Tag Archives: Early Modern history

French laws between 1795 and 1799

Startsecreen LexDir

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

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

Legislative activity under the Directoire

Ttitle page of the "Corps législatif"

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

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

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

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

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

The wonders of ARTFL


Some recent additions at the ARTFL platform merit particular mention, too. The section What’s new at ARTFL has much to offer! The ten volumes of the Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre have become available online. You can use the Philologic Federated Bibliography for bibliographic research across all ARTFL resources. Most interesting for legal historians and everyone else is the first version of the Intertextual Hub, a portal for searching with one search action in a number of resources, among them nearly 26,000 French revolutionary pamphlets digitized by The Newberry Library in Chicago, the Archives parlementaires and also revolutionary laws, the latter with an English search interface. Add to them the Journaux de Marat and eighteenth-century works on political thought and economy for the Goldsmith-Kress collection, and you will agree with me this new hub is indeed most valuable. Among similarly searchable resources elsewhere I should mention the newspaper Le Moniteur Universel (1789-1830). Florida State University has created a searchable version of this gazette nationale.

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

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

A dictionary for the Spanish colonial empire and canon law

This year I follow my tradition of starting the new year with a post featuring either the law of an empire or an empire, and this year I offer the former. A constitutive element of the international project based at Mainz for the School of Salamanca is a political-legal dictionary. In an earlier post I mentioned the dictionary only briefly, because at tha time it did not yet exist. However, things have changed since 2017, and it is certainly interesting to look now in more detail at the form, contents and progress of the Diccionario Histórico de Derecho Canónico en Hispanoamérica y Filipinas, Siglos XVI-XVIII. Using the simple abbreviation DCH has particular consequences for finding this online dictionary. Anyway, the DCH is not the first dictionary appearing at my blog.

Studying Spanish colonial law

Research into Spanish legal history and colonial laws and legislation in the Spanish colonial empire in Latin America is in particular associated with the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory (MPILHLT) in Frankfurt am Main. Last year its name changed a lot by adding a third department for legal theory to the two departments for legal history, and by removing the word European from its name. Speaking of names, nowadays the term School of Salamanca is no longer linked exclusively to sixteenth-century thinkers teaching at this Spanish university, nor is it confined to law or theology.

The core of the project of the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz for the School of Salamanca is a digital collection with 116 works mainly published in the sixteenth century. At the website you can also consult the series of working papers published by the research team. The project website describes as an objective a dictionary for juridical-political languages with eventually some 200 entries, taking their cues from both Spanish and Latin words. Entries will appear from 2020 onwards, but no entries are visible at the project website. This dictionary is a separate aim, not to be confused with the DCH, as Ana Arango kindly pointed out to me.

At this point you must be aware absolutely of the role of the MPILHLT within this project. At its website the information has been placed on a number of web pages. There is a general page for this cooperation with the Akademie in Mainz, but you will have to navigate also to the web page for the School of Salamanca. This page alerts you to the blog of the Mainz website, where the blog is found under the heading News. The Frankfurt page for the Salamanca project does not mention its own page for the Historical Dictionary of Canon Law in Hispanic America and the Philippines 16th-18th century (DCH). On that page you will find the actual entries now available halfway at the heading Blog, not the one and only spot where you would indeed expect it to appear.

Let’s not hide the fact I had noticed the abbreviation DCH at the Frankfurt website earlier on, especially among the new releases, but somehow the direct link with this project was not clear for me. In a way it is just a small revenge of using too much abbreviations… At the third Salamanca page in Frankfurt, the one for Salamanca Publications in the publications section, the DCH is yet absent. Actually the series of published entries for the DCH can be found also at the SSRN page of the MPHLHT where they appear in the chronological sequence of publication.

To be honest, this situation is only temporary, but it is a nice example of a dilemma between providing information about final results and preliminary publications. In a town with much attention to system theory this should make you smile! The two institutions should not hesitate to give the new temporary form of the DCH at the Hypotheses network simply its due as a perfectly sensible solution for the time being. No doubt plans for the definitive form of publication are being contemplated right now.

The DCH as work in progress

There was a time when great dictionaries were published only in print, often at a slow pace. Decades after the start the final volume would appear at last, and decades afterwards some supplement could be printed. This simple picture does not exist anymore. Many dictionaries have been digitized or their new edition appears both online and in print.

At the DCH blog – also present at Twitter, @DiccionarioDCH – you should not jump immediately to the published entries. It is wiser to look first at the explanation about its structure (Estructura). The entries – 120 is their number mentioned here, elsewhere a total of 200 or 300 entries is stated – will be organized according to the order of the five books in the Decreatles Gregorii IX, the Liber Extra published in 1234 on behalf of pope Gregory IX. The decretals in this official papal collection were divided into five books headed Iudex, Iudicium, Clerus, Connubia and Crimen. Church councils in the Spanish New World used this division also, as did the major European handbooks for canon law in the Early Modern period. There is a table showing this division and the entries currently available under each heading. Four general entries on canon law, moral theology, the Patronato Real and historiography will function as introductions.

The nature and form of this dictionary can best be tasted in the most recent published entries which all mention immediately the DCH blog. I restrict myself to two entries, Vicarios under the heading Iudex and Sentencia under Iudicium; the links here are to the introductions on the DCH blog.

Susana Frias gives a crisp and clear summary of her article Vicario. She looks at the various positions of the vicario, in particular at his role as a judge delegated by a bishop, but she mentions other types of vicars as well. She gives examples of the context, for example the tension between religious orders and bishops, ad the growing influence of the Spanish crown on ecclesiastical institutions. This summary helps a reader much. Her contribution, downloadable from SSRN, has 23 pages, with abstracts at SSRN in Spanish and English. Frias’ article has ten sections. After a few lines about the pope as the Vicar of Christ she deals with the vicar-general of a bishop, the vicario capitular functioning during a sede vacante in a diocese. The vicario foraneo is a judicial official representing episcopal jurisdiction in a district. A vicario coadjutor is the figure closest to a parish vicar, an assistant to the curate. With the vicario apostolico we encounter another familiar figure in canon law, the administrator of a region without diocesan organization. The function of the vicario castrense was created in the seventeenth century as an army chaplain. The last vicars in this article are the vicarios within religious orders, the officials representing the provincial, sometimes for visitations as a visitador. In the last section (pp. 17-23) Frias offers a concise historiographic conclusion and a substantial list of primary sources and secondary literature used for this contribution. With ample references to the sources in each section this is clearly the kind of dictionary article which can both help you quickly to gain basic knowledge and offer you also the necessary background information.

Faustino Martinez divides in his abstract his contribution Sentencia on verdicts into two sections, a general section on the place of verdicts within a trial, and a section focusing on developments and characteristics of verdicts within the Spanish empire. This is exactly also the abstract in Spanish and English at SSRN. I had expected to find at the beginning of his article with 48 pages a visual overview the headings of the subsections, but he lists in fact the nine sections in the last lines of his introduction. An indication of their respective importance would be welcome. After ten pages it is clear the section Elementos y modos de la sentencia is such part of his contribution (pp. 7-17). All other sections are rather short but densely packed with information. I would single out the sections on nullity of sentences and on abuse of justice by starting a process based on invalid claims. They put things really into relief. The section on typical developments in the Spanish colonial empire, too, is relatively short (pp. 32-38), as is the historiographic balance which points out a substantial number of matters to be investigated. There is much space at the end for the primary sources and scholarly literature. On balance the subject deserves indeed a long and intricate contribution with relatively short sections. On purpose I have not tried to summarize every section, because this would not tell you how much Martinez has to offer here, both on Spanish and colonial legal history.

