Tag Archives: Digital archives

Laws under the double eagle of the Habsburg empire

Double eagle of the Austrian Empire, around 1870? - source: Wikimedia Commons

Double eagle of the Austrian Empire, around 1870? – source: Wikimedia Commons

When you want to find resources concerning the history and laws of the Habsburg Empire you will be inclined to look first of all at sources in Vienna. However, in Budapest, too, you can find important sources. The Doppeladler, the two-faced eagle in the blazon of the Habsburg rulers, looked in two directions, and this hint should be followed indeed! In this post I will look both at Austrian and Hungarian resources. The existence of a very interesting portal to digitized sources in Hungary prompted me to write this contribution.

However, the image of an eagle should remind you to look beyond what is immediately visible to human eyes. A second thread in this post is the importance of parliamentary libraries and the online availability of official gazettes. Hopefully this will not only make your curious about the legal history of the Habsburg empire, but indeed ready to explore relevant resources at your computer screen.

Starting in Vienna…

Logo ALEX, ONB, Vienna

Legal historians wanting to do research about law and justice in Austria can benefit in particular from the ALEX project of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. If you would like to enlarge the territory of your search you can go immediately to the links for similar resources in Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The ALEX project brings together historical legislation, parliamentary records, jurisprudence and a host of legal journals. You can find laws as they were originally published in the official gazettes for the various regions of the Habsburg Empire, or use some of the official – and semi-official – collections. The series started by Joseph Kropatschek, Sammlung aller k.k. Verordnungen und Gesetze vom Jahre 1740 bis 1780 (first edition in 8 volumes, Vienna 1786) with laws published between 1740 and 1780 got in 1789 the formal name Theresianisches Gesetzbuch, the “Theresian Code”. It figures also in the blog ALEX dazumal accompanying the ALEX project. The blog posts can help you finding quickly materials for a particular subject, for example electoral legislation, hunting laws, migration and much more. In the section where you can set filters for particular regions or the whole empire (Gesamtstaatliche Gesetzgebung) you can choose the language of your preference, be it German, Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish, Slovenian or Italian. Ruthenian and Rumanian have yet to be added…

Header image RepöstRG (Predella of the Neustädteraltar, Stephansdom, Vienna)

The second way to find Austrian legislation between 1500 and 1918 is literally a gateway. Heino Speer (Klagenfurt) has created the Repertorium digitaler Quellen zur österreichischen Rechtsgeschichte in der Frühen Neuzeit [RepÖstRG), a repertory in two versions, one programmed in HTML, the other one using WordPress. This double gateway offers not only access to legislation, but also to (older) scholarly literature. You can search here in chronological or territorial order. With additional information for persons and the spread of Protestantism in Austria Speer deserves praise for his marvellous efforts, in particular when you can also turn here to the Corpus Iuris Civilis in several editions.

…. and going to Budapest

Logo Hungaricana portal

Vienna and Budapest are cities along the Danube river. It is only logical to visit also Budapest. The Hungaricana portal, accessible in Hungarian and English, pushed me into writing about the Habsburg Empire. The Hungaricana portal shows on its start page five main sections, a gallery with images, digitized books in the library, historical maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also separately searchable at MAPIRE with a trilingual interface, more maps and plans, and finally digitized archival records. The library sections contains also publications issued by museums and archives, including publications of the Österreichisches Nationalarchiv. In particular the archives section brings you to a great variety of digitized sources, for example medieval charters, documents from the city of Budapest, royal letters and decrees, and a census from 1767.

The databases page shows the full strength of Hungaricana. The Régi Magyar Könyvtár [RMK, “Old Hungarian Library”] with digitized old works written in Hungarian, can only be viewed in Hungarian. It contains also the bibliography created by Károly Szábo of works published in Hungarian between 1531 and 1711 and books in other languages printed in Hungary between 1473 and 1711, all with their RMK number and additional information. The maps section, too, can only be viewed in Hungarian, and thus you might have to rely on the quality of the translating tool in a well-known browser.

Header DTT - screenprint

Hungaricana is operated by the Parliamentary Library of Hungary. In the Digitalizált Törvényhozási Tudástár, the Digital Parliamentary Databases, accessible in Hungarian and English you can find much, from laws, legal books, national and ministerial gazettes to legal journals, parliamentary proceedings and decrees. The search interface is in Hungarian and English. This digital library is clearly comparable to the Austrian ALEX portal and indeed a veritable portal for Hungary’s legal history.

Header Visegrad Digital Palriamentary Library

Interestingly there is a second portal with information about the parliaments of countries within the borders of the Habsburg Empire. The Visegrád Digital Parliamentary Library has links to digitized sources for Austria in the ALEX portal, for Hungary from 1861 onwards, Poland (1919-1939 and from 1989 onwards) and for Slovakia since 1939. Visegrád is the Hungarian town on the Danube where the leaders of four East European countries signed in 1991 a covenant for cooperation, the Visegrád 4. In fact the Visegrád portal leads you directly to the Joint Czech and Slovak Digital Parliamentary Library, with both current and historical information; the links of the Visegrád portal for the Czech Republic do not work, but you can find the right links in the Digitální Repozitár of the Czech parliament. This website goes even beyond the Habsburg empire to sources from medieval Bohemia. You will perhaps also want to look at the ten historical maps of the Visegrád portal covering the period 1815 to 1999, but you will surely want to use its multilingual dictionary of parliamentary terms.

