Tag Archives: Latin America

An empire of laws and books

Empires come and go in different forms. The Spanish colonial empire came into existence and made its mark on people not only by physical conquest, but also by the power of words in print. The sixteenth-century was witness to the success of the printing press. Governments used books in many ways. In this post I would like to introduce a new digital collection concerning colonial law in Latin America created by the library of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main, In recent years global and transnational legal history has become a major focus in the various programs of this institute. At the start of a new academic year and at many other moments it is always sensible for legal historians to have a look at the developments of this great research institute.

The laws of the Indies

Starts screen De indiarum iure

The new digital collection has a Latin name, De Indiarum iure, “On the law of the Indies”As for now there are 33 titles in this collection. Instead of deploring the low number of books you had better appreciate the presence of works on canon law and the Christian faith. This mixture of subjects shows in a nutshell the all-encompassing impact of the books the Spanish published, mainly in Mexico and sometimes elsewhere in Latin America. The work that gives its name to the collection, Juan de Solórzano y Pereiras’ De Indiarum Iure, has not yet been digitized within this digital library. You can consult online a copy of the first edition (Madrid 1629) in the Internet Archive (copy Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale). There is a reprint of this edition (Frankfurt am Main, 2006). A modern critical edition of this text has been published in the series Corpus Hispanorum de poce by C. Baciero (3 vol., Madrid 1994-2001).

More to the point is perhaps the question of the relation of this new collection to the project of this Max-Planck-Institute around the legal history of the School of Salamanca. The term School of Salamanca refers to Early Modern authors who taught at Salamanca in the fields of law, theology and philosophy. A fair number of them were either Dominicans or Jesuits, and their background was another factor in making the debates more interesting and complicated. In fact there is a web page of the institute for cooperation with a second project in Germany concerning this Spanish university, The School of Salamanca (Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz). Thomas Duve, one of the two directors of the MPI in Frankfurt in Main, leads also this project in Mainz. The Mainz project will eventually also present a digital library of relevant resources. Thoughtfully one has already provided a list of works to be digitized. The website of the Salamanca project at Mainz points to a number of relevant links and even a mailing list for those interested in the project. These webpages can be viewed in German, English and Spanish.

Start screen digital collection The School of Salamanc

At a separate website, The School of Salamanca, with indeed a very sensible use of the extension .school in its URL, you may want consult the digital collection created for the project at Mainz which now contains 118 works. On closer inspection you will find currently only 21 works, with links to the online catalogue of the university library at Salamanca, but no actual links to digitized works. However, in the digital library of the Universidad de Salamanca you will find a number of the works announced at Mainz. Where possible links to digitized works at Salamanca could be added swiftly. The website with the digital library will also contain a legal-political dictionary. Both projects seem promising, but at this moment they both do not yet bring you completely what you would expect. The MPI website does not yet give you the URL of the joint digital collection. By all means one can wonder about the launch of two related digital collections which seem to cry out for an integral approach following the lines of the new projects at the MPI which cross borders effortlessly. Both projects do look beyond more traditional ways of inquiry. The blog of the Mainz project is one of the places to look for various aspects of modern research into Spanish authors, as does the general page of the MPI on the School of Salamanca and legal history.

A third project, Scholastica Colonialis, is worth some attention here, too. Scholars from six countries do research on the history of Spanish and colonial philosophy in the Early Modern period. This project will not contain a digital collection.

Logo Primeros Libros de las Americas

On purpose I mentioned the absence of a special digital collection at Scholastica Colonialis. In view of the variety of digital libraries in Latin America and those in Spain and Portugal concerning the Americas it is justifiable to question the need for a new digital collection. The MPI wisely chooses at De Indiarum iure mostly works not commonly associated with legal history. The project at Mainz has not yet completely implemented its choice for works digitized at Salamanca, but its aim and the argumentation behind this choice seem clear. To get an idea of the number of digital libraries for both North and South America you might want to look at the links collection I created at my own legal history website. For perfectly understandable reasons the MPI at Frankfurt am Main does not maintain a portal for legal history with extensive links collections, otherwise I probably would not have started my own pages with links to digital libraries, archives and image collections. To mention a few examples of the very extent of such libraries, the international Biblioteca Digital de Patrimonio Iberoamericano now even has a section for incunabula. Primeros Libros de las Americas is a second international project which brings you books printed in the Americas before 1601. This is the place to mention also the online Catálogo Colectivo de Impresos Latinoamericanos hasta 1851 for Latin American editions, and you might want to use the Catálogo Colectivo del Patrimonio Bibliográfico Español.

