Tag Archives: Digital humanities

Gathering graphic evidence on false inscriptions

Startscreen Epigraphic Database Falsae

Doing research in legal history means dealing with facts and theories. Provided you have conscientiously worked with the facts at hand it becomes possible to verify theories. In this century we have to deal also with floods of information, including fake news and faked or unprovenanced sources. Some recent cases about illegal selling of and tampering with ancient papyri have even made headlines. In this post I will look at falsified inscriptions which pose as sources stemming from classical Antiquity. A team of scholars from the Università degli Studi di Bari, Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice and the Università La Sapienza in Rome has created the Epigraphic Database Falsae (EDF). What does this database contain? How are materials presented? What does it bring for (legal) historians? When useful in the context of this post I will look at some other projects in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions.

Defying a first look

Perhaps it is worth telling how I found out about this project. The EDF project is included in an overview of projects in the field of digital humanities at the website of the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale (AIUCD), the Italian association for digital humanities and digital culture. At the portal Digital Classicist you can find more about the project. One of the aims of the project team is to integrate EDF with other online resources for epigraphy. EDF is already searchable through the EAGLE portal, an Europeana project for inscriptions, but it will also be connected with the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss / Slaby (EDCS), one of the main online portals for epigraphy, accessible in five languages. A query for falsae at Charles Jones’ blog Ancient World Online brought me both to EDF and to a volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) founded by Theodor Mommsen. The sixth volume of CIL contains the Inscriptiones urbis Romae Latinae, and its fifth part is devoted to Inscriptiones falsae (Berlin 1885). You may consult this part online at the Arachne portal. Unfortunately the online version of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum created by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften does not function completely at present; for the volume CIL VI,5 you are led to the Arachne portal.

The website of the Epigraphic Database Falsae does not lead you to any explanation about its aim and functioning. For this you must turn to the description at the Digital Classicist. Let’s therefore proceed to the search interface which is only in Italian. You can search by the ID of an inscription, by ancient city, by the text of an inscription and by bibliographical information. Interestingly you can also exclude towns, texts and bibliographical data. You can turn on a search for Greek texts, too.

EDF advanced search

By clicking on the button Ricerca avanzata more search fields become visible. In fact my screenprint does only show the first half of the thirty search fields. First of all you can search for items with a TM number in the Trismegistos database, and for items with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier). You can search here for example for modern country and city, the place of production, the name of the forger, the present location, material and dimensions, religion, social category, type of forgery, diplomatic transcription and the use of a particular kind of versification, to mention just a few of them. Here, too, you can narrow your search by excluding one or more terms. For a number of fields you can choose from a dropdown list. When you look for a particular type of forgery you can choose from seven categories, including also a partial copy of a genuine inscription.

Of course the best thing to do is to test the database by searching for some forgeries, but this was not as as easy as I had expected. At first I tried to find information about the Fibula Praenestina (TM 256173, EDCS-19600767), but this object which was long suspected to be a forgery, is now viewed as a genuine object from the seventh century BCE. Entering Roma as the ancient city led me to some 250 examples. EDF000151 is a forgery by Placido Scamacca in Catania, first mentioned between 1746 and 1750, who followed as his model a genuine inscription in Rome. The EDF entry leads you in this case also to this inscription in the Epigraphic Database Rome. It is good to note that at EDR118156 the inscription at Catania is not mentioned; I saw also a case where a forgery, also from Catania, is mentioned in EDR as a “copia moderna”. EDR shows images of inscriptions, and even thought they are in black and white, this is something you would like to have also for items in EDF.

I hoped to find some of the false inscriptions from CIL VI,5, but it seems they have yet to be added, or I might not have tried to find them in the right way. I also searched in vain for the text of the inscription on the drawing of the vase on the start screen. The thing to note in EDF is the attention to the actual place of conservation and the cataloging by institutions of individual inscriptions. EDF notes carefully who edited an entry and when.

Integrating epigraphic data

This is not my first post with double numbering for ancient inscriptions. Last year I included an inscription with the Lex Flavia Irnitana in a post on Roman water law, and a few years ago I looked here in a post at the project Hispania Epigraphica. In fact the last years epigraphic scholars have become very much aware of the ways not only to refer to a particular inscription, but also of the ways inscriptions are described. Working with digital resources has made this need even more acute. For epigraphy EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI-XML has become a standard for formatting information about inscription. At Epigraphy.info you can follow the latest developments for the integration of a large number of epigraphic databases. There is a real difference in representation on a simple webpage coded in HTML, information encoded using XML following the EpiDoc guidelines, and storage along the rules of RDF (Resource Description Framework). Among the books which provide you with background about such developments is the volume with essays edited by Monica Berti, Digital Classical Philology. Ancient Greek and Latin in the Digital Revolution (ePUB and PDF’s for single articles in open acccess, 2019); a bit more attention to inscriptions would have been most welcome.

In view of the sometimes rapid developments in digital humanities it is necessary to be aware having reliable (online) editions of the text of inscriptions is one thing. It is wise to look for inscriptions not just at one portal or to rely on one particular database. Often they are strengthened by rich bibliographies, but integrating them with images and linked data is currently very much work in progress or projects for the future. Of course it would be wonderful to have already now a single epigraphic gateway, but we have to reckon with different needs and technological possibilities. In this respect facing the very real questions of those scholars who want to investigate forged inscriptions is a reminder research questions and objects can be quite different from your usual approach. The blog Current Epigraphy will help you to stay tuned with the field of the study of inscriptions from classic Antiquity.

