige gevangen, sommige gejusticeert, oeck Engelse. Waerover men seyt, dat den coninc van Groot-Britanniën qualic soude tevreden wesen, van sijne oorblasers opgeritzt. Alsofte men de quaetdoenders niet en behoorden te straffen! Ende die mosten in Engelant geremitteert worden.”

Van Buchell starts telling about the yacht arriving from Batavia on January 1624, and six more ships following within a number of weeks. From “Verhaelden” onwards he jotted down notes about the events at Ambon and his opinion, in my translation: “[They] told also about a conspiracy – note the Latin conspiratio, OV – of some Englishmen and inhabitants of Amboina who aimed at capturing the castle. But they were denounced, some captured, some judged, Englishmen too. As to this it was said the king of Great Britain would hardly be pleased, but – more likely – provoked by his advisors. As if these wrongdoers did not need to be punished! Most of them are being pardoned in England”. Alas these are is only notes about this affair, he does not mention it anymore. To me this one note is tantalizing for all the things Van Buchell does not mention, but it is in my view a superficial report showing his first impressions after hearing something about the fateful events at Ambon. He mentions Ambon sixty times in this diary.

Perhaps more telling are lines in an undated Latin poem Van Buchell wrote in his diary (f. 74r): Vidimus, Oceanus salsis quod circuit undis / Incola odoriferos ter ubi capit arbore fructus / Amboynae Batavus leges ubi condidit aequas / Fragrantes interque nuces collesque calentes / Bandanos domuit populos, gentique dolosae / Imposuit frenum Javae, regemque fateri / Compulit, aut victum se aut armis esse minorem (…). A quick translation of my hand: “We see how the Ocean goes around with salt waves where an inhabitant takes thrice a year wonderful smelling fruits from a tree, where the Batave has set equal laws for Amboina, and [where] there are perfumed nuts amidst the hot hills; he rules the peoples of Banda, and he imposed a rein on the treacherous people of Java, and he forced the king to yield, be it as conquered or smaller in arms (…)”. The combination of being sure about the qualities of you own laws and a conviction that peoples on these isles are treacherous, is potentially lethal. It is striking how often Van Buchell writes in this diary about the Protestant missionaries in the Moluccas. There is another VOC diary by Van Buchell yet to be explored [The Hague, Nationaal Archief, inventory 1.11.01.01, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 255 (old 1882 A VI 8 1)].

Now you might want me to leave out Van Buchell, but in fact it helped me to notice the most obvious gap of the trial website. It is rather strange to bother about the full texts, complete transcriptions and translations of documents, and to accept at face value the statements about the differences in criminal procedure in Dutch law and the common law. Instead of translating Van Buchell writing about an analysis by Hugo Grotius would be most welcome. You can consult his correspondence online at the eLaborate platform of the Huygens Instituut. However, Grotius does mention the Amboyna case in his letters only casually. In 1609 Grotius published Mare Liberum, and in 1625 De iure belli ac pacis. His Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid appeared only in 1631, but this book deals only with private law. Clulow mentions Grotius and the Amboina case in his 2014 study. In an earlier contribution about Grotius I provided ample information about the first editions, online versions and translations of his works. Simon van Leeuwen’s classic handbook for Roman-Dutch law, Paratitla iuris novissimi dat is een kort begrip van het Rooms-Hollands reght (..) appeared only in 1651.

While pondering the Amboina case and the project website I remembered another Utrecht view of things. My first steps in the fields of legal history were led by Marijke van de Vrugt at Utrecht, the author of a book about De criminele ordonnantie van 1570 (Zutphen 1978), a study about the ordinance for criminal procedure issued by Philips II of Spain. A few years later she contributed to the series Rechtshistorische cahiers the volume Aengaende Criminele Saken [About Criminal Matters] (Deventer 1982) about the history of criminal law, with a chapter about the 1570 ordinance, and also one about Antonius Matthaeus II (1601-1654), a famous law professor at Utrecht, author of De criminibus (first edition 1644). Van de Vrugt provided judiciously chosen relevant text fragments. She discussed in detail ch. 42 of the 1570 Criminal Ordinance and explains its fateful ambiguity due to unclear words about the exceptional use of torture. Matthaeus questioned the eagerness to use torture. Would it not be most natural to provide for both Dutch and common law more precise information when they clearly were crucial for the whole affair? Lack of space and consideration for the stamina of my readers are the practical reasons to leave out here a paragraph about the common law. Clulow mentioned in 2014 the Amboina case to compare it with a later case in Japan, and pointed for good reasons to Grotius. Alas incomplete understanding and investigating the pivotal role of legal matters for the Amboina case mars the trial website.

Some conclusions

Despite my remarks and misgivings about a number of aspect of the Amboyna digital collection I think we should salute it as a welcome addition to the materials available for educational purposes. It makes also a number of documents and images easy available for doing research about the Dutch and British East India companies. At the end of this post I wonder a bit what the input of the India Office Records has been. The absence of records from the British National Archives might cause a frown, too. Adding a full list of references for the documents, archival records and images in this digital collection would redeem a clear gap. The Amboina Conspiracy Trial makes you muse about current ideas about conspiracies and the role of one-sided or full information. It is an example of two laws clashing, Dutch civil law administered by officers of a commercial company granted sovereign powers and the common law. It is chilling to note how this example of quick action led to torture and judicial killings of people where other ways to approach the situation were open.

