Tag Archives: European history

New ways to medieval city registers

Screenprint Stadtbücher

How do you get the larger picture? Almost with a sigh we often long to see wide vistas, yet at the same time we want to zoom in while looking at a panorama of particular things. In this post I will look both at a repertory of particular sources, medieval and Early Modern city registers, for one country, Germany, and at an attempt to create a similar overview for medieval Europe. Last week I was alerted to the project for Germany, but this week I noticed also the project for a wider overview, and comparing the two projects is the most natural thing to do.

Efforts in Germany

The German project for Deutsche Stadtbücher has a subtitle in Latin, Index Librorum Civitatum. On closer inspection this portal can indeed be viewed in German, English and Latin. As for now the Latin is restricted to the headings of fields and filters. The project is the fruit of cooperation between the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the history department at the Universität Halle-Wittenberg and the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCEH). The portal offers four main entrances to search: cities, city registers, literature and archives. The word Archives stands here for holding institutions, not only archives, but also libraries. You can also use a free text field search. It is possible to search only for digitized registers, too. An extra is offered in the expert search mode, and you can also use an interactive map. This map can be used with some filters, but it seems a number of them is not yet active. However, you can go to a second interactive map, the DARIAH-Geobrowser which enables you to filter for periods and series of Stadtbücher. The loading of the results takes some time… On the main map you can select other countries as well. The database has for example currently entries for two Dutch cities, Kampen and Groningen. It is great to have bibliographies for many cities.

City registers or municipal registers is a very broad term. The strength of this project is certainly the creation of eleven categories, ten categories with in four categories attention for those registers most dear to legal historians, court registers, statutes and bylaws, council registers, and the classic registers for acts and charters (cartularies). In the eleventh category you will find everything which does not clearly fit into one of the other categories.

In such a vast project, spanning five centuries, you will find inevitably aspects which are either exhaustively or rather sparingly covered. Project leader Christoph Speer explains at his staff web page that for some Bundesländer he could build on the work of Reinhard Kluge in the former DDR for 450 cities with 70,000 registers, and he refers to a number of publications about the project and German city registers.

Getting a larger view

In 2014 wrote here about a number of projects for the digitization of Dutch and Flemish city registers, in particular court registers and council deliberations. I discussed projects for Leuven, Liège, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc). I briefly mentioned some maritime registers at Amsterdam and a project for medieval charters in Tilburg. The Leuven project Itinera Nova is supported by the municipal archive and the Universität Köln. Especially when I looked at the map of the Stadtbücher project in which a center of this university is one of the main partners I wondered for a few moments why Leuven is not mentioned, but it is better to look first of all within the limits set for the Stadtbücher project.

Having within your reach a good and consistent repertory for one country is a fine thing, but often we set out to search for a digital version of one particular source, instead of going first to a relevant repertory. In this context it is perhaps a blessing in disguise that until recently I had not found many digitized medieval municipal registers. I had noticed a French project, Le Petit Thalamus de Montpellier, and a Scottish project, Law in the Aberdeen council registers, 1389-1511. In my 2015 post about portals for medieval history I mentioned briefly the section Paris médiéval at Ménestrel with much attention to legal documents. By the way, similar section at Ménestrel for Lissabon is promising, but has not yet reached this level.

However, very recently I encountered the project Registres des déliberations municipales au Moyen-Âge: La voix des assemblées [REGIDEL], a project concerning cities in Southern France led by the Telemme laboratory at Aix-en-Provence. On November 24, 2017 the symposium Enregistrer les conflits. Pratiques délibératives et scripturales des conseils urbains en temps de crise (XIIIe-XVe siècles, Europe méridionale) [To note conflicts. Practices of deliberation and scriptural practice in urban councils in times of crises,13th-15th centuries, in Southern Europe] took place. The project blog contains articles about cities such as Turin, Toulouse, Digne and cities in the Emilia-Romagna, in particular for Bologna.

A companion to the REGIDEL project has got its own acronym, MUAR, for Medieval Urban Assembly Records, nothing less than a projected repertory for urban council records in medieval Europe. Like REGIDEL it is currently a blog at the Hypotheses platform. The website aims at becoming an archival and biographical repertory of municipal registers, with a focus on council registers, covering the period from the late twelfth to the early sixteenth century. The interface is in English, French and Italian. Currently there are sections reserved for France, Italy, the Iberian peninsula, the German empire, Britain and Ireland, the Low Countries and other countries. The striking feature here is the wish to classify cities in one region. For a moment I thought the team behind MUAR had fallen into the trap of placing cities in regions which successively were ruled by different rulers, but they mean current regions, for France even the départements.

When I checked the various headings I found partially the same cities as mentioned above for REGIDEL. For Italy you can find Perugia, San Gimignano, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and L’Aquila. Orvieto is the most recent addition, but it has not yet been included in the section for Italy. Most links in this post are internal references. So far Marseille is the only French town in MUAR. All other sections are under construction. For each town a timeline of important events is provided. I decided to check the page for Bologna, a town which figure here in a number of posts, for examples concerning Italian city statutes and municipal ordinances. In one post I portrayed Bologna also as a center of legal history when discussing two projects in Bologna for the digitization of medieval legal manuscripts. In this post I mentioned for the Archivio di Stato di Bologna the digital version of the Estimi di Bologna di 1296-97, records estimating the properties of Bolognese citizens, and the Liber Paradisus, a register about the liberation of nearly six thousand slaves at Bologna in 1257. The MUAR project does mention the critical edition of the Liber Paradisus by F.S. Gatta and G. Plessi, Liber paradisus. Con le riformagioni e gli statuti connessi (Bologna 1956), but not the digital version. The Estimi do not figure at all, nor the digitized Registro grosso (1116-1380) and the Registro nuovo. It is tempting to say the team at MUAR has not yet realized how daunting their objective is, but we can read the notice telling the team is looking for scholars willing to cooperate with them. In view of the German project it seems wise they change from a blog to an online database to enhance search possibilities.

For Italy one can benefit from the Scrineum project of the universities of Pavia and Verona, and more specifically from the Atlante della documentazione comunale italiana (secoli XII-XIV). This Atlante certainly does not cover all Italian towns, but you can find entries for cities such as Genua, Asti, Vercelli, and in particular for Florence. Scrineum provides you with background essays about notaries and libri iurium, and with essays on types of municipal legislation, with text examples from Genua and Florence. Is it safe to assume that there are various groups of historians dealing with legal documents in medieval Italian towns, and that every group has a particular focus? Instead of taking you with me through all kind of resources I had better translate words of Paolo Cammarosano: “As for municipal libri iurium for which there is now a prospect of the creation of a repertory and successively editions, the analysis to be done must reckon with great complexity, different articulations, mixing of matters and outright disorder (…)”, a quote from his article ‘I libri iurium e la memoria storica delle città comunali’, in: Le scritture del Comune. Amministrazione e memoria nelle città dei secoli XII e XIII (Turin 1998) 95-108, online at Rete Medievali Open Archive. The impression of a quick search for literature on libri iurium in the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii is that of a wide variety of publications focusing on a fairly restricted number of Italian cities.

