Tag Archives: Cultural heritage

New views on digitized medieval manuscripts: Parker Library 2.0

Startscreen Parker Library on the Web

An old advertisement trick is using the words new and better. In this post I will look at a new version of a digital collection with medieval manuscripts which indeed can now be reached to a fuller extent. Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is the fruit of cooperation between the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Stanford University Libraries. The first version of this most varied digital collection did not make everybody happy. Let’s look here at some of the changes, and also make a tour of manuscripts which can be connected to legal history.

Removing the barriers

For some reason Corpus Christi College, Cambridge had until January 10, 2018 granted only partial online access to external users for viewing the more than 500 medieval manuscripts in its rich collections. The main problem was you could not look properly at contextual data for the manuscripts, and you were deprived of viewing bibliographical information. One of the jewels guarded is an illustrated manuscript with the chronicle of Matthew Paris (ms. 16), with one of the most used depictions of a medieval church council at f. 43v. I could not show it to you in my 2015 post about the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. However, the important manuscript catalogue by Montague Rhodes James, A Descriptive Catalogue of The Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1909) and Vol. II (Cambridge, 1912) could already be consulted online, but not the information about more recently added manuscripts or about research concerning them since the work of M.R. James was published.

The new version of the digital Parker Library makes up for a lot of these deficiencies. The library now offers an overview of the successive manuscript catalogues where you can view online or download them. The Parker Library owes its start and a substantial number of its earliest manuscripts to archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575). As archbishop of Canterbury he donated in 1574 some 400 books to Corpus Christi College. Many of these books come from monasteries dissolved in 1535. Since 2010 you can follow the Parker Library also on its blog and on Twitter.

Is everything now readily accessible in the new version of this digital library? I could not help proceeding immediately to Matthew Paris’ Chronica majora and f. 43v of ms. 16. The first thing I noticed was the not quite convincing working of the general search field. Searching without filter, using Everything for “Chronica majora”, leads you only to references about this chronicle, and not to the manuscript itself. In 2003 the manuscript and its binding were separated. The manuscript is now called 16II. When searching you have to add a prefix zero, 016. You will have to consult the Hints and Tips section in order to create successful searches. On reaching ms. 016II I looked in vain for the famous illustration. Its presence is not indicated in any way, but you can guess something is missing because you can view only the upper half of this manuscript page. Anyway, you can find perhaps some consolation in the online presence of the study by Suzanne Lewis, The art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica majora (Berkeley, CA, etc., 1987; online, Internet Archive). The image of the cardinals at Lateran IV is shown in black-and-white on page 122.

Logo Parker Library

I had rather not hide the qualities and working of the search function in Parker on the Web 2.0. In fact searching was much easier in the previous version, much more what you would expect concerning search fields than in it 2018 upgraded version. It is a change from a tantalizing distance to things just out of your reach, to a situation where you can go to almost everything, provided you apply your previous knowledge very consciously. In the old situation I would usually skip looking at James’ descriptions, now his clues prove still helpful. The most striking feature is the general search field. Each of the six filters needs careful handling to get useful results. A good example are the 20.000 page details which you can filter using the fields of the general search mode. I had expected these filters to be situated to the left of these results. I suppose also I prefer creating a specific search at the start above applying filters afterwards. Of course I filtered the results for ms. 16II, but the famous illustration is conspicuously absent here, too. However, having a vast bibliography for this manuscript is a thing for rejoicing…

Legal history and the Parker Library

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae – Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Parker Library, ms. 445, p. 3 – image Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

After this foray into the functioning of the new presentation and attempting to find a very particular illustration it is best to try to uncover the rich manuscripts of the Parker Library in another way. Lately Ben Albritton, involved at Stanford with technology concerning digitized manuscripts, wondered at Twitter why a particular manuscript [CCCC MS 445: Richard de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae] was the least visited item of the online Parker Library. This text is concerned with the wording of acts and letters in use at the papal curia, more commonly dubbed the cursus. Let there be no misunderstanding that I could retrieve ms. 445 without any problem. This manuscript is certainly to be linked with medieval canon law, yet it does not occur among the 22 search results for “canon law”. On closer inspection there is no field in the full description for genre and/or subject. A similar search for Roman law brings only four manuscripts. Ms. 77 with Guilhelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale rightly figures among the results in both searches. The variety of texts, including the Decretum Gratiani, the Decretum of Ivo of Chartres, other decretal collections, registers and cartularies, gives you a fair idea of the range of texts concerning medieval canon law. In this respect, too, the Parker Library is indeed interesting.


Wisdom tells me a search for statutes might be more useful than searching for English law, but eventually both yielded some twenty results with not much overlap, another testimony to the rich variety of the Parker Library, but also a fact pointing to the importance of classification. When you search apart from canon law, Roman and English law, for glosses, decretals and judges you will find here most of the manuscripts touching upon legal history. However, the tricky thing is that you cannot be sure you have found all relevant materials without checking also the manuscript catalogues. This diminishes the importance of the new use here of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) for easy and reliable comparison of manuscript images. The Parker Library scores with the easy access to the current and historic manuscript catalogues. For some manuscripts the bibliographical information is excellent. I had some trouble with the Mirador viewer used here to implement IIIF, although this viewer has been optimized for this aim. You can use the arrows to flip through a manuscript, but in the top field with the indication of the page or folio number nothing changes. At other websites I did not have this problem with the Mirador viewer.

Keeping in mind I used here the new version of the Parker Library it seems some problems, such as the counter of the viewer, are typically early user problems which hopefully will be addressed and solved quickly. Finding a particular category of texts or a manuscript genre is not completely possible. I realize I am perhaps too much inclined to the use of categories and tags and to prefer very specific search questions, but I am convinced good classifications are really helpful. Having access to bibliographical information and being able to compare images in a reliable way with manuscripts elsewhere, is certainly among the strengths of the Parker Library. It will be helpful, too, when a correct link to Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is also added to the great portal with the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App (DMMapp). Let my first impressions not deter you from visiting the new gateway to the medieval manuscripts of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge!


Hide and seek: Finding “hidden” collections

Startscreen CLIR Hidden Collection Registry

Once upon a time you made good wishes for every new year. You promised yourself to set one or more substantial goals to pursue with all your talents and capacities in order to obtain results that often would led to higher self-esteem and other lofty qualities. Wisdom teaches us real changes come in small steps, not with giant leaps. In this post I will look not just at one project, but at a foundation supporting many projects. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), based at Washington, D.C., has a fine record of supporting all kinds of projects for libraries, archives and documentation centers. One of their latest projects is the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry. If this truly works, it would perform a most welcome service. What does this registry contain? How can you search in it for particular collections, themes or periods? Does it fulfill its purpose and promise? Knowing about the support of CLIR for projects which are of interest for legal historians prompted me to test the new registry website. Apart from the findings about the registry I intend to report on some incidental catch as well.

A serious quest

You might be slightly surprised by the jolly title “Hide and seek”, but there is here indeed an element of play. The very title Hidden Collections Registry contains a joke: How can you bring together and register what is described as hidden? If you have found a hidden thing, it is discovered once and forever, provided you share your discovery. CLIR aims here at bringing together information about collections that led a more or less hidden life. Thanks to CLIR funding they have become more visible and accessible to the public.

