Tag Archives: Digital archives

Connected histories: Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe

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

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

Finding archives

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

Logo Archives Portal Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital libraries in Ukraine

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

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

Logo of the MAPA Digital Atlas of Ukraine, Harvard University

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

Cultural heritage in Ukraine

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

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

Some early additions

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

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

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

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

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

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

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

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

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

Precious traces of material surroundings

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

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

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

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

Eight collections of inventories

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

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

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

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

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

Some early impressions

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

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

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

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

Header website Medeival Academy of America

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

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

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

Logo DALME

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

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

Some afterthoughts

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

Finding Early Modern notarial records in Mexico

The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, home to the Archivo General de Notarias - image: Wikimedia Commons

The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, since 2005 home to the Archivo General de Notarias

Using guides to archival collections can be most helpful when searching particular records which might help you in anwering your research questions. Sometimes the records themselves are the subject of research. When I read recently a blog post about notarial records in Mexico it was not completely surprising to read a story about a number of obstacles in getting access to registers from the eighteenth century. However, for other periods some projects exist which help scholars in approaching other historical records at the same archival institution, the Archivo Histórico de Notarías del Distrito Federal in Ciudad de México (Mexico City), also abbreviated to Archivo General de Notarías. In this contribution I will look at the two blog posts by Andrea Reyes Elizondo about her research and at online guidance to archival institutions in Ciudad de México.

Book history and archives

Last year I connected book history and archives in a post reviewing the study of Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on the role of the book trade in the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century. Until last month I had not often visited the website of the Nederlandse Boekhistorische Vereniging, the society for Dutch book history. One of its features is the section De Boekenmolen (The Book Mill) with blog posts by scholars introducing their research and telling about the start of their interest in book history.

On June 9, 2020 Andrea Reyes Elizondo contributed a post concerning a subject with a fair distance to Dutch book history, an inquiry into the degree of literacy and scribal capacity in eighteenth-century Mexico. Her search for a continuous series of documents with signatures led her to notarial records. Doing research in Mexico is not as straightforward as you would like as a scholar. Much paperwork is needed, to mention only one aspect. Only at the notarial archive Reyes Elizondo can use the finding aid and a list of notaries for this period. At this point I was at first somewhat amused, because using the word list for a finding aid for notarial registers, after all indeed a series of similar records, seemed a bit misplaced. My second thought was a question: How can you find out about notarial records in Mexico, and more generally about Mexican archives? As a matter of fact, I knew about a number of online resources helping me to answer this question. Finding archives was not the greatest challenge, finding specific information about their holdings was a bit more difficult, and in my view worth a report here.

It is no bad thing to start searching archives in Mexico with the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica, a searchable database for archives and their collections in Spain and Latin-America. However, the notice on the Archivo General de Notarías de Distrito Federal (AGNDF), seems at first a bit disappointing, with an old link to its website and lots of empty fields or negative answers, but luckily it does show the titles of some guides and inventories. In particular the series of inventories for nineteenth-century records is mentioned. At the heading Fondos y otros colecciones custodiadas a link leads you to the Inventario Dinámico, a tree structure with the fondos, in this case three main collections, the Fondo Antiguo, the [Fondo] Consular and the Fondo Contemporaneo. By clicking on the link Fondo Antiguo you will go to a detailed notice about the history of this section. For the subsection Reservada the names and years of notaries are given, from 1524 to 1697. The eighteenth century is part of the subsection Antigua (1614 to 1902). The notice ends with substantial information about guides and finding aids, some of them unpublished, in particular the Inventario general del acervo histórico del Archivo General de Notarías del Distrito Federal, Ana Lucía Tlahuech Rivera and José Luis García Estrada (eds.) (2006) and Verónica Zárate Toscano, Guía Cronológica de Notarios 1750-1850 (1992). The 2006 inventory is the most recent work mentioned in this notice.

Finding archives in Mexico

I had hoped to find more about this archive in the Sistema de Información Cultural, an online directory for cultural institutions in Mexico which counts nearly 1,300 archives, fifty of them in Ciudad de México. The notice on the AGNDF gives you only the location, a phone number and a mail address. The Archivo General de la Nación provides a Directorio Nacional de Archivos, but on the page for Ciudad de México the information is similarly succinct, although even more archival institutions are listed. In the web directory for archivos iberoaméricanos of the Fundacion Mapfre the page for Mexico has disappeared. Sadly the Latin America Network Information Center at the University of Texas had to stop updating its information in 2015, and now even the links have disappeared in its archival directory. The Internet Archive has a capture from 2015 of the page in English with eleven Mexican archives, but not the AGNDF. The Spanish version of this resource is still up and running.

Since many years the online journal Nuevo Mundo / Nuevos Mundos runs the series Guía del investigador americanista, with for Mexico an updated version from 2018 of a Guía del investigador en la ciudad de México by Felipe Castro Gutiérrez; the 2009 version can still be consulted and compared with his new version. Castro Gutiérrez fails to mention the web pages of the AGNDF, but he does include a link to the online inventory of sixteenth-century notarial registers. With some luck – by going one level higher on the web portal of the legal department of Ciudad de México – I could reach a second web page of the AGNDF with this link and yet another online resource for the records of notaries. This second web page provides you with some twenty web links for more information.

Before going to the notarial registers of the eighteenth century I would like to present briefly the existing online projects for the AGNDF. The Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la Ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVI, created in 2016 at the Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México (UNAM), provides you with an inventory of records from the sixteenth century. The images linked to the searchable inventory can only be viewed at the AGNDF. The website of this projects provides you also with the link to the sequel for the seventeenth century, the Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la Ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVII, launched in 2014 by the UNAM. The main difference with the first project is a more detailed search interface and the absence of images. The third project, launched in 2012, has been created by the Colegio de México. It brings you to the Actas Notariales de México, a searchable database for nineteenth-century notarial acts between 1817 and 1919. The search results bring you to summaries of the acts.

Dealing with notarial acts

Andrea Reyes Elizondo wrote her contribution about her research for her Ph.D. degree at Leiden University on the website of the NBV in Dutch. At the blog Leiden Arts in Society she has contributed a number of posts in English. In 2018 she wrote a post in English about her experience in three Mexican archives, Monk’s Nun’s Works’. The first remarkable thing in this earlier post were for me her pictures of the Archivo General de la Nación, housed in a former prison. Her remark about having to wear gloves and a dust mask when reading archival records from the colonial period has these days received another connotation.

Reyes Elizondo does not say much about the AGNDF in this earlier post, but nevertheless I quote her words for you to ponder them yourself: “In contrast, the notary archive does not have a catalogue at all but two different printed guides which give little information about its contents and could not be photographed but only be copied by hand. For an archive catalogue to be truly useful to a researcher, it should mention how many books or documents were produced by the same person, the length of the collection, the period it covers, and a breakdown of the type of documents. The AHAGN guides only gave a summary of how many books a notary had (guide 1) and which books were for which years (guide 2).” She repeated this statement in her 2020 post in Dutch. If she had stated these things as facts only once, I would have hesitated to set things right, but after two similar statements some corrections are clearly needed.

Banner Censo-Guía

The notice in the Spanish Censo-Guía contains clear information about the time range and physical dimensions of the records within the AGNDF, good for 1,235 meters shelf length, and 5,637 volumes in the Fondo Antiguo for the period 1525-1909. Archivists may call a finding aid or inventory a catálogo but it remains a finding aid. I fail to understand how one can think that a finding aid for notarial records will contain information about acts in each register apart from the notary and the time range. Notarial registers have similar contents, and it makes sense to describe them as series, also in view of their sheer number.

A quick comparison might be helpful. The Stadsarchief Amsterdam has 3,5 kilometer shelf length with notarial registers from the Early Modern period, probably the largest series in its holdings. With indexes and a crowdsourcing transcription project they are being made more accessible. Recently I searched notarial registers in the holdings of two Belgian archives, the Rijksarchief in de provincie Antwerpen and the Felixarchief, the municipal archive of the city Antwerpen. The finding aids for both institutions have the usual succinct form. Detailed access is provided by an index or a more detailed finding aid, called by Dutch archivists a nadere toegang. At the Felixarchief notarial registers have been digitized. Reyez Elizondo wants to be able to use repertories of acts. Thus the AGNDF provides you with a finding aid for the registers and a list of notaries, but in fact more has been done, as I will show here below. To all appearances it seems the two blog posts reflect a confusion between the nature of a library catalogue, an archival inventory, an index, a repertory or any other kind of more detailed finding aids. Surely a book historian will use library catalogues more often than finding aids, but a scholar should be able to see the substantial difference in their nature and character, even when the same term is used for them.

The second web page of this archive gives you a number of links, some of them broken, but luckily the link to a most relevant M.A. thesis functions. Fernando Pérez Celis completed in 2011 at the UNAM his thesis with the title Catálogo de las escrituras notariales de siglo XVIII. Notarías 22, 25 y 352 de Fondo Antiguo, Sección Ordinaria, del Acervo Histórico del Archivo General de Notarías de ciudad de México (PDF, 2011). Pérez Celis described the registers for three notarías. At p. XVIII of this thesis he notes there are 329 notarías for the eighteenth century, good for a total of 1,689 volumes, only 137 of them catalogados. In my view Pérez Celis created a repertorio, a word that should appear in the title of his study. Surely this still leaves large parts of the eighteenth century uncovered for the purposes of Reyes Elizondo, but much more has been done than she supposed. The very presence of the three projects each dealing with whole centuries seems to have gone unnoticed. It would do justice to the AGNDF to include them in both blog posts.

Logo El Colegio de Mexico

When you study Mexican history it is difficult not to encounter various projects of the UNAM and El Colegio de México. The latter institution is home to the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas which offers a very useful commented list of online resources for Mexican history. The library of El Colegio de México has on its web pages a list with twenty digital projects of this institution. Among the publications of the Colegio de México are the guías de protocolos, guides for notarial acts at the AGNDF for the nineteenth century. For each year a volume will be published. In the colecciones digitales of UNAM’s libraries you can select Tesis eTESIUNAM and quickly find nine relevant titles concerning the AGNDF, among them yet another thesis with a repertory of acts for some eighteenth-century registers, again without the word repertorio in its title. In view of these studies, the guides for nineteenth-century notarial records and the three online projects for notarial registers for other centuries choosing the eighteenth century shows at least courage. Reyes Elizondo certainly has this courage, but her two blog posts do not tell you at all what else can be readily found and has been done for the rich record series of the AGNDF.

Working in Mexican archives

Of course doing research on reading and writing capacities is a good subject, and I cannot say anything against Reyes Elizondo’s approach to this subject. A remark about another archive in Mexico invites me to add some comments. Reyes Elizondo would have preferred to find the notarial acts in the holdings of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Lately the website and other services of the AGN has been redesigned, and in many respects services have deteriorated. The digital collection with mapas, planos y ilustraciones has vanished. The fact that you can now consult both the new and the 1990 version of the Guía general de los fondos makes you almost smile about the operation which is probably motivated by political aims. The thing to note about the AGN is the absence of online finding aids. For the near future it is wise to keep in mind many scholars will want to visit the AGN, and perhaps you will not succeed easily in having a seat in its study room. Simply having more space and more chance to work at the AGNDF is something to relish, even if you have to face a number of other restrictions.