Tracing the records of medieval synods

Header blog Corpus Synodalium

For the second year on row I would like to depart from my tradition of opening the new year with a post on Roman law. The Roman empire and its law will receive due attention this year, too, but 2020 is a year with a quadriennial International Congress of Medieval Canon Law in St. Louis, Missouri, and therefore medieval canon law shall figure in my first post. I found out about the project Corpus Synodalium: Local Ecclesiastical Legislation in Medieval Europe / Législations ecclésiastiques locales dans l’Europe médiévale thanks to the accompanying blog, also called Corpus synodalium. Let’s have a look at this project which charts literally vast stretches of medieval Europe.

A database and a blog

The international community of scholars in the field of medieval canon law is not very large. In it lawyers, historians and theologians work together, contributing from each discipline the necessary methods, approaches and knowledge needed to study this field successfully. For some people an American project with a title in Latin and a French subtitle may perhaps look a bit eccentric, but it is typical for this interdisciplinary field. There are several blogs at the international Hypotheses network with a Latin name and a subtitle in another language.

Banner Corpus Synodalium

The project Corpus synodalium is at home at Stanford University. Its aim is to trace the records of local ecclesiastical legislation from medieval Europe between approximately 1215, the year of the important Fourth Lateran Council, and 1400, and to create a repertory with the texts of diocesan statutes and the records of provincial synods. The project description points to the large number of relevant texts, some two thousand, and their scattered presence in archives and libraries. This situation has contributed to a relative neglect of this resource type for the study of the medieval church and medieval canon law. Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) leads the project. Among the members of the advisory committee are Abigail Firey and Charles Donahue. Behind the name of Charles Caspers only his institute has been mentioned, the Titus Brandsma Instituut, a center created by the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and the Dutch province of the Carmelite order for the study of mysticism and spirituality.

The database of the Corpus synodalium is accompanied by further documentation, You can find here information about the progress of the project and also about the use of Philologic4, a well-known tool for text analysis and retrieval created at the ARTFL center of the University of Chicago. There is an explanation about the database fields and a set of guidelines for the transcription and editing of sources. The bibliography (PDF) contains information about the printed and handwritten sources used for this project. The list of further resources may contain only the great sources of medieval canon law from Gratian onwards, but the team provided links to digital versions of them. I had not yet spotted the digital version of the Decretum Gratiani, the Liber Extra (Decretales Gregorii IX), and the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII at the website of the Scholastic Commentaries and Texts Archive (STCA); other collections and commentaries are already announced, but they are not yet present. The overview of texts already made available at SCTA is impressive. There are sections for canon law, statutes in canon law and civil law, meaning Roman law; the latter section of STCA is still under development.

As for the database of Corpus synodalium you can approach it in three ways, as a proper database, both in the original version and a normalized version, accessible after registration with Rowan Dorin, and as an online spreadsheet (viewing only, last update May 2019; 7,2 MB). Even a look at this spreadsheet is already interesting. The information has been put into thirty fields. It is possible to query for dioceses, church provinces and countries, the year of creation, the ecclesiastical authority involved – sometimes papal legates – and their regnal years. Critical editions are indicated and in their absence information about manuscripts. Aspects such as language or fragmentary tradition can be researched, too. When possible the digital presence of editions and sources has been recorded, and also the status of each entry.

Results screen database Corpus Synodalium

The results screen of the Corpus Synodalium database

The database opens with a screen offering two ways of browsing the contents, on the left using the names of the locations and on the right a choice from five centuries, 1100 until 1600. As an example of a diocese I choose here Tournai (Doornik). Two results appear on the left. On the right a block comes into view with several filters you may want to use. In the top right corner above the box with the filters is a tiny button Map All Results which leads you to the map; this button will be made more visible. You can also use another button in the top right corner to export the records ID’s you have found.

Example metadata in the Corpus Synodalium

When you click on a search result you can check either the metadata or go to the text edition. In the menu bar below the title of the database you have not only a general search field, but also four distinct search options: the concordance, a representation of search results as keywords in context (KWIC), collocation for establishing connections between particular terms, and the time series option for showing occurrences over time. In the dark grey bar are clickable areas enabling you to go to the project homepage, the user guide, to a feedback form and to Philologic4. With the button Show search options you open an advanced search mode. You can even tune your search to include approximate results, and sort results in the order you deem useful.

The subtitle of the project may lead you to infer only statutes and synods from France have been included, but the corpus does contain information on all regions of medieval Europe, including the British isles. Texts from 1181 to 1495 have been included. Before you jump into doing statistical work it is good to note that for some three hundred items the date has been entered between brackets, but they can be viewed in chronological order. For this particular reason only it is sensible the team put in additional field concerning the date and time of texts.

In order to get access to the database I contacted Rowan Dorin who provided me with the necessary information. He urges users to look first at the latest progress report (PDF) and look at the information provided about the project before entering the database and returning too quickly with the impression some things are still missing. The report (April 2019) makes clear the database will eventually contain nearly 2,200 texts. Nearly 1,300 texts have now been transcribed and fed into the database. Some 300 texts have never before been published.