Some members of the public do equate accessibility with online access. I work at Het Utrechts Archief, an archive with more than 1,300 collections, good for some 32 kilometers on our stacks. It will take herculean efforts to digitize everything, even if you succeed in making every year one million scans. We try to put every finding aid online,.Sometimes we can only offer a list of the boxes in anticipation of fuller treatment. Every year some collections will be digitized entirely, but for some important series we can add only ten or twenty digitized years per annum. Funding can be most helpful to tip the balance between only offering digital finding aids and some small digital collections on one side, and on the other side creating large digital collections or dealing with fragile and very special collections which are not fit for the normal digital road.

CLIR logo

CLIR succeeds indeed in supporting a wide variety of projects. The latest CLIR overview published on January 4, 2018 is no exception. Among unexpected things is for example the very first item, a project of The Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA, Archiving Antigua: A Digital Record of Pre- and Post-Emancipation Antigua, 1760-1948. The Moravian Brethren are a protestant missionary organization which has been active first in Europe, but rather quickly in the Americas. At Het Utrechts Archief are some thirty archival collections concerning a number of settlements, branches and even factories of the Moravian Brethren; when searching for “Evangelische Broeders” and “Broedergemeente” you will find them. I checked quickly for more Moravian stuff in the Hidden Collections Registry. The newly funded collection should be added to the three very different projects concerning the Moravian Brethren included in the CLIR registry thus far, a music collection, the first hundred years of the Pennsylvania settlement, and a collection documenting several German spiritual movements.

For each item the CLIR registry gives a concise overview and indications of the period involved and the geographic scope. It is useful, too, to have not only the name of the institution but also the name of a person to contact. To every item in the registry tags are added concerning the formats of materials. You can search for themes and periods, for projects funded by CLIR – a total of 162 – and for projects in a particular year, starting with 2008.

CLIR and legal history

You can imagine how eager I am to look for projects before 2017, because the newest projects have not yet been included. I started searching with the words legal history and this resulted in 37 results, a nice percentage of the nearly one thousand projects funded until now. Let’s look at some results. The colonial library of Jasper Yeates was to be digitized in a 2012 project. The city and state of LancasterHistory in Lancaster, PA are not indicated in the registry entry. A second project from 2008 concerned the political and governmental history of Alabama from 1799 to 1948; no institution is specified. The third project dealt in 2014 with Massachusetts petitions on women’s rights between 1619 and 1925, a project of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. With some surprise I saw among these results a project at UCLA for its palaeontological collections, funded by the CLIR in 2010. It seems the separate appearance of the words legal and history was enough for inclusion, as is the case for the project concerning Midwest organic tools. Adding a real field for tags will help much to solve this problem.

It is really difficult to choose among the 37 results concerning legal history more examples, because many projects are really interesting, from Illinois Circuit Court records to the well-known project to digitize 30,000 French pamphlets at Chicago’s Newberry Library, and from the legacy of slavery in the Maryland State Archives to the papers of civil rights activist Margaret Bush Wilson (Washington University, St. Louis, MO), entered in the registry for 2011 and 2012, a project for native American petitions in Massachusetts (Yale Indian Papers Project), and the digitization of the M. Watt Espy papers concerning the history of the death penalty in the United States since 1608 (SUNY, Albany). Legal history is clearly not out of view within the CLIR collections program.

Faithful readers of my posts are used to the proliferation of links in my posts which usually lead you directly to a particular website or project. If you find something interesting and want to leave my blog, you should indeed use these links immediately. It is the very purpose of the links to bring you to particular addresses! However, it is embarrassing to give you in the first half of this post only links to the CLIR registry, and not as usual links to the websites with these projects. The CLIR Hidden Collections Registry does not contain links to the websites of institutions with a particular project nor the links to the results of projects. Not mentioning links, not even only for the CLIR funded projects, is not what you expect in any registry or list of funded digitization projects. In its current state the registry lives not up to reasonable expectations. It is a shame in particular, because the organization proposing this tool without links is the very Council on Library and Information Resources, an organization which aims at helping institutions to communicate better. In its current state the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry succeeds to a certain extent in hiding collections.

Finding the missing links

As for now teachers should not hesitate to test the digital abilities of their students and pupils, and ask them to find the URL’s of complete projects! In some cases you will not find the results at the website, subdomains or portal of an institution. I will not completely spoil this game, but a few examples might be instructive. The Newberry Library in Chicago has uploaded 30,000 digitized French pamphlets to the Internet Archive. At least one resource mentioned here does reach into the twenty-first century, and gains in value from the long period covered. In fact the very project that made me want to use the CLIR Registry is the project concerning the death penalty in the United States, a resource not only of interest for historians. The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives at SUNY, Albany, is home to the National Death Penalty Archive, with as its jewel the M. Watt Espy Papers. You can find the results until now at the Espy Project page. As for now, data are being processed in a GitHub project. You can find some examples of notes in these papers on a news page of the libraries of the State University of New York at Albany. The links section for this project in the CLIR registry will have to be substantial. The Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP) has only an announcement about the funding by CLIR, but you can already find some digitized petitions, maybe from other institutions not touched by the grant, or on the other hand the first results. I am aware that in a number of cases there is not yet a URL for a project. In such cases you will need even more the web address of the relevant institution.

The Hidden Collections program of CLIR aims at the realisation of the potential of collections, by helping with funds for either the preservation and cataloging of one or more collections, or by giving grants which make digitization and online open access possible. It is only logical to show the successes of this program. Dozens of projects in the CLIR registry are concerned with civil rights, women’s history, slavery and Afro-American history, even if you got to acknowledge that some entries look very much like an all-compassing grant apply. It would be logical to filter results by adding the category Funded, but alas this is not yet possible.

With a little help…

Before turning our back on the major and minor shortcomings of the registry project it is only fait to look at some CLIR projects which deserve applause. In Recordings at Risk CLIR invites institutions to apply for grants in order to safeguard endangered audiovisual recordings. CLIR supports the Digital Library Federation with for example a guide for digitizing special formats. Among CLIR’s own projects I would like to single out the project for a Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME), a project with partners such as Stanford University Libraries and the Qatar National Library. The DLME will be developed to contain not just digitized printed books, but also digitized archival collections, manuscripts and artefacts documenting the cultural heritage of countries in the Middle East. This project will join the ranks of project such as Patrimoines partagés of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, launched a few months ago, Menalib, the Middle East Virtual Library of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle, and – closer to CRIL – the Oman Digital Library of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. In the project of the BnF the Middle East is just one section among eight sections covering various regions and countries. CLIR rightly mentions the Endangered Archives Project led by the British Library, a project which deserved a post here. CLIR provides also fellowship grants.

Everybody writing a grant application knows he or she has to fulfill several demands. The CLIR calls them core values. For the Hidden Collections program openness is one of these values, and I quote approvingly: “The program ensures that digitized content will be made available to the public as easily and completely as possible, given ethical and legal constraints.” It would be a sign of respect to all those scholars, staff members and institutions benefiting from or sponsoring the work of CLIR when the Hidden Collections Registry, too, does operate accordingly. In my view supplying the missing links is a necessary gesture. Some tuning would be welcome, too. When you look at all good things supported by CLIR the present state of this registry is hopefully only a temporary exception.

A postscript

Part of my concern about the CLIR registry stems from the situation around the IMLS Digital Collections and Content: U.S. History Resources from Libraries, Museums and Archives, a portal created at the Grainger Engineering Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After technical changes and a move to a new web address this potentially very rich resource does not function anymore. Ironically it is the version with the penultimate layout saved in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive which you can still browse, for example in the version of January 2012. You can easily retrieve the URL’s of digital collections at the end of the archived web addresses in the links of the old IMLS portal.