My first impression of the De Indiarum iure digital collection at Frankfurt am Main is mixed. Perhaps it is best to see it as a kind of preview. When eventually more titles have been added to it, the collection will certainly be a further asset to the digital library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte. No doubt the word “European” will one day disappear from its name! The digital collection at Mainz strangely lacks links to digitized books, but this omission can easily be repaired. A second thing to keep in mind that whatever the qualities of both digital collections might be they form elements for projects that will massively enrich our knowledge, understanding and views of the School of Salamanca as a factor in Spanish and Latin American history with a fascinating interplay between scholastic thought, legislation and Early Modern debates on many aspects of law and society.


Finding Suriname’s legal history

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname - image F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname – photo by F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Dutch colonial history is a subject which since 1975 with the Surinam independence sometimes came into view and in other periods seemed to recede into the shadows of neglect and disinterest. The activities surrounding the remembrance of the abolition of slavery in Suriname have rekindled public attention for this subject in the Netherlands. Since many years the Dutch National Archives helps the Nationaal Archief Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo in creating finding aids and preparing the transfer of archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo.

Apart from actions for the physical records of these collections, such as restoration and much more, digitization is one of the approaches to make them more accessible both for the people of Suriname and for everyone interested in their history. This week a tweet by the search platform Ga het NA – best translated as “Check it at the NA” – of the Nationaal Archief (@gahetNA) alerted to the online availability of 3,5 million scans, substantial results which merit attention. However, since much information on the websites of these two national archives is only given in Dutch I will provide here a concise guide to a number of the materials which touch aspects of Suriname’s legal history. The translation tools of the famous Grand Omnipresent Web Firm can redeem to some extent the problem of languages, but some guidance is helpful.

My interest in these digital archives grows steadily this month because I have at last added a page about digital archives in the digital corner of my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Adding the collections concerning Suriname certainly fills a gap. Instead of preparing this new page in silence and deploring its incompleteness I might as well invite you to look at it, and contribute your own constructive suggestions.

A tale of archives

Logo Nationaal Archief Suriname

In the forty years of Suriname’s independence much had to be done to provide the new nation with a proper national archive. Dutch support was certainly helpful, but not always completely welcome. The history of Suriname is documented in many archival collections at the Dutch Nationaal Archief, not only in those strictly dealing with parts of the Dutch colonial empire. A start at this more general level can illustrate this rapidly. At Ga het NA you can use 115 online indexes. An alphabetical overview of them takes three web pages. The first page contains for example a guide for Ghana, a country connected to Latin America by the slave trade. At the second page you should not only look for Suriname, but also for the West-Indies, in particular an index for pensions of civil officers. The third page continues with more indexes concerning Suriname and three indexes dealing with the Dutch West-Indian Company, one for the registration of investments at its Amsterdam branch (Kamer van Amsterdam) and two concerning the Dutch period in Brazil.

