Tag Archives: Digital humanities

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) stand 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 his 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 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.

Questioning how to do legal history in a virtual world

Banner MPI Legal History and Legal Theory, 2021

This week I received a message from Andreas Wagner of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, about an online survey concerning our views on scholarly events in a virtual world. I had already planned to look at the website of this institute and to ponder the impact of its new name. The word European did no longer fit the actual width and coverage of the scholarly research at the institute. Legal theory has come to the institute as a third branch with its own director. Even the name of the institutional Twitter account has been changed (@mpilhlt)!

With Sigrid Amedick Andreas Wagner is the convenor of the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), originally planned as a normal scholarly event in 2020. At this Max-Planck-Institute Wagner is involved with digital humanities and the project concerning the School of Salamanca.

Let’s not hesitate and give you here right below the message about the questionnaire. Hopefully the answers scholars give will help to establish best practices for online scholarly events and help fostering critical thought about the way digital humanities and online research have an impact on doing legal history.

The questionnaire

Dear colleagues,

After roughly one year of covid-19 pandemic, working from home office, online team meetings and many other online things have come to shape our academic lives. Even academic conferences nowadays are starting to be organized as virtual events rather than be postponed indefinitely. However, no clear picture of benefits and drawbacks of virtual conference formats has emerged, let alone a common knowledge about best practices and about the many different forms that such virtual events can take.

At the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, we thus had the idea to launch a survey in order to solicit the opinions of the legal historians’ community on these things. This survey is meant to establish a glimpse of the state of virtual events in our discipline: the expectations and demands of scholars, the traps to avoid, and maybe even some ideas worth probing.

We cordially invite legal historians of all shades to participate and fill out our questionnaire. It contains about 40 questions in 5 groups/pages (General Questions, Activity Formats, Socializing, Publishing, General Comment) and it should take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. We will be very thankful for every response.

https://s.gwdg.de/jPr7wK

The questionnaire will remain open throughout all of February, closing on Feb 28 at 23:59:59 UTC. Results will be published on our homepage (https://www.rg.mpg.de/) and announced or reported on at various media like twitter, newsletters, blogs and journal sites. The survey adheres to very strict rules about data protection, which is one reason why we will not be able to send you a confirmation message or information about the results individually (the questionnaire is simply not asking for your e-mail address).

If you have any questions about the survey, please send a message to dlh@rg.mpg.de and we will be happy to answer.

Best regards,

Andreas Wagner

Approaching digitized pamphlets, broadsides and chapbooks

Cover of a sixteenth century pamphlet - image: The Newberry, ChicagoAmong digital collections with old printed works pamphlets, broadsides, broadside ballads and chapbooks have theit own place. You can find a fair number of them in the largest digital libraries. Commercial firms, too, have created some vast pamphlet collections. However, the number of digital collections in open access for this genre is surprisingly large, and not restricted to the Anglophone world. In some ways these cheap printed works have become priceless, because they record ephemeral and fleating information with a resemblance to social media in our own time. Finding such digital collections is one thing, making them better accessible proved to be another challenge. Recently I completed at Zotero a new searchable form of my list of digital collections devoted to these genres which in my view makes them much more accessible.

Adding value to a list

Logo Zotero

When I started to create a list of digital pamphlet collections my purpose was already not to list them only in whatever sensible order, but to present them with comments on their contents and scope. For years a division in a section with some general themes and periods, and a section in alphabetical order by country seemed sufficient. Occasionally people thanked me for my efforts in compiling this information, no complaints about shortcomings have ever been filed. Of course I could benefit from remarks about lacunae and oversights.

However, a tiny third section with “Other themes” certainly was visible and stood as a kind of question mark about this order of things. Some themes touched only a few countries, others illustrated the growing impact of Europe in other parts of the world, some of them would merit inclusion under another heading, too. At some point I started a section on chapbooks, and later on also for broadside ballads. A post here about complaintes criminelles, French broadside ballads about crimes and trials, prompted me into making space for this genre as well. Politics, government, law and crimes are among the themes of ephemeral printed works. However cheap the paper or crude the illustrations, they, too, form a source for legal history, in particular for the image of law and justice, and even for legal iconography. Festival books, too, deserved inclusion on my list. In 2018 I discussed here a number of digital collections with festival books.