The DCH in context

How should one judge this scholarly project? At some point during writing my mind turned to the project Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. This dictionary has a similar long and telling title, Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (8 vol., Stuttgart 1972-2007), edited by Reinhard Koselleck, Werner Conze and Otto Brunner. GG contains in 9000 pages some 120 articles on a number of key concepts for German history, politics and society. This example must surely at some moments have crossed the minds of the Salamanca team, too. I suppose we should applaud the fact we can consult online in open access the entries of the DCH! The DCH is an international project dealing with a much wider part of the world forthe Early Modern period.

My two choices for first impressions of the DCH happen to deal in particular with institutional history. The strong point of the DCH and the Salamanca project at Frankfurt am Main and Mainz is its aim of putting things at their right place within wider contexts, and thus institutions get their due. For me the veil from the abbreviation DCH has been lifted! You can learn a lot from the entries that have already appeared, starting with the bibliographical sections, but I am sure you will encounter much else that is interesting for your own research and general knowledge of the vast Spanish colonial empire and its impact on Latin America’s history and society.

As for the sources used you can bet the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main has several editions or even several copies of the main works used by the team. It is sensible to look beyond the works digitized for this purpose. Apart from the portal for the School of Salamanca you can look also at De Indiarum iure. My earlier post does point to some other projects elsewhere as well, but it told you less about some digital resources now available. For copies of works held by libraries and archives in Latin America you might want to look also at my web page for digital libraries. In particular in Mexico there is a large number of digital libraries. For tracing Early Modern works you can benefit from the Catálogo Colectivo de Impresos Latinoamericanos hasta 1851 (University of California at Riverside), a union catalog for Latin American imprints, and a number of bibliographical projects and works for and from Mexico. My remarks about the visibility of the DCH blog will no doubt soon be superfluous, because curious readers surely will find the DCH quickly. Our thanks should go to the international team making such a project feasible. Bringing canon law into view as a major element of the Spanish transatlantic empire and its legal history is just one of its qualities.

A postscript

On January 19, 2022 the first of the four general introductory chapters was published. Faustino Martinez contributed an article on procedure in canon law. I should like also to alert you to the series of colorful videos created by the research team for the DCH blog.

For those interested in the development of the Spanish language in their colonial empire it is useful to mention here the Corpus Electrónico del Español Colonial Mexicano (COREECOM), a project of the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas at the Universadad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Ana Arango kindly pointed me to the fact the dictionary for political-juridical thought of the School of Salamanca project in Mainz is a different project. Hopefully this difference can be indicated at the crucial points of the websites for both dictionaries.

It can do no harm to mention here the digital collection of Spanish legal documents (15th-19th centuries) created by the Library of Congress. 106 documents were labeled Canon law. At its crowdsourcing platform By The People the Library of Congress runs a campaign for transcribing these records, Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents.

A shared past. Zeeland and the Dutch slave trade

Banner "Zwart verleden. Het verhaal van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie"

You do not expect after the six o‘clock news on television on two following evenings a documentary movie about slavery and the role of the Middelburg Commerce Company and its rich archive held at the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg, yet exactly this could be seen on Dutch television on November 2 and 3, 2021. The series Zwart verleden: Het archief van de Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie [Black past] with six items was shown in two installments, each during some twenty minutes. On the tv playback platform NPO Start you can retrieve both videos which appeared in a series called Noord-Zuid-Oost-West [North-South-East-West] produced by Dutch regional broadcasting institutions and sent also by the broadcasting society Omroep MAX. The stories to be told using the materials at Middelburg are special indeed. In this post I will look at both videos created by Omroep Zeeland and at the archival records and other resources offered online thanks to the services of the Zeeland Archives.

A very active company

The story of the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (MCC) is perhaps not unfamiliar to historians, but for the general public it is first of all revealing that this company existed at all outside the province Holland. It was not a part of the Dutch East Indies Company nor of the West Indies Company. By giving the story of Dutch slave traders a place within in a city this subject in Dutch and world history becomes more alive. The MCC, a privately owned company, was active as a sailing company from 1720 until the early nineteenth century; as a wharf it existed until 1889.

The first video starts with Hannie Kool, director of the Zeeland Archives, reading a letter from people on the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao asking the company to send them twice a year 250 to 300 new enslaved persons, with very precise specifications for their personal qualities such as age and length. The directors of the MCC answered they could not fulfill this request, because they depended on the fortune of commerce. Fortune or misfortune led to 113 outbound voyages between 1720 and 1800 on the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes between Europe, West-Africa and the Caribbean.

In the second part of the first video archivist Ad Tramper looks at the voyages of the ship d‘Eenigheid (Unity), a ship measuring just 23 meter (70 feet). The journey to buy slaves in Africa could take as many as 200 days, and sailing to the Caribbean took some ten weeks. Tramper underlines the fact society in the eighteenth century could be very hard. The harsh treatment of slaves was taken for granted, but for many people this literally came not within view. The third part focuses on a person aboard the d‘Eenigheid who did professionally have a closer look at enslaved people. Ship surgeon Petrus Couperus kept a journal about his activities and medical care. He wrote for example about an enslaved woman dying from melancholy and sadness, and he noted how many enslaved jumped overboard. The book by D.H. Gallandat, De noodige onderrichtingen voor den slaaf-handelaren (1769) is also mentioned.

In the second video you look with Roosanne Goudbeek of the Zeeuws Archief at the voyages in general. European commodities were sold in in Africa to buy not just enslaved persons, but also gold and ivory. The voyage of the d‘Eenigheid did not end in Suriname. In a letter to the directors its captain wrote he judged it wiser to sail westwards to the colony Berbice. At Fort Nassau on the Berbice river the enslaved persons were auctioned. A report from this auction is part of the archive. The names of the enslaved people were not recorded nor their destination. Records about the sale of a plantation give you an idea of the way life and work were organized. The slaves belonged to the inventory for sale, and they are mentioned with their name and function. A letter even survives with felicitations to the directors of the MCC for the high prices fetched at the auction.

The fifth item in the series shows Gerhard Kok, known for his efforts to creaet quick access to computer transcribed acts concerning Dutch colonial history among the records of the Durch East Indies and West Indies companies and the colonies Suriname, Berbice and Guyana. He looks at the economic importance of the slave trade for the Dutch economy, amounting to between 5 to 10 percent around 1770 for Middelburg, and presumably more in the nearby port of Vlissingen (Flushing). He presents also a chilling document about the gruesome treatment of enslaved persons on the ship Middelburgsch Welvaren [The welfare of Middelburg] leading to their horrible death after a mutiny. The case is known thanks to the investors wanting compensation from an insurance company.