Logo Ga het NA - Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

In the absence of a good site map at Ga het NA I have to refer you to the Dutch version of the fine research guide for Surinam history. You will quickly understand that politie stands for the police force, notarieel refers to matters dealt with by notaries, and the gouverneurs are the governors. The Raad van Justitie (1671, 1718-1828) and its successor, the Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie, were the main judicial courts. The Hof van Politie en Criminele Justitie (1684-1828) was another important court dealing with cases concerning public order and criminal offenses. The Rechtbank van Kleine Zaken was a minor court dealing with smaller cases. The Militaire Gerechtshof was the military court. The section for maps (kaarten) is also generous. Maps in the archival collection of the Topografische Dienst, the Dutch National Cartographic Service, have been digitized, as is the case for the collections Buitenland Kaarten Leupe and Leupe Supplement. The guide gives you also a succinct bibliography and some links to other websites. It would be most helpful to see immediately in such overviews where online scans are available, because this is exactly what many people today will foremost check for at any website. In a post about 200 years Dutch cadastral office I mention more collections with maps concerning Dutch colonial history.

Here the NAS scores clearly with a section simply called Archieven online. This overview contains currently 35 archival collections. The largest digitized collection with some 590,000 scans has been created by the secretaries of the government between 1722 and 1828, with some materials even dating from 1684 (Gouvernementssecretarie van de Kolonie Suriname, finding aid Here you will find in particular some registers with plakkaten, ordinances (nos. 612 (1684-1782), 742 (an alphabetical index, 1781-1829), 788 (after 1796-1827)). Finding aid, Oud Notarieel Archief is the second largest collection with online scans. You can access here nearly half a million scans of notarial registers written between 1699 and 1828. The nos. 758-768 for the period 1707-1803 are registers of letters of exchange and other documents concerning trade, in particular maritime trade. Register 911 comes from John Martyn, “public notary residing at Paramaribo” between 1809 and 1814, during the period of English rule over Suriname. When you want to approach Suriname’s legal history from a comparative perspective such sources are invaluable.

First page of the 1839 dossiers of the Miiltiary Coirt, 1839

The only digitized surviving case record of the military court of Suriname, 1839 – NAS/NA,, no. 1, fol. 1r

For a combined civil and criminal court in Suriname, you can find digitized archival records in finding aid, Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie (1828-1832; 2,100 scans). For the same period there are scans of records from the Commissie tot de Kleine Zaken, a court for minor offences (finding aid; 533 scans). The collection for its forerunner with almost the same name, College van Commissarissen voor Kleine Zaken in Suriname (1740-1828) (finding aid contains some 133,000 scans. The digitized records of the military court (Militair Gerechtshof) boil down to scans of a single case heard in 1839 ( Among the 35 digitized collections I would like to point also to the Gecombineerde Weeskamer (1788-1828) (; nearly 68,000 scans), an institution which dealt not only with orphans, but also with custody cases and belongings (boedels). A major addition to our knowledge of Jews in Latin America are the digitized records of the Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente (1678-1909). Finding aid gives you some 155,000 scans. You will find among the notarial registers mentioned above some volumes written by jewish jurators. By the way, the scans are currently hosted on a server of the Dutch National Archives. The faded quality of the case record shown here is a useful reminder how much work it takes to preserve and restore to useable conditions of records which survived tropical conditions and will return to a country near the equator.

Banner The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The NAS adds a generous links selection (in Dutch). Hopefully versions in Papiamentu (Sranantongo), English and Spanish will soon be added, following the example of the recently launched Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform, created by the Dutch Royal Library, the University of Curaçao and Leiden University. Its Dutch Caribbean Heritage Collections contains a few digitized books concerning law and government. Let’s not forget the general overview of archival collections held by the NAS. You can trace some 1,100 documents for Suriname and read transcriptions of legislative text using the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670-c.1870 of the Huygens Instituut, recently moved to Amsterdam.

Even this concise introduction to a few highlights taken from a huge number of digital scans should convince you that the two national archives can be proud of their efforts to digitize, preserve and disclose priceless records of a country and a people. Suriname’s present condition is not at all good, but nevertheless it will hopefully help to have both physical and virtual access to records from another period where law and justice did not always reign supreme. Luckily having the originals back in Suriname goes together with creating worldwide access.

A postscript

In January 2017 started also a crowdfunding project to create online access to the slave registers of Suriname.

