Tag Archives: Europe

Safe under a shield: A dual approach to the Prize Papers

Logo Open Access WeekThis years’ Open Access Week (October 19-25) is the occasion for a post about a number of projects tapping the wealth of the remarkable archival collection of the High Court of Admiralty (HCA) in the British National Archives. Several projects deal with a few record series within this archive, the Prize Papers. Someof these record series have become accessible online in open access, others, however, can only be viewed only at subscribing institutions. This contribution offers a sketch of the situation facing scholars who might want to use these rich resources. Surely one of their questions is why such differences have been allowed to develop by the National Archives and the partners in the various projects concerning the Prize Papers. My post will not offer a definitive conclusion to this question, but I will try to create a starting point for further consideration.

In 2012 I focused on the project concerning the so-called Sailing Letters, focusing on Dutch letters found among the Prize Papers, and I will therefore discuss this project here concisely. The recent launch in open access of an online atlas created using the Prize Papers and bringing a most interesting example of possible research rekindled my interest in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty.

Ships from every corner of Europe

When you look at the fine online guide for the High Court of Admiralty at the website of the National Archives at Kew some things will attract your attention, that is, when you do not start immediately to read the guide. First of all, the sheer length and detail of the guide does credit to the importance of this archive. For many HCA series you can find more information on consecutive pages, and this feature can only be applauded. Secondly, at the very start it is indicated no materials from the High Court of Admiralty are online at this website, a statement which is correct, but it does not tell you enough. In the section about the Prize Court you will find the link to a finding aid at the website of the Dutch Nationaal Archief in The Hague, with a lapidary statement that this deals mainly with the series HCA 32, the Prize Letters. However, this is simply misleading, The Dutch finding aid does provide an index of Dutch letters in other HCA series as well. Only using an online search engine I found a Powerpoint presentation at the website of the National Archives about the ongoing cataloguing of the HCA series (13 MB).

The website of the NA does not bring you directly from its general HCA guide to the Dutch online general guide to the HCA 32 series with its thousands of letters, and in particular some 8,500 scans of Dutch letters, not just from the HCA 32 series, but from other series as well. You can also download the introduction to this index as a PDF or EAD.

Apart from these remarks the most important thing you will register is the great variety of resources forming entire record series which merit attention both per se and, more importantly, within the context of the history of the High Court of Admiralty. Normally you would not decide so quickly to single out one particular record series of an archival collection without acknowledging its wider context and setting. There are more than sixty HCA record series, eleven series for the Court of Delegates (DEL) for appeals in instance cases, and five series for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PCAP). Nine HCA record series make up the main body of the records of the Prize Court, and seven HCA series deal with appeals in prize cases. HCA 30 appears at several points in this guide, the last time in a paragraph stating this series contains Admiralty Miscellanea. The guide closes before the very useful glossary of legal terms with a clear warning: “HCA is a large and complex collection of documents, and this leaflet does not attempt to be comprehensive. Both the finding aids and secondary reading can be found at The National Archives.”

When you continue focusing at the HCA 32 series at the website of the National Archives you will encounter a set of digitized records, four French muster rolls of ships captured in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar. As is the case with more digitized records at this website, you can search freely in these records, but you have to pay to view this pieces. It would be nice if one could download them at least one day every year without this financial procedure or with a broadly advertised discount, preferably on October 21, the day of the Battle of Trafalgar. Here I leave it to others to find out about the digitization of other records in connection with Nelson.

Prize papers at a price

Banner Gekaapte brieven

My story of open access and subscribers-only access becomes more complicated when we look at the major research projects for the Prize Papers. In my country the project for the Sailing Letters gained most publicity. In five issues of the Sailing Letters Journaal edited by Erik van der Doe, Perry Moree and Dirk Tang a number of letters appeared in critical editions with accompanying essays. At Gekaapte Brieven [Captured letters], a website created by the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam, you can view both the originals and transcriptions of six thousand Dutch letters from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The transcriptions were done to a large extent by crowdsourcing. At the University of Leiden the project Brieven als buit [Looted letters] resulted not only in an online linguistic corpus for roughly the same set of letters, but also in a number of monographs, mainly dissertations. The Dutch Nationaal Archief created as lasting results the finding aid, the searchable index and a substantial number of scans, all of them accessible in open access. At the center of these projects were the Dutch letters documenting social life and the uses of the Dutch language in daily communication.

The blog of the Prize Papers Consortium shows graphically the number of parties participating in projects concerning the core of the archive of the High Court of Admiralty. Interestingly, this blog mainly shows the amount of preparations to launch the Sailing Letters project, and at some points the major project for digitizing a substantial number of other archival records is already hinted at. For the historiographical background of the projects dealing with the Prize Papers this blog – kept alive after finishing the Sailing Letters – is invaluable.

Logo Marine Lives

A second major project tapping the riches of the HCA archive is Marine Lives. This project puts the life of sailors and the events touching their ships first. In striking difference with the projects for the Dutch letters you find here images and transcriptions for selected items taken from several HCA record series. In fact the team of Marine Lives organizes campaigns to deal with a clearly set case or a few registers. At present you will find for example a project focusing on the capture of three ships with Spanish silver in 1652, using in particular the HCA 13 series with in its 272 bundles and volumes in particular answers and examinations in prize cases and instances. For this case only the team does use as main resources four volumes of the HCA 13 series, HCA 13/66 to HCA 13/71. The description of this case is a veritable mine of information, and you will benefit from looking at this case, its references and bibliography. At the website of Marine Lives you can find the transcriptions of relevant pages in HCA 13/69. For other projects participants in Marine Lives have also looked outside the HCA archive, for instance at probate records and Chancery records. By casting its nets wide Marine Lives does in my opinion justice to the sheer range and scope of the HCA archive, and their overview of records to be dealt with bears witness to this statement. Marine Lives is not just a project, but a set of projects showing the importance and impact of maritime life for British history in general. Most of them focus on a particular archival record documenting a period of one or two years during the seventeenth century, or in the case of the Silver Ships on a particular case.

Banner Global Worlds

The same width and broad scope is a feature of the bilingual Prize Papers portal created at the university of Oldenburg. Alas this portal does contain only announcements of research, and the website has not been updated since 2012. The projects of German scholars will cover subjects such as cultural exchange, the material world of Frisian in the eighteenth century, missionary activities, views of the body, learning foreign languages and the role of correspondence. Whatever the outcome of these projects their aim is clearly showing the chance to open with the Prize Papers windows on a world in various ways. A nice element of the portal is an image gallery showing boxes holding the paper materials, various objects, word lists, drawings and notes, playing cards and much more. The Prize Papers are indeed a great time capsule. There is a concise bibliography of recent scholarship concerning the Prize Papers.

