Tag Archives: Digital humanities

Social justice and American legal history

Banner "Gun Regulation and Legislation", HeinOnline (detail)

This week I received a message about free access to four portals touching the theme of social justice in the USA. Several times I expressed here my wish not to forget themes such as injustice, discrimination, violence and abuse of law. Sometimes good laws can be indeed the remedy to set things right, but alas there are examples where law and justice themselves are the very core and root of evil situations instead of doing what they are meant to do. I seldom discuss here the licensed products of the major firms offering online legal information, not just because they focus on contemporary law, but because access is restricted to those working or studying at universities, research centers and law firms. Many of these products figure prominently in online guides to legal resources, and I do not need to repeat them here.

In 2016 I looked here at some length at the slavery portal of HeinOnline. The same firm has now created a Social Justice portal with free access after registration to four more or less related resources. Apart from the slavery portal legislation about guns, the struggle for human rights and social justice since the second half of the last century, and the Open Society Justice Initiative are available, the latter with a clear focus on the contemporary world. In 2018 I looked here at the historic gun laws database created at Duke University, and it is only logical to compare both resources in some detail. Even if a number of these resources are already a few years available it is interesting to look at them here.

Social justice in various perspectives

Banner with four items at the Social Justice portal (detail)

The four resources now available through the new Social Justice portal are not completely new. Slavery in America and the World was launched in 2016. Gun Regulation and Legislation in America appeared online in 2019. A year later came Civil Rights and Social Justice, and in 2021 HeinOnline launched the digital library for the Open Society Justice Initiative. I could quickly register for combined open access to the four portals

Let’s start here with the resource on gun regulation and legislation in America. This resource is a digital library, and not a database as offered with the Repository of Historical Gun Laws by the team of Duke University. Only a few items date from before 1900, and the vast majority, more than 600 items, date from the period since 1950. In fact it seems this resource takes at its starting point the end of the long period covered by Duke’s database. Here you will find various types of documents, such as congressional hearings, legislative histories, reports of the CRS and the GAO, three periodicals, Supreme Court briefs, and also scholarly articles. The digital library is about relevant regulation and legislation, but not a resource for actual laws, statutes and other legislative acts. You can browse all items and sort them by title, author, date or subject, but you will probably want to use the advanced search mode where you can create sharply defined searches, in particular for document types. The real snag comes with scholarly articles. Being able to sort them in many ways should not hide the fact they are only accessible online to subscribers of the respective legal journals, a thing noted in the introduction. You cannot search these articles with the advanced search mode. Some solace is certainly offered by the bibliography, but alas you can only browse it ordered by title and author.

My first impression of HeinOnline’s resource on gun regulation is that it offers a digital library around gun regulation and legislation documenting legislative history with some additional information, in particular a bibliography. This resource does offer you much in open access, but not everything. I suppose you might be able to find preprint versions of more recent scholarly articles in a number of American institutional repositories, giving you at least the factual information of articles, but not automatically in a legally citable format. It seems to me this resource can be viewed to some extent as the sequel to Duke’s gun laws database, but with a focus on the legal history around laws and regulation. There seems to be room for a similar digital library dealing with pre-1950 legal history, and also for a database containing federal and state regulations in whatever form after 1930. HeinOnline certainly scores with the accompanying LibGuide to this resource. an element visible also without registration, as are a total of currently 65 guides.

The road to civil rights and social justice

The second resource which I would like to present is the portal on civil rights and social justice. The introduction rightly points to the long march, the pitfalls and setbacks during the long and slow march to equal rights, and most specifically to the role played by law and justice. I started using the advanced search mode sorting all items, more than 36,000, in ascending chronological order. Some undated items and items from the 1940s appeared first, followed by publications from 1734 and 1761. With item 100 you reach the year 1846. The main focus of this digital library is the period 1950 to 2000 with some 20,000 items, and it is good to note already some 10,000 items from the current century. Some 7,000 items stem from the Commission on Civil Rights. Some document types are present here as in the gun regulation digital library, but the Statements on Essential Human Rights Archive is a distinguishing feature. By the way, the icon in the advanced search mode pointing to Venn-Diagram Search only helps you to create search strings with AND. There is also a feature to use the FastCase system for subscribers to this system. The scholarly articles here, too, cannot be searched within the advanced search mode, but instead there are five sorting options and just two search fields. I am not familiar with HeinOnline’s subscribed resources, but this seems definitely below its usual standard of searchability. All in all there are some clear blemishes, but Civil Rights and Social Justice is a rich and most interesting resource, and its existence in open access is indeed most welcome. It is a true companion to the earlier slavery portal.

Justice and open society

Logo Open Society

Living in an open society is easily taken for granted when it looks like all roads are open to you and that you can choose at will what to do and how to live and express yourself. Alas for many people this is not their reality. After looking here at two resources of the new portal, and in 2016 already at the slavery portal, should bring the message home that much needs to be done and much patience is needed in creating and maintaining a stable open society. It is a bit confusing that both the initiative of the Open Society Foundatione and HeinOnline’s digital resource have the same name. Adding the word Publications as on the actual search page would repair this quickly.

This small digital library has a worldwide scope and range. You can select three document types (briefing paper, publication and report). Only after selecting a document type you can put them in a chronological order. Alas only with the latest item you see immediately a publication date. A look at library catalogs and their standard features would decidedly enhance the overview of items. There are currently 45 publications, 127 briefing papers and 126 reports. It is a bit irritating that you have to navigate back to choose another document type. The advanced search mode makes things easier indeed.

Before you think I am just in a grumbling mood I decided to look for items specifically aiming at my own country within this digital library. There is a 2015 report from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Dutch branch of Amnesty International on ethnic profiling. These institutions wrote in 2018 a report for the UN Committee against Torture on ill-treatment in the context of counter-terrorism and high-security prisons. OSJI and TRIAL International published together in 2019 a briefing paper on universal jurisdiction law and practice in the Netherlands. As in my 2020 post ‘Against racism, for justice’ it is sensible to look first at your own country or situation before trying to assess the situation elsewhere. Seeing these three publications is a sobering thing for me.