Resistance and protest

The letter about the escape of Leonora - image Zeeuws Archief / Omroep Zeeland
The letter about the escape of Leonora

In the final installment of the series a number of 113 voyages with some 30,000 enslaved persons between 1732 and 1803 is given. Roosanne Goudbeek looks at some remarkable stories of slaves trying to escape their fate in the Dutch Caribbean. The slave Leonora succeeded in getting aboard an inbound ship from the harbor of Curaçao, and captain Jan Bijl wrote about the sheer surprise when she was detected after a day on the Atlantic. The owners of Leonora reclaimed here from the directors of the MCC, but these responded they could not do this, in particular because she was at the very point of becoming a Christian by baptism in the Dutch reformed church. This was not the only form of resistance. During at least twenty voyages mutinies occurred. Slaves refused to eat, other slaves tried to jump from a ship. Some women threw their children into the sea, and many tried to escape from plantations.

In Zeeland some people protested in public against slavery and its consequences. Ad Tramper is shown reading the sermon against slavery preached by vicar Bernardus Smytegelt in the first half of the eighteenth century, printed in his book Des Christen eenige troost in leven en sterven (Middelburg 1747). Tramper mentions the distance between the actual practices stemming from slavery and Europe as a determining factor for the very low number of people protesting. Things happening far away can seem less important. Goudbeek stresses the unique richness of the MCC archive. Tramper ends the video expressing his hope that understanding this period of Dutch history both from white and black perspectives will help to gain more understanding of a shared history.

Using the archives of the MCC

From my brief summary of this television series of just 40 minutes you can hopefully see the clear effort of the creators to present a balanced view of the involvement of Zeeland and this company in Middelburg in slavery during a relatively short period. Some elements in the video are definitely not new. The engravings of the plan of a slave ship are just as well known as the drawing by Aernout van Buchell of The Globe theatre in London. The sermon by Smytegelt duly figures for example in the book accompanying in 2011 the television series De slavernij discussed here, too [De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu, Carla Boos et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2011)]..

Logo CCvM / MCC - image Zeeuws Archief

Let’s look at the online resources created by the Zeeuws Archief for getting acquainted with the story of the MCC and studying its archival records. The English version of its website opens immediately with an image and a button bringing you to a page for the MCC and the history of the Transatlantic slave trade. You can follow the voyages of the Unity from 1761 to 1763 on a separate website with a Dutch and English version. In 2011 the UNESCO entered the archive of the MCC into the Memory of the World register.

Startscreen "Into the triangle trade"

Some years ago I already encountered the splendid online exhibition of the Zeeuws Archief On the Triangle Trade at the Google Arts & Culture platform. This colorful exhibition contains much that has been now retold in the short television series. For English readers this is surely the quickest way to get a picture of the history of the MCC and its role in the slave trade. Only the blog Atlantic Slavery Voyage with the daily sequence of the voyages of the Unity has disappeared. The explanations about the blog on The Unity website suggest the blog still exists, but the actual link is not anymore present, nor have the entries been relocated on this website. The blog about The Unity is up and running, and in March 2022 the daily progress of the ship’s voyage has luckily resurfaced, but the Atlantic Slavery Voyage blog is not functioning anymore.

On a second page at the website of the Zeeland Archives follows the actual concise research guide in English for the MCC and its role in the slave trade. The archival collection of the MCC has been completely digitized (toegang (finding aid) no. 20, Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, 1702-1889). The finding aid is in Dutch. I will highlight some aspects of it. In the 1951 inventory archivist W.S. Unger had changed the actual name of the company, Commercie Compagnie van Middelburg (CCvM) into Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, an unusual thing for Dutch archivists. Apart from the 1951 introduction there is a new foreword from 2011, and you can benefit from three bijlagen (appendices), among them a list of relevant scholarly literature held at the Zeeuws Archief or at the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek in Middelburg. All handwritten maps in the collection of the CCvM / MCC were destroyed in the fire caused by bombs hitting Middelburg in May 1940. Only the printed maps survived. Luckily Unger had contributed before 1940 to some important editions of archival sources held at Middelburg. In an article from 1962 Unger gave a brief introduction to the ship journals. The Zeeuwse Bibliotheek has an online image database, and it hosts the project Zeeuwpost for some 600 digitized letters, a number of them with transcriptions, from Zeeland among the Prize Papers in the collection of the High Court of Admiralty at The National Archives, Kew.

New vistas to be explored

Last year I could applaud here the efforts of the Zeeuws Archief to tune the most used archival system in the Netherlands into creating a very simple and most useful list of all its digitized archival collections, an example still in need of swiftly copying by most other Dutch archives. The city archive in Amsterdam and the Nationaal Archief, The Hague, have created easy access for and visibility of their digitized collections. The temporal disappearance of the voyage blog is only an example of the fragility of the internet infrastructure and the need to give finished projects a proper place within normal productivity, management and existence of any organization.

The archival collection of the CCvM / MCC should perhaps not be called unique, but with all its remaining riches and its online availability it is certainly a singularly important resource for Dutch Early Modern history enabling you to see the characteristics of the Dutch East and West Indies Companies in a different perspective. The recent computerized transcriptions of archival records of these trading companies made accessible at Zoeken in transcripties open new research possibilities for scholars worldwide. These archival records put slavery in its contemporary context, reminding us of the distances in perceptions, time and locations. The digitized records can bring you closer to dark periods in the past and show you developments and details that matter.

Grotius through students’ eyes

During summer some lighter subjects can come into view, but sometimes you suddenly notice something well worth looking at. In order to protect you from too much centenary celebrations I try to choose every year just a few of them. A new virtual exhibit concerning Hugo Grotius starts with a winning title, Grotius: A life between freedom and oppression has been launched in March 2021 by Leiden University Library on a new platform for its web presentations. One of the most celebrated historic events in the canon of Dutch history is the escape of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) from castle Loevestein in 1621 where he was imprisoned as the chief follower of the late Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the statesman who had done so much in creating the blossoming Dutch Republic. An exhibition in Amersfoort on Van Oldenbarnevelt and prince Maurits (Maurice) came into view here a few years ago, and just like in that summer post a particular historical object will figure here. The matters under discussion here are in the end not just light-weight, and thus I finished this post only in autumn.

A canonical figure in Dutch legal history

Before you sigh at the prospect of going on well-trodden paths with me you should know nine students of Leiden University College in The Hague prepared the virtual exhibit in English. Together with their supervisors Hanne Cuyckens and Jacqueline Hylkema they did choose five focal points which are just different enough to make you curious again about Grotius. In the first section, Leiden, the student, he forming years of the child prodigy form the subject. Grotius matriculated at Leiden in 1594 at the age of ten years. For each subject a number of objects are shown, in this case for example the matriculation register, a portrait of Grotius at fifteen, the earliest printed map of Leiden and a portrait of the famous philologist Joseph Justus Scaliger, the best known teacher of Grotius. Grotius started at Leiden with literary studies, not with jurisprudence, freedom indeed for this child prodigy to develop himself in many directions. In 1598 he obtained his doctoral degree in law at Orléans.