In order not to make anyone unhappy when seeing an interesting collection only accessible at subscribing institutions and for their cardholders, I focused almost exclusively on collections in open access. I listed only those licensed collections when you can at least browse and search them, leaving you with at least some substantial information, even without final complete access. Some licensed collections contain many thousand items, but some digital collections in open access are equally rich in numbers. The first image in this post shows a pamphlet printed in Lyon in 1561 from the holdings of The Newberry Library in Chicago, a collection with 38,000 items in the Internet Archive, also searchable with Philologic4 (ARTFL, University of Chicago). On a separate section of its website The Newberry informs you about many aspects of this project, including data versions of the entire set.

Some projects give you not only digitized items, but also access to an online catalogue or a virtual exhibit. For some subjects bibliographies exist. Sometimes even more can be found: The catalogue of the priceless collection of early editions of works by Martin Luther at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, many of them pamphlets, amounts to a bibliography worth mentioning. When you start counting the number of similar cases it becomes clear that even a commented list can offer you only a restricted number of services, let alone a bare list.

Qualities and quantity

How can you make the various kinds of information in a list better accessible? Having information at your hand is one thing, using it to gain knowledge leading eventually to insight is another thing. When you reach a certain number of items in a list, catalogue or bibliography it may become advisable to store them electronically, not only in a text program, but in some kind of information storage and retrieval system. I contemplated creating an online database, either in a specially created format or at an existing platform. A few months ago I looked rather closely at an online database for the humanities in order to deal with a much longer list. The benefit of accompanying visualization seemed most interesting. For this shorter list a chance encounter with a sophisticated bibliography at Zotero quickly led me to this platform.

At Zotero you can create online bibliographies with facilities for rapid reshuffling and exporting in any layout according to the styles preferred by research institutions and journals. You can restrict access to yourself or a group, or invite people to work together on a project. It is possible to create sections in a bibliography, and, for me very interesting, you can create and use tags, labels and classifications at will. Combining tags is very easy and effective for finding information and relating it to a wider context. Thus Zotero can function to a certain extent as a relational database. Using tags is also most sensible when you deal with collections in a variety of languages. Zotero uses icons for particular kinds of information,, be they books, videos, web pages, statutes or cases. It is also possible to import data using scripts.

In my searchable overview I use icons sparingly. Putting the items into Zotero manually gave me a chance to look again at digital collections. Some of them had grown substantially, some of them are at a slightly or completely different web address, some of them lacked sufficient descriptions. It was pleasant to discover for some collections a web directory, a bibliography or other useful information well worth mentioning. I decided to mark the tags for genres within a collection with colours, and also catalogues and bibliographies. Thus for example collections with both pamphlets and broadsides stand out, as do those with a catalogue or a bibliography. I was able to add also the major separate collections with digitized pamphlets from the First World War which you can find at my blog Digital 1418.

Looking at the new overview I am surprised by the ways you can now relate collections to each other in new ways. In fact these combinations sometimes helped me to add or refine tagging, or I could quickly add a collection that should figure here, too. Some gaps have become more visible, too. To mention just a few examples, until now I have included only few collections with pamphlets concerning the Second World War, and the number of collections concerning women is low, too. There is a substantial number of collections from Spain, but Portugal is currently absent. How about links to digitized catalogues for famous pamphlet collections?! Such examples stress the fact overviews will always remain work in progress.

Digital durabiblity and visibility

Logo the Mmeory of the Netherlands 2020

There is always some reason to adduce here my Dutch view, but this time I am not happy with a change in the digital presence of some Dutch pamphlet collections. The relevant collections that could conveniently be found under the aegis of The Memory of the Netherlands portal have been moved to a new subdomain of the Delpher portal for digitized Dutch books, journals and newspapers. At the old web address a project using the same name, Geheugen van Nederland [The Memory of the Netherlands] announces for a general public new efforts for enhanced visibility of digitized cultural heritage collections. You would have expected the creation of redirects for the old links to the relevant collections, both in Dutch and English, but this has not or not yet happened. The old links were definitely not permalinks, and it seems not all old links have already been turned into permanent links.

