Tag Archives: Cultural heritage

Reconstructing Irish history from the ashes

Logo Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

The loss of archival records by an accident, deliberate destruction or whatever other cause is one of the greatest threats for the collective memory of peoples and nations, and even for humankind in general. How can you substitute things lost for ever? Such thoughts were very much alive after June 30, 1922, when the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin went on fire during the Battle of Dublin. Munition stored in the building was hit by shells and multiple fires destroyed documents from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Only in 1928 the PRO could reopen. On June 30, 1922 the National Archives of Ireland launched the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, a portal with at its heart three reconstructed archival collections. In this post I will look at the new portal, and also at the project of Trinity College, Dublin, for the reconstruction of records for the medieval Irish Chancery.

Lost in one afternoon

Logo National Archives of Ireland

The turns and key moments in irish history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can readily be defined as tragedies. The famine in the mid-nineteenth century became worse by appalling English actions and negligence. With the emigrants to the United States of America Ireland was bereft again of many thousand people. Gladstone could nearly bring Home Rule for Ierland, but both he and Asquith just before the First World War did not succeed in accomplishing it. The Easter Rising of 1916 and the civil war that led to the foundation of the Irish Republic took a heavy toll, and the Troubles since 1969 were another grim period which ended just a few decades ago. After the Brexit the Irish frontier has become again a real political frontier. By the way, the National Archives in Dublin bring the period between 1912 and 1923 to your attention with the apt heading Decade of Centenaries.

When even the memory of many periods with turmoil is destroyed more happens than just irreparable loss of documents. It is a cultural disaster, damaging the collective memory and removing a point of reference. Normally I try to avoid writing about centenaries and commemorations, but with the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland you have a very important sign of revival, a kind of light shining and bringing back things that seemed totally lost. For a long period after the Four Courts Blaze only the socalled Salved Records, charred record remains, survived as did rather miraculously the finding aids, catalogues and the staff library.

Let´s go immediately to the core of the new portal. Three collections are presented in a new digital form, starting in chronological order with the medieval exchequer from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the Cromwellian Surveys from the late seventeenth century, and the 1766 religious census. If anything this choice of records ornamented with the lofty title Gold Seams shows already the range in time of the holdings at the National Archives of ireland.

The medieval exchequer

Example of a record from the Exchequer for Ireland, TNA E 101/237/5 - image source VRT / TNA
Example of a record from the Exchequer for Ireland, TNA E 101/237/5 – image source VRT / TNA

The collection concerning records of the medieval exchequer for Ireland is not entirely characteristic of the Virtual Record Treasury, because almost all these records are held at the National Archives, Kew. Three main record types are presented: issue rolls, receipt rolls, enrolled parchments and two memoranda rolls (NAI, EX 1/1 and EX 1/2) from the fourteenth century. Luckily the Irish Record Commission had made summaries of the memoranda rolls; a digital version of the 43 volumes is a desideratum. The web page with illustrated examples of these records series and related documents (Manuscripts Gallery) is very instructive. In the section Delving Deeper you will find more historical background and additional images, including editorial conventions and a liost of recurring phrases. The section with stories does what it promises.

Navigating the images of records can be done in several ways. The free text search filed offers the most simple search mode, but you can alo filter for reference code, title and creator. The advanced search mode functions for the whole Virtual Record Treasury. You can start with the fields for title, creator and reference code, and chnage them or add a field for repository and/or transcription. After scrolling down you can find under the heading Further search options filters for a particular time range, Gold Seam, query expansion, fuzzy search, and items without images. Apart from a particular Gold Seam you can also limit your search to the Treasures.

The option Gold Seam Highlight in the navigation menu for the exchequer brings you not only a number of useful general descriptions of medieval record genres, but also access to records

Document view screen in the highlights section for the medieval exchequer
Document view screen in the highlights section for the medieval exchequer

Only after trying to use this view I succeeded in accessing actual images. By clicking on a record title you can access them in a kind of workspace with at your left several view options. Some way of highlighting the choices when you hover over them would be helpful. I did not yet find a concise user manual for this workspace. The use of the term manifests and the presence in the left corner of the distinctive logo are normally sufficient signs for indicating the use of the IIIF compliant Mirador viewer, but due to tropical temperatures I clearly failed to recognize them at first!

At this point I would like to mention the general User Guide which does not just help a casual visitor or a curious historian. In my opinion the National Archives of Ireland succeed here splendidly in explaining not only the features of the Virtual Record Treasury, but also a number of archival matters in an exemplary way. The distinctions between several possible grades of documents in relation to an original are given, and also a number of key description terms. A four colour code is used to indicate linked records in the three Gold Seams, the three core collections of this portal.

The Cromwellian surveys of the seventeenth century

The next core collection brings you to Early Modern Ireland in the period starting with the revolt of 1641 that eventually led to the end of landholding by the Catholic gentry and aristocracy. The landowners’ surveys of the 1650s formed a key element in this development. In the nineteenth century the Irish Manuscript Commission created a massive index for the socalled Down Surveys or Cromwellian Surveys. The digitized surveys are reinforced by some 2,000 digitized maps. These resources show landed property in a very detailed way. The starting page of this section leads you also to a video and a background essay.

The Barony of Sheelburne in the County of Wexford by George Tuffin alias Johnson - London BL, 72868, f. 077
The Barony of Sheelburne in the County of Wexford by George Tuffin alias Johnson – London BL, add. ms.72868, f. 077

Exactly the combination of records and maps helps you to view matters in telling detail. The manuscript gallery for this section shows a fine example how using a number of survey records gives you a much fuller view than each of them separately. Land already owned by Protestant supporters of Cromwell is shown as blank spaces in the Down Survey. Among the items shown are also some editions of records, but the coloured maps attract your attention, too. I could not readily spot clear references for the resources shown. The highlights for the Cromwellian surveys contain documents held at Dublin, Belfast, London and Paris. Here, too, you can use the IIIF-compliant Mirador viewer to view images of records. I must again admit I was initially a bit confused by the way of navigating to the record images. However, I realize that until now I met the Mirador viewer exclusively for viewing medieval manuscripts, not for archival records or record series.

For understanding the Cromwellian Surveys it pays off to start with the page Delving Deeper. You can read here about the historical background of the plans for confiscation and their aftermath. There is precious information about parish maps and barony maps, on further archival resources elsewhere, editorial explanations, and information about some relevant publications about the digitization project. By the way the subdomain The Down Survey of Trinity College Dublin, offers another digital road to this survey.

The 1766 religious census

The importance of the 1766 religious census is the wealth of historical and genealogical information it provides concerning the period before the census of 1813. Just 59 original items survived the 1922 disaster, but luckily transcripts and records held elsewhere can now supplement this information bringing you some 50,000 names.

This time I started with the page Delving Deeper in order to get a good view of the documents and their background. The information for each parish was not uniformly recorded, and thus it is by chance some very rich records have survived. In some cases ministers added social or political comments in their record. The archival history and use of this census before 1922 is traced here, too. Some remnants of editorial remarks for preparing this webpage made me smile abou the efforts of the webteam preparing this splendid portal. We should not complain about every small blemish and forget the overall quality!

A Parliamentary Return, here for Cullen (detail) – Dublin, National Archives of Ireland, IHP/1/688

The manuscripts gallery for this section gives further illustrations of the record genres themselves and of the whole process to create and evaluate this census, including diocesan overviews of parishes and the final recording in the Book of Returns. The highlights bring you to six different records, not just the offical Parliamentary Returns. Here again a better way of indicating the navigation is most welcome, for example by just adding some marker to each item, perhaps only a streak before each title. Maybe the fact the Mirador viewer was developed with the aim to contain single manuscripts plays a role here, but this viewer has now also been adapted by the Dutch Nationaal Archief for viewing some digitized records of the former Ministerie van Koloniën, and they can be navigated without any ado. Alas this archive did not translate its message of October 11, 2022 about this new feature into English, nor has it been duplicated in the research section. As an addition to the three aspects common to each of the three main collections you will find in the Virtual Record Treasury also a story section, albeit with currently just two essays.

Beyond digitized collections

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a true treasure trove! It points also nicely to the fact the word treasure is both a noun and a verb. The rich collections of this portal help very much to rekindle interest in several periods of Ireland’s chequered history. Not the least bonus is the way light is shed on the importance of records elsewhere, in particular in England, and on the changing relations between England and Ireland. The word United Kingdom has definitely a hollow ring in view of some dark periods in Irish history where English rule seems to deserve the adjective colonial.

The new portal contains much more that I will only mention briefly here, because you will want to investigate these features yourself. There is a useful glossary of technical terms around digitization. The virtual tour of the old Public Record Office desrves your attention, too. It is also possible to browse the items from particular contributing institutions. The section Thematic collections brings you to more newly digitized collections with additional resources, such as the 1922 Salved Records, the Down Survey and Grand Jury maps. The overview of partners can serve you as a web directory for institutions with relevant holdings for Irish history.

Although I could point you to more corners of the Virtual Treasury of Ireland I would like to mention here a few other online projects well worth visiting. Somehow I had expected to find the respective links also at this portal, but this can readily be redeemed. The records of the medieval Irish exchequer can be supplemented with the project CIRCLE: A Calendar of Irish Chancery Rolls c. 1244-1509, created by Trinity College Dublin in a couple of decades. This institution created also the project The Down Survey: Mapping a century of change. where you can use a HISGIS map next to the survey records. The decision for the Cromwellian Survey came following a period of much turmoil. In particular The 1641 Depositions, another project from Dublin, from a decade before the great surveys, should not be forgotten. The Great Parchment Project of the London Metropolitan Archives focuses on a survey in 1639 of landed property in county Derby.

Header CICLE project, Trinity College Dublin

I promised at the start to look here also at the CIRCLE project of Trinity College Dublin. This project contains some 20,000 charters. Charters in Latin have been translated into English. It is possible to browse and search charters by reign and by roll type (patent rolls or close rolls). The advanced search mode offers you even more. The project helps your research with fine introductions, overviews of medieval and editorial abbreviations, a glossary and a bibliography. In the links section you will find more projects with medieval accounting rolls. For many items there are images. In my view this project is truly much more than just another calendar for medieval sources. Let’s not insist too much on the obvious fact that your research can benefit enormously from combining this resource with the exchequer records now available online in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.

I had intended to finish this post much earlier, but surely I mean this contribution as a heartfelt homage to al efforts shown here to bring Irish history to the widest possible public. Twenty years ago the archival building of my own employer, the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht in Wijk bij Duurstede, was flooded. Thanks to swift, massive and apt efforts almost every damaged record could be salvaged and restored. Such catastrophes make it less normal for me that we are are at all able to consult historical records, and hence my interest and admiration for this most valuable project in Dublin. Keeping archival records safe and creating access to them in various ways, from finding aids and indexes to transcriptions and digital collections, can only happen when we sustain efforts to investigate the past and to cherish cultural heritage for the present and for future generations.

Connected histories: Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe

A general view of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, 2008 – image Wikimedia Commons

After the Second World War Europe had for decades no wars within its borders. The wars devastating the former Yugoslavia ended a period of peace, and after the war in Kosovo yet another peaceful period came which has now been broken. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has started an uncertain period. Assessing the facts about the war is difficult, because truth is the first victim of war. What can you find online about the history of Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe to study sources for the history and cultural heritage of peoples and nations involved and connected with them? In this post I will look at a number of archival guides, digital archives and libraries, and guides to cultural heritage. Some websites cannot be reached currently. Although I provide information about many archives and digital libraries on my legal history website it took me some time to bring things here together and to update my concise descriptions of resources. Even if this post does not bring consolation or help, it helps to focus attention to some matters that ere particular urgent.

Finding archives

In view of the vast dimensions of the digital world it is really silly to think you can find anything with one search engine, let alone with the algorithms of the Great Firm. Guides and web directories are not a thing we used only twenty years ago for good reasons, they still can be enormously helpful. Such guides are vulnerable for technical problems and difficult long term maintenance, especially when projects have to be integrated into normal core practice and functioning. Sometimes administrators and managers fail to see the unique value of what seems to them an obsolete legacy from the past century. The lifespan of digital projects can be relatively short. In some cases no notice is even given of the end or decommissioning of an online resource.

Logo Archives Portal Europe

Let’s look at some European archive portals. Projects may depend on input from others or from the institutions involved. In the archival directory of the Archives Portal Europe you can find just one Ukrainian institution. Russia is not represented at all. The archival directory of the Cendari portal does not function currently. The International Council on Archives (ICA) has plans for an online directory, but in April 2020 the initiative The Archives and Records are Accessible was launched providing you with an interactive map of archives worldwide. This map shows some forty archives within Ukraine. It seems that almost every archive with a subdomain on the web domain of the Ukrainian government cannot be reached right now, except for the Central State Archive of Public Organizations in Ukraine (CDAGO) in Kyiv. Among its holdings is the archive of the communist party in Ukraine. There is an overview of the archival collections at the CDAGO.