Commercial core business and additional open access

How should one look at the open access activities of HeinOnline? Answering this question is not a straightforward thing to do, at least not for me. I suppose similar firms have their own open access products as well, but at this moment I can only immediately remember LLMC Digital which since a few years brings increasingly resources in open access for US legal history, both on the federal and state level, and for some other countries, too, at its open access section. Its Civil and Human Rights Law portal offers some documents in open access, but it is mostly a portal, as is the Indigenous Law portal.

However, today my main aim is bringing to your attention the four resources in open access created by HeinOnline, one of them for an institution acting worldwide for the cause of rights making a truly open society possible. HeinOnline has chosen themes connecting the past with the present in a very clear way. I mentioned in particular the good use of the LibGuides system with clear commented information, only lacking the touch of distinguishing with symbols between licensed resources and resources in open access. This seems to me a thing too often neglected in the guides offered by libraries, even after two years of lockdowns and restricted live access to scholarly and cultural heritage institutions. At some points the four resources clearly betray their origin from a firm focusing on contemporary law, sometimes as an advantage and sometimes as an obstacle for historical research. Let’s use them for your own benefit as a researcher, but I think they should indeed enjoy wider circulation as an addition to digital public history.

A journal for digital legal history

Logo The Journal for Digital History

In some cases it can be very hard to find the right words for a post about a particular subject. Luckily announcing a new journal is a different matter! A few weeks ago the Journal for Digital Legal History has been launched by the Universiteit Gent on its platform for scientific journals in open access. The editors-in-chief of the new journal are Dirk Heirbaut, Annemiek Romein and Florenz Volkaert. Among the seven members of the editorial board are for example Andreas Wagner, officer for digital humanities at the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, and Stephen Robertson (George Mason University). Familiar names in the advisory board are Serge Dauchy (Lille), Thomas Duve (MPILHLT), Heikki Pihlajamäki (Helsinki) and Dave de Ruysscher (Tilburg).

In their opening statement the editors-in-chief explain the need for a journal devoted to digital legal history as a wish expressed by several scholars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 organized by the MPILHLT – reviewed here – scholars from Ghent did not hesitate to mention their wish to create and host a new journal with this particular focus. Other journals might devote more or less regularly space for articles on digital legal history, but creating a special platform is indeed welcome and sensible, too. Not just subjects touched by both legal history and digital humanities should get space in the JDLH, but digital methods, too, need to be presented, reviewed and discussed. Scholars are in particular invited to bring new approaches and widen the horizons of legal historians at large. Scholars willing to act as reviewers of digital projects are also invited to contact the editorial team.

Creating a journal is a sign of the willingness to create a part of the scholarly infrastructure that will help to lay sure foundations for any new discipline. It expresses also the seriousness of scholars devoting their creativity, curiosity and other scholarly qualities. Digital legal history is not a passing hype or whim. There is all reason for reflection on the digital turn and its impact on doing legal history in our days. It is up to all scholars with an active interest in digital legal history to contribute not only to this field in the ways they see fit, but also to help establishing this journal as a clear point of reference for this discipline. My best wishes for the future of the Journal for Digital Legal History (@DigiLegalHisto)!

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.

Reframing a medieval bureaucracy: Databases for papal charters

Flyer "Papsturkunden ohne Ende"

At my blog medieval canon law is a special subject. Lately I have written here a few times about medieval charters. In 2020 I devoted a very long post to a number of papal charters from the fourteenth century issued around an interdict on the Dutch city of Dordrecht. This year the quadrennial congress on medieval canon law will hopefully take place in St. Louis from July 17 to 23.. Another scholarly event scheduled for this month came into view as a subject worth attention here. On February 17-18, 2022 a conference will be held on the theme “Papsturkunden ohne Ende”: Datenbanken ohne Ende? / “Actes à l’infini”: des bases de données infinies?, the endless stream of papal charters in view of the endless powers of modern relational databases. Scholars will deal with a number of projects for such databases. In this post I propose to look at some of them a bit longer, either because of their importance or because they are new of relatively new.

By chance I saw a notice about a project for a portal enabling you to search in numerous databases with medieval charters, Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). It figures in a paper in Luxembourg, too, and it seems natural to present this resource and its many facilities here, too, to add depth to the description of databases for papal charters.

Three related perspectives

The scholarly meeting in Luxembourg comes with a triple subtitle: Databases, interoperability and shared solutions. It is indeed one thing to put information into a database, another thing to exchange information and metadata, and thirdly there is the matter of not inventing the wheel again but borrowing consciously from best practices elsewhere, and preferably working together on solutions. French and German scholars find each other here first of all in a project around the medieval kingdom Lotharingia which gave its name to the Lorraine region now in France. Recently Harald Müller, Hannes Engl, Michel Margue and Timoth Salemme presented their project INTERLOR in the article ‘Vorstellung des Forschungsprojekts «INTERLOR – Lotharingien und das Papsttum. Interaktions-,Integrations- und Transformationsprozesse im Spannungsfeld zwischen zentraler Steuerung und regionaler Eigendynamik (11. – Anfang 13. Jahrhundert)»’, Studi di Storia Medioevale e di Diplomatica n.s. 5 (2021). This project with scholars from Aachen and Luxembourg will focus on the cathedral cities of Liège and Metz, on the presence of Premonstratensian and Cistercian monks, secular power and the perception of the papacy.