Another example: Some of the firms selling digital collection systems had their own overview. One firm even used its own system for a database in which you could find almost 1,000 projects, the Collection of Collections, but alas this database has been removed, too; you can only browse the latest capture from January 2017 at the Internet Archive.

Listening to tuneful news: Streetsongs and crime

Just like law music is almost everywhere. It should be no surprise to find law and justice in songs, and a few years ago I first explored this theme in my post The Legal Song: Legal history in lyrics, This time I want to look a bit closer to a specific genre, broadside ballads, a subgenre of pamphlets, yet another subject not unfamiliar to regular visitors of my blog. Recently the team behind the French legal history project Criminocorpus launched the website Complaintes criminelles en France (1870-1940). Broadside ballads as a musical genre have come into view in particular for the United Kingdom, but this genre existed elsewhere also, and not only during the Early Modern period (1500-1800). The genre definitely widens my perception of pamphlets as a communication medium.

News in songs

Last week I first saw the new French collection. in fact it pushed me to look again at digital collections with only broadside ballads. Even if their number is still restricted, they now exist for more countries than I was aware of, reason enough to have a better look at them.

Marchand de crime - colored engaving, 1845 - source: Criminocorpus

Jean-François Heintzen has created for Criminocorpus a database in which you can search with a simple search with the possibility to use a proximity search. As for now the search interface is only in French, but no doubt an English interface will be added soon, because all elements of Criminocorpus can be accessed in both French and English. You can also search using an interactive map of France which shows you also where most of these complaintes were originally heard. The digital collection with these songs has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France for its digital library Gallica. It becomes quickly clear Paris has the largest share, and also the largest audiences, and it seems people in Brittany, around Lyon, in the Languedoc and near the Belgian border could have heard them a bit more often than in other parts of France. The database is strong in indicating the tunes (timbre) to which a complainte was sung. It even alerts to cases in which another song presented the same criminal event. You will find whenever possible also information about the crime and the fate or trial of the accused. I could not find the exact number of complaintes in the database, but a quick look at the interactive map suggest the number must be around three hundred.

The comment in French under the image of the man with a broadside ballad in his hand connects the songs explicitly with news: Marchand de crimes ou crieurs de journaux, “crime merchant or newspaper crier”. The broadsides featured often a telling image, one of their attractions. Dutch street singers used in the nineteenth century a so-called smartlap, literally a “sorrow cloth”, a large illustrated roll which they could unfold and hang on a pole. The word smartlap is still used as the synonym for tear-jerking melodramatic popular songs.

I searched for other collections in France with exclusively complaintes criminelles, but this selection from the holdings of the BnF is the largest one. When you search for complaintes in the website Moteur Collections of the Ministère de la Culture it brings you a substantial number of results in a wide variety of collections. The French portal for digital cultural heritage Patrimoine numérique leads you to just one collection with recordings made between 1979 and 1988 concerning oral memory, chansons and popular dances from Mont-Lozère for which the link was broken. You can get access after authorisation to recordings in the Ganoub database of the Maison Méditerranéene des Sciences de l’Homme (MMSH) in Aix-en-Provence.

Straatliederen, “street songs”, form a substantial part of the Dutch Liederenbank created at the Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology in Amsterdam. This database contains now a staggering 170,000 Dutch and Flemish songs. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal you can access and search for some 7,000 broadside ballads with nearly 15,000 songs, both from the holding of the Meertens Institute and the Dutch Royal Library. You can listen to recordings of some of the most popular songs, too. The founder of the Liederenbank, the late Louis-Peter Grijp (1954-2016), was not only a musicologist, but also a performer of early music and popular songs, playing the lute as a soloist or with his ensemble Camerata Traiectina. His research into the use of contrafacta, songs made to re-used melodies, helped to recognize texts as song texts, and to find the right melody or melodies for performance.

Logo VD-Lied

For Germany and Austria researchers can go to the project VD Lied: Das Verzeichnis der deutschsprachigen Liedflugschriften. This project builds on the bibliographical project VD16, VD17 and VD18 for Early Modern books from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. VD17 and VD18 link to digitized copies of the works they contain. The partners of VD-Lied are the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Zentrum für populäre Kultur und Musik in Freiburg am Breisgau, and the Archiv des Österreichisches Liedwerkes in Vienna. This database contains 30,000 songs from 14,000 digitized Flugschriften and Flugblätter.

Ballads in the British isles


Digital collections in the Anglophone world get perhaps more attention than collections elsewhere in the world, but it makes sense to bring them here together. The English Broadside Ballads Archive (EBBA, University of California at Santa Barbara) has become the portal to access a number of digital collections in the United Kingdom and the United States, with a focus on seventeenth-century ballads. The Pepys Collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge (1,800 items), the Roxburghe Collection of the British Library (1,500 items), Scottish collections at Edinburgh and Glasgow, and three collections of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, all in all almost eight thousand ballads, can be searched here together. The bibliography and additional information strengthen its online presence. In the Huntington Digital Library you can search among some 500 digitized ballads.

It is well worth including here also the Kenneth S. Goldstein Broadsides (University of Mississippi Libraries) with some 1,500 ballad broadsides from the United Kingdom and Ireland from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. At the web site Glasgow Broadsides Ballads Glasgow University Library has digitized some nineteenth-century ballads from its Murray Collections for which earlier ballads are accessible through EBBA. The National Library of Scotland created the collection The Word on the Street with among the 1,800 broadsides from the period 1650-1910 also some ballads. I am sure I might have missed some websites with transcriptions of ballads. Let’s not forget to point you at least to the Broadside Ballad Index created by William Bruce Olson, and the Folksong Index and Broadside Index created by Steve Roud, accessible online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London.

However, in a competition among digital broadside ballads collections Broadside Ballads Online of the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, still clearly would wins for sheer numbers (30,000 items)! In its new design, light-years away from the austere user interface of Ballads Online which had survived all changes behind the surface, you can even choose the colours of the main type font. A second outstanding thing is the coverage in time, not only the period before 1800, but right into the twentieth century. The Iconclass search function for illustrations or if you prefer a simple keyword search, and even for some images a similarity search, place this collection ahead of all others. The illustration search and the overviews of subjects helps you to rethink your own approach and questions. By the way, the Bodleian Libraries recently developed a digital manuscripts toolkit for working with digital images along the lines of the International Image Interoperability Initiative Framework (IIIF).

A look at American ballads

American culture and history come into view at the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). Isaiah Thomas collected broadsides in Boston during the early nineteenth century. Here you can find some 300 broadsides, and also thirty recordings of ballads. You can search directly or browse subjects in alphabetical order, which usefully includes also the woodcuts. It is a treat to look at the overview of digital projects supported by the AAS. Here it must suffice to mention the American Vernacular Music Manuscripts, ca. 1730-1910 hosted at Middle Tennessee State University. The notable collection collected by Helen Hartness Flanders is now at Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT; you can consult some 450 digitized broadsides ballads of this collection in the Internet Archive. Pop music and poetry are the heart of the digital collection Beat Movement: Poetry and Broadsides (Utah State University). I did not conduct an exhaustive search for American examples. You will find them also using the Digital Public Library of America. A quick search in the rich digital collections of the New York Public Library brought me just one result, which cannot be the complete truth. Patient research will surely yield much more. For this the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Smithsonian Folkway Recordings are an appropriate starting point.