In view of the ongoing campaign for digital visibility, sustainability and usability led by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network this is simply inexplicable. Creating a new platform with currently just three themes and giving the old portal a new logo seems to have been more important than realizing the impact of the change of addresses. The absence of effective and wide communication this summer about this change adds to the paradox of removing a working portal with substantial contents for an almost empty shop window. Just one example of the impact: The Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, an important contributing institution, still gives links for its web projects at The Memory at the old Dutch version. In the English version of these links for only one collection the link to the new platform has been set, for other collections the old links lead to error messages. The Memory of the Netherlands is a cultural heritage portal with rich collections in open access in need of good maintenance and a new lifespan. In fact, this portal, too, helped me to think about adding yet another genre of popular prints to my overview. Hopefully the current awkward situation can soon end by putting things into order.

Whatever you may think of this unlucky affair, it underlines the fact some efforts are needed for creating and maintaining a digital portal. In my case I commit myself to continuity and renewal for my list and the searchable overview with working URL’s for more than two hundred digitized collections for pamphlets and related genres, and a score of supporting websites. If you spot any broken link in the list or the new overview, please do not hesitate to contact me by mail. Hopefully this service for scholars and anyone interested can achieve its aim of assisting to find your way to these sources in the virtual world.

Searching digitized Dutch archival collections

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

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

Visible and hidden treasures

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

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

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

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

Logo Dutch Digital Heritage Network

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

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

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

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

Mapping digitized archives

Logo ICA

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

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

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

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

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

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

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

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

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

And now…

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

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

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

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

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

An addition

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

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

An update

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

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

The Dutch Republic, order and ordinances

Startscreen Entangled Histories

Last year ordinances rightly figured here in a post about the Dutch book trade in the seventeenth century. Printing and publishing ordinances on behalf of authorities formed a stable core business for printers and publishers. In 2019 a project started to digitize Belgian and Dutch Early Modern printed collections of ordinances, the socalled plakaatboeken. In January 2020 the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Dutch national library, published at KB LAB, its digital humanities platform, the results of the project Entangled Histories: Ordinances of the Low Countries.

For a very particular type of ordinances a study appeared recently, also in January 2020, which forms a perfect candidate for a comparison between research using archival and printed resources at one side, and the use of datasets on the other side. This post shows ordinances also at the crossroads of government, politics and medicine at a point in time where this has become a new reality.

Choosing your approach

In my post on the book trade and ordinances in the Dutch Republic I looked at the study of Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on Dutch book production and sales during the seventeenth century. They pointed out how vital the task of printing and publishing ordinances was for printers and publishers. Each order for a single ordinance meant printing a fixed number of copies for which a low quantity of paper was needed, and best of all it guaranteed an immediate sum of money from the issuing authority, all factors making publishing and printing a stable business. The authors rightly concluded that the chance of printing and selling ephemeral works on a regular basis was probably essential for the success of the Dutch book trade.

Pettegree and Der Weduwen could not only locate rare editions in archives and libraries all over Europe, they also studied stock catalogues and auction catalogues for editions now lost. As members of the team for the Universal Short Title Catalogue they add information about existing copies of newly detected works to this online resource.

Getting hold of ordinances was important also for those authors venturing to create printed collections of ordinances called plakkaatboeken. A number of authors worked at provincial courts where you could expect to find the largest possible relevant collections. Finding out about these printed collections is much helped by using library catalogues with clear information about the nature of these works. The spelling of the very word plakkaatboek was not yet standardized, and thus you can encounter forms such as placaetboeck or placcaetboek. A few months ago I wrestled to locate digitized versions of the main collections for the Dutch Republic and Flanders in order to add them to my web page about Old Dutch Law. This task was hampered by the fact some digital libraries provide a link to an entire multivolume set, but others give you only links to each individual volume of a particular set.

However, even having online access to digital versions of these works, preferably combined with index volumes to them which I mentioned whenever available, is just the beginning of your research. These online versions are only to a limited extent searchable. Some digital versions have behind the screen an OCR-ed version, but it is notoriously difficult to get sufficiently reliable results when scanning Early Modern editions with the ordinary OCR process. These editions use several print types which pose difficulties in correct rendering, not to mention ligatures for certain letter combinations and abbreviations. Exactly for coping with this point the project of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, led by Annemiek Romein, comes into its strength.

The project Entangled Histories: Ordinances of the Low Countries set out to provide reliable texts in three ways. First of all existing scans of digitized books were improved by creating new scans using HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) with the Transkribus software. A second step was establishing each ordinance – or other element – as a distinct textual unit. The third step was enabling computerized categorisation of these units using a pre-established model. The project website provides explanations for each step.