With the report firmly in my mind I start looking for texts in the database stemming from the Low Countries. After all, in 2020 you remain entitled to my Dutch view! I checked for documents concerning the medieval diocese Utrecht. There are twenty texts mentioned for Utrecht between 1291 and 1355, all edited by J.G.Ch. Joosting and S. Muller Hzn. in the fifth volume of their source edition Bronnen voor de geschiedenis der kerkelijke rechtspraak in het bisdom Utrecht in de middeleeuwen (8 vols., ‘s Gravenhage 1906-1924). Alas there is no online version of the complete set. The Dutch Royal Library has digitized only three volumes of the set at the Delpher platform, luckily for this post apart from the volumes 2 and 6 also volume 5. In this case there is probably also a copyright problem for the newer volumes.

However that may be, I could check this edition quickly. I noticed the synodal statutes of bishop Dirk van Are, issued in 1209 and reissued by bishop Wilbrand van Oldenburg in 1236 (vol. V, pp. 48-53) have not made it yet into the spreadsheet and the database. These statutes had been published already by the near namesake of Samuel Muller Hzn. (1852-1915), his nephew Samuel Muller Fzn. (1848-1922), son of the famous book dealer and collector of engravings and pamphlets Frederik Muller, in Het oudste cartularium van het Sticht Utrecht (The Hague 1892) 172-178. The team at Stanford adds for two statutes from Utrecht information about a much older edition, the Concilia Germaniae edited by Johann Friedrich Schannat and Joseph Hartzheim (11 vol., Cologne 1759-1790). For the synod in the archdiocese Cologne held in 1332 by Heinrich von Virneburg not only the edition by Joosting and Muller is noted (V, pp. 1-43), but also those in the Concilia Germaniae IV, 282-285 and by Mansi, vol. XXV, cols. 723-726. Seventeen statutes have been connected with this archbishop, and the information about their manuscript tradition, (partial) editions and relevant literature mentioning them is excellent.

Looking beyond the database

Of course the Corpus synodalium is not a creation ex nihilo. There is a steady flow of studies and editions. Twenty-five years ago Joseph Avril wrote his most valuable article ‘Les décisions des conciles et synodes’ for the volume Identifier sources et citations, Jacques Berlioz et alii (eds.) (Turnhout 1994) 177-189. At the university of Bonn you can find the Bibliographia Synodalis Iuris Antiqui (BISA) with both a German and an English interface. The repertory for relevant sources from France exists already for a half a century, Répertoire des statuts synodaux des diocèses de l’ancienne France du XIIIe à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, André Artonne, Louis Guizard and Odette Pontal (eds.) (Paris 1969). Odette Pontal contributed the volume Les statuts synodaux for the Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental (Turnhout 1975). Avril and Pontal edited numerous French synodal statutes. The bibliography of Jakub Sawicki appeared even earlier [Bibliographia synodorum particalarium (Città del Vaticano 1967)]. These works are just a few examples of repertories, studies and editions.

Let’s not forget to look at the blog of this project! The category cartographie of the blog enables you to follow the progress of the integrated digital map of medieval ecclesiastical jurisdictions using the ArcGIS system, more specifically for church provinces and dioceses. It took me some time to spot in the database the tiny button which opens the map. If you insist in having a preview of the map you can open it also separately, but currently only the black-and-white version is working. The changes in the boundaries of dioceses and church provinces will also eventually become visible. The posts do not tell which product of the ArcGIS product line is used. The reason behind the somewhat hidden place of the map is a clear wish to create publicity only when the map and the database come close to perfection. The blog informs you about the regular international workshops around the project held since 2018. It tells you also how Rowan Dorin started in 2011 to create the overview of relevant sources for the Corpus synodalium. He intends to launch the project officially in June 2020.

A preview of things to come

After using the database for several days it is time to write about my first impressions. Even though what I saw is really a preview of things to come, I can only applaud the efforts of Rowan Dorin and his team. I would have been happy with having only an online repertory of resources for studying diocesan statutes and provincial synods, but here you get also access to the texts themselves of these resources. The Philologic4 database enables you to study these texts in other ways than you would do when using a printed edition. The European scale of the Corpus synodalium is most welcome. The visualization of results on an online map invites you to make comparisons outside the corner of Europe you happen to be studying.

Of course the database has not yet been completed. The navigation and the visibility of some buttons and search fields certainly can and will change. The user guide will in later editions include guidance for navigating the database. The map does not yet show all its qualities and even adjustable colors, but it will become an example of mapping medieval data on a scalable online map. Dorin is even considering the option of bringing in directly the major texts of the Corpus Iuris Canonici, too, for further enhancing the research possibilities of this project. As for now, it is wise to keep in mind some elements may appear to be incorrect or in need of adjustment in their current state, but you should not hesitate to send your comments and corrections to the team at Stanford which deserves the gratitude of legal historians, of medievalists in general and in particular of all those studying the history of medieval canon law.

The Italian thing: A look at a new palaeography tutorial

Startscreen "Italian Palaeography

How can you embark on studying original manuscripts and archival records or the digital versions of these documents? The number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography is distinctly low in view of the sheer number of digitized resources concerning Italy’s medieval and Early Modern history. The new online tutorial Italian Paleography created by the Newberry Library in Chicago and the University of Toronto Libraries is most welcome. What are its qualities? How does it stand the comparison with the earlier project of both partners for French Renaissance Paleography? Of course I will also look at the presence of elements directly touching upon legal history.