If you have doubts about the value and use of these digital collections you can find much in the current issue of the journal Recherche en sciences sociales sur Internet (RESET) on Patrimoine et patrimonialisation numérique / Heritage and Heritagization (6/2017). The acronym RESET is in this case strong! The digital turn is much more than only quick access to resources faraway, a theme articulated for global history in the 2016 article by Lara Putnam discussed here last year. At the Revues portal you will find also the Swiss journal Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie.

Logo Criminocorpus

With the MMSH at Aix-en-Provence and the Smithsonian and other institutions I came from ballads in print to modern recordings of old ballads, and it is tempting to follow that road already here in more detail. I will return to the use of recordings in another post in the near future. In this post you will find hopefully enough for your own interests. On the other hand you might want to look at more treasures at the Musée d’histoire des crimes, de la justice et des peines created by the Criminocorpus team or start following the Criminocorpus blog.

Looking at Cuba’s legal history

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

Law and justice in Cuba

Header dLOC

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

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

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

Header Civil Code (1800-1923) - FIU Law

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

Latin American perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

A postscript

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

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

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

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

The legal world around American slavery

The advertisement for the slavery digital collection

Early October 2016 came a surprising announcement from a firm known for its licensed digital law collections which most users will visit only through on and off-campus access at university and research libraries, national libraries and law firms which can afford the costly yearly subscription rates. Although I have no intent to create here a platform to champion only the cause of Open Access I have tried to avoid writing about materials hidden beyond pay walls, because such blog posts would have a tantalizing effect on many readers. Kluwer, LexisNexis and WestLaw, to mention a few firms dealing with legal materials in many countries, and for the humanities for example Chadwyck, Gale, Adam Matthew and ProQuest have not yet figured here. However, when HeinOnline announced to create free access to its digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law I immediately registered. I present here a personal tour of this project, well aware that this are experiences after just a few weeks, not the results of someone immersed into this subject over the years. On my blog slavery has appeared a few times as a secondary subject, but until now only once as the main subject of a post, ‘Remembering slavery’, about the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 and its commemoration in 2013.

Making a tour

HeinOnline certainly has done some efforts to make its new collection as inviting as possible. Paul Finkelman (Albany Law School), the general editor of Slavery in America and the World, gives in the advertisement a concise overview of its main qualities. The core of this digital collection are the statutes and reported law cases concerning slavery in America – both on the state and the federal level – and the Anglophone world. There are more than one thousand pamphlets, many books on slavery and legal commentaries dealing with slavery published in essays and articles which are sometimes very difficult to find. In an introductory essay Finkelman discusses the historiographical background. He places the history of American slavery in the context of slavery worldwide, alas a continuing story in view of human trafficking and labor conditions which amount to slavery, and thus the history of slavery is not confined from around 1450 to the late nineteenth century. The collection contains numerous items from the twentieth century, too. Among libraries contributing to the digital collection Finkelman singles out Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

The start screen of the slavery collection

Even without registering you can download the quick reference guide and the full introduction. Mentioning this you might smile like I do remembering the familiar instructions to students not to jump immediately to the matter you are searching for, but to make yourself familiar with a book by reading the preface and acknowledgements, scanning the chapters, checking for a bibliography, source references, credits for illustrations, and the presence of an index. It is seducing to jump into the ocean and go straight for your destination, but alas there is no plain sailing when studying the history of slavery. One of the assets in Hein’s digital collection are fifty monographs about slavery published by the University of North Carolina Press. Some of these books deal with the Caribbean and Latin-America, and this surely widens the dimensions of the project. The digital collection does allow you to browse all titles, periodicals and scholarly articles, and there are also a bibliographical section and a list of external links, the things users of other HeinOnline collections will expect as normal features. The meta-data of the titles selected for inclusion have been enriched with tagging about their position on slavery, the topics under discussion, the jurisdiction involved, and the document type.

For finding judicial cases the digital collection builds on Helen Tunnicliff Catterall’s Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro (5 vol., Washington, D.C. 1926-1937; reprint Shannon 1968) supplemented by state and federal cases, in particular from the United Stated Supreme Court. The statutes adduced stem not only from American states and the federal government, but also from former colonies. This sounds wonderful indeed, and I understand the lure of wanting to write as Finkelman does in his introduction that this collection “brings together, for the first time, all known legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world”.

A complete collection?

How complete is this collection? There seems to be a paradox between the second half of the title of this digital collection, History, Culture & Law, and the claim to contain all legal materials. In my view questioning the completeness should probe in two directions in particular: First, are materials included for the periods that individual states had not yet entered the Union, and secondly, do statutes and cases indeed represent “all legal materials”? The collection contains slavery statutes from fifteen states, and federal cases from 24 states. The periodicals selected for inclusion are all marked as anti-slavery. You can imagine that in periodicals in favour of slavery sometimes more moderate views appeared. In theory a periodical might even have changed camps. No one can complain about the thoughtful inclusion of the British journal The Jurist and of sets of Congressional materials.

The section with scholarly articles and other documents has nine rubrics. For articles the year 1900 has been set as a useful divider. There are sections with book reviews, British slavery, cases and “foreign” – meaning non-British – cases. Judges, laws and statutes appear in separate sections, and there is even a section on “Historical Ancient Slavery” with a nice selection of articles in law journals up to a contribution by Paul J. Du Plessis from 2014. Before you start rejoicing too much it is time to read the notice these articles are only available online to subscribers or subscribing institutions. As a bibliographical asset this section is certainly most valuable. This brings me immediately to the section marked “Bibliography”. The first thing to notice here it is rather short. Relatively much space is given to reports, individual speeches and even cases. Some monographs appear twice for no good reason. You can view the titles only in two ways, alphabetically ordered by title or author.

The digital collection scores better with the fifty monographs published by UNC Press between 1985 and 2015. The list is not long enough to merit reworking in a database. Topics have been added to titles, something to consider at the very least for an update of the bibliographical section. With just ten links the choice of external websites is ridiculously small, even though I was pleased to see a link to a French website, Le droit des traites et des esclavages (CNRS). If this has been included to ensure this HeinOnline collection has a truly global coverage it does not come from its own strengths. I can understand to some extent the fear to point to digital collections from competitors in their branch, but this does not show much confidence. It is surely the global aspect that suffers most here.

However, not everything is as appalling as it might seem in these two last paragraphs. HeinOnline merits consideration on its own basic quality, presenting legal cases in a quick and convenient way. The search possibilities to find cases according to different characteristics are great, and you can download, print, enlarge and use other view facilities at will. The feature to link directly to other cases highlighted in the text of a case is most useful. The stream of relevant cases adduced here and readily available is most impressive and deserves praise.

I enjoyed very much looking at the section with digitized printed materials from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. You do not only find for example a nice choice of pamphlets and even volumes with collections of pamphlets, with special mention for the sixteen volumes of the series Slavery, Race and the American Legal System, 1700-1872: The Pamphlet Literature, edited by Paul Finkelman (Clark, NJ, 2007), and a number of useful bibliographies. The presence of novels, biographies, poems and songs does add a substantial cultural element to the collection. Only some forty items date from before 1800. A quarter of all digitized publications in the set stem from the period 1826-1850, and more than 400 items cover the period 1851-1875. The literature can be browsed in several ways (author, title, date and subject), and you can select literature using four filters (position, document type, jurisdiction, topic) with for each filter an apt drop down list of possible choices.