The results of Entangled Histories are given as datasets, decidedly in plural. On the page explaining access to them it is stated the data are available in five formats, Alto, Page, XML, .docx and .txt for each book. An implication of this variety is the absence of a straightforward toolkit to use these data, because you can pick out your own format and determine the way you will handle them. The datasets are accessible at the Zenodo platform, with a separate page at Zenodo giving you a list of all works included. A quick overview is possible when you search with the tag Entangled Histories at Zenodo. The page with examples does not deal with the end result of the digital process, but with the models used for training the computers of Transkribus to read the pages.

Nearly 110 volumes for a total of 40 works have been included in this project. A number of them contain also texts on customary law (coutumes or costumen), statutes and other regulations. It is most thoughtful of the team at the Dutch Royal Library to include these works as well. The title of each dataset begins with an abbreviations pointing to the library from which a copy has been used. It seems only for one index volume accompanyng a plakkaatboek a dataset has been created, the Generale inhoud van alle de placaten (…) Groot Utrechtsch Placaetboek (Utrecht: Van Poolsum, 1733). You can deplore the absence of some editions from the sixteenth century, but this fact highlights only the clear need for decisions for any project.

It is possible to create your own workflow with these datasets and save them online. I had expected Annemiek Romein (Universiteit Gent), who created the project during her period in 2019 as a researcher in residence at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, to create also a searchable textual corpus which you might access online, but this has not happened. Romein and the project members did not lock the data into only one format allowing only restricted research possibilities. In January 2020 I contacted Annemiek Romein to explain such decisions. She explained to me textmining was not the principal aim of this project. The version of a text coded in XML can be used for an online searchable edition. The focus of this project was more on the use and comparison of OCR and HTR scanning. In the overview of the volumes included you can use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) address to go directly to a particular dataset. A direct combination of the datasets with the original scans cannot be offered at this moment, because these scans were made by the Grand Omniscient Firm for the cooperating libraries.

In view of this situation it is perhaps wise to remember such decisions for this project with datasets would have been entirely within the reach of the former Dutch NCRD institute for documentation on legal history and legal iconography. The NCRD had its office at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. The institute had been created by the KB and Dutch universities. At some point in its history the board of directors had to decide whether the database with a bibliography and scanned images, still only accessible under license, would run at a single computer or become available on more computers on a network. In my view Dutch and Belgian legal historians should not only start using the datasets of Entangled Histories, but also start working together to create its own infrastructure, both in the real world and in virtualibus, in order to combine knowledge and efforts in the field of digital humanities. No doubt the Foundation for Old Dutch Law could play a role in such matters, too.

Approaching lethal illnesses

Cover "Per imperatief plakkaat"

Until this point you might have become impatient with me about the promised second part of this post, a particular subject which can be linked with our own times. You might have wondered why I seem to search solace in writing about a glorious period in Dutch history which was not so happy for many people, as if nothing else happens in the world right now. The study of A.H.M. Kerkhoff, Per imperatief plakkaat. Overheid en pestbestrijding in de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden [By strict order. Government and fighting plagues in the Dutch Republic] (Hilversum 2020) deals with policies and ordinances against the plague and other contagious diseases during the Early Modern period. At the publisher’s website is a preview of the first fourteen pages of this book.

The main question in Kerkhoff’s study is why it took almost three centuries before the Staten Generaal, the central governing body of the Dutch Republic, decided to enact general measures againt contagion in periods with threats of plague. Kerkhoff starts his study by looking at the first successfull policies against contagion made by Italian cities around 1400. He even translated a statute against the plage issued in Ragusa in 1377. It needs stressing these Italian towns were in some cases large city states, a fact other states might have noticed, too. However, for centuries local Dutch towns issued their own pestordonnanties. Only in 1664 the Staten Generaal came with an ordinance pertaining to all provinces and other regions. Other authors, for example Leo Noordegraaf and Gerrit Vlak, De gave Gods. De pest in Holland vanaf de late middeleeuwen (Amsterdam 1996; online, Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (PDF)), did certainly mention this ordinance, but they and others focused on one region or on a single town. In the Groot Placaet-boek (…) Staten Generael ende (…) Staten van Holland en West-Vrieslandt (…) edited by Cornelis Cau et alii (9 vol., ‘s-Gravenhage-Amsterdam 1658-1795) the second volume contains the ordinance issued on July 31, 1664 by the Court of Holland, Zeeland and West-Friesland (II, col. 3171-3174). A few days later the States of Holland came with its own resolution concerning measures to be taken. Kerkhoff combines research in archives with the use of relevant historical studies. Using digitized collections of ordinances or even the new datasets, provided you can tune them quickly to your preferred way to approach them, can be most helpful to support more traditional ways of research, and it will also be most instructive to become better aware of the restrictions and limits of both approaches.