On February 17, 2022, papers will be presented about a number of existing databases and the new database for INTERLOR. Thorsten Schlauwitz (Erlangen-Neurenberg) will speak about the database version of the Regesta pontificum romanorum. The Aposcripta database for papal letters is the subject in a paper by Julien Thery (Lyon). Rolf Große and Sebastian Gensicke (Paris) will discuss the project Gallia Pontificia and more specifically regests for acts of the archbishops of Reims. Muriel Foulonneau and Timothy Salemme (Luxembourg) present the new INTERLOR database, and a round-table discussion will be the conclusion of the first day.

The second session on February 18 will look at the roads from textual corpora to textual databases and the chances for data mining of medieval charters. Here Dominik Trump (Cologne) will look at the hybrid edition of the so-called Kapitularien, decrees of the Carolingian rulers, now available online in the project Capitularia – Edition der fränkischen Herrschererlasse. Problems of indexation of medieval charters will be addressed by Sergio Torres (Paris). Nicolas Perreaux (Paris) will discuss data mining, stylometrics and semantics in connection with the project and database Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA). Thus this database is indeed for a good reason also a theme in my post.

How will historians use such resources? This question is leading in the paper by Sébastien de Valériola (Brussels) who will look at data mining and data-driven research. Finally Bastien Dubuisson (Luxembourg and Namur) will speak about the transition from database to code for implementing stylometric research for medieval history. This is perhaps the best place to mention the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (“C²DH”).

A look at two databases

It will not do to present here all databases in the compass of a single post. I give at least the URL’s of existing databases. I could not yet find the URL for the INTERLOR database. Finding such databases is helped by a page of the CEMA website with a list of projects in many European countries.

Some databases attract your attention because they aim at providing access to documents from a long period and from a wide range of places. The Aposcripta database is hosted at the Telma portal for databases with medieval charters of the IRHT in Paris (Twitter @aposcripta). The project takes its name from the expression apostolica scripta, a term used by popes for their letters. This database was launched in 2017. It contains currently some 22,000 items, some 14,000 of them from the thirteenth century and nearly 2,800 letters from the twelfth century. These numbers are rather low. You could already find in the first printed edition of the Regesta pontificum romanorum more than ten thousand summaries of papal charters up to 1198. However, Aposcripta scores points with its impressive overview of editions used and mentioned. Entering ten thousand items and more issued per annum after 1300 will be quite a feat. Aposcripta rightly warns you not to expect everything mentioned in an edition also in its database, stressing the fact it is more a search tool than a digital archive.

With Aposcripta you get an idea of the sheer mass still awaiting digital treatment. The question of interoperability comes inevitably into view for the Cartae Europae Medii Aevi (CEMA) hosted also in Paris (Twitter @Carta_Europae). Even a restriction to currently twenty digital resources for this portal is understandable. The tabs of the search screen of CEMA open new vistas. I have seen various online textual corpora and their search facilities, and I have repeatedly mentioned here the wonders of Philologic4, in particular for the Corpus synodalium, a database and repertory at Stanford for medieval synods and statutes discussed here in 2020. CEMA offers multiple ways of searching in 270,000 charters. Even if I did not immediately spot a chronological filter this is probably just an oversight on my side, and more to the point a sign of my bias as a historian keen on temporal precision! Speaking of another way of representation, the Regesta pontificum Romanorum has a geo browser.

CEMA has undoubtedly most interesting qualities bringing research concerning medieval charters on a new level of depth and possible comparisons. It scores also with a bibliographical database for source editions which builds for instance on the earlier CartulR database of the IRHT for editions of French cartularies. Some 2,700 editions have already been included in the new database.

Into the future

In view of all things now at your disposition in these databases it feels a bit too strict to mention here some gaps or seemingly missing projects. You would expect the inclusion of more existing projects for CEMA. It does raise the question of standards for data exchange and interoperability. Just one of the Scandinavian Diplomataria is currently harvested for CEMA. The fine project for medieval charters from the territories of current Belgium in Diplomata Belgica would seem most fit as a further extension. Can some of the digitized Dutch editions of charters in oorkondenboeken available at the resources platform of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam, also be among future additions? The database with medieval and Early Modern charters held in Dutch archives, the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, discussed here in 2019, is probably too much a resource for archivists than a tool for the field of diplomatics.

Writing this post and mentioning the Corpus synodalium created by Rowan Dorin and his team in Stanford I remember his warnings at the online digital legal history conference in March 2021 about creating and maintaining databases for the future, the seduction of putting in all available materials, and the need for the use of widely recognized standards with a view to things as a conversion to another database or extraction into some other system. It is not just a matter of bringing the water from a number of lakes into a new sea, and leaving the result unattended afterwards.

In my opinion the meeting in Luxembourg helps you to welcome the differences between databases with their various earlier history in print as road signs to paths you might explore. It would be most tempting to create an all-encompassing database for medieval charters with images, transcriptions and scholarly commentaries. For textual research you will want access to a kind of corpus, and this wish is every bit as valuable. Bridging distances between scholars from nations with a history of both wars and fruitful mutual influence is one thing, bridging gaps between scholarly approaches in neighboring disciplines is certainly a serious goal, too. I am sure the scholars participating in this conference and working on the projects I concisely mentioned in my post are quite willing to share their experience building on the sometimes very old research traditions behind them. Their openness to new tools and questions are a sign of the vitality of these projects and the teams currently responsible for bringing them into our century.

Translating Justinian’s Digest with DeepL, a multiple challenge

The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome - image Wikimedia Commons
The clivus Capitolinus, the slope of the Capitol Hill in Rome – image Wikimedia Commons

This post is a tale of the unexpected. Last week I received a message about a new translation of the Digesta Justiniani, the famous sixth-century compilation of texts by the classical Roman lawyers. Soon two things became clear: It was not just a single new translation into one particular language, but into a number of languages, and these translations were not the fruit of just one scholar, but mainly the product of the online translation tool DeepL. Béla Pokol, a Hungarian lawyer at the Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest, used the powerful DeepL tool for translating the Digest into fourteen (!) European languages. For this project he had to process some 45,000 pages. You can download the translations as PDF’s from the section Law Working Papers of the online journal Jogelméleti Szemle. Journal of Legal Theory. A cordial exchange of questions and answers with Béla Pokol followed quickly. Here I will look first of all at the Dutch translation, but whenever necessary other languages will figure here, too. I will try to distinguish carefully between the input of DeepL and Pokol’s own efforts.