For this post I was able to use the information I gathered on my legal history website concerning digital archives all over the world. On this page I put links and information about archives, archival guides and about digitized archival collections. Without archival guides research would be very much hampered. A number of online overviews and archival guides has already been decommissioned. Using just a single resource for any purpose is only recommended by companies pretending to be The One and Only Firm. Another thing became clear, too: Thinking you know all about archives in your own country is not the most useful attitude. It pays off to take sufficient time to review and adjust your knowledge about archives by using relevant guides, to note carefully their content and to reflect about possible implications for your research. Knowing about the difference between an archival finding aid and a library catalogue should be part and parcel of doing research with original sources in the humanities or in the vast fields of legal history.

A postscript

I want to mention here a work found using the general Repositiorio Institucional de UNAM, a portal to a number of repositories. In her thesis Aidé Elena Rivera Ruiz offers a general overview of the holdings of the AGNDF, Catálogo del Archivo mHist’rico de Notarías (2006; PDF), with particular attebntion to the eighteenth century.

A city in distress: Dordrecht and the 1352-1358 interdict

Bull of pope Innocent VI for Dordrecht, 13

Bull of pope Innocent VI with his sentence to lift the interdict from Dordrecht, 1355 June 2 – Regionaal Archief Dordrecht, finding aid 1, Stadsarchieven 1200-1572, no. 274-6

Among the most frequent comments about the COVID-19 virus is the remark this situation is totally new. Historians will remember the 1918-1919 pandemic and the Black Death around 1348. In recent decades my own country faced at least three contagious diseases, some of them badly controlled by the authorities. Whatever our views of current regulations, cities and countries have been confronted with other situations with normal life severely hampered. Events have been cancelled and churches are closed for services. The latter theme prompted me to search for information about and examples of a medieval ecclesiastical punishment, the interdict. What did this mean and how did it work? It was only logical to combine this with a search for online historical resources.

These days I looked in particular at digitized sources held by Dutch archives. There is a wide variety of ways in which they present digitized materials. When I bumped into a bull of pope Innocent VI in the online gallery of the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht I found a charter dealing with an interdict touching the largest and most important city of the medieval county Holland. In this post I will look in particular at the rich set of sources in this archive for this period under an interdict, but also at other resources, the historiography about this interdict and at medieval canon law.

This rather long post has five sections. After looking at the character and impact of an interdict the case in Dordrecht comes into view. The third section deals more in general with archival records and the history of archiving in Dordrecht, followed by a section on online records concerning the medieval papacy. In the fifth section you will meet a very active medieval lawyer with a Dutch origin and international connections. At the end I offer some conclusions.

Defining the medieval interdict

The interdict suffers from the far greater fame of another ecclesiastical punishment, excommunication. Excommunicated persons were cut off from the body of the Christian faithful, and the examples of kings facing excommunication made an impression on contemporaries. Elisabeth Vodola’s Excommunication in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, CA, 1986) still is the classic modern study on this subject. Fred Kloek, my own history teacher, wrote a book about papal excommunication and medieval politics, De pauselijke banvloek. Een geestelijk wapen in de middeleeuwse politiek (Amsterdam 1987). He refused to view excommunication as a weapon that became blunt over the centuries. In his view the power of this punishment was initially due to the relative weakness of kings, and thus the popes were able to ensure support from powerful allies, but this balance clearly shifted. Strategies and tactics were different things.

For a definition of the character and impact of an interdict I follow the explanations of Hartmut Zapp in his lemma ‘Interdikt’ for the Lexikon des Mittelalters 5 (1991) col. 466-467. An interdict meant interrupting the administering of the sacraments and a halt to church services (cessatio a divinis). Apart from the interdictum personale the interdictum locale could pertain to entire communities, cities and regions, or just one particular place. It became possible to lessen the harsh impact of an interdict, for example by getting papal dispensation for celebrating mass behind closed doors. Religious orders could receive exemptions from interdicts. Only seldom an interdict led to repentance of culprits. An interdict became increasingly only a nuisance, not an effective spiritual punishment.

Peter Clarke wrote the most recent full-scale study on the interdict, The interdict in the thirteenth century. A question of collective guilt (Oxford, etc., 2007). For the Low Countries an article by Marian de Smet and Paul Trio offers a good starting point, ‘De verhouding tussen Kerk en stad in de Nederlanden in de late Middeleeuwen, onderzocht aan de hand van het interdict ‘, Jaarboek voor Middeleeuwse Geschiedenis 5 (2002) 247-274. In the absence of research for the entire Low Countries De Smet en Trio focused on local and regional cases. Their article helps to see the interdict on Dordrecht in perspective. They disagree with Hartmut Zapp about the diminishing impact of the interdict in the fifteenth century.

Not just one charter

The interdict led on Dordrecht by Jan van Arkel, bishop of Utrecht from 1342 to 1364, came in a period of political strife. After the death of count William IV of Holland in 1345 his sister Margaret, married to emperor Louis of Bavaria, claimed the succession and wanted her son William to act as a governor in her absence. Parties formed quickly around both Margaret and William. During a coup in 1351 William was taken hostage and imposed as the new count. Supporters of Margaret were exiled. This unlashed a chain of events. The influence of aristocratic families, officials of the count and cities with their own interests, and growing interest from other counts and dukes, not to mention the prince-bishops of Utrecht, set the scene for a period of more than a century of endemic conflict between the two parties.

Understanding the meaning of the charters about this interdict and their relations is much helped by the clear paragraph on them in the Geschiedenis van Dordrecht tot 1572, Jan van Herwaarden et alii (eds.) (Dordrecht 1996) 97-101. Innocent VI’s bull of June 2, 1355 states the interdict lasted already thirty months, so it seems to have been inflicted before the end of 1352. Henric Scoutate, a former schepen (échevin), had been excommunicated for murdering three citizens of Dordrecht, among them the bailiff of Dordrecht and another schepen. Henric and his accomplices sought sanctuary at the main parish church, the Grote Kerk, but an outraged mob entered the church and the churchyard and killed them. This shedding of blood was enough reason for bishop Jan van Arkel to place Dordrecht under interdict. Meanwhile the party strife between the supporters of both claimants developed, and on top of that a war started between Holland and Utrecht.

The bull from 1355 is indeed part of an archival context. A quick search for Innocent VI (Etienne Aubert, pope from 1352 to 1362) in the collections of the archive at Dordrecht brings you to the very first archival collection, toegang 1, Stadsarchieven: de grafelijke tijd, 1200-1572, inv.no. 274, the archives of the medieval city Dordrecht. This inventory number contains 24 documents created between 1354 and 1358, mainly charters but also letters, all of them with digitized images; one item contains seven charters. The papal bull is described under inv.no. 274-6. In the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, the portal for charters in the holdings of Dutch archives, you will find currently 90 charters concerning interdicts.

Only one document from the set at Dordrecht, without indication of the year, 1354 according to the inventory, tells us directly something of the moves made by count Willem. In his letter he urged the city Dordrecht to cancel their verdict on two men, Aper Scoutate and his nephew Henric, to be sent on a punitive pilgrimage (no. 274-1). The count said his mother Margaret did not want to let this happen. We can follow the interdict closely only from 1355 onwards. The letter was written in Quesnoy, the main castle of the counts of Hainaut. The medieval notice on the verso is simply wrong. The city empowered on March 27 three men, Johannes de Zeelandia, Petrus de Leeuwenberch and Henric Prijs, one of the four parish priests of Dordrecht, to deal with the bishop to end the interdict (inv.no. 274-2). On the back of this charter you can dimly see some remarks concerning the actions of procuratores – proctors or agents – at the papal curia in Avignon using this mandate when introducing this case. Among the names is a magister Johannes de Cloetinghe, a place in Zeeland. A day later Henric Prijs was promised financial compensation by the city Dordrecht for any trouble with the bishop. He received also a letter of credit for 400 guilders (no. 274-3), but this has only been written on the back of the former document. On May 11, 1355 Petrus Majoris, an auditor causarum in Avignon, confirmed that notwithstanding the delay for an appeal Henric Prijs is allowed to appeal in this case (no. 274-4).

Surely we miss other documents from Avignon of the case, but in three letters Henric Prijs told in 1355 something about his troubles and matters around the legal conflict, in particular in his letter sent on May 22 (inv.no. 274-5). Gerard van der Veen, the chancellor of Jan van Arkel, was in Avignon and gave to the cardinael van Bolongen 2000 guilders to act on his behalf. This cardinal was in some way a relation of the count of Holland. Guy de Boulogne (1313-1373) was indeed one of the most important cardinals with many connections. Prijs also noted that Ricardus de Anglia, the second advocatus of the Dordrecht case, had a positive attitude towards Maud (Matilda, Machteld) of Lancaster, the spouse of count Willem V. Henric’s letter of credit had not been accepted, and therefore he begged the eldermen for another one from the Lombards or caoursins in Dordrecht. Henric Prijs seems to have perceived rather quickly the importance of (political) connections and the way things worked in and around the papal curia.

On June 8, 1355 Prijs announced the bull in which the bishop of Cambrai will act as a iudex delegatus (no. 274-7). A month later (July 8) he complained about magister Johannes de Zelandia, the other advocatus who took thirty écus from him (no. 274-8). This letter seems to indicate also some of the tariffs for actions and acts at the papal curia. In yet another letter without a date Henric repeats his plea to send him money (no. 274-9). On August 12 Petrus Maioris, the auditor causarum, confirms the protest of Henric Prijs and the three other parish priests (Wilhelmus de Lantscroene, Wigger Gerardi and Johannes de Tympel) against the accusations of the representatives of Jan van Arkel on May 15 (274-10). On August 15, 1355 bishop Peter of Cambrai [Pierre d’André] sealed two charters, one addressed to Ludolphus Abolensis, clearly a kind of auxiliary bishop, and the other to Jan van Arkel, with the text of Innocent VI’s bull (nos. 274-11 and 12).

A procedural note about the relaxation of the interdict - Ra Dordrecht, toegang I, Stadsarchief 1200-1572, no. 274-14

A legal consultation about the relaxation of the interdict – Regionaal Archief Dordrecht, toegang I, Stadsarchief 1200-1572, no. 274-14

Below I will tell you about editions of the majority of these texts, but I can already show here an unedited text which sheds some light on the use of canon law in this conflict. No. 274-14 is an undated note with a splendid number of abbreviated words, fit for any examination in medieval palaeography! Halfway the text a decretal is mentioned, de offi. del. li.vi, pointing to the Liber Sextus (VI. I.14, the title De officio iudicis delegati). Does it read ix after decretalis or scilicet? This text ends with the conclusion the bishop of Utrecht would have to start a new procedure that could start only in the papal consistory. At the end it also becomes clear Ludolphus Abolensis wrote a consilium to this effect which is joined here by an anonymous lawyer.