ICA has created a directory of institutions all over the world with resources on literature and art. For Ukraine there is no entry in this directory. By the way, since 2018 ICA has a disaster relief fund.

In my view the most useful archival guide for Ukraine is offered online by the German Bundesstiftung zur Aufbearbeitung der SED-Diktatur (Goverment Foundation for the Critical Appraisal of the SED-Dictatorship) in its Vademecum-Reihe, a series of thirteen guides for the history of certain European countries and regions in the twentieth century. In 2008 appeared the Vademecum-Contemporary History Ukraine. A guide to archives, research institutions, libraries, associations and museums, edited by Georgiy Kasianov and Wilfried Jilge (PDF, 0,7 MB). The description of archives is fairly extensive. The information on museums is more concise, websites are often not mentioned. The section with websites is short but certainly important.

Using the Swiss meta-crawler eTools I could finally trace a digital version of Archives of Ukraine. Guide book issued by the State Archival Service of Ukraine (Kyiv 2012; PDF, 11,6 MB). It can be found at the website of the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute which brings information online about many subjects in Ukraine’s history in the twentieth century. The guide to Russian and Ukrainian archives of University College London disappointingly offers only very concise information about archives in Russia.

For finding information about Russian archives you can benefit from several guides. With its sheer width the guide for Archives of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, easily stands out. You can use it in combination with the subject guides of the Slavic Reference Service of this university. Alas the guide created by the National Archives of Ukraine cannot be reached at this moment. It is a pity the link of the University of Illinois to its own extensive guide for Ukrainian archives does not function, but within the subject guides you can visit a similar interesting guide for Ukrainian archives. The general introduction to these archives and their history is worth your attention, too. By the way, the University of Illinois has put online The Russian Empire and Soviet Union: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States, Steven A. Grant and John H. Brown (eds.) (Boston, MA, 1980) as a database. This guide can be viewed in page view or PDF at the website of the Library of Congress, European Reading Room.

In the following guides the focus is on Russia itself and the former Soviet Union. The portal Access to Russian Archives is part of the TICFIA Project created by Eastview. Luckily you have free access to this guide for federal and regional archives with a search interface in English and Russian. The Russian State Archives offer Guides book search, a database for searching records in a number of Russian archives. It comes with an interface Russian and English, with transliteration option, a most useful thing. Let’s not forget another work in print: For archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg there is the massive guide by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Archives in Russia. A Directory and Bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St.Petersburg (London, etc., 2016).

Eastview comes into view again with the ArcheoBiblioBase: Archives in Russia, long hosted by the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, but since 2020 it can be visited at its new URL. This database, too, points you to the Derzhavnii Komitet Arkhiviv Ukrainy, unfortunately not reachable now. I will not praise here the IISH again, but this online service is indeed most valuable.

The old AAB logo used for Grimsted’s concise online guide to Ukrainian archives

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted has created a summarized version of the information for Ukrainian archives taken from ArcheoBiblioBase. For this database her monograph Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the USSR, vol. 3: Ukraine and Moldavia, I: General Bibliography and Institutional Directory (Princeton, NJ, 1988) has paramount importance. She is also the author of Trophies of war and empire: the archival heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the international politics of restitution (Cambridge, MA, 2001).

By now it should be clear that gaining correct and updated information about Ukrainian archives is not as easy as you would expect in our world with the fruits of thirty years online information supposedly at your finger tips! These days I could reach only a few archival websites in Ukraine. I should mention in particular the Centre for Research on the Liberation Movement, Lviv, a centre for the study of Ukraine’s history since the nineteenth century, with its own Digital Archive of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement containing digitized documents from several periods since the nineteenth century, searchable with an interface in Ukrainian and English. We saw already the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute with several important projects.

In order not to focus only on current developments I remembered the EHRI portal (European Holocaust Research Infrastructure). At this portal you can find an introduction to Ukrainian archives with a view for resources concerning this subject. Two years ago I looked at the EHRI project in a post about the history of looted and lost art during the Second World War. On February 25, 2022 the International Council on Archives published a statement of solidarity with Ukrainian archives and archivists.

Digital libraries in Ukraine

It took me relatively much time to create the section on archives in this post, even though I had at least some archival guides at hand on my legal history website. It could do no harm to check these guides again and to look elsewhere for more information. However, in 2020 and 2021 I had already searched for digital libraries in Ukraine. Their number is relatively low. It appeared that a number of digital institutional repositories have subcollections with historic material. For a quick look I would like to refer you to my web page for digital libraries. Among recent additions is the virtual museum (interface Ukrainian and English) of the Digital Library, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kiev.

Instead of looking here at particular digital libraries I had better mention here the portal of the Institute for the History of Ukraine. You can use a multilingual interface among other things to navigate a database for internet resources, but unfortunately it seems at the time of writing only the first results of each section become visible. The database contains sources from many countries and does not restrict itself to Ukraine.

Logo of the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine, Harvard University

When starting this post I soon found the website of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI). Its list of teaching resources is a fair attempt at a comprehensive guide to online resources for Ukrainian culture and history. There is a section on digital archival collections, almost all of them the fruit of research centres, and not digitized archival records held by more regular archives in Ukraine. Apart from its own library and archive the great jewel of the HURI is the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine with both historical and contemporary maps.

Cultural heritage in Ukraine

Originally I had liked to put here a similar and extensive section focusing on digital access to Ukraine’s cultural heritage, but it is perhaps more sensible to publish this post as quickly as possible. I will at least point here to another service of the University of Illinois, an overview of the main bibliographies for Ukraine, part of its guide for Ukraine. The V.I. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine provides you with an array of online bibliographical resources. The dictionary platform Lexilogos has created for Ukraine a list of online dictionaries, language resources, and some general websites. As for other languages the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is given. The University of Iowa has a useful choice of language and culture resources, too.

The World Heritage Convention of UNESCO lists eight locations in Ukraine on its World Heritage List. For museums you could for example look at the Museum Portal. The 2008 Vademecum for Ukraine discussed earlier mentions a number of history museums. On February 24, 2022 the International Council on Museums (ICOM) issued a statement concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ICOM has a telling motto, “Museums have no borders, they have a network”. Feeling connected and staying in touch with Ukraine is certainly crucial now and in the future. Hopefully this post can support you in your own efforts to foster a connected future.

Some early additions

On February 27, 2022 I could reach the websites of the Central State Archive of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government (TsDAVO) in Kyiv, the State Archives of Lviv, the State Archive of the Kirovohrad Region. and the State Archive of the Kharkiv Region.

The website GeoHistory has a detailed guide on Russian archives. This website publishes regularly articles about Ukraine. ICA has created a bibliography about displaced archives and shared archival heritage. The German Slavistik portal with its links and databases can help you a lot (interface German and English). The library of the Davis Center at Harvard University provides guidance to materials concerning Eastern Europe at Harvard and elsewhere. At the website of the Ukrainian parliament you can find the official list of immovable cultural heritage in Ukraine (September 3, 2009).

Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is an initiative to create web archives of disappeared or threatened websites and digital projects in Ukraine. ReHERIT is a portal for Ukrainian cultural heritage (interface Ukrainian and English). Another website worth mentioning is the Center for Urban History in Lviv (interface Ukrainian and English) with several online projects.

It occurred to me I had not looked at all at OCLC’s ArchiveGrid portal for information about Ukrainian archives. As a matter of fact, no archive in Ukraine is currently present at this portal. I suppose I avoided ArchiveGrid because its mixture of information about archival institutions, archival collections in their holdings and even single objects is in my view awkward. However, searching for Ukraine does bring you to a number of institutions elsewhere in the world with relevant holdings that deserve mentioning.

The Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, has created an overview of websites and projects for Ukrainian history with a focus on manuscripts.

For Ukrainian contemporary law and government it is most sensible to look first of all at the guide provided by the Law Library of Congress, with guidance to other relevant guides as well.

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

Archaeologists and historians in general do things differently. Archaeologists search and interpret material objects and traces of human history hidden from sight in the soil, and historians look at still existing documentary evidence, be they written documents or artefacts above ground level. Thus the title of the digital project The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe (DALME) created at Harvard University is at least intriguing. The core and clue of this projects are written documents telling us about objects sometimes no longer existing which offer a glimpse of medieval households.

Without twisting the evidence of these inventories you can view a number of them as the results of actions required by law or statutes. In this post I want to highlight these legal dimensions and look at the qualities of the DALME project which has been awarded the 2022 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Precious traces of material surroundings

Many scholars are involved with this project, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The project is led by Daniel Lord Smail, Gabriel Pizzorno and Laura Morreale. The principal objective of the DALME project is to bring together both inventories in the holdings of archives and objects nowadays kept by museums. The project aims also at developing a common vocabulary and a digital infrastructure facilitating research from various disciplines. The inventories and objects can be approached in several ways and will be accompanied by essays. Until now only three essays have been published at the project website. The latest essay by Marcus Tomaszewski published in January 2022 looks at a German tradition of poems with inventories. Laura Morreale looked in her 2020 essay on enslaved persons in fourteenth-century Florence. In the general overview much stress is put on the difficulties of reading and deciphering medieval scripts and languages, but this is not an unique feature for studying medieval history. Classicists dealing with for example the Near East face similar obstacles.

The introduction to the methodology of the DALME project stresses a kind of material turn that has influenced scholars in many disciplines in the past decades. Inventories are much valued as a window on daily life. Objects are every bit as important to tell us the history of humanity as written sources. It seems logical to bring them together to enhance making relevant comparisons of material life and circumstances.

It is important,too,to have a look also at the DALME workflow for inventories. Before images of documents gain their final form in the system behind DALME a lot of steps are to be set. These images are used to create transcriptions and to provide annotation. The information thus created is subsequently parsed and re-encoded. For creating a uniform and searchable terminology the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) of The Getty is used.

One should not overlook the section with project publications nor the bibliography pointing to source editions, scholarly literature, glossaries and dictionaries and other relevant publications, often with links to digital versions. Links becomes only visible when your cursor arrives at them. Obviously the study of Daniel Lord Smail, Legal plunder. Households and debt collection in late medieval Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2016) has stimulated the creation of the DALME project; incidentally, you can view his bibliography online. There is no section with general online resources, and thus the name of Joseph Byrne and his online bibliography of medieval and Early Modern wills and probate inventories is missing. Byrne points for example to a number of articles by Martin Bertram published in the journal Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (QFIAB) and in other journals on testaments from Bologna. Issues from 1958 onwards of QFIAB can be seen online at the Perspectivia portal. Among general resources for tracing relevant literature and editions the online bibliography for medieval studies of the Regesta Imperii in Mainz, and the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography should take their rightful place. The latter has even a preset filter for material culture. A recent article by R.C. Allen and R.W. Unger about their Global Commodities Prices Database is mentioned, but there is no link to their database. It is good to see the work of Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano, The spoils of the Pope and the pirates, 1357: the complete legal dossier from the Vatican Archives (2nd edition, 2014) has been included.

Eight collections of inventories

I had honestly thought my remarks about the bibliography of the DALME project would form my last grumbles in this post, but when you choose in the Features menu for objects you will find just a few objects discussed in sometimes very short essays. Maybe this section will be enlarged soon, but now it is still nearly empty.

The Collections section brings you to eight collections. You can search or browse them. Both options come with very practical filters. In the browsing mode you can use a filter for record type showing you graphically all kinds of legal documents and the various genres of inventories. When you choose to explore the collections you can navigate an interactive map of Europe. DALME brings you at this moment nearly 500 records.

Two collections show immediately in the title their legal nature, 58 records for Florentine wards (1381-1393) and insolvent households in Bologna (1285-1299) with 41 records. The section with ecclesiastical inventories focuses currently on French priests and canons. It will contain in the near future inventories from some well-known cathedrals and monasteries. DALME shows its strength in particular in presenting 50 Jewish inventories from France, Germany and Spain, a rare resource. Tax seizures, inquests into crimes and notarial acts or services formed the legal ground to create these records. Apart from a collection focusing on records from cities in Northern Lombardy, from Marseille and the region around this town, with 168 records the largest collection, there is a collection for the States of Savoy (24 records) and a miscellaneous collection, good for 121 records. Each collection comes with a general introduction, a section on its goals and objectives, explanations about the sample, some highlights and information about the intellectual owner of and contributors to a particular DALME collection.