Kerkhoff wants to show that the political will to impose measures in the most general possible way was more important than medical views of contagion control. The author briefly mentions some examples of modern diseases which confronted Dutch authorities in recent decades and reminds us of the clash of interests in the debates about the policies against these diseases. With currently the new corona virus as a very real and growing presence in many countries this study seems to have been written with an uncanny intuition about the return of such matters of grave concern. Medical and epidemological knowledge, wisdom and vision are certainly needed to deal with different views about actions against this virus. With yet another project on its way at the Huygens Instituut for the digitization of the resolutions of the States of the provinces in the Dutch Republic between 1576 and 1795 and their reIease in a open access research environment I am sure a combination of the datasets of Entangled Histories with these resolutions will open new vistas and roads to ask new questions, to probe deeper into them and shed new light on older studies and views.

A postscript

In June 2020 the first tranch of some 5,000 scanned pages with resolutions of the States General appeared on the Dutch crowdsourcing platform Vele Handen. The REPUBLIC project, too, works with Transkribus. Volunteers will check the scans and correct the computerized transcriptions.

Annemiek Romein, Sara Veldhoen and Michiel de Gruijter published the article, ‘The Datafication of Early Modern Ordinances’, DH Benelus Journal 2 (2020) about the Entangled Histories project.

Charters, cartularies and rolls

Startscreen ANR Rotulus

However fragmentary the transmission of medieval sources may be, the sheer number of charters and cartularies is still impressive. Some cartularies saving the text of charters were not made in the usual codex form of manuscripts, but as rolls. This phenomenon is the subject of the French research project ANR Rotulus at the Université de Lorraine and the accompanying blog, also called Rotulus. Looking at material evidence can help you to avoid looking at sources only as texts. In this post I will look at this project, and no doubt there are also examples of such roll cartularies or cartulary rolls outside France. One of the reasons to look at this subject now is an upcoming scholarly event in April.

A different form

The project ANR Rotulus that will run from 2019 to 2021 is an initiative of the Centre de Recherche Universitaire Lorrain d’Histoire (CRULH), based in Nancy and Metz. The project was prompted by the presence of some sixty cartularies in roll format (“cartulaires-rouleaux”) in the French database for cartularies CartulR – Répertoire des cartulaires médievaux et modernes at the Telma platform of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes (Paris and Orleans). It was possible to add another sixty cartulary rolls to those already identified. The team of ANR Rotulus has created a very well organized bibliography on the use of rolls in medieval society. Eight years ago I wrote a post about the best known medieval use of rolls, for accounting purposes. In a post about heraldry and legal history I mentioned a number of heraldic rolls.

Logo Rotulus blog

At the Rotulus blog you can find announcement of scholarly events concerning medieval rolls. On April 3 and 4, 2020 a workshop will be held at Yale University on the theme “L’édition numérique et les manuscrits en rouleaux médiévaux” [The digital edition and manuscripts in roll form]. The workshop will deal with subjects such as the palaeography and cataloging of medieval rolls, and with the transcriptions of manuscripts and critical editions. There will be an introduction into best practices in digital editing, and the use of XML and TEI will come into view. The workshop will be hosted by the group of scholars united around the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in the project Digital Rolls and Fragments. At the heart of this workshop will be a devotional roll written in Latin and Middle English, dated between circa 1435 and 1450 (Takamiya MS 56, digital version). Of course you can find more (digitized) rolls and scrolls at the Beinecke. You will forgive me mentioning here English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500–1800 by Kathryn James, curator of Early Modern books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library, just published by Yale University Press. The website of ANR Rotulus mentions a meeting later this year on the theme Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire [Functions of cartulary rolls: social and contextual approaches to a documentary genre], to be held at Metz on November 5-6, 2020.