Alas more has to be said. I can accept as a matter of fact the citation forms used for the federal statutes, but would it not have been sensible to supply more information about the various state statutes used for this project? I am aware of The Indigo Book, the liber pauperum version of the Blue Book, with all niceties to refer correctly to all kind of legal materials. The legal problem of slavery in the United States during the nineteenth century was to a great extent a matter of apparent and real differences between state and federal jurisdiction and legislation, and – almost more importantly – their perception. In the bibliography of this digital collection I missed Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York 2010). Strangely Lincoln’s speeches are missing, too. Foner is not content with just following Lincoln’s political actions, but does at many point look at legal matters in particular states and on the national level. Foner looks at some of Lincoln’s 34 cases involving black people among the more than 5,000 cases Lincoln handled as a lawyer. I had expected to find in Hein’s open access digital collection the full texts of all cases, but instead you will find only references to them in the digitized literature and the summaries or at its best excerpts given by Catterall. No doubt this information will lead you elsewhere to the complete text of the relevant cases, but the claim “all legal materials” is diminished.

Logo of The Revised Dred Scott Collection

For one of the most influential cases in American legal history it is not only possible but necessary to look at the period between the original case before a circuit court and the epochal case before the Supreme Court ten years later. The new free digital collection does of course contain the Dred Scott case [Dred Scott, Plaintiff in Error, v. John F. A. Sandford 60 U.S. 393 (1856)]. I could not help noticing in the HeinOnline version under discussion how not every reference to cases adduced in this long verdict and the opinions of the judges has been highlighted and linked. In fact I would expect also highlights for and links to for the statutes invoked or mentioned in passing. The Dred Scott case started in 1846, and there is historical documentation for the subsequent phases of the case at the state level. Washington University, St. Louis, MO, has not only created The Revised Dred Scott Case Collection, but also a digital collection for St. Louis Circuit Court Records where you can find the original Dred Scott case and documents concerning seven (!) subsequent cases at St. Louis. In its section for judicial cases HeinOnline does not give a single federal case from Missouri, nor is any link to external resources given, not even at the Library of Congress. In this case Wikipedia does a better job.

Let my plea about this digital collection not only rest on the presence or absence of cases! Among the fugitive slave laws the Fugitive Slave Act of September 18, 1850, often referred to as the Compromise of 1850, stands out. It belongs in every collection dealing with this subject. To my utter disbelief I could not trace here the text of this landmark piece of legislation. In my search for an online version the exact text I seldom saw a correct and complete reference to the original act of Congress, let alone a legal reference. Here again Wikipedia got it right, although it does not include the text of 9 Stat. 462 [Chapter 60, 31. Congress, Session 1]. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 [1 Stat. 302] and even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 are present; the latter is the very first federal statute of Slavery in America. It might be useful to add a concordance of popular names of laws and their official names.

Cases and statutes in context

I will not completely dismiss the efforts of HeinOnline for this new collection, but I can hardly avoid making some negative statements about it. It seems this firm thought it would suffice to create a historical version of their normal case finding system with the Catterall set as its heart, enhance it with a generous amount of relevant statutes, one thousand interesting (legal) pamphlets, and a thoughtful choice of recent scholarly literature, and launch it perhaps in conjunction with the long-awaited opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Is it only a guess that HeinOnline has been blinded by its own success in making systems adapted to the needs of law schools? This new collection seems to me ideal as a tool on which law students in their first year can show some of their talents in finding legal information. However, even from a point of the development of American legal doctrine Slavery in America does not offer what it promises to do. With sometimes only incomplete cases it is impossible to determine what has been filtered out for any reason. If you believe legal history cannot exist properly without sufficient attention to legal institutions and social history, this digital collection is just a tool to be supplemented by other collections now widely available online, too, and a lot of them in open access.

As for the position of other countries you had better start inside the United States of America, by looking at the Territories, the states in North America that joined the United States between 1776 and 1861 but somehow are here undocumented, i.e. without cases and statutes. You might argue the materials from these territories are not United States legal materials, but they constitute certainly legal materials fit for inclusion. It is startling to see a collection marred by such barriers and omissions. Far more important is the fact that the subject of the place of slavery in law and society surfaced every time a new state wanted to enter the Union. Changes in political geography such as the Mason-Dixie line had immediate consequences regarding slavery, slaves and slave-owners, and former slaves. The thing that you would expect most here are the debates in Congress and in the various state senates concerning aspects of slavery. Of course I am aware this would result in a much larger digital collection, but I think this is necessary for a better understanding of statutes and cases. Hopefully such considerations will be taken into account for the massive Case Law Access Project at Harvard University.

To sum up my first impressions, HeinOnline has created an important but flawed digital collection. The 1,100 digitized publications form a great asset as do the digitized scholarly articles and periodicals. The digitized version of the Catterall set is most helpful. There are some distinct problems with the cases included and the internal references. In my view the choice of state statutes is too limited. The historical bibliography has some merits, but the list with external links is a howler. I pointed also to some real problems in creating a digital collection on this wide-ranging subject. Alas as for now you cannot find here “all legal materials” in open access. However, it does take courage and experience to bring such materials together in an easy navigable way. No doubt some of my criticisms can be easily repaired. Others should be addressed in a thorough explanation of the choices made in creating this digital collection. This will not only help law students and lawyers to benefit from this collection. On purpose I have not looked while writing this post at other reviews of Slavery in America and the World, but in fact I could only find a short announcement at the blog of the Canadian Osgoode Hall Law School Library.

Legal materials in open access

It would be wrong to create a picture of American law online as a treasure completely beyond the reach of normal people, but it certainly takes efforts to find legal materials for the United States online in open access. Creating here a full guide would take up too much space, but I can offer a kind of nutshell guide. To assess the role of commercial databases for American law you might want to look at Legal Databases: A Comparative Analysis (Center for Research Libraries). In particular the Hathi Trust Digital Library contains substantial materials in open access. Harvard Law School has a fine guide to legal materials in open access. The Legal Information Institute (Cornell University Law School) has an overview of state statutes in open access. The Jerome Hall Law Library (Indiana University) has created an online research guide for state legislative history. Sources in open access do not primarily bring you historical materials. Among the exceptions is The Supreme Court Database (Washington University), but this is primarily an indispensable search tool for decisions of the Supreme Court. The website of the American Society for Legal History has a fine links section guiding you to many aspects of US legal history. Anyway it is wise to start your online searches with the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Its web guide for U.S. States and territories is very helpful. Congress.gov is extending its coverage in the near future. Among the digital collections of the LoC you will find much that has relevance for the history of slavery, both in the section on government, law and politics, and in the African-American section. The American Memory portal of the LoC is sometimes more helpful in finding these collections.

By the way, HeinOnline is not the first firm in its branch to place some of its products in open access. LLMC Digital has created free access to The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800, Maeva Marcus et alii (eds.) (8 vol., New York, 1985-2004).

Slavery is a vast subject. On my legal history portal I hesitate to dedicate a complete page to it, but I do give there at least some of the websites which should help your research. The Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal is a good starting point, as are the digital collection of the institute behind it, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition. You will not want to miss The Bibliography of Slavery and World Slaving, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. I urge you to look for relevant online exhibitions in the superb database for online exhibits created by the Smithsonian Institution. Not yet included is the impressive virtual exhibit created by the Inner Temple Library in London, British Black History and the Law, which shows the long impact of slavery and discrimination. Among the best known digital collections concerning American slavery is the Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection, Cornell University Library, but there is certainly more. If you want to check the quality of Paul Finkelman’s work in creating a set with a selection of pamphlets concerning slavery and abolition in facsimile you might want to look at some of the digitized pamphlet collections in the United States. For me it is a good thing to see that it matters indeed to look at pamphlets, too, when doing legal history. I feel happy to bring together commented links to relevant digitized pamphlet collections. If I have failed to detect things not clearly immediately transparent in Slavery in America and the World I welcome any constructive guidance to do more justice to it!