The Amboina trial website shows many aspects in a colourful way, but it lacks some crucial information about and attention to the very crux of the matters at stake. It would be relatively simple to provide some background about the Dutch law and the common law, instead of just a few sentences. It might seem evident to focus on the trial itself, but you will have to show even in an educational setting more of the background and relevant sources. Only for Isaacq de Bruijn, the infamous Dutch official, things seemed simple. Our world is complicated, and we had better face it. In my recent contribution about presidential libraries I mentioned the replica of the Situation Room. You will need access to all relevant information, time and wisdom to judge a situation correctly and act accordingly.

A postscript

Even this long post did lack at least something very important concerning Dutch law, the collection of ordinances and placards edited by Jacobus Anne van der Chijs, Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811 (17 vol., Batavia, 1885-1901), also available online completely at Sejarah Nusantara, a portal for seventeeth and eighteenth-century history created by the Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, with both browse and search functions.

Looking at Cuba’s legal history

With the death of Fidel Castro (1926-2016) an era of revolutionary turmoil ends and a period preluding to a transition seems to begin for Cuba. All over the world the events that made Castro a legendary figure, both idolized and hated, will be brought back into view by the media. In this post I would like to look succinctly at some elements of Cuba’s legal history. My overview is coloured by the sometimes random presence of digital collections, but nevertheless it seems useful to bring them together. As a matter of fact I did not search these collections only in the wake of today’s headlines. You can find my selection of relevant digital libraries for both North and South America on my web page with digital libraries which deal with or concern exclusively law and justice. Lately I discussed here Lara Putnam’s article about the dangers of relying too much on digital resources. I hoped to have steered away of some of the pitfalls she indicates, but there is here ample attention for digital resources.

Law and justice in Cuba

Header dLOC

When looking at Cuba it is perhaps most fitting to look at this island first of all from a Caribbean perspective. The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) is a portal created by an international consortium of research libraries. One country gets special attention at dLOC, Haiti. The section for law at dLOC contains more legal materials about and from Cuba than for any other country, some 6,000 items. A search for Cuba as a subject in the DLOC yields nearly four thousand items. You can approach dLOC in three languages. dLOC contains for example the Diario de sesiones del Congreso de la Republica de Cuba from 1902 to 1957. Among the contributing institutions of the dLOC is another digital portal, Manioc, which focuses on former French colonies in the Caribbean. Luckily this portal has an interface in four languages. With only some thirty digitized historical printed books concerning Cuban law and history the harvest here might seem at first insignificant, but the significance is more to be aware of the melting pot of languages in the Caribbean, with not just Spanish, English or Dutch as European influences. A more general search for Cuba at Manioc brings you nearly 2,300 results. dLOC has a special section for nineteenth-century Cuban imprints. The Braga Brothers Collection at dLOC deals with the history of the Cuban sugar industry.

At dLOC the revolutionary period of Cuba comes in particular into view with the digital collection of Mexican and Cuban film posters. There is also a virtual exhibit of these posters.In opposition to them stands the collection of digitized Cuban exile newspapers produced in Florida. The film posters can be supplemented by the well-known Latin America Pamphlet Coillection of Harvard University. For pamphlets the Latin American Pamphlets Digital Collection of Harvard’s Widener Library is a starting point. The Digital Archive of Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera of Princeton University contains some 900 items concerning Cuba.

logo-bdpiCuba figures, too, at the portal of the Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano. This portal is the fruit of cooperation between a number of Latin American national libraries, among them the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí at Havana. I mention the portal especially because it offers you access with a trilingual interface. The digital library of the Cuban national library can only be viewed in Spanish. At the portal you will find for Cuba mainly digitized literary works. You will find the database for the national bibliography useful. Let’s not forget to mention the Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba and the Instituto de Historia de Cuba.

Header Civil Code (1800-1923) - FIU Law

A starting point for looking at Cuba’s legal history might be the digital collection Civil Codes (1800-1923) in the eCollections of Florida International University Law Library in Miami. You can find here the Cuban Código Civil of 1889 and a second edition from 1919. Interestingly this digital collection contains also nineteenth-century codes of civil law from Marocco, Spain, Portugal, Japan and the Netherlands, the last in a French translation [Code civil néerlandais, P.H. Haanebrink (trad.) (Brussels 1921)]. The FIU Law Library has also created a digital collection for Cuban law before 1961, and in the Mario Diaz Cruz Collection you will find materials collected by a prominent Cuban lawyer. Comparisons between the law in sixteen Caribbean countries are possible thanks to FIU’s digital collection Caribbean Law and Jurisprudence with acts, ordinances and case law reports. The Red des Archivos Diplomáticos Iberoamericanos has a section with the main juridical documents from Cuba between 1904 and 1934 and a link to the Cuban Guia de Tratados, alas as for now without any treaty.