Seal of Ludolfus Abolensis

The seal of frater Ludolfus episcopus Abolensis – RA Dordrecht, Stadsarchief 1200-1572, inv.no. 274-17

It is not clear for which diocese Ludolphus Abolensis was the bishop. J.F.AN. Weijling, Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van de wijbisschoppen van Utrecht tot 1580 (diss. Nijmegen; Utrecht 1951; online, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) mentions him as a bishop who just happened to be in the diocese Utrecht (pp. 185-186). On September 29, 1355, he signed a charter in which he announced in Dordrecht the lifting of the interdict (inv.no. 274-15). A few weeks later he reassured the city this relaxation was effective notwithstanding any action of the bishop of Utrecht (1355 October 14, inv.no. 274-17). Meanwhile the city had already asked another priest, heer Arent, den grauwen priester, probably a Cistercian monk, to go to Avignon to instruct Henric Prijs to ask for the absolution of the perpetrators of the murders in the church (1355 October 7, inv.no. 274-16). No. 274-21 is a copy of a papal letter dated January 6, 1356 to the abbot of the Norbertine abbey Mariënweerd whom Innocent VI ordered to view the earlier bull as null and void after a successful complaint by the bishop of Utrecht about the lifting of his interdict. This letter tells us the names of the three murdered victims, taken from the 1355 bull. At the back of this document is a letter dated May 5, 1356, by Johannes de Zelandia who wrote to the city of Dordrecht he thinks this papal letter is per se legally sound, but he will continue to get the interdict lifted. On the same day Petrus de Leeuwenberch, too, wrote to the city of Dordrecht about the actions by the bishop of Utrecht to cancel the relaxation of the interdict (inv.no. 274-22). According to this letter the cardinalis Boloniensis helped very much to reverse the earlier lifting of the interdict.

For brevity’s sake I would have skipped the three charters of Francesco degli Atti, bishop of Florence, to the city Dordrecht and the dean of Geertruidenberg (nos. 274-18 to 20) about the absolution for citizens of Dordrecht, but it is interesting to note how this bishop refers thrice to the fact he acts as a vice-regens for cardinal Aegidius, Gil Albornoz (1310-1367), clearly the most important cardinal in this period. Almost at the end stands the set of seven transfixed charters, with as the main document the foundation of a chapel at the Grote Kerk by Aper and Henric Scoutate (inv.no. 274-23, 1356 May 10). In my view it seems this could well be the new gesture of reconciliation replacing the earlier pilgrimage. The very last document concerning the interdict is a charter issued by bishop Jan van Arkel and Henricus Mierlaer, archdeacon of Utrecht and provost of the St. Martin’s cathedral in Utrecht, on December 6, 1358 (inv.no. 274-24) announcing finally the end of his interdict. In this very short charter all attention should go to the words about dilectus noster consanguineus Arnoldus de Iselsteyn, a nephew of the bishop who had been the bailiff of the city Amersfoort and keeper of the castle Stoutenburg. Earlier Arnoud of IJsselstein, related to the mighty Van Amstel family, had been involved in financing the policies of his uncle. In 1358 he was a counsellor of count Willem. By the way, mental illness ended count Willem’s short reign.

Searching archival records in Dordrecht

Among the Topstukken [Highlights] at Dordrecht are more documents concerning legal matters, You can look at a charter from 1299 confirming the stapelrecht of Dordrecht which ensured traders had to unload their freights and bring them to the market before continuing their voyages, and at a manuscript from 1525 with municipal ordinances (keuren). For each item a short essay has been added explaining its meaning and importance. However, for these two items and for the 1355 bull no reference is given to the specific fonds or archival collection, as if nobody seeing these documents and reading the essays would want to see them in their archival context.

The set of charters and letters about the interdict at Dordrecht is without any doubt the largest surviving one in the Netherlands. Jacob van Oudenhoven noted them in his Oudt ende nieuw Dordrecht (…) (Haarlem: Vermerck, 1666; online, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna) 357-359 as a part of the official inventory made in 1649 of the records in the IJzeren Kast, the iron chest with city records (pp. 339-367). P.H. van de Wall published the bull in his edition of sources concerning Dordecht, Handvesten, privilegiën (…) der stad Dordrecht (3 vol., Dordrecht: Van Braam, 1770-1777; 2nd ed., Dordrecht: Van Braam, 1790; vol. 1, online, Delpher) 247-249. In his opinion it was not necessary to publish other documents about this case because the case was well known. He mentioned drawer Q where this and other documents were kept, and noted in particular only a charter of September 29, 1355 (Q.12) in which the bishop of Cambrai lifted the interdict (inv. 274-15).

Theologian Guillaume Henri Marie Delprat (1791-1871) was the first to write again at length about this set of documents. He published the majority of them in his article ‘Dordrecht onder kerkelijk interdict, 1352-1356’, Kerkhistorisch Archief 3 (1862) 1-64 [online, Internet Archive]. Delprat did not edit the papal bull, but only referred to Van de Wall, because large parts of the papal bull are repeated in another document (no. XVII). Delprat was a pioneer of research into the fourteenth-century religious movement of the Devotio Moderna. In the same journal he published an article about another interdict, ‘Het bisdom Utrecht en het graafschap Holland onder kerkelijken ban in de jaren 1280 tot 1283’, Kerkhistorisch Archief 3 (1862) 321-397. In both articles Delprat looked at the history of the interdict and at other cases in medieval Europe.

The city archives of Dordrecht have rich holdings and a long history, charted by P.J. Horsman in his study Abuysen ende desordiën : archiefvorming en archivering in Dordrecht, 1200-1920 [Abuses and disorder: the formation of archives and archiving in Dordrecht, 1200-1920] (PhD thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2009; online). The oldest surviving medieval municipal accounts from the Northern Low Countries stem from Dordrecht. In the inventory by P. van den Brandeler, Inventaris van het archief der gemeente Dordrecht (3 vol., Dordrecht, 1862-1869; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library) the documents about this interdict had been placed in a separate rubric (I, 56-63) with twenty items. Van den Brandeler gave also the old signatures for these documents, most of them kept in the Iron Chest, and he referred when possible to the edition by Delprat. The inventory by J.L. van Dalen, Inventaris van het archief der gemeente Dordrecht (2 vol., Dordrecht 1909-1912) is basically still in use and searchable online in the search system of the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht, last edited in 2014. The references to Delprat have not been included in the descriptions. The current finding aid gives the documents concerning the interdict in chronological order. Horsman tells specifically Van Dalen added to each item the number given by Van den Brandeler and the old signatures. In my view references to editions are meta-data which enrich a finding aid. On closer inspection these references have been assembled by Van Dalen in the regestenlijst in the second volume of his inventory. These regesten give one-line summaries of the juridical content of documents in chronological order.

Photo of J.L. van Dalen at website Regionaal Archief Dordrecht

Jan Leendert van Dalen (1864-1936) is the man sitting at his desk shown on an image at the website of the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht. He wrote twice at some length about the interdict on Dordrecht. In his book on the history of the Grote Kerk [De Groote Kerk (Onze Lieve Vrouwenkerk) te Dordrecht (Dordrecht 1927; online, Delpher] he discussed the affair (pp. 30-34) and he gave the text of the four letters by Henric Prijs [inv.no. 275-5 to 8, pp. 171-174], followed by summaries of the pieces not published by Delprat. Perhaps this explained his somewhat fatigued tone in the second volume of his history of Dordrecht a few years later [Geschiedenis van Dordrecht (2 vol., Dordrecht 1931-1933; vol. I, vol. II, Delpher]. Van Dalen devoted just one paragraph (II, 687) to the interdict in a distinctly tired tone, as if already all that could be said had been written. Perhaps he was thinking about the study by G.D.J. Schotel, Een keizerlijk, stadhouderlijk en koninklijk bezoek in de O.L. Vrouwe-Kerk te Dordrecht (Amsterdam 1859; reprint Schiedam 1987; online, The Memory of the Netherlands) where you can find editions of five documents (pp. 94-98). Four of them had just been published by Delprat. In the fifth document Schotel succeeded in missing twice a crucial word, and his indications of gaps are wilfull. Before I saw his edition I had already transcribed this document, the letter of count William, and you will find it in an appendix to this post.

It is ironical to see how Van de Wall not only edited the bull, but gave its exact signature in the IJzeren Kast (Q.5), how Delprat omitted it in his edition, and how Van Dalen put his references into regesten, as a kind of end notes. At that time it was a longstanding tradition for Dutch archivists to create such short summaries which focused on the legal actions documented in archival records. If you think this is too much irony, you should ponder the sentence in the accompanying essay on the website of the archive at Dordrecht stating the papal bull should have been returned to the diocesan archive of Cambrai, because this bishop was ordered by pope Innocent VI to lift the interdict. The information has been condensed from the volume of essays about the archives of Dordrecht, Van ijzeren kast tot hamam. Topstukken uit het archief van Dordrecht, Jan Alleblas et alii (eds.) (Zwolle-Dordrecht 2011), with on pp. 23-24 the papal document, and on pp. 10-11 an article about the Iron Chest.

Papal records

Whatever you think about the chequered history of these records in Dordrecht, you will have to consider also I could at the moment of writing not visit a library to consult a number of important resources. I had no access to a copy of the Suppliques d’Innocent VI (1352-1362), U. Berlière (ed.) (Rome 1911; Analecta Vaticano-Belgica, V) nor to the Lettres d’Innocent VI (1352-1362), G. Despy (ed.) (Brussels, etc., 1953; Analecta Vaticano-Belgica, XVII, 1) or Innocent VI (1352 – 1362). Lettres secrètes et curiales, publiées d’aprés les registres des Archives Vaticanes, Pierre Gasnault, M.H. Laurent, Nicole Gotteri (eds.) (5 vol., Paris 1958-2006). Through the services of the bibliographic database of the Regesta Imperii you can quickly consult online the entry for Innocent VI by Pierre Gasnault for the Dizionario Biografico Treccani (2004).

Thus finding online resources was not just a question for the resources of the Regionaal Archief Dordrecht, a regional archive because it holds also archival collections of other cities and villages around Dordrecht, but also for finding access to more general sources and editions, in particular for papal documents. I could not access the database Ut per litteras apostolicas which covers the editions of medieval papal registers, nor did I have access to CD-ROM’s with images of these registers. An article by Yves Renouard, ‘Les minutes d’Innocent VI au Vatican’, Archivi d’Italia e rassegna internazionale degli archivi 2 (1935) 12-26 – online, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome – taught me an object lesson how difficult it is to approach the papal registers from the period in Avignon. Even having them in front of you does not make things a straightforward task, because acts of Innocent VI have been mixed with those of other popes.

You can find digitized images of Van Dalen’s regesten within collection 131, Archiefdienst van de gemeente Dordrecht, inv.no. 1851, the archival collection of the archival service at Dordrecht. In my view they would become more useful when added as an appendix to finding aid 1 for the early municipal records until 1572. I created a concordance between the works of Van den Brandeler, the old signatures in the IJzeren Kast, Delprat’s edition, Van Dalen’s inventory and his regesten. Among the digitized resources which I could use is the Bullarium Trajectense for papal charters until 1378 concerning the medieval diocese Utrecht, edited by Gisbert Brom (2 vol., The Hague 1891-1896; online, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, vol. I and II). Brom, Bullarium, no. 1548, gives a summary of the charter of January 6, 1356 (inv.no. 274-21) registered in Reg. Av. t. 12, fol. 534. The bull of 1355 is summarized in Brom, Bullarium, no. 1533 (p. II, 71), present in Reg. Av. t. 11, fol. 496v.

It would have been wonderful to use also the riches of the Repertorium Germanicum, but this resource starts only for the period from 1378 onwards. However, with some luck I could use an edition of supplications to the pope from the diocese of Utrecht in the fourteenth century. The edition of Supplieken gericht aan de pausen Clemens VI, Innocentius VI en Urbanus V, 1342-1366, R.R. Post (ed.) (‘s-Gravenhage 1937) has not yet been digitized, but it appeared also in the journal Archief voor de geschiedenis van het Aartsbisdom Utrecht 60 (1936) and 61 (1937), accessible at the Trajecta Portal for Belgian and Dutch ecclesiastical history.