At the end of this post I will try to suppress my wish to give you here much more information, but perhaps it will suffice to tell you that I included information about and links to a number of official gazettes on the digital libraries page of my legal history site. In some cases you will see the exact link, in other cases you will find them as a part of a parliamentary library, and there are some portals for gazettes, too. On my page concerning digital archives you can find out more about archives in Austria, Hungary and Poland. I hope to add soon information about the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but meanwhile you can already use the links at some archive portals which will help you in your research under the watchful eyes of the double eagle in its various incarnations.

Two laws and one trial

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

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

A clash of emerging empires

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

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

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

Treaty with Banda, 1616

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header TANAP Archives

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile in Holland

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

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

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

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

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

Some conclusions

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

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

A postscript

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

Preserving presidential lives and legacies

Logo Hoover Library, West Branch, IAHow can you put the inauguration of a new president of the United States in a sensible perspective on a blog dealing with legal history? Is it the historian’s duty to say something about the near future or should I refrain at all cost from making predictions? One element in determining the role of a president in a history are the presidential libraries and museums created in memory of deceased presidents or even by living former presidents. Starting with the library commemorating Herbert Hoover there are now fourteen institutions which aim at preserving important papers and objects and presenting the deeds and legacies of presidents. In this post I will search for information concerning facts and materials in connection with legal history. Last week I spotted the section on presidential libraries and museums at the website of the American National Archives, but it seemed wise not to hurry into action immediately.

Banner National Archives

The website of the National Archives hosts the Federal Register which preserves also Public Papers of Presidents. For five presidents you can start here looking at online sets with presidential papers, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. In 1957 the Office of the Federal Register started to publish series of publications of presidential papers in print. The National Archives guide you also to other institutions with presidential collections. Pride of place among them goes to the Library of Congress with 23 collections. A number of these collections has been digitized by its Manuscript Division. It is most useful to look at the guides to presidential papers provided by the National Archives. There is even a search interface to search with one action in all fourteen presidential libraries together. I urge you to look in particular to the history of the presidential libraries and the legislation enacted about them.

A short tour of presidential libraries

Interestingly there is even a second institution dealing with the papers of Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and it is only logical to start here with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The sheer variety of materials presented on the website gives a fair indication of the possible width of a presidential library and museum. For brevity’s sake I will focus here on Hoover’s period as a president (1928-1933), but it is instructive to see materials, too, even before the period his work as Secretary of Commerce in 1921. Hoover became known nationwide and internationally thanks to his efforts since 1914 for the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The library has eleven collections documenting aspects of his work as a president. Hoover’s campaign for the presidency is documented, too, at West Branch. By the way, its location in Iowa is a reminder of the geographical division of the presidential libraries. You can locate them on a clickable map at the website of the National Archives.

Logo Hoover Institution

The Hoover Institution was founded at Stanford in 1919 by Hoover himself. By the way, he was among the first students of Stanford university when it opened in 1891. It holds collections for his life and work before 1921 and after the end of his presidency, and thus it figures here only briefly, however interesting its activities and collections are. In a way it embodies a part of Hoover’s vision and promotes it for this century.

It is not entirely surprising that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision in 1938 to create space for a library documenting his presidency and to donate his presidential papers to the federal government forms the start of the modern presidential collections. The FDR Presidential Library and Museum is located in Hyde Park, NY. A fair part of the collections in this library has been digitized. Using the Franklin search engine you can look at your screen not only at documents created by Roosevelt himself, but also at materials concerning Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr, and there are preset selections on a number of themes. The presence of many photographs in these digital collections reminds you of the impact of the representation of power, law and government. Think only of presidents signing a law… The museum of this institution, as any museum, creates a space set free to focus attention on a particular theme or on particular objects. In this case it fosters an image of an era. They often succeed more readily in evoking essential characteristics of a period than documents can do. However, viewing a particular record can bring you a sense of immediate contact with the past.

Banner Situation Room

Presidents of this century come into view with the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas, TX. It is combined with the Bush Center. At this moment the Barack Obama Presidential Library is only a website preluding to its opening in Chicago within a few years. Certainly one of the most salient features of Bush’s library is the Situation Room. Not just for school children and researchers this space fires the imagination. We all have seen sometimes movies with scenes set in a presidential room during national and international crises, but the real one is not the kind of medium size conference room. The Secure Video Transmission Site has been recreated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA. The Bush Library offers you also a digital librarya guide to the events of 9/11 and a good overview of other relevant resources.

This list of the George W. Bush Library ends with other resources ends with a most vital piece of legislation for the theme of this post, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA; 5 U.S.C. 552). Presidential libraries and museums are subject to a number of laws and regulations. Four of them deal with presidential transitions. The Office of Presidential Libraries administers the network of these libraries and takes also action to create presidential projects for presidents leaving office.