Latin American perspectives

Yet another example of a digital collection which covers Latin America is the Spanish America Collection at the Internet Archive, created by the John Carter Brown University Library, Brown University, Providence, RI. This library has not just digitized some 3,700 works but also very sensibly divided them into smaller collections, among them one for Cuba. Just 35 books might look a meagre result, but among these books are for example Ignacio José Urrutia y Montoya, Teatro histórico, juridico, y politico-militar, de la Isla Fernandína de Cuba, principalmente de su capital La Havana (Havana 1789) and the treatise Instituciones de derecho real de Castilla y de Indias by José Maria Alvarez (2 vol., Habana 1834). The John Carter Brown Library provides also an important visual collection, the Archive of Early American Images. Among the general digital resources for the history of Latin America I would like to mention also the Early Americas Digital Archive, University of Maryland.

The largest quantity of digital collections concerning Cuban history and culture has been created by the Merrick Libraries, University of Miami. The Cuban Heritage Collection with over fiftysub collections covers many subjects. This set of collections is clearly also the core of the Cuban collections at dLOC. It is a matter of choice to look here at them from specific angles or to approach them from a Caribbean perspective at dLOC.

It is possible to pursue many avenues and to spend much time in finding more information. Just two weeks ago Mike Widener (Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University) wrote about some recently acquired books about Cuban law. Speaking of blogs you might as well go straight for In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library at the Library of Congress. You will find much of interest in the seventeen contributions touching Cuba. For Latin American constitutions you can choose at will from several portals dealing with constitutions all over the world. At my website I mention most of them, but you might want to have here the direct link to the main portal for Latin America, Constituciones Hispanoamericanas, part of the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Perhaps more closer to the actual situation at Cuba is the Presidio Modelo, a former prison built between 1926 and 1931 following the panopticon model advocated by Jeremy Bentham. The prison was in use until 1961 and is now a museum. You cannot help thinking that a panopticon model would have suited a particular kind of regime. Fidel Castro himself once was a prisoner here. Anyway, many people were forced to leave or choose to leave Cuba. Duke University has made a digital collection on Caribbean Sea Migration between 1956 and 1996 in which you can find apart from Cuba also Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At Habana Patrimonial, a portal to Cuban heritage, only the links to museums seems to be functioning.

Whatever the future might bring for the Cuban people, Cuba and Castro formed an inseparable unit. To the alliteration of these words many will add the name of Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is the subject of a virtual exhibition created by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. It is easy to focus on the clash between Cuba and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and therefore it seems just to remember here also at least briefly the story of the Amistad. Tulane University has created Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case, a digital collection about the story of a ship with 53 Africans faced with the threat to become slaves. Their voyage to New York started on June 28, 1839 in Havana. Tulane University has also created a digital collection with some 1,800 early photographs of Latin America. For a much wider panorama of Latin American legal history you should not miss Global Perspectives on Legal History, the book series both in print and online in open access of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main. This institute runs several projects on legal history and Latin America.

You might be tempted to think my tour of websites could go on forever! Those who visit my blog more often are used to see contributions with many web links. I provide them for your use, not to chase you away from my blog, but to bring you to resources which are sometimes difficult to find or easily overlooked. Please use these links, it is a pleasure to share them with you, and hopefully they help you to gain insights into Cuba’s (legal) history and culture.

A postscript

Of course more blogs bring posts and comments about Cuban history and Fidel Castro. Here a selection:

-Cindy Hermus, The Cuban Revolution and me, Age of Revolutions – July 4, 2016
-Michelle Chase, Reading List: Cuba, Age of Revolutions – July 7, 2016

One post is always too short to mention everything, but the presence of Cuban legal materials at LLMC Digital merits attention for those able to use them at subscribing institutions. A search at the World Legal Information Institute yields results from 1758 onwards with cases in English reports. The Latin American Interests Group of the FCIl-SIS, a branch of the American Association of Law Libraries, is working on a new online Guide to Legal Research on Cuba. Meanwhile the guide to current Cuban law with lots of links offered by the Law Library of Congress should satisfy many needs. At Globalex Yasmin Morais is responsible for the guide on contemporary Cuban law.

In my hunt for relevant digital resources I forgot to look for a relevant edition of the well-known Guía del investigador americanista, a feature of the online journal Nuevo Mundo/Nuevos Mundos. Early in 2016 Vanessa Oliveira and Xavier Calmettes published their fine and nicely illustrated Guide du chercheur américaniste : Enquête de terrain et travail de recherche à Cuba.

Legal rhetorics and reality in Early Modern France: The factums

Jeam Coras, Arrest memorable du Parlement de Tolose - edition 1565

Arrest memorable du Parlement de Tolose (…) – edition Lyon: Antoine Vincent, 1565 – copy Université de Toulouse

How can we be sure to view things as they really were in the historical sources we use for our research in the field of legal history? It is by all means wise to look as closely as possible at relevant sources, preferably close to the events and problems we want to study. In particular Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge have made us aware of the importance of narrative sources to deepen our understanding of French legal history in the Early Modern period. Davis gave us in Fiction in the archives. Pardon tales and their tellers in sixteenth-century France (Cambridge-Stanford, CA, 1987) both the true and the fictional stories, just as she had done earlier for Martin Guerre [The return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, MA-London, 1983)]. Thanks to Davis the lettres de remission have become a well-known resource, used also for other periods, lately for example by Walter Prevenier and Peter Arnade, Honor, Vengeance, and Social Trouble. Pardon Letters in the Burgundian Low Countries (Ithaca, NY, 2015). Arlette Farge, too, alerted scholars to the way narratives, rhetorics and expectations shape perceptions of reality in judicial resources, in particular in her essay Le goût de l’archive (Paris 1987).