Some supplications give you reason to think they did came into existence with a particular background, or they contain precious information about some persons. Wigger Gerards was a parish priest in Dordrecht, but also a chaplain of count William V [Post, no. 19 = Brom I, no. 1058 and Berlière I, 302, 1343 February 10]. Nicolaas de Stuyc from Dordrecht, a canon of the cathedral chapter in Utrecht acted in 1355 as a messenger for the clergy of the diocese Utrecht at the papal curia [Post, no. 14, 1342 Oct. 16 = Berlière I, no 251, and Post no. 458, 1355 Nov. 9 = Berlière II, no. 724]. He had been a counsellor of countess Johanna of Brabant who was married to William IV of Holland [1349 March 26, Post, no. 213 = Berlière I, no. 1537]. Peter van Leeuwenberch was a baccalareus in canonibus and dean of St. Mary’s chapter, Utrecht [Brom, II, no. 1465, 1353 Feb. 6]. Chancellor Gerard de Veno comes into view in the supplications, too. Post noted he obtained numerous canonries during his career, starting in 1347 with a canonry of the cathedral chapter in Utrecht [Post, no. 153, 1347 July 3]. Johannes de Zelandia is first mentioned as a legum doctor and iudex curie vestre temporalis civitatis Avinionensis [Post, no. 502, 1358 April 6], and slightly later also as a vestri sacri palatii advocatus [Post, no. 506, 1358 May 22]. In a later request he used also the title advocatus fiscalis [Post, no. 523, 1359 Jan. 26]. In this request he tried to obtain a canonry at the St. Peter’s chapter in Utrecht for his brother Wisso, a cleric in Zierikzee, a town in the province Zeeland.

Not only priests did ask favors from the popes. On December 10, 1353, Margaret, duchess of Hainaut, received papal permission to have masses read in locis interdictis and the same day she gets also permission to enter cloisters with six women, to be able to have mass celebrated before sunrise, and to use a portable altar [Post no. 413 = Berlière II, no. 371; Brom, II, nos. 1494-1497]. The duchess clearly reckoned it would be wise to be prepared encountering interdicts anywhere. William V and his wife Maud of Lancaster, and John of Blois, too, requested only much later a similar permission [Post, nos. 473-474, 1357 April 30].

Some older source editions and studies relevant for the papacy at Avignon have been digitized, too. Among them are works such as Die päpstlichen Kollektorien in Deutschland während des XIV. Jahrhunderts, Johann Peter Kirsch (ed.) (Paderborn 1894; online, Internet Archive) and Claude Faure, Étude sur l’administration et l’histoire du Comtat Venaissin du XIIIe au XVe siècle (1229-1417) (Paris-Avignon 1909; online, Gallica). Most instructive is also a formulary with models for supplications created by a papal procurator from Hamburg working at Avignon, Das Formelbuch des Heinrich Bucglant. An die päpstliche Kurie in Avignon gerichtete Suppliken aus der ersten Hälfte des 14. Jahrhunderts (…), Jakob Schwalm (ed.) (Hamburg 1910; online, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Hamburg). As for late medieval accounts, you might want to look at digitized accounts from four French regions and the papacy at Avignon in the project Ressources comptables en Dauphiné, Provence, Savoie et Venaissin (XIIIe-XVe siècle) with for example seven registers Introitus et Exitus of the Camera Apostolica between 1334 and 1342 held at the Archivo Apostolico Vaticano. I mention some of these resource on purpose, because they figure also in a most interesting article which provides crucial clues in the next section. The relevant chapters and the select bibliography in the History of courts and procedure in medieval canon law, Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (eds.) (Washington, DC, 2016) are of course the first place to look for more resources.

Back of document 274-2

The note on the verso of the mandate issued by the city Dordrecht, May 27, 1355 – RA Dordrecht, Stadsarchief 1200-1572, inv.no. 274-2 (enlarged and contrast enhanced)

In view of the large number of documents concerning this case edited by Delprat it seems only natural to supply here transcriptions of those documents that have not yet been published. I decided to edit the papal bull of 1355, after all the very document which prompted my investigations, and three other documents, the letter of count Willem, the short legal consultation and the charter of the bishop of Utrecht that ended the interdict in 1358. I hesitated to edit also the rather long letter with the mandate for the agents of the city Dordrecht (inv.no 274-2), but perhaps I had better leave something to do for others, too! For those wanting to start I placed here an enlarged and sharpened image of the notes made in Avignon on the verso of the mandate as an invitation to look at the documents yourself.

Focusing on Johannes de Zelandia

One person in the Dordrecht documents, magister Johannes de Zelandia, stands out for his functions and legal degree. While contemplating his faits et gestes I could luckily use a scanned version at the website of the MGH in Munich of an article by Knut Schulz, ‘Bemerkungen zu zwei deutschen Juristen im Umfeld des päpstlichen Hofes in Avignon im 14. Jahrhundert. Johannes Henrici (von Seeland) und Wilhelm Horborch’, in: Formen internationaler Beziehungen in der Frühen Neuzeit. Frankreich und das Alte Reich im europäischen Staatensystem. Festschrift für Klaus Malettke zum 65. Geburtstag, Sven Externbrink and Jörg Ulbert (eds.) (Berlin 2001) 159-178. The complaints by Henric Prijs about Johannes’ need for money have some ground indeed. Johannes not only reached high offices, but later on possessed several houses in Cologne. Schulz thought there was no biographical notice about Johannes, but in fact there is a very short notice “Henrici (Johannes)” by J. van Kuyk in the Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek III (Leiden 1914; online, Huygens Institute for Dutch History) col. 579. The article of L.Ph.C. van den Bergh, ‘Aanteekeningen over de geschiedenis der advocatuur in Holland’, Nieuwe Bijdragen voor Regtsgeleerdheid en Wetgeving 5 (1855) 486-505, is from 1855, not 1885 as wrongly indicated by Van Kuyk [online, Hathi Trust]. Van den Bergh mentioned Johannes just once (p. 489), and I will come back to this reference.

Schulz doubts rightly whether Johannes was an auditor sacri palatii. Post records one request presenting him as a vestri sacri palatii advocatus [Post, no 506, 1358 May 22]. In one of the documents in Dordrecht Johannes calls himself in Romana curia advocatus [inv.no. 274-21, 1355 May]. Schulz shows him foremost as one of the procuratores at the curia for the city Hamburg, in particular for an interdict case richly documented in the edition of sources by Richard Salomon and Jürgen Reetz (eds.), Rat und Domkapitel von Hamburg um die Mitte des 14. Jahrhunderts (3 vol., Hamburg 1968-1975). You can read the accounts of the Hamburg agents with payments to Johannes online in the edition of Th. Schrader, Die Rechnungsbücher der hamburgischen Gesandten in Avignon 1338 bis 1355 (Leipzig 1907; online, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg). In a safe conduct issued in 1359 Johannes is mentioned as a legum doctor and causarum fiscalium patronus [Brom, Bullarium II, no. 1624, 1359 June 20]. With three other lawyers he contributed a legal consultation on a conflict between the clerics and the city of Speyer in 1373, and here, too, he is a sacri pallacii apostolici advocatus. I could trace not only the manuscript Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 277 Helmst., fol. 211r-213v, but you can even look online at his consultation in another manuscript, Frankfurt am Main, Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek, Ms. Praed. 88, fol. 34r-36v. Schulz noted Johannes became in 1357 with four other magistri at the curia an advocatus for the dean and chapter of Trier. Among them was a Richardus de Anglia who earlier on had acted also for Dordrecht. The image of the papal curia as a busy beehive where people circled around the pope and cardinals for their favor and money comes readily to your mind. The multiple tasks and charges, and the money coming with them, give his note “Vester totus”, yours truly or literally “completely of you”, in his letter of May 5, 1356 to the city of Dordrecht a hollow ring [inv.no. 274-21].

Schulz’s main scoop was the rediscovery of an article by Léon-Honoré Labande, ‘Liquidation de la succession d’un magistrat pontifical du XIVe siècle, l’Allemand Jean Heinrich (1375-1376)’, Annales d’Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin 1 (1912) 177-199 [online, fascicule 2 and fascicule 3, Gallica]. Labande edited the last will of Johannes de Zelandia; unfortunately only half its text has been preserved. A charter published in the Oorkondenboek van Groningen en Drenthe, P.J. Blok et alii (eds.) (2 vol., Groningen 1896-1899), searchable at Cartago, mentioned Johannes with the nickname dicto Lalaman, which definitively sounds as a phonetic rendition of the word l’allemand. No. 458 (1358 May 14) contains a verdict in a case heard by Petrus Majoristhe auditor sacri palatii we already met, concerning Gerardus de Veno, yet another figure in the documents at Dordrecht, who had to surrender his income from a prebend in Groningen. The first witness to this charter is our Johannes de Zelandia, in Romana curia advocatus. In his will Johannes donated his manuscript of the Lectura Codicis by Cino da Pistoia to another lawyer, Pons de Lagnes (Lecturam Chini super Codice, Labande, p. 185).

Johannes de Zelandia was also twice a temporal judge for the city Avignon. In an article by Louis Duval-Arnould, ‘Les registres de la Cour temporelle d’Avignon à la Bibliothèque Vaticane (Vat. lat. 14761-14781)‘, Mélanges de l’école française de Rome 92 (1980) 289-324, he is signalled as Johannes Henrici Alamanni in 1359 and 1375, the last year of his life. The manuscript Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 14774 (description), documents his activity in 1375. In the same issue of this journal Jacques Chiffoleau, too, mentioned Jean de Zélande in a paragraph on the wide variety in background and the difficulties to retrace people at Avignon [‘La violence au quotidien. Avignon au XIVe siècle d’après les registres de la Cour temporelle’, MEFR 92-2 (1980) 325-371, at 330].

Foto van Janskerkhof 18, Utrecht - foto: D.C. Goosen, Het Utrechts Archief, 2011

The former claustral house Janskerkhof 18 – image: Het Utrechts Archief, cat.no 819349, photo by Dick Goosen, 2011

Much to my surprise Samuel Muller Fzn., the famous archivist at Utrecht, wrote a century ago about a claustral house of the St. John’s chapter in Utrecht sold to meester Jan van Zeeland in 1364 [S. Muller Fzn., Over claustraliteit: bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van den grondeigendom in de middeleeuwsche steden (Amsterdam 1890; Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, vol. 19; online, Internet Archive) 137 [scan no. 328]; Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief, toegang 222, Kapittel van St. Jan, inv.no. 135-4, 1364 Aug. 31]. Muller supposed Johannes was a lay person. The collegial chapter of St. John’s wanted Johannes to act as their advocatus. Thanks to the study about the jurisdiction on immovable property in the medieval city Utrecht by Martin de Bruijn, Husinghe ende hofstede. Een institutioneel-geografische studie van de rechtspraak over onroerend goed in de stad Utrecht in de middeleeuwen (Utrecht 1994) 194, we can even identify this house at the present Janskerkhof square no. 18, located somewhat backwards.