It is tempting to linger longer at the websites of one or more presidential libraries instead of trying to give here a more balanced view. I suppose that when you look a bit longer at their websites you will find materials which are more closely connected with legal history. My choice should give you an idea of the holdings of such institutions and their context. As is my common practice I have put in web links at many turns to lead you to online resources to help you in your research. Once upon a time the virtual world was indeed another world, but after 25 years the Internet is just one of the online media in our current world. The links are for your use, and you should not feel troubled to leave my blog and visit them!

Logo Library of Congress

As for any presidency it will be most interesting to follow the new president’s actions. His actions should be set within in the framework of the Constitution of the United States, checked by the legislative powers of the Congress and the power of the Supreme Court. The Library of Congress has created a fine overview of presidential inaugurations. Its Law Library should be your port of call to find information about both current American and foreign legislation. In the world’s largest library you can find an incredible mass of information about law and justice in other countries, too. The law librarians’ blog, In Custodia Legis [In the Custody of the Law] is one of the services alerting you to many aspects of their collections and ongoing work to retrieve information for anyone’s use. There is no doubt that in due time we will distinguish the legacy of any president from his other actions. However, it is a true concern where the promises made during the campaign will lead the United States of America and the world at large. As for predicting the future as a historian the old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

Finding Suriname’s legal history

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname - image F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname – photo by F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Dutch colonial history is a subject which since 1975 with the Surinam independence sometimes came into view and in other periods seemed to recede into the shadows of neglect and disinterest. The activities surrounding the remembrance of the abolition of slavery in Suriname have rekindled public attention for this subject in the Netherlands. Since many years the Dutch National Archives helps the Nationaal Archief Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo in creating finding aids and preparing the transfer of archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo.

Apart from actions for the physical records of these collections, such as restoration and much more, digitization is one of the approaches to make them more accessible both for the people of Suriname and for everyone interested in their history. This week a tweet by the search platform Ga het NA – best translated as “Check it at the NA” – of the Nationaal Archief (@gahetNA) alerted to the online availability of 3,5 million scans, substantial results which merit attention. However, since much information on the websites of these two national archives is only given in Dutch I will provide here a concise guide to a number of the materials which touch aspects of Suriname’s legal history. The translation tools of the famous Grand Omnipresent Web Firm can redeem to some extent the problem of languages, but some guidance is helpful.

My interest in these digital archives grows steadily this month because I have at last added a page about digital archives in the digital corner of my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Adding the collections concerning Suriname certainly fills a gap. Instead of preparing this new page in silence and deploring its incompleteness I might as well invite you to look at it, and contribute your own constructive suggestions.

A tale of archives

Logo Nationaal Archief Suriname

In the forty years of Suriname’s independence much had to be done to provide the new nation with a proper national archive. Dutch support was certainly helpful, but not always completely welcome. The history of Suriname is documented in many archival collections at the Dutch Nationaal Archief, not only in those strictly dealing with parts of the Dutch colonial empire. A start at this more general level can illustrate this rapidly. At Ga het NA you can use 115 online indexes. An alphabetical overview of them takes three web pages. The first page contains for example a guide for Ghana, a country connected to Latin America by the slave trade. At the second page you should not only look for Suriname, but also for the West-Indies, in particular an index for pensions of civil officers. The third page continues with more indexes concerning Suriname and three indexes dealing with the Dutch West-Indian Company, one for the registration of investments at its Amsterdam branch (Kamer van Amsterdam) and two concerning the Dutch period in Brazil.

Logo Ga het NA - Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

In the absence of a good site map at Ga het NA I have to refer you to the Dutch version of the fine research guide for Surinam history. You will quickly understand that politie stands for the police force, notarieel refers to matters dealt with by notaries, and the gouverneurs are the governors. The Raad van Justitie (1671, 1718-1828) and its successor, the Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie, were the main judicial courts. The Hof van Politie en Criminele Justitie (1684-1828) was another important court dealing with cases concerning public order and criminal offenses. The Rechtbank van Kleine Zaken was a minor court dealing with smaller cases. The Militaire Gerechtshof was the military court. The section for maps (kaarten) is also generous. Maps in the archival collection of the Topografische Dienst, the Dutch National Cartographic Service, have been digitized, as is the case for the collections Buitenland Kaarten Leupe and Leupe Supplement. The guide gives you also a succinct bibliography and some links to other websites. It would be most helpful to see immediately in such overviews where online scans are available, because this is exactly what many people today will foremost check for at any website. In a post about 200 years Dutch cadastral office I mention more collections with maps concerning Dutch colonial history.

Here the NAS scores clearly with a section simply called Archieven online. This overview contains currently 35 archival collections. The largest digitized collection with some 590,000 scans has been created by the secretaries of the government between 1722 and 1828, with some materials even dating from 1684 (Gouvernementssecretarie van de Kolonie Suriname, finding aid Here you will find in particular some registers with plakkaten, ordinances (nos. 612 (1684-1782), 742 (an alphabetical index, 1781-1829), 788 (after 1796-1827)). Finding aid, Oud Notarieel Archief is the second largest collection with online scans. You can access here nearly half a million scans of notarial registers written between 1699 and 1828. The nos. 758-768 for the period 1707-1803 are registers of letters of exchange and other documents concerning trade, in particular maritime trade. Register 911 comes from John Martyn, “public notary residing at Paramaribo” between 1809 and 1814, during the period of English rule over Suriname. When you want to approach Suriname’s legal history from a comparative perspective such sources are invaluable.