A seducing interactive map

Banner Prize Papers Atlas

In the last major project open access and subscribers-only access rub shoulders. When I spotted the interactive map accompanying Brill’s online edition of selected Prize Papers I knew I would write here about it sooner or later. The interactive map uses information for the period 1775-1783, the years of the American Revolutionary War and the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, doubtlessly a very interesting sample period. The sample uses some 7,000 interrogations. In her background essay for the Prize Papers Online I Caroline Kimbell of the National Archives skilfully tells the story of the various locations and the rare use of the Prize Papers before 1980, a story not to be missed. At the map you can pose your questions helped by eight search fields about ships and six fields for their crews. The introduction contains a number of preset configurations for a number of subjects, for example the voyages of sailors from Scandinavia or the origins of illiterate crew members. The results on the map contain clickable links to the scans which can in most cases only be accessed by subscribers and subscribing institutions. Only at this point it becomes clear it is indeed the HCA 32 record series forming the backbone of this large-scale project with five sets, each of them focusing on a period of war. Eight sample biographies with scans of the interrogations accompany the map, as does a list of some studies, a number of them available online. You can search online in each set, but you will receive only restricted information and a thumbnail for the purchase of full access.

Logo Prize Papers Online

In the last paragraph I already hinted at a problem with the selected periods, the choice for war years. Wars had and have a major impact on society, but one will have to look at the years before and after a war, too, to gain insight into any substantial differences. The choice for war years during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century does make it possible to compare consecutive wars and changes in conditions for ships and crews. A second problem is the decision to include here only interrogations, presumably taken in overwhelming majority from the HCA 32 series. The guide to the HCA archive at the website of the National Archives shows precisely for this series a nice division into sets stemming from war years, and obviously the temptation to start with its crisply defined sets has been strong and convincing. I cannot help noticing the omission of the very series number in the introduction to each set of Brill’s Prize Papers Online. The correct references are also lacking for the sample biographies, In contrast to the images for the other projects discussed here the images of the scans of Brill’s project do not show the HCA 32 numbers.

Contrary to the policy for many commercial projects with digitized historical resources Brill does indicate clearly the price of € 45,000,- for purchase of access to the five sets, and € 8,500,- for yearly subscription. Access for one set comes at € 9,000,-. As a matter of fact Brill does offer a number of books online in open access, and this publisher gives discounts and waivers to people in developing countries for some online materials. The old motto of this Dutch firm, Tuta sub aegide Pallas, “safe under Pallas’ shield”, has evidently renewed its meaning and significance. Many will read here protection for its own interest instead of protection and care for the texts written by Brill’s authors trusting the high standards of this publisher.

Some questions

Is it a blessing in disguise that only some years of the HCA 32 series can only be accessed online at subscribing institutions? Instead of lamenting the protective shield around Brill’s digital resources we could also consider the chance to create in new projects open access to other series of the mighty HCA archive kept at Kew. In my view the different approaches shown here each have their qualities. The Dutch projects with the letters literally give us the most telling personal stories. Marine Lives makes a choice to look at a number of HCA record series and at particular cases. The team at Oldenburg promises to open vistas to global worlds, but as for now the portal shows no results at all, apart from the tantalizing showcase with a great choice of images and objects. The interrogations published by Brill benefit from the standardized form with thirty-two questions which makes this series to a substantial extent reliable and open to statistical treatment. Many scholars will use it as a part of their own research, not as the sole resource at the center of their interest.

Anyone organizing large-scale projects in the humanities does know that finances are often a determining factor in launching and finishing them. Brill obviously reckons the internal qualities of the record series is sufficiently high to make institutions pay for this publisher’s efforts to make this series of the Prize Papers accessible online. The interactive atlas is a showcase inviting scholars to convince their institutions to give them access to this remarkable resource. However, the German project convinces me even in its embryonic stage and hidden progress there is indeed a world to win when we opt for a broad approach to the records of the High Court of Admiralty. Marine Lives probably makes the wisest choice to alternate between singular records and major cases within a limited time span, and thus you can gain relatively quickly more insight into the chances for further research using the entire range of the sixty great HCA record series. The digitized letters remind you to remember the human and personal aspects of the large theme or subject you would like to investigate.

Banner National Archives

Perhaps it is wise to realize your luck as a historian in having at your disposal on your screen one or two major record series within the many boxes of the HCA archive. In view of the prize for the sets offered by Brill the best policy is probably to go to a subscribing institution for online access to one or more of these valuable sets, to arrange for images from the National Archives at Kew, and to pay a visit to this outstanding archive.

A debate about the use of digital resources should not lead us away from scholarly literature en sources in print dealing with the High Court of Admiralty. Using the Karlsruher Virtual Katalog and tapping the wealth of the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main you can find numerous publications. Eighteenth-century pamphlets and books, too, can be most helpful or serve as a starting point for archival research. In his research concerning Admiralty cases from the sixteenth century Alain Wijffels (Leiden/Louvain-la-Neuve) looked in particular at the role of Roman law. Wijffels has devoted several studies to Admiralty cases, including even in 1993 a Cambridge Ph.D. thesis on Civil law in the practice of the High Court of Admiralty at the time of Alberico Gentili. Do not tempt me to add here more than just the titles of relevant publications of the Selden SocietySelect pleas in the Court of Admiralty, vol 1: 1390-1404 and 1527-1545, Reginald Marsden (ed.) (London, 1892; Selden Society, 6), vol. 2: 1547-1602, Reginald Marsden (ed.) (London, 1897; Selden Society, 11) and – more recently – Hale and Fleetwood on Admiralty jurisdictions, M.J. Pritchard and D.E.C. Yale (eds.) (London, 1992; Selden Society, 108)!

There is enough space and material for approaching this court with its magnificent holdings and using them to the benefit of the field of legal history, too. If legal historians want to have open access to any HCA record series which has not yet been digitized, it is up to us to follow in the wake of the Marine Lives team, and to start our own projects to achieve this aim. Publishing firms will steer their own course. Some universities have already created their own open access publication series or indeed changed their university presses into open access establishments. In my view watching from aside the struggles between publishers and libraries about access to scholarly publications is to take sides. The scholarly community itself has to play an active rol in this turbulent period with major changes in communication and access to information. Fighting for open access has only just started.

A postscript

Almost two weeks after publishing this post I heard about another project with Early Modern letters. The international project Signed, Sealed & Undelivered deals with some 2,600 letters – written in six languages – from the seventeenth century found among the holdings of the Museum voor Communicatie (MusCom) in The Hague which received the letter trunk in 1926. New technology will be used for the deciphering of 600 of these letters without even opening them, and thus preserving the sometimes peculiar foldings of personal messages.

On February 1, 2016 the Huijgens Institute in The Hague announced news about funding by Metamorfoze, the Dutch program for conservation and digitization of written and printed cultural heritage, for digitizing 160,000 pages with Dutch materials from the HCA archive as a new phase of its own project Prize Papers Online.