It would not help to bring together here all possible bits of information about Johannes de Zelandia, but some of them make you think again about this most interesting figure. Labande shows for example he was married to Amantia. If you think he was only active in Avignon in these years, the safe conduct I mentioned points in another direction. You will be less surprised by a charter from 1356 showing Johannes Heynrici de Zelandia at the abbey of Egmond, an institution under the protection of the counts of Holland [Haarlem, Noord-Hollands Archief, toegang 356, Abdij van Egmond, inv.no. 127 (1356 Dec. 17)]. This charter was copied into a cartulary (inv.no. 3, fol. 67v), a thing noted only in a regest (no. 367). It has not been included in the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, because the description is only given in a regest. It is the very document Van den Bergh noticed in 1855 in the Egmond cartulary. Johannes acted as the procurator of this abbey, too. Brom recorded him paying in 1357 for abbot Hugo the yearly sum to the papacy [Brom, Bullarium II, p. XXXVIII, also in G. Brom (ed.), Archivalia in Italië belangrijk voor de geschiedenis van Nederland I.1 (The Hague 1908); online, Huygens Instituut for Dutch History) p. 389, no. 1092].

Robert Fruin, the founding father of Dutch historiography in the nineteenth century, mentioned him appearing in an account of the counts of Holland in 1356 [R. Fruin, Verspreide geschriften I, P.J. Blok, S. Muller Fzn. and P.L. Muller (eds.) (The Hague 1900; online, Internet Archive) 137]: Item gegeven Meester Philips van Leyden voor sinen cost, die hi dede tutrecht met Meester Jan van Zeeland om den zoene te verclaren . . . , “given to master Philips of Leyden for his costs when was at Utrecht with master Jan of Zeeland to explain the reconciliation” [The Hague, Nationaal Archief, toegang 3.01.01, Graven van Holland, registers inv.no. 221, EL 22, fol. 64, and inv.no. 223, EL 27, fol. 100]. Philips of Leyden (1326/27-1382) is famous for his treatise on the care for the common good and the power of princes, De cura reipublicae et sorte principantis, first published in 1516. I searched in vain for any reference to the interdict for Dordrecht in his work. The reconciliation is surely the one between count Willem V and the bishop of Utrecht. Anyway, it shows Johannes again in action within the diocese of Utrecht. In 1357 Philips was sent to Avignon as an ambassador for count Willem.

Apart from a lack of access to archival records and printed editions, I had to find out things without the help of the most important scholarly literature. Two fairly recent volumes concerning the papacy in Avignon are accessible in open access, Offices et papauté (XIVe-XVIIe siècle) (Rome 2005; online, Open Edition) and Offices, écrits et papauté (XIIIe-XVIIe siècle) (Rome 2007; online, Open Edition), both edited by Armand Jamme et Olivier Poncet, provide very interesting articles and also a number of lists of functionaries for a good deal exactly at Avignon during the fourteenth century.

As for Dutch sources I acutely felt the need to look at accounts of the counts of Holland. The editions by H.G. Hamaker, De rekeningen der grafelijkheid van Holland onder het Henegeouwsche huis (3 vol., Utrecht 1875-1878) cover mainly the first half of the fourteenth century. The sequel edited by H.J. Smit, De rekeningen der graven en gravinnen uit het Henegouwsche huis (3 vol., Utrecht 1924-1939) is not available online. I could check one relevant volume of other accounts, De rekeningen van de grafelijkheid van Holland uit de Beierse periode, I, De hofrekeningen en de dijkgraafsrekeningen van de Grote Waard, I: 1358-1361, D.E.H. de Boer and J.W. Marsilje (eds.) (The Hague 1997; online, Huygens Institute for Dutch History). It would expand this post too much to give here a survey of relevant digitized sources at the portal of the Huygens Institute. I looked rather closely at some of them, but to no avail. However, you can benefit form the digitized guide by M.J. van Gent and M.-Ch. Le Bailly, Gids voor de landsheerlijke archieven van Gelre, Holland, Zeeland en het Sticht. Bestuurlijke, economische en sociale geschiedenis vóór 1500 (The Hague 2003).

Local history and European history

The Dordrecht city archivist Van Dalen was decidedly a man doing local history. Despite its great length my post has indeed the purpose of showing wider connections which come together at a particular place in a particular period. While researching this post I was also reading the Wereldgeschiedenis van Nederland, edited by Lex Heerma van Voss and others for the Huygens Institute for Dutch History (Amsterdam 2018). The aim of this book to show world history inside the history of one country holds a strong appeal for anyone who likes to transcend the borders of your usual territory. I am woefully aware that my foray into papal history has been hampered by not having access to a number of vital printed editions and modern works about the papal curia in Avignon, and I could not investigate other persons and subjects sufficiently. I would dearly want to check relevant registers and accounts of the counts of Holland at the Dutch national archives (Nationaal Archief, toegang 3.01.01, Graven van Holland) and similar sources for the bishops of Utrecht held at Het Utrechts Archief (toegang 218-1, Bisschoppen van Utrecht), even if the period 1340 to 1380 is only partially covered in the latter.

A significant catch in this post is insight in the way regests can both be helpful and most irritating. Putting information about document both in descriptions and in regests goes against the principle of a single point of definition. When the regests are not clearly and actually connected to the documents they describe, and in the case of a digital finding aid, literally and preferably linked directly and correctly to each other, you can miss crucial information. When you check for example for the abbey of Egmond the charters of this abbey held at the Noord-Hollands Archief Haarlem in the Digitale Charterbank Nederland you will find 811 charters in this database, but the regestenlijst added to finding aid 356 contains some 1,550 summaries. If this random example is only one occurrence of a serious problem, this database needs serious tuning and updating. In some cases rather old regesten currently get a new lease of life, even as additions to refurbished and reorganized inventories, but this cannot be done properly by just copying and pasting. The problem with these old summaries is not their focus on legal matters, but the way they can form a second information layer which should be consistently connected to finding aids and the items within them. The example of the regesten in Dordrecht surviving as part of another collection is rather extreme.

Originally I had planned a rather concise post with just some notes on an interesting papal bull, but the documents around it contain much more than had surfaced until now. The paragraph on Johannes de Zelandia became almost an independent post, but I decided to put it right in the centre of this contribution. Johannes was not just a proctor for one particular case. He put his mouth where the money was, in Trier and Hamburg among other places, and he did have other important functions as well. His possessions included houses in the Provence, in Cologne and Utrecht. The variant versions and spellings of his name and his nickname make him difficult to trace. Nearly forty years ago Wybe Jappe Alberts wrote an article ‘Tussen Keulen en Parijs. Overpeinzingen bij vijftig jaren bisdomgeschiedenis’, Jaarboek Oud-Utrecht 1981, pp. 26-34 [online, Utrecht University Repository], where he looked at the importance for Utrecht of the archbishops of Cologne in the first half of the fourteenth century. Between Cologne and Paris runs the road to Avignon and Rome. This post shows some rather curved parts of that road, and some of the wider views you might encounter. It is definitely possible to view a local interdict in a much wider context.

A postscript

I would like to point here to the bibliography on medieval ecclesiastical punishments at the blog FULMEN: Excommunication et autres censures spirituelles de l’Anqituité à nos jours.

As a fruit of ongoing digitization of manuscripts in the digital Vatican Library the register (latarium) Vat. lat. 14774 has now been digitized, too. From f. 35v onwards in this register Johannes Henrici Alamani acted for a brief period as a temporal judge in Avignon.

The Nationaal Archief in The Hague has in the archival collection 3.01.01, Graven van Holland, inv.no. 670, a charter with the confirmation by the city Dordrecht of count William’s verdict on the manslaughter by Hendrik Scoutate (1356, November 10), also recorded in register inv.no. 223 (EL 27), fol. 18v, item no. 46.

A bit earlier than the formulary of Heinrich Bucglant is the one covering the years 1308 to 1338 edited by Barbara Bombi, Il registro di Andrea Sapiti, procuratore alla curia avignonese (Rome 2007). Sapiti was a procurator for the English king.

Searching digitized Dutch archival collections

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

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

Visible and hidden treasures

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

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

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

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

Logo Dutch Digital Heritage Network

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

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

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

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

Mapping digitized archives

Logo ICA

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

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

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

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

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

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

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

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

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

And now…

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

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

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

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

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

An addition

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

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

An update

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

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

Seals as signs and objects of medieval legal history

Earlier this year I looked here at the portal Medieval Digital Resources, and even though I did not mention them, I looked there for the presence of particular telling objects. When I discussed here in January a new project concerning charters in Dutch archives one of the questions about this database is the visibility of and attention to seals. Lately I noticed there is a substantial number of recent projects around medieval seals. Two recent publications help to view seals in a larger setting than your might suppose at first sight. Seals represent also legal power, and the images on seals should have a niche in the field of legal iconography.

Seals make connections

Seal of the Roman King William, 1252 - Utrecht, HUA, Stadsbestuur 1122-1577, no. 47

Seal of the Roman king William at a charter for the city Utrecht, 1252 June 18 (OSU III, no. 1261; OHZ II, no. 931; MGH Dipl., Heinrich von Raspe und Wilhelm von Holland, no. 281) – Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief, collection 701, Stadsbestuur van Utrecht 1122-1577, inv.no. 47

Searching for a fitting image for this post I decided to put here an image of a seal fixed to a charter held at Utrecht by Het Utrechts Archief. The seal shown shows the figure of count William II of Holland, the only Dutch Roman king (1248-1256). A quick search in the Digitale Charterbank Nederland brings you at first to some twenty charters issued by William, only nine of them with images. In a few cases his seal has been disfigured by the way it was fixed to the charter. William’s charters figure in the oorkondenboeken for the diocese Utrecht and the county Holland, the critical editions of charters for these regions, and they have been edited by Dieter Hägermann, Jaap Kruisheer and Alfred Gawlik, Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelm von Holland 1246-1256 (MGH Diplomata, Die Urkunden der deutsche Könige und Kaiser, 18; 2 vol., Hannover 1989-2006).

Let’s turn to the two new books. The book edited by Laura Whatley, A companion to seals in the Middle Ages (Leiden 2019) is actually a volume of essays on several themes around and with seals. Its price can seem formidable. In the same series Reading Medieval Sources appeared in 2019 a volume on Money and coinage in the Middle Ages, Rory Naismith (ed.) (Leiden: Brill, 2019) which can be viewed online in open access.

The second book to mention here is the volume Seals – Making and Marking Connections across the Medieval World, Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, (Leeds: ARC Humanities Press, 2019), available in hardprint and as an e-book. This book, too, comes at a very substantial prize. However, you can download the introduction.

Logo Sigillvm network

Instead of speculating about the policies behind the prizes of these works it is perhaps wiser to start with a tour of websites devoted to medieval seals. The presence of the international network SIGILLVM is a natural point of departure. This website provides basic information about research before and after 1800. In fact there is a concise PDF by Brigitte Bedos-Rezak on research perspectives. There is a section about collections of seals in archives and museums and also a section for seals created by individual persons.

The Sigillvm network does not provide a section with web links. The number of blogs about seals is a surprise. I might as well start with projects and websites in France. At the ARCHIM portal, the showcase of the French national archives, is a section with seals from Burgundy. The Bibliothèque nationale de France has created the blog Trésors de cire [Treasures in wax] where you can find among others things bibliographies about the conservation and restauration of medieval seals. In the Sigilla database you can find digital images of seals in French collections. The database can be searched for themes such as seals of for example Cistercians, the corporations of Bruges and the bishops of Paris, and for major collections, including those with seal impressions and casts of seals. SigiAl is a blog dealing with seals in the Alsace and Upper Rhine regions, territories with a place both in French and German history.