DeepL takes the plunge

I suppose normally you would use the translation function of the browser created by one of the Big Tech Firms for occasionally translating some information in languages which are clearly out of your range of linguistic capacities. In these cases you get a rough idea of the core of a text, with for example a number of words even left untranslated. The seduction of DeepL’s offer to bring really good translations from and to a great number of sounds for me simply too good to be true. So far I received just once a translation created by DeepL which I ignored completely by going straight for the English original of an article.

Enter Béla Pokol who at the very least has designed a kind of ultimate test for DeepL, translating from a dead language like Latin into modern languages, and not just a general text from classical literature, but the very core text collection of Roman law. Classical Latin has a complex syntax and a rich idiom. The classical lawyers seem to prefer a less rich vocabulary, but their concise and trenchant arguments set a great challenge for translators. To mention just a few modern examples, the Dutch team led by Job Spruit worked between 1993 and 2011 on their translation in twelve volumes of the Digest, Code, the Justinian Institutes and the Novellae [Corpus Iuris Civilis. Tekst en Vertaling]. The German team led by Okko Behrends started in 1995 and reached with the fifth volume published in 2012 only D. 34. The recent project for a version of the Digest with Latin text and an Italian translation was first published in five volumes between 2005 and 2014; the web version was launched in 2017. In 2011 I wrote here a post on recent and older translations for Roman law. At the page for Roman law of my legal history website Rechtshistorie I mention more translations, a number of them available online.

The idea for using DeepL to tackle the intricacies of the Digest came after Pokol had used DeepL to translate his book Juristocracy from English into seven languages, with surprisingly few errors. He enlisted the help of his daughters to deal with the new challenge of the Digest, because he had noticed only a small number of translations of the Digest into modern European languages. Hence the decision to aim at fourteen languages, starting with Hungarian, followed by French, German, Portuguese, Spanish. Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Rumanian, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Polish and Russian. It took Pokol and his daughters a year to produce the 45,000 pages of these translations.

First impressions

For the aim of this post I decided to look first at the translated results, and only afterwards at DeepL. How should one quickly assess the quality of these translations? As a matter of fact many years ago I selected three passages in the Digest for translation into four languages which figure at my legal history website as Exempla iuris Romanorum. D. 4.3.7.10 is a text on fraud, D. 19.2.59 a text about a building agreement, and D. 32.52.3 a text about hereditary law. I add to them the first case from the Digest I ever encountered, D. 9.2.52.2, a case of deadly damage caused by a collision of two carts on the slope of the Capitol. A fifth check was quickly found, too, using the words plumbum, lead, and balineum, bath, both terms frequently used in connection with water, as can be seen in the Topoi database in Berlin on Roman water law discussed here in 2019. As a quick reference I used the Amanuensis tool of Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum.

The Dutch translation created by Pokol using DeepL has 3921 pages. The first translation seems really good (p. 261), especially when DeepL succeeds in keeping everything in a single sentence. Spruit and Wubbe, the Dutch team for D. 4, used two sentences in their translation of D. 4.3.7.10. The second example, D. 19.2.59 figures at pp. 1363-1364. Here I hesitate about the building being destroyed (verwoest), the verb concutio does mean to shake heavily. DeepL puts in the word ongeluk as a partial translation of acciderit. The case about a will speaking about books in D. 32.52.3 fares less well (p. 2164). In the first part the word bibliothecas has been translated as bibliotheken (libraries) but it is clear bookshelves are meant. In the second part the word scrinia does not mean writing tables but chests. Some words have more than one meaning, and it is vital to use the one clearly meant in the context of a case.

The case with the mules and two carts on the Capitol hill (D. 9.5.2.2) killing a young slave is somewhat longer than the fragments here above. At first DeepL impressed me with a clear disposition of this complicated case (p. 681). The mule-drivers (muliones) become only once koetsiers, coachmen. However, translating the term lege Aquilia by “Lex van Aquilia” is decidedly odd. This law and another Roman law, with few exceptions, remains in Dutch untranslated. I cannot plod here through every occurrence of the word lead. In D. 32.35.3 the bath of Iulianus becomes the Julianabad (p. 3241), a very early homage to a former Dutch queen, instead of het badhuis van Julianus or het Juliaanse badhuis. Tibur has been left untranslated, but it is clearly Tivoli, and the word scitis has been promoted to Scitis. In the leges preceding this case DeepL has more luck with some difficult names of locations.

A multiple challenge

On closer inspection there are very real problems. The translation of the references to the works of Roman lawyers is a matter of some wonder. The book title membranae is translated as Perkamenten, parchments. Spruit cum suis opt for Notities (Notes). At some point an author Callistratus is mentioned, a name not mentioned at all within the Digest. The title page of the translation provides a clue to the origin of some of these problems. Pokol has not created a translation from the Latin original, but from the English translation by Samuel Scott, The Civil Law, including the Twelve Tables… (17 vol., Cincinnati 1932). This fact alone severely diminishes the value and possible importance of the translation under review here. It does matter much less which faults can be attributed to DeepL or to Pokol since the very starting point is awkward, and not what one would expect someone to do.