In a second section with four categories you can approach partial and fragmentary lists created for seizures, estimates, sales and tariffs. Currently only a small number of sales and estimates can be viewed.

For my own pleasure I searched in Dutch online resource for an inventory made in 1297 of goods found at the convent of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John in Utrecht and transferred to a canon of the Oudmunster collegiate chapter and Jan van Duvenvoorde. The inventory in this charter has been identified as a list of goods belonging to count Floris V of Holland who had stayed there in Utrecht just before he was killed near Muiderberg on June 27, 1296. You can find editions of the charter in the Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (1297 April 6, OSU V, no. 2812) and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ V, no. 3268). The presence of chivalric cloths, many gloves and silver objects is indeed telling. Alas the original of this charter no longer exists, but seventeenth-century copies of it have survived.

Some early impressions

An example of the record view in DALME
An example of the record view in DALME, here with a Florentine inventory from 1381 – Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato 4, f. 71r

When searching inventories at DALME a few things become clear. You can currently only find items in their original languages or when they are mentioned in the record description, and not yet using the promised thesaurus function. In my view a major feature is thus currently not yet present. There is a difference between records taken directly from archival sources and those taken over from existing editions. In some cases a part of a document has not been transcribed because it does not contain a part of the proper household inventory. For the document shown here above with 31 folia this restriction is most sensible.

To be honest, I feel a bit baffled by the laurels given to this project in this stage. In my view the report about the 2022 DHMS Award shows a cavalier attitude to some of the clear deficiencies and missing qualities of DALME in its current state. Of course I can see that bringing together documents in twelve languages, providing images and transcriptions and commentaries is surely a feat. Creating 500 records in one year is not a particularly large number. DALME does aim at open access and easy interoperability, but the report states it is still unclear whether third-party software can harvest directly from DALME. The use of TEI for encoding the records and Zotero for the bibliography is commendable, but why create your own remix of tools for the management systems behind the screens? At GitHub you can find the necessary technical information about the databases of DALME and the mix of tools applied for it, but no direct link is given to the bibliography at Zotero. For all its qualities Zotero is notably weak when it comes to actually searching a group library within it. The twelve languages do not return in the choice of glossaries and dictionaries in the DALME bibliography.

DALME’s relatively low number of records for inventories, the very low number of objects and the lack of integration between them, are quite visible. Add to this the uncertainty about reuse and the absence of a fundamental essay on the legal nature of many documents, and you have grounds for reasonable doubts about the core qualities of this digital project. For some collections you find more or less detailed information about the kind of legal documents, but as for now there are no general essays introducing the various source genres. Contributions by legal historians would here be most welcome.

Header website Medeival Academy of America

Let’s for a moment turn away from DALME and look more generally at criteria and standards for evaluating digital projects. A few years ago the Medieval Academy of America developed a serious basic set of standards for its database Medieval Digital Resources (MDR), discussed here in 2019. For viewing images the use of a standard such as IIIF is recommended, but this has not been used at DALME. However, its images are at least zoomable. Luckily, DALME seems otherwise compliant with the MAA’s standards advocated at its database and guide for medieval digital resources. By the way, I could not help using MDR to search quickly for other projects concerning material culture. Using the preset filter for this subject I could only view the first page of the results; going to the next page ended at an empty search form. MDR does contain numerous online dictionaries and bibliographies. A number of them has been included in the DALME bibliography.

A medeival key - image Portable Antiquties Netherlands
A medieval key, c. 1375-1500, an example of a early comb-bit key, length 52 mm – private collection, PAN no. 00013245 – image Portable Antiquities Netherlands

The DALME project comes with high aims based on sound research. I truly expected 3D images of objects or at least integration with one museum catalogue for medieval objects or a portal for archaeological objects, such as Portable Antiquities Netherlands. A year after its launch some wishes to make DALME outstanding could perhaps have been already fulfilled. I could not help noticing that for example the collections from Florence and Bologna are a century apart of each other, and thus comparisons are not as straightforward as possible, even though such comparisons remain challenging. As for the Florentine documents, a choice from the early fifteenth century would have invited a comparison with data in the Online Catasto for 1427-1429, created by the late David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, and hosted at Brown University. It is reassuring to find a helpful table with some suggested equivalent terms in various languages and a clear list of online dictionaries in the classroom section. In an upcoming seminar Laura Morreale (Georgetown University) will focus on editing and transcribing Florentine documents.


How does this project compare to similar projects elsewhere? I looked briefly at the BoschDoc portal for documents concerning the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch. Its search possibilities are impressive. Some eighty inventories have been included, many of them with images, transcriptions, translations and references to relevant literature. The background information, in particular for technical matters, is much more restricted than for DALME, but it does contain a useful list of transcription criteria. The difficulty of scripts and languages is bewailed at DALME, but the actual approach to overcome them is not made completely explicit nor are solutions actually implemented or visible. Hopefully Laura Morreale and her colleagues can quickly add their set of transcription criteria to DALME.

The fact I devoted a rather lengthy review to DALME indicates indeed my opinion that in the end we can welcome a valuable resource for medieval historians at large. Its flaws have to be redeemed, but they help in a way to view similar projects much clearer. I must add that navigating the menus for background information was not as easy as using the collections themselves. The larger essays at DALME are certainly worth your attention and wet the appetite for more. I would be hard pressed to determine whether DALME is a pilot project or a project in its beta phase. In my view DALME is not yet a convincing winner of the DHMS award. Despite all drawbacks Smail, Pizzorno and Morreale deserve praise for their initiative, as do the other scholars who worked hard to provide images, transcriptions and additional information. This international project brings us for now a kind of showcase of what can become a resource not just to use for your own goals, but to discuss with historians from other disciplines as an exercise in rethinking your approaches to medieval documents and objects. The lacks and omissions at DALME should help you to raise your own standards, to apply standards for data exchange with other resources, and to reflect on the use of evaluation standards for digital projects.

Some afterthoughts

After publishing this post I quickly realized some additions might be helpful. A fine example of an image database for medieval and Early Modern material culture is REALonline of the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (IMAREAL) in Krems an der Donau. In its journal Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online (MEMO) the issue no. 7 (December 2020) was devoted to the theme “Textual Thingness”. In this issue the article by Christina Antenhofer, ‘Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries)’, MEMO 7 (2020) 22-46, provides you among other things with a brief discussion of the various forms and (legal) origins of inventories. She mentions the entry for inventories in a German dictionary for legal history by Ruth Mohrmann, ‘Inventar’, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte II (2nd ed. Berlin 2012), cc. 1284–1285.

Grotius through students’ eyes

During summer some lighter subjects can come into view, but sometimes you suddenly notice something well worth looking at. In order to protect you from too much centenary celebrations I try to choose every year just a few of them. A new virtual exhibit concerning Hugo Grotius starts with a winning title, Grotius: A life between freedom and oppression has been launched in March 2021 by Leiden University Library on a new platform for its web presentations. One of the most celebrated historic events in the canon of Dutch history is the escape of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) from castle Loevestein in 1621 where he was imprisoned as the chief follower of the late Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the statesman who had done so much in creating the blossoming Dutch Republic. An exhibition in Amersfoort on Van Oldenbarnevelt and prince Maurits (Maurice) came into view here a few years ago, and just like in that summer post a particular historical object will figure here. The matters under discussion here are in the end not just light-weight, and thus I finished this post only in autumn.

A canonical figure in Dutch legal history

Before you sigh at the prospect of going on well-trodden paths with me you should know nine students of Leiden University College in The Hague prepared the virtual exhibit in English. Together with their supervisors Hanne Cuyckens and Jacqueline Hylkema they did choose five focal points which are just different enough to make you curious again about Grotius. In the first section, Leiden, the student, he forming years of the child prodigy form the subject. Grotius matriculated at Leiden in 1594 at the age of ten years. For each subject a number of objects are shown, in this case for example the matriculation register, a portrait of Grotius at fifteen, the earliest printed map of Leiden and a portrait of the famous philologist Joseph Justus Scaliger, the best known teacher of Grotius. Grotius started at Leiden with literary studies, not with jurisprudence, freedom indeed for this child prodigy to develop himself in many directions. In 1598 he obtained his doctoral degree in law at Orléans.

In the second section we do not jump at once to his major publications such as Mare Liberum (1609), followed by De iure belli ac pacis (1625) and the Inleidinghe tot de Hollandsche rechtsgeleerdheid (1631). Even a young superstar as Grotius had to immerse himself in at least one subject not just in learned books and contemporary theory, but also in daily practice. Grotius was admitted in 1599 as an advocate to the Hof van Holland, the high court of Holland in The Hague. His position as a lawyer made him for Van Oldenbarnevelt the obvious candidate to set out at length the Dutch position on the freedom of the seas. Already in 1598 Grotius accompanied him on a embassy to France, and afterwards the two men stayed in contact with each other. In this section there is also attention for Grotius’ religious views articulated in his work Ordinum pietas (1613). It put him firmly on the side of the Remonstrant movement favored also by Oldenbarnevelt.

Cste Loevestein - image Wikimedia Commons
Castle Loevestein – image Wikimedia Commons

The third section brings you to Grotius’ imprisonment at Loevestein Castle on ground of his religious and political views. The castle is placed on a marvelous strategic spot in the Rhine delta where several of its branches come together. The nearby towns of Gorinchem and Woudrichem are not easily reached. The background with the execution of Oldenbarnevelt in 1619 gets due attention, as are his religious views. You can also look at two letters. When you try to navigate to subsequent items this does not always function correctly. I had expected a link to the online version of the edition of Grotius’ correspondence at the portal of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam nor to the version at its philological platform Textual Scholarship or to the catalogue at Early Modern Letters Online, but you can look at scans of original letters held at Leiden. The project Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-Century Dutch Republic could be added as well.

At Loevestein Grotius was allowed to borrow books from Leiden university library. These books were transported in a large and heavy chest. Hidden in the book chest Grotius could famously escape on March 22, 1621 from castle Loevestein. In 2020 a part of the television series created by the Rijksmuseum on Historisch bewijs (Historical evidence) was devoted to establishing which book chest of three chests held at the Rijksmuseum, Loevestein and Museum Prinsenhof in Delft was probably the original book chest. The chest in Delft has suitable dimensions and a more reliable provenance from the Graswinckel family who was closely connected to the De Groot family in Delft, but no evidence was adduced to confirm its actual use beyond any doubt. Thus the chest is a kind of objet de mémoire connected with an almost mythical heroic story, and the natural point of focus at castle Loevestein, a typical nationalist lieu de mémoire on a beautiful spot at the point where the Waal branch of the Rhine and a branch of the Meuse come together.

In the fourth section of the online exhibit we arrive with Grotius as an exile in Paris. In this town he completed his treatise De iure belli ac pacis. Apart from letters and a map of Paris poetry by Grotius and a poem by Joost van den Vondel come into view here.

The autograph manuscript of  "De iure praedae"  (Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917) - image Leiden University Library
The autograph manuscript of “De iure praedae” – Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917 – image Leiden University Library

The fifth and final section of the virtual exhibit deals with the major treatise by Grotius on prize law, De iure praedae. The Leiden manuscript BPL 917 is the sole handwritten and even autograph witness to the text of Grotius’ treatise on prize law and booty composed between 1604 and 1609. Only one chapter was published during his life as Mare Liberum (1609). The restoration of this manuscript and the subsequent digitization for the full digital edition published in 2015 are the very heart of this section.

By choosing four actual locations – Leiden, The Hague, Loevestein and Paris – the nine students succeed easily in freeing Grotius from a too narrow view of him as only a figure in Dutch history who became first a victim of religious strife and later on a figure head in the struggle for tolerance. These backgrounds do matter indeed. No doubt some Dutch people will be surprised to find the article on Grotius in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its rich bibliography. He is regarded as the very founder of natural law. Thus there is an entry for Grotius, too, in the database Natural Law 1625-1850, one of the fruits of a research project of the universities at Halle, Erfurt and Bayreuth. By showing not just works by Grotius, and not only his legal works, but also his poems and a treatise on religion, the students show him as a major intellectual in European history. You might with me deplore the lack of further links or an essential bibliography, but there is surely a place for the approach chosen for this virtual exhibit.

Recently Leiden University launched a new platform for its online exhibits. Among the digital collections of Leiden University Library is a section with nearly fifty virtual exhibitions; in some cases only a PDF remains available.

As for creating a Grotius Year the museum Loevestein can readily be pardoned for seeking a way to attract visitors after the corona lockdowns in the Netherlands. The website for the public events around the Grotius commemoration does mention his importance as a lawyer, diplomat and theologian. Themes as the freedom of thought and religious tolerance are vitally relevant in our contemporary world. Showing things have been very different in the past shakes (young) people free from thinking the present has always been there as a a most natural thing.