A recent contribution at the Rotulus blog focuses on a cartulaire-rouleau held at the Bibliothèque Municipale of Angers from the abbey of Notre-Dame du Ronceray. This twelfth-century cartulary consists of six rolls, each of them measuring nearly six meters by 29 centimeters and containing six to eight parchment sheets (MS 844, 845, 846, 847, 848 and 848b). The library at Angers posted a somewhat longer and illustrated version of this post on its own blog. This roll cartulary is duly mentioned in the CartulR database (no. 1383), the material units have each its own description on the level called Exemplaire-tradition where it becomes clear it has the form of a roll (rouleau). The database CartulR has a useful glossary showing among other things the variety of cartularies.

On November 14 and 15, 2019 a conference was held at Angers about the diversity of cartulary rollis. Both the material side of these documents as also their place within diplomatics, the historical auxiliary science for studying charters and related resources, came into view. Among the subjects to discuss was the need for creating a special database with a repertory of cartulary rolls. The second day of this event, held at the Archives départementales de Maine-et-Loire in Angers, ended with a presentation of some roll cartularies in the holdings of this regional archive.

The team of ANR Rotulus very sensibly looks at all forms of medieval rolls in order to understand their uses and development. Why did cartulary rolls come into existence? What role could they have? Who did benefit from this particular form? Is it an exclusively ecclesiastical or monastic format? Half of the cartulary rolls repertoried untll now stems from priories. Rolls from Cistercian monks and from nuns form a distinct minority. Approaches to uses of literacy and gender history, too, will have to be invoked to interpret and understand such facts. Of course I checked CartulR for the presence of cartulary rolls. One example among the 65 results is currently held outside France. The Rijksarchief in Bruges has a roll cartulary for the collegiate chapter of Saint Sauveur in Harelbeke (CartulR, no. 5213). The team of ANR Rotulus has not yet added to CartulR the sixty cartulary rolls which they spotted.

Beyond France

Startscreen Materiale Textkulturen

It is only logical to look beyond France for the existence and role of cartulary rolls. CartulR does contain information about some Spanish and Italian cartuiaries, but for these countries no cartulary rolls are mentioned. Recently Stefan G. HolzJörg Peltzer and Maree Shirota edited the volume The Roll in England and France in the late Middle Ages (2019; available in open access), a publication included in the bibliography of ANR Rotulus. This volume is part of a book series published for the Sonderforschungsbereich at the university of Heidelberg concerning Materiale Textkulturen. At the blog of this project you can read a post about this volume (Materiale Textkulturen, Band 28) which is a product of the subproject Rollen im Dienst des Königs [Rolls in the king’s service].

Among cartulary rolls outside France those of Margam Abbey held at the National Library of Wales are easily spotted. The Discovery portal of the National Archives in Kew brings you quickly to at least seven examples in various English archives, but not at the National Archives themselves. I was a bit troubled by the fact the Gaunt Roll held at the East Sussex Record Office (GLY 1139) did not show up at first at Discovery in a simple search for cartulary roll. In the Répertoire des cartulaires d’institutions religieuses médiévales sises dans l’espace wallon actuel (Pratiques médiévales de l’écrit, Université de Namur) you can find in its 2017 overview three examples kept in Tournai. It is tempting to add more examples to this post, but I am confident the interest of some of my readers will be kindled enough to find out more about this remarkable resource type.

An addition

At Archivalia Klaus Graf noted I could have mentioned examples of cartulary rolls from Germany. You could indeed start searching at Archivportal-D with terms such as KopialbuchKopiar and Rotul or Rotulus. Searching with the terms Urkunden and Rotul* brings substantial results.

The situation around COVID-19 led to the posponement of the meeting in November 2020. The new date and program is announced by ANR Rotulus in Metz, March 25-26, 2021: Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire.

You might want to look at rolls and other forms of reading in roll form in other periods and settings. The online book of Jack Hacknell, Continuous Page: Scrolls and Scrolling from Papyrus to Hypertext (The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2020) contains twelve chapters on very different subjects connected with continuous reading.

Gathering graphic evidence on false inscriptions

Startscreen Epigraphic Database Falsae

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

Defying a first look

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

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

EDF advanced search

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

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

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

Integrating epigraphic data

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

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

Tracing the records of medieval synods

Header blog Corpus Synodalium

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

A database and a blog

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

Banner Corpus Synodalium

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

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

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

Results screen database Corpus Synodalium

The results screen of the Corpus Synodalium database

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

Example metadata in the Corpus Synodalium

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

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

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

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

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

Looking beyond the database

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

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

A preview of things to come

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

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