 In the wake of earlier projects

One of the questions to ask for both the German and the French-Italian project is the presence and use of earlier printed repertories and related projects. For the Stadtbücher the team could rely on a project for the Bundesländer in the former DDR as a substantial point of depart. On a European scale fifty years ago a team with a great role at the start for two Dutch scholars, J.F. Niermeyer and C. van de Kieft, edited the first volume of the Elenchus fontium historiae urbanae (Leiden 1967), a project for sources before 1250. The first volume deals with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. The other volumes cover France and Luxemburg (vol. II.1, 1996), Great Britain and Ireland (vol. II.2, 1988), Austria (vol. III.1, 1992) and Hungary (vol. III.2, 1997). On the website of the Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des villes (CIHV) you can find PDF’s with the preface and overview of the contents of the volumes I and II.2. The Elenchus contains selected texts for the early history of medieval towns. The CHIV also stimulated the creation of country bibliographies.

For Germany it is easy to mention recent and earlier works. Ulrich-Dieter Oppitz published the massive repertory Deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters (3 vol. in 4 parts, Cologne 1990-1992), in itself a successor to the earlier work by Carl Gustav Homeyer, Die deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters und ihre handschriften (Berlin 1856; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library; text only, German Wikisource) and his earlier Verzeichnis from 1836 (online, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Both works deal with legal treatises such as the Sachsenspiegel and Schwabenspiegel, but they look also at the laws of individual cities. A number of Rechtsbücher, influential municipal laws, and Schoffensprüche (decisions of aldermen) figure in the online version of the Repertorium Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters under the heading Stadtrecht. I invite you to check also for example at Archivportal-D and the Archives Portal Europe for all kinds of city registers, for they can offer a quick way to relevant registers, too.

Many Dutch rechtsboeken have been edited by member of the Society for Old Dutch Law. Some of the nineteenth-century editions in the first series of editions will not quite stand the proof of modern textual criticism, but at least a large number of them has been digitized at Heidelberg for the Textarchiv accompanying the online version of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. It would be a good thing to create an overview of these texts, the original sources and whenever possible their current digital presence.

To conclude this contribution, proposing the creation of either a national or an European overview of city registers in their various forms is one thing, creating them in a sensible and feasible way implies thorough reflection on many matters before even starting such a project. Overviews of one particular source genre can be most useful, but you cannot lift a source or a genre out of their context completely without impairing in the end historical understanding. This consideration works certainly as a factor which makes scholars rightfully hesitant to cooperate in such projects. The fact that you work with partners from other countries will surely help to widen your horizon and question your assumptions. Let´s wish all courageous scholars who nevertheless join these projects wisdom, good luck and stamina!

A postscript

My view of the German project Stadtbücher is rather positive, but it is right to add at least one comment from Klaus Graf at Archivalia who criticizes the working of the filters and the absence of information for some German regions, in particular Baden-Würrtemberg. In my opinion the north of Germany is covered massively, for other regions you can clearly wish for more. For Saxony you can benefit from the Gerichtsbücher database for some 22,000 registers concerning voluntary jurisdiction, for example property sales, mortgages, custody and wills.

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Encircled by knowledge: New life for old encyclopedias

Banner Enzyklothek

In happy and carefree moments you can be tempted to think that only the internet made it possible to have all possible kinds of knowledge within you reach. However, for centuries having a compact or massive encyclopedia on the shelves of your personal library seemed already to warrant this vision. Lawyers were no strangers to this opinion as I showed in a post about Early Modern legal encyclopedias. Interestingly there is a movement to recreate the world of old encyclopedias. In this post I want to look at some projects which bring you to online versions of older encyclopedic works. Some of them are still familiar among historians, others will come as a surprise.

On digital and real shelves

Logo Seine Welt Wissen

Among the Early Modern works that you might still turn to is at least one German work. I confess I had not quite realized how voluminous the Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexikon aller Kunste und Wissenschaften by Johann Heinrich Zedler (1706-1751), published in 64 volumes between 1732 and 1750, followed by a supplement in four volumes. In 2006 two German libraries held an exhibition in his honour, Seine Welt Wissen. Enzyklopädien in der Frühen Neuzeit [Knowing your world. Encyclopedias in the Early Modern age]. This year I could use the Zedler in its online version provided by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich to expand scarce information about members of a family in Kleve who served the Brandenburg government of this duchy. The makers of the 2006 exhibition drily note the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences. des arts et métiers by Diderot and D’Alembert has only 17 volumes with 72,000 articles on 23,000 pages, whereas Zedler serves you 290,000 articles on 68,000 pages.

Before exploring other works it is fair to look quickly at the great Encyclopédie and its current digital availability. Foremost among its modern incarnations is the searchable version offered by the team of ARTFL in Chicago. Its editors, Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe, immediately mention the 11 volumes with illustrations that set this encyclopedia apart from all its predecessors and contemporary competitors. These plates and the character and quality of the contributions still command respect and admiration. The editors at ARTFL count 74,000 articles on 18,000 text pages. The information about supplements published after 1772, links to forerunners of the Encyclopédie, a bibliography and other essays enhance the ARTFL version which stands out for the search possibilities of Philologic4.

More traditionally looking at first sight is the ENCCRE online version recently created by the French Académie des Sciences, with modern introductions and search facilities using a corrected Wikisource transcription. The acronym ENCCRE is a French pun on the word encre, ink. The Encyclopedia project for an English translation at the University of Michigan, too, offers more than a strict rendering from French into English. The plates can be quickly searched at Planches. Lexilogos does a great job in offering both the ARTFL and ENCCRE versions, and adding links to the text-only version in the French Wikisource, and last but not least to the digitized original volumes at Mazarinum, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris. This copy is used at ENCCRE, too.

In the limelight

Zedler and the Encyclopédie deserve scholarly attention and quickly accessible modern versions, but other valuable works can readily be found. Let’s look at a few websites which bring you both to other general encyclopedias and to works focusing on specific scientific disciplines. Let’s go straightforward to the heart of this post, a tour of the wonderful German Enzyklothek. A few years ago I had briefly visited this portal, and I put it aside with the impression it does not contain much for legal history. However, this time I became intrigued by its sheer coverage, and I marvelled at its holdings.

Peter Ketsch launched the Enzyklothek Historische Nachslchlagwerke in 2014. He offers access to digital versions or information about printed works in five sections: bibliographies, secondary literature, general encyclopedias, encyclopedias for specific disciplines, and biographic dictionaries. The sixth section for dictionaries is empty, a reminder you cannot expect everything at one portal. First of all it was a surprise for me to find here bibliographies. You will find here a number of entries concerning national bibliographies, but also some items for individual authors. For legal history I found in this corner only Rolf Lieberwirth’s study Christian Thomasius. Sein wissenschaftliches Lebenswerk. Eine Bibliographie (Weimar 1955). Among the bibliographies for specific disciplines Rechts- und Staatswissenschaften (disciplines concerning law, jurisprudence and government) are only announced, but alas no items have yet appeared under this heading. The general section on bibliographies starts with just one work from the late sixteenth century, and to me the choice of works in this section seems rather at random but nevertheless interesting. The section Enzyklopädistik with historical overviews and bibliographies of encyclopedias and specialised dictionaries is much richer.

The section Sekundärliteratur contains a more personal mix of things. In the corner with websites it is good to note the projects at Wolfenbüttel and Braunschweig for a virtual recreation of the Thesaurus eruditionis and similar works, and also Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne, a project about Early Modern works which used the metaphore of the theatre, a project I discussed here, too. For the legal disciplines Ketsch mentions just three titles in this part of his portal, on various subjects, from Zeremonialliteratur, texts written by lawyers about official ceremonies, to economical treatises and their forerunners, the Hausväterliteratur. By the way, here Ketsch indicates titles can appear in more rubrics. At this point the question about using either rubrics or a form of classification using a thesaurus or another form of tagging entries, and a second question is the choice for a database versus single pages. The search function clearly suggests the presence of a database, but the tagging of entries could be more generous. However, you can apply multiple filters for author, title, year, location, publisher and language. For the genre Hausväterliteratur there are now 784 entries. A section such as the one concerning publications about single medieval encyclopedic works contains nearly 4,000 items. As for now there is a total of 21,000 titles in this database. Whatever the quality of the coverage, the quantity of entries commands respect. For many entries Ketsch has added links to translations in other languages, reference works and bibliographies. In some cases you will see a series of incunabula editions of works, this seems too much of a good thing, even for Diogenes Laertius’ Vitae phlosophorum.