In earlier posts about Grotius, in particular the one about a rare early edition of De iure beli ac pacis, I provided information about his main legal works concerning the first printed editions, modern editions, translations and digital versions. I would like to point again to the presence of text versions and seventeenth-century or modern translations into Dutch for a number of his works at the portal of the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL). In the DBNL you can find also digital versions of numerous older publications about Grotius, and the entry for his historical works by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem in their work on Early Modern Dutch historiography, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 (The Hague 1990).

The riches of the Peace Palace Library

Logo Peace Palace Library

The Peace Palace Library (PPL) in The Hague is the natural starting point for any research on Hugo Grotius. Lately this library has put its digital collections on a new separate platform, but for some silly reason the actual URL is not easily found at the website of the PPL, as are alas some other web addresses. A few years ago I wrote here about the Scheldt River collection which now can be found, too, at this new platform. It seems the PPL provides for each collection on this platform a special page with the correct link. However, there is no page or news item for the new platform itself, or maybe it has only to be added to the top bar menu. A platform with eight interesting collections in open access merits a place in the spotlights.

The PPL contributes two collections in open access to LLMC Digital, but no direct links are give on the PPL’s special page for its collections at LLMC Digital. It is only fair to say that finding these collections at the LLMC portal is a feat in itself. So far my attempts to locate them simply failed. Both LLMC Digital and the website of the PPL lack a general search function and a sitemap. The collections at both websites deserve better accessibility. As for the licensed digital collections and also for the databases accessible through the PPL you might contemplate acquiring a library card of this library. For this choice, too, hving a clear overview of digitized materials and their access is most practical.

Grotius figures of course also on the website of the PPL, starting with the chat function called Ask Hugo! The web page on the Grotius Collection tells you about the general background and the famous bibliography by Ter Meulen and Diermanse [J. ter Meulen and P.P.J. Diermanse (eds.), Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (The Hague 1950)] and a more recent catalogue of the PPL’s holdings of works by Grotius. Instead of the direct link to the licensed Grotius Collection Online: Printed Works of Brill only a link to the title in the PPL library catalogue is provided, yet another minor howler. In fact this digital collection contains also numerous works dealing with Old Dutch law, and I would even single it out as a very representative selection of legal books from the Dutch Republic brought most conveniently together. A research guide for Grotius would be a welcome addition to the thirty existing online guides on the website of the Peace Palace Library. A quick search for a nutshell guide to Grotius brought me only to a very concise guide created by the Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia. It is sensible to look at the Grotius pages of Wikipedia in several languages.

Gaining a wider view

I would like to end this post constructively, and not with criticism on defects. Grotius belongs to the group of thinkers students and scholars cannot approach completely straightforward. Often there is abundant scholarly activity, there might be opposing schools and roads of interpretation and across linguistic borders studies can take refreshing turns closed to those staying content with Anglo-American scholarship. Luckily regularly guides are published in the form of essay volumes by an international team of distinguished scholars to bridge such gaps and bring together different views and themes surrounding a major thinker. In September 2021 the Cambridge Companion to Hugo Grotius appeared in print and online, edited by Randall Lesaffer and Janne Nijman. Interestingly this seems to be the first companion volume to Grotius. There is not yet A Very Short Introduction on Grotius from Oxford, presumably exactly because his versatility can hardly be sufficiently shown in a slim volume by a single author. Hopefully different views on Grotius find space in the scholarly journal Grotiana with apart for the printed version some articles published online in open access.

Logo Open Access Week

This year’s International Open Access Week will take place from October 25 to 31, 2021. The existence of a number of vital online resources for doing research on Grotius only accessible as licensed resources, most often through the services of libraries, diminishes the chances for those outside the circle of blessed beneficiaries to learn more about Grotius or about other major intellectuals whose thought changed the world forever. Institutions not caring or simply forgetting to provide even links to their own digital collections, be they in open or licensed access, should reflect on their duties and capacities to help both scholars and the general public. Of course in some cases it is a matter of discommunication or worse between for example a library staff, a project leader and the communication officers.

It might seem seducing to bring your collections under the flag of a prestigious publishing company, but if this means closing access to your priceless possessions for most of the world the ultimate blame should be in my view on their original holder. In my view individual scholars, scholarly communities, publishers and research institutions, including university presses, all have their own ongoing responsibility to discuss matters concerning access to scholarly publications. In actual life both institutions with digitized resources and publishers increasingly offer digitized materials both in licensed and in open access, depending on their policies. Hopefully solutions can be found to create and assure wider access whenever possible and feasible for us and future generations interested in the versatile mind of Grotius and the impact of his works through the centuries. Sailing oceans with free, affordable and sustainable access to research resources would be most helpful to achieve this aim.

Rays of light on illuminated legal manuscripts

Flyer "The illuminated legal manuscript" (detail)

At the start of a new academic year scholarly events, too, start to occur, sometimes already again as live events, but more often as online meetings of scholars. From September 22 to 25, 2021 an online conference took place concerning The illuminated legal manuscript from the Middle Ages to the digital age. Forms, iconographies, materials, uses and cataloguing. Three institutions cooperated to organize this event, the Ius Illuminatum research team led by Maria Alessandra Bilotta (Lisbon), the Biblioteca capitolare di Vercelli and the Biblioteca capitolare di Verona. With its eight sessions and various key note lectures on different themes connected with medieval legal manuscripts and art history this conference addressed a wider audience than just art historians and specialists in legal iconography or medieval book production, and thus fit for a post here. Last week my own time schedule made it impossible for me to follow all sessions, and therefore only a number of themes will come into the spotlights here. Hopefully other participants, too, will report on this interesting event.

Focus on the Mediterranean

Surely one of the most visible aspects of this conference is the partnership for this conference between scholars and two libraries crossing national borders. The Ius Illuminatum team at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa is known for the research by Maria Alessandra Bilotta on medieval illuminated legal manuscripts created in Southern France, in particular in Toulouse. The library in Vercelli is famous for the Vercelli Mappamundi, the Vercelli Book with texts in Anglo-Saxon, and two manuscripts containing the Leges Langobardorum. The library in Verona is renown for its holdings with a number of medieval manuscripts and in particular palimpsests as unique witnesses to texts form classical Antiquity, foremost among them the Institutes of Gaius. Both libraries have also a museum. A live virtual tour of the library in Vercelli focusing on two manuscripts was a nice addition to the conference.

Let’s briefly look at the themes of the sessions. Manuscripts held in Salamanca, manuscripts from France kept in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, legal manuscripts in Salamanca and Naples were the subject of the first session centered around libraries. In the second section a number of individual case studies were grouped together. The third section focused on legal iconography. The cataloguing of (illuminated) legal manuscripts was the theme in the fourth session. The fifth session with just one contribution looked at vulgarisation of law. Medieval city statutes were presented in the sixth session. Two special sessions were devoted respectively to the materiality of illuminated legal manuscripts and to the connection of heraldry to medieval law and illuminated manuscripts. In my view bringing together these themes is already most useful to raise awareness about their interconnections and limitations.

A number of keynote lectures could theoretically be placed within a particular session, but it was perhaps right to set them apart. The lecture by Susanne Wittekind (Universität Köln) stands out for its dense information and insightful comparison of the manuscript illumination in the Codex Albedensis, a tenth-century manuscript at the Escorial with at first sight just a miscellaneous collection of texts, and the Tercer Llibre Verd, a manuscript with statutes of Barcelona, also discussed by Rose Alcoy (Universitat de Barcelona). The miscellany is in fact a well-structured manuscript showing graphically a legal and graphic order of legal and religious texts. Making comparisons and structuring your presentation were elements definitely missing in some presentations without the use of slides, as was being aware of the limited number of themes you can address within thirty minutes, and awareness of the need for structure and clear questions.

The importance of repertories and catalogues

Logo Manus OnLine, ICCU

One of the limitations for studying medieval legal illuminated manuscripts is the state of catalogues and repertories for this genre. It was therefore most welcome to hear a lecture by Gero Dolezalek (University of Aberdeen) on the current state of affairs of the Manuscripta Juridica database in Frankfurt am Main. Only a few canon law manuscripts have yet been entered in this database originally devised for manuscripts with Roman legal texts and commentaries up to 1600. Sadly it seems little progress has been made in the past few years. Illumination has not been consequently recorded. At Turin Maria Alessandra Panzanelli Fratoni is working at two interrelated projects, a new portal called IVS Commune Online, to be launched in October 2021, with an integration of data on manuscripts and early printed editions from existing online resources, and a new section of the Italian manuscript portal MANUS, called MANUSIuridica. The main strengths of these two promising projects are the thorough conceptual preparation. It is not yet clear when MANUSIuridica will become accessible. In this section Andrea Padovani (Bologna) talked about the new phase and face of the project Irnerio with digitized legal manuscripts at the Colegio di Spagna in Bologna – presented here many years ago – and Silvio Pucci (independent scholar) about the online version of the catalogue for the juridical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati in Siena.

It is important to remember the study of medieval canon law still faces the lack of a full manuscript repertory, a paradoxical fact after the appearance of the model given by Stephan Kuttner in his Repertorium der Kanonistik 1140-1234, I, Prodromus glossarum (Città del Vaticano, 1937). Was his level simply too high to follow for others, or did it simply led to a strong and not completely justifiable focus on the classic period of medieval canon law? Luckily we have for the early Middle Ages the excellent guide by Lotte Kéry, Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages, ca. 400-1140: A biographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, DC, 1999).

Legal iconography and heraldry

In the section for the more classic legal iconography papers were read about the illustration of the two powers at the beginning of manuscripts with the Decretum Gratiani (Gianluca del Monaco, Bologna), accompanying the very incipit Humanum genus, the iconography of last wills in some manuscripts of the Institutiones Iustiniani and the Digest (Viviane Persi, Lille), the representation of public justice in the Vidal Mayor (Rogerio Ribeiro Tostes, Evora), and the development of legal iconography in medieval Scandinavia (Stefan Drechsler, Bergen).

The very last section dealt with a subject often associated with medieval law, heraldry and the use of distinctive signs by knights and noble families, but interestingly medieval law did not set clear norms for unique claims on the use of a particular blason or sign. In 2012 I looked here at this very theme. Bartolus de Sassoferrato (1313-1357) did certainly influence later lawyers with his most often copied treatise De insignis et armis, but in particular Martin Sunnqvist (Lunds Universitet) made it refreshingly clear that this treatise does not help us to understand the rise of heraldry from the twelfth century onwards. The lecture of João Portugal (Instituto Português de Heráldica) on Early Modern heraldic rights in Portugal showed essentially how showing a relation with the king was as important as having a official blason at all. Matteo Ferrari (Universit;e de Namur) took us to a painting at the Palazzo di Comune in San Gimignano with a deliberate use of heraldic arms above the text of an important ruling around 1300.

Coutumes de Toulouse, circa 1296 - Paris, BnF, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail)
Coutumes de Toulouse, around 1296 – Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail) – image BnF

Finally Laurent Macé (Université de Toulouse) looked at the use of earlier blasons from the former county and the counts of Toulouse in a manuscript with the Coutumes de Toulouse from the late thirteenth century (Paris, BnF, ms.latin 9187). Macé argued these blasons and other signs helped showing continuity to readers in a new period under the French crown.

The forest and the trees

Even with only a partial review of lectures and keynotes the variety of this online conference with an attendance between twenty and forty scholars cannot be doubted. For those thinking the choice of subjects is too wide or simply unfocused the contribution of Carlo Federici (Scuola di Biblioteconomia, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) on the archaeology of the book served as a necessary reminder how leading palaeographers and codicologists in the second half of the twentieth century advocated an integral approach of medieval manuscripts, archival records and book production, away from a choice for studying only either texts, scripts, bindings or scriptoria.

The materiality of manuscripts matters indeed. Thus in my view Including a lecture on legal fragments kept at the Archivio di Stato di Arezzo by Maura Mordini (Università di Siena) is not a bow to what someone in 2021 jokingly called the minor industry of studying fragments. Far more often than we are willing to acknowledge we forget you deal with traces and fragments per se when studying history. So many things are irrecoverably lost forever or only seldom in front of us. Not every tiny bit is important, but there are bits and pieces pointing to larger contexts. As for projects with fragments, I try to list relevant projects, catalogues and exhibit catalogues concerning medieval fragments as part of my Glossae blog on pre-accursian glosses.