A postscript

For those who like myself would like to find the quickest way to US statutes in open access I add a link to the reinforced version of the Library of Congress’ Statutes at Large. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 can be found in the materials for the 31. Congress, but unfortunately the direct link to the relevant chapter (Ch. 60) was broken when I checked it. I am happy to report it has been quickly repaired. By the way, only after publishing this post I noticed it was Open Access Week

In the November 2016 newsletter about the collection HeinOnline points to additions and offers some guidance, in particular for the Slavery Quick Finder tool. In an image with an example the topic happens to be cases and trials based on one of the Fugitive Slave Acts. I tried to find one of these acts with this tool, but alas to no avail. The section with major statutes contains the statute of June 28, 1864 [13 Stat. 200; Chapter 166, 38 Congress, Session 1] which repeals the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, with the year 1850 explicitly mentioned in the title, yet the 1850 document is still absent in this section. The links selection contains now sixteen links including some of the websites I mentioned here. In January 2017 the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was finally included at Slavery Online.

Mixed seductions: Combining global history with digital research

Tag cloud of Putnam's article created with WordItOut

Having a daily increasing number of digital resources within your reach can be both a blessing and a bane. It is seducing to think you can find everything in digitized sources. Lara Putnam (University of Pittsburgh) challenges historians in her article ‘The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast’, American Historical Review 121/2 (2016) 377-402, to reflect about their research practice and research methods. She warns us to distinguish carefully between getting data and searching results in a digital world, and gaining real insight into historical developments. How realistic is her image of historians sitting behind the computer screen wallowing in online sources at one side, and historians immersing themselves in actual historical sources? Putnam’s article invites us to rethink the essential qualities of being a historian. At my blog you can find contributions dealing with many countries, and the transnational turn is often combined with the use of texts available in digital formats. The practices Putnam wants to signal are present here at my own blog, and thus it is not only understandable but a must to look carefully at this article.

Logo World History Association

Global history might at first seem a subject way out of your normal territory or territories. However, I could count on the congress calendar for legal history at my blog for 2016 at least four conferences which aim at dealing with world history, starting in Heidelberg (June 20-22, 2016): Law, Empire and Global Intellectual History, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) (August 23-25, 2016): Law in a Global Context / El derecho en el contexto de la globalización, Berne (September 7-10, 2016): The World of Prisons. The History of Confinement in Global Perspective, Late Eighteenth to Early Twentieth Century, and Helsinki (October 3-5, 2016): Law between Global and Colonial: Techniques of Empire. The 25th World History Association Conference was held quite close to my country, in Ghent (July 2-5, 2016).

Blessings and curses

When you download the free accessible PDF-version of Putnam’s article it seems at first something went wrong. You look at a wordle showing terms around the word progress using the content of G.G. Iggers’ 1965 study The Idea of Progress. It prepares to some extent the way to an article in which Putnam wants us to rethink the way we do history today as scholars. I felt invited to process Putnam’s text with another tag cloud generator. Let’s first summarize the main line of her article. With the transnational turn, the growing possibility to transcend national borders, a second major change, the digital turn, follows closely. We can swiftly procure and access digitized sources from other continents, and we might even forget we are strictly speaking dealing with foreign territories for which our training has not quite prepared us. Historians do not yet use commonly digital techniques, but they do hunt texts using a host of websites, search machines and portals. This almost unreflected use is rather in contrast with the continuing reflection of those scholars developing and pioneering digital tools and methods. To a far greater extent than we tend to see the way we can search the internet has reshaped the practice of working in the field of international history. The digital landscape has no borders, and this might tempt one to forget about real borders and the impact of topography and local conditions for you research.

In a large second section of her article Putnam looks at a number of cases from her personal research experience in Latin America. Already the sheer preparation of a voyage to find something literally outside your province could be immense. The rule-of-thumb sequence of your own institution’ library/libraries, the nearest large university, the nearest former capital of some empire (Rome, London, Washington), and (large) archives and libraries near or in the region you wanted to study is still recognizable, but today it tends to fade away. Studying a country which was at some point part of an empire often means that cultural institutions have been organized along national lines, or worse, such institutions embody nationalism. In the nineties Putnam faced this situation in Costa Rica.

Among the interesting points Putnam makes is how in some fields of Early Modern history, in particular international history and diplomatic history, it still is possible to view matters in many countries thanks to specific sources, for example diplomatic correspondence and reports. However, here, too, the information you use tends to focus on centers and powers. Peripheral regions and movements were difficult to view, because it was very expensive to look sideward and to find out about regional resources, let alone visit these regions for a research period.

The rapid growth of digitization has made it possible to look at much more materials than before. Knowing about a particular publication was sometimes already a feat, but now you can almost instantaneously view inside a book, be it thank to the preview function of The Inevitable Web Firm or in an ever-growing number of digital collections. Putnam remembers how she used microfilm reels of the Limón Searchlight, a newspaper published in the twenties in Costa Rica. Now you can consult two other Costa Rican newspapers at home, and find out much about people who she had encountered only in a rather cryptic notice in this newspaper. In fact digitization helped her to establish the presence of networks that had been almost invisible before. Even leafing through the Limón Searchlight has become different now, because you know about the way a digital search can open new vistas.

However, the benefits of digital research can have also negative effects. The way you can immerse yourself in the particular sources within your physical reach is radically different from using digital resources which connect records to each other in just a few minutes. You might boast about the sheer number of digital collections and the number of countries you deal with in a publication, but somehow you blend out the tradition of slowly but undeniable becoming intimately familiar with a subject and your resources. Apart from the specific items you might want to track down in a newspaper you would get from it a panorama of what seemed important to people, what surrounded them and gave a place and a time its singular color and flavor. Here Putnam challenges historians to realize how much their practice has changed by the digital turn. It is high time to reflect on the impact of digitization for all aspects of historical research.

At this point I would like to stress the fact any summary can hardly do justice to the thoughtful argument put forward by Putnam. If you only use her article to track down in her footnotes relevant publications about transnational history, digital tools and research methods you would definitely learn a lot, but there is more than a gold mine of references. Putnam urges scholars to distinguish carefully between world history, global history and transnational history. The latter proposes to not just transcend political borders, but any kind of border, and look at subjects, themes and problems at multiple levels and angles.

The most telling danger of relying too exclusively on digital research might be that you can access materials from any point on earth without placing yourself in the very environment you want to study. You will miss the help of local historians and other scholars in a particular region, you will be less aware of their focus, traditions and bias. The translating function of the same multifaceted and omnipresent Web Firm will give you only a rough indication of their language and writing styles. The predominance of Anglo-American digital resources might have weakened, but there is a tendency to follow the lead of American and British scholars and institutions, not to mention the gap between those able to use digital resources to which institutions within your vicinity subscribe, and those unable to get access to them. Instead of an insider’s unique perspective you might unduly distance yourself, and thus lose grip and understanding which nothing can replace.

Matters to debate

The main thrust of Putnam’s article is certainly recognizable. I fully agree with her about the necessity to reflect about the influence of the digital turn which slowly but decisively changes the methods and practice of historical research. You might wonder why a European historian would want to learn something from this article focusing on North and Latin America. It is the very distance that helps me to discern patterns better than when looking at examples from research for European history. At the same time some of the differences can be telling.