At the outset

Logo of The Newberry Library, Chicago

The activity of The Newberry Library in the field of medieval manuscripts and archival records is not a new phenomenon. A number of its departments and centers deal with resources from Europe. There is a concise page about palaeography. The Newberry Library can be proud of its fleet of introductory guides, too. The Digital Newberry brings you to numerous collections and virtual exhibits. The Newberry has created five crowdsourcing and transcribing projects. In their fine Introduction to manuscript studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007) Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham liberally used manuscripts and other documents from the Middle Ages and Renaissance held at The Newberry.

Logo Medici Archive Project

The University of Toronto Libraries can point among their digital collections to no lesser project than the Medici Archive Project. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has digitized a fair number of its manuscripts, to mention just one example, and it has placed a number of its digitized collections in the Internet Archive. The presence in Toronto of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies is a gem for medievalists. I explored a number of scholarly institutions in a post about the international congress of medieval canon law held at Toronto in 2012.

The number of digital collections with archival records from Italy is every bit as high as you might suppose. I counted some thirty projects for Italy on my web page about digital archives. If you want to get an indication of the number of digitized manuscripts in Italy DMMap quickly shows you some thirty collections, excluding those digitized at the Vatican Library with currently well over 18,000 manuscripts. These high figures should make scholars in and outside the Italian peninsula happy, provided you are able to decipher these documents and manuscripts. In earlier posts here I looked for example at the Progetto Irnerio for medieval legal manuscripts in Bologna and at the book series edited by Giovanna Murano about autograph manuscripts of Italian authors. You can use the tag Italy of my blog to find more relevant posts.

One of the reasons there are only few online manuals for Italian palaeography is the presence at several Archivi di Stato and also at the Vatican of a scuola di archivistica, paleografia e diplomatica. Universities do offer courses in palaeography, too. I have found only three free accessible online resouurces for Italian palaeography, the Materiali didattici per la paleografia Latina created by Antonio Cartelli and Marco Palma (Università degli Studi di Cassino) who deal mainly with medieval manuscripts, and the Lezioni di paleografia of Renata di Simone (Archivio di Stato di Palermo) with an introduction to medieval paleography and book history (PDF), both of them in Italian. There is a tutorial in English for Early Modern and nineteenth-century Italian documents at BYU Script Tutorial. By mistake Spanish is used in the Italian version of this tutorial on the platform created by the Brigham Young University. The thirst for people in the Anglo-American hemisphere to be able to use an introduction in English is understandable. This is a real need, and the new tutorial does tackle this challenge.

The Italian thing

Much what can be said about the website for French Renaissance Paleography applies also to the new tutorial Italian Paleography which was launched on July 25, 2019. The section with manuscripts leads you to a hundred examples of handwritten books (80 items) and documents (20 items). You can filter them by genre, period, script type, reading difficulty, region and holding institution. This choice of examples seems to have been in favor of manuscripts. For the regions the general localisation “Italy” seems a bit vague. For all other aspects the choice seems quite balanced. 31 items touch the field of politics and government, twelve have been labelled “Law”.

Among the items at Italian Paleography concerning law is a register of criminals executed in Venice, written around 1775 (The Newberry, VAULT Case Ms 6A 34). Its resource type has been indicated as manuscript book, but surely this is not a manuscript in the codicological sense, but an archival document in book form, with bound leaves. The tutorial show only four of the 59 pages. With respect to the type of resource the descriptions have been made in accordance with the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials.

Supplication, 1469 - The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 recto

Supplication, Milan 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1.469 recto (detail)

A document from 1469 is perhaps a better example to show here, a supplication to the lord of Milan to reverse a condemnation.

The address of the supplication, 1469 - image: The Newberry

The address of the supplication, 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 (detail of verso)

This document is of course shown in its entirety. The supplication has been written in a very fluent hand, but the address on the back and the note below it show a less polished handwriting. In fact the main text of the document was written by a writing master. For each item of the tutorial a link is provided to the catalog description, a transcription and a background essay. This is really helpful, and anyone learning to read these documents should learn also not to turn to the transcriptions too soon. I will come back to the detailed description of the script(s) in documents given in each background essay.

The second section of the website is a concise handbook on the development of scripts used in Italy and the rise of the vernacular language. Two much older items have been included among the examples to show the most important points of departure. At the core of this website is not just the study of books and documents from Italy, but also very much the study of books and documents written in the Italian language. The description of the writing hands for the examples is given in Italian. For each phase and script type the relevant examples are listed.

The next section, the appendix, offers you access to a number of digitized calligraphy manuals and historic maps. The resources section leaves little to desire. There is not only a handy overview of the transcriptions and background essays, but also a glossary of palaeographic terms, an overview of relevant dictionaries, a bibliographical section and a section on transcription standards and metadata standards. The sections on abbreviations and symbols, teaching materials and the history of the project do not yet contain information.