First page of the 1839 dossiers of the Miiltiary Coirt, 1839

The only digitized surviving case record of the military court of Suriname, 1839 – NAS/NA,, no. 1, fol. 1r

For a combined civil and criminal court in Suriname, you can find digitized archival records in finding aid, Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie (1828-1832; 2,100 scans). For the same period there are scans of records from the Commissie tot de Kleine Zaken, a court for minor offences (finding aid; 533 scans). The collection for its forerunner with almost the same name, College van Commissarissen voor Kleine Zaken in Suriname (1740-1828) (finding aid contains some 133,000 scans. The digitized records of the military court (Militair Gerechtshof) boil down to scans of a single case heard in 1839 ( Among the 35 digitized collections I would like to point also to the Gecombineerde Weeskamer (1788-1828) (; nearly 68,000 scans), an institution which dealt not only with orphans, but also with custody cases and belongings (boedels). A major addition to our knowledge of Jews in Latin America are the digitized records of the Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente (1678-1909). Finding aid gives you some 155,000 scans. You will find among the notarial registers mentioned above some volumes written by jewish jurators. By the way, the scans are currently hosted on a server of the Dutch National Archives. The faded quality of the case record shown here is a useful reminder how much work it takes to preserve and restore to useable conditions of records which survived tropical conditions and will return to a country near the equator.

Banner The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The NAS adds a generous links selection (in Dutch). Hopefully versions in Papiamentu (Sranantongo), English and Spanish will soon be added, following the example of the recently launched Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform, created by the Dutch Royal Library, the University of Curaçao and Leiden University. Its Dutch Caribbean Heritage Collections contains a few digitized books concerning law and government. Let’s not forget the general overview of archival collections held by the NAS. You can trace some 1,100 documents for Suriname and read transcriptions of legislative text using the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670-c.1870 of the Huygens Instituut, recently moved to Amsterdam.

Even this concise introduction to a few highlights taken from a huge number of digital scans should convince you that the two national archives can be proud of their efforts to digitize, preserve and disclose priceless records of a country and a people. Suriname’s present condition is not at all good, but nevertheless it will hopefully help to have both physical and virtual access to records from another period where law and justice did not always reign supreme. Luckily having the originals back in Suriname goes together with creating worldwide access.

A postscript

In January 2017 started also a crowdfunding project to create online access to the slave registers of Suriname.

From rules to cases in medieval canon law: A tribute to Charles Donahue

Banner Cause Papers - Histiry Online and Borthwick InstituteWhen you would ask me to single out any legal historian for his or her versatility, path-breaking articles and books, stimulating teaching and generous help I would answer that choosing anyone would mean that I seriously underestimate the qualities of a lot of other fine scholars. On November 29 Harvard Law Today published an article about the honours lately bestowed upon Charles Donahue. In October a conference was held to celebrate his efforts in the field of legal history, both for the history of the common law and medieval canon law. This last field offered me the original impulse to start my blog, and therefore it is fitting to create space for a truly great scholar.

John Witte, Sara McDougall and Anna di Robilante edited a Festschrift called Texts and Contexts in Legal History: Essays in Honor of Charles Donahue (Berkeley, CA, 2016). Remarkably this volume does not yet figure on the website of the publishing institution, the Robbins Collection at Berkeley’s School of Law. Its website might be in the midst of a substantial makeover, including the launch of a new website for the manuscript catalogue, but this surely is an omission, yet another reason to get into action here. In this post I will focus mainly on Donahue’s work for the history of canon law, but you will not mind reading some remarks about other periods and themes which received and receive his attention. A third reason for writing this post is the opportunity to look at two most interesting projects for digitizing archival records which form a wonderful window to the practice of medieval canon law.

Taking the plunge

Photo of Charkes Donanhue - source: Harvard Law SchoolMy most vivid memory of Charles Donahue is the way he presented a paper at the International Congress of Medieval Canon Law in 1996 at Syracuse, NY. He commented on the needs to combine the qualities of research into legal doctrine, ecclesiastical institutions and social history. The three of them benefit immensely by being studied together, not in isolation. Of course this is a huge challenge, but Donahue memorably ended saying: “Let’s get out here and do it!” He did indeed exactly what he announced. One of the challenges is having the courage and stamina to work at all in a field like the history of medieval canon law which is both utterly fascinating and bewildering in its complexity. Critical text editions are still scarce, and you might be the first scholar since decades to look at particular manuscripts, or literally the first in centuries to study archival records.