Banner Ius Illuminatum

As for the materiality of an online scholarly event, I would not recommend following the example of organizing a full program of sessions from nine to seven with only brief breaks. The quality of the internet connection forced the permanent closure of the video screens of non-speaking participants, a fact which greatly reduces the interaction. There was no virtual lobby, too. In this respect my view is surely influenced by the example of the online event at Frankfurt am Main on digital legal history in March reviewed here. Ensuring sufficient band width and creating a separate online social platform is perhaps a matter of calling upon the appropriate national institution dealing with such matters, yet another thing rightly taken into consideration by the German organizing team. The teams in LIsbon, Vercelli and Verona deserve respect for bringing together scholars from various disciplines and casting its nets wide. With this in mind you should view my remarks on things that could be better in a second similar conference which will no doubt follow soon. The rays of light on illustrations and illumination at this conference contain a promise of more to come.

The birth of a benevolent state? Fighting poverty, cultural heritage and legal history

Aerial photo of Veenhuizen - image Miranda Drenth

In July 2021 no less than three historic sites in the Netherlands, actually three groups of sites and buildings, have been officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Dutch part of the Lower German limes, the northern frontier of the Roman empire, the defense line of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie with water, sluices and fortifications around Holland from Amsterdam to Dordrecht, and the Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the “Colonies of Benevolence”, a number of settlements for poor people who could escape from slums and start to build a new life working hard in the northern province Drenthe. Both the limes and the Waterlinie have figured here already long ago. Last year I mentioned the Koloniën van Weldadigheid briefly in a post on Dutch digital archives. This nineteenth-century project deserves more attention here.

Not just fighting poverty

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

The Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the Colonies of Benevolence, should attract attention with their very name. The use of the word benevolence surely rings a bell and points to some larger governmental objective or aim. The word colony should serve as a remainder these settlements were developed during a colonial period in Dutch history. After the French Revolution it was a near miracle space should have been given to a new Dutch state. The old Dutch Republic had given away for a revolutionary republic, but soon afterwards its territory became just a number of departments in the Napoleonic empire. Mainly thanks to a few politicians, among them Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, a new Dutch kingdom including both present-day Belgium and the Netherlands could come into existence in 1814 and gain European recognition at the Congress of Vienna.

Portrait of Johannes van den Bosch, around 1829 – painting by Cornelis Kruseman – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Colonies of Benevolence were created under the strict supervision of general Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844). Van den Bosch served between 1798 and 1808 with the Dutch army in the Dutch East Indies. On his way back to Europe he was taken prisoner by the British. Only in 1813 he returned to the new Dutch kingdom. In 1818 he started with his plan to start opening the wildernesses of the province Drenthe for agriculture. Adding settlements for poor people was a secondary development. In 1823 he became a government official. After a year in the Dutch West Indies he became the governor-general of the East Indies (1828-1834), and from 1834 to 1839 he served as a minister of the colonies. In the East Indies he introduced the cultuurstelsel, a system of forced labor on plantations bringing much profit to Dutch firms, investors and state finances. His life was indeed a matter of colonies and forms a part of Dutch colonial history. The recent biography by Angelie Sens, De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019) aptly called him in its title a colony man.

A strange mixture

A farm in Veenhuizen - photo by Miranda Drenth
A farm in Veenhuizen – photo Miranda Drenth

The Colonies of Benevolence included four locations in Drenthe (Veenhuizen, Wilhelminaoord, Frederiksoord, and Boschoord), two in Overijssel (Willemsoord and Ommerschans), and two in Belgium, Wortel and Merksplas. In 1818 Van den Bosch founded a private organisation, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid, for his agricultural plan. Already in 1819 a first pilot colony was formed at the Westerbeek estate in Frederiksoord. There is a separate website for the museum of this colony, the Proefkolonie. Veenhuizen (1823) and Merksplas (1822) were founded as penal colonies. Since 2018 Veenhuizen is home to the Nationaal Gevangenismuseum, and Merksplas, too, has become a prison museum. Van den Bosch’s society founded also two agricultural schools.

The history of these places is certainly colorful, and thus it is interesting to look at the motivation for entering them into the World Heritage Register. On July 27, 2021 the Dutch UNESCO branch published a web page about the registration of the colonies. Kathleen Ferrier, member of the Dutch committee and a politician, stressed the uniqueness of the initiative to help people breaking with poverty and building a new existence for themselves, even if the colonies did not succeed immediately in abandoning poverty. She views it as an experiment in social history. The registration of the World Heritage Centre rightly uses more sober and meaningful wordings. Urban poor were relocated to a far away region. The original colonies failed to get sufficient income, and thus the scheme was developed to bring in beggars and to found two special penal colonies. There were guards to supervise the doings of people. At its highest point some 11,000 people lived in the Dutch colonies, and some 6,000 people in the two Belgian settlements. Very revealing is the original geometrical pattern of the colonies. The word panoptical serves as a reminder of Jeremy Bentham’s proposals for prison reform.

The international UNESCO website does not mention the existence of archival records digitized by the Drents Archief. Last year I wrote briefly about Alle Kolonisten (All Colonists, the nifty subset of the project Alle Drenten. These digitized records can even be searched with an English search interface. Archives are mentioned in the English nomination dossier (2020; PDF, 21 MB) where you can find also a rich bibliography, but without any reference to the exact archival inventories at the Drents Archief. Luckily the website Alle Kolonisten figures at page 164, and at the website the inventories are duly listed, as are records elsewhere not included among the digitized records. The dossier makes space for Bentham (pp. 78-81), and also for foreign initiatives inspired by the Dutch colonies, and not just for the French project at Mettray with among its directors Alexis de Tocqueville, but also for instance the Innere Mission in Hamburg (pp. 165-170).

Walking though the Colonies of Benevolence

This post is my first contribution after a silence of three months. I will not bother you with a full explanation, I have been simply busy doing other things, in particular describing archival records. One of the much missed recurring features at my blog is the walking historian. As a small solace I will look here with you at two students who made a walking tour of the Netherlands in 1823. Dirk van Hogendorp (1797-1845), a law student who was the son of the renown politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, and Jacob van Lennep (1802-1868), the brilliant son of a professor of classics and history at the Amsterdam Athenaeum, wrote respectively a concise diary and letters, and an extensive diary. In 2000 appeared an edition in modernized Dutch of these travel accounts, De zomer van 1823. Lopen met Van Lennep. Dagboek van zijn voetreis door Nederland, edited by Geert Mak and Marita Mathijsen (Zwolle 2000; revised edition, 2017). In 2000 Geert Mak also presented a television series of his attempt at walking in the traces of Van Lennep and Van Hogendorp. You can still watch online the two episodes on the colonies (no. 5, “Charity and discomfort”, and no 6, “Who does not work will not eat”).

Start screen "De voetreis"- Huygens Institute/ING

People were generally quite aware of the high rank of both young men making in 1823 a kind of inspection tour of their country, no doubt reporting about their meetings and views to authorities and influential people. Actually the two men walked only in the northern half of the Netherlands. On July 5 they visited Frederiksoord, and on July 15 they saw Ommerschans. As graphic as their reports of the meetings at both colonies is their description of the backward province Drenthe with in many parts scarcely any normal road. Before getting the status of a province Drenthe had been often called just a landschap (landscape) … The digitized versions of Van Hogendorp’s and Van Lennep’s diaries can now be found at the resources subdomain of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam.

In this post I tried to kindle your interest in a transnational project for social reform with a clear legal component, the foundation of penal colonies at a safe distance of urban society.The remaining buildings in the Netherlands and Belgium form indeed cultural heritage with many dimensions. The archival heritage needed to be highlighted here. The two Leiden students looking at the colonies in 1823 were definitely among the Dutch urban upper class, and it is their very bias, too, which makes their views interesting for historians. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic period the new Dutch kingdom had a hard time awakening from it and assessing its position. What could serve the new state best? King Willem I acted as an autocrat with patriarchal characteristics, and Van den Bosch’s plans suited him. The general’s plan showed a military grip on people and things. The royal benevolence served first of all the king, and much less the nation, apart from his canal building scheme.

What became of the two walking students? Van Hogendorp became a lawyer serving as a substitute attorney-general and as a judge at two courts. Van Lennep became a prolific writer and a society figure, taking up causes and getting involved in a cause célèbre, the publication of the pamphlet-like novel by Eduard Douwes Dekker about the exploitation of the Javanese by the Dutch government, and at the same time depriving its author of his copyright. The history of the Colonies of Benevolence shows a state doing an attempt at social engineering, and at the same time colonizing its own rural interior. This history helps you to look sharper for the impact of having a colonial empire, and it is great to detect numerous wider connections and intersections in it.

Looking at fragments

The exterior of Utrecht Univrersity Library, location Utrecht Science Park

In December bloggers face the perennial challenge of the seasonal post. In my view 2020 has hardly had any regular season. The world has changed in many ways. What seemed certain has become the object of doubts, and uncertainties have come into the spotlights. I will not pretend to see things better here than anyone else. My Dutch view is no cure for everything!

Like someone standing outside Utrecht University Library you cannot look directly into what’s inside. Our visions are often fragmented, and thus it seems appropriate to look here simply at some fragments of charters and manuscripts I could recently study at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Reporting from field work may not have the same status as presenting glorious final results, but it is in a way closer to tangible objects. Fragments offer a glimpse of a larger whole, and sometimes they are a kind of time capsule. Faithful readers know about my penchant to bring in here every now and then a very particular location, but this time it comes just briefly into view, perhaps only as a possible sequel in 2021.

History in fragments

Once upon a time it was clear a library contained books and an archive archival collections, but this nicely organized world seldom existed in real life. Archives can have a substantial library collection, and a research library can have important archival collections in its holdings. The history of a number of archival collections from medieval institutions and manuscripts held at Het Utrechts Archief and Utrecht University Library is a good example. Generally archival collections can be found now at the combined municipal and provincial archive, and most manuscripts are held at the university library, but some remarkable exceptions exist. Luckily Utrecht University Library created an online repertory for its archival collections. The manuscripts at Het Utrechts Archief can be found in the online library catalogue. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized.

Sometimes there is another explanation. The Wttewaal van Stoetwegen family brought the papers of the Wickenburg estate (‘t Goy, now part of Houten) into the care of Het Utrechts Archief [toegang (finding aid) 254], but other papers and charters are kept since the early twentieth century at the university library. Its inventory lacked descriptions of the charters, After a frst foray it became only natural to describe these charters as a sequel of the fruitful cooperation between both institutions in recent years, in particular for the exhibition and essay volume Perkament in stukken [Parchment in pieces] (2018).

Fragments of charters came also into view in my project which thus goes beyond the eighty charters of the Wttewaal family. A number of charter fragments had been described summarily in Latin in the manuscript catalogue [P.A. Tiele, A. Hulshof and B. Kruitwagen (eds.), Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae (2 vol., Utrecht-The Hague, 1887-1909; online, UB Utrecht, vol. I and II)]. The manuscript catalogue and later additions have been integrated into the online library catalogue; a guide for special materials helps you to use the catalogue and other resources efficiently. A substantial number of fragments has been taken from the bindings they once reinforced, some of them without due reference to the host volume, others with clear references to their origin.

Other fragments can in particular be found in situ in bookbindings made for Hubert van Buchel (1513-1599), a canon of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. In 1569 Buchel fled to Cologne. In his will he donated his books to the parish of St. James’ at Utrecht, but no doubt the church wardens must have influenced the final decision to add them to the collections of the city library founded in 1584, the nucleus of the university library founded in 1636. My project was restricted to charter fragments. Vito Santoliquido (ENNSIB, Lyon) recently looked for Fragmentarium at the entire corpus of maculature fragments in books with a Van Buchel provenance, a collection with some 1,000 relevant volumes. I dealt with just over one hundred charter fragments.

For strengthening the bindings of his books Van Buchel provided the bookbinder with parchment and paper from books which might have belonged to the chapter of St. Mary’s. He even jotted down the costs of many bindings. Few manuscripts from this collegiate chapter survive nowadays. The fragments might offer a kind of window on the books held and read by the canons of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. At Fragmentarium Vito Santoliquido gives a sketch of his research project Maculature in the Van Buchel Collection.

It is tempting to continue here with a paragraph about the aims of fragments research. In the past years it has become a discipline with a name of its own, fragmentology, and even a journal with this title, thus claiming its own distinct place next to codicology and palaeography. In the second part of this post I will look at some fragments with a clear connection to legal history. At my blog Glossae. Middeleeuwse juridische handschriften in beeld I published a few days ago a succinct account of these fragments in German, ‘Utrechter Fragmenten und Urkunden’. At Glossae you can find also an overview of projects and catalogues concerning medieval manuscript and charter fragments.