The project for the Prize Papers at Oldenburg is kicking and alive. In 2015 and 2016 several meetings were organized and also a pilot for the digitization of archival records.

Old laws in a new world: The case of New Amsterdam

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

In my latest post I almost lamented the emphasis on European history on my legal history website. In order to make up for any deficiencies I decided to choose a subject outside Europe for my next post. Ironically I arrived at New Amsterdam 1647-1661 thanks to the European History Primary Sources portal. This portal brings succinct records for digitized source collections of whatever nature, tagged with basic information about countries, languages, periods, subjects and resource type. The subject colonial provided an entrance at the EHPS portal for this digital collection created by the New York City Department of Records and Administration. The contents of this digital collection are mainly original and translated ordinances and regulations, a theme firmly within the scope of my blog. In fact the very preponderance of legal resources made me very curious about this collection. Other ordinances from Dutch colonies during the Early Modern period are now also available online elsewhere. Here I will look briefly at those digital collections, too.

A legislative legacy

Earlier this year I enjoyed reading Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam. A history of the world’s most liberal city (2013) about the rich history of the Dutch capital. In a conversation someone pointed me to his book about the early history of New York The island at the center of the world (2004) which I still had not read. In his book about Amsterdam Shorto dedicated a chapter about the impact of Amsterdam on New York (“Seeds of influence”), yet another reason to get hold of his study about the colorful history of the Dutch colony on American soil.

At the moment of writing the digital gallery consists of just fifteen images and the series of municipal bylaws created between 1647 and 1661. The Municipal Archives and the Municipal Library of New York City will soon add more digitized items to this gallery.

An early Dutch record from New York - image NYC Department of Records

The first ordinance issued by Peter Stuyvesant as Director-General of New Amsterdam, May 31, 1647 – NAR, BK 1

The heart of the digital collection is made up of ordinances and regulations. As for now there are four distinct series, the first with original Dutch records between 1647 and 1661, the second for a manuscript with translations of Dutch records (1647-1654), the third with a digitized version of a manuscript by E.B. O’Callaghan from 1868 with ordinances of New Amsterdam (1647-1661), and the fourth a digital version of the first volume of Berthold Fernow’s Records of New Amsterdam (7 volumes, New York, 1897-1898).

The first section gives you an immediate experience of the surviving resources from the Dutch period of New York. Dutch historians will recognize a smooth seventeenth-century hand, and for others this kind of handwriting is vastly different from English handwriting of the same period. The manuscript with translations of the register shown in the first section might be the work of Cornelius van Westbrook or Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan. The third section gives a manuscript by O’Callaghan with his translation of the same register. In the last section Fernow took over O’Callaghan’s translation of the first register. The digital version shows only the translation of the same register (up to page 49).

The register has been used to create a portrait of Stuyvesant, busy regulating daily life, in particular formulating policies ensuring the common good and adjusting affairs. The general impression is that of working out policies instead of working to ensure justice. Nevertheless I saw also an undated prayer for opening council meetings. If you would look in more detail you would for instance notice the ruling urging to pay Indians correctly for their work (September 28, 1648) and the order on the conveyance of real estate in courts convened by the Director-General (February 7, 1650). This raises the general question of ordinances concerning private law, other laws, the borders of jurisdiction and the functioning of courts.

The first register is given an honoured place, but somehow I had expected more. It is nice to see the different stages from transcripts to translation, and it shows Charles Gehring and all working in his trail were not the first to deal with the records of the Dutch colonial period of New York and surrounding settlements and areas. Those dealing with Dutch palaeography would certainly welcome here a transcription of at least a part of this hallowed register. Let’s say it without hesitation, this digital gallery is really a showcase, if not for its content, then surely for using in its web address proudly the new domain .nyc, anyway shorter than the .amsterdam domain.

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

Russell Shorto’s book appeared eleven years ago and it has become a classic work, even to the degree that its references remain unchanged in later impressions. For the latest scholarship about colonial New York and the New Netherland period you can turn to the only website Shorto refers to, the New Netherland Project, nowadays called the New Netherland Institute (NNI). This institute maintains a bibliography, and it has created an impressive digital library with both older publications and editions, and also digital versions of its own publications. In 2010 the New Netherland Research Center opened in the same building in Albany, NY, where the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are housed, too.

The logical question to ask here is what we can find here concerning legal history. Property law is written large for example in the three volumes of the Register of the Provincial Secretary (1638-1660). Here, too, is the luxury of a digitized version of the first attempts at translation, Gehring’s modern translation and digitized images of the register itself. Three volumes have been edited with the Council Minutes for the period 1638-1656, a primary source for the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings of the Director General and Council of New Netherland. The sixteenth volume in the publication series gives us Laws and Writs of Appeal (part I, 1647-1663). The second part of volume 16 contains translations of court minutes from Fort Orange (1652-1660). Again property law is the subject of the translated Land Papers (1630-1664). Fort Orange became eventually Albany. There are minutes of the court of Albany from 1668 to 1685, now kept at the Albany County Hall of Records. The list grows really long! The Van Rensselaer Manor comes into view, too, as are the New Netherland Papers of Hans Bontemantel, a director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West Indies Company. Dutch colonial history elsewhere is also present, in the Curaçao Papers (1640-1665) (volume 17), here with a transcription, translation and images .

With separate access to the introductions of all sets, a guide to weights and measures, and last but not least both the original guide to Dutch papers created by Charles Gehring in 1977 and 1978 and its digital successor (2011-2012), you can only wish to have an online directory to the older phases of Dutch palaeography to try to decipher some of the images and to look more closely at Dutch words in the transcriptions. Luckily the magnificent multivolume Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal has become available at Leiden in a fine searchable version. The link to the digital collections of the New York State Archives does at first only lead to a free text search and four browsing filters (collections, places, repositories, state agencies), but I could quickly spot the collection for the Dutch settlement at the Delaware river (just one document from 1656), the administrative correspondence for the Dutch colony in New York (231 documents) and colonial council minutes with for example the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance.

Elsewhere, too, you can find digitized sources from the Dutch colonial period in the United States. At a branch of Ancestry is a useful links collection called New Netherland and Beyond. The section about the Dutch period (1621-1664) is the one to go for my purpose. You will find here for example A.J Van Laer’s selections from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts (1908) also dealt with by the NNI, and generally digitized versions of the finding aids, reports and translations created by Van Laer, O’Callaghan and Fernow.