I have saved perhaps the best thing for the end. At the start page of Italian Paleography you will find a number of short introductions to palaeography as a subject, its history, some tips and tricks, and also two videos in the right hand menu. In particular the page New to palaeography helps you for quick orientation into Gothic, mercantesca, cancelleresca, humanistic and italic (cursive) script. After creating an account for this website you can make transcriptions at this website using T-PEN (Transcription for Palaeographical and Editorial Notation). Thus this online tutorial offers you also a way to familiarize yourself with this important integrated tool.

Some differences

Banner French Renaissance Paleography

When you compare Italian Paleography with its older sister French Renaissance Paleography it is understandable some sections have simply not yet been filled. The website for France has a very similar structure. A clear visual difference are the interactive map and the clickable tags for topics and time periods. Reference materials can be found under a separate heading, not as a part of the resources section. The main parts of the website are listed on the start page. The section “About French documents” is empty. The presence of its logo on the start page declares more openly the use of T-PEN. There is a page Get started which in my view helps you initially as good as the videos of Italian Paleography. These differences amount mainly to a judicious remix of elements.

Logo UTL

Both websites are hosted by the University of Toronto Libraries. Their logo deserves a place next to that of The Newberry at the top of both online tutorials. At the bottom other institutions are mentioned as well. A number of libraries and institutions in the United States have graciously provided materials for this website. It is fair to conclude after this quick tour that both tutorials fulfill their purpose eminently. The combination of attention to documents with the Italian vernacular and the use of Italian for a very particular part of the descriptions rightly stress also the need to master the Italian language to some degree if you want to study sources in Italian. This linguistic demand combines with the need to be able to read the various kinds of scripts, some of them really challenging, and makes it clear doing history is not just a matter of reading texts translated into your own language and reasoning about them. Thus material and very physical aspects can help teaching you to look beyond the content of a document to its context. You simply need training for a number of essential activities in doing historical research.

The Italian tutorial shows an agreement from 1466 with an artist about the decoration of a chapel in the Sant’Antonio basilica in Padua. Art historians might be tempted to contemplate the very interesting sketch of the decoration plan in this document, and to forget the legally binding agreement. Legal historians should be seduced to look not only at the agreement itself, but also at the matter at stake and the possibility of putting artistic purposes and procedures into a clear legal framework. It is my sincere wish to the team for Italian Paleography that many students and scholars may benefit from their work. Just like its counterpart for French palaeography the training it offers can greatly assist your research in Italian manuscripts and archival documents. It will save you time and the efforts to learn things only when you arrive in Italy or have found the digitized items you are looking for at your computer screen.

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 is 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 which contain 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 which are 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 immatriculation 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 is 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 result 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 the 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 careful 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 byanyone 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 socalled 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 th text of 68,000 charters and documents in the Trésor des chartes of the Archives nationales.

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 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.

Streams of life and strife: Water as a legal matter in Roman law

Banner Roman Water Law

After six months I should finally fulfill my promise to honor here at least once a year the role of Roman law. You might almost call it the mother of all legal history! Luckily I found a subject in Roman law close to current interests. Water as a vital element of life was not absent in Roman law. Its presence is in fact manifold. The project Roman Water Law at the Freie Universität and the Humboldt Universität in Berlin helps to look at regulations concerning water and its uses according to an interesting scheme. Legal attention to water has a very long history.

A Roman look at water

The project Roman Water Law has found space on the Topoi platform which stands out for its distinctive graphic design. Topoi currently contains nearly twenty research collections and smaller projects on a variety of themes. Actually the website for Roman water law is the fruit of two research programs of the Berlin Exzellenzcluster Topoi held between 2012 and 2017, “Water from a legal perspective” and “Infrastructures from judicial, gromatic and political perspectives”. The core of the virtual collection is a combination of legal sources found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, three individual leges (laws) and the Codex Theosodianus with texts from Roman authors who touched the subject of water. The results are 572 entries with a Latin text and English translation to which one of ten newly defined categories have been assigned.

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana

Table IX of the Lex Irnitana – Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla – image: Red Digital de Colecciones de Museos de España, http://ceres.mcu.es

The harvest for Roman laws in the technical sense, leges approved by the senate of the Republic, may seem meagre with just three laws. However, one of them, the Lex Flavia Irnitana from AD 91, was only found in 1981. The fragments of six out of originally ten bronze tables are now held at the Museo Arqueológico in Seville {Hispania Epigraphica, no. 5058). This law, dated around 91 BC, is the most complete surviving example of a Lex Flavia, a municipal law. Chapter 82 of the Lex Irnitana deals with drainage and creating and changing roads, paths, canals and sewers, for which only the duumviri, a pair of magistrates elected for one year, are authorized if there is a municipal decree for their actions.

When you look at the overview of the 572 entries you can use first of all several filters. Thus you will quickly see that legal texts form the majority of the texts, only 73 items stem from Roman literature. Within the corpus of legal text the Digesta rule supreme with 435 entries. Among the sources from literature are 22 entries from Frontinus. Cicero provides only six entries. Texts found in the Corpus agrimensorum have been cited and translated using the work of Brian Campbell, The writings of the Roman land surveyors. Introduction, translation and commentary (London 2000). It is no surprise to find Okko Behrends as one of the scholars involved with the Topoi project. He edited and translated with Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi for example the volumes on Frontinus and Hyginus in the Corpus agrimensorum romanorum [vol. 4 (1998) and 5 (2000)]. You can also filter by keyword. Some forty Latin terms are given for this purpose. An entry can have multiple keywords. You can choose to open the entries for just one keyword or add entries for other keywords or subjects as well.