Some legal fragments

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited – Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92

Legal history is the focus in the second part of this post, but it is necessary to remember other perspectives can be equally interesting and important. I would like to start with Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92, coming from a Van Buchel volume (108 O 12), not just one fragment, but two sets of cuttings, group A with ten larger and one small scrap, and group B with ten cuttings. Of course I started trying to fit the parts of group A together, but this did not work. Combining the two sets was the obvious solution, but actually they still are kept as distinct sets, with a notice on the combinations I worked out for them.

Looking at fitting underlinings and dates proved to be clues to find adjacent parts of the cuttings. Here the data helped me to find the right parts, January 13, 1528. Other parts contain information about a case concerning a house in Cologne, the question of the validity of a mandate, and a letter from the official of the archbishop of Cologne, his ecclestastical judge, to the plebanus of Bonn. Some of the acts in these cuttings have marginal annotations about an act. One of the questions around these cuttings is their nature: Are they part of a kind of trial file or are we looking at a legal consultation (consilium)? As for now I opt for the first interpretation. Apart from two dates in 1527 and 1528 the names of some lawyers appear. At least one of them, Bernhardus de Harderwijck, can be traced in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum and the Repertorium Germanicum for papal registers at the Romana Repertoria portal (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Rome). He started his studies at Cologne in 1486 and got his doctoral degree in law in 1510, the year he also joined the tribunal of the Reichskammergericht, then at Speyer.

There is a second set with sixteen similar cuttings, Hs. fr. 6.77, from F. oct. 76, another Van Buchel volume. The year 1522 is mentioned in them, and also the word Coloniensis appears within a very similar layout and the same cursive script, which suggests they could belong to the other fragment. However, these sixteen cuttings did not fit together when I tried to repeat my actions with them.

Trial document in Utrecht 108 N 9

A fragment of a trial document bound with Utrecht 108 N 9

In the volume 108 N 9, also with a Van Buchel provenance, I saw yet another cutting which seems to stem from the document cut into pieces and now kept as fragments 6.92 and 6.77. The handwriting looks very similar, although the interlinear space here is larger. It seems safe to assume at least a datation between 1520 and 1530. It seems logical, too, to locate its origin in the German Lower Rhine region. This fragment mentions a dean and a church without any further indication of a specific location. It would be wonderful to trace yet another fragment still in situ within one of the volumes once owned by Van Buchel or among separately kept fragments, but with possibly three witnesses of the existence of a legal document the harvest is already interesting in itself. One of the immediate challenges facing me is to try to fit pairs of these cuttings into single folia. As for now for each act there are only beginnings, parts representing texts halfway and endings, a tantalizing state of affairs. It is a sobering thought other fragments need to be described first consistently, too, before starting a miniature quest to reconstruct these acts.

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

The third example I want to present here concerns two fragments of a lecture on canon law, bound with the Van Buchel volume E oct. 122. On one side of the fragment with two columns the words per osti. in su., “per Hostiensem in summa”, stand for Hostiensis, the nickname of Henricus de Segusio, cardinal of Ostia (around 1190/1200-1271). The first version of his summa was completed in 1250-1251, which provides us with a terminus post quem for dating this text which seems to be a lecture on the Decretales Gregorii IX. On closer inspection you can read at the top of the right column Spec. in ti., which I read as “Speculum – or Speculator – in titulo”. Guillaume Durand (Durandus) (1231-1296) finished the first version of his Speculum iudiciale around 1271, a second terminus post quem for dating the text and these fragments. Alas both columns of the original page have suffered when cut into pieces, making the number of clues for identification much smaller. The fragment bound at the front in this volume shows an allegation no. Pe. de Ve., a medieval lawyer I have not yet identified.

A story of fragments and history in fragments

Normally a scholar would probably thirst for much more information, daring hypotheses and smashing conclusions. In my view it is wiser to start just getting things right for each fragment. Creating consistent descriptions might seem straightforward, but already the fact fragments and volumes did not arrive at my desk at Special Collections in numerical order should make you pause a moment. I took photos in the order of inspection, and my notes follow the same order. It is a nice job to combine my photos correctly with the normal order of the fragments. By sheer luck I could view side by side as the very first and second Early Modern editions I consulted two volumes with in their bindings corresponding fragments of a charter referring to Hubert van Buchel himself!

In a period with restricted possibilities for research on location I feel lucky and even blessed with all efforts of my colleagues of Utrecht University Library to bring fragments, manuscripts and printed books to the reading room. I am sure I will look back at these months with Special Collections as one of the most extraordinary periods in my scholarly life. I could arrange and photograph objects using as much space as I liked, but working often alone in a reading room was a strange experience. The collection of the reading room with books about book history, manuscripts, palaeography and other relevant subjects was within immediate reach. In a year where so many people were forced to work at home, under sometimes difficult circumstances, I had the privilege of working on location, touching even historical artefacts, the very traces of past periods, sometimes susceptible to quick reconstruction, but more often just sign posts of a larger whole lost to us. Describing charters and fragments is doing fundamental research. For me doing this is among the solaces, the comforting things and rays of light in a period darkened by the pandemic which cut into our world as sharply as the scissors cutting manuscript pages into fragments.

At the very end of this project I saw a number of references to manuscript with fragments turned out to be small and medium-sized archival collections with a number of charters, not just single fragments. It would not do to hastily create descriptions of these charters, even when using Tiele’s descriptions as a starting point. They deserve equal attention as the other charters and fragments I described this year. When I noticed in one case charters and deeds referring to houses near and atthe Janskerkhof square in Utrecht I knew I could complete the circle of this year for my faithful readers! Between 1584 and 1820 the Janskerk was home first to the city library and later to Utrecht University Library. Instead of lamenting unfinished work it is better to look at the things which against all odds did succeed. I am not the only one much more conscious how vulnerable life is, and how many obstacles can hinder the completion of any project now and in the near future. Hopefully the kind of research you dream of or do normally can become (again) reality in 2021.

Against racism, for justice

These weeks see worldwide demonstrations and outcries against racism after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a victim of police violence. What can we do to stop this violence? Which approaches can help to expose racism? What is our own role? It is a real challenge to add here something worth of your time and attention that has not already been said more eloquently and argued more convincingly by others. In my own country a recent report showed more traces of racism exist than Dutchmen would like to admit. Therefore it is not possible to tell others to change, and at the same time not look at your own country.

However, remaining silent is exactly one of the problems around racism. In this post I will try to look at some aspects of racism in the United States connected with law and justice. Just listening to people telling us about the impact of racism is one of the most important steps towards a society where people truly enjoy equal rights. A focus on oral history resources is perhaps closest to my own perspective and knowledge. The ultimate aim of the struggle against racism is to achieve a greater measure of justice for all.

A brief look at the Netherlands

In April 2020 the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau [Social and Cultural Planning Office] published the report Ervaren discriminatie in Nederland II [Experiencing discrimination in the Netherlands II] (PDF, 2,4 MB) with an English summary. A quarter of the Dutch population indicated they have experiences of discrimination. The degree of discrimination is different for various groups, and this indicates there will not be just a single solution leading to a more inclusive society. The report shows not only people with a different origin perceive discrimination, but their numbers are surely high, and they perceive it stronger than other groups. They mention things such as not getting a job because their name sounds foreign. Buying a house can be difficult when some estate agents accept wishes not invite them as prospective buyers, even when these agents know this kind of discrimination is not allowed. People told they did not get a job because their place of birth is outside the Netherlands.

The Dutch situation does not stem only from a colonial past in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Labor immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, too, arrived in my country. Many of them have now a Dutch passport, but they and their children do experience forms of exclusion, just because of their names and the perception people have of them. The single most important matter is probably not being aware at all that people experience this exclusion. You might be tempted to thing outright racism does not exist anymore, but suggestive regards, telling remarks and bad jokes exist. My tiny country with just seventeen million inhabitants can seem a paradise, but it is part of a larger world. It may be hard to believe, but it cannot be denied forms of racism and exclusion exist in the Netherlands, too, and you cannot blame just one political party or whatever organisation for fostering racism. Multiple causes are at work.

Eyes wide open, ears willing to listen

Racism touches individual persons, groups and eventually an entire nation or country. It will not do to state you have no idea of any form of exclusion, inequality, injustice and outright violence. It would mean you think you live somewhere else, in another world. Admitting and acknowledging it happens in the very same world where you live, and perhaps not in your own safe haven, but alas surely in many other places, is a starting point. A second thing is harder to achieve, admitting you have probably distinct blind spots in your perception. On the level of a country this might lead to not understanding almost two nations exist within one country. A third thing is the temptation to think in compartments, with “we” on the good side, and “they” on the other side. A fourth difficulty is the great seduction of either deciding for others or letting the government decide about such people, as if you can create a distance from others, instead of listening first of all to others, to their perceptions, feelings and grievances, to their views about ways of building society and administering justice.

In my study I sit across a cupboard with books. A few years ago I put right behind the screen of my computer at eye height a number of books about justice, as a sign not to forget about justice when studying law and legal history. The things staring in your face can be hard to detect, a fact of life.

Logo Black Past

When I started thinking about writing as a legal historian about current events I quickly saw some websites providing you with very good overviews of online materials to start studying African-American history. The Library of Congress marks 22 of its 424 digital collections as directly touching this subject. The Digital Public Library of America has 27 primary source sets concerning African Americans. A good starting point is the Black Past portal with its great range of subjects and themes. Its page on research guides and websites for African-American history is most helpful. It is only natural to mention here the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and its digital resources guide. Pursuing a road to the history of racism within the history of the United States brings you to institutions and portals such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Facing History and Ourselves, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and the National Council on Public History. Two other museums have to be mentioned here, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, the latter with an oral history project. No doubt some of the websites and projects I mention here figure also in this online overview of Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources.

Among the organizations issuing statements about racism and the death of George Floyd is also the American Historical Association. The AHA statement has been endorsed by seventy-five scholarly organizations. This statement focuses on the history of police violence, and it urges to learn from history, even if the facts abut structural injustice and ingrained violence are not welcome, because they damage the image people had of America and Americans.

Oral history

Logo American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Perhaps you would prefer to use visual resources to tell stories of the position of African-Americans in the United States, the racist behaviour against them and the actions of individuals, organizations, state and federal institutions to change society and uphold human rights in a truly equal way for every American citizen. In my view using oral history brings home the message that people tell stories of their lives, of injustice and humiliation, of their efforts against all odds to change things. Looking at television and listening to radio broadcasts of public networks in the United States can certainly show something else, the relative invisibility of African Americans during many decades. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a great resource to pursue this research direction.

Logo Oral History Association

At the website of the International Oral History Association you will find a substantial number of links to sites with oral history projects in the United States. The Oral History Association (OHA) is the organization in the USA for oral history. The OHA, too, issued a statement about the death of George Floyd. The OHA gives you a long list of oral history centers in the United States, To give an example, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNH) does work in the field of oral history, in particular within the project Voices of Minnesota. Within this project of the MNH a number of resources concern African-American history. The Minnesota Digital Library is a portal to other projects and collections for Minnesota’s history, and to an oral history transciption style guide. At Minnesota Reflections you can find some 2,000 oral history interviews, the majority of them with texts, a substantial number with recordings and nearly fifty with moving images.

Logo Place Matters

Writing here “moving images” was at first a literal quote from a search by format for oral histories at Minnesota Reflections, but of course the other meaning of moving images is most expressive and powerful. Other words, too, are these days most telling. While preparing this post I was struck by the very name of a project for community history in New York City, Place Matters. The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, has created Stories Matter Software allowing you to clip, index and export audiovisual recordings to avoid some of the difficulties with transcriptions of interviews. The links list of the center in Montreal is impressive, too. The skills of oral historians, their examples and guides, both in the United States and elsewhere, can help to document also the tragic events in Minneapolis and the reactions of people and institutions.

Listening to the stories about the events in Minneapolis and following the world wide reactions is one thing, pondering their meaning and preserving their memory is important, too, but naturally thoughts go also to ways to tackle racism and exclusion.

Talking from your own position

At the end of this concise post I am very much aware that my overview of resources can seem too detached, taken too much from a virtual helicopter view, as if this would be possible. I am not writing from Olympian heights, but definitively with an ocean between me and America. The news from the United States touched me. I try to think about it, and at the same time I feel emotions, too. In my overview you will notice I gave detailed attention to some resources, other figure only with their name and web address. I tried not to focus only on racism and police violence, and therefore I mentioned first a number of institutions which deal with many aspects of American history.

At my blog I try to look at legal history in its manifold incarnations. Not only positive elements in historical laws, law courts or legal education come into view. Several posts focused on parts of the history of slavery, for example my post on the digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. Violence in the United States was the subject of a post in 2018 on historical gun laws.