In the second section we do not jump at once to his major publications such as Mare Liberum (1609), followed by De iure belli ac pacis (1625) and the Inleidinghe tot de Hollandsche rechtsgeleerdheid (1631). Even a young superstar as Grotius had to immerse himself in at least one subject not just in learned books and contemporary theory, but also in daily practice. Grotius was admitted in 1599 as an advocate to the Hof van Holland, the high court of Holland in The Hague. His position as a lawyer made him for Van Oldenbarnevelt the obvious candidate to set out at length the Dutch position on the freedom of the seas. Already in 1598 Grotius accompanied him on a embassy to France, and afterwards the two men stayed in contact with each other. In this section there is also attention for Grotius’ religious views articulated in his work Ordinum pietas (1613). It put him firmly on the side of the Remonstrant movement favored also by Oldenbarnevelt.

Cste Loevestein - image Wikimedia Commons
Castle Loevestein – image Wikimedia Commons

The third section brings you to Grotius’ imprisonment at Loevestein Castle on ground of his religious and political views. The castle is placed on a marvelous strategic spot in the Rhine delta where several of its branches come together. The nearby towns of Gorinchem and Woudrichem are not easily reached. The background with the execution of Oldenbarnevelt in 1619 gets due attention, as are his religious views. You can also look at two letters. When you try to navigate to subsequent items this does not always function correctly. I had expected a link to the online version of the edition of Grotius’ correspondence at the portal of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam nor to the version at its philological platform Textual Scholarship or to the catalogue at Early Modern Letters Online, but you can look at scans of original letters held at Leiden. The project Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-Century Dutch Republic could be added as well.

At Loevestein Grotius was allowed to borrow books from Leiden university library. These books were transported in a large and heavy chest. Hidden in the book chest Grotius could famously escape on March 22, 1621 from castle Loevestein. In 2020 a part of the television series created by the Rijksmuseum on Historisch bewijs (Historical evidence) was devoted to establishing which book chest of three chests held at the Rijksmuseum, Loevestein and Museum Prinsenhof in Delft was probably the original book chest. The chest in Delft has suitable dimensions and a more reliable provenance from the Graswinckel family who was closely connected to the De Groot family in Delft, but no evidence was adduced to confirm its actual use beyond any doubt. Thus the chest is a kind of objet de mémoire connected with an almost mythical heroic story, and the natural point of focus at castle Loevestein, a typical nationalist lieu de mémoire on a beautiful spot at the point where the Waal branch of the Rhine and a branch of the Meuse come together.

In the fourth section of the online exhibit we arrive with Grotius as an exile in Paris. In this town he completed his treatise De iure belli ac pacis. Apart from letters and a map of Paris poetry by Grotius and a poem by Joost van den Vondel come into view here.

The autograph manuscript of  "De iure praedae"  (Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917) - image Leiden University Library
The autograph manuscript of “De iure praedae” – Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917 – image Leiden University Library

The fifth and final section of the virtual exhibit deals with the major treatise by Grotius on prize law, De iure praedae. The Leiden manuscript BPL 917 is the sole handwritten and even autograph witness to the text of Grotius’ treatise on prize law and booty composed between 1604 and 1609. Only one chapter was published during his life as Mare Liberum (1609). The restoration of this manuscript and the subsequent digitization for the full digital edition published in 2015 are the very heart of this section.

By choosing four actual locations – Leiden, The Hague, Loevestein and Paris – the nine students succeed easily in freeing Grotius from a too narrow view of him as only a figure in Dutch history who became first a victim of religious strife and later on a figure head in the struggle for tolerance. These backgrounds do matter indeed. No doubt some Dutch people will be surprised to find the article on Grotius in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its rich bibliography. He is regarded as the very founder of natural law. Thus there is an entry for Grotius, too, in the database Natural Law 1625-1850, one of the fruits of a research project of the universities at Halle, Erfurt and Bayreuth. By showing not just works by Grotius, and not only his legal works, but also his poems and a treatise on religion, the students show him as a major intellectual in European history. You might with me deplore the lack of further links or an essential bibliography, but there is surely a place for the approach chosen for this virtual exhibit.

Recently Leiden University launched a new platform for its online exhibits. Among the digital collections of Leiden University Library is a section with nearly fifty virtual exhibitions; in some cases only a PDF remains available.

As for creating a Grotius Year the museum Loevestein can readily be pardoned for seeking a way to attract visitors after the corona lockdowns in the Netherlands. The website for the public events around the Grotius commemoration does mention his importance as a lawyer, diplomat and theologian. Themes as the freedom of thought and religious tolerance are vitally relevant in our contemporary world. Showing things have been very different in the past shakes (young) people free from thinking the present has always been there as a a most natural thing.

In earlier posts about Grotius, in particular the one about a rare early edition of De iure beli ac pacis, I provided information about his main legal works concerning the first printed editions, modern editions, translations and digital versions. I would like to point again to the presence of text versions and seventeenth-century or modern translations into Dutch for a number of his works at the portal of the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL). In the DBNL you can find also digital versions of numerous older publications about Grotius, and the entry for his historical works by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem in their work on Early Modern Dutch historiography, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 (The Hague 1990).

The riches of the Peace Palace Library

Logo Peace Palace Library

The Peace Palace Library (PPL) in The Hague is the natural starting point for any research on Hugo Grotius. Lately this library has put its digital collections on a new separate platform, but for some silly reason the actual URL is not easily found at the website of the PPL, as are alas some other web addresses. A few years ago I wrote here about the Scheldt River collection which now can be found, too, at this new platform. It seems the PPL provides for each collection on this platform a special page with the correct link. However, there is no page or news item for the new platform itself, or maybe it has only to be added to the top bar menu. A platform with eight interesting collections in open access merits a place in the spotlights.

The PPL contributes two collections in open access to LLMC Digital, but no direct links are give on the PPL’s special page for its collections at LLMC Digital. It is only fair to say that finding these collections at the LLMC portal is a feat in itself. So far my attempts to locate them simply failed. Both LLMC Digital and the website of the PPL lack a general search function and a sitemap. The collections at both websites deserve better accessibility. As for the licensed digital collections and also for the databases accessible through the PPL you might contemplate acquiring a library card of this library. For this choice, too, hving a clear overview of digitized materials and their access is most practical.

Grotius figures of course also on the website of the PPL, starting with the chat function called Ask Hugo! The web page on the Grotius Collection tells you about the general background and the famous bibliography by Ter Meulen and Diermanse [J. ter Meulen and P.P.J. Diermanse (eds.), Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (The Hague 1950)] and a more recent catalogue of the PPL’s holdings of works by Grotius. Instead of the direct link to the licensed Grotius Collection Online: Printed Works of Brill only a link to the title in the PPL library catalogue is provided, yet another minor howler. In fact this digital collection contains also numerous works dealing with Old Dutch law, and I would even single it out as a very representative selection of legal books from the Dutch Republic brought most conveniently together. A research guide for Grotius would be a welcome addition to the thirty existing online guides on the website of the Peace Palace Library. A quick search for a nutshell guide to Grotius brought me only to a very concise guide created by the Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia. It is sensible to look at the Grotius pages of Wikipedia in several languages.