In his article ‘The enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott’, Roman Legal Tradition 10 (2014) 1-37 Timothy Kearley devotes pages 29 to 32 to an assessment of the value of Scott’s translation of the Justinian corpus. Reviewers accorded it mostly only value as a introduction for students and as a quick reference tool. Apart from mistakes in his translations they faulted Scott for ignoring the edition by Mommsen and Krüger and generally being less aware of the latest (German) scholarship. Kearley expands his views in his study Lost in Translations. Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early Twentieth-Century America (Durham, NC, 2018).

What is the value of Pokol’s efforts? He wrote to me his explicit aim was helping modern lawyers to have “a speedy online help” for Roman law and to make it a living heritage. Alas as a reference tool the current translation is marred by a lack of running titles indicating on each page the title of the Digest. In some titles, in particular D. 50.17, De regulis iuris antiqui, the numbers of the leges are not given correctly. Book 50 ends with leges numbered above 1000. This has simply escaped his attention. Pokol did not include the introductory constitutions and the Index Florentinus. It shows definitely he aims indeed at lawyers in general, and not at students and scholars who want to study Roman law for its own sake. Let it be clear Pokol did not at all attempt to translate the Latin original of the Digest. In his view the Hungarian translation of the Digest by DeepL is quite good.

Looking deeper into DeepL

It brings us to the final question of this post, the value of DeepL for translating classical Latin into any modern European language. DeepL offers currently 26 languages. Apart from European languages only Chinese and Japanese are now included. Arabic, Hindi and Swahili are absent. The inclusion of Finnish and Hungarian, two Finoegrian languages, is remarkable. Polish and Russian, too, are languages with a number of very real difficulties. Swedish and Danish are present as Scandinavian languages. There is simply no Latin to test here with DeepL at the moment of writing. DeepL does succeed in faithfully translating English into Dutch at a notable level for fairly difficult texts as the ones used here as tests. It might make you certainly curious about the way it would work as an assisting tool, for example when translating a textbook for Roman law into another language.

To give DeepL quickly a second chance to prove it can produce something convincingly adequate when faced with a text offering some difficulties I entered the text of my recent contribution ‘A dictionary for the Spanish colonial empire and canon law’ for a translation from English to Dutch. Using the free version of DeepL without a trial period this meant each time only 5,000 signs could be entered, roughly half of my post. The translation of the first half contained only a few problems, and in the second part with many Spanish words these were correctly left untranslated, and only some easily detectable glitches in the syntax occurred.

For your interest – and perhaps consolation! – I looked around briefly for other online translation tools which do include Latin. I found a few websites featuring both Dutch and Latin. Translatiz depends on Google Translate. In its Latin-Dutch translation of D. 32.52.3 the word legatis becomes luitenants, lieutenants. ImTranslator seemed at first to offer besides Google also Microsoft and PROMT for Latin-Dutch, but the two last do not offer this functionality. A search in Dutch fo online trasslating tools made in the Low Countries brought me to Webtran where you get only a word for word translation for Latin-Dutch filled with silly mistakes, and not even clear sentences at all. Opentran and the Dutch version of I Love Translation join the ranks of tools with insufficient qualities for translating legal Latin. Remembering just in time Cicero’s vehement sigh Quousque tandem abutere nostra patientia, Catilina? I will leave it at that for now, even though these tools did solve this particular Latin question correctly.

It is a feat to climb the Capitol Hill of faithful translation from any language and for any subject! No doubt sooner or later an online tool will appear which will be able using artificial knowledge to produce translations from Latin, not only for regular classical texts with their own peculiarities, but also for legal texts. Classicists are keen in using digital humanities to sensible ends. The challenge remains to learn yourself sufficient Latin and to find reliable translations made in years of toil and endless care for details, and secondly to have all necessary capacities for understanding the way Roman lawyers thought, argued and acted. A good translation is an act of interpretation in itself, a necessary foundation for further research. Meanwhile we can benefit from a substantial number of older and newer translations for Roman law. As for having an impact on modern lawyers and legislators the quality and vitality of thinking and writing about law and legal history by legal historians should seduce people to enter the realm of Roman law in all its manifestations through the centuries until now.

French laws between 1795 and 1799

Startsecreen LexDir

Interpreting the French Revolution is a kind of historical industry. New interpretations and fresh assessments sometimes seem to tumble over each other or follow in relatively quick succession. Some watersheds remain visible, at least for those not immersed in the latest relevant literature. The fall of Robespierre and the end of the Great Terror in 1795 mark a period, as does the coming to power of Napoleon in 1799. The period between 1795 and 1799 with the Directoire might seem a minor interruption of the chain of revolutionary developments.

In my series of posts on the French Revolution I have put legal developments at the centre. With the completion and launch of a database with legislation enacted between 1795 and 1799 it becomes possible to look again at sweeping views of the character of the French Revolution. Did it really only destroy the Ancien Régime or did it build lasting structures at a legal level? Did only Napoleon erect a final new legal order with his Code civil and Code penal? Let’s look here at the database La Loi de la Révolution française 1789-1799, available at the ARTFL platform of the University of Chicago. What are the qualities of this project long known for its acronym ANR LexDir?

Legislative activity under the Directoire

Ttitle page of the "Corps législatif"

In 2015 I published here my post ‘Laws and the French Revolution’. Whatever the merits of this contribution with lots of information concerning digital projects featuring information related to French legal history in the late eighteenth century, it remains a surprisingly often visited post. Over the years I have made some adjustments and additions to it. The French research project ANR LexDir started some ten years ago, but only now I spotted news about its completion and the launch of the database at the end of the international scholarly meeting La Directoire fait sa loi! held by the Université Paris 1 Panthéon- Sorbonne on September 9-11, 2021. You can download the program (PDF) of this event.