In this post I want to expand on some notes about another very interesting source, the factums or mémoires judiciaires, a term perhaps to be translated as legal briefs, which I mentioned in passing in one of my recent posts concerning the French Revolution. However, this particular source does already appear in the late sixteenth century and lives on well into the second half of the nineteenth century. The possibility to compare the development of a genre over a number of centuries is most appealing, and therefore I would like to introduce the factums. I owe here much to a short notice published in 2014 by Léo Mabmacien at his blog BiblioMab: Le monde autour des livres anciens et des bibliothèques. A post in July at his blog rekindled my interest. The existence of new digital collections with factums is a further prompt to share my thoughts about this resource which merit attention not only in the Anglophone but also in the Francophone world. For French readers one of the main points of attention should be here to look beyond the central institutions and a France centered around Paris.

Getting a fuller picture

Léo Mabmacien’s post about factums is a real treat. In crisp and clear French he succeeded in creating a nutshell guide to the subject which leaves little to desire. In fact the idea to give here only a translation crossed my mind, but I am happy to rely here heavily on his account. The term factum stems from the Latin. In medieval legal consilia, pieces of juridical advice for courts, the exposition of a case is often introduced with the words “Factum est tale”, the case is such and so. A factum or mémoire judiciaire contains both a description of the case, the faits, and also moyens (literally the “means”), arguments to be used to argue the outcome of the case. The length of a factum can be anything between a few and many hundred pages in cases where as appendices pieces of evidences and other materials were included. Most factums do not have a title page.

The existence of factums is most interesting given the fact that French criminal court proceedings were in principle secret, as stated in the Ordonnance criminelle of 1670. Each step of a case at court proceeded by producing written statements. The final verdict, too, was presented in writing only. Oral pleading was introduced in the eighteenth century for civil law cases. Factums offer a window on French legal history like few other sources can do. A blog post in 2010 on factums of the Bibliothèque nationale de France had the evocative title ‘Factum, vous-avez dit factum ? Qu’es aquo ?’, “Did you say factum? Whatever is that supposed to be?”, and cites Robert Darnton who wrote in an article for Le Monde in 1995 there are media under the Ancien Régime we have forgotten about: the rumor in public, the factums of lawyers, the messages in your hand, the newsletters, the improvised songs on existing melodies… Darnton took up this theme in his 1999 presidential address for the American Historical Association.

Under the Ancien Régime the word factum was used also for violent pieces of writing in which someone asserted his views with forceful arguments. The juridical factums, too, do not only give legal arguments, but all kind of motivation to ascertain the offensive or defensive position of a party. An ordinance of the Parlement de Paris from 1708 demanded that each factum be signed by a lawyer, and contained also the name of the printer, without any other formality. Thus factums escaped the vigilance of French censors, and could indeed become a kind of platform for any kind of opinion, provided they were signed by a barrister, yet another feature making this genre attractive for historians. Mabmacien concluded his post with references to the vast collection of factums held in Paris at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), and to a virtual exhibition on factums created by the municipal library of Clermont-Ferrand.

A new generation of scholars

Some of the research cited by Mabmacien stems from the eighties and nineties of the last century, but in fact a lot of work started before 1900. Augustin Corda began at the BnF with the Catalogue des factums et d’autres documents judiciaires antérieurs à 1790 (10 vol., Paris 1890-1936). Volume 7 is a supplement, the volumes 8 to 10 contain registers. You can consult the volumes 1 to 8 in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Charles Patey had published a few years earlier a succinct overview of some 200 factums in the BnF related to Normandy [Factums normands conservés à la Bibliothèque nationale (Caen 1888; online in Gallica)]. Apart from the factums mentioned in Corda there are at the BnF two massive card box catalogues for a total of nearly 86,000 items. The main study used by Mabmacien is an article by Sarah Maza who studied with Robert Darnton. Her article ‘Le tribunal de la nation : les mémoires judiciaires et l’opinion publique à la fin de l’Ancien Régime’, Annales ESC 42/1 (1987) 73-90 is available online at the Persée portal. In 1997 appeared the French translation – Vies privées, affaires publiques. Les causes célèbres de la France prérévolutionnaire (Paris 1997) – of her monograph Private lives and public affairs: the causes célèbres of prerevolutionary France (Berkeley, etc,, 1993).