Gaining a wider view

I would like to end this post constructively, and not with criticism on defects. Grotius belongs to the group of thinkers students and scholars cannot approach completely straightforward. Often there is abundant scholarly activity, there might be opposing schools and roads of interpretation and across linguistic borders studies can take refreshing turns closed to those staying content with Anglo-American scholarship. Luckily regularly guides are published in the form of essay volumes by an international team of distinguished scholars to bridge such gaps and bring together different views and themes surrounding a major thinker. In September 2021 the Cambridge Companion to Hugo Grotius appeared in print and online, edited by Randall Lesaffer and Janne Nijman. Interestingly this seems to be the first companion volume to Grotius. There is not yet A Very Short Introduction on Grotius from Oxford, presumably exactly because his versatility can hardly be sufficiently shown in a slim volume by a single author. Hopefully different views on Grotius find space in the scholarly journal Grotiana with apart for the printed version some articles published online in open access.

Logo Open Access Week

This year’s International Open Access Week will take place from October 25 to 31, 2021. The existence of a number of vital online resources for doing research on Grotius only accessible as licensed resources, most often through the services of libraries, diminishes the chances for those outside the circle of blessed beneficiaries to learn more about Grotius or about other major intellectuals whose thought changed the world forever. Institutions not caring or simply forgetting to provide even links to their own digital collections, be they in open or licensed access, should reflect on their duties and capacities to help both scholars and the general public. Of course in some cases it is a matter of discommunication or worse between for example a library staff, a project leader and the communication officers.

It might seem seducing to bring your collections under the flag of a prestigious publishing company, but if this means closing access to your priceless possessions for most of the world the ultimate blame should be in my view on their original holder. In my view individual scholars, scholarly communities, publishers and research institutions, including university presses, all have their own ongoing responsibility to discuss matters concerning access scholarly publications. In actual life both institutions with digitized resources and publishers increasingly offer digitized materials both in licensed and in open access, depending on their policies. Hopefully solutions can be found to create and assure wider access whenever possible and feasible for us and future generations interested in the versatile mind of Grotius and the impact of his works through the centuries. Sailing oceans with free, affordable and sustainable access to research resources would be most helpful to achieve this aim.

Fifty years selling precious prints, books and documents

Cover jubilee catalogue Forum Rare BooksTwo months ago I first looked at a most lavishly illustrated antiquarian book catalogue, and I only had to figure a moment to write about it here. In its wake I found two other recently issued illustrated catalogues of the same firm, Forum Rare Books in ‘t Goy, a hamlet near the Dutch village Houten. This year Forum exists fifty years. The jubilee catalogue is a treat in every aspect. In this post I will look at the jubilee catalogue and two other recent catalogues. Many items in these smaller catalogues can be linked with legal history, but more can be said about them.

In 2017 I discussed here another catalogue issued by Forum with books, prints and other items concerning slavery. The jubilee of Forum is a good occasion to look again for legal history in its recent catalogues.

A feast to the eye

During a period of closed archives and libraries it has been hardly possible to have old books, prints or documents in front of you in a reading room. Digital archives and digital libraries have gained a new importance. With COVID-19 virus affecting many cities, regions and countries in different degrees it is not at all certain institutions that just reopened can remain open. I admit to finding some solace in the beautifully produced jubilee catalogue (Catalogue no. 118, PDF, 32 MB) of Forum Rare Books, a firm that started in Utrecht in 1970, since a few years situated in lovely rural surroundings to the south east of my home town Utrecht.

The special catalogue contains 260 items, all of them accompanied with at least one image, in some cases printed in full page. Item after item you marvel both at something truly rare and often ingeniously illustrated. In a number of cases not only the images take your breath away, the prices indicated do this, too. If you try to forget about them, you can appreciate the catalogue as a kind of exhibit and start enjoying the objects and admiring the descriptions.

Title page of "Los emblemas de Andrea Alciatto tradcidos en rhimas (Lyon 1549) - image: Forum Rare Books

Title page of “Los emblemas de Alciatio traducidos en rhimas Españolas” (Lyon 1549)

Item no. 8 is a rare edition in Spanish of the emblems collected by Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), the famous legal humanist, published in Lyon in 1549. Alciato founded and shaped the emblem genre, the combination of images and a motto, often in verse. The catalogue tells you about the new images in this edition and its place in the publishing history of Alciato’s emblems. Much care is taken for the description of its physical state, making clear that existing damage has not affected the images. The references in smaller cursive print are the result of patient research in many reference works, bibliographies and catalogues. When possible Forum does point to online meta-catalogues. It took me a while before I saw that the only thing you can possible add to the description of this item is a reference to Lyon15-16: Bibliographie des éditions lyonnaises 1473-1600 where this edition figures as no. 17425; information from USTC 342602 should be compared to this database.

A second item worth mentioning here is no. 26, a book by Caspar Barlaeus, Medicea hospes, sive descriptio publicae gratulationis (…) Mariam de Medicis (…) (Amsterdam 1638). It records the almost royal entree to Amsterdam of Maria de’ Medici in 1638. The text is accompanied by fine engravings with images belonging to the realm of legal iconography. This publication is an example of the Early Modern genre of festival books, a subject in a post here in 2018. In the Early Modern Festival Books Database this book figures as no. 2676.

Let’s continue our tour of this grand catalogue with no. 44, a publication by Johannes van der Bosch, Nederlandsche bezittingen in Azia Afrika en Amerika [Dutch possessions in Asia, Africa and America] (2 vol. and atlas, The Hague-Amsterdam 1818). Van den Bosch founded in 1818 also the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid [Society for Beneficence] which aimed at creating better circumstances for poor people. His scheme led to the building of labor colonies in the province Drenthe to which beggars and their families were transported. In an earlier post this year about Dutch archives I mentioned two websites concerning these colonies, Koloniën van Weldadigheid and Alle Kolonisten. Last year Angelie Sens published De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019), a book about this most active man and his initiatives. On my way to no. 44 I had to skip a beautiful work on animals by John Audubon and a gorgeous copy of the Atlas by Joan Blaeu.

If you think one continent is missing in this catalogue you should look at no. 48, a legal treatise by William Westbrooke Burton, The insolvency law of New South Wales, with practical directions and forms (Sydney 1842). The catalogue tells us there was only one edition of this pioneer work on a subject in Australian private law.

The sheer variety of subjects, the telling images and often most interesting descriptions in this catalogue will bring you moments of immersion in a kind of time machine hovering over centuries and continents. It is truly with some difficulty that I leave it to your own curiosity to find out about the wealth assembled within its pages. At the website of Forum Rare Books you can search for web pages about individual items, provided they have not yet been sold. The website is also the source for some of the images in this post.

Autographs, manuscripts and much more

For all its qualities the great jubilee catalogue does touch only with a restricted number of items on legal history. In my view the two small catalogues in this section make up for this omission. The first catalogue, 2020 Autographs, documents & manuscripts (Catalogue 221, PDF, 4,7 MB) contains 24 items. Here you can encounter not just books and manuscripts, but also archival records. The first item is a notarial act from Antwerp confirming in 1546 an Italian notarial document for Giovan Carlo Affaitati, a spice merchant whose money supported the finances of emperor Charles V.