Cover Charles Donahue "Law Marriage and Society in the Later Middle Ages - source Cambridge UP

In order to assess the possibilities to use archival records from medieval church courts Donahue set out to create a survey of these records with reports by a team of scholars from all over the world, The Records of the Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts: Reports of the Working Group on Church Courts Records (2 vol., Berlin 1989-1994). Earlier on he published with Norma Adams Select Cases from the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Province of Canterbury, c. 1200–1301 (London 1981; Selden Society Publications, 95). A recurring theme in a number of his publications is medieval marriage. In 2008 Donahue’s great study Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts appeared. Cambridge University Press provides online access to some 300 additional pages with notes and texts. The five courts in this work are York, Ely, Paris, Cambrai and Brussels. At his Harvard homepage you can download Excel sheets from the databases with the materials from these courts. Sharing these data with other scholars is wonderful when you realize how much work it takes over many years to prepare these materials before you can execute the kind of study Donahue did.

Projects at York

For one of the dioceses Donahue studied in his great book about medieval marriage, law and society you can now access documents online. Surprisingly there are even two connected projects which bring you to ecclesiastical justice in the medieval archdiocese of York. The first project to come online was The Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858, the fruit of cooperation between the University of York, in particular the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, History Online and JISC. The Borthwick Institute provides you with background information about the digitized records. It is also instructive to read entries at the project blog which ended in 2011 with the launch of the database. The Cause Papers can also be searched online at the portal Connected Histories. It is a bit weird to see at this portal the label Local records applied to both the Cause Papers and the Proceedings of the Old Bailey. It is precisely a strength that they are also important sources for local history, but they can bring those investigating them much more.

The core of the project for the York Cause Papers (CP) is the database which allow you to search more than 15,000 cases from many perspectives. For a number of cause papers images are provided, but I cannot determine the algorithm or human reasons behind the selection. Looking for cases after 1500 can bring you to images of the records involved. Earlier on the Borthwick Instituted had published guides to the cause papers, W.J. Sheils, Ecclesiastical Cause Papers at York: files transmitted on appeal 1500-1883 (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 9, 1983), D.M. Smith, Ecclesiastical Cause Papers at York: the Court of York 1301-1399 (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 14, 1988), and D.M. Smith, The Court of York 1400-1499: a handlist of the cause papers and an index to the archiepiscopal court books (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 29, 2003). At the website of the Borthwick Institute is also a very useful guide to records from other courts at Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Sodor, the diocese of the Hebrides, and Man, all of them, however, for the period after 1500. The database of the Cause Papers brings you to summarized information about the cases dealt with in these records. If you want to look in it for matrimonial cases you will see at least 1,600 cases from four centuries. A search with the keyword matrimonial brought me 241 results between 1300 and 1500. Donahue prepares for the Selden Society the volume Select cases from the ecclesiastical courts of York, 1300-1500 which will contain some 400 cases from the Cause Papers.

Logo York Archbishops'Registers RevealedThe medieval records themselves are at the center of a second project at York, York Archbishops’ Registers Revealed, The digitized registers cover the period 1225 to 1646. The contents here are much wider than only legal cases, but they, too, appear. As one of the showcases in the background information you can look at documents concerning the divorce of king Henry VIII from Anne of Cleves in 1540 (Abp Reg 28, f. 142r). For this project 32 registers have been digitized (Abp Reg) and also five Institution act books (Abp Inst AB) from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. You can browse a particular register and browse for people, religious institutions and groups. locations and subjects, or use the free text search field. A simple search for marriage yielded some 300 results. Supplementary indexes exist already for three registers. These indexes are rather important. When you look under A for Anne of Cleves she is absent in the database because in the standard view only input from indexed registers is shown. You cannot reach directly for records for people not included in these indexes. It is evident that the case from 1540 was found using earlier indexes, and primarily the historical overview of matters at the beginning of a register. The need for indexing some forty registers with 21,000 digitized images is clear and just as important as compliance with IIIF, the initiative for interoperability between images from various sources, rightly advocated in this project. Having the digitized images in front of you on your screen is great, but some of the classic activities of the historian’s craft are still indispensable, if only for deciphering the texts. Maybe I can seduce you to have a look at ‘Under a magnifying glass’, a recent post on my second blog Glossae concerning juridical glosses from the twelfth century, where I compare a number of online tutorials for medieval palaeography. By the way, the Borthwick Institute has also started digitizing seventeenth-century visitation records from York.


For yet another diocese in medieval England, London, you can consult at home records thanks to the Consistory database created by Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University, Montreal) using registers covering the periods 1467-1476 and 1487-1496. The database contains transcriptions and translations of documents for this last period. McSheffrey helpfully provides a generous bibliography of modern scholarship about late medieval civil and ecclesiastical courts in England. McSheffrey provides introductions to major themes in the cases from London, such as defamation, marriage and divorce, tithes, testaments, clerical behaviour, and matters as debt and perjury. You can approach the cases directly or look for specific subjects, people, locations, and also for depositions. The variety in possible approaches to these records is not new for those already familiar with medieval canon law, but surely this range of subjects covered by ecclesiastical law should make more people curious about canon law.