While reading Putnam I remembered a book which I had to read as a student with a very particular title, Apparaat voor de studie van de geschiedenis, originally written by Jan Romein, and in later editions edited by J. Haak and J.G.F. Hasekamp. This “Apparatus for the Study of History” gave you indeed what its seemingly odd title promised to offer, a tool with a kind of crossover between a library guide, a reading list and a set of basic country and subject bibliographies, including references to works for the historical auxiliary sciences. Surely a similar book exists for American history. German scholars have the Baumgart, a guide for doing research in German history, but here, too, the scope is sometimes amazingly wide [Winfried Baumgart, Bücherverzeichnis zur deutschen Geschichte. Hilfsmittel, Handbücher, Quellen]The Apparaat did not only contain titles of works in Dutch, but also in English, German and French, and only when strictly necessary in other foreign languages. Spanish works are present at a number of points.

I wonder which languages would figure in the American counterpart of the Apparaat and the Baumgart, because I remembered someone else, too, from my student days, a young American historian working for his Ph.D. thesis at Utrecht with marvellous command of the Dutch language. He told me how lucky he had been to visit a high school which offered a wide range of languages to its students, something not commonly encountered. I could not help asking myself while reading the paragraphs about Costa Rica and the Caribbean whether it would be a natural matter to have sufficient command of Spanish to include resources in Spanish already in a preparatory phase. I am sure there were and are country guides in print for any Caribbean country, but Putnam is right in stressing the fact that guidance often has the national level as its focus.

Yet another basic fact of your training comes to mind, having access to printed works in open stacks or having to rely much more on the catalogs of your institution(s). At Utrecht we had at the history institute not only open stacks but also a special room with rare books. This cabinet served also as a official deposit site for archival records on loan from archival institutions elsewhere. Legal historians, too, can take many books from the shelves of the open stacks at the new premises of the law library inside the city location of Utrecht University Library. At the old location at the Janskerkhof there were even two rooms with rariora for Roman law and Old Dutch Law, and also materials from other European countries. I am convinced this background does influence you more than you might be aware.

As for locating books in my country the Royal Library in The Hague is home to the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus (NCC), the Dutch central catalogue for the holdings of university libraries, and there is a second central catalogue for a number of regional libraries. In my opinion the online version of the NCC should be available in open access. If I had to start looking for materials concerning the Caribbean I would think about visiting and using the resources of the Royal Netherlands Institute for South Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, the Royal Tropical Institute and the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. You could envisage the main cities in the west of my country as a single agglomeration with The Hague, Leiden, Amsterdam and Utrecht all really close to each other. Thus the problem with the 2009 online Guía del investigador americanista en Ámsterdam by Moira Cristiá is not only its brevity and focus on the IISH, but the utter failure to understand how close other Dutch cities with relevant research institutions are.

In Putnam’s list of nearby capitals of former empires Paris and Berlin are conspicuously absent, but you might also question the absence of Madrid, Simancas or Sevilla, all of which figure in other issues of the online Guía del investigador americanista, a service of the multilingual online journal Nuevo Mundo/NuevosMundos. Putnam mentions of course the LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center) in Texas. She mentions in her article only once bibliographies. I leave it to you to think about a punch line to discern between those who use bibliographies and those who do not… The National Union Catalog (NUC), in modern eyes perhaps the forerunner in print of WorldCat, nowadays also available and searchable online thanks to the Hathi Trust Digital Library consortium, does not figure at all. The Hathi Trust has digitized Thomas Leonard’s A guide to Central American collections in the United States (Westport, Conn., 1994), and you might want look there for more. I suppose Putnam left the NUC and the Library of Congress out precisely because it is so natural to start with them. The online version of the Handbook of Latin American Studies and the Hispanic Reading Room are only two starting points at the Library of Congress.

Banner Censo-Guía

However, libraries are probably not so much the problem, but finding out about relevant archives. Each country has not only very different archives, but their coverage is also not uniform. A number of countries have major municipal archives, in other countries these are rare. In some countries university libraries have large archival collections, and in yet another country you find a network of regional archives. It can be hard to find archives outside the governmental system of archival institutions, for example ecclesiastical archives. The famous online portal Repositories of Primary Resources (University of Idaho), once a familiar landmark on the web, is now only accessible in an archived version at the Internet Archive, and you will agree with Putnam about its incomplete coverage and bias. Sometimes you are lucky your chosen country figured in the eighty volumes of the country guides created by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Dutch website Archiefnet can be viewed also in English, but alas this overview of archives worldwide is no longer updated, and here, too, the attention outside Europe is for national archives. For many years the Nederlands Archievenblad, the journal of the Dutch Society of Archvists, ran a series with articles about archives abroad. Since many years the Unesco Archives Portal is no longer active. At LANIC you can be disappointed at first by seeing in the country archives guide for Costa Rica only the Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica, but this national archive has created an online Censo Guía de Archivos. LANIC provides you with links to four online directories for archives in the Ibero-American World. The Spanish Censo-Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica will tell you about the great variety of archives and archival collections.

Banner Maps in the Crowd

For Putnam the way the presence of digitized materials can lead you astray is the true heart of the matter. You might be tempted to equate the absence of digital collections with the absence of any relevant archival institution with collections interesting for your research. How can the digital turn and the transnational turn combine into a way of doing research that comes closer to the aims of both movements and developments? Among developments enabling to create a positive influence for the transnational turn Putnam mentions the importance of projects for georeferencing maps. Such maps help in a very concrete way to free yourself from the national perspective, even if such maps were often created by governmental agencies. This example speaks to me a bit more forceful at the very moment Leiden University Library is close to finishing a crowdsourcing project to georeference some 7,000 maps from the collections of the KITLV, Maps in the Crowd. The old search interface is still there, and the accompanying blog can tell you more about this project. The British Library is also working along similar roads to georeference its maps, to give just one other example.

While writing this post I could not help noticing the role of Pittsburgh in global history and digital initiatives. The Carnegie Mellon University has created the Universal Digital Library, with some 26,000 books concerning law and in particular large collections concerning India and China. The East Asia Library of the University of Pittsburgh has digitized a substantial number of rare books in Chinese. The history department has made transnational history into a major focus; regional fields are certainly present, too, surprisingly they cover whole continents!

Cover of GPLH 7: El Jurista en el Nuevo Mundo

All this should remind you at the end of a rather long contribution that the armchair and computer screen historian with his and her armada of digital resources is in a way just as limited as the traditional historian. Digital progress is not only progress, but brings also losses. It is urgent to consider again our methods and practices for legal history, too. The publication series Global Perspectives on Legal History (GPLH) of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main reached in its second year already its seventh volume. You can consult online or download the volumes or buy the printed version. These volumes contain telling examples of research facing the challenges of transnational legal history, in particular for Latin America. The latest issue of the journal Legal History / Rechtsgeschichte [Rg 24 (2016)], another publication from Frankfurt am Main, contains a series of short reports solicited by Christiane Birr on current practices of legal historians who have entered the world of digital humanities. Putnam invites us cordially to rethink our methods and practices, and to consider carefully the traditional strengths and core values of the historian’s trade. Even alerting to some minor and major points with her article should not stop you from doing just that!

A 2018 postscript

Lately the Dutch Royal Society of Archivists created online space on its digital platform for a number of digitized yearbooks. The yearbook for 2012 deals with the theme Colonial Legacy in South East Asia. The Dutch archives.