Trial documents from Johan van de Bergh, 1726-1729

Item no. 5 contains documents from the years 1726-1729 concerning the trial at the supreme court of Holland, West-Friesland and Zeeland of a murder case. Pieter Oostenrijck, a baker from the village Zoeterwoude, was tried for killing Cornelis Jansz. Schier, the blacksmith of the village. The documents stem from Johan van den Bergh, between 1725 and 1755 the baljuw (bailiff) of the Rijnland district around Leiden. Van den Berg was also for many years burgomaster of Leiden. The layout of the document shown on the left is typical of documents actually presented in writing before a Dutch court in the Early Modern period. The catalogue points to an advertisement for the sale of the blacksmith’s goods in 1725. It is indeed the kind of document making you curious to find out more about a case and its circumstances.

A following item worth mentioning here is no. 13, a manuscript in French about India and the castes Indiennes, written in 1743 in Karaikal. The anonymous author compares the Indian caste system to Christian belief and customs, enlivening his argument with stories. It is interesting to figure out the background of the author and the purpose of his treatise.

A charter in Portuguese, 1388

No. 16 is a royal charter from Portugal, written in 1388, with a verdict from the court in Coimbra on a case about a claim to a particular parcel land. This document shows a quite early use of the Portuguese language in an official document issued by royal judges. For archival records such as this document Forum does not provide references.

The second smaller catalogue issued this year I want to present here deals with posters, pamphlets and prints (Catalogue 235, PDF, 10,8 MB), with 28 items. The first item in it to be linked with legal history is no. 2, a poster for the auction of the Wulperhorst estate in Zeist near Utrecht in 1801.The statement neither the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog nor WorldCat contain information about copies is correct, but it is more logical to check for it in the holdings of Dutch archives using the Archieven portal where no copy is recorded. The catalogue contains three other posters for auctions, this time for the sale of ships (nos. 3, 5, and 21).

Item no. 4 is a partially colored and illustrated broadside, probably dating from the late seventeenth century, showing Charles the Bold (1433-1477), duke of Burgundy, as a judge. The engraved images are accompanied by explanatory texts. No 28 is a similar broadside showing count William the Good of Holland performing justice in 1336, also stemming from the second half of the seventeenth century.

The title page of the "Receuil van verscheyde placaten (...)

The sixth item in this catalogue is a volume with 92 printed ordinances, instructions and other documents relating to the army and navy of the Dutch Republic, issued between 1591 and 1716 with a long title, Recueil van verscheyde placaten, ordonantien, resolutien, instructien, ordres en lysten, etc. betreffende de saacken van den oorlogh, te water en te lande. The set is quite rare. The Short Title Catalogue Netherlands mentions 2 copies of this set. The description has a phrase about placaten, “publicly posted documents”, pointing rightly to the fact ordinances were indeed posted literally outside important and central buildings. However, the term stems from the word placard, stressing the fact such documents were issued with an official seal.

No. 7 is another rare broadside from 1623, Tweede basuyne. en ‘t boosdoens heylige
wraeck-spiegel …
, with an image of the execution of some of the conspirators against prince Maurits. In 2019 I wrote here about Maurits and his conflict with the Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and his conflict. He was executed after a political trial in 1619. Two of his sons did in 1623 an ill-organized attempt at assassinating Maurits, helping thus to put their father’s legacy for the Dutch Republic in unfavorable light. From the events of 1618 and 1619 stems also item no. 24, an engraving by Claes Jansz. Visscher II of the hanging of the coffin with the body of Gilles van Ledenberg, secretary of the States of Utrecht and chief supporter of Van Oldenbarnevelt, who committed suicide in prison before his sentence had been pronounced.

The most famous political murder in the history of the Dutch Republic is the subject of item no. 10, a broadside from 1672 with four etchings by Romeyn de Hooghe about the killing of Johan and Cornelis de Witt by a mob outside the county prison in The Hague in August 1672. I had expected a reference to the study by historian Henk van Nierop, The Life of Romeyn de Hooghe 1645-1708. Prints, Pamphlets, and Politics in the Dutch Golden Age (Amsterdam 2018) who in some cases argues convincingly for a new date and context of several undated etchings of this artist.

My tour of this catalogue ends with two items from the late eighteenth century. No. 11 is a set of printed ordinances issued in 1805 by governor Jan Willem Janssens for the Cape Colony in South Africa. At this time the Batavian Republic (1795-1806) was the state ruling most parts of the Northern Netherlands. The rule of the Dutch East Indian Company in Cape Town had ended in 1799. In 1806 the English took over the Cape Colony after an earlier English period between 1797 and 1803. Item no. 12 is an engraving of the first meeting of the national assembly in The Hague in 1797 during the period of the Batavian Republic.

Ascertaining the provenance of all these precious books, prints and documents is surely one of the things to do before you or an institution can pay the requested amounts for a particular item, but this will not stop you from sharing with me the admiration for these items described with such care and flair, and made more tangible in fine photographs. My brief remarks cannot hide my pleasure in looking at these three magnificent catalogues. This year Forum Rare Books issued already 23 (!) illustrated catalogues. Many international book fairs are currently held as virtual fairs. Whatever the prospects of anyone wanting to possess these items, the catalogues and the website of Forum offer you a tour around the world with most interesting items.

Finding Early Modern notarial records in Mexico

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

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

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

Book history and archives

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

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

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

Finding archives in Mexico

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

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

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

Dealing with notarial acts

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

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

Banner Censo-Guía

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

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

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

Logo El Colegio de Mexico

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

Working in Mexican archives

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

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

A postscript

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

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.

The Italian thing: A look at a new palaeography tutorial

Startscreen "Italian Palaeography

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

At the outset

Logo of The Newberry Library, Chicago

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

Logo Medici Archive Project

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

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

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

The Italian thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some differences

Banner French Renaissance Paleography

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

Logo UTL

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

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

An update

In view of the small number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography it is sensible to mention here the Materiale didattico: Paleografia e diplomatica created by Bianca Fadda, Università di Cagliari, who presents images of several medieval scripts and documents.

Learning to read German legal responsa

Banner "rechtsprechung im Osteeraum

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

Scribal varieties and the use of computers


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

A "Spruckakte" from 1586

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

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

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

Using the Transkribus tool

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

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

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

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

The second Transkribus logo

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

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

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

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

A postscript

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

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

Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt, a prince and a statesman

Paintings of Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt at the exhibition of museum Flehite

Paintings of Oldenbarnevelt (left) and Maurits (right)

Any country has some dates in its history on which politics and violence come together. Political murders are a rare phenomenon in Dutch history. Willem van Oranje, leader of the Dutch Revolt in the sixteenth century, was assasinated in Delft on July 10, 1584. The brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt were lynched by a mob in The Hague on August 20, 1672. The mob held them responsible for the French occupation of the Dutch Republic. In recent years my country has witnessed the assasinations of politician Pim Fortuyn (May 6, 2002) and movie director Theo van Gogh (November 2, 2004). Last week solicitor Derk Wierum was shot brutally in front of his home in Amsterdam. Alas it was not the first time in this century a Dutch lawyer was shot, but the death of a solicitor defending a crown witness is an assault on the rule of law and justice.