Among the supporting institutions of the Canadian Consistory project is the Ames Foundation, since many years led at Harvard by Charles Donahue. One of the online resources of the Ames Foundation are the page proofs of The Register of the Official of the Bishop of Ely: 21 March 1374 – 28 February 1382 edited by Marcia Stentz and Charles Donahue. I had used the word opus magnum for Donahue’s book on the comparative history of medieval marriage courts, but this edition deserves this description, too. Marcia Stentz’ calendar of the Ely register formed the starting point for a full critical edition. As an asset the Ames Foundation has also put online digital images of this register [Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Ely Diocesan Records, EDR D2/1]. Establishing a correct numbering of all pages in this register is just one of the myriad things needed to pursue the long road to the final edition. At the first folio the Ely register has the heading Registrum primum causarum consistorii episcopi Eliensis (..), but this register does not contain solely cases heard in an ecclesiastical court. Other tasks and actions of an officialis, the episcopal judge, come into view, too.

I leave it to my readers to see for themselves the recent additions concerning medieval canon law among the online publications of the Ames Foundation, a remarkable feature of a society promoting the history of English law! You will also spot Charles Donahue’s name for his support for the online edition of Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue, edited by Sharon O’Connor and Mary Bilder, but his work for the Ames Foundation reaches beyond specific editions.

Editions in the digital age

When reading this contribution you will notice with me a great variety in editorial approaches for online editions or presentations of late medieval church court records. The Cause Papers of York are accessible in a database, but you will find for cases before 1500 only detailed summaries of cases. The range over the centuries is great. I would view it as a search tool. York Archbishops’ Registers Revealed does give you access to digitized images, but the online indexation of the records has not yet been completed. Here you will need medieval and Early Modern palaeography, and you have documents from an even longer time span. The Consistory database for diocesan records from London offers you detailed access to transcriptions and even translations, but for just one decade. Here you can quickly focus on the cases. The edition of the Ely register is certainly both a classic edition enhanced with images, and in a way it is in a class of its own. The context of an ecclesiastical judge during eight years is here right in front of you. Depending on your personal interest as a scholar or teacher you will sometimes prefer a full edition, to provide either students with a quick road to a first encounter with a source, or inversely make the importance of auxiliary sciences clear by showing images of historical records. Each approach is to some extent perfectly valid and valuable. Space forbids me to discuss here the editions by Monique Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek for Cambrai and Brussels of records of the officialis, let alone her work on Tournai with probably the earliest surviving records from the late twelfth century. Donahue does use these sources, too.

At the end of this contribution I am sure that Charles Donahue would very much want to make this extensive comparison of editions in print and online. Of course I could only point to some aspects of Donahue’s work. It makes me eager to look at his work in more depth! Studying medieval law is one of the means to discover the great differences of law and society in place and time during a millennium. It teaches you to be wary about rapid generalizations and labels. I confess to be charmed and sometimes very much moved by the records of medieval courts and the way they can be made tell-tale witnesses of society at large, of life in all its dimensions, of people trying to lead their lives. Somehow human interest is the greatest when you see people facing the machineries of the law, be they cunning plaintiffs, helpless defendants, shrewd or wise lawyers. In its best incarnations as in the work of Charles Donahue studying and writing about medieval canon law is both part of legal history and the humanities.

Mixed seductions: Combining global history with digital research

Tag cloud of Putnam's article created with WordItOutHaving 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 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, B’ücherverzeichnis 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 resource 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!

Order in a new church: Behind the headlines of the Reformation

Within any organization there is a constant tension between the original inspiration and its structure, and this is the case, too, within the various Christian churches. Auguste Sabatier (1839-1901) minted the phrases religion de l’Esprit against religion de la Lettre. When sixteenth-century reformers started to create their own church, the support many people gave them fueled their own enthusiasm about their views, but fairly quickly the need for proper structures arose. Luther famously burned the books of canon law in Wittenberg on December 10, 1520, but laws and regulations nevertheless rapidly did find a place in the Protestant churches.

Logo DigiRefAt the new Reformationsportal Mitteldeutschland, nicely abbreviated as DigiRef, you will find digitized archival records from four German archives and libraries bringing you documents which tell the story of these young churches in their daily business of getting things organized, dealing with problems and meeting all kinds of people. The portal has three main sections, Visitationsakten, records of official visitations, Schaufenster, “showcases”, sets of records and images arranged around a number of themes, and last but not least Recherche, an interactive map of Europe where you can search and select information for particular regions and locations. The visitation records and church regulations at this portal prompted me to write here about this project, because these have clear connections with legal history. In Germany preparations for the Luther year 2017 have indeed already started, and it can do no harm to look in time at some of the accompanying projects.

Three archives and a library

DigiRef has been created by three German archives, the Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, the Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg and the Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, joined by a library, the Thüringische Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena. This library organized in 2014 a two-day conference Reformation vor Ort. Zum Quellenwert von Visitationsprotokollen about the value of visitation records; Dagmar Blaha and Christopher Spehr will edit the papers of this conference (Leipzig 2016). Let’s look first at the actual records of church visitations in this project. The visitations aimed at reviewing systematically the situation of a particular church and its vicar(s). Apart from him whenever possible deacons, schoolmasters, sacristans and other officials, too, were interviewed. The visitation committees also looked at the moral behaviour of the parish and at its revenues, possessions and special funds. In this project not only the official reports of these visitations, the Protokolle, come into view, but also the Beiakten, the less conspicuous documents around the official reports, ranging from travel expenses to notes from interviews, come into the limelight.