Interestingly Dutch ordinances from the Early Modern period are in particular available online for the Dutch colonial period. The Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch history has created a digital version of the West-Indisch Plakaatboek within its project The Dutch in the Caribbean World c. 1670 – c. 1870. The digital Plakaatboek Guyana 1670-1816 has been launched in February 2015, and this project dealing with Essequibo, Berbice and Demerary, too, is accessible with an English interface. The Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811, Jacobus Anne van der Chijs (ed.) (17 volumes, Batavia, 1885-1901) has been digitized partially at Oxford (vol. 1-3), but it is available completely – and nicely searchable, too – within the Colonial Collection of Leiden University Library. The version of Van der Chijs at Sejarah Nusantara, a portal for colonial history created by the Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, is even better searchable. For the Kaapse Plakkaatboek (6 vol., Cape Town, 1944-1951), edited by M.K. Jeffreys and S.D. Naudé, the first free volumes appear in the digital books section of the firm aiming to be the One and Only Web Firm. The two volumes of the Ceylonees plakkaatboek, Lodewijk Hovy (ed.) (Hilversum, 1991) deal with the period 1638-1796; in arrangement with the publishing firm you can view large parts of it online in the same virtual library as for its South African counterpart. Hovy added to his edition a book-length introduction. The Dutch presence in Brazil was an element in my post last year about Brazil’s legal history, but there is not yet a general edition of ordinances. By the way, in the Dutch language both spellings plakaatboek and plakkaatboek exist side by side, yet another difficulty to trace these modern editions and their older predecessors.

Mapping the early history of New York

By now it should be clear how necessary it is to view the digital gallery of one early register within a larger context, for example that of the Dutch colonial enterprises, but it is certainly wise to look also at other countries and their activities on the American continent. Even the English colonies show great differences. A monolithic view tailored to the taste of those wanting rapid answers caters for a substantial niche, but it does not bring you answers with subtle nuances or even new questions.

Shorto makes a case for looking anew at both the origins of New York and the United States. Looking at the Dutch period and the legal transplants effected by the English can help to see American legal history in more depth, beyond the battlegrounds of originalism. Shorto tries to create a new picture of Peter Stuyvesant (around 1611-1672), yet it might seem he overstates his case. I cannot help thinking that one tries to make out much of relatively scarce resources. The translated documents show more pieces of a puzzle, and maybe indicate we have to deal with several puzzles with large gaps or with maps showing empty areas.

In fact when preparing this post I did not just look at sources indicated at the website of the New Netherland Project. The Fordham University in Nw York City has created a digital collection of old maps showing New Amsterdam, New Netherland and New England. In Chicago the Newberry Library presents an interesting gallery with maps for American colonial history, initially made for educational use. A particular link with New Amsterdam is provided by the digital slavery collections of the New York Historical Society. Even if they do not deal directly with the Dutch period it is seducing to look at them in connection with the certification in 1665 by Peter Stuyvesant of land grants to manumitted slaves, digitized at the NNI.

Chances for new research

In 2016 the exhibit Origins – Light on New York’s founders will start. At the accompanying website the portraits of some iconic Dutch figures look already at you. Let’s hope this occasion will be just another spur to delve into the early sources of New York’s history and of American colonial history in general. It would be most welcome if at least some scholars and in particular legal historians study aspects of that early history starting with the original sources and reading the Dutch of the founders. Shorto makes you see the people, hear the many languages, smell the filth of the colony and the fresh air of a green island, and takes you on a voyage back in history much in the style of a novel. Exactly his fluent style and evocation of people and events make me shiver sometimes when I feel his imagination gets too strong. L.J Wagenaar wrote in 1995 in his review of Hovy’s edition of Dutch ordinances for Ceylon these sources provided him with living images just like a novel.

Russell Shorto cannot be faulted for using with verve a style that might be termed journalistic. His books make you curious for more. He raises questions and new views, and books with these qualities are as important as book with answers. He challenges us to write as lively as he can, to do the hard work in searching, studying and analysing resources, formulating new theories and creating vast vistas we would not have dreamt of before.

Here I will honour Shorto by pointing in his way to a fact that might shed light on Stuyvesant. I am finishing this post at the Frisian island Terschelling, a familiar location for readers here. Near the village Midsland-Noord, a new part of the old village Midsland, is a spot with sands and heath called Stuyvesant, perhaps best translated as “moving sand”. Peter Stuyvesant came from a village in West-Frisia. Even without pursuing this toponym in full depth it hints at a certain quality of things eternally moving, partially hidden, partially blowing in your face, a presence which slip though your fingers like sand. My country can still boast a number of these moving sand regions as nowhere else in Europe. Just like New York Terschelling is blessed with a bay offering itself as a perfect natural harbor… There are limits to our knowledge, but they will move with every new question, with every new concept and view guiding our quest for perceiving the realities of the past. Legal sources might be tapped in ways yet untried, and historical sources can be read very differently when you put them side by side with the traces and sources of legal history.

A postscript

After finishing this post I felt slightly awkward about not mentioning any resources at the New York Public Library. For historical maps of early New York one can start with the online exhibition Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-2009. Among the digital collections of the NYPL are early maps. The research guide Sea Blazers and Early Scriveners: The First Guide Books to New York City introduces you not only to these early guide books, but gives you also quick access to relevant literature in the holdings of the NYPL.

Visual traces of legal culture and the legacy of Karl Frölich

Banner MPI Frankfurt am Main

Legal historians created legal iconography as an auxiliary science for dealing with images connected with law, justice and legal culture in the widest possible sense. In a century where for many subjects you can find a great variety of online resources the list of online databases concerning this subject is still short. On my own website Rechtshistorie I mention just a dozen digital projects, with resources in English almost absent. On March 31, 2015 the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main launched a new online database for the collections created by a German scholar, Karl Frölich (1877-1953). What is the value of his collections? Do they help understanding the way law and visual culture are studied within the discipline of legal iconography and in other ways, for example in the framework of law and humanities? In this post I will delve into these and other questions and I will compare this new database with similar online collections.

Nomos-SALUTO-INGThe introduction to the new resource at the website in Frankfurt is brief, even when you add the general notice about the Sammlung Frölich and the introductions to research projects concerning communication and representation of law, including legal iconography, However, a virtual exhibition launched last year at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence provides this information. The Nomos of Law. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives shows items from the Frölich collection, and from collections in Florence and Munich. This exhibition which can be viewed in German, English and Italian contains also a bibliography. It has been created in cooperation with the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich, home to the oldest German collection in the field of legal ethnology and legal archaeology created by Karl von Amira (1848-1930).

In this post I will first look at the context of Frölich’s career and research. In the second section I will discuss the contents of the newly digitized collection, and I will compare Frölich’s collection with other online collections for legal iconography. The last section offers a glimpse of current and potential uses of Frölich’s materials.