I will not and I cannot offer here political advice or show legal roads to eliminate forms of racism, to reform the police force or to diminish endemic violence and the use of guns in the United States. In a recent conversation about what you can do yourself, even at a great distance, we mused about the importance of communication, of listening to each other behind words and moods, about the need for awareness of cultural differences in communication. Changing the way police officers talk with others, prepare themselves for non-violent communication instead of the proverbial Shoot first, ask questions later, and reflect about their image in the eyes of others, is not the quickest and easiest thing to do, but certainly worth an effort. In the same conversation we talked also about the power of symbols and the role of emotions.

As for real stumble blocks for political change in the United States I could not help remembering the way voters have to register for elections. From the viewpoint of a country where being registered in a municipality and fulfilling some simple criteria such as age and not being excluded from the vote by a verdict of a court, leads automatically to receiving your voting card, this is a remarkable situation. It is a challenge for all Americans to gain insight into the many ways African-American citizens can be hindered in exercising their civil rights to full extent as anyone else, to realize what impact such things have, and to understand how this feels in the face of a history of exclusion, open or veiled racism, and injustice. Looking critically at your own country, your own role, your own prejudices and quick opinions, is something we all can do. It might imply leaving your own bubble, changing your own role and perspectives. In 2017 I ended a post about the United States with words that fit here, too: The old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

A postscript

Among the many links you could possibly add to this post I would like to mention Archivists Against History Repeating Itself and Archives For Black Lives, both with resource lists.

Retracing looted and lost art after 75 years

IRP-logoAmidst the current situation around the COVID-19 virus worldwide commemorations take place of the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago. After two generations work continues on retracing objects of arts and other objects belonging to a shared cultural heritage which were taken from Jewish people by the Nazi regime or stolen by others. The process of giving back such objects is often as difficult as retracing art objects at all, not in the least because legal matters impose themselves, too. In this post I will look at a number of relevant projects, in particular at a web portal with a central function. The International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property (shortened to IRP) is a branch of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), with a portal concerning archives and their holdings as another branch.

Combining resources

The situation in the occupied European countries during the Second World War had similarities and major differences. After the war national institutions were founded for doing research on a dark and deeply troubling period, first of all by bringing together relevant documents and archival records. Tracing the fate of Jews and other persecuted people was a most important research motive, but other themes, too, called for attention. Survivors of the concentration camps often found little help from authorities and judges in regaining possession of their belongings. In the years of reconstruction their appalling situation was often simply ignored. Research along national lines has inevitably limits.

In 2014 the movie The Monuments Men, based on the book by Robert Edsel (London-New York 2009) brought the work of curators, archivists, art historians and others near the end of the Second World War and its aftermath to rescue works of art in Europe to the attention of the general public. The website of The Monuments Men Foundation informs you about its activities. However, in this project the focus is on works of art taken from galleries and museums, not so much on private collections. Nowadays The Art Loss Register helps both individuals and institutions to recover stolen works of art.

The IRP is a special portal supporting the recovery of cultural heritage stolen, confiscated or in whatever way taken away during the Second World War. Things get complicated in the face of museums and even nations acquiring items from the collections of Jewish art dealers and collectors. In fact I have to state my explicit wish not to comment on the outcome of legal cases such as the Goudstikker case and the case of the Koenigs collection. Perhaps it better to admit we now see things from a distance, and we should be aware we can see only some parts of a chaotic period which does not allow for easy extrapolation of conclusions, apart from fearing things were grim, grey or indeed beyond imagination.

At the IRP portal you can search in the databases of eleven institutions. Some of these databases cover several countries, but you got to be aware you cannot search every database of these institutions with one search interface. For this reason the IRP portal rightly states it is a demo. The Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Mémorial de la Shoah, the British National Archives, the Nationalfonds der Republik Österreichs für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, the Belgian State Archives, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American National Archives and Record Administration are included in the central search function of this portal.

It is remarkable the resources of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Amsterdam), home to the IRP portal, are not yet included in the central search interface. Thus the list of resources – under the heading Institutions – with ample information about accessing databases elsewhere is most important. The tab Collections brings you either to the central search interface or to the resource notices. Sometimes you do not land directly at the right section for a particular collection. In my view you can currently skip the Collections tab. The search interface has an advanced mode where you can enter terms for artist, location and techniques, but a notice alerts you this works only with some of the databases. Mentioning exactly for which it works or not would be a welcome addition, and a clear order of the institutions, be it by alphabet or by country, would be helpful, too. However confusing this may seem, it has the major benefit of shaking you clear of the idea to find something with just one search action at a single central resource, and it helps you to confront the fact things have been entered into databases in different ways. The IRP does help you to go in the right direction when you use its information carefully.


One of the obstacles in approaching these databases is the need for the use of standards, and not just at the interface level. The NIOD has helped creating with other Dutch archives a thesaurus for terms around the Second World War and the Netherlands. This thesaurus is a key element of the portal Oorlogsbronnen [War resources]. At the IRP portal the NIOD mentions only its archival collection concerning the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the unit of the Nazi regime looting Europe for works of art and other objects of European cultural heritage.

On its website the NIOD has created a section Expert Centre Restitution (interface in Dutch and English). This centre hosts the database Herkomst gezocht / Origins unknown. Its core is information about works of art either taken form Jewish people or acquired in dubious other ways and at some time – or still – present in the governmental Netherlands Art Collection (Nederlands Kunstbezit). Here, too, there are warnings about the completeness of the information. The NIOD point also to the website Museale verwervingen vanaf 1933 with information about works acquired by Dutch museums between 1933 and 1945 in suspicious ways such as theft, sale under pressure and confiscation. At the IRP portal is currently no indication whether such resources will be included in the future or not. The database of Museale verwervingen, accessible in Dutch and English, has not been updated since December 2018. Its overview of links and the succinct bibliography with mainly Dutch studies are worth mentioning. While preparing this post I noticed the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History has very recently digitized seven archives of art dealers between 1850 and 1950. In its holdings the RKD has archival collection of nine art dealers, among them the art firm Goudstikker. Although I am not unfamiliar with art history I have not conducted special research concerning the Dutch part of the history of stolen, looted and lost art around and during the Second World War, but these digitized archives are valuable new resources, accessible with an English and Dutch interface.

The Dutch websites figure here for a clear reason, not just to honour my regular Dutch view as a recurring element of my posts. It is perhaps wise to mention briefly some of the databases not yet included in the central search layer of the IRP Portal. In some cases the IRP’s overview makes clear an institution has not just one relevant database. Several institutions have archival collections concerning the Einsatzgruppe Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Only the database Cultural Plunder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is directly included in the IRP one-step search. On the website of this project you can also find archival guides for a number of countries, and a section on looted libraries. Lost Art is a database of the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, with an interface in German, English and Russian. The WGA-Datenbank of the Landesarchiv Berlin can be consulted in German and English, and there is a useful introduction on the website of this institution concerning the Wiedergutmachungämter (restitution offices). The University of Heidelberg is mentioned at the IRP portal for its project German Sales 1901-1945 with nearly 10,000 auction catalogues. The website with the database at ArtHistoricum contains much information besides the database. The portion of this project with German Sales 1930-1945 is included in the provenance databases of the Getty Research Institute.

The resources overview at the IRP portal is precious, and exactly for this reason you would expect explanations about the way more databases will be integrated into its search function. The differences between databases are a challenge to scholars and the IRP team dealing with them. It is sensible to view the portal as a tool supporting the use of these databases, and not, or not yet, as a complete replacement of searches to be conducted in individual databases. On purpose I indicated the languages used at other project websites. It would be helpful to have at least some elements of the IRP portal in various languages. In fact not only English is used in the IRP resources overview.

An unfinished history

Among websites and projects that deserve at least mentioning here, but perhaps also inclusion at the IRP portal, are other projects concerning looted and lost art. The most often mentioned projects are the Claims Conference and Looted Art of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. The art library of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz has a succinct commented list – available in German and English – with the main relevant projects and databases. The Swiss Federal Office for Culture has a section on its multilingual website for looted art from the Nazi period, with a list of links. I would like to mention here two websites not included in these overviews. Auction Catalog Segmentation is a French resource created by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art with a focus on the auction catalogues of the Parisian firm Drouot between 1939 and 1945. The Landesarchiv Berlin and the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin have created a website Bergungsstelle für wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken focusing on books taken from research libraries. This library participates with five other institutions at Looted Cultural Assets, with currently some 31,000 provenance records and information about 8,000 persons. Not just libraries work here together, but also the Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum and the Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden in Hamburg.


How can the memory of the twelve years of the Nazi period and its history of violence, genocide and other atrocities be kept alive? The EHRI project is one of the efforts of scholars to help studying the darkest part of this period. In Berlin one of the memorials is named Topographie des Terrors. Many German memorials and other websites can be found in the extensive links list of the Gedenkstättenforum. The portal Gedenkorte Europa 1939-1945 helps you to find more places of memory in Europe. However, I will not try to answer this question with only information about initiatives for remembrance. The actions to retrace, recover and restitute objects to their owners or successors, and the efforts to entangle legal questions about the rightful ownership of such objects are part of the aftermath of the Second World War and form in a way part of its remembrance. Sometimes the stories about looted art form a painful part of the aftermath when they brought further appalling humiliation to survivors and their families. Acts and places of remembrance should not hide the ways the stories of the Second World War have also been ignored, kept silent or made invisible. Sorting things out legally about objects is one thing, bringing some kind of justice to people in the face or irreparable human and material loss and injustice done to them is another challenge. Behind these objects is the history of persons with for each her or his individual history and the history of persecuted groups during a terrible period of human history.

A postscript

It is perhap useful to note here the Deutsches Historisches Museum offers not only the Datenbank zum Central Collecting Point München, integrated in the central search at the IRP portal, but also two additional databases concerning art during the Nazi regime, a database for the Kunstsammlung Hermann Göring and the Datenbank Linzer Sammlung for the art collections destined for the projected museum in Linz. The German Archivportal recently added a Themenportal Wiedergutmachung nationalsozialistischen Unrechts.

Searching digitized Dutch archival collections

The archives and records are accissibleThe crisis around the COVID-19 virus has stopped normal life in many countries. Many people work at home using digital connections to their office. Public institutions are closed, including archives, libraries and museums. Websites offering easy access to cultural heritage resources and other platforms for their virtual presence with digitized resources and open data have become quite important for everyone who wants to know about the holdings of archives, libraries and museums, let alone for scholars wanting to do research about subjects connected with resources in these institutions. For them having access to online finding aids and catalogues is one thing, being able to investigate sources using indexes, transcriptions and digitized images is a second much valued matter.

Some institutions are rightly famous for their clear presentation of digitized resources, others present some highlights, others have digitized materials, but these are not always easily found. In this post I report from my own experience in March 2020 in finding and accessing their resources. Of course I will focus here on resources for legal history. I could have reported a bit earlier but for the pleasant reason at least one Dutch archive seduced me to start researching some very interesting documents. However, in this case is perhaps better to report from work in progress, and to help first people wanting to start doing research with materials from Dutch archival institutions. The other post will follow soon.

Visible and hidden treasures

When creating a website or digital platform one can design it mainly with a view to the own institution or much more with current and new visitors in mind. I have seen many websites with two menus, one at the top aiming more at the expected public and the other with often practical things such as office hours and background information. In view of their rich holdings many archives face the challenge not to focus too much on famous collections, but to offer also a general introduction.

In this post I will scarcely mention the guides and help offered for genealogical research. Registers for baptism, marriage and burials and the modern civic registration have almost everywhere been indexed and even digitized. Searching for persons is often made easier by using the personen view which enables you to search for persons in several archival collections with one search action. Dutch archives often have a beeldbank (image gallery) for digitized drawings, prints and photographs. Building plans, a particular kind of drawings, can not always been shown at websites due to copyright reasons. Archives increasingly put a special button or link on their homepage with an explanation how to get access to building plans. Historic newspapers (kranten) are often displayed on a separate website. The archival systems and the choice of software play a role here, too, in deciding where to place specific materials. In January 2019 I wrote a post about the launch of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, a portal presenting medieval and later charters in Dutch holdings, a project which literally was built using the system of the firm behind the Archieven portal.

There are several ways to put digitized archival records online. In some cases there is a dedicated platform for particular resources, or they are presented at a subdomain. Other options are a partnership with other local or regional institutions for cultural heritage with its own platform or international cooperation with other archives. In a fairly large number of cases digitized items are connected directly with the online finding aids of Dutch archives. Depending on the system an icon appears either at the collection level or at the series or item level signalling their presence. Digital library catalogues often offer the choice to search only for digitized items. It is amazing to see Dutch archives only rarely offer a similar search facility.