There is more scholarly literature in French available online, and I had in mind giving here a judicious amount of links. However, when I encountered at Theses, the portal for French Ph.D. theses, the very recently defended thesis of Géraldine Ther, La représentation des femmes dans les factums, 1770-1789. Jeux de rôles et de pouvoirs (Ph.D. thesis, Université de Dijon, 2015) with its rich bibliography I decided to restrict myself to a few recent publications. Ther investigated an intriguing theme, the representation of women, a theme emerging with force during the French Revolution, but with rather different relations between these events and the preceding period than you would expect. The acts of a symposium held in 2012 at the École de Droit of the Université d’Auvergne (Clermont-Ferrand) can be consulted online in a special issue of La Revue Centre Michel le Hôpital 3 (April 2013) [Découverte et valorisation d’une source juridique méconnue : le factum ou mémoire judiciaire (PDF)]. The contributors discuss factums as a source for legal history, look at a number of libraries with large collections, and staff members of these libraries discuss the current projects for cataloguing and digitization. A third recent online publication with attention for factums has as its focus lawyers in Marseille and transcends the supposed and real chronological watersheds of the French Revolution [Ugo Bellagamba, Les avocats à Marseille. Practiciens du droit et acteurs politiques (XVIIIe et XIXe siècles) (Aix-en-Provence 2015) – online at OpenEdition]. A number of relevant online publications is also included in the section on sources and bibliography of the virtual exhibition in Clermont-Ferrand.

ImpressionThanks to the hard work of librarians and scholars you can now get online access to a substantial variety of factums. Let’s start with the collection I first encountered, Tolosana, la bibliothèque virtuelle des fonds anciens, a collection of digitized books at the Université de Toulouse, with a substantial number of legal works between 1500 and 1850, among them 300 factums from the sixteenth century – just three items – to the nineteenth century (82 items). Looking back it is most fitting I bumped into these mémoires judiciaires in the context of the Calas affaire, but effectively it is the other way around that explains definitely also part of the impact of the publications around this cause célèbre. In particular you can find here some 300 factums and mémoires judiciaires. Interestingly, here, too, the Early Modern period does not end at 1789. The second collection is La Coutume et le droit en Auvergne, Patrimoine de Bibliothèque de Clermont, a digital collection of the Overnia portal with a great variety of legal resources on customary law, especially more than six hundred mémoires judiciaires in the section for sources procédurales. The tree structure of Overnia enables you to filter for a number major legal topics with temporal subdivisions; the general search function can assist you, too. A similar large but technically very simple collection is Droit en Provence et en outre-mer (Aix et Marseille Universités) which brings us a great variety of sources, in particular a number of digitized factums; this collection is held at Aix-en-Provence. The digital items are only available as PDF’s. It is a pity that only few of the announced items from the nineteenth century have already been digitized, but at least there is an overview of them. Some of the items are recueils, collections with sometimes scores of factums. With the fourth collection we return to Paris. The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève has created a digital collection concerning droit (law) in the Internet Archive with nearly one thousand publications. Some 860 of them are factums et mémoires judiciaires.

Banner TolosanaThe first image in this post shows in black and white the title page of an early edition of a famous arrêt of the Parlement de Toulouse from 1560. This is a copy of the edition digitized for Tolosana. The book of Jean de Coras, a French legal humanist, contains his report on the very case of Martin Guerre. Nowadays it is easy to find a digital version of earlier – and later – editions using the Karlsruher Virtual Catalogue, and I will leave it to you to find them quickly. I did check in vain for this book in the Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Humanistes (Université de Tours) which figured here earlier in a post on legal humanism. However, you can trace this book  and its sixteenth-century editions and other works by Coras using the Universal Short Title Catalogue. Even if in this case Coras’ book uses a verdict of the case, and thus does not exactly present a mémoire judiciaire, its character is sufficiently close to factums to merit explicit mention here. It opens with a summary of the facts of the case, the factum, and then Coras comments the arrêt, sometimes word for word. Did I already say Tolosana does merit your attention by all means, and not just for two famous cases, Martin Guerre and the affaire Calas?

One of the factums in the Onslow case, 1830 - source: Overnia

“Consultations pour MM. Onslow puinés contre M. Georges Onslow”, 1832 – BM Clermont-Ferrand, no. A 10850 1 – image: Overnia

When looking for another image of a mémoire judiciaire I decided to look at the collection created at Clermont-Ferrand. By sheer luck I found very quickly something which can serve as a reminder not to look only at French legal history in isolation. The Overnia portal contains several sources documenting the life and works of Georges Onslow (1784-1853), a composer born at Clermont-Ferrand from an English family. After many successes as a composer of chamber music ill health forced him around 1830 to return to his native Auvergne. Other matters, too, clearly brought him trouble. In six factums written in 1830-1832 (nos. A 10850) the question of his right to inherit goods in England is discussed. Both French and English law figure in the arguments used by the respective lawyers. These sources can form a perfect starting point for yet another contribution about law and music in history, a theme figuring here lately, but anyone interested in comparative legal history might have a good look at them, too. You can easily compare these six documents with other mémoires in the section on successions of the Overnia portal.

At Clermont-Ferrand the university library has started the digitization of the 1100 factums in 40 volumes of the Cour d’Appel at Riom. As for now you can consult already nearly 100 factums collected by Jacques Godemel, and also one hundred factums collected by Jean-Baptiste Marie which cover the period from 1792 to 1812.