Visitation at Wittenberg, 1528

Visitation at Wittenberg, 1528 – Weimar, LASA, A 29b, II Nr. 63, fol. 1v

The 118 archival records digitized for this project stem also from archives outside the four main DigiRef institutions. It is interesting to note monasteries, too, were visited. The aim was to present here the first visitations in the Reformation period. At Weimar four instructions have been preserved. The committees often indited people to come to a city from nearby villages or from lesser cities to a major town. As an example I have chosen the first ordinance for Wittenberg [Weimar, LASA, A 29b, II Nr. 63]. Wittenberg is dealt with in connection with the Amt surrounding this town and other towns and their surrounding territories. The register covers the years 1528-1529 and 1533-1534, it has 352 folia, and fol. 1r-34v contain an ordinance for the city of Wittenberg. Fol. 37r to 127r contain visitations for other locations in the Amt Wittenberg and two other towns in the Amt Wittenberg, Kernberg and Schmiedeberg.

The records can be shown in different ways: just the document, document and transcription or an image, transcription and modern German translation, and you can even add a column for a commentary (Historische Einordnung). Alas this service is not available for every item, and some items have been provided only partially with it. I list these possibilities in particular to show the value of this presentation next to earlier editions of a number of these protocols. The DigiRef portal does point to these editions and to relevant scholarly literature. When I looked at the 1525 visitation of the Allerheiligenstift at Wittenberg (Dresden, HStA, 10024, Loc. 8980/19) I did not find a transcription, translation or commentary. At Weimar a short list with questions in Latin from 1533 written by Justus Jonas from Wittenberg for visitation in Sachsen has been preserved (Weimar, ThHStAW, EGA, Reg. Ii 574), with at the website only images of this pivotal document for conducting a visitation. The portal promises you for some records a translation into English.

Admittedly you will have to become versatile in deciphering Early Modern German handwriting, and sixteenth-century handwriting can be notoriously challenging to read. When searching for online guidance you might start looking at the materials of the Ad fontes team in Zürich. Their website contains comprehensive information, examples of different scripts and exercises, references to literature, and since two years there is even an app. The Staatliche Archive Bayerns offer a lot of online examples of German writing in archival records from the eighth to the twentieth century, with transcriptions and brief introductions.

Showcasing the Reformation

Screenprint DigiRef

The second approach to the digitized records is using the showcases. With 18 themes and 17 historic persons – including popes and princes – you are sure to find something that might interest you. You can choose to look first at the metadata concerning a record, view it immediately or to look at ist geographic origin. Taking again the Kirchenvisitationen you get now six documents in this showcase. I found in particular the printed ordinance about the visitations from 1528 by Kurfurst Johann von Sachsen interesting (Gotha, Thüringisches Staatsarchiv, Geheimes Archiv, KK2, vol. 1) . This document shows to a large extent the matters to be reviewed during the visitations, and it makes clear how important the backing of secular authorities was for the emerging new churches. Indeed the secular authorities proved to be decisive for their success or lack of success in particular towns, regions and countries.

It is tempting to single out here other archival records worthy of your attention, because I am sure you will find something in such sections as Reichstage (Imperial Diets), UniversitätenKirchenordnungenBündnisse (contacts and leagues), and Kirchliche Neuordnung, ecclesiastical reform. In this last section you will find for example a letter by Luther from 1526 urging earl Johann von Sachsen to support church visitations for all his lands, not just for one or more Ämter. Founding new universities became another important matter.

A geographical approach

At first I was rather surprised the tab Recherche of DigiRef leads to an interactive map showing a large part of Europe instead of only a simple search form with a button leading me to an advanced search mode. At the top of the screen you can use a time bar to narrow you search, open an index of persons or a filter for locations, and there is a simple search field as well. It turns out to be really important to use these filters, because searching directly on the map can appear to be cumbersome and confusing. Not by clicking on a location with search results, but by clicking on an icon at the right side of the screen you arrive finally at a list of results for this location. The map does show locations with documents in its initial position, thus inviting you to go to particular places., but you will notice quickly some towns which do have results do not come into view immediately when you zoom in. In comparison with the interactive historical-geographical maps discussed here lately this operation mode is not quite what you would currently expect. The interactive map does save your latest choice for filtering. Instead of clicking a button you have to remove your choices from the red filter bar at the top of the screen. The filter for locations is also helpful to find locations mentioned in a visitation.

I cannot hide here my mixed feelings about the navigation of the DigiRef map, but in the end one thing is more important than only noticing the pros and cons of the navigation. The map makes it very clear that archival records in the three archives and the library at Jena do focus on Sachsen and Thüringen. Other regions figure mainly when there are clear relations with them within some document. Among the persons covered in the records I missed Erasmus.