We must proceed now to the heart of Ketsch’s website, the general and specialized encyclopedias. For the general encyclopedias there is a division in periods (Antiquity, Middle Ages and Early Modern) and in entries for several modern languages. The presence of works in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian is a most welcome addition. In the section with Dutch encyclopedic works I encountered several books which you do not encounter often. In this respect it is good to see more popular and educational works. For the legal disciplines Ketsch mentions three German Konversationlexikons, in particular Herman Wagener’s Neues Conversations-Lexikon. Staats- und Gesellschafts-Lexikon (23 vol., Berlin, 1859-1867) was a massive project followed by modern successors. Ketsch scores by guiding you also to studies about the genre of the Konversationslexikon. If you want to know more about the Zedler Ketsch gives you some thirty publications.

The biographical section of the Enzyklothek shows national biographies for twenty countries, showing their rich history from printed works to online databases. The subsection with women’ biographies contains some eighty titles, almost exclusively translations of and studies about Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus. I had hoped for a very different content… At this point I must alert to Ketsch’s invitation for anyone interested to help him with his project.

How show one judge the merits of the Enzyklothek? The Swiss project on Enzyklopädien, Allgemeinwissen und Gesellschaft [Encyclopedias, general knowledge and society] stopped adding entries after the launch of Ketsch’s website. The overview of works of the Swiss project, launched in 2001, offers an alphabetical list of authors, a chronological overview and a drop down menu for particular genres. Its strength lies in the descriptions of works and the attention to the context and variety of encyclopedic works.

Logo N-ZyklopThe project N-Zyklop (Universität Trier) which started in 2005 is another attempt at a full-scale database for finding encyclopedias. I checked here for works concerning Law (Recht). At first I was bewildered by the wide choice of works concerning trade and the presence of some biographical dictionaries, but you will find also the Vocabularium jurisprudentiae romanum by Otto Gradenwitz and other German scholars (Berlin 1903-1939). In particular the first edition of Jacob Bes’ Scheepvaarttermen. Handboek voor handel en scheepvaart (Amsterdam 1949) seemed gone astray, but in its multilingual version it became a classic work for maritime law, Chartering and shipping terms (1951). With some 5,000 entries and the possibillity to search for Dewey Decimal Classification codes in the advanced search mode N-Zyklop is certainly worth a visit, even if you have to translate the German terms used for every DDC code.

Lists versus databases

While preparing this post I thought I had spotted in the Enzyklothek an entry for the digitized version of the Lexikon für Kirchen- und Staatskirchenrecht, Axel von Campenhausen et alii (eds.) (3 vol., Paderborn, etc., 2000) in the section Digi20 of the Digitale Sammlungen of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, but I looked at the wrong place, and thus I was at first unable to retrace it. Finally I realized I had seen it in the German Wikisource list of online encyclopedias and lexicons. This work brings me to the final section of this contribution for a quick comparison of the specialized encyclopedia websites with the lists of encyclopedias offered at Wikisource. Some of my readers might well ask why I choose not to start with them. The main reason for my choice is the fact the lists at Wikisource and Wikipedia are not always the fruit of systematic and methodic search, but there is a clear degree of control, and thus the information can be most useful. In fact I had expected the name of a very conscious and active contributor to the German Wikisource as the main author or coordinating editor of this splendid list.

The German Wikisource page for encyclopedias has a section on Politik und Recht, politics and law. When you look at the works mentioned on it the Enzyklothek clearly is deficient. Among the notable works is the Deutsches Staats-Wörterbuch by Johann Kaspar Bluntschli and Karl Brater (11 vol., Stuttgart-Leipzig, 1857-1870). Bluntschli’s draft for a civil law code of the Swiss canton Zürich influenced the Schweizerisches Zivilgesetzbuch designed by Eugen Huber (1907). Bluntschli is better known as one of the founders of the Institute for International Law-Institut de Droit International. You will find als the first three editions of the Staatslexikon published by the Görres-Gesellschaft since 1887, with the eight edition now being published. Even today one can benefit from Emil Seckel’s continuation of the Heumanns Handlexikon zu den Quellen des römischen Rechts; the sixth edition (Jena 1929) has been digitized in Sevilla (PDF, 80 MB).

I would have been most happy to report here on the wealth of information in the English and French Wikisource for legal encyclopedias, but alas this is not possible. The English Wikisource bring you to the first edition of a single multivolume work, The laws of Engeland, being a complete statement of the whole law of Engeland (31 vol., London, 1907-1917) by the Earl of Halsbury, an encyclopedia from beginning to the end and nevertheless avoiding this word in its title. The English Wikipedia lists five online legal encyclopedias. For completeness’ sake I note that the similar French and Ukrainian Wikisource pages do not give you any legal encyclopedias, but the Russian Wikisource mentions three legal encyclopedias. It is only logical the German Wikisource has also an interesting page Rechtswissenschaft for digitized old laws and older legal works. Both the various Wikisources and Wikipedias as resources in open access gain everything from the input and efforts of contributors. In my view it is wrong not to take them as serious as other encyclopedias in print or online.

Some conclusions

This rapid tour of legal encyclopedias taught me a few things. Apart from my preference to delve into old books it is simply important to realize the great encyclopedias in print and online of our century have many forerunners, a number of them taking much space on your shelves. The famous ones had their competitors, but there was also a market for abridged versions. It is good to see you can often hardly distinguish between legal encyclopedias and legal dictionaries. Another thing is almost a returning refrain here: do not stay content using just one major resource for any subject. The question of languages is a second thread on my blog. The use of the translation tool in a particular web browser from an omnipresent IT firm helps you to get at least a rough idea of contents, and it teaches you knowing a language inside out does help you in many ways. The books on early economic thought and their focus on running a household is a welcome reminder economics only started in the nineteenth century to claim an existence as a science. Private law has captured more attention from legal historian than public law, and this bias, too, becomes more clear thanks to these projects.

Last but not least the predominance of German resources in this post is indeed due to my familiarity with German research. For German legal historians having the second edition of the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte in front of you on your computer screen as HRG Digital has been a major qualitative step, although you have to subscribe to it or find a university library with a license for this online resource. It is one of the dictionaries containing much more than you would expect. There is also a printed version of the second edition. It is fitting to end here with the efforts of Gerhard Köbler in Innsbruck, who has not only published a number of historical legal dictionaries, but also maintains a massive portal on German and Austrian law and legal history, including for examples concise biographies of many lawyers. Köbler prefers web pages above a database. As for libraries with collections of Early Modern legal works, and increasingly also digital collections, you will not stop me pointing here regularly to the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main.

The long years of the Council of Konstanz

Once upon a time the history of church councils seemed a matter of Christian theology slowly but inevitably reaching new levels of dogmatic intricacy, either led by wise popes or marred by popes who thought more of themselves than of the Catholic church. Things get more interesting when you look at the proceedings not as a distraction to theological matters at stake but as historical events just as important as the canons and decrees finally proclaimed. One of the longest councils was the Council of Konstanz (1414-1418). Recently I was alerted to a modern representation of a chronicle showing the daily business of this medieval council. The virtual presence of this council is worth the attention of legal historians, too. In this post you will find a tour of some of the most important resources. As in my earlier post about the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) I will look also at images of this international meeting in fifteenth-century Germany, close to the modern border with Switzerland.