Searching more collections

In fact it is really important to keep in mind the wide coverage of subjects in this genre. This becomes clearer when you look for factums in French archives. Scholars using historical sources in French archives can usually rely on the strict order of archival collections. Often you can restrict yourself to one particular série marked with a letter or combination of letters. The Archives nationales de France have created for the série U a useful PDF which mentions a lot of factums and mémoires judiciaires. A search for factums in the holdings of the French national archives yields an impressive result showing multiple séries with factums, not just within the séries B (Cours et jurisdictions de l’Ancien Régime) or U (Justice).

In this post Robert Darnton’s name appeared already three times. In The business of enlightenment. A publishing history of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800 (Cambridge, MA-London, 1979) Darnton mentioned just one factum without much explication about the nature of this source (p. 48). Anyway, he inspired some of his students to do research on and with factums. A few years ago Darnton put on his personal website 500 eighteenth-century police reports on authors written between 1748 and 1753 [Paris, BnF, ms. Nouv. acq. fr. 10781-107833]. It would be interesting to check for authors of factums published in the mid-eighteenth century in these police reports. We can be sure at least a few of them only pretended to be barristers. In the manuscripts section of Gallica you can now look at digitized records of the Archives de la Bastille, yet another resource where you might find among the prisoners and people under surveillance of the Parisian police force authors of pamphlets and factums. Add to them the data and maps available at the web site of the project The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe (University of Leeds and Western Sydney University) which focuses – as Darnton alrady did – on Neuchâtel, and you will be quite busy for some time with following all these avenues.

At the end of this post you might be tempted to conclude that factums only in Southern France and in Paris. At my website Rechtshistorie I have brought together commented lists of digital libraries for many countries, and France is particularly rich in digital collections. I checked for factums in a number of digital collections which feature works on customary law or are located in one of the French regions where the droit coutumier was important, and I looked at the towns which were once seats of the parlements, for example Bordeaux, Toulouse, Grenoble and Dijon. Only for Grenoble in the small collection Droit dauphinois of the Université de Grenoble 2 et 3 I found a few plaidoiries (pleas) and one single factum.

Why should one take the trouble of looking outside the main French online resources? Alas at the portal Patrimoine numérique I found only the digitized factums at Aix-en-Provence. At Fontes Historiae Iuris, the very useful digital library for French legal history created by the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université Lille-II) you can find in the section Consultations ou plaidoyers d’avocats for three parlements some collections of pleas and mémoires (Toulouse, Paris and Lille (Parlement de Flandre)). There are links to digitized recueils d’arrêts, collections of verdicts, for seven parlements. Even if factums are a remarkable source on its own, it is their judicial context which can make them even more special, and thus it is a small service to point at least to some courts and their printed verdicts. At Gallica’s Essentiels du droit you can benefit – mainly for the nineteenth century – from the digitized Recueil Dalloz and other series in the section Sources jurisprudentielles. The section Histoire du droit with a number of classic works on French law (Domat, Loisel, Pothier) and droit pénal, too, can be most useful. The webmaster of the Portail Numérique d’Histoire du Droit told me last year he would like to add more links to relevant digital collections in France, but he has few moments to fulfill this wish.

In the very week the World Wide Web exists 25 years you might indeed reflect a few moments on the long way the virtual world has gone since 1991. The proliferation of digital resources for many fields of culture and society is both a marvel and something really difficult to grasp and use. As for scholarly work on factums I am as surprised as anyone by the meagre results in the Bibliographie d’histoire de la justice Française (1789-2011) at the Criminicorpus portal. Using the advanced search mode of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (Université de Lorraine, Nancy) brings you only to a small number of additional relevant titles, but Ther shows there is certainly more to be found.

A search for catalogues of collections of mémoire judiciaires yields currently apart from the two catalogues for the BnF a work by Jacques Droin for collections held in Geneva, the Catalogue des factums judiciaires genevois sous l’Ancien régime (Paris-Genève 1988). You might want to read the article by Michel Porret, ‘L’éloge du factum : autour des mémoires judiciaires genevois’, Revue Suisse d’Histoire 42/1 (1992) 94-99 [online, e-Periodica]. A quick search among digital collections of some Swiss towns, in particular Geneva and Neuchâtel, did not bring me yet to more digitized mémoires judiciaires. Factums and briefs appear in contemporary law, too, for example in Canada, but here we arrive of the end of my post. At the brink of the rentrée, the start of all activities in France after the summer holidays, I hope to have awakened your curiosity for a fascinating source and to have given you some guidance for your own investigations.

A postscript

How can one search quickly for French scholarly publications when some online bibliographies seem currently not as helpful as you would like them to be? At Isidore, a French research portal, I could find more literature about factums and even links to digitized items. Some other libraries I did not mention here contain also some digital copies of factums, but they are not part of a mass digitization project. The digital portal Mémoire vive of the town Besançon is an example with some twenty digitized factums. A second thing worth noticing is the policy at Gallica, the digital library of the BnF, to harvest also digital materials from partner libraries. Thus factums at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Toulouse and Clermont-Ferrand can be found at Gallica. More surprisingly it becomes clear that the BnF, too, has digitized possibly many hundred factums, but alas the exact number is not established easily, because the filter function does not contain a filter for descriptions of factums from the vast collection of factums at the BnF in which the word Factum has been put at the very beginning of each description.