The sheer number of laws and decrees enacted between 1789 and 1799 is much larger than you would guess at first. Modern national parliaments and the European Union do have a substantial legal production nowadays, but the members of the revolutionary assemblées succeeded in creating a massive quantity of legal enactments. How did they have any spare time for steering the French Revolution through all perils?! At the ARTFL platform the project team with Yann Arzel Durelle-Marc, Anne Simonin and Pierre Serna underlines in their concise introduction the fact the French Revolution was a highly legal phenomenon, something already noted by Jules Michelet with his vignette “le triomphe du droit”. The new resource should enable you to put such statements in due perspective.

The new platform at ARTFL offers not only the legislation published between 1795 and 1799, but also the laws published since 1789 in the Collection Baudouin which remains separately available. The Collection du Louvre – with eighteen volumes covering the years 1791 to 1794 – is the source for a part of the legislation covered also by the Collection Baudouin, with 85 volumes for the period 1789-1799. Its volumes 68 to 85 cover the Directoire from October 1795 to December 1799. In fact if you like to focus on either one of these collections you can directly go for them at the search interface.

With the database at the ARTFL platform comes the rich search functionality of Philologic4. Not only you can browse for a particular year and use a general free search option, but also a recherche avancée enabling you to look at contexts, collocation and chronology of laws. The advanced search mode allows you to filter out headings, to skip indexes, to use either normal (Gregorian) or revolutionary dates, and to filter for subjects and titles of laws, to mention only the most important features. These filters are also at hand in a filter panel to the right of search results. You can present results with only the exact text or show them in their context. My first impression is that of a veil lifted from an amorphous mass of information. The feeling you can search here in full depth is most attractive and promising.

How should one appreciate the value of this new online resource? It is one thing to be able to use digitized works, for example in the splendid selection Essentiels du droit of the Gallica digital library showing you many sources for French legal history, but searching in these sources is another thing. A database gives you new search opportunities. Having at your disposal all revolutionary legislation coming from the capital and being able to use it as a textual corpus helps you to put materials from outside Paris from the various départements into more and deeper relief, to mention just one possible approach. In the next paragraph we will see how French revolutionary legislation does not have to be studied as a single or isolated subject.

The wonders of ARTFL

Logo ARTFL

Some recent additions at the ARTFL platform merit particular mention, too. The section What’s new at ARTFL has much to offer! The ten volumes of the Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre have become available online. You can use the Philologic Federated Bibliography for bibliographic research across all ARTFL resources.

Most interesting for legal historians and everyone else is the first version of the Intertextual Hub, a portal for searching with one search action in a number of resources, among them nearly 26,000 French revolutionary pamphlets digitized by The Newberry Library in Chicago, the Archives parlementaires and also revolutionary laws, the latter with an English search interface. Add to them the Journaux de Marat and eighteenth-century works on political thought and economy for the Goldsmith-Kress collection, and you will agree with me this new hub is indeed most valuable. Among similarly searchable resources elsewhere I should mention the newspaper Le Moniteur Universel (1789-1830). Florida State University has created a searchable version of this gazette nationale.

In view of the riches awaiting you both in this alluring Intertextual Hub and in the database with French revolutionary legislation from 1789 until the end of 1799 you will probably not want to read here much longer than absolutely necessary! I will end with warm thanks to the research team in Paris and the ARTFL staff at Chicago for bringing this project to a successful conclusion. I had best offer you here below the links to the complete series of my posts concerning legal history and the French Revolution.

The first article in this series, ‘Laws and the French Revolution’, appeared in February 2015. The second article came in June 2015, ‘Some notes on the history of tolerance’. A third post was published in March 2016, ‘Images and the road to the French Revolution’. The fourth post from August 2016 focused on legal briefs before, during and after the French Revolution, ‘Legal rhetorics and reality in Early Modern France: The factums’. Among earlier posts you might still like to look at ‘Rousseau at 300 years: nature and law’ (2012).

A great institution at 200: The École des Chartes

The bicentenary lofo of the ENC

Jubilees come in various forms. Some are obviously too arbitrary or only remotely interesting, others call rigthly for your time and attention. Among French educational institutions the grandes établissements take pride of place. The École nationale des chartes (ENC) in Paris is surely very special among them. In 2021 it celebrates its bicentenary. Although it is obvious to make a comparison with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, commemorated here in 2019 for its own bicentenary, the ENC distinguishes itself by being a school for archivists and paleographers. In this post I will look at the fundamental aspects of the ENC, some of its former pupils and at some famous episodes from its history.

The institutional setting

The royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 for the foundation of the ENC – image ENC

Fairly recently the ENC became a part of the Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) after a period as part of the university Paris Sorbonne, hence the different URL’s for some elements of its current digital presence. I had better start here with stating that the ENC is formally not a grande école or grand établissement with an independent status, but it ranks decidedly with its equals. I should tell you also immediately I am deeply impressed by a work on the development of history as a profession in France during the nineteenth century, written by Pim den Boer, Geschiedenis als beroep. De professionalisering van de geschiedbeoefening in Frankrijk (1818-1914) (NIjmegen 1987). This study helps you very much to see major institutions, minor and major figures and developments in their context. During the nineteenth century the ENC provided France in the first place with archivists and paleographers who put their work in archives at the service of historians. The chartistes did write theses, but these stayed closed to the documents; aktengemäss was Den Boer’s vignette for their production. We tend to associate the ENC with critical source editions, but producing book length editions is a much later development. The ENC shows its core qualities in the new critical edition of the royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 founding this institution, available online as a PDF and introduced with a video.

The creation of a journal by the ENC, the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes (BEC) in 1839 was an initiative of the newly founded Société de l’École des Chartes. It is one of the oldest still existing scientific journals. You can find digitized issues at the Persée portal up to 2015. Among the issues from this century are some thematic volumes. With its training in the auxiliary historical sciences and its insistence on using historical research methods the ENC soon became a model institution. Dlplomatics, paleography, chronolology and sigillography are perhaps the best known auxiliary sciences for historians. These disciplines are still taught at the ENC, but next to the classic training for archivists the ENC offers four other masters. digital humanities for historians, digital humanities, transnational history and medieval studies. At the Theleme portal the ENC offers course materials, dossiers on several themes, and a number of bibliographies. You can benefit for example from the materials on book history in the Cours section. When reading Early Modern French documents you will encounter abbreviations listed in the Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises.