Looking at Cuba’s legal history

With the death of Fidel Castro (1926-2016) an era of revolutionary turmoil ends and a period preluding to a transition seems to begin for Cuba. All over the world the events that made Castro a legendary figure, both idolized and hated, will be brought back into view by the media. In this post I would like to look succinctly at some elements of Cuba’s legal history. My overview is coloured by the sometimes random presence of digital collections, but nevertheless it seems useful to bring them together. As a matter of fact I did not search these collections only in the wake of today’s headlines. You can find my selection of relevant digital libraries for both North and South America on my web page with digital libraries which deal with or concern exclusively law and justice. Lately I discussed here Lara Putnam’s article about the dangers of relying too much on digital resources. I hoped to have steered away of some of the pitfalls she indicates, but there is here ample attention for digital resources.

Law and justice in Cuba

Header dLOC

When looking at Cuba it is perhaps most fitting to look at this island first of all from a Caribbean perspective. The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) is a portal created by an international consortium of research libraries. One country gets special attention at dLOC, Haiti. The section for law at dLOC contains more legal materials about and from Cuba than for any other country, some 6,000 items. A search for Cuba as a subject in the DLOC yields nearly four thousand items. You can approach dLOC in three languages. dLOC contains for example the Diario de sesiones del Congreso de la Republica de Cuba from 1902 to 1957. Among the contributing institutions of the dLOC is another digital portal, Manioc, which focuses on former French colonies in the Caribbean. Luckily this portal has an interface in four languages. With only some thirty digitized historical printed books concerning Cuban law and history the harvest here might seem at first insignificant, but the significance is more to be aware of the melting pot of languages in the Caribbean, with not just Spanish, English or Dutch as European influences. A more general search for Cuba at Manioc brings you nearly 2,300 results. dLOC has a special section for nineteenth-century Cuban imprints. The Braga Brothers Collection at dLOC deals with the history of the Cuban sugar industry.

At dLOC the revolutionary period of Cuba comes in particular into view with the digital collection of Mexican and Cuban film posters. There is also a virtual exhibit of these posters.In opposition to them stands the collection of digitized Cuban exile newspapers produced in Florida. The film posters can be supplemented by the well-known Latin America Pamphlet Coillection of Harvard University. For pamphlets the Latin American Pamphlets Digital Collection of Harvard’s Widener Library is a starting point. The Digital Archive of Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera of Princeton University contains some 900 items concerning Cuba.

logo-bdpiCuba figures, too, at the portal of the Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano. This portal is the fruit of cooperation between a number of Latin American national libraries, among them the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí at Havana. I mention the portal especially because it offers you access with a trilingual interface. The digital library of the Cuban national library can only be viewed in Spanish. At the portal you will find for Cuba mainly digitized literary works. You will find the database for the national bibliography useful. Let’s not forget to mention the Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba and the Instituto de Historia de Cuba.

Header Civil Code (1800-1923) - FIU Law

A starting point for looking at Cuba’s legal history might be the digital collection Civil Codes (1800-1923) in the eCollections of Florida International University Law Library in Miami. You can find here the Cuban Código Civil of 1889 and a second edition from 1919. Interestingly this digital collection contains also nineteenth-century codes of civil law from Marocco, Spain, Portugal, Japan and the Netherlands, the last in a French translation [Code civil néerlandais, P.H. Haanebrink (trad.) (Brussels 1921)]. The FIU Law Library has also created a digital collection for Cuban law before 1961, and in the Mario Diaz Cruz Collection you will find materials collected by a prominent Cuban lawyer. Comparisons between the law in sixteen Caribbean countries are possible thanks to FIU’s digital collection Caribbean Law and Jurisprudence with acts, ordinances and case law reports. The Red des Archivos Diplomáticos Iberoamericanos has a section with the main juridical documents from Cuba between 1904 and 1934 and a link to the Cuban Guia de Tratados, alas as for now without any treaty.