Decades of research under a shadow

Let’s start with a look at Karl Frölich himself, using the article in the online version of the Neue Deutsche Biographie written by Karl Bruchmann [NDB 5 (1961) 652]. Frölich was born in the village of Oker in the Harz region near Goslar, a city often visited by the German emperors in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He studied law in Jena and Göttingen. Frölich got his Ph.D. degree from Alfred Schultze (1864-1946) in 1910 at Freiburg with a study about medieval legal procedure in Goslar [Die Gerichtsverfassung von Goslar im Mittelalter (Breslau 1910)]. Frölich worked from 1905 onwards in Braunschweig at the ministry for the interior. In 1913 he started to study for a degree in economics, but in 1914 he became a judge (Landgerichtsrat). During the First World War he fought as an officer in the German army. Paul Rehme (Leipzig) guided Frölich’s research for his Habilitationsschrift on Verfassung und Verwaltung der Stadt Goslar im späteren Mittelalter (Goslar 1921). In 1921 he started teaching at the technical university of Braunschweig. From 1923 onwards he worked at the university of Giessen as a professor of German legal history where he founded in 1939 an institute for legal history. From 1935 onwards Rechtliche Volkskunde, “legal ethnology”, became his specialization. During the Second World War Frölich served temporarily again in the army. From 1945 he worked for some time at the universities of Berlin, Marburg and Frankfurt am Main. His scholarly career ended with the edition of sources for the history of Goslar.

Image of Karl Frölich, 1952 - Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

Portrait of Karl Frölich, 1952 – image Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

The weakness of the biographical article in the Neue Deutsche Biographie is its relative silence about the period after 1933. How did Frölich react to the powers of the Third Reich? For the field of legal archaeology it was most unfortunate that the Nazi laws pretended to stem from the people, and thus keen on enhancing the position of the field of “legal ethnology”. During the Nazi regime this discipline was not innocent. Frölich is not mentioned in classic studies about German lawyers between 1933 and 1945 such as Ingo Müller, Furchtbare Juristen. Die unbewältigte Vergangenheit unserer Justiz (Munich 1987; 2nd ed., Berlin 2014) and Bernd Rüthers, Entartetes Recht. Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im Dritten Reich (Munich 1988).

Gerhard Köbler (Innsbruck) contributed a chapter on Frölich for the volume Giessener Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hans Georg Gundel (ed.) (Marburg 1982) 242-250. Recently Lars Esterhaus wrote his dissertation about Frölich [Bild – Volk – Gegenstand : Grundlagen von Karl Frölichs „rechtlicher Volkskunde“ (…) [Image-Nation-Object: Foundations of Karl Frölich’s “legal ethnology”] (diss. Giessen 2012; Marburg 2014)]. On his website Gerhard Koebler has created a succinct overview of law professors at the Unviersity of Giessen between 1607 and 2007, with also basic information about Frölich’s career. At his webpage Wer war wer im Deutschen Recht [Who’s who in German law], a massive overview of German lawyers with also a search interface, Koebler adds some crucial facts. In 1941 Frölich became a Gaugruppenverwalter and Hochschullehrer des Gaues Nassau-Hessen des NS-Rechtswahrerbundes. After a year in this role Frölich did active service again in the German army. The university of Giessen closed in the summer of 1942. In 1945 Frölich resumed teaching legal history. In 1946 his behaviour during the war was subject of a procedure for denazification. In July 1946 this procedure started, and two months later he was said to be unbelastet, “correct”, but the military government nevertheless suspended him in November 1946. Still in 1946 the ministry of the interior invested him again with his office, but took away his status as a state official (Beamtenstatus). On February 1, 1949 his professorship ended, and on April 1, 1950 he became officially a professor emeritus.

In the thirties the Deutscher Rechtshistorikertag, founded in 1927, was still a new phenomenon. During the twelve years of the Third Reich only two Tagungen were held, in Cologne (1934) and Tübingen (1936). In Tübingen at the fifth conference Frölich read a paper about the creation of an atlas for legal ethnology (‘Die Schaffung eines Atlas der rechtlichen Volkskunde für das deutschsprachige Gebiet’). Hans Frank, the German minister of justice, held a speech in which he encouraged scholars to enlist the services of legal history for German contemporary law.

I give you this additional information with only brief comments. There was a wide variety of living as a lawyer under the Nazi regime, from supporting explicitly the new Nazi legal order and its ideology at one side, and outright resistance against the regime at the other end. For many people daily life in the Third Reich must have been a grey and grim zone of finding one’s way in a time and places where angels fear to tread. Even at a distance of two generations scholars living now need to imagine themselves in front of the possible deadly choices facing Germans in that dark period. As for Giessen, allied bombers caused great damage to the city in December 1944. After the war the university was at first closed. Only after a few years the university could start again, and only in 1965 a law faculty began again.

Barbara Dölemeyer, responsible for the project to digitize Frölich’s collection, has created a bibliography of Frölich’s publications since 1921. Earlier on she published ‘Karl Frölich und das Institut für Rechtsgeschichte’, in: Rechtswissenschaft im Wandel, Festschrift des Fachbereichs Rechtswissenschaft zum 400-jährigen Gründungsjubiläum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Walter Gropp, Martin Lipp and Heinhard Steiger (eds.) (Tübingen 2007) 1–22, and a shorter article, ‘Bilder als Zeichen alten Rechts – Die Sammlung Frölich’ [Images as signs of old law: The Frölich Collection], Rechtsgeschichte 4 (2004) 264-268. Karl Kroeschell (1927) mentioned some of Frölich’s works in his Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte as examples of still valuable research. Kroeschell says this as author of a legal history of Germany in the twentieth century [Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen 1992)]. Hans Planitz and Hermann Baltl wrote necrologies about Frölich for the Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische Abteilung [ZRG GA 70 (1953) 431-432 and ZRG GA 71 (1954) 545-548], the latter with the explicit title ‘Karl Frölich und die rechtliche Volkskunde’. You can find ten digitized publications of Frölich online in one of the digital libraries of the modern Universität Giessen.

The signa iuris

The commemorations of the end of the Second World War, now seventy years ago, have influenced me in creating the long section about Frölich, especially in order to prevent the idea that I would write about Frölich’s material legacy – now held at Frankfurt am Main, Giessen and Munich – without any preparation and consideration for its background. Is it indeed to some extent a poisoned gift, not to be handled except with the greatest possible care, or is it safe to use the images and accompanying papers in a straightforward way? What does he bring us for the study of the signs of law and justice? SIGNA IVRIS is the aptly chosen name of a German scholarly journal for legal iconography and its neighbouring disciplines. It was founded in 2008, with Gernot Kocher, Heiner Lücke and Clausdieter Schott as its current editors. Lars Esterhaus contributed in Signa Ivris 5 (2010) the article ‘Karl Frölich und die “rechtliche Volkskunde“? Eine werkbiografisch orientierte Anfrage’ .