Five long years

Logo Konstanz Konzilstadt

Probably the most famous event of the Council of Konstanz was the trial of Jan Hus. In order to avoid too much coverage of modern memorial years I decided not to write about him here. One reason for writing here about this church council was my amusement about the tweets of Ulrich Richental, a modern incarnation of the fifteenth-century author of a chronicle about the Council of Konstanz. The tweets tell you on a day-to-day basis about events during the council, and they are directly linked to the multilingual website Konstanz Konzilstadt.

King Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire succeeded in conveying a church council at Konstanz in a time when Western Europe had to face the presence of three popes, three because one of them, John XXIII, was a so-called antipope who resided in Bologna. Gregory II was pope in Rome and Benedict XIII reigned from Avignon. One of the problems for this council was the division between those in favour of full power over the church in the hands of a council (conciliarists), and those sticking to papal and curial power (curialists). Imagine the international crowd of ecclesiastical dignitaries and the courtiers of king Sigismund all together in a small town on the lovely Lake Constance, and you get the picture.

Cover facsimile edition of Richtental's chronicle

We can form our own picture of this council in a very literal and pictorial way thanks to the illustrated chronicle of Ulrich Richental (around 1360-1437). The famous illustrated manuscript at the Rosgartenmuseum in Konstanz is available in a modern facsimile edition [Chronik des Konzils zu Konstanz 1414–1418. Die Konstanzer Handschrift der Konzilschronik des Ulrich Richental, Jürgen Klöckler (ed.) (2nd ed., Darmstadt 2015)]. Interestingly, the list of manuscripts given in the German Wikipedia article on Ulrich Richental contains more items than the online database of the Handschriftencensus which omits two manuscripts that went missing. Some manuscripts have been digitized. This chronicle is the well from which the modern successor of Ulrich gets the information for his tweets. The tweets started only in 2016. It is safe to assume the idea for daily tweets was inspired by similar Twitter accounts and blogs for the commemoration of the First World War.

As for scholarly literature concerning the Council of Konstanz I was surprised that the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii (accessible in German and English) for some reason lists only literature published before 2010 when you use the thesaurus search. You will have to check many titles using the various translations of the city name Konstanz to find relevant publications.

Acts and decrees

A second reason to write here about the Council of Konstanz brings us safely back to the sources legal historians will want foremost to consult, the manuscripts and archival records, and when available critical editions of the sources. Finding out about such editions for medieval councils can be daunting. On my legal history website the first section of the page concerning relevant editions for canon law deals with councils. For sound foundations I could rely here on an article by Joseph Avril, ‘Les décisions des conciles et synodes’, in: Jacques Berlioz et alii (eds.), Identifier sources et citations (Turnhout 1994) 177-189. Lately I checked for the online availability of a number of Early Modern editions of conciliar decrees and decisions, but some modern editions, too, have been digitized, too. The edition of the Acta concilii Constantientis by Heinrich Finke (ed.) (4 vols., Münster 1896-1928) has been digitized at the Internet Archive. Finke gives in the first volume materials from the preparatory phase of the council (1410-1413). It was harder to find a complete set with a single point of reference for other modern editions. The Monumenta conciliorum generalium saeculi decimi quinti, F. Palacky et alii (eds.) (4 vols., Vienna 1857-1935), with sources for the Council of Basel can be found conveniently online in Gallica. The second major edition for the Council of Basel, Concilium Basiliense. Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Konzils von Basel, J. Haller (ed.) (8 vols., Basel 1896-1936) has been digitized in its entirety at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich. In the case of Basel having easy access to the editions is only the start of finding your way in a myriad of documents.

Among the participants at Konstanz were French dignitaries with more than a basic knowledge of canon law, among them cardinal Pierre D’Ailly (1350-1420), Jean Gerson (1363-1429), and cardinal Guillaume Filastre (1348-1428). Finke published a journal held by Filastre in his Forschungen und Quellen zur Geschichte des Konstanzer Konzils (Paderborn 1889; online, Internet Archive). With Francesco de Zabarella (1360-1417) we meet a great canon lawyer. In 1410 he became archbishop of Florence and year later he was created cardinal, hence his nickname Cardinalis. Zabarella died in Konstanz on September 26, 1417. Studies by Dieter Girgensohn and Thomas Morrissey have considerably enlarged our knowledge about him and his views. As a papal legate he was involved with the Council of Konstanz from the moment he was sent in 1413 as a papal legate to king Sigismund to discuss the chances for a church council.

Another canon lawyer wrote a dedicatory letter in the first printed edition of the acts of the Council of Konstanz, the Acta scitu dignissima docteque concinnata Constantiensis concilii celebratissimi (Hagenau: Gran 1500) by Hieronymus de Croaria (ca. 1460/63-1527). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW 07287) and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC 00800000) habitually summarize titles of works stemming from institutions and authorities. Searching in the ISTC for Concilium Constantiense yields four results. The GW has a separate page for the incunabula editions of conciliar decrees. Both the GW and the ISTC point to digitized copies of incunabula. Konrad Summenhart (1460-1502) studied in Paris and Heidelberg before becoming a professor of theology and even chancellor of the university of Tübingen. In his work Opus septipartitum de contractibus he looked both at contractual law as administered in courts as on the impact on the forum conscientiae, the personal conscience. He wrote about subjects as usury and tithes. Hieronymus de Croaria had been his colleague in Tübingen as a professor of canon law before he went to Ingolstadt. Later on he worked also as a judge.

Heinrich Finke guided the research of Joseph Riegel who defended a thesis on the wildly varying numbers of participants at the Council of Konstanz [Die Teilnehmerlisten des Konstanzer Konzils. Ein Beitrag zur mittelalterlichen Statistik (Freiburg im Breisgau 1916; online, Internet Archive)], a thing already debated by contemporaries.The Council of Konstanz became during five years a focus of European politics and church reform, a place where many influential people met. The sheer number of participants, their background and views, and the impact on church life merit and warrant a good chance at finding always new perspectives, not to mention resources, to make it worthwhile to look again this event, not in the least with an eye to legal history.

A postscript

In this post I tried to be as concise as possible, but I think it is right to point here also to another old edition concerning the Council of Konstanz, the seven volumes of the edition edited by Hermann von der Hardt, Magnum Oecumenicum Constantiense Concilium (…) (Frankfurt am Main 1697-1700), digitized by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf. I had preferred to give you the exact link to a completely digitised set, but searching in this digital library brings you quickly to the volumes. I found the reference to the digitised set at Düsseldorf in a 2015 blog post by Klaus Graf at Archivalia where he dealt with the entrance for this council in the Historisches Lexikon Bayerns. However, Graf mentioned only two volumes of Hardt’s edition.

 

For the common good: International legal history and collective action

Every month there is a growing chance of encountering some kind of commemoration of historical events and figures. Sometimes these festivities are indeed an opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes, but often these occasions can seem too much of a good thing. In recent years there has been a proliferation of international days, some of them just a funny parody, for example on March 31 the sixth Hug A Medievalist Day! On April 14, 2016 it is the International Legal History Day. At least one university, Harvard, organizes today a seminar about the practices and challenges of doing international legal history. It seems Harvard Law School wants to launch this day as a new tradition.