At this point it is maybe wise to point to my own experience of the past week. A showcase at the website of an archive made me curious about a particular document which was presented without a reference. Even though the image suggested it might indeed been digitized, I had to start with a general search action, not with entering a special digital entrance. The point is that in some cases you will find out about things, however difficult the way to find something you might want to call a hidden gem. However, when offering finding aids archivists most certainly give access to their collections. “Hidden” can be a relative matter, not pointing to obvious ways and entrances is something else.

Logo Dutch Digital Heritage Network

In 2019 Dutch archives themselves were called upon by the foundation Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland (Digital Heritage Netherlands, DEN) to contribute to visible, usable and sustainable digital heritage, and to participate in the efforts of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, available in Dutch and English. For many years DEN presented the projectendatabank, a database for Dutch digitization projects on its website, but this did not return after a redesign of the website. In the section for visible digital heritage the envisaged users are divided into three kinds, the general public, education and professional users. Alas the English section is somewhat reticent about this matter. After a preparatory report on the situation in 2017 (Nulmeting digitaal erfgoed) reports have been made about behavorial profiles of users, the availability and usability of resources for education, and a report on customer travels (Klantreizen Digitaal Erfgoed, 2019). None of these reports is available in English. It seems a report about the specific wishes of professional users has not yet appeared. Eight profiles have been defined for potential users, ranging from people searching entertainment and gaming to persons wanting to search or experience. The ninth user, the visitor who goes to an institution in person, is not forgotten. Better visibility of highlights and treasures is a clear wish, but not the one most often expressed. The report on customer travels tells about the ways users find information and their comments on the experience to reach their goals. it is sobering to read the comment it was not encouraging having to search yourself when you finally arrived at the website of an archive or museum.

Surely archives are aware their holdings are not immediately visible and tangible as the objects in a museum and the books in a library, but on the other hand they hold the keys to surprises and research adventures. Items in an archival collection are part of a context which is every bit as important as the items. I must confess my shame when I saw the derelict website of an earlier combined effort of Dutch archives to present themselves at Ons DNA | De Nederlandse Archieven (Our DNA: The Dutch Archives), its ugliness crowned by a notice “© 2020”. Its initiative for a yearly prize for the most interesting archival item of the year, the Stuk van het jaar competition, stopped after four editions. The project for the yearly History Month supported this initiative, yet another platform that certainly can help to bring archives into view.

Against these negative results stands the appreciation of the biographical-genealogical tv series Verborgen Verleden, the Dutch version of Who do you think you are?, and the tv series Historisch Bewijs of the Rijksmuseum about historical objects put to the test. Forensic research and archival research are combined in this series that amounts to a kind of historical crime scene investigation, but it does shed light on some famous objects and periods in Dutch history. The episodes about the sword used to behead Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and the question of determing which is the real book chest among three chests used by Hugo Grotius to escape in 1621 from castle Loevestein even have a legal history twist. It is not clear whether activities surrounding the commemoration of 75 years liberation can continue, but here Dutch archives certainly contributed successfully to the Second World War portal Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen. Its bilingual offspring Oorloglevens [War lives] just won a prestigious GLAMi Award.

However important the efforts led by DEN for a common approach and a national infrastructure for access to digitized cultural heritage in the Netherlands, these efforts will not led to immediate changes in the visibility of digitized archival records. In March 2020 DEN called for the creation of a national digital collection Coronavirus in Nederland, and many archival institutions quickly responded with initiatives which will eventually will be assembled in a central digital collection. The focus of Dutch Digital Heritage Network seems to be on access at thematic portals, portals for specific sectors and provincial heritage portals, as indicated in the recent report Organisatie van het aggregatielandschap (PDF). I looked at the portals Brabants Erfgoed and Collectie Gelderland where you will find from archives mainly their image collections.

Mapping digitized archives

Logo ICA

The heading of this paragraph would have been a fine title for this post, but it only came into view when I saw the new interactive map of digitized archives created by the International Council for Archives. The announcement by ICA (@ICArchiv) of the map and the invitation to join in this action comes with an online form to add your institution and fill in details about finding aids, digital collection(s) or a crowdsourcing project you would like to highlight. I cannot blame you for going immediately to the interactive map launched on April 1, 2020. This is serious indeed and not a joke for April Fools’ Day.

As announced my overview of digital collections in Dutch archives does not mention image galleries, projects for newspapers and digitized records for genealogical resources. Such digital collections luckily already exist for a couple of years, and publishing digitized finding aids is common practice. My overview aims at the levels following these services which have proved to be very helpful for many people, be they ordinary citizens, history aficionados or scholars.

Some archives use the trick to create a subset within their archival collections for those which have been digitized. Thus the Zeeuws Archief (Zeeland Archives) in Middelburg present fifteen digitized collections. You can view this website also in English. I had expected to find very quickly, within a few steps, the digitized archival collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they were not immediately visible. I distinctly remember some years ago you could reach them quicker.

Clear overviews of digitized resources can be found for a number of regional archives, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg, with both images and transcriptions for charters on a subdomain, at the Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena in Heusden, and at the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht in Wijk bij Duurstede with a special collection for digitized transcriptions and indexes. The Waterlands Archief in Purmerend has a section for digitized highlights. At the Historisch Centrum Overijssel (Zwolle and Deventer) you can find digitized microfiches and microfilms, including those for some of the medieval manuscripts in the Collectie Emmanuelshuizen.

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

A number of archives works with separate platforms. In the three northern provinces Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe the regional archives have set up platforms with both digitized genealogical records and other resources. At Alle Friezen you can find by clicking on the tab Bron (Resource) for instance records of the nedergerechten, lower tribunals, and also notarial records and registers of other tribunals. For Groningen Alle Groningers offers in the field of justice and order access to acts of lower tribunals and inheritance taxation documents. The Drents Archief in Assen offers for the province of Drenthe not just resources at Alle Drenten, but also a nifty subset with records of Alle Kolonisten, the “colonists” of several nineteenth-century colonies for the poor with the collective name Koloniën van Weldadigheid. You can use indexes, browse images of original registers and also read letters. By the way, these three provinces all have a special website for its archival network, the Groninger Archiefnet, the Fries Archiefnet (interface Dutch. Frisian and English) and the Drents Archiefnet which offer searchable overviews of online finding aids and also thematic overviews. A good example in this category is also the municipal archive of Bois-le-Duc, Erfgoed ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which put notarial acts, a number of other collections and especially the famous scabinal registers of the Bosch Protocol on a dedicated platform.

Other archives offer good access to a number of digital collections. The Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum (BHIC) in Den Bosch offers access to criminal sentences between 1811 and 1930, and to the resources concerning the juges de paix (1811-1838). The central search page of the BHIC for archival collections contains rich digitized resoures for legal historians, in particular concerning the court of the Raad van Brabant (1586-1811), and also access to notarial acts, seals and permissions for having weapons. However, it is not immediately clear you will find here digitized materials. Only after starting searching in these collections icons indicate this. You might expect icons, too, in the Archievenoverzicht, the overview of archival collections. Perhaps the firm of this archival system used by many Dutch archive can quickly come with a simple additional icon within the archival overview. The West-Brabants Archief, Bergen op Zoom, indicates with icons in its browsing view for archival records the presence of scans; by clicking on Bron you can filter for particular document genres.

For the province Utrecht Het Utrechts Archief has several almost completely or partially digitized collections. At least one partially digitized collection, toegang 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties [Collection photocopies and transcriptions] contains a number of digitized transcriptions of medieval and sixteenth-century records, mainly for the city Utrecht, but some also for the States of Utrecht. It seems inside knowledge is necessary to realize that the medieval materials of the Domkapittel, the cathedral chapter (toegang 216-1), and also the medieval records of the city Utrecht (1122 to 1577, toegang 701) have been digitized quite recently. A biblical proverb says your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing, but this does not hold true for the subject of digitization. Not just now, in a period of social isolation and virtual contacts, but generally such information should be communicated swiftly. It is a most natural thing to do, moreover because it has been financed ultimately by tax payers.

Let’s end here with an example from Limburg. The Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg in Maastricht has both a digitized collection on its own website, for notarial acts, and a collection on an external platform, the Early Modern visitation registers of the diocese Roermond held at the diocesan archive.

And now…

It would not bring very much here if I added here also information about the provinces Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Noord-Holland en Zuid-Holland. You might think I mentioned all regional archives in Brabant or Utrecht, but in fact I am not even close to presenting them all. I want to make one exception. When I saw the webpage with an overview of transcriptions at the Regionaal Archief Alkmaar I knew this would at some point return here in a post, because a substantial number of these transcriptions deal with legal records. It seems most practical to create a PDF with my current overview. Of course there are oversights and omissions, but this is natural for work in progress, to be updated as soon as possible.

A few months ago I read with great interest the study of Huub Sanders, Het virus der betrokkenheid. Het Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1935-1989 (Amsterdam 2019; online, OAPEN / AUP). Sanders tells us not only about the vital role of some of the early foreign staff members of the IISH in acquiring important collections. In general some staff members gained superb knowledge of materials, but they could be very reluctant to share information. It took a lengthy reorganization to foster the communication of such tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi). Many people will simply know the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is most famous for its scanning on demand of archival records. The set of indexes with digitized images is justly famous, and the crowdsourcing project for Alle Amsterdamse Akten is one of the largest of its kind (access after free registration). However, the recently redesigned central website of this rich archive still lacks an English version, but when searching the finding aids you can tick a field for only results with scans. On the other hand, the page of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam about the approach and practice of digitization is very interesting.

Dutch archives have successfully digitized finding aids, genealogical records, images, newspapers and charters, and they offer quick and clear access to them. A number of other collections has been partially or entirely digitized, too. These efforts of archivists deserve our thankfullness and appreciation. The segment with these other collections should become more visible, either on the websites of archives or on a portal. The data about Dutch archives at the Archiefwiki can help in creating an interactive map or adding to the ICA map. In my view the most used archival system in the Netherlands allows for the quick creation of a subset of largely digitized collections, following the example of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland where you can filter directly for charters with or without images. I mentioned also the subset Alle kolonisten of Alle Drenten. Knowing this already exists makes its implementation elsewhere in the systems of the same provider more urgent.

It is up to archives to place the link to their subset at the startpage of their websites or at any spot they deem logical. Digitizing materials is one of the things archives now regularly do. I cannot see any good reason to hide this anymore. Excuses about communication strategies, difficult access to the layout of a website or the way to change the display and filters of the finding aids should no longer stop anyone doing this. One of the oldest firms for computer technology used the slogan “The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer”. Archives are now closed, but every bit as much open as normal, and archivists are busy helping the public. The hashtag #closedbutopen has a special dimension for any archival institutions with digitized collections.

Digitized Dutch archives – Indexes, transcriptions and images – March 2020 (PDF)

An addition

In my post I did not mention two most valuable projects helping you to find transcriptions and indexes. An important guide to indexes and transcriptions of archival records held by Dutch archives is offered at Digitale Bronbewerkingen Nederland en België, available online since 1997. The English version is no longer updated, but it still exists. In a number of cases digitized materials are noted as well. The same team has created more platforms. For legal historians Regelgeving in de Nederlanden offers an overview of transcribed resources ranging from ordinances to versions of the Dutch constitution since 1798.

As for actions concerning Dutch digital heritage, there is not just a manifesto issued in 2018 about the visibility and durability of collections, but even an interactive map where you can check which institutions signed their adherence to it. KVANBRAIN, since two years the platform of the Dutch Society of Archivists and the BRAIN initiative for archives, shows on its website a quality handbook, Kwaliteitshandboek voor de Nederlandse archieven, developed by BRAIN in 2013, with in particular on pages 19 and 20 statements about the visibility of digitized records and the duty to mention what has not been digitized. A kind of seven-year itch is not strange…

An update

The Dutch Nationaal Archief did not figure in this post because there were no clear indications on its website about digitized archival collections or parts of them. However, since September 2020 a new version of the NA website offers a clear choice to search for digitized materials, with even a filter for different file types. There is a list indicating which collections contain digitized materials (PDF), also as a .csv file. The announcement on this important changes is only available in Dutch. The Nationaal Archief is also the regional archive for the province Zuid-Holland

In Maastricht the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg has created an overview of digitized archival records in an Excel file. The only quibble with it is the absence of admittedly sometimes very long names of the archival fonds, only the number of the finding aid is given. The digital collections of Tresoar in Leeuwarden for Frisia are currently offline. Luckily the Alle Friezen platform works normally.