The ENC uniquely has both a library and a journal called bibliothèque, and both deserve some attention here. Its collections brought the library a recognition for excellence (Collections d’Excellence). Of course there is also a bibliothèque numérique, with apart form licensed resources also three digital collections from its own holdings, and three virtual exhibits. For the theses of students the library has created a subdomain in its digital library called ThENC@. On a second subdomain Theses you search in all these since 1840. PhD theses defended at the ENC between 2013 and 2020 are conveniently mentioned in a list.

Celebrating a bicentenaire

Of course it is clear the projected celebrations for the bicentenaire could only partially proceed in its original planned format. I will therefore skip presenting the program, except for the special issue on the jubilee published by the history journal L’Histoire (PDF). It is much more interesting to look at some of the educational platforms creaetd by the ENC, one of them put online only a few weeks ago.

The French sense for structure has led the ENC to create yet another subdomain for is applications with the nice abbreviation DH, because a number of them are a part of digital humanities. You can have a look at applications under development, too. The best known is perhaps Éditions en ligne de l’École des chartes (Élec), with currently 32 electronic editions. A few years ago I wrote here a contribution about Graziella Pastore’s edition of the Livre de jostice et de plet. The most used online edition is probably the great dictionary – actually formally only a glossary – for medieval Latin created by Charles de Fresne du Cange. The theme range of the editions is really wide. There are also some acts of scientific congresses, and for example a repertory for medieval French translations of texts in classical Latin and Greek. Among other projects I simply did not know about the online version of the Dictionnaire topographique de la France (DicoTopo,) a very useful tool for tracing French (historical) geographical locations.

I had expected to find here also a reference to the Theleme portal, but the ENC views this as an educational resource. Theleme stands for Techniques pour l’Histoire en Ligne:: Études, Manuels, Exercices, Bibliographies, a host of things much needed by (French) historians. The bibliographies for the historical auxiliary disciplines are splendid. Among the tutorials (cours) I would single out those dealing with book and printing history. The Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises should inspire palaeographers worldwide to create similar tools showing abbreviations for their own country and language. The dossiers documentaires offer both historical and palaeographic commentaries for images of charters and other documents in French and Latin from France. They offer students a most useful introduction in studying medieval and later documents.

The latest addition to the fleet of subdomains and digital projects of the ENC is ADELE (Album de diplomatique en ligne), an online project providing images of medieval charters for diplomatics, the study of charters as an auxiliary historical discipline, a classic activity at the ENC since its foundation.

Beyond reading old scripts

Being able to study old scripts was perhaps the thing most clear to outsiders about chartistes. It was not a coincidence professors at and former students of the ENC got involved in looking at the infamous document posing itself as evidence in the Dreyfus case around 1900. Interestingly chartistes were found both among the dreyfusards, those defending captain Dreyfus, and among his fierce opponents. In an earlier contribution I looked at this case and the importance of a newly found secret dossier. I remember in particular reading the article about the position of former élèves by Bertrand Joly, ‘L’École des Chartes et l’Affaire Dreyfus’, BEC 147 (1989) 611-671 (online, Persée).

It is not entirely by chance that the scientist René Girard (1923-2015) , one of the most famous former students of the ENC, became interested in the role and importance of mechanisms for blaming people. His theories about scapegoat mechanisms made him most interesting for anthropologists, but legal historians, too, have to be aware of such phenomena, and not only when dealing with criminal law. Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958) became an author of famous novels, foremost the series Les Thibaut (1922-1940), which brought him in 1937 the Nobel Prize for literature.

The ENC does not have its own various series of source editions like its slightly older German counterpart, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, but its professors and former students certainly produced numerous critical editions in the classic French series such as the Classiques de l’Histoire de France. Many theses defended at the ENC have as its core a source edition. Today the ENC offers four master degrees, including a degree for digital humanities, beside the original course for archiviste-paléographe. Its horizon goes beyond the Middle Ages. The MGH offer currently summer schools in the historical auxiliary sciences, but the institute does not have a school. A number of German historians did contributed editions for the MGH or were at some time a staff member. Both institutions have their own distinctive qualities and know an equally rich history with sometimes dramatic periods. Both deserve laurels as pioneers and models for contributing to historical research in Europe. For me 2021 would not be complete here without a commemoration of the ENC’s bicentennial!

Three new databases for Roman law

Start screen Infames Romani, PoolCorpus

An aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting scholarly research was and is restricted access to archives, libraries and museums. Online materials became even more important for both teachers and students than they did already before 2020. Classicists have embraced the possibilities of the internet and grasped also the use of digital humanities to widen and deepen their research, and to present the results in often interesting ways. At my blog and website I try to find and follow projects with a connection to legal history. While updating and reassessing the information about Roman law on my website I encountered at least three databases that I had missed earlier on or are simply still rather new. I certainly would like to make here some amends for the times Roman law came only seldom here into view. Apart from a presentation of the three databases I will also briefly mention some of the latest additions to my links list for Roman law. In this year’s Open Access Week it is good to know these resources can be accessed freely.

The Romans and infamy

The first database I would like to present is Infames Romani, the project of Clément Bur hosted at the PoolCorpus platform of the Institut National Universitaire Champollion (Albi-Rodez-Castres). It was a pleasant surprise to find this new element on a platform created for hosting biographical and prosopographical databases which until recently focused on students at French universities, mainly during the Early Modern period. Clément Bur wrote his PhD thesis La citoyenneté dégradée : une histoire de l’infamie à Rome (312 av. J.-C. – 96 apr. J.-C.) (Rome 2018), published by the École française de Rome. The database builds on his thesis concerning citizens whose behaviour or position in society led to marking them or simply made them infamous. People not just lost certain civic rights, they were outright degraded also by humiliating and infamous penalties.