Casting your nets wider

In my view the Reformationsportal Mitteldeutschland can be welcomed as a most useful resource to create a much more detailed image of the early Reformation. The archival records bring you a lot of things not found in contemporary books and treatises, and thus they help you to connect the issues at stake with actual people and places instead of staying content with a more abstract vision of the discussions, confusion and turmoil. Nevertheless it is of course necessary to use these records as elements of a much wider history, a decisive period in European history. Although the navigation of the interactive map is not as comfortable as you encounter elsewhere, this feature does not hamper completely access to digitized sources. In the last section of this post I will look at some other online resources for studying the history and impact of the Reformation, starting with the institutions behind DigiRef.

The Landesarchiv Hessen has created a relatively large number of online resources, but the Reformation is only seldom touched upon. At the Digitales Archiv Marburg a new online exhibition on Luther and Europa is currently being prepared. The Digitales Archiv Hessen-Darmstadt has a small section on the Reformation. It is good to remember here also the HISGIS system for Hessen, the Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), without a section on religion, but you might like to consult the Hessische Bibliographie.

The Thüringische Staatsarchive do offer a general website for searching and accessing digitized archival records at the various offices, with for religious history for example the Oberkonsistorium Gotha and the Konsistorium Sondershausen, and they also have important digital resources for legal historians. Its Themis portal has been created together with the ThULB at Jena, and brings you digitized legislation nicely ordered along the several old territorial units of Thüringen. Thüringen Legislativ & Exekutiv is another project of these two partners, now for digitized official gazettes publishing laws and regulations for roughly the same set of territories. There is a separate portal to inform you about all archives in Thüringen.

For the third archive, the Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, I can point to a general search engine for archival records, but apart from their content at DigiRef there is no other project specifically dealing with the Reformation. Among its other projects the digital archive for the Friedliche Revolution 1989/90 [Friendly Revolution 1989-1990] deserves a mention.

Banner Luther Flugschriften

With the Thüringische Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena we do reach a very important partner for the DigiRef project. Without its earlier projects touching upon the history of sixteen-century Germany, and the actual use of its servers for the digitized items, the three archives might still be struggling to work together. The ThULB can boast among its digital projects at the UrMEL server the Bibliotheca Electoralis with books stemming from the library of Kurfürst Friedrich der Weise, 800 of the so-called Lutherflugschriften, pamphlets kept at the Wartburg castle in Eisenach, and the Sammlung Georg Rörer. Rörer (1492-1557) worked closely with Martin Luther and was responsable for the Jenaer Lutherausgabe, one of the first complete editions of Luther’s prolific production. Rörer was probably responsable for creating Luther’s most famous but apocryphal words: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise”, and he made the long neglected contemporary note about Luther proposing his theses at Wittenberg in 1517. Earlier on the ThULB helped creating the portal Digitales Thüringen with a search interface in German and English.

Instead of offering here as a bonus a nutshell guide to research on the Reformation I will mention just a few more general online resources concerning German history, some specific websites, and a good online guide and introduction for delving deeper into the Reformation. For some years you could benefit from the BAM portal for quickly accessing materials in German libraries, archives and museums, but this portal has recently been closed, with a notice that a number of its services are now part of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. For finding German archives you can use the Archivportal, a related project of this digital library. At the portal Kulturerbe Digital you can use the search interface – switchable to German, English or French – to find digital projects for a particular subject. For search terms such as the Reformation or Luther you will find easily projects, including those at the ThULB described here above. Museums in Sachsen-Anhalt have their own portal. The website of the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt can only be viewed in German. In this respect the multilingual portal Luther 2017 does its job properly. For those convinced of the very power Luther gave to the German language going to the fine introduction and guide Reformation Digital at Historicum.net brings you much you will need to know, and in fact even a model to be followed. Historicum.net offers an impressing range of introductions, web guides and bibliographies for several historical subjects. Portals such as the Post-Reformation Digital Library and the Universal Short Title-Catalogue will help you to trace digital versions of many sixteenth-century books. At the blog Zwingli Redivivus: Flagellum Dei by Jim West you can find much about current research on early Protestant theology. His blog roll ends with a nice list of online editions of the works of the major reformers.

Looking at all these resources can help to shake yourself free from the temptation to view the Reformation as just a clash of theological views, an unfortunate mixture of events and persons leading sometimes to an outright war between religions. Matters were actually much more complicated. Theological questions and problems touched a raw nerve for many people in sixteenth-century Europe. How to lead a good life? How to be a Christian, and to form or reform a church actively committing itself to people and the Christian message? The need for structures or reform of structures connects the internal affairs of churches to matters pertaining also to legal history. The Reformation is one of these movements that changed Europe’s history and culture forever, and it can do no harm to be aware of its history and impact which reached far beyond the imagination of even such a creative mind as Luther himself.

A postscript

Soon after finishing this post I started thinking about adding at least a note that Luther was not the only major theologian of the new churches. His colleagues and adversaries are also present at DigiRef. It seemed this contribution yet lacked a Dutch touch. In April 2014 the Digital Humanities Lab of Utrecht University announced the inclusion of Luther’s own annotated bible at Annotated Books Online, more precisely his copy of Erasmus’ edition of the Novum Testamentum and Erasmus’ Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, both in the edition Basel 1527, from the holdings of the University Library at Groningen (HS 494).