Latin American perspectives

Yet another example of a digital collection which covers Latin America is the Spanish America Collection at the Internet Archive, created by the John Carter Brown University Library, Brown University, Providence, RI. This library has not just digitized some 3,700 works but also very sensibly divided them into smaller collections, among them one for Cuba. Just 35 books might look a meagre result, but among these books are for example Ignacio José Urrutia y Montoya, Teatro histórico, juridico, y politico-militar, de la Isla Fernandína de Cuba, principalmente de su capital La Havana (Havana 1789) and the treatise Instituciones de derecho real de Castilla y de Indias by José Maria Alvarez (2 vol., Habana 1834). The John Carter Brown Library provides also an important visual collection, the Archive of Early American Images. Among the general digital resources for the history of Latin America I would like to mention also the Early Americas Digital Archive, University of Maryland.

The largest quantity of digital collections concerning Cuban history and culture has been created by the Merrick Libraries, University of Miami. The Cuban Heritage Collection with over fiftysub collections covers many subjects. This set of collections is clearly also the core of the Cuban collections at dLOC. It is a matter of choice to look here at them from specific angles or to approach them from a Caribbean perspective at dLOC.

It is possible to pursue many avenues and to spend much time in finding more information. Just two weeks ago Mike Widener (Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University) wrote about some recently acquired books about Cuban law. Speaking of blogs you might as well go straight for In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library at the Library of Congress. You will find much of interest in the seventeen contributions touching Cuba. For Latin American constitutions you can choose at will from several portals dealing with constitutions all over the world. At my website I mention most of them, but you might want to have here the direct link to the main portal for Latin America, Constituciones Hispanoamericanas, part of the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Perhaps more closer to the actual situation at Cuba is the Presidio Modelo, a former prison built between 1926 and 1931 following the panopticon model advocated by Jeremy Bentham. The prison was in use until 1961 and is now a museum. You cannot help thinking that a panopticon model would have suited a particular kind of regime. Fidel Castro himself once was a prisoner here. Anyway, many people were forced to leave or choose to leave Cuba. Duke University has made a digital collection on Caribbean Sea Migration between 1956 and 1996 in which you can find apart from Cuba also Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At Habana Patrimonial, a portal to Cuban heritage, only the links to museums seems to be functioning.

Whatever the future might bring for the Cuban people, Cuba and Castro formed an inseparable unit. To the alliteration of these words many will add the name of Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is the subject of a virtual exhibition created by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. It is easy to focus on the clash between Cuba and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and therefore it seems just to remember here also at least briefly the story of the Amistad. Tulane University has created Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case, a digital collection about the story of a ship with 53 Africans faced with the threat to become slaves. Their voyage to New York started on June 28, 1839 in Havana. Tulane University has also created a digital collection with some 1,800 early photographs of Latin America. For a much wider panorama of Latin American legal history you should not miss Global Perspectives on Legal History, the book series both in print and online in open access of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main. This institute runs several projects on legal history and Latin America.

You might be tempted to think my tour of websites could go on forever! Those who visit my blog more often are used to see contributions with many web links. I provide them for your use, not to chase you away from my blog, but to bring you to resources which are sometimes difficult to find or easily overlooked. Please use these links, it is a pleasure to share them with you, and hopefully they help you to gain insights into Cuba’s (legal) history and culture.

A postscript

Of course more blogs bring posts and comments about Cuban history and Fidel Castro. Here a selection:

-Cindy Hermus, The Cuban Revolution and me, Age of Revolutions – July 4, 2016
-Michelle Chase, Reading List: Cuba, Age of Revolutions – July 7, 2016

One post is always too short to mention everything, but the presence of Cuban legal materials at LLMC Digital merits attention for those able to use them at subscribing institutions. A search at the World Legal Information Institute yields results from 1758 onwards with cases in English reports. The Latin American Interests Group of the FCIl-SIS, a branch of the American Association of Law Libraries, is working on a new online Guide to Legal Research on Cuba. Meanwhile the guide to current Cuban law with lots of links offered by the Law Library of Congress should satisfy many needs. At Globalex Yasmin Morais is responsible for the guide on contemporary Cuban law.