Eric Panthou alerted me to the additions to the digital collection at Clermont-Ferrand for the Cour d’Appel de Riom. It contains now nearly 900 factums in four collections. nThe Bibliothèque Clermont Université will organize a one-day symposium concerning factums on June 19, 2017, Valorisation d’une source historique originale : la numérisation des factums de la Cour d’Appel de Riom.

At a few turns i have complained in the past about the lack of attention to sources for French customary law in Gallica. For some years the section Essentiels du droit dealt only with law at the national level. The new subsection Sources du droit coutumier et local fills this evident gap. The only snag is that you cannot click on the images of the title pages on the starting page, you will have to use the menu on the left. At the portal Fontes Historiae Iuris (Université Lille-2) you can find not only editions of French customary law but also treatises about them.

Law and music, a history of norms and sensitivity

droitetmusique-smallWords from completely different domains can be used without even noticing their origin. Scholars conduct research but seldom think of conductors leading an orchestra or choir. A two-day conference in Aix-en-Province (June 30 and July 1, 2016) offers a rare chance to bring the two domains of law and music together. The title Droit et musique: Entre normes et sensibilité, “Law and Music, Between norms and sensitivity”, seems aptly chosen, even though anglophone readers should immediately be at their qui-vive to distinguish between sensibility and sensitivity.

In this post I will give you an impression of the themes to be addressed at this conference held at two locations in Aix-en-Provence, on June 30 at the Amphitheâtre Favoureu of the Faculté de droit et science politique, and on July 1 at the Musée Granet. I found the announcement about this conference at the events calendar Nomôdos, since last year a part of the French Portail universitaire du droit, where you can find also a section for law and culture (Droit et culture).

Two spheres

The two-day conference has two mottoes which link law and music to each other. Danielle Montet formulated reflecting on ancient history and philosophy the thought that both spheres, law and music, deal with composition. The law poses order on society, just like music supports a good disposition of things in the mind and in a city. The second motto stems from Norbert Rouland who wrote law is not the work of a legislator, enlightened or not, but an unconscious collective construction of the Volksgeist, mediated and interpreted by a lawyer. Composition and interpretation seem indeed shared features of law and music.

Let’s look at the program of the conference in Aix-en-Provence. The first day has as its central theme La musique revisitée par le droit, music revisited by law. In particular the section on philosophy and history has space for legal history. Maria Paolo Mittica looks at music and law in ancient Greece. Fouzi Rherrousse will speak about a musical movement within Islam. The Catholic codification of liturgical music in the nineteenth century is the subject of the contribution of Blandine Chelini-Pont. Emmanuele Saulnier-Cassia will present the musical interpretation of the fundamental rights of condemned people. Vassili Tokarev looks at the twin theme of musical criticism and legal criticism in Nietzsche’s work. Patricia Signorile will discuss the philosophical foundations of the connections between law and music.

In the other sections legal history does make less often an appearance. Marc Pena will take Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a starting point for a paper about the realities and representation of Venice’s territory. Ugo Bellagamba looks at the uses of dissonance and musical resolution in operas about Tancredi from André Campra to Gioacchino Rossini to distill views and perspectives on the First Crusade. Interesting, too, is a paper by Antoine Leca about the judge Jean de Dieu d’Olivier, author of a treatise about the art of legislation, and his views on legal composition. It makes certainly curious about his Essai sur l’art de législation and its influence on French revolutionary and Restoration law. In Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, you can consult the editions of his work published in 1800 and 1815. Christian Bruschi will deal with Montesquieu and his views concerning music and society. Tchaikovsky as a failed lawyer and a succesful composer will be the subject of a paper by Anatoly Kovler.

Other contributors will take a more comparative point of view. Giorgio Resta will consider the way lawyers use musical metaphors. Alizée Cirino will discuss the problems of co-authorship of musical works, the possible clash of interests and the way rights are shared. André Roux looks at the relation between the French constitution and the national anthem. I remember the anecdote about the orchestral arrangement made by Hector Berlioz in 1830 of La Marseillaise which allegedly was banned by the French government because it was considered to be too rousing. At a concert in Utrecht decades ago with French revolutionary music by Méhul and Gossec Berlioz’s work indeed made a terrific impression.

It is possible to allude here to a Dutch link to the twin sisters law and music. At least one Dutch legal historian has all rights to feel himself familiar with music and the tasks of conducting, Not only is Jop Spruit the son of the Dutch conductor Henk Spruit (1906-1998), he actually worked a few years for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The way Spruit led a team of Dutch legal historians translating the various parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis does in a way resemble the activity of a conductor. In my view it is not entirely a coincidence Jop Spruit started this project, and more importantly, conducted it to a resounding end. You can read more about his life and career in an interview by Louis Berkvens and Jean-François Gerkens, ‘Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen (13). Interview met J.E. Spruit’, Pro Memorie 17//1 (2015) 3-47.