The scholarly value of Frölich’s own photographs is much enhanced by the fact that he did not just look at Germany or at parts added to the Third Reich, but at other European countries as well. Two pictures show even Rabat in Morocco. In view of this international orientation a search interface in one or more other languages would reflect the variety of countries more correctly. The search interface contains a free search field (Freie Suche), and an advanced search mode with four fields for countries, locations and places; two of them help you to find all items coming from a modern Bundesland or an official smaller region (Landkreis) in Germany. Very important is the presence of two separate search fields for motifs, the first for motifs from a contemporary perspective and the second field for the motifs according to Frölich’s own arrangements. He had planned to publish eventually an atlas with relevant photographs and descriptions for Germany, starting with the region Hessen. The last search field allows you to filter for items and the three present locations of Frölich’s images, papers and other materials. A separate page introduces the subjects and motifs used by Frölich to catalogue and describe his findings, and a more contemporary list of classifications used for the digitized items.

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 - Collection Frölich, SF=G1347_F4124_01a

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 – image Sammlung Frölich

The database at Frankfurt am Main contains nearly ten thousand items, with for the Netherlands 133 items. Among the European countries Belgium is missing at all. For Germany there are some 8,200 items, for Hessen alone nearly 2,300 items. Thus resources for others countries are only a small part of the collection, but nevertheless this is valuable. It quickly becomes clear there are for my country more digitized letters, postcards and notes than actual photographs or other visual materials. Frölich inquired about cities such as Rotterdam, Middelburg and Nijmegen where the inner cities have been destroyed during the Second World War. Such photographs of buildings before their destruction can be important. W.S. Unger, city archivist at Middelburg, wrote in 1939 he had sent a description of the town hall in a separate letter which does not survive (or still awaits digitization). From Rotterdam came in 1939 two short letters stating objects could not be reached due to the restoration of the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, and there were no medieval objects at all. In view of the year 1939 it is more probably that this museum was busy packing objects and moving them to a safe hiding place in case of war. It seems Frölich definitely restricted his research to medieval objects and artefacts, because other Dutch letters contained the same answer. From Nijmegen came only a postcard with a picture of the schepenbank, the seats of the municipal court within the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style. Frölich’s letter in 1942 concerning Nijmegen mentions specifically his objective to collect information also outside Germany.

“Gericht” at Schleeke near Goslar – image Sammlung Frölich

Back to Germany! Frölich’s collection contains in its present state some 70 items for his beloved Goslar. Goslar’s fate during the Third Reich was in a way determined in 1934 when the Reichsnährstand, the Nazi food organization, was founded in this town. In 1936 Goslar got the title Reichsbauernstadt, the capital of farmers in Hitler’s Reich. All his life Frölich dedicated his efforts in studies of Goslar’s history to its later medieval period, after the days of the frequent visits of the German emperors. He studied in particular the beginnings and working of the city council, the city’s economy and the role of the nearby mines at Rammelsberg exploited since the tenth century.

In his Harzreise (1826) Heinrich Heine had used harsh words for Goslar, a city where the medieval cathedral had been demolished in 1820, leaving just one part of it standing. Is it just a guess that the very presence of Goslar’s remaining historic buildings and locations helped Frölich to become aware of the need for their systematic study in connection with legal history? Perhaps other German legal historians in the first half of the twentieth century had simply not yet done much in the territories covered by Frölich, the spaces and buildings where law and justice got their form. Surely Karl von Amira (1848-1930), the founder of legal archaeology and legal iconography, had collected relevant objects for these fields. He had indeed thought about creating an atlas for both subjects. Eberhard von Künßberg (1881-1941) looked more at legal gestures, no doubt inspired by the materials he encountered in directing the creation of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. Claudius Freiherr von Schwerin (1880-1944) even published from Von Amira’s papers an Einführung in die Rechtsarchäologie (1943). Von Schwerin had become deeply involved with the Nazi’s soon after 1933. The Swiss scholar Hans Fehr (1874-1961) who had studied in Germany, focused on the representation of law in the arts.

How does Frölich’s collection compare with other image collections in the field of legal iconography? The images in Von Amira’s collection in Munich most often show objects, not actual locations and buildings. The image database at Graz puts images somewhat arbitrarily into legal categories, but you can also use the free text search, and anyhow this collection is much smaller. The database RechtsAlterTümer – online of the Austrian Academy of Sciences does cover both objects and locations, but it is geographically restricted to Austria. Today I could not reach the database at Zürich due to some vague technical error. I leave it to you to check and compare all twelve collections, but only after looking at least briefly in the Dutch database at the Memory of the Netherlands where the postcard from Nijmegen in Frölich’s collection is not to be found. The Dutch collection does show for Nijmegen much more than only the court room of the old town hall. In particular the bibliographical references are very useful. Frölich’s research notes, however succinct sometimes, are an asset missing in other collections.

In the country where during the nineteenth century history was refashioned into a an academic discipline there are more resources with images and photographs of historical buildings and objects. On my own page for digital image collections – where you can find the twelve online databases for legal iconography as well – I list a dozen online resources for Germany. The Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, one of the services at the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, is a search portal for several million images from major German cultural institutions, including for instance photographs from the holding of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. You can get some impressions of the sheer scale of the photo collection of this museum when you search for a pillory (Pranger) and receive more than 600 results. The Bildarchiv of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Deutsche Fotothek (Sächsiche Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dresden) are other major German nationwide resources. In my view it is not only possible and feasible, but necessary to use images and information from other resources to supplement and check whatever you find in the Frölich collection.

Balancing questions and materials

At the end of my post it might seem that the background of the Frölich collection got too much attention instead of its own scope and value. Including a paragraph about Dutch towns and thus making this post still longer was certainly a personal choice. I will end here with some remarks about the way to use Frölich’s publications and images for modern research in the field of German history and geography. The Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg, is a very substantial portal to the history, cultural heritage and geography of the Bundesland Hessen. At this portal you can use maps, search for digitized resources, thematic dictionaries, use a bibliography and a web repertory, and last but not least search for images and books concerning many themes, among them for example the topography of the national socialism.

In the section Gerichtsstätte in Hessen [Places of justice in Hessen] Wilhelm Eckhardt has created a database with both a simple search mode and a very detailed advanced search mode. In more than hundred cases the references include works by Frölich, or they show photographs he published. The digitized images of the Frölich collection and his notes are no doubt a valuable addition to the materials at this portal. I did look for similar online portals for other German regions, but until now Hessen seems the only example to include material remains of legal history. Here, too, I would adduce information from other image collections to get a more complete picture, but in itself the database for Hessen is a valuable new research tool.

The twentieth century was an age of extremes (Eric Hobsbawm), and legal historians did not escape from its threats, terrors and destruction. The twelve years of the Nazi regime had a great impact on German lawyers and historians, on the ways they looked at Germany’s history, and in some cases abused and stained it. This image of utter darkness has sometimes helped in keeping scholars away from legal ethnology and legal iconography.  With knowledge of the background of Frölich’s work you can start new research following his steps. Diligent and discerning research can benefit from a number of his works and the example of his sustained efforts to study the visual powers of law and justice. Using the wide variety of German image databases and for Hessen its exemplary database for regional history and geography, and at many turns benefiting from the resources and research of the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main, you can gain new insights for research in a fascinating scholarly discipline which enriches our understanding of the impact of law and justice.