In this post I will look at two initiatives dealing with a concept which touches many countries and regions all over the world. Commons are shared stretches of land used and owned by several people. Commons can be defined as a type of collective action. An international research project is at the heart of this post, and I will also look at a digital library which helps you to trace relevant literature about commons. One of the features of this post will be the combination of global phenomena with local examples transcending the boundaries of nations and states.

Sharing lands, goods and much more

Header Institutions for Collective Action

When I first saw the portal of Institutions for Collective Action (ICA) I was genuinely surprised by the all-encompassing umbrella used to bring a number of institutions under one denominator. Commons are perhaps the institution most quickly associated with collective action, and they will certainly fill much space here, but there is more. Merely contemplating what kind of actions you will define as collective actions is in my view already a fruitful exercise. Five types of collective actions figure at the portal: commons, guilds, waterboards, beguinages and co-operatives. The ICA portal cites on its homepage Bertrand Russell’s dictum ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation’. Currently there is a set of case studies from eight countries for the five types, with 23 examples for commons, four for guilds, eight for waterboards and only two for co-operatives, and typically for beguinages six examples from the Netherlands and Belgium. The eight countries are apart from Belgium and the Netherlands the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Rumania, Spain and Uganda. The cases from Rumania concern commons, the example for Uganda is a co-operative project for micro-finance. In fact there are more countries: in the section for guilds France, Italy, Germany and China are added.

One of the strengths of this portal is the comprehensive coverage of many aspects of research into institutions for collective actions, and thus you are really looking at a veritable portal. You can consult not only the case studies and general overviews, but also online bibliographies, glossaries, datasets and sources, and you might be interested in the announcements of scholarly events. The section with debates highlights a number of general and specific questions about the types of collective actions figuring on the portal. These questions will certainly help you to refine your own analysis. I found in particular the discussion of the various forms of institutions for water management illuminating. The perspective on Dutch institutions becomes sharper thanks to the comparison with Spanish institutions. I really learned here something also about the Dutch variety of these institutions and the need to look at them more closely. The page with links to related projects shows the context of this project in which scholars at Utrecht have substantial roles. An offspring of the ICA portal are several projects which work with crowdsourcing. Inviting the public to participate in research projects by transcribing or indexing sources is in itself a kind of collective action. The heading Citizen Science is fitting indeed.

Website Vele Handen and the Ja, ik wil project

At least one of them should attract your curiosity because of its legal nature, the project Ja, ik wil (“Yes, I do”) for the transcription of pre-marriage acts between 1578 and 1811 from the municipal archive in Amsterdam, a resource with much more information about people going to be married than you will find elsewhere. The transcribing portal Vele Handen (“Many Hands”) contains more information about the project (in Dutch). In its turn this project serves a much larger research project of the ICA team to compare marriage patterns.

Banner Digital Library of the Commons

The main organization dealing with the history and current situation of common is the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC). At the website of IASC, too, you can find an overview of online resources. Some years ago I already encountered the Digital Library for the Commons, a digital collection at Indiana University, but so far I had not started to place this initiative in a wider context. The digitized literature in this library deals with commons on literally every continent, even Antarctica, but not the Arctic region. The simple search mode, the advanced search mode and the filters for browsing are most helpful. In my view it is stimulating to look here, even if you do not quite find what you are searching for.

Although it is easy to expand the fairly summarized information presented here it might work better to keep this contribution shorter than usual. Environmental history is just an example that can be connected with studying commons. At the blog Environment, Law and History you can pursue this direction. Global legal history and comparative legal history do not appear here for the first time. The theme of international legal history deserves attention, and not just on one particular day every year, but the idea is surely valuable. When I started this blog I promised my readers to look for themes and subjects from around the world. There are enough countries, regions and landscapes about which I can write here. Perhaps it is more important to discuss them here not for the sake of completeness, but preferably and more interestingly in connection with the kind of problems and questions which belong to the world of legal history.

The power of words: Some thoughts about Umberto Eco

Image of Umbert Eco - photographer unknown - source: Wikimedia Commons

Umbert Eco – photographer unknown – source: Wikimedia Commons

The death of Umberto Eco (1932-2016) makes the world mourn a most versatile author. In fact you might do him justice by seeing him almost as a true uomo universale. In his writings, both his scholarly work and his novels, the thing resonating within you long afterwards was and is the encounter with a mind full of curiosity about the world, culture and life at large. As a small contribution in remembrance of a great intellectual I will look here at a few aspects of a period close to his heart, the Middle Ages. With The Name of the Rose Eco did not only write a great detective novel and a philosophical treatise about visions of reality and truth, but he returned in a way to the territory where his career started. This novel is marked by elements of law and justice, reason enough to have a look at it here.

A story in black and white

Eco’s great story, set in the early fourteenth century, has not just one central narrative thread, the quest of William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso of Melk to solve crimes and the mysteries surrounding them. The Name of the Rose is also a book about confrontations between old and new ways of thinking and action, and of strife even between people at both sides. The Franciscan William of Baskerville meets a formidable opponent when the Dominican friar and inquisitor Bernard Gui arrives on the scene of the monastery in Northern Italy. Both religious orders came into existence shortly after 1200. They almost fought each other to receive able men into their ranks. The different ways of living and preaching inspired them to outshine each other. Now Bernard Gui (around 1262-1331) was a historical figure. Interestingly he was not only the most famous inquisitor of his time, but also a very active historian of his order, see A.-M. Lamarrigue, Bernard Gui. Un historien et sa méthode (Paris, 2000).

Cambridge Uniersity Library, ms. Ff 3.18,fol. 1r

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, start of II-I; England, circa 1320-1340 – Cambridge, UL, ms. Ff 3.18, fol. 1r – image: Cambridge University Library

800 years ago the Dominican order was founded. Part of the worldwide jubilee celebrations is the virtual exhibition A pipeline from heaven: eight centuries of Dominican books created by Cambridge University Library. Among the manuscripts shown in the online gallery you can find the Summa Theologiae, the major work produced by Thomas Aquinas. I searched in this exhibit in vain for the inquisition and Bernard Gui, but let’s first remember how Eco started as a scholar with writing about Thomas Aquinas. Eco’s Ph.D. thesis dealt with the views on art of this Dominican philosopher and theologian. Aquinas wrote many of his works using the scholastic method of distinctions using questions and answers. Argument after argument is dissected in a seemingly cool and calm way. Personal views or involvement seldom surface. Eco succeeded in pinpointing Aquinas’ views of art in his discussions of perception, contrary to the opinions of eminent scholars such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Once you realize this, it is easier to see how this discovery influenced Eco’s later scholarly and literary works.

When William of Baskerville reads and explains the telling signs which contain clues to unravel what happened at the Benedictine monastery infected by crime, Eco knowingly plays with scholarly views of medieval and modern philosophy. Using and focusing on signs was for some time the very heart of the vogue for microhistory. The Italian word connected with the microhistory paradigm is spie, traces. Eco was virtually the founder – together with Roland Barthes – of semioticsthe theory of signs, their meanings and relations. In the thirteenth century a number of Dominican friars set out to write both manuals and encyclopedias covering all kinds of knowledge. Very soon the papacy realized that their deep theological knowledge made these friars fit to become inquisitors. Bernard Gui himself wrote a manual for inquisitors, edited by Michel Mollat, Bernard Gui. Manuel de l’inquisiteur (Paris 1926, reprint 1964; Les classiques de l’histoire de France au moyen âge, 8-9). Gui made notes and instructions and carefully documented his activity in the Languedoc in another manuscript [Le livre des sentences de l’inquisiteur Bernard Gui (1308-1323), Annette Pales-Gobillard (ed.) (Paris 2002)]. David Burr (Virginia Tech) has translated a number of the texts in this edition, in particular Gui’s views on detecting heresy. Gui mentions among other heretical matters the views on poverty of the Franciscan writer Petrus Olivi which figure in Eco’s novel, too.