In Germany you might start with having a look at the Siegelblog with the subtitel Sphragistik als historische Hilfswissenschaft, sigilography as a historica auxiliairy science. The blog Verkörperung kommunaler Identität [Embodiment of communal identity] brings you clearly into the fields of legal history. Seals held at the Stadtarchiv Speyer are the focal point, and in particular the impressions made by fingers on the back of seals. Some seals have another seal on the back, but the beautiful seal of the city Speyer showing the mighty cathedral show also fingerprints. We will follow this track later on. Christian Lohmer has created a digital collection of casts held at the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, mainly for seals of German kings, emperors and princes. The digital collection links as far as possible for each seal to the work of Otto Posse, Die Siegel der Deutschen Kaiser und Könige (5 vol., Dresden 1909-1913), digitized at Göttingen. The Historische Kommission für Niedersachsen und Bremen has created a database for the Welfensiegel, the seals of the House of Welf, one of the oldest still existing aristocratic families in Europe. The database contains currently some 1,450 seals.

From Austria comes the project Siegel der Bischöfe der Salzburger Metropole [Seals of the bishops under the metropolitan see of Salzburg], a title meaning seals of the bishops within the archdiocese Salzburg and the archbishop himself, too. Thus you will find seals from the dioceses Gurk, Chiemsee, Seckau, Lavant, Innsbruck and Feldkirch, all in all some 750 seals.

Among the projects from the United Kingdom the Imprint Project clearly beckons for attention. This project aims at studying the fingerprints in multiple perspectives. They show not only the process of sealing charters, but also the ritual side of signing. The history of using fingerprints for identification and the development of methods for data capture are addressed by the project team. You can follow its activity also on the aptly named blog First Impressions. Durham University has created both a virtual exhibition about seals of Durham Cathedral and a catalogue for medieval seals with digitized images. While writing this post I looked in disbelief at an empty collection guide to seals at the website of the British Library. Seliau / Seals in medieval Wales is a virtual exhibition of the National Library of Wales, with an accompanying blog, Exploring Medieval Seals. You can download the exhibition catalogue Seals in context. Medieval Wales and the Welsh Marches (PDF). The Berkshire Record Office in Reading has created the virtual exhibition Small Objects of Power introducing you to and showing medieval seals.

Start screen Sigillvm Portugalliae

Let’s end this tour with some projects around the Mediterranean. El Sello Medieval is an already longer existing virtual exhibition about medieval seals, created by the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid. The second website is the home of the project Sigillvm. Corpus dos selos portugueses, a website you can view in Portuguese, English or French. Apart from project information and the database with an inventory of medieval seals in Portugal there is a small digital collection of recent relevant literature and a bibliography, and in particular a generous links selection. The inventory can be accessed only in Portuguese, but you can search with terms (Termos usados). Alas the section for virtual exhibitions is empty.

Of course basic guides to sigillography – sometimes the term sphragistics is used – have been around online now for two decades. The links collection for this theme at the portal Historische Hilfswissenschaften at the Universität München is still useful. You can consult online a PDF of the Vocabulaire internationale de la sigillographie (Rome 1990). Sometimes seal matrices have become objects of art, but more often personal seal matrices have been destroyed when their owners died. The survival of originals seals, the creation of seal casts and the interest to collect these combined with the study of matrices make the study of seals a field with several layers. The web directory of the Portuguese Sigillvm project is a fair attempt to present links for a variety of collections.

The approach of the Imprint project and the project at Speyer which bring fingerprints into view open questions about seals in a new way. Legal historians can note how modern forensic expertise can be applied also to historical materials. Who handled seals and matrices? Is the very act of sealing not just as important as attaching a beautifully looking seal which can indeed make an impression on contemporaries and future generations? It is only natural that disciplines such as semiotics, the study of signs, and cultural anthropology look rather differently at seals than medievalists, art historians and legal historians usually do. Visual culture, politics, government and art come together in seals. If my post looks as part of an object lesson in approaching seals as signs and objects – with not just a front side but also other telltale elements – my brief tour here serves its goal.

A postscript

Travis Baker kindly pointed to the volume Seals and their Context in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2015) with an important article by Paul Brand on seals and the law in medieval England.

Banner DigiSig

For some inexplicable reason I did not include the project DigiSig from St. Louis University in this post, but I had duly bookmarked this project dealing with seals from medieval England. It offers a database for searching seals in a number of British collections, and a search facility for the kind of figures represented on seals with a detailed classification scheme. Both tools are most valuable for sigillographic research.

Learning to read German legal responsa

Banner "rechtsprechung im Osteeraum

Modern technology has taken up the challenge of reading old scripts, the domain of palaeography. One of the best known tools, Transkribus, is currently used in a project on legal resources held at the university archives in Greifswald. The project Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum. Digitization & Handwritten Text Recognition focuses on sources dealing with Germany’s legal history in the region on the borders of the Baltic Sea. The project aims at making accessible 102,000 pages of legal instructions of the Faculty of Law of the Universität Greifswald (Spruchakten der Greifswalder Juristenfakultät, 1580-1800), 130,000 pages of opinions of the judges at the Wismar Tribunal (Relationen der Assessoren am Wismarer Tribunal, 1746-1845) as well as 25,000 pages of opinions of the judges of the Wismar Council Court (Relationen des Wismarer Ratsgericht) (1701-1879). Users will get access to images of these sources and they will be able to perform text searches in this corpus. The Transkribus tool is being trained to recognize Early Modern handwriting of very different scribes. Does it succeed indeed in creating reliable transcriptions? What efforts are necessary to make such sources ready for computerized approaches?

Scribal varieties and the use of computers

Logo READ

At various European universities and archives teams use the Transkribus tool of the READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) project and even a special portable scanning tent for projects with many thousand pages in Early Modern or medieval scripts. Combined with a very active presence on Twitter it can sometimes almost seem Transkribus is virtually the only proven tool in this field. Until now the number of projects with the Transkribus tool for documents specifically dealing with legal history is small. The recent announcement of the project at Greifswald at the Transkribus blog offers an opportunity to see the tool at last at work for legal historians.

A "Spruckakte" from 1586

A “Spruchakte” from 1586, Universitätsarchiv Greifswald – image: Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

At the bilingual project website in Greifswald it becomes quickly clear in the sources overview that you can find currently only images of four registers of Spruchakten from Greifswald shown at the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The initial choice for only four registers was made as a “training set” with a view to the Transkribus tool which has to digest letter forms and writing patterns in order to become a functional reading tool. The registers contain documents from 1586, 1603, 1607 and 1643. The Universitätsarchiv Greifswald has digitized several series, among them matriculation registers and charters, but the Spruchakten are not mentioned in this overview. On the other hand the university archive and library are currently present with the largest collections in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The other institutional partners in this project are the Universitätsbibliothek Greifswald, the Stadtarchiv Wismar and the Landesarchiv Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin. The Stadtarchiv Wismar has a web page about the creation of finding aids for the records of the Wismarer Tribunal in its holdings and also those in other archives, with some references to relevant literature.

One of the reasons to use digital tools for studying these legal materials is their nature. The series of legal instructions and verdicts are organized in chronological order and only indexed for the names of claimants and defendants. The sheer working power in dealing with a massive set of (textual) data can make a huge difference for starting at all with a project concerning documents linked with a particular legal court in some or all of its dimensions.

Using the Transkribus tool

For using the Transkribus tool you need to create a free account. You need to download the tool. There is a succinct user guide (PDF) and an extensive online guide in the Wiki format. The tool is the core of a set of accompanying websites and cloud services. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) are both possible. You will need to contact the team at the Universität Innsbruck for starting the “training” of the tool, the process of recognizing and correctly deciphering various forms of writing. Among the most interesting results with this tool is the high percentage of correctly resolved texts in Early Modern Dutch archival records. The “model” succeeded not only in reading just one kind of script, but dealt equally successful with several kinds of handwriting. Depending on the number of words fed into the machine the character error rate (CER) can reach very low levels. A recent post at Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum discusses the difference between word error rate and CER.

On Tuesday October 29, 2019 Annemiek Romein (Universiteit Gent) and Jeroen Vandommele gave a webinar at the Dutch Royal Library about using Transkribus. Provided you can follow Dutch, viewing this webinar gives you a very useful introduction to the practical use of this transcription tool, albeit with a focus on optical character recognition for dealing with printed texts, in particular collections of ordinances and the resolutions of the Staten-Generaal. I was in particular impressed by the way you can zoom in on and select text blocks. Aspects such as the costs of using Transkribus and surely the most asked question, its final reading speed, currently one page within a minute, come also into view.

As for now the project in Greifswald brings only a set of legal instructions by the law faculty of Greifswald. These gain in importance when sets from the other two resources, the opinions of the Wismar Ratsgericht and the Tribunal are added. It will be most interesting to see whether the opinions of the law professors deal with cases heard at one of the two legal courts. Combining them with the verdicts themselves is a logical sequel. I had hoped to report here more about the ins and outs of this project, but on the other hand it is a realistic example of work in progress, not a finalized and fully dressed product.

Despite carefully looking at the project website I could not readily detect the entrance to transcribed records, but I did reach a password protected page. You must forgive me my predilection for websites with site maps and clear navigation! However, the project team gives a very good description of the various stages of preparations needed for the workflow of their project. The team is right in approaching these stages as separate but intertwined projects which all need due attention. In the blog posts at the project website a lot of subjects have been touched upon, and this steadily stream will hopefully continue in coming years. It is certainly useful to get acquainted with this and other tools, to look at its procedures and terminology in order to carefully consider the chances and risks of using such tools.

The second Transkribus logo

It seems wise to look in more detail at the Transkribus website and its subdomains. On the main website the overview of pages for the Transkribus tool is essential. The transcription tool itself is hosted at a subdomain. Perhaps surprisingly there is also a page about the palaeography module offered by Transkribus at another subdomain, Transkribus LEARN. Here you can find hundreds of script examples. It is understandable Transkribus focuses at its transcription tool, but this palaeographical resource deserves to be known by anyone wanting to learn reading old scripts. This way of learning by doing it yourself has to be distinguished from the “learning” of the “model”, the process by which the transcription tool digests information about scripts from a set of documents for automatic deciphering. As an extra you might want to visit Famous Hands, a site with documents showing the handwriting of famous European persons. It is a bit amusing to see how Transkribus LEARN and Famous Hands can seem almost hidden from direct view, but Transkribus LEARN is duly listed at the services page. Here, too, a sitemap would be helpful.

The datasets of Transkribus have been put at the Zenodo platform with the title ScriptNet – READ. The fleet of deliverables, the newspeak term for finished products from a project, are listed at a separate page of the main website. Components such as the transcription tool, the portable ScanTent which works with Transkribus’ own DocScan app, the link to Famous hands, the GitHub repository of Transkribus and also the several components of the tools developed by various European teams can be found at this page. The so-called Transkribus KWS interface for keyword spotting brings you to a project for Finnish court records from 1810 to 1870 held at the Kansallisarkisto, the National Archives of Finland (interface Finnish and English), yet another subject touching upon legal history.