A new start in medieval canon law

Pope Boniface VIII knew exactly how important the choice of the right opening words was, especially for such publications as his decrees, encyclical letters and decretals. His decretal Rem non novam (Extrav. comm. 2.3.1) issued in 1303 gives its name to an event signalling a development that is partially new and partially a continuation, the restart at New Haven of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law. An inaugural conference which takes its name from Boniface VIII’s decretal will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015. New Haven was home to the institute from 1964 to 1970 when Stephan Kuttner, its founder, hold a chair at Yale University. His institute has figured already several times at my blog. It seems right to bring in this post also to your attention the call for papers for the Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held in Paris in July 2016. Both events are mentioned in the congress calendar of my blog, but in my view they merit more attention.

A new start

Banner rem non novam conference at New Haven

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996) founded the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Kuttner moved to New Haven, and in 1970 he brought the institute to Berkeley, CA. In 1991 the institute moved officially to Germany. In 1996 the library arrived at the university of Munich. I was involved in the restart of the IMCL at Munich, in particular for creating a catalogue of the books in Kuttner’s library, a task done with the gracious support of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Elsewhere on this blog I wrote more about the creation and wanderings of the IMCL. In a way Its travels symbolise the crossing of borders necessary in studying the history of medieval canon law. Stephan Kuttner had to cross the borders of many countries, not only for his research but also to find a home for himself and his family. The IMCL is supported by an institution with a long Latin name, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio (ICMAC) or International Society of Medieval Canon Law.

In 2013 the IMCL returned to the United States, back to New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University offers again hospitality to this institute, now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Apart from books the library of the IMCL contains several collections, especially some 8,000 offprints of scholarly articles, several hundred microfilms both from the original holdings of the IMCL and from scholars such as Gérard Fransen and Rudolf Weigand, and Kuttner’s vast scholarly correspondence. At the Yale Law Library efforts have started to make all these riches better accessible. At the Munich website you can access – in English or German – the library catalogue, the offprints catalogue and the database for twelfth-century decretals based on the research done by Walter Holtzmann and other scholars. To the items in the library and offprints catalogues classifications will be added. The program for the critical edition of texts in the field of medieval canon law will be continued. The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, since 1971 an independent offsping of Traditio, is now published by the Catholic University of America Press.

To celebrate the return of the IMCL to Yale University and to underline its importance a conference and grand opening will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015, with scholars coming from all over the world. Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur, “we tackle a thing that is not new or unusual”, but in fact harbouring the IMCL is special indeed. At its consecutive homes it always added a number of unparalleled collections to its scholarly surroundings. An example: at Munich I catalogued in 1997-1998 for the IMCL ten publications concerning the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín. I was hard pressed to find any library worldwide with at least half of these publications. The great variety of resources now present at New Haven are already reflected in the abstracts of the papers to be presented at the May conference.

Reuniting scholars every four year

Banner ICMCL Paris 2016

With Gérard Fransen (Université Catholique de Louvain) and other scholars Stephan Kuttner organized a conference about medieval canon law in Brussels in 1958. A second conference held in Boston followed in 1963, and a third in Strasbourg followed in 1968. Since 1968 these congresses are held every fourth year, alternately organized east and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law will be held at Paris from July 17 to 23, 2016. The Institut d’Histoire du Droit of the Université Paris-II (Panthéon-Assas) will be the host of this congress, with support from the Université Paris-Sud and other well-known research institutes in Paris.

Over the years a division of the congress into six sections has been developed. For many years research concerning Gratian occupied a separate section or at the very least dominated the section on sources and texts. However, in view of the steady progress of the edition of the first version of Gratian’s canonical collection this theme will surely return. Proposals for papers can be sent to callforpapers@icmcl2016.org before September 30, 2015.

It might seem carrying coals to Newcastle, but it might be actually important to look a bit closer to the proposed sections for the 2016 congress at its bilingual website. Sources and texts fall into the first section, and canonical doctrine into a section of its own, fair enough. The third section is reserved for institutions, legislation and procedure. The application and influence of canon law make up the fourth section. Relationships between law and theology are the subject of the fifth section, and the last section will deal with schools and teaching of law.

In my view this division shows very convincingly that medieval canon law was not something static and monolithic, even when dealing with eternal values and returning problems for a still united Christendom. Canon law had to react when new laws appeared that might be in conflict with the norms and values it enshrined. Legal matters did touch upon Christian beliefs and vice versa. In the twelfth century it was still difficult to distinguish at all between canon law and theology, and it would be shortsighted to tear them apart too early. Canonical influences can clearly be detected in the procedures of courts, even in courts of civil law. In medieval universities schools rose which defended particular positions about points of law, and of course views changed or gained the upper hand or lost their power. Canon law depended to a certain extent on revived Roman law, but it could as well change the impact of Roman law.

Continuity and change

The original decretal of Boniface VIII deals with a matter that should attract closer attention in the year with celebrations for 800 years Magna Carta. The decretal’s first sentence was “Rem non novam aggredimur, neque viam insolitam ambulamus”, words slightly changed by the organizing committee in New Haven. While borrowing from the preface to Cod. 3.1.14, this pope did change canon law. His decretal was a stepping stone in anchoring norms for valid legal procedure, ensuring that defendants had the right to be brought before a court. The clause of Magna Carta claiming the right to appear before a judge of one’s equals had not yet taken this step forward of granting anyone the right to receive justice in a well-ordered way. Due process is a characteristic of legal procedure shaped to considerable extent by developments in medieval canon law.

Scholars studying medieval canon law have not confined themselves to reading and analyzing only legal texts. Randy Johannesen wrote about the contemporary surroundings and consequences of the decretal Rem novam [‘Cardinal Jean Lemoine’s gloss to Rem non novam and the reinstatement of the Colonna cardinals’, in: Proceedings of the eighth international congress of medieval canon law, Stanley Chodorow (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1992) 309-320]. Tilmann Schmidt published Der Bonifaz-Prozess : Verfahren der Papstanklage in der Zeit Bonifaz’ VIII. und Clemens’ V (Cologne, etc., 1989) about the steps taken against Boniface VIII himself. These are just two examples, but much more can be added to them, as a search within for example the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz can quickly confirm. Looked at in vitro medieval canon law looses its significance for legal history at large, but time and again it is possible to show its many and surprising connections not only with all layers of medieval society, but also with legal developments right until our century.

Legal history at the World LII

Logo WorldLIINearly five years ago I announced here the aim of spanning in my blog centuries, cultures and continents. I quickly discovered some of the implications of this statement. Not only did I take up the challenge of dealing with aspects of legal history in many periods, regions and cultures, but in many posts I have also pointed to projects and initiatives that succeed in fulfilling this aim to considerable extent. In this post I will look at a project that does not only deal with contemporary law on a vast scale, but also with legal history worldwide.