The core of the project are the classifications added to each entry. There are ten main types of classes, starting with definitions (44), followed by

Right to use water
Constructions to use water – Process of construction and maintenance
Legal protection of water use
Urban praedial servitudes of water
Regulation of damages and prevention of damage caused by water
Consequences of changes caused by water
Water as a route of transport
Water as a border
Buildings at banks, coasts and beaches

Under the heading Urban praedial servitudes five texts are included concerning stilicidium, the right to discharge eavesdrip (drops of rain) and the legal actions available in case of flooding (flumen). I could not help noticing that seemingly the keyword flumen has been added to the three texts for stilicidium, and that in one of the two texts for flumen the action concerning aqua pluvia is also mentioned, but not entered as a keyword. Adding the right keywords is certainly not straightforward. I looked also at the twelve texts in rubric 7.4, Storms and natural disaster, a subspecies of changes caused by water. The clear distinctions, the crisp style and the concise descriptions of standard situations should provide food for thought for any modern lawyer struggling with legal problems and trying to write about them in a most sensible and understandable way. In Roman eyes the actual situation in a particular legal case had to be faced squarely in order to provide a just solution. Last year someone asked me about Roman law and plumbing. I can reassure my acquaintance Roman lawyers said some very constructive things about plumbeae fistulae.

It is possible to download the database of Roman Water Law, created in the special Citable format created for digital humanities. It would have been more elegant to indicate the kind of tool to open it. On a tablet I could open it directly, otherwise you can use a simple text or code editor.

The variety at Topoi

Cover Becking, "Water management in ancient civilizations"

The Topoi project does not only bring digital results. Exhibitions are held and publications appear in print, too, for example the volume edited by Jonas Becking on Water management in ancient civilizations (Berlin 2018). An earlier publication touches the theme of Roman land surveying, Cosima Möller and Eberhard Knobloch (eds.), In den Gefilden der römischen Feldmesser. Juristische, wissenschaftsgeschichtliche, historische und sprachliche Aspekte (Berlin-Boston 2013). There is also an e-Topoi Journal for Ancient Studies available in open access. Received wisdom forbids me to create in this post also a nutshell guide to other relevant institutions in Berlin for the field of ancient studies. Just looking at the Topoi repository is a treat. You can look for example at ancient cylinder seals in 3D, astronomical diaries in cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia, a digital representation of the Pantheon, and the Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae. The Topoi cluster itself has many connections. With the Berliner Antike-Kolleg I mention an institution which has close connections to Topoi.

I leave it to you to explore yourself more texts included at Roman Water Law. Many uses of water come into view on the website and in the database. One of the few things missing are baths, but here we clearly enter the summertime of the northern hemisphere. Roman lawyers did discuss them, too! If you want to pursue such themes in Roman law I would like to point here again to Amanuensis, the application for searching Roman legal texts created by Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum, downloadable for both computers and smartphones. In an earlier post I introduced the app. It is good to know more texts have been included in it recently (version 4.0). Thanks to Ingo Maier a number of constitutions from Late Antiquity and the Latin Novellae of Justinian have been added, and thanks to Job Spruit also the Justinian Novellae in Greek. Hopefully the summer holidays give you a chance to relax and reload, and also to learn about and upload the latest version of such tools.

 

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.

 

Legal history at Medieval Digital Resources

Banner Medieval Digital Resources

In the tenth year of my blog I feel the need to look back at some telling contributions. In a number of posts I compared portal for legal history, for medieval history, and even two major national digital libraries. In this post I would like to look at one particular portal for medieval studies, Medieval Digital Resources (MDR) created for the Medieval Academy of America. This portal was developed between 2014 and 2016. The project was launched in December 2018. Somehow I have not noticed the launch of this portal. In view of the efforts behind it and the criteria for inclusion and description it seems most interesting to discuss MDR here in detail, with some particular questions as a focus: What place does legal history hold at this portal? How does its place reflect the many roads of legal history?

Aiming high

Logo MDR

The explicit aim of the portal is ” to provide access to websites that contain content of interest to medievalists and meet the Academy’s scholarly and technical standards of web presentation”. In my view this leads to two goals, selecting resources which are sufficiently interesting for scholars, and at the same time considering the quality of the virtual representation. I see here two questions: Do resources meet scholarly needs and standards? How well is their technical realisation? The Medieval Academy of America thanks a number o people in the acknowledgements, in particular Maryanne Kowalweski for designing the database assisted by Lisa Bitel and Lisa Fagin Davis. A team with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers helped to give MDR its present shape.

You can approach the resources brought together at MDR in three ways. It is possible to browse for resources in alphabetical ordering, supported by an alphabet and a section Recent additions. A second way is offered by the search interface with multiple fields. You can search here directly for the title and description of resources, the date range and subject, the type of resource, the geopolitical region and the original language. You can also search for the original author or creator, the type of digital resource, the license, the modern language and the project status. A number of fields work with dropdown menus. The third approach is using the search field descriptions. Here you can find lists of descriptors for five search fields: subject, source type, region, original language and type of digital resource. You can look at the notes about the names of medieval authors which tells us catalogers will enter author names only when a sufficient amount of material within a resource stems from a particular author. The page about project status explains the criteria for giving a project included in MDR a particular status. The MDR depends on good input and suggestions from scholars, and thus the suggestion form is an important element of the website, as is the feedback form.