In my hunt for relevant digital resources I forgot to look for a relevant edition of the well-known Guía del investigador americanista, a feature of the online journal Nuevo Mundo/Nuevos Mundos. Early in 2016 Vanessa Oliveira and Xavier Calmettes published their fine and nicely illustrated Guide du chercheur américaniste : Enquête de terrain et travail de recherche à Cuba.

Mixed seductions: Combining global history with digital research

Tag cloud of Putnam's article created with WordItOut

Having a daily increasing number of digital resources within your reach can be both a blessing and a bane. It is seducing to think you can find everything in digitized sources. Lara Putnam (University of Pittsburgh) challenges historians in her article ‘The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast’, American Historical Review 121/2 (2016) 377-402, to reflect about their research practice and research methods. She warns us to distinguish carefully between getting data and searching results in a digital world, and gaining real insight into historical developments. How realistic is her image of historians sitting behind the computer screen wallowing in online sources at one side, and historians immersing themselves in actual historical sources? Putnam’s article invites us to rethink the essential qualities of being a historian. At my blog you can find contributions dealing with many countries, and the transnational turn is often combined with the use of texts available in digital formats. The practices Putnam wants to signal are present here at my own blog, and thus it is not only understandable but a must to look carefully at this article.

Logo World History Association

Global history might at first seem a subject way out of your normal territory or territories. However, I could count on the congress calendar for legal history at my blog for 2016 at least four conferences which aim at dealing with world history, starting in Heidelberg (June 20-22, 2016): Law, Empire and Global Intellectual History, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) (August 23-25, 2016): Law in a Global Context / El derecho en el contexto de la globalización, Berne (September 7-10, 2016): The World of Prisons. The History of Confinement in Global Perspective, Late Eighteenth to Early Twentieth Century, and Helsinki (October 3-5, 2016): Law between Global and Colonial: Techniques of Empire. The 25th World History Association Conference was held quite close to my country, in Ghent (July 2-5, 2016).

Blessings and curses

When you download the free accessible PDF-version of Putnam’s article it seems at first something went wrong. You look at a wordle showing terms around the word progress using the content of G.G. Iggers’ 1965 study The Idea of Progress. It prepares to some extent the way to an article in which Putnam wants us to rethink the way we do history today as scholars. I felt invited to process Putnam’s text with another tag cloud generator. Let’s first summarize the main line of her article. With the transnational turn, the growing possibility to transcend national borders, a second major change, the digital turn, follows closely. We can swiftly procure and access digitized sources from other continents, and we might even forget we are strictly speaking dealing with foreign territories for which our training has not quite prepared us. Historians do not yet use commonly digital techniques, but they do hunt texts using a host of websites, search machines and portals. This almost unreflected use is rather in contrast with the continuing reflection of those scholars developing and pioneering digital tools and methods. To a far greater extent than we tend to see the way we can search the internet has reshaped the practice of working in the field of international history. The digital landscape has no borders, and this might tempt one to forget about real borders and the impact of topography and local conditions for you research.

In a large second section of her article Putnam looks at a number of cases from her personal research experience in Latin America. Already the sheer preparation of a voyage to find something literally outside your province could be immense. The rule-of-thumb sequence of your own institution’ library/libraries, the nearest large university, the nearest former capital of some empire (Rome, London, Washington), and (large) archives and libraries near or in the region you wanted to study is still recognizable, but today it tends to fade away. Studying a country which was at some point part of an empire often means that cultural institutions have been organized along national lines, or worse, such institutions embody nationalism. In the nineties Putnam faced this situation in Costa Rica.

Among the interesting points Putnam makes is how in some fields of Early Modern history, in particular international history and diplomatic history, it still is possible to view matters in many countries thanks to specific sources, for example diplomatic correspondence and reports. However, here, too, the information you use tends to focus on centers and powers. Peripheral regions and movements were difficult to view, because it was very expensive to look sideward and to find out about regional resources, let alone visit these regions for a research period.