As part of the Dutch jubilee celebrations of the Dominican order the journal Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven [Journal for Spiritual Life] published a special about Dominican history [Het hart op de tong. 800 jaar dominicaanse verkondiging (TGL 72/1 (2016)] with an article by legal historian and theologian Daniela Müller (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) on Bernard Gui (pp. 27-35), summarizing in Dutch at the same time a part of her recent research about medieval heresy and the position of women. Müller writes Gui served his order also as a procurator generalis at the papal court in Avignon, and even became involved in the canonisation of Thomas Aquinas. He also acted as a papal nuntius. Müller’s recent research about Gui’s protest against the decision of pope Clement V compelling bishops and inquisitors to work together is real news (see her article ‘Der Bischof und der Inquisitor’, in: Ketzer und Kirche. Betrachtungen aus zwei Jahrtausenden, Daniela Müller (ed.) (Münster 2014) 237-262).

For Bernard Gui words and views did not stand independent of beliefs and practices. You might say he read the views of people as signs of religious convictions and adherence. He outright connected particular expressions with heretical views, even if he had not yet asked specifically about the latter. Eco succeeded most powerfully in showing one of the major faults of the inquisitorial procedure, the combination of the function of persecuting officer and judge in one person. Is it a play on his own name – Eco means echo in Italian – that the other main character in The Name of the Rose, Jorge of Burgos, the monk killing so many of his brethren, also acted as a staunch persecutor of new views and a terrible self-appointed judge? Eco would have spoilt his novel by placing the motto Only connect used by Virginia Woolf at the start of his first novel, but surely this is the most concise clue to his book.

The joy of writing and sharing knowledge

Banner Index Translationum

Eco involved himself in Italian life and culture with his own column for a newspaper and regular appearances on television. In a number of his books, for example about the history of beauty, he left behind him his familiar territories of medieval history and current philosophy, and reached out to a much larger audience. Among these books I personally most like his work touching on the history of language research, La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993), translated into nearly twenty languages, as you can check in the Index Translationum of UNESCO. The history of the search for the perfect language brought Eco in many cases to authors expressing their own theory about the original language of humanity. Even Dutch was in the seventeenth century sometimes presented as the language spoken in Paradise! Having started with studying the world where Latin was the lingua franca this subject certainly made Eco smile. His command of European languages made him the ideal author for this theme.

I first read The Name of the Rose as a student of medieval history. Although I did find at first his proliferation of extracts from medieval authors close to going through an overturned card file I had no doubt whatsoever of his skills as a great story-teller. The joy of writing and sharing is visible everywhere in his writings. Since I first read this book I have reread it several times, and my admiration for it has grown. While writing this post I noticed how many tags I can use for classifying my musings about Eco. We are lucky to see in Umberto Eco someone defying normal classifications. He was a great scholar, and even his faults and flaws have turned into art. Few scholars have been as candid and full of humour as Eco about his own mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but Eco’s legacy will continue to help us perceiving signs, detecting hidden perceptions and connections. He makes you transcend the world of books and marvel at the Book of the World.

The edges of medieval law

Cover "The edge of the world" (Penguin edition, 2015)Every now and then a book comes along that grabs your attention. The Dutch translation of Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: How The North Sea Made Us Who We Are (2014) with its beautiful cover lured me into buying in the end the Penguin edition (2015) and starting to explore its contents. After a number of recent books about the role in European history of the Mediterranean, in particular the one by David Abulafia, a kind of antidote extolling the importance of the North Sea and the regions around it in medieval times is surely welcome. Michael Pye belongs to the line of British authors outside academia who year after year present us with vigorously written and entertaining history books. Awareness of the many corners of history and the importance of detail studies does not diminish the secret longing for history in the grand manner. Does Michael Pye, trained at Oxford in modern history, succeed in creating a convincing history of this part of Europe? In this post I will look in particular in the way Pye deals with medieval law. Law and justice get a large space in his study, sufficient justification to deal with it here.

Twelve chapters and an introduction

Pye organized his book in twelve chapters with some 320 pages, embellished by two maps and twelve full colour images, and fortified by nearly fifty pages with end notes giving substantial references to scholarly literature. It needs perhaps underlining these facts before starting to analyze its contents. Pye aimed to discuss matters scholars regularly research, he uses their research and thus he deserves attention both by the general public and at a scholarly level. In a captivating introduction Pye skilfully sets the scene for his book and points to some of the problems daunting the historiography of the countries around the North Sea. He is quite right to refer to the bias caused in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by nationalist views, and to warn for their partial survival, in particular our respect for Bede the Venerable and his book on the history of the English people. Bede’s work cannot been read as a historical work of our times. There are clear limits to his knowledge and method, and powers guiding his vision of Christianity and its coming to British isles. The quality of this introduction is most promising for the following chapters.

The first chapter has a provocative title, ‘The invention of money’. Were the Frisians the first people to use money in the lands north of the Rhine left empty by the Romans? Pye argues this region became already in the eight century a trading zone where Franks, Frisians and Saxons traded commodities with each other, even luxury goods. I could not detect a clear chronology in this chapter. Putting the town of Tiel between Utrecht and Arnhem is a bit awkward when Tiel is some forty kilometers to the south-east, and Arnhem seventy kilometers to the east of Utrecht. Dorestad makes more sense as a point of reference. The second chapter about the way this early medieval society was to some extent definitely a world of the book, seems to me much more convincing.

The two following chapters are perhaps the best part of Pye’s book. He succeeds in creating a view of the role of the Vikings in Western Europe and Scandinavia which goes way beyond the clichés of savage men from the North destroying the peace brought by Charlemagne to his new empire. There was more to the Vikings than only violence and pillaging. They were traders who enlarged the range of early medieval trade. They traded not only in Russia, but came even to Byzantium. In the end they, too, became settlers who founded even new port towns. A number of new books, for example those written by Anders Winroth, can give you a fuller portrait of the Vikings and their impact, but Pye gives in fifty pages a fresh picture with much relevant material and discussions of important topics.

Laws are everywhere

Let us not plod here through every chapter in chronological order. One of the reasons you might want to read Pye’s book carefully is his attention to medieval law and legal matters. The space he creates for showing and discussing law and justice is a relief after reading history books which relegate law to a tiny corner or dismiss it in a few paragraphs as a dull matter.

Pye’s sixth chapter, ‘Writing the law’, gives in nearly thirty pages his first main discussion of medieval law. He describes the way the early medieval ordeal was succeeded by a new approach to facts. Pye uses Merovingian formulae and carefully notes the views of learned men in the ninth century who already opposed the ordeal, but his indication of time is sloppy. The rise of lawyers as a profession leads him to speculate about the rise of professions in general. Surely this a major development in medieval society which needs a through investigation and explanation. One of my troubles with this chapter is the zigzagging between centuries and subjects, including the use of runes, the creation of letters of exchange and the forgery of charters. For me there is a fine line between telling stories which bring something fundamental, and a way of writing where just one example after another serves to make a point. In the end you read a loose narrative chain posing as a convincing argument, instead of a patient analysis of a number of cases for a single matter, question or hypothesis. There is a distinct tendency in this book to impress with short stories and vignettes, leaving me in the end somewhat breathless.