In the list of Dutch historical figures who became a victim of violence you will find also a lawyer and statesman sentenced to death after a political trial. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619) clashed with prince Maurits, the son of William of Orange. I hesitated to deal here with yet another commemoration based on rounded years, but at last I visited an exhibition in his home town Amersfoort. I looked at some historical spots and archival records, and I will briefly mention some recent publications about Oldenbarnevelt.

A matter of choices

In the lovely old inner city of  Amersfoort – near Utrecht- Museum Flehite has organized the exhibition Johan en Maurits. Van vriend tot vijand [John and Maurits, from friends to enemies]. The exhibition opened on May 13, 2019, exactly four hundred years after the execution of Oldenbarnevelt on the inner court of the Binnenhof in The Hague, the premises of the Staten-Generaal, the governing body of the Dutch Republic. A life of service to the state, helping to create and unify it, ended on the scaffold. In a country sharply divided between his followers and those agreeing with prince Maurits Oldenbarnevelt had become a public enemy.

Photo of the Bollenburg house, Amersfoort

Van Oldenbarnevelt stemmed from a fairly average family in Amersfoort. His father was a merchant who acted also as a sequester, an official who took goods into his charge pending judicial proceedings. It is not known where Johan was born, but the house Bollenburg (Muurhuizen 19) where he lived for some time in later years still exists. The Muurhuizen, literally “wall houses” is nowadays a very picturesque street around the inner city with many beautifully restored medieval and Early Modern houses.

The information about his youth comes mainly form a single source, his own statement from 1619 about his life. The full biography on Oldenbarnevelt by  J. den Tex [Oldenbarnevelt (5 vol., Haarlem-Groningen 1960-1972) warns for wanting to flesh out such information. After going in 1564 to The Hague to work for a barrister he studied between 1566 and 1569 in Louvain, Bourges, Cologne, Heidelberg and Padua. At Louvain his name was entered wrongly in the student register…  In 1570 he became a barrister at the Hof van Holland. Two years later he went to Delft to work for the hoogheemraadschap (water control board) of Delfland. In 1576 he became the city pensionary of Rotterdam. Soon he was chosen also on committees of the States of Holland. After the death of William of Orange in 1584 he supported a transfer of power to his son Maurits. His activity, qualities and insights were duly noticed, for in 1586 he reached the two posts he would hold until his death, landsadvocaat (state solicitor) and raadpensionaris (grand pensionary) of Holland.

Much has been made of the personal differences between Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt. Up to the year 1600 they seemed to make a perfect match, Maurits as a prudent and most gifted tactical military leader, Oldenbarnevelt as the man of grand strategies. Thanks to their combined leadership the Dutch Republic grew from a very low point in the mid-eighties to an emerging European power. A campaign to deal with the pirates of Dunkirk led to a hard fought victory in 1600 on the beach of Nieuwpoort in Flanders where Maurits won the day with some luck. The incident annoyed him a lot, because he had urged Oldenbarnevelt not to start this adventure.

In 1609 a truce for twelve years with Spain was reached. Oldenbarnevelt had personally supported François van Aerssen (1572-1641), the Dutch ambassador in France, until 1613 when he did not continue him in his function. Van Aerssen felt disappointed and soon became the personal advisor of Maurits. A prolonged debate about theological matters in the Dutch Republic, in particular about predestination, developed into a full-scale political conflict about the relation between church and state. Maurits decided in 1617 to join sides in public by going to the church of Oldenbarnevelt’s opponents in the Kloosterkerk, next to Oldenbarnevelt’s home in The Hague. The way a national synod should convene at Dordrecht and settle these matters was another matter of disagreement. In several cities riots broke out. In August 1617 Oldenbarnevelt forced the States of Holland in issuing an ordinance permitting individual cities to raise mercenaries to protect citizens. Citizens were not allowed to appeal to the Court of Holland, and soldiers had to obey only the orders of the States of Holland, not those of their commander Maurits. The very balance of power in the Dutch Republic between the individual provinces, the States General and the stadhouder was at stake, and also the adherence to the principles of government laid down in the Union of Utrecht (1579). Oldenbarnevelt favored a situation where towns and provinces could decide themselves on the admission of religious movements, and more specifically he wanted space and tolerance for those who did not join the Reformed protestant majority.

Maurits’ role in the events from 1617 until 1620 is nowadays much clearer than for Den Tex. J.G. Smit could edit 120 letters by Maurits held since 1862 at the Koninklijk Huisarchief [Royal Archive] in The Hague [‘Prins Maurits en de goede zaak : Brieven van Maurits uit de jaren 1617-1619’, in: Nederlandse historische bronnen I, A.C.F. Koch, J.G. Smit and A. Kersten (eds.) (The Hague 1979) 43-173; online, Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren]. These letters show clearly how Maurits worked slowly but steadily against Oldenbarnevelt after the resolution of August 1617. A year later, after more riots, forced changes in city government, and above all the dismissal of the waardgelders in several towns Maurits had Oldenbarnevelt and his chief supporters, one of them Hugo Grotius, arrested on August 29, 1618. Maurits was in contact with some of the men who were later on chosen to judge Oldenbarnevelt.

It is wise to refer here also to the analysis by Jonathan Israel in his major study The Dutch Republic. Its rise, greatness, and fall 1477-1806 (Oxford 1995) of what happened in this year. Finding a legal reason for arresting Oldenbarnevelt might not have been particularly difficult, but on whose authority the arrest had to be done was certainly unclear, as was the choice of a tribunal and the judges. In the end the judges were chosen from both Holland and the other Dutch provinces. The trial dragged on for months. In the end the verdicts surprised many people. Grotius and Hogerbeets were sentenced to life imprisonment, but Oldenbarnevelt was sentenced to death, with the execution already following the next day, May 13, 1619. Maurits had ignored pleas for leniency towards Oldenbarnevelt. He did not attend the execution and an eyewitness report troubled his mind severely.

Some telling objects

One of the early editions of the verdict on Oldenbarnevelt

An early contemporary edition of the verdict on Oldenbarnevelt, 1619

The exhibition in Amersfoort is rather small, but the role of pamphlets and broadsides is made quite clear. The verdict on Oldenbarnevelt was quickly printed and published in several languages. Some of the items on display are most telling. The walking stick of Oldenbarnevelt is perhaps the most famous item associated with any Dutch historical figure. A poem by Joost van den Vondel immortalized both its owner and the stick. Another item is rather grim. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden recently acquired a sword which belonged to the German executioner Hans Pruym who worked for the city of Utrecht, the very man who decapitated Oldenbarnevelt. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has another sword said to have been used for the execution of Oldenbarnevelt (object no. NG-NM-4245), inscribed with a poem, but there is no provenance record of it before 1745. The story of Oldenbarnevelt’s captivity has long been known partially from a deposition by his servant Jan Francken, edited by Robert Fruin, ‘Verhaal der gevangenschap van Oldenbarnevelt, beschreven door zijn knecht Jan Francken’, Kroniek van het Historisch Genootschap, 6th series, part 5 (1874) 734-785 (online, Hathi Trust Digital Library). This year the original diary long held in private possession finally became visible to the public. It has been shown at the Museum De Gevangenpoort, a prison museum just outside the Binnenhof in The Hague, and is now on display at Museum Flehite.