The choice of themes and even a strong preponderance of French subjects at the conference in Aix-en-Provence should work as an invitation to explore this theme yourself. There is more to find out beyond for example the musical background of Anton Thibaut, the German lawyer advocating the codification of German law. He had to face the powerful rhetorical and legal skills of Friedrich Carl von Savigny whose views against legal codification prevailed for many years in the early nineteenth century. This contribution can be only a prelude to the real music. Interpreting law and subjects in legal history is such a common practice that it is most welcome to reflect on this core activity from an unexpected angle.

For the common good: International legal history and collective action

Every month there is a growing chance of encountering some kind of commemoration of historical events and figures. Sometimes these festivities are indeed an opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes, but often these occasions can seem too much of a good thing. In recent years there has been a proliferation of international days, some of them just a funny parody, for example on March 31 the sixth Hug A Medievalist Day! On April 14, 2016 it is the International Legal History Day. At least one university, Harvard, organizes today a seminar about the practices and challenges of doing international legal history. It seems Harvard Law School wants to launch this day as a new tradition.

In this post I will look at two initiatives dealing with a concept which touches many countries and regions all over the world. Commons are shared stretches of land used and owned by several people. Commons can be defined as a type of collective action. An international research project is at the heart of this post, and I will also look at a digital library which helps you to trace relevant literature about commons. One of the features of this post will be the combination of global phenomena with local examples transcending the boundaries of nations and states.

Sharing lands, goods and much more

Header Institutions for Collective Action

When I first saw the portal of Institutions for Collective Action (ICA) I was genuinely surprised by the all-encompassing umbrella used to bring a number of institutions under one denominator. Commons are perhaps the institution most quickly associated with collective action, and they will certainly fill much space here, but there is more. Merely contemplating what kind of actions you will define as collective actions is in my view already a fruitful exercise. Five types of collective actions figure at the portal: commons, guilds, waterboards, beguinages and co-operatives. The ICA portal cites on its homepage Bertrand Russell’s dictum ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation’. Currently there is a set of case studies from eight countries for the five types, with 23 examples for commons, four for guilds, eight for waterboards and only two for co-operatives, and typically for beguinages six examples from the Netherlands and Belgium. The eight countries are apart from Belgium and the Netherlands the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Rumania, Spain and Uganda. The cases from Rumania concern commons, the example for Uganda is a co-operative project for micro-finance. In fact there are more countries: in the section for guilds France, Italy, Germany and China are added.

One of the strengths of this portal is the comprehensive coverage of many aspects of research into institutions for collective actions, and thus you are really looking at a veritable portal. You can consult not only the case studies and general overviews, but also online bibliographies, glossaries, datasets and sources, and you might be interested in the announcements of scholarly events. The section with debates highlights a number of general and specific questions about the types of collective actions figuring on the portal. These questions will certainly help you to refine your own analysis. I found in particular the discussion of the various forms of institutions for water management illuminating. The perspective on Dutch institutions becomes sharper thanks to the comparison with Spanish institutions. I really learned here something also about the Dutch variety of these institutions and the need to look at them more closely. The page with links to related projects shows the context of this project in which scholars at Utrecht have substantial roles. An offspring of the ICA portal are several projects which work with crowdsourcing. Inviting the public to participate in research projects by transcribing or indexing sources is in itself a kind of collective action. The heading Citizen Science is fitting indeed.

Website Vele Handen and the Ja, ik wil project

At least one of them should attract your curiosity because of its legal nature, the project Ja, ik wil (“Yes, I do”) for the transcription of pre-marriage acts between 1578 and 1811 from the municipal archive in Amsterdam, a resource with much more information about people going to be married than you will find elsewhere. The transcribing portal Vele Handen (“Many Hands”) contains more information about the project (in Dutch). In its turn this project serves a much larger research project of the ICA team to compare marriage patterns.

Banner Digital Library of the Commons

The main organization dealing with the history and current situation of common is the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC). At the website of IASC, too, you can find an overview of online resources. Some years ago I already encountered the Digital Library for the Commons, a digital collection at Indiana University, but so far I had not started to place this initiative in a wider context. The digitized literature in this library deals with commons on literally every continent, even Antarctica, but not the Arctic region. The simple search mode, the advanced search mode and the filters for browsing are most helpful. In my view it is stimulating to look here, even if you do not quite find what you are searching for.

Although it is easy to expand the fairly summarized information presented here it might work better to keep this contribution shorter than usual. Environmental history is just an example that can be connected with studying commons. At the blog Environment, Law and History you can pursue this direction. Global legal history and comparative legal history do not appear here for the first time. The theme of international legal history deserves attention, and not just on one particular day every year, but the idea is surely valuable. When I started this blog I promised my readers to look for themes and subjects from around the world. There are enough countries, regions and landscapes about which I can write here. Perhaps it is more important to discuss them here not for the sake of completeness, but preferably and more interestingly in connection with the kind of problems and questions which belong to the world of legal history.

Challenges for doing global legal history

Header History and the Law

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

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

Legal histories at multiple levels

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

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

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

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

Many resources?

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

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

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

Online or in print

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

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

Logo Sejarah Nusantara

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

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

A postscript

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