On the other hand I cannot leave this chapter judged only on some rather external characteristics. Is the waning of the use of the ordeal the only thing that really mattered? Why does Pye look closely at the use of runes on artefacts, but not at Scandinavian laws? Why does he completely miss the renewal of legal procedure and the increasing role of counts and kings, in particular in Flanders, Normandy and England? Pye mentions two articles by Raoul Van Caenegem, but he seems unaware of this scholar’s monographs and editions. He tends to cite very often new literature and to look only seldom at older studies. Scholarly literature in German or Dutch is almost absent, which is remarkable for a book written for a substantial part in Amsterdam with the aid of the staff at the university library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He simply misses the fundamental recent articles by Winfried Trusen and Lotte Kéry about the growth and background of the inquisitorial method, nor does he mention any book about medieval judges. Pye writes for example about the importance of judging intention, citing an article from 1964 by John W. Baldwin, but apparently not using his book about the social views of Peter the Chanter.

Pye’s ninth chapter, ‘Dealers rule’, is perhaps the best part. His presentation and discussions of merchants and trade exemplified in the German Hansa is vigorous. The Hansa wanted to be established a rule of its own built on sheer power, trying to keep outside the normal power relations and legal frameworks by concentrating on the sea. Pye has a keen eye for the particular position of merchants in late medieval society. He rightfully shows how the Hansa in a way continued the practices of earlier merchants. This chapter owes it force certainly also to the quick association one can make nowadays with the role of international trade and multinational firms.

The tenth chapter, ‘Love and capital’, very much centers also around law and legal customs. Pye discusses here the role of matrimonial and hereditary law helping women to secure a position within marriage and outside it, for example living as beguines in one of the great Flemish beguinages, or trading in the absence of their husband. Incidentally, when telling the story of a woman living as a beguine at Bruges who was abducted in 1345 by her family, Pye does use an article in Dutch, helped by Dutch scholars, but only in this case. Only two pages after he started telling this story he gives the year when this happened. If it is really important particular developments in Northern Europe were so pivotal in European and world history, I would prefer to know more exactly when and where something happened. Just two maps to figure out the position of a particular town or location mentioned in this book is simply not enough. The British Isles, the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the Baltic need separate maps. It weakens an interesting chapter. His case for the growing independence of medieval women, too, would have deserved more careful research. Bringing in medieval views of sexuality seems to mask the somewhat one-sided documentation of this chapter. It is one thing to bring social and economic history together with legal history, but something else to create a convincing chapter which does not consist only of colourful stories and brilliant side remarks. Dutch readers will remember the book by Matthijs Deen about the Frisian isles and the Wadden Sea [De Wadden. Een geschiedenis (Amsterdam, 2013)], a book with both space for good stories and calm analysis.

You should not think I did not like reading this book. It is a splendid read, and some of Pye’s ideas and views are really worth close consideration. The short eleventh chapter offers a captivating sketch of the impact of the plagues, starting with the Black Death in 1348, and the way they serves as a kind of ultimate terror calling for stricter control of social life by laws and regulations. Pye succeeds also in making you aware of medieval views and the changing role of rational thought in them, but here, too, he acts sometimes as if he was the first to discuss this matter. By chance I received this week a select bibliography of current scholarship about the impact of the Black Death, which makes me more cautious about generalizing views. Alas Pye selects his reading list very arbitrarily.

The Book of Everything

In the two last chapters Pye brings his story to his own period, the Early Modern history of Europe. Medieval developments paved the way for the world hegemony of the Dutch empire in the seventeenth century. It was not just a case of the Dutch winning with much luck their struggle for independence against the mighty Spanish forces, but having at their disposal all the skills, knowledge and connections needed to establish a sea-born empire thanks to the migration of merchants from Flanders who head to leave Antwerp. Seemingly novel ways of finance were not so new. I could not help grinning reading the last chapter with on the back of my mind the books by Russell Shorto about Amsterdam and New York. Trade, cultural exchange and fierce convictions to create by all means space for unhampered trade and commerce were surely important for the success of the early Dutch Republic.

The Edge of the World promises to give us a completely new history. One cannot fault an author for his ambition, but Pye has made things difficult for himself. Even Johan Huizinga did not try to tell in The Waning of the Middle Ages the complete story of the fourteenth and fifteenth century in France and the Low Countries, but restricted himself on purpose to medieval literature. Huizinga had published a scholarly edition of legal sources from Haarlem [Rechtsbronnen der Stad Haarlem (‘s-Gravenhage, 1911)]. However, he did not use legal materials and accounts as primary sources in his 1919 book, enough for one critic to remark privately it was only a novel. Pye does refer in his notes to a number of printed editions, but he seldom uses archival records or manuscripts. I am totally convinced a historical novel can sometimes help you to understand a period much better. The Dutch author Hella Haasse succeeded in her 1949 novel Het woud der verwachting [“In a dark wood wandering” (Chicago, 1989)] in evoking France in the late fourteenth century, and at some turns she even surpassed Huizinga’s insights and evocative style.

Too often Pye supposes a particular story can stand for a number of corroborating sources. It makes him somewhat careless and cavalier with his source materials. It is one thing to turn the lights on the many colours of medieval history and society, but the very glitter of little stories too good to leave out has taken over here from critical examination. A round of killing your darlings would have helped very much. Geography and maritime history really suffer. Pye sells too many alluring stories as if only they provide us with the causes of changes and insight into forces behind continuities. His enthusiasm is admirable, but it does also mar this book.

Only on finishing my own review I have looked at some of the reviews of Pye’s book in the Anglo-American World and in Dutch media. The opinions and reviews show a wide spectrum from admiration for a writer choosing narrative above analysis and his own way to deal with a vast subject, to outright dismissal – Adam Nicolson in The Spectator – because at too many turns Pye got his facts wrong, something journalists and historians should truly worry about. Such facts have blunt or sharp edges which can hit equally painful. On the other hand scholars should rightfully and sincerely accept the challenge of doing a better job themselves. We need imagination and vision, keen perception of perspectives, skills to squeeze out the meaning of written sources and artefacts, unflagging attention to get things right, respect for truth, a willingness to question and learn, and the courage to combine fine analyses with good writing. Deep thinking and rethinking will not make the history of Northern Europe grey. It will help to show the many hues of blue and green on the waves sailed by all kinds of medieval people.

Creating convincing arguments in court

Banner image of two muses, Themis and ClioLately I was gently pressed to add a particular blog to my blogroll. I argued that it does not deal primarily with legal history, although it is in many respects a most valuable blog. Even after a second plea, accompanied with a nice variant on Ceterum censeo… I still stick with my argument, but in fact this blog had already been included in my blogroll…  On closer inspection of the links now present I also looked at the growing number of online journals in open access dealing with legal history. The latest issue of Clio@Themis [8 (2014)] deals with the history of legal argumentation, a theme which has had my interest since many years. I also spotted the announcement of an upcoming scholarly event in May on this subject. Nomôdos, the blog of Clio@Themis, is most useful in tracing new publications and announcements concerning legal history in France. Thus it is a source for my congress calendar, and of course it is listed in my blogroll. These two subjects give me enough materials for this post.

Arguments in courts

Clio@Themis is a French scientific journal with most of its articles in French, with abstracts in English added to them. The journal has a tradition of including as a bonus a French version of classic legal articles. Its latest issue called L’argumentation au cœur du processus judiciaire skips this feature. Seven articles deal with legal argumentation in court proceedings. Two other contributions are only loosely connected with the general subject of this issue.