Of manors, towers and castles

Living near Utrecht with its beautiful old inner city and many monuments from earlier centuries can make you wish to look around this town in the heart of the Netherlands to find more monumental buildings or remains of them. People watching last year on television the start of the Tour de France from Utrecht may have looked at some point to a spectacular aerial photo of a castle and the park around it. The castle of Haarzuilens is the largest castle in my country, and it is really in a class of its own. Since 2013 I live almost in the backyard of the former manor Huis Voorn of which only the two eighteenth-century dovecotes survive, a memorial of seigniorial rights, worthy of a post here. Some castles show all the archetypical elements of the fairy castle with one or more towers, battlements and a moot surrounding the premises. Some are accompanied by follies, nineteenth-century – or even earlier – fake buildings, some have become themselves to a large extent reinvented houses.

Thus many buildings are only castles by virtue of their name. The importance of castles for legal history is surely their connection with jurisdiction and rights, and in my country even with the very shape of newly cultivated grounds, in particular in marshy regions. In this post the walking historian rides again! In fact I did ride to these houses by bike. Most of my examples will come from the southeast corner of the province Utrecht, the Kromme Rijngebied, an area named after an old meandering branch of the Rhine. Along and near the Langbroekerwetering, a stream made for drainage of this originally swamp area, there were some forty fortified houses, and luckily for you I will not visit them all, but you might become curious for more indeed.

A tour of castles in Utrecht

The tower of Den Ham, VleutenLet’s start with a most imposing tower at Den Ham near Vleuten, nowadays part of the city of Utrecht. In the mid-nineteenth century most of the fortified house around it has been demolished. The freestanding tower with seven floors is the largest one still standing in my country. The tower is actually for sale, now for only (!) € 1,750,000. I did not put here on purpose a picture made in January 2015, but it can serve to remind you of the problem of heating an old building enough to be comfortable for people in our century! The fortified house ranked as many other stately buildings in Utrecht as a ridderhofstad, literally a knightly manor giving its owner entrance to the States of Utrecht as a member of the gentry. This rule only developed during the sixteenth-century when a first version of a list was published. Thus the States of Utrecht tried to deal with the proliferation of castles, manors and other major private homes and possible claims to qualify for its membership.

Kasteel Heemstede, Houten - photo November 2013The range of castles and manors in the province of Utrecht goes from the tower of Den Ham to almost fairy-tale castles such as Haarzuilens, but I would like to look here at an example closer to the Kromme Rijn river, Heemstede near the former village Houten, now a garden-city to the south-east of Utrecht. Its splendid outlook could convince you it was always as grandiose as it looks now. However, its present incarnation is in fact just a faithful copy of the original building which was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago. It is now home to a hotel. The surrounding grounds have been converted into a golf course. The Amsterdam-Rhine canal with its busy traffic runs close to it.

Castle Beverweerd, Odijk Near the village of Odijk is castle Beverweerd. Until a few years ago it was home to a public school. As you can gather from my picture it is situated in lush surroundings. From the meadow across the castle it becomes clear a number of medieval elements have been added quite recently. Adding such elements is not a new development, it follows closely practices starting in the nineteenth century. I will show you an example in the next section of this post.


Another tower not far from Odijk is located almost at the beginning of the Langbroekerwetering, the main stream created to develop the marshes into a cultivated area. Sterkenburg, “strong fortress”, certainly looks as a stronghold. The flag at the top of the tower adds an element familiar from television series with tales about courageous knights and damsels in distress. Alas I could not take a photograoh to this fortified house because the trees surrounding it make it impossible to view this house completely. To the left of the tower is the main building. In order to make up for the lack of details I could think of nothing else but turning around and taking a picture of the dovecote in the meadow adjacent to Sterkenburg and its grounds. To be sure, this dovecote is indeed a nineteenth-century folly, but something more is the matter in the south-east corner of the province of Utrecht. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century it became fashionable for rich Dutchmen to buy old castles and manors as summer houses.

A matter of rights

The folly of SterkenburgBuying yourself as a landowner a nice large summer resort is one thing, gaining access to the States of Utrecht by getting hold of a place with the eagerly sought rank of a ridderhofstad was surely as important. The presence of other buildings around your reinvented castle or old manor helped to show off your wealth, the sheer size of your landed property. In the case of follies or other embellishments your taste, too, became visible.

Rhynestein, CothenSome castle-like manors suggest a particular right. In the village of Cothen Huis Rhynestein is located at the Kromme Rijn river directly opposite to the village church. Not only a manor, but also a gate survive. The local situation might suggest the lords of Rhynestein did nominate the vicar of this parish. In his book Het Kromme Rijngebied in de middeleeuwen (Zutphen, 1993), the most important and detailed study on the medieval geographic and institutional history of the Kromme Rijn area Cees Dekker showed at many turns that you cannot reach any of such easy conclusions. The sheer number of institutions and people with claims and rights in this area is truly bewildering. Only long familiarity with the relevant archival collections, the experience and all other qualities of a medievalist-archivist par excellence which Dekker impersonated, and a keen personal knowledge of this region could bring his research to bear such rich fruits.

Huis Hardenbroek, Driebergen-RijsenburgOften the key to in-depth knowledge of a castle is getting hold of its archives. Castle Hardenbroek has been and still is in the possession of its founders, probably at least since the early fourteenth-century, with the exception of a dire period of nearly a century when the family had been forced to sell the ancestral home. Twenty years ago the castle archives were entrusted to the care of Het Utrechts Archief, the combined municipal and provincial archives of Utrecht. Hardenboek is located in the village Driebergen-Rijsenburg, but it is actually very close to Langbroek and Cothen.

A note on Dutch archival collections

Logo Het Utrechts ArchiefMany archival collections of castles and manors in the province Utrecht are kept at Het Utrechts Archief, a central point in this small province, and not in the smaller regional archives at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Woerden and Wijk bij Duurstede. Luckily the portal site of the Utrechts Archiefnet makes it possible to search directly in the online finding aids of both Het Utrechts Archief and the four regional archives in the province of Utrecht. Lately the arrival at Utrecht of a very substantial number of archival records for Hardenbroek from the Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the Gelders Archief in Arnhem has given a new push to finish the new inventories for Hardenbroek that will replace the provisional finding aids published in 2000. I use the plural inventories on purpose. In a way the new finding aids will open the road closed by the beautiful gate on my picture.

Logo NKSYou can find more about Dutch castles for example at the website of the Dutch center for castles and manors with a good links section and also at Kastelen in Nederland. There is a special website Utrechtse buitenplaatsen for manors and castles in the province Utrecht. Relevant images can be found online for example in the image database of the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Dutch National Service for Cultural Heritage that has also created a database to search for monumental buildings. Het Utrechts Archief offers online access to almost all its finding aids. You might still benefit from the printed guide to archives in the province Utrecht by A.N. Beets, H.L.Ph. Leeuwenberg and J.G. Riphaagen (eds.), De archieven in Utrecht (Alphen aan den Rijn 1985), the eleventh volume of the series with overviews of Dutch public archival collections (PDF, 9 MB). At present only the volumes 3 to 14 of this important series with a deceivingly long title, Overzichten van de archieven en verzamelingen in de openbare archiefbewaarplaatsen in Nederland, are available online at the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, however among them at least also the last volume, the guide to private archival collections in the Netherlands [H.J.H.A.G. Metselaars (ed.), Particuliere archieven in Nederland (1992)]. The volumes for Drenthe and Gelderland have not yet been digitized, but the separate volume concerning archives in Amsterdam can be viewed online. Even if you have no particular interest in the history of castles and manor these invaluable guides merit your attention for legal history, because the volumes start with a map of jurisdictions before 1795. Sometimes the venom is in the end, but here there is a bait waiting for you!