The database with 210 cases distinguishes six penalties, everyone of them with subcategories, and a number of general cases. You can search by name, period, the kind of penalty with additional subcategories. Bur limited his research to the late Roman Republic and the first century of the Roman empire. Entries contain the text or texts mentioning a person and references to scholarly literature. In this introduction to the database Bur explains concisely his scope and aim, his definition of persons affected by infamy. He indicates the main resourced used for his corpus, and he mentions a few specific categories not included.

Start screen Trials in the Late Roman Republic

Among the databases Bur used one deserves some attention here. I wonder how I had not seen earlier on the database for Trials in the Late Roman Republic based on Michael Alexander’s Trials in the Roman Republic 149 BC to 50 BC (1990; 2nd ed., 2007) and extended by him, Tracy Deline and Federico Russo with the cooperation of others. The creation of this website started already in 2014, and because it is not a new database I will mention it only briefly here. The book has been converted both to HTML and XML. You can search the database with an XPath form or with Balbus. A second version of the database is currently work in progress. The TLRR database contains 391 cases, treated very summarily, and thus in this succinct form it has clearly to be consulted in tandem with Alexander’s monograph, available as a PDF at the TLRR website.

Roman bastards, a title with a twist

Start screen Roman Bastards Database

The team behind the Roman Bastards Database surely has a very sharp definition of Roman bastards, illegitimate children, but I hesitated to put this database here as the first item. Its title might easily be seen by the general public as a project for studying the most horrible Romans with the lowest characters and most brutal manners, the kind of persons figuring as the bad guys in movies with Roman history as its background or pretext. In their database Maria Nowak and Małgorzata Krawczyk of the Uniwersytet Warszawski bring together evidence on illegitimate offspring during the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

This database allows both searching and browsing, the last way not yet for legal sources alas, and you can use the analytical tools section for creating graphs of the occurrence of terms or their geographical distribution. The database contains currently 1828 items. Information about persons is divided over eight fields. Eight other fields contain information about the source for this person, with information about the exact text, the role of the person in the source, its date and provenance, links to online sources and references to scholarly literature. My first impression is that this database allows detailed searching for its subject, with as a bonus when needed links to external resources such as inscriptions and papyri. Some elements are not yet up and running, for example the list of abbreviations. The team scores points with clear user instructions.

A textual database for Justinian’s Digest

The third database in this post comes not as an online relational database, and not even as web pages using PHP or MySQL. For the Justinian Digest Marton Ribrary (University of Surrey, Guildford) has developed in 2020 a relational database which you can download and install yourself. The SQLite database has been written in Python and comes with sample queries. Ribrary developed this database in 2020 clearly to facilitate the integration of the Digest’s text – taken from the well-known Amanuensis app for Roman law – with some other resources, in particular the data created by Tony Honoré about Roman lawyers and their language.

Ribrary notes there are at least five other online versions of the Justinian Digest. He aims at a more structured presentation allowing more than just philological research, but also use as an artificial intelligence resource. In my view it is in the end helpful to be able to access and use texts in different formats. They allow for different approaches. Of course I added to my website the versions of the Digest in online libraries with Latin texts which did not yet figure on it. By mistake Ribrary suggests the Perseus Digital Library has a digital text of the Digesta. The Corpus Iuris Civilis is only part of its catalogue of texts.

A quick look at some recent additions

The typical thing to do with my web page for Roman law was first of all repairing broken links, a never ending task. During searches for correct URL’s I sometimes discover new projects well worth including, too, and this redeems my efforts. The section with the various original texts for Roman law needed a clearer layout. When necessary translations in print have been separated from digital versions.

This month I checked again the DigilibLT: Biblioteca digitali di testi latini tardoantichi created at the Università di Piemonte Orientale. Earlier on no legal texts from Late Antiquity were present at this portal, but in 2020 this has changed. The DigilibLT comes with an Italian and English interface. You can both read – and after registration download – several legal texts as PDF or TEI files. There is a PDF in English with an overview of the texts included and the editions used.

Among online journals for Roman Legal history The Journal of Juristic Papyrology deserved a place. It appears since 1946 and available in open access. In the section with bibliographies I could add TOCS-IN: Tables of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists, hosted by the University of Toronto and the Université Catholique de Louvain, an online service with both an English and a French search interface. After adding the first two databases discussed here it was only logical to add the Prosopographia Imperii Romani of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the database version of the biographical lexicon for the first three centuries of the Roman empire.

My web page ends with a number of online resources and portals helping you to find quickly texts, tools and other materials concerning classical Antiquity. I was much impressed by the commented list presented as Open access resources in 2020 and 2021 by the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, London. The section on law could be a bit more extensive, but for other subjects the choice of links offers a splendid fleet of resources now available in open access, for example for subjects such as epigraphy and papyrology. This list is a good reminder that only by looking wide and far, and sometimes quite close to your own town or country other scholars and institutions make great efforts to help the scholarly community at large. Gaps and omissions can be filled when you look around carefully, but also by the help of kind people alerting others to things that might be of interest to them. I would like to hear, too, about such things! Hopefully this spirit of cooperation will remain a cherished and stable element, too, in the present world where individualism can steer you away from communicating with others.

Rays of light on illuminated legal manuscripts

Flyer "The illuminated legal manuscript" (detail)

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

Focus on the Mediterranean

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

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

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

The importance of repertories and catalogues

Logo Manus OnLine, ICCU

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

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

Legal iconography and heraldry

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

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

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

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

The forest and the trees

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

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

Banner Ius Illuminatum

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

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.