At the end of this brief presentation of the Transkribus tool and its current uses for legal history it is fair to mention at least concisely some other available tools, following no particular order. Transcripto is a tool with a German and English interface created at the Universität Trier. Looking at Scripto I thought for some time it might also be a transciption tool like Transkribus, but it is a transcription interface created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for crowdsourcing projects which can be integrated with several CMS systems. The Università Roma Tre works on the project In Codice Ratio with the aim of automatic text recognition and transcription, in particular for the holdings of the Vatican archives. The French Himanis project has at its core a tool for text recognition used for indexing the text of 68,000 charters and documents in the Trésor des chartes of the Archives nationales in Paris.

TranScriptorium was the earlier incarnation of the READ project. Among the five datasets at the old project website are transcriptions of verdicts given by the German Reichsgericht between 1900 and 1914, a project led by Jan Thiessen (Universität Tübingen). This set of documents in the Kurrent script has been transferred to the document sets of Transkribus; you can access it after free registration. Christian Reul (Würzburg) has created OCR4ALL, a tool for dealing with OCR scanning of historical printed editions. It turns out it is fairly easy to find transcription platforms with various levels of image and transcription integration. In some cases there are even distinct layers for guiding and moderating crowdsourcing projects, but finding a tool for electronic recognition and transcription of historical handwriting and old printed works remains a challenge which certainly deserves a separate contribution.

A postscript

Within a few days Elisabeth Heigl of the project team at Greifswald kindly sent a comment with the good news of a very useful overview in English for searching and browsing the documents in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. With the search function you will see the result of the HTR done by Transkribus.

For all those curious about Transkribus and wanting to start using you might have a look for example at these blog posts elsewhere, ‘Digitize a Collection of Letters using Transkribus and XSLT‘ at the blog How to of the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities, ‘How to historical text recognition: A Transkribus Quickstart Guide‘ at LaTex Ninja’ing and the Digital Humanities, and Issue 13: OCR (July 2019) of Europeana Tech.

De rebus digitalibus: Doing digital legal history

Logo DH 2019 at UtrechtWhile the virtual world and the real world steadily become interwoven, it can sometimes seem legal history is only at the fringe of the digital turn. On the other hand all kinds of information and resources can be found online today. Using such resources does have an impact on the form and practices of legal history. Some scholarly events aim among other things at creating space for reflection and discussion about the tensions between older forms of doing history and alluring new ways and methods to pursue research goals. This year’s international congress of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) will be held at Utrecht from July 9 to 12. In this post I will look at its program of DH2019, and also at the call for papers of a conference on digital legal history to be held at Frankfurt am Main on March 19-20, 2020, organized by the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte. It is only logical to compare the program and aims of DH2019 with the call for papers of DLH2020. Even if using the tools and methods of digital humanities may seem Latin to you, the importance of this digital approach will certainly grow, and knowing about them is useful.

Varieties and complexities

The main theme of next month’s conference in Utrecht is complexities. The way complex models are created to represent complex realities is to be addressed, as are the manifold questions about digital scholarship itself on a theoretical, social and cultural level. There is a variety of networks and mazes at work in the field of digital humanities. New generations of scholars arrive, with different perspectives and skills. If this sounds almost too much of a good thing for a four-day conference, you will see that some workshops start already on July 8. For the special focus of this conference, digital humanities in Africa, a workshop for African scholars, DH – the perspective of Africa, will be held from July 1 to 5 at the Lorenz Center of Leiden University. On July 8 there will be a workshop at the Royal Library in The Hague on Libraries as Research Partner in Digital Humanities. The venue of DH2019 is not a university building, a conference center or a large section of an hotel, but the TivoliVredenburg music center where hosting music from many periods and styles in five concert halls has become regular business.

The variety of subjects in the conference programme is truly impressive. Let’s look first of all for subjects in close connection with legal history. Renana Keydar and Yael Netzar will talk about finding out about the perception of threat by the Israelian police force. Georg Vogeler and two of his colleagues will discuss the ways to export charters into TEI P5 (Text Encoding Initiative). Marie Lavorel will talk about ways to preserve the oral histories of survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. The opening address of DH2019 will be held by Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town). He will make a case for being aware of the complexities, not only as a challenge, but as chances. In her closing keynote Johanna Drucker (UCLA) will speak about ecological sustainability and its impact on the ethics of digital humanities. The use of energy for computers leaves a large footprint on our planet. Tito Orlandi will give the Busa Lecture in which he will discuss the history of digital humanities and the apparent lack of a paradigm for this field. The lecture is named after Roberto Busa (1913-2011), the pioneer of using computers to deal with a textual corpus, the Corpus Thomisticum with the works of Thomas Aquinas. In 1980 his Index Thomisticus was completed.

The ADHO has a number of special interest groups (SIG) which nicely show the sheer width of digital humanities. Apart from libraries and DH currently SIG’s exist for literary stylistics, audiovisual data, global outlook, geospatial software and its uses, and for linked open data. Just looking at these subjects helps you to view digital humanities as a house with many rooms and space for more things to come.

My first impression of the program and the variation in themes and subject is that this conference deals with a number of territories that seem largely uncharted by legal historians. In particular subjects in world history can seem sometimes unconnected to legal history. In the second half of this post we will see how the MPIeR steps in to bridge such gaps.

Digital legal history

In some posts at my blog I have tried to look at the presence of digitized materials for doing legal history outside the Anglo-American and European sphere. Thus I looked for example in 2010 at South Africa and in 2014 at Brazil. In 2017 I discussed here digitized resources for the legal history of Suriname and last year more specifically the digitized slavery registers of Suriname. The death of Fidel Castro prompted me in 2016 to write about Cuban legal history. In yet another post I looked here at HISGIS and legal history. Digital projects are very often here discussed here.

However, digital humanities are not absent around more traditional themes and subjects. A nice combination of studying both the United Kingdom and Australia in the field of criminal law is found within the projects of the Digital Panopticon cluster, concisely presented here. The Exon Domesday, the manuscript with the Domesday register for South-West England held at Exeter Cathedral, is the subject of a project using a number of tools from the field of digital humanities.

Logo Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

It is perhaps wiser to look at the call for papers of DLH2020. The call starts with a summary of the various ways digitization and computers affect the field of legal history. Digital tools are used to gather information, they can assist in the exploration and analysis of information, and they help you to publish and connect research results. Databases offer access to legislation and to case law, in a number of cases for considerable historical periods, too. A second main point is the way digital humanities transcend the borders of disciplines. Apart from the problems inter- and transdiscplinarity pose themselves, adjusting existing digital tools, approaches and methods to meet such problems can have a major impact even when changes seem slight. Such unexpected turns can in the end also prove to be most helpful and literally path-breaking. However, the presence of digital humanities has not yet led to decisive changes in the ordinary practice of legal historians. The MPIeR dedicated in 2016 a part of issue 24 of the journal Rg/Rechtsgeschichte-Legal History to contributions discussing the role of digital humanities for legal history. The Law and History Review, too, published an issue on Digital Law and History [34/4 (2016)] with a focus on Anglo-American practice.

The purpose of the DLH 2020 conference will be first of all to get a more complete and balanced view of digital humanities and legal history, both on the theoretical level and in actual practice. The call of papers contains a fair number of possible questions for papers and posters: What do digital humanities bring that would not have been possible without them? How do they influence your approach and methods? Can we use methods of analysis common to DH also for legal history? What chances are there to use modelling to deal with questions concerning legal history? What about using Big Data or engaging in data-driven research? Which limits confront legal historians? Are there possibilities in DH we clearly can use to our benefit? An important question comes at the end of the call of papers: what resources are lacking until now? Proposals can be submitted before September 15, 2019 to dlh@rg.mpg.de.

The set of questions reminds me very much of the question medievalists asked and ask about other disciplines. You might not be able to use approaches, tools and methods without some modification, but it is by all means interesting and important to know about them. I think that it is wise to be aware with Tito Orlandi that no clear paradigm for DH bhas yet been developed, and this means it is also possible to contribute to the construction of this paradigm or at least to building best practices from many perspectives. Digital humanities will touch almost every field of humanities. Scholars of Classical Antiquity have perhaps taken a lead in using elements of digital humanities, not only for their own benefit, but also for making their set of disciplines – discipline in the singular will not do here! – also accessible to a wider public. Entering the fields of digital humanities can hold its surprises, but it is no longer an uncharted world where angels fear to tread. The conferences in Utrecht and Frankfurt am Main can surely help you to get in contact with those people who have taken the plunge into the world of digital humanities.

 

Sending a sign by signing: A Dutch petition from 1878

Start screen "Volkspetitionnement 1878"

Elections and choices make headlines this month. On March 20, 2019 elections were held in the Netherlands for the provincial councils and for the water management boards. The results of the election for the Provinciale Staten matter for the continuity of the current cabinet, because members of the Staten will elect senators later this year. To all political turmoil a terrible shooting incident in my peaceful home town Utrecht on March 18 added an atmosphere of shock, disbelief, grief and much more, depending on your closeness to the spot and the people afflicted. Last Friday a silent march has been held to the square where a woman and two men were killed. I had to reflect about a theme for a new post.

Last week the online Revoke Article 50 petition in the United Kingdom called my attention. Instead of stepping into the vexed questions around the Brexit I think looking at a late nineteenth-century petition is well worth attention here. The Volkspetitionnement 1878 [People’s Petition 1878] was held as a plea to secure space and governmental subvention for Christian education. Some 300,000 Protestants and 164,000 Catholics signed this petition. In the project led by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen the data of the petition have been used to create a searchable database and an interactive map. This petition was held in a period with a much smaller electorate, just 100,000 men, and even before the first Dutch political party came into existence.

Creating attention

Logo Vele Handen

The project to create online access to the 1878 petition is a project of many institutions and also the general public. In 2016 the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam started the project after the Dutch National Archives had made 11,000 scans. At the crowdsourcing platform Vele Handen [Many Hands] volunteers could read the scans and enter the data into a database. In June 2017 the project website was launched. The Nationaal Archief in The Hague has a concise news item about the project on its website, with a link to the scans of the original petition [NA, finding aid no. 2.02.04, Kabinet des Konings (The Kings’ Cabinet), inv.nos. 4482-4502 (Protestants) , 4541-4547 (Catholics)].

In 1878 a law was passed in the Dutch parliament which stipulated only general public schools for primary education could receive financial support from the government. Christian political leaders felt injured and sought a way to get this law repelled. Among these leaders was no lesser figure than the Protestant theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) who founded in 1872 the newspaper De Standaard [The Standard], in 1879 the first Dutch political party, the Anti-Revolutionaire Partij, and in 1880 the Vrije Universiteit. From 1901 to 1905 he acted as prime minister. You might want to look for his published works in the Kuyper Digital Library and the vast Kuyper Bibliography in the digital collections of Princeton Theological Seminary. His legacy is among the cores of the documentation center for the history of Dutch Protestantism, the HDC of the Vrije Universiteit.

The project website gives a good overview of the actual history of the 1878 petitions, and I use the plural on purpose. In 1877 the liberals had gained power. While Dutch Protestants had already for decades followed the changes in Dutch education, the 1878 law brought first of all Dutch Catholics into action. In June 1878 they launched three petitions, respectively to the members of the Tweede Kamer, the Senate and king Willem III, raising respectively 148,000, 164,000 and 164,000 signatures. A month the better organized protestant movement succeeded in raising 305,000 signatures within one week. However, on August 17, 1878 the king confirmed the new law. On the project website you can find a succinct bibliography (PDF) about this movement which did not reach its immediate goal, but certainly helped creating political awareness and stressing the need for a more effective organization of political opposition.