The World Legal Information Institute (World LII) is not a single monolithic organization, but more a consortium of several participating institutions. Some branches of the World LII are relatively well-known, others merit to get more in the spotlights. Here I will look at some examples of resources most valuable for research in the field of legal history. Even if there are clear gaps, lacunae and omissions in the presentation of these resources at the portal site of the WorldLII or at the website of a particular supporting institution, they deserve al least some attention.

Serving lawyers and historians all around the world

With at present some 1250 databases for more than 120 jurisdictions, and fourteen supporting institutions and branches the World LII is a truly multinational organization. The World LII is a member of the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), as are most of its partner institutions. One of the earliest institutions launching a website with free legal information is the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, founded in 1992. Initiatives such as the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), currently in the midst of updating and supported by the Library of Congress, and Globalex (New York University), too, belong to this movement, but they have scarcely created any space for legal history. GLIN does support the World LII.

Generally the guides at GLIN and Globalex succeed certainly in providing adequate basic information about contemporary law. The guide to Scots law and Scottish legal history by Jasmin Morais and the guide to Cambodian history, governance and legal sources by Jennifer Holligan and Tarik Abdulhak at Globalex are notable and fine exceptions. Yemisi Dina’s guide at Globalex for Caribbean law does at least realize the historical background of the region she describes. Hopefully legal historians are also increasingly familiar with research readily accessible at the portal of another member of FALM, the Social Science Research Network / Legal Scholarship Network (SSRN/LSN).

Logo AustLIIThe institutions working together under the aegis of the World LII stand out for their massive presentation of and free access to legal resources, be they constitutions, laws, statutes, case law or law reports. The World LII also provides you with a nice selection of websites of materials pertaining to legal history. This page leads you also to one of the major selections of resources for legal history at the Word LII, that for Australia, which is not completely surprising, because the Australasian Legal Information Institute is at the very heart of the World LII. The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) provide staff and technological support behing the AustLII and World LII. By the way, UTS has an interesting Anti-Slavery portal with an online course about the continuing struggle against slavery, forced labour and trafficking, and a section with contemporary Australian case law.

Connecting contemporary law and legal history

Let’s look a bit deeper into World LII. For this objective I would like to look at the Torres Strait Islands. These islands are situated in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. if you search for the Torres Straits at World LII you get some 22,000 results. When you look at the databases providing materials for these results you will immediately notice that you cannot confine yourself to resources about Australia, from the Commonwealth or even from the Australian state of Queensland directly adjacent to the Torres Strait. The example of the Torres Straits can easily be multiplied. The western part of New Guinea was between 1945 and 1962 governed by the Dutch. Before the Second World War this part was at least within the sphere of Dutch influence in the Indonesian archipelago.

Apart from resources from Australia, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe the World LII does even include materials concerning the polar regions. You can approach historical resources at World LII by country. At the moment of writing seventeen countries are listed. I would single out the database with colonial cases for China and Japan, a resource developed at the Macquarie Law School, Sydney, even if this is the sole historical resource included at the World LII portal for both countries. The series of cases starts around 1850. Anyway, you can find more links to colonial cases at this webpage of the Macquarie Law School. The set of colonial cases of Constantinople for Turkey at the World LII, too, stems from a project at this law school. These cases from the Supreme Consular Court date between the 1850’s and 1930.

However, the World LII portal brings you more history than included at its history page, although its selection of historical databases for New Zealand is impressive. In particular for historical cases it is possible to find much more, but alas this can be a hit and miss affair. At this point the fourteen branches can be most helpful. Among the fourteen institutions is for instance the LawPhil project for the Philippines. in its section on jurisprudence you can start in the year 1901.

In the vast fields of the common law it is good to know that behind World LII are both the British and Irish LII and the Commonwealth LII. In fact you are bound to use materials at both these portals when dealing with legal history concerning the United Kingdom and countries included within the British Commonwealth. It is again Scotland which provides historical materials, Scottish Court of Session decisions since 1879, and decisions of the High Court of Justiciary since 1914.

The Asian LII leads us for example for Japan to laws since 1896, but the series starts really in 1947. For legal information about the many islands groups of Oceania which have become independent countries, often with the British Commonwealth, the Pacific LII is often the only available starting point, and even the only easily accessible resource center. The often very young legal history of these countries is amply documented by the databases of the Pacific LII. Some islands are severely threatened by rising sea levels, and it is important for them to start working quickly to preserve their legal heritage. In my recent post about the Endangered Archives Projects of the British Library you can read about one of these projects. It is true that it can take some effort to find historical materials, but even so often your efforts will be rewarded as more resources become available.

The pages of the World LII pointing to other legal history resources contained for me at least one pleasant surprises. At the portal of The Napoleon Series you will find not just resources about France and the period around 1800. At a page about government and politics the links range is truly worldwide, featuring both articles and databases from the Balkan to Cambodia. Although you find at that page mostly articles, and even short articles, they certainly help to provoke your own thoughts and questions.

Two directions in legal history

It is easy to moan about or criticize the lack or absence of particular historical materials within the databases of the World LII. Similar initiatives such as GLIN, Globalex, LLRX and Justia, to mention just a few of them, all lack the indispensable databases – or links to them – of the World LII. In fact the organization behind World LII encourages scholars to suggest new resources. Anyway the initiative of the World LII does not completely leave legal history out in the dark. You might even defend the position that it does help creating curiosity about the history of jurisprudence, law and legal institutions by its very scale and offering a number of resources which might be most useful for your research. Its approach definitely starts in the presence. Any research happens in the present, even if scholars devote them solely to history. The World LII helps us not to confine legal historians exclusively to periods already centuries ago. It might be wiser to acknowledge the fact that the present is our starting point, and not to imagine we can look at history from a distant and impartial imaginary point of view, with as its ultimate illusory goal the creation of definitive history.

A second important feature of the World LII and similar institutions is the free online access to materials offered thanks to their efforts. Many online legal materials can only be consulted at subscribing institutions, and they make this possible at sometimes very substantial costs. Historical materials, too, are often only readily available online thanks to commercial initiatives.

Speaking for myself, I would surely enlist the services of the World LII and its partner institutions whenever possible, feasible and wise, because I am convinced one person living in one country, somewhat familiar with the history of one country, region or continent can only see a part of the whole. Nowadays it is a cliché to say that getting to know the unfamiliar is the exclusive way towards truly understanding yourself and your own context, but this comparative starting point does contain more than a bit of truth. Posts at a blog such as this one contain grains of truth, and you are cordially invited to view them as just a stepping stone for more. I hope to return here soon with another post delving deeper into the theme of the scope of historical research for our century.