The rapid growth of digitization has made it possible to look at much more materials than before. Knowing about a particular publication was sometimes already a feat, but now you can almost instantaneously view inside a book, be it thank to the preview function of The Inevitable Web Firm or in an ever-growing number of digital collections. Putnam remembers how she used microfilm reels of the Limón Searchlight, a newspaper published in the twenties in Costa Rica. Now you can consult two other Costa Rican newspapers at home, and find out much about people who she had encountered only in a rather cryptic notice in this newspaper. In fact digitization helped her to establish the presence of networks that had been almost invisible before. Even leafing through the Limón Searchlight has become different now, because you know about the way a digital search can open new vistas.

However, the benefits of digital research can have also negative effects. The way you can immerse yourself in the particular sources within your physical reach is radically different from using digital resources which connect records to each other in just a few minutes. You might boast about the sheer number of digital collections and the number of countries you deal with in a publication, but somehow you blend out the tradition of slowly but undeniable becoming intimately familiar with a subject and your resources. Apart from the specific items you might want to track down in a newspaper you would get from it a panorama of what seemed important to people, what surrounded them and gave a place and a time its singular color and flavor. Here Putnam challenges historians to realize how much their practice has changed by the digital turn. It is high time to reflect on the impact of digitization for all aspects of historical research.

At this point I would like to stress the fact any summary can hardly do justice to the thoughtful argument put forward by Putnam. If you only use her article to track down in her footnotes relevant publications about transnational history, digital tools and research methods you would definitely learn a lot, but there is more than a gold mine of references. Putnam urges scholars to distinguish carefully between world history, global history and transnational history. The latter proposes to not just transcend political borders, but any kind of border, and look at subjects, themes and problems at multiple levels and angles.

The most telling danger of relying too exclusively on digital research might be that you can access materials from any point on earth without placing yourself in the very environment you want to study. You will miss the help of local historians and other scholars in a particular region, you will be less aware of their focus, traditions and bias. The translating function of the same multifaceted and omnipresent Web Firm will give you only a rough indication of their language and writing styles. The predominance of Anglo-American digital resources might have weakened, but there is a tendency to follow the lead of American and British scholars and institutions, not to mention the gap between those able to use digital resources to which institutions within your vicinity subscribe, and those unable to get access to them. Instead of an insider’s unique perspective you might unduly distance yourself, and thus lose grip and understanding which nothing can replace.

Matters to debate

The main thrust of Putnam’s article is certainly recognizable. I fully agree with her about the necessity to reflect about the influence of the digital turn which slowly but decisively changes the methods and practice of historical research. You might wonder why a European historian would want to learn something from this article focusing on North and Latin America. It is the very distance that helps me to discern patterns better than when looking at examples from research for European history. At the same time some of the differences can be telling.

While reading Putnam I remembered a book which I had to read as a student with a very particular title, Apparaat voor de studie van de geschiedenis, originally written by Jan Romein, and in later editions edited by J. Haak and J.G.F. Hasekamp. This “Apparatus for the Study of History” gave you indeed what its seemingly odd title promised to offer, a tool with a kind of crossover between a library guide, a reading list and a set of basic country and subject bibliographies, including references to works for the historical auxiliary sciences. Surely a similar book exists for American history. German scholars have the Baumgart, a guide for doing research in German history, but here, too, the scope is sometimes amazingly wide [Winfried Baumgart, Bücherverzeichnis zur deutschen Geschichte. Hilfsmittel, Handbücher, Quellen]The Apparaat did not only contain titles of works in Dutch, but also in English, German and French, and only when strictly necessary in other foreign languages. Spanish works are present at a number of points.

I wonder which languages would figure in the American counterpart of the Apparaat and the Baumgart, because I remembered someone else, too, from my student days, a young American historian working for his Ph.D. thesis at Utrecht with marvellous command of the Dutch language. He told me how lucky he had been to visit a high school which offered a wide range of languages to its students, something not commonly encountered. I could not help asking myself while reading the paragraphs about Costa Rica and the Caribbean whether it would be a natural matter to have sufficient command of Spanish to include resources in Spanish already in a preparatory phase. I am sure there were and are country guides in print for any Caribbean country, but Putnam is right in stressing the fact that guidance often has the national level as its focus.