A scan of signatures from Oudenbosch, 1878 - source: Nationaal Archief

A scan of signatures from Oudenbosch, 1878 – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, collection 2.02.04, inv.no 2546, scan 162

At the project website you can search for individuals who signed one of the petitions, using their family names and for locations, or use the interactive maps to gain insights into the number of signatures placed in particular provinces and locations by a specific religious denomination or by both denominations. For each person who signed at least his name and (abbreviated) Christian name, residence and denomination have been registered, but the results page provide also space for other information, notably profession and the number of children, and a link to a scan of the page with the signature. I could not resist to check whether one of my ancestors signed the petition. In my line of descent some names return regularly, and many of them lived in the western part of the province Noord-Brabant, mainly in Breda, Etten-Leur and Oudenbosch. One of the two Hendrikus Vervaart’s in Oudenbosch is surely my great-grandfather. I compared this scan with his signature in the marriage registration held at the West-Brabants Archief in Bergen op Zoom. Provided additional information has been entered in the database or that you have found elsewhere information about an ancestor, this resource surely adds color to the history of your family. You can press a button Informatie toevoegen (Add information) to enrich the data. It is nice to see the double use of crowdsourcing in this project.

Beyond quick success

To say the least, the Protestants and Catholics of 1878 would surely find the cooperation for this digital project remarkable, but in fact both movements found each other as political partners in dealing with the Schoolquestie, the question about the way to get funding from the government for schooling along denominational lines. In 1879 Kuyper formed a political party. In 1888 a first Dutch cabinet led by the confessionelen was formed which succeeded in getting equal financing of neutral and denominational schools. Over the years this political cooperation was not always easy, but a century later the major Catholic party and two Protestant parties merged into one political party.

The massive response to these petitions made especially the Catholics more visible in the Netherlands. Their existence in a nation styling itself as totally “Reformed” had almost been denied by historians. It showed in a graphic way the very limited franchise to vote of the late nineteenth century. It proved to be a spur to Abraham Kuyper to develop his visions of Christian life and organization in modern society, famously abbreviated as sovereignty in your own circle. He helped shaping a country which became for decades dominated by societal pillars, zuilen, subsections of a society in which one could live to a large extent from the cradle to the grave without serious interaction with other groups.

As for the present role of petitions and their future, I do not think historians can provide blueprints for the future, but they can make you pause for thought and reflection, and help you to see current developments in multiple perspectives. The website of the Volkspetitionnement 1878 offers a window on a very interesting period in Dutch politics and government, if only already for the fact it was composed of four petitions.

Digital approaches to medieval charters

Start screen DCN

On January 25, 2019 the Digitale Charterbank Nederland [Digital Charter Database Netherlands, DCN] was launched at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. In this project the Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch History of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences works together with Het Utrechts Archief, many other Dutch archives, and the IT firm De Ree in Groningen to create an online database with not only medieval charters, but also charters written between 1500 and 1800. Among the speakers at the presentation was Els De Parmentier (Ghent) who made an illuminating comparison with the Belgian project Diplomata Belgica. It is only natural to compare both projects and to report on some early impressions of the new database.

The third attempt succeeds

In fact two previous attempts at the Huygens Institute to create an online database for all medieval charters in Dutch holdings had not reached their goal. Almost by chance financial support of the Dutch Science Foundation NWO, the presence of an archivist, Karel Engbers, who had recently joined the staff of the IT firm De Ree which supplies an archival system used at many Dutch archive, and the preparatory work of the Huygens Institute together resulted within eighteen months in the current database.

The DCN has a search screen with both a simple search and an advanced search mode which opens by clicking on arrows. The advanced mode is fairly restricted. You can search for phrases and for single words, and you can set a time period to limit the search results. The search tips lead you to the Dutch archives portal created by De Ree. The portal has a search interface in Dutch, English and German, but the page with search tips is only available in Dutch. In the top menu you will not find in the English and German version the choice for newspapers (kranten) and the very useful guide to institutions with holdings for cultural heritage (erfgoedgids).

The second half of the DCN starts screen

I did not want to go immediately to another track of this post, but you can hardly escape from the crucial role played by the archival system of De Ree. In fact the start page of the DCN looks below the introduction very much like the result pages of the Archieven portal. On the right you can use filters for archival institutions (diensten, shortened from archiefdiensten), the presence or lack of images and other files (bestanden), and for toegangen, finding aids. By the way, Het Utrechts Archief figures large with more than 25,000 charters, but as for now only for some 6,600 items digital images have been provided. For each charter you can go directly to the relevant finding aid. Currently the database of the DCN contains already 170,000 charters with for some 24,000 items digital images.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and thus two invited speakers, Hans Mol (Leiden University and Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden) and Ronald van de Spiegel at the presentation gave an early report about the functions of the DCN. Finding all occurrences of the abbot (abt) of Middelburg proved to be not straightforward. The use of wildcards is of course important in view of the different spellings of names and locations. With the DCN you can chart for example the changes in the preponderance of papal and royal charters or measure the importance of towns. More disconcerting is the way the datations of charters can led to a presentation of results with in the date field the number 1000 – or another year starting with 1 – instead of the date in the description. In order to work properly the archival system needs to have correct input in its own date field of the finding aid. Instead of blaming this particular system – or any system for that matter – you will have to look more carefully at the quality of the original input created by archivists. Some crucial fields might have been left empty, and sometimes even a clear indication you are dealing with a charter might be absent. The institutions using De Ree’s system can continuously add and correct their data, but those institutions which do not use it cannot easily update their data within the DCN.

Karel Engbers (De Ree) explained how he urged to widen the selection of charters mentioned within the finding aids at the beginning of the project and during its unfolding. He urged for instance to include also specific genres of charters, and also the occasions where only a top-level description is given, even the most superficial ones like “a bundle of charters, 1350-1550”.

A look at Diplomata Belgica

Startscreen Diplomata Belgica (detail)

Maybe you will already have some ideas about the DCN, but I think you can see them much clearer when you compare the DCN with Diplomata Belgica. In fact I would have preferred to write here about this outstanding digital project much earlier, but things went different. The subtitle of this website with a French and English interface clearly sets its limits and character, “The diplomatic sources of the Medieval Southern Low Countries”. You will find here charters from the territories corresponding more or less with the current country Belgium. The word diplomatic stems from the auxiliary historical science diplomatics, the discipline dealing with medieval charters. For practical reasons, the sheer number of medieval records, this discipline often halts at the year 1300, and only seldom much later, up to 1340.

In her lecture Els De Parmentier made it very clear how you can use Diplomata Belgica to search for very specific questions about medieval charters, giving you a very comprehensive range of fields with both diplomatic and additional information, in particular the presence of religious orders. Apart from the main search interface you can use the interface Recherche Tradition / Tradition Search to search for the textual transmission of charters, as original or as a separate copy, in particular repositories, the writing material, the name of manuscripts and even the Stein number for French cartularies. Perhaps the most important information of De Parmentier’s lecture was the attention to the multiple way you can study charters. Within the text of a document, in documents with the same actors, documents with identical compositions, and for example in documents issued by a particular person or institution for the classic research into the working of medieval chanceries. I will leave out here her comparison with other digital projects for medieval charters, for example those at the French Telma portal, the Digitaal Oorkondenboek Noord-Brabant, the Cartago project for charters from Frisia, Drenthe and Groningen, the registers of the Hainault counts of Holland (1299-1345), the international Monasterium project. the Anglo-Saxon charters and the DEEDS project. Each of them has many qualities, but all are slightly different in their approaches. Their common denominator is the choice of approaches founded on diplomatics.

Two approaches to charters

Some impressions become clear after De Parmentier’s lecture. In its current form the DCN is mainly what it shows on your screen, a set of charters filtered from the online finding aids of a large number of Dutch archives and from data sets – and images – provided by some other archives. You can see quickly where to go for rich holdings, but the crucial quality of the data provided by these archival institutions is very clear, too. It is a bit silly to see lots of charters dated in 1000, 1040 or 1085 when you know the actual number of charters for these years is much lower. The time range of the DCN goes considerably beyond the normal scope up to 1300 of (digital) editions of charters for particular regions or princes to include charters issued between 1500 and 1800.

The DCN faces a serious problem with the way datations of charters are handled due to the quality of the input provided by holding institutions. Sometimes one date field with incorrect or insufficient information can lead to a wrong representation of the actual date range. Instead of grumbling about this state of affairs it is perhaps wiser to check the actual input and the cases which are or seem incorrect. The larger lesson is for many digital projects you will need to use fields in a correct way, think only of such standards as EAD (Encoded Archival Description) and Dublin Core, and of course for your own digital presence and services. Sooner or later you will want to share information. Many Dutch archives offer their finding aids also as open data, yet another spur for checking interoperability and correct working before connecting to other projects or presenting data to the general public. In a finding aid archivists describe items as succinctly as possible but uniquely distinguishable from other items, and it should be no surprise descriptions do not contain all possible information, let alone full transcriptions. Some archival institutions provide transcriptions, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg.

The DCN website mentions a diplomatic definition of charters, a single act written on parchment or paper pertaining to a legal situation or a legal action – e.g. a sale, a donation – made legally valid by the internal and external characteristics of the deed, such as a seal or a signature. For me the use of the phrase bevoegd persoon (authorised person) seems almost to exclude private persons. The phrase ‘Charter’ is de archiefterm, “[a] charter is the archival term”, wordings written by Jan Burgers, the project leader (Huygens Institute and University of Amsterdam), is simply not correct. In the latest version of the Dutch archival terminology (2003) a charter is defined as a document containing an act validated by one or more seals or a notary’s sign. This definition clearly differs from the definition in the famous Dutch manual by Muller, Fruin and Feith (1898) who saw a charter as the expedition (grosse) of an oorkonde, to be distinguished from a concept or a final version (minuut). The 2003 definition is much clearer about the documentary nature and more succinct. It is foremost an archival definition, and not primarily a concept from or defined by the needs of diplomatics. Luckily the explanations by Burgers about the importance of charters as historical sources are on spot.

Logo Huygens Institute / ING

In my view the Digitale Charterbank Nederland is a tool which reflects archival practices and needs. Its great power is the way you can look at charters within their archival context instead of seeing them only as specimens of a separate documentary genre, and having images of them on your screen. The search possibilities of the DCN are somewhat restricted, even when you allow for the way you can focus on a single archival collection. It is only wise to remember two earlier attempts to create this Dutch charter database failed. Hopefully the problem with the dates in the charters can be solved quickly by the contributing archives and De Ree. Thus we will have at our disposal a primarily archival tool which supplements other Dutch digital projects for medieval charters, such as the digitized versions provided by the Huygens Institute of the oorkondenboeken for Utrecht (OSU), Holland and Zeeland (OHZ), and Gelre (Guelders) and Zutphen (OGZ). Creating links between these editions and the DCN is one of the things that will enhance this database. In particular the coverage with digital images in the DCN is still a bit low, but no doubt this will change rapidly. The qualities of the DCN should also become rapidly available with an English, French or German interface for all scholars worldwide wanting to use charters in Dutch holdings for their research. Without some understanding of archives, archival theory and the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatics, palaeography, chronology and sigillography you will and cannot tap completely the wealth of information charters can provide.