Engreaving of the executionm, 1619

‘Justice done to Jan van Oldenbarnevelt’, engraving of the execution of Oldenbarnevelt by Claes Jansz. Visscher, 1619 – source: Het Geheugen van Nederland, https://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/

This engraving has become famous for many reasons. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen discussed it in their study The bookshop of the world, reviewed here earlier this year, as the very work which laid the foundation for the success of Broer Jansz., a publisher in Amsterdam who succeeded in very quickly publishing this powerful picture. At Museum Flehite it is literally used as a background picture on a wall. These years saw a flood of pamphlets about and more often against Oldenbarnevelt. Fake news was created, too, to undermine his position. A number of these pamphlets has been put on display at Museum Flehite. The death of Oldenbarnevelt was not the end of the political strife. A few years later two of his sons prepared a coup, but they were quickly unmasked and severely punished. This did not help to put Oldenbarnevelt and his party in favorable light. The conflict helped to create a fundamental division in the Dutch Republic between those supporting the Oranje family and those supporting the cities and their governing class.

A quick look at recent publications about Oldenbarnevelt leaves me with sometimes mixed feelings. Jan Niessen, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt 1547-1619, vormgever van de Republiek (Utrecht 2019) is rather short. The translation of Jan Francken’s diary by Thomas Rosenboom does some service in retelling his story in modern Dutch [Het einde van Johan Oldenbarnevelt, beschreven dor zijn knecht Jan Francken (3rd ed., Amsterdam 2019)], but a new edition of the text from the original diary which surfaced this year is necessary. The book of Ben Knapen, De man en zijn staat. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt 1547-1619 (7th ed., Amsterdam 2019) offers a political study of Oldenbarnevelt by a historian and politician. Broeders in oorlog, vijanden in vrede. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt en Maurits van Nassau, redders van de Nederlandse Republiek by Mike Hermsen (Zutphen 2019) focuses on the two statesmen and their contribution to the Dutch state, with a fine choice of illustrations. Wilfried Uitterhove’s De zaak Oldenbarnevelt : val, proces en executie (Nijmegen 2019) focuses not only on the final years, but also in particular on the documents concerning the trial. Ronald Prud’homme van Reine, Onthoofdingen in de Hofstad. De val van de Oldenbarnevelts (Amsterdam 2019) looks also at the plot of the two sons. Bollenburg, het huis van Oldenbarnevelt by Jojanneke Clarijs (Bussum 2017) appeared a few years earlier to commemorate the recent restoration of this house.

Account of the costs for the trials, 1621

Account for the costs of the trials in 1618-1619 – Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief, Huis Hardenbroek, inv.no. 4507

The main historiographical gap is still the lack of a full biography of prince Maurits on the scale of Den Tex’ work for Oldenbarnevelt. The study by J.G. Kikkert, Maurits van Nassau (Bussum 1985; 3rd ed., Soesterberg 2016) is very much in favor of Maurits. Arie van Deursen, Maurits van Nassau, 1567-1625. De winnaar die faalde (Amsterdam 2000) did not quite live up to high expectations. Some of the documents about Oldenbarnevelt’s life and the trial were edited already long ago, for example the questionings at the trial, Verhooren van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (Utrecht 1850; online, Hathi Trust) and the Gedenkstukken van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt en zijn tijd, M.L.van Deventer (ed.) (3 vol., The Hague 1860-1865; online, Hathi Trust). The document on the left, an account of the costs for the trials against Oldenbarnevelt, Grotius, Rombout Hogerbeets and Gilles van Ledenberg, was edited by J.J. de Geer van Oudegein, ‘Onkosten der judicature van Van Oldenbarnevelt’, Kronijk van het Historisch Genootschap 17 (1861) 336-340 [online, Hathi Trust]. This account is now – together with yet another copy of it – one of the special items in the archival collection of castle Hardenbroek for which I am busy finishing a new and very extensive finding aid at Het Utrechts Archief.

Another element that for many years hampered scholars to do research on Oldenbarnevelt was exactly the fact his archive held at the Dutch National Archives was only fully described as late as in 1984 by H.J.Ph.G. Kaajan, Inventaris van het archief van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, 1586-1619 (finding aid no. 3.01.14 (PDF), followed in 1987 by a finding aid for the Oldenbarnevelt family archive [H.J.Ph.G. Kaajan, Inventaris van het archief van de familie Van Oldenbarnevelt, (1449) 1510-1705) (finding aid no. 3.20.41 (PDF)]. Kaajan drily notes in his introduction Oldenbarnevelt’s handwriting was terrible. The modern edition of his state papers and family papers by S.P. Haak and A.J. Veenendaal, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Bescheiden betreffende zijn staatkundig beleid en zijn familie 1570-1620 (3 vol., The Hague 1934-1967) can be consulted online, too.

Doing full justice to two historical figures can be seen as a metaphor, but in this case there are certainly spurs – both new objects and archival records – to delve again into the early history of the Dutch Republic which was shaped decisively by Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt. It is always a good sign when an exhibition makes you think again about its subjects and the objects put on display.

Amersfoort, Museum Flehite: Johan & Maurits: Van vriend tot vijand – May 13, 2019 until January 5, 2020

A postscript

On February 5, 2020, AvroTros television broadcasted the first installment of the series Historisch bewijs [Historical proof] created in cooperation with the Rijksmuseum featuring both the sword from Dresden and a sword in the holdings of the Rijksmuseum [Rijksmuseum, inv. no. ng-nm-4245] said to be the executioner’s sword. As an extra you can look at a fifteen minutes video of background research in the municipal archive of The Hague. The sword from Dresden was put on display at the Rijksmuseum in 2018. Research concerning both swords led to the article by Lieke van Deinsen en Jan de Hond, ‘The Sword and the Album: Material Memories and an Eighteenth-Century Poetic Account of the Execution of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1619)’, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 66/3 (2018) 204-233. The sword in Dresden [Rüstkammer, Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen, inv. no. iv 0198] came into view thanks to research by Gisela Wilbertz who published the article ‘Das Schwert des Scharfrichters Hans Prum in der Dresdner Rüstkammer’, Signa Iuris 16 (2018) 91-108. Hans Prum (ca. 1560/65-1621) stemmed from Meisenheim. He came to the Netherlands and worked in Zutphen and Utrecht; see for his life the articles by Cornelis R.H. Snijder, ‘Het scherprechtersgeslacht Pruijm/Pfraum, ook Prom/Praum/Sprong genoemd’, Gens Nostra 69 (2014), 488-500, 70 (2015), 14-23 (also online, PDF), and ‘Hans Pruijm, scherprechter te Zutphen 1595-1604. Executeur van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt’, Zutphen 35/4 (2016) 105-111 (online, PDF).