The page about standards explains at its end the reviewing process for new suggestions and the way the team behind MDR will deal with suggestions, but the sets of standards and criteria take up most space. The first set focuses on scholarly quality: meeting normal standards, the need for explicitly stating aims, goals and methods used, including providing collection parameters, and bringing a substantial contribution or innovation. Digitized monographs are excluded.

The second set of standards deals with access and design. The first criterion is meeting prevailing digital standards, with as examples the NISO standard for digital collections, Dublin Core and IIIF (International Image Operabiliity Framework). The second criterion is the need for metadata and consistent maintenance of content, interface and platform. Image quality according to regular standards is a third criterion, and the fourth criterion is wide availability and easy navigation. The fifth criterion calls for clear and correct dealing with publication rights, copy rights and credentials.

The third set of rules of inclusion explains the definitions used for complete, ongoing and pending projects. A pending project is “new and incomplete”, or unstable because the content is minimal, maintenance is absent or irregular, and thirdly “or that are longer publicly available”. Could it be the word “no” is missing the last clause?! The criteria for an ongoing project are consistent monitoring and regular updates over a year, with portals, databases and collections as examples. A complete project is fully realized and maintained, and a curated image or text collection and a thematic bibliography are given as examples.

Whatever you may think of this project in its present state, the explicit use of standards and the explanations about the criteria to be followed are in se very useful. It helps you to ascertain qualities not only subjectively or from impressions.

Selecting in practice

I had firmly convinced myself to look here first of all at sources you can connect with the study of medieval legal history, but it seemed also interesting to look which projects with the status “Complete” have been included so far at MDR. Nearly thirty projects have been assigned the status Complete. The very first result is the website of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV). Surely the ASV should figure here, but I could not help noticing a number of things about the notice. The term archives has not been used for a searchable field of this description. The modern language of the ASV is only stated as English, but of course you can view this website in Italian. Reading the description of the collections guide, “The downloadable guide lists the over 600 different collections, but not individual manuscripts of their contents.”, offers some food for thought, starting with the fact this guide (PDF) is in Italian. The collections of the ASV are generally archival collections, not manuscript collections as in its neighbour, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In view of the number of collections at the ASV it is silly to expect for every collection full descriptions in a 96-page PDF. The choice of subjects given for the ASV, just three (diplomatics, manuscript studies and papacy) is fairly restricted, even if the additional description mention the wide variety of subjects, including legal history.

However, the main reason I start to frown when reading this description is the presence of the term Catalog in the list of resource types noted for the website of the ASV. An archive has finding aids and inventories, indexes, repertories and other tools to create access to its holdings. Personally I deeply respect the ASV for its various qualities, but you will not find any online finding aid on its website or on a separate portal. The online overview of archival collections at the ASV in ArchiveGrid is based on the Michigan project (1984-2004). Older printed guides can still be very useful. The most recent guide has been created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998) which incidentally goes beyond the ASV. You might want to read also the introduction to the ASV at the website of the Vatican Film Library, St. Louis University. Somehow the MDR notice about the ASV seems not to have been carefully reviewed. I am aware that in American use the word manuscripts can also mean papers of archival records, but its use here is not very lucky.

Looking again at the MDR search interface you will remark the absence of a search field for institutions or type of institution, and thus you will need filter yourself when searching for an archival institution. On the other hand you can filter using the preset combined fields for textual evidence for particular genres of archival records. Let’s have a quick look at some other projects at MDR having the complete status. The medieval manuscripts digitized for Europeana Regia are no longer available at its original URL. It is now available in an IIIF compliant form. The Orbis Latinus dictionary figures in the 1909 version digitized by Columbia University. The updated 1972 version is mentioned, but the notice does not indicate this version, too, has been digitized at Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online. The version of Columbia University is in German, only the introduction and some further links are in English. The notice for the Piccard Watermark collection lacks information about its language (German). The fact this kind of material evidence is also present in printed books and can be used for studying book history should become clearer. In his very early and short review of MDR on December 4, 2018 at Archivalia Klaus Graf suggested another resource concerning watermarks, the Memory of Paper, is more in place.

Using the general term legal in the free text search fields brings you to four projects. It is good to see here Diplomata Belgica, a project which figured here prominently in my recent post about Dutch charters. The three following projects are the Internet Medieval History Sourcebook, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe – my subject in another post – and RELMIN, a project concerning religious minorities, briefly mentioned here, too. I could not help noticing RELMIN is described as an ongoing project, but in fact it is only maintained, and it provides translation not only in French, but also in English. The description at MDR is bilingual! The description of the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe mentions legal documents explicitly

By all means you might start asking me why I devote space to these defective aspects of the MDR database, as if it has no right to exist in its current form. However, it is only fair to assume that a project with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers aiming to achieve goals which follow strict, even rigorous standards, should itself show high qualities, too.

Medieval law in focus

Let’s stick with legal history in the following paragraphs. I will look in MDR at projects filed with the subject Law, Law – Civil, Law – Crime and Law – Religious law. I will look also at some key resource types associated with medieval jurisdiction and authority. I will honour the attention of MDR to both textual and material evidence. Charters and legislation offer textual evidence, seals form also material evidence.