Logo CHJ Université-Lille 2

Catherine Denys and Naoko Seriu introduce the theme of this number and elucidate briefly the subjects of the seven articles which originated at three days of scholarly encounters around this theme in 2012 at the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université Lille-2). They describe a shift from viewing legal argumentation solely as part of legal doctrine to an approach akin to the way philosophers, sociologists and linguists deal with speech acts. The history of the judiciary and legal practice is here the primary field of investigation. The use of arguments is seen here as a part of a strategy to get favorable results in court.

The focus of all articles is on three European countries during the Early Modern period, with the exception of two articles dealing with subjects from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first two articles the sixteenth century comes into light. Alain Wijffels discusses procedures claiming revisions of earlier trials at the Grand Conseil de Malines, the highest court of the Habsburgian Low Countries. The appeals for revision should be allowed in cases of factual errors (error facti) and in principle not for any legal error (error iuris), but in actual practice both kinds or error could be redeemed. The interesting thing is how lawyers at Malines argued about this state of affairs.

Marco Cavina deals in his contribution – in Italian – with the views of Carlo Ruini and Andrea Alciato concerning the different types of legal counseling in consilia. Alciato sketched a model with different approaches used by lawyers. Some went for subtle reasonings (subtilitates), others for the archetypical Renaissance – but essential medieval – abundance (copia) of allegations from Roman and canon law, and a third group imitated the brevitas of the classical Roman lawyers and their compact way of expressing opinions. Alciato frowned upon publishing consilia for several reasons, but his own contributions to this genre, too, were posthumously printed.

Isabelle Arnal-Corthier looks at materials sometimes presented to the Parlement de Toulouse in criminal appeal cases between 1670 and 1700. Instead of just a hearing of the accused for an appeal in criminal cases as punctuated in the royal ordinance of 1670 barristers often brought also a lettre de cassation to this court. The defense adduced in these cases mainly arguments about the competence of lower courts, insufficient evidence or irregularities during judicial procedures.

Yet another French court, the Parlement de Tournai and its third chamber in the late seventeenth century, figures in an article by Jacques Lorgnier who deals with cases concerning property rights and conflicts about the cost of church repairs. This foray into actual argumentation leads him to the hypothesis that the justiciables, the people going to court and their legal representatives, trusted the workings of rational arguments in the face of solid proofs within the framework of legal procedure.

Logo ADN

At this point I would like to mention the great resource created by legal historians at Lille for doing research into the history of the Parlement de Flandre. In the database ParleFlandre you can find more than 30,000 dossiers from the série 8B1 at the Archives Départementales du Nord (ADN) in Lille. Lorgnier uses cases from another series of dossiers at the ADN, the série 8B2. For the history of the Low Countries the archival collections at the ADN contain many important documents. At Fontes Historiae Iuris, the virtual portal at Lille to digitized resources concerning French legal history, is a section with further resources for the Parlement de Flandre.

Naoko Seriu looks at a scarcely known crime at the end of the Ancien Régime, the illegal sale of military goods by deserters, in particular uniforms. Records of trials survive in which individuals were charged with buying these illegal uniforms or the vendors themselves were charged with this crime. Seriu compares the verbal strategies used and the particular differences in approach to exculpate themselves. I could not help noticing that the examples of cases stem mainly from Brittany, in fact from just one modern département, Ille-et-Vilaine. A comparison with other regions might be useful. At the EHESS in Paris Seriu studied with Arlette Farge, a French historian who has devoted much attention to the way stories are told in historical sources, recently in Condamnés au XVIIIe siècle (Lormont 2013).

Forays into the twentieth century

Bruno Debaenst (Ghent) brings us from France to Belgium and much closer to the twentieth-first century. In his contribution (in English) he has studied trials concerning accidents during work in around Mons between 1870 and 1914. Using dangerous machinery, imperfectly prepared surroundings, shortcomings in labor organization, and workmanship not up to demands were among the arguments heard around these cases. In these years the Belgian code of civil law still was a virtually unchanged version of the French Code civil, with scarcely attention to actual circumstances in an industrial society. Debaenst describes also the use of reports by experts, criminal investigations and testimonies. In the face of inadequate means to deal conclusively with liability defendants had much opportunity to evade responsibility for what happened in their firms, thus reaffirming the gap between workers and patrons.

In the last article of this special Frédéric Chavaud brings us to familiar scenes from modern crime series on television. He looks at the use of emotions between 1880 and 1940 as arguments at the Cour des Assises, the highest criminal court in French departments. Tears, laughter and fear were not only used by barristers and defendants, but also by others in court. Studying the history of emotions is not without its pitfalls, and Chavaud rightfully points to some pivotal studies. He uses mainly contemporary public reports about trials, and not the actual dossiers of the cases. These reports do convey a vivid image or proceedings, but one can suspect that their authors also follow well-known tracks to please the expectations of their readers. Of course it is exactly important to notice such bias and detect changes in them. Emotions can and could break rational arguments and reasonings, specially when directed at juries. Chavaud clearly focuses on the contemporary perception of emotions, and he rightly mentions studies about emotions in court published between 1920 and 1940.

The range in time of this special is pleasing, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, and we read about both civil and criminal law. The geographic focus, however, is on France, even when admittedly you get a most varied view of French legal history. Luckily the Low Countries, Belgium and Italy add a European dimension. Lorgnier is the only author to mention the use of topical argumentation. I am afraid it is not quite possible to expand here very much on any of the articles presented here. You can always wish for more, and therefore I invite you now to the second section of this post about a congress where you might pursue this aim very soon.

Studying legal controversies

Banner Rennes 2015

La controverse. Études de l’histoire d’argumentation juridique [Controversy. Studies on the history of legal argumentation] is the title of the coming Journées internationales, the yearly congress organized by the Société d’Histoire du Droit. This year’s congress will be held at Rennes from May 28 to 31, 2015 with the Centre d’Histoire du Droit of the Université de Rennes-1 acting as its hosts. You might want to have a good look at the generous links section of their website and at its own digital library. Rennes is the capital of the département Ille-et-Vilaine mentioned above, and participants might want to visit the Archives départementales. The call for papers is still active. Proposals should be sent before March 10, 2015, and this is the closing date, too, for registration (mail: shd.rennes@gmail.com). Rennes is well worth visiting, in particular for the building of the old Parlement de Bretagne. Saint-Malo and the Mont-Saint-Michel are not far away.

Young scholars, too, get a chance at Rennes. There will be a atélier doctoral organized in cooperation with the Association française des jeunes historiens du droit, a society of young legal historians founded in 2013. You can send your proposals until March 30, 2015 (mail: assofjhd@gmail.com).

The congress wants to approach controversies both as a phenomenon within the territories of law, be it the judiciary, legislation or doctrine, and as historical cases of conflicts about a plethora of possible subjects. What was the impact of certain schools of thought? Which impact had other disciplines on legal theory and practice? It is perhaps necessary to keep in thought that the international dimension of the Journées was and is traditional that of the French-speaking world at large, the francophonie. The blog like website at Rennes nicely mentions the exceptional use of English for any communication. In a region with many British and Dutch visitors one might expect the start of a change to that tradition.

This post with a French flavor should also remind readers from the Anglophone world that those speaking and writing English are not the only possible center of the world of science. It can be truly useful and illuminating to know about different approaches in other countries, to practice them yourself or to use your approach on foreign ground in order to see how universal it really is. Anyway, I have tried to convey something of my joy in discovering this special of an online legal history journal, and I might well do this here again. In my blogroll or for example at Nomôdos or the blog of the European Society for Comparative Legal History you can choose from many online journals in the fields of legal history.