Yet another basic fact of your training comes to mind, having access to printed works in open stacks or having to rely much more on the catalogs of your institution(s). At Utrecht we had at the history institute not only open stacks but also a special room with rare books. This cabinet served also as a official deposit site for archival records on loan from archival institutions elsewhere. Legal historians, too, can take many books from the shelves of the open stacks at the new premises of the law library inside the city location of Utrecht University Library. At the old location at the Janskerkhof there were even two rooms with rariora for Roman law and Old Dutch Law, and also materials from other European countries. I am convinced this background does influence you more than you might be aware.

As for locating books in my country the Royal Library in The Hague is home to the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus (NCC), the Dutch central catalogue for the holdings of university libraries, and there is a second central catalogue for a number of regional libraries. In my opinion the online version of the NCC should be available in open access. If I had to start looking for materials concerning the Caribbean I would think about visiting and using the resources of the Royal Netherlands Institute for South Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, the Royal Tropical Institute and the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. You could envisage the main cities in the west of my country as a single agglomeration with The Hague, Leiden, Amsterdam and Utrecht all really close to each other. Thus the problem with the 2009 online Guía del investigador americanista en Ámsterdam by Moira Cristiá is not only its brevity and focus on the IISH, but the utter failure to understand how close other Dutch cities with relevant research institutions are.

In Putnam’s list of nearby capitals of former empires Paris and Berlin are conspicuously absent, but you might also question the absence of Madrid, Simancas or Sevilla, all of which figure in other issues of the online Guía del investigador americanista, a service of the multilingual online journal Nuevo Mundo/NuevosMundos. Putnam mentions of course the LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center) in Texas. She mentions in her article only once bibliographies. I leave it to you to think about a punch line to discern between those who use bibliographies and those who do not… The National Union Catalog (NUC), in modern eyes perhaps the forerunner in print of WorldCat, nowadays also available and searchable online thanks to the Hathi Trust Digital Library consortium, does not figure at all. The Hathi Trust has digitized Thomas Leonard’s A guide to Central American collections in the United States (Westport, Conn., 1994), and you might want look there for more. I suppose Putnam left the NUC and the Library of Congress out precisely because it is so natural to start with them. The online version of the Handbook of Latin American Studies and the Hispanic Reading Room are only two starting points at the Library of Congress.

Banner Censo-Guía

However, libraries are probably not so much the problem, but finding out about relevant archives. Each country has not only very different archives, but their coverage is also not uniform. A number of countries have major municipal archives, in other countries these are rare. In some countries university libraries have large archival collections, and in yet another country you find a network of regional archives. It can be hard to find archives outside the governmental system of archival institutions, for example ecclesiastical archives. The famous online portal Repositories of Primary Resources (University of Idaho), once a familiar landmark on the web, is now only accessible in an archived version at the Internet Archive, and you will agree with Putnam about its incomplete coverage and bias. Sometimes you are lucky your chosen country figured in the eighty volumes of the country guides created by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Dutch website Archiefnet can be viewed also in English, but alas this overview of archives worldwide is no longer updated, and here, too, the attention outside Europe is for national archives. For many years the Nederlands Archievenblad, the journal of the Dutch Society of Archvists, ran a series with articles about archives abroad. Since many years the Unesco Archives Portal is no longer active. At LANIC you can be disappointed at first by seeing in the country archives guide for Costa Rica only the Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica, but this national archive has created an online Censo Guía de Archivos. LANIC provides you with links to four online directories for archives in the Ibero-American World. The Spanish Censo-Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica will tell you about the great variety of archives and archival collections.

Banner Maps in the Crowd

For Putnam the way the presence of digitized materials can lead you astray is the true heart of the matter. You might be tempted to equate the absence of digital collections with the absence of any relevant archival institution with collections interesting for your research. How can the