Searching for the general subject Law brings you at present 23 items. The alphabetically ordered list with 22 results shows foremost general resources, but starting from Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France you are sure law is not far away. The French scholarly journal Cahiers de Fanjeaux devotes issues to matters of religious law, in particular heresy and inquisition. With The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library and the project for medieval Welsh law you arrive safely in the fields of legal history. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) does contain a substantial number of editions of legal texts and sources, and within the French TELMA project charters occupy an important place. The filter for civil law brings you to three results: British History Online, the bibliography of the Feminae project and again the MGH. For religious law as a subject MDR brings you to five results starting with the Digital Scriptorium again to Feminae, the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is present again, and you will find the digitized versions of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca. Clearly the subseries MGH Concilia with editions of medieval councils has not been taken into consideration, as are manuscripts with conciliar texts within Europeana Regia or in the Digital Vatican Library, to mention just two MDR resources. For the subject category Law – Crime I saw only British History Online and Feminae.

For charters MDR shows currently four projects, the original French charters from before 1121 at the TELMA portal, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe, RELMIN and the TELMA portal. Diplomata Belgica has not been tagged with the term Textual evidence – Charters. The subject category Textual evidence – Legislation yields nine results in MDR. A search for seals in MDR brings you only to British Museum Collections Online. A search for courts brings you to British History Online, the French charters of TELMA and the Internet Medieval History Source Book. In the following section I will look at the implications of this situation regarding legal history for a general opinion about the qualities of MDR.

A beta version?

When I first encountered Medieval Digital Resources I had positive expectations about its content and quality. You might think my opinion of MDR has sunk dramatically in view of the way resources for legal history are currently presented, or are present at all.  However, I think it would be foolish to judge this gateway after analyzing only one subject in some detail. Anyone hopes to find something for his or her favorite subject. Alas another thing is perhaps more disturbing. When you search for items linked for a particular modern language, let’s take Danish, it is somewhat mystifying to get more than one hundred results without Danish being explicitly mentioned when you check these results. Of course I checked for Dutch also as an original language, and here it becomes clear that in the entry for the database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections Middle Dutch has not been entered explicitly as an original language. In due time the database for manuscripts with literary texts in Middle Dutch, the Bibliotheca Manuscripta Neerlandica et Impressa (BNM-i) should be added to MDR, too.

For some subjects the MDR is already very rich, for example for music. For other subjects you would like to see more than one or two scattered references, for example for palaeography. In a general search for the word archives you would expect to see the MDR entry for the online catalog Archives et manuscrits of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but it does not show up. In early March 2019 the MDR database contained just 136 items. Yet nowhere on the website it is presented as a beta version, and the term “growing collection” is simply too vague. On the contrary, the preparations started in 2014, and the team worked on the database until 2018. Medieval Digital Resources now looks like a pilot for a much grander project.

One of the problems I see in the MDR database is the lack of a good working distinction between literary texts and non-literary textual resources. Another problem is how to deal with resources with a very wide coverage: Do you enter all themes and subjects separately or is there a category “General”? Perhaps more serious is the approach to resources which focus on a particular language, source type, region, theme or subject, and to other resources where these are present at a more secondary level. A thorough control of the current entries and the preset filters might be helpful and is certainly feasible in view of their current number.

The team of MDR faces some very real challenges. How to steer between the justifiable wish to include projects according to strict rules in clear presentation, and the very real need to provide a sensible web guide for medievalists? If you want to get an impression of the sheer width of medieval studies you might want to look at the online Medieval Studies Bibliographies originally created by Charles Wright and now provided by ARC Humanities Press. You could start comparing for example the coverage in its bibliography for medieval Christianity and ecclesiastical sources the sections on the papacy and on canon law and councils. The ordering of sources and scholarly resources is not really clear, and comments are absent or very concise. However, Wright very wisely divides matters over nearly twenty bibliographies, including a general overview for medieval studies. I suppose you will acknowledge the fact that in daily practice we might rely often on some resources which are not absolutely perfect. You need also guidance to use the proper resources, preferably in their most reliable and updated version. The massive Handbook of medieval studies. Terms – methods – trends, Albrecht Classen (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin-New York 2010) has more than 2700 pages.

Despite my reservations and critical remarks I cannot help admiring the idea to provide a commented gateway to resources using review to clear standards. By starting with just 130 resources the MDR exposes itself to criticisms. You cannot hide the fact that a project with eighteen team members from an institution promoting excellence in medieval studies should have started differently after five years of preparation. I had expected to see already a tag IIIF compliant added for projects with digitized medieval manuscripts. Perhaps it is wiser to start enhancing MDR with a focus on countries such as England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Germany, and to add only gradually additional resources following a plan for particular subjects, languages and resource types. It seems wise to make such things clear right from the start. Technically I found MDR rather slow functioning. Among the projects I encountered at MDR I had not yet used the licensed ACLS Humanities E-Book collection with nearly 300 books in the subject category European 400-1400. The selection contains an electronic version of Anders Winroth’s The making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000).

If Medieval Digital Resources will become worth visiting and using in the future, some quick measures are necessary. Hopefully scholars are willing to suggest new resources for inclusion. However excellent it will eventually become, I am sure maintaining standards and doing ordinary maintenance will be core matters for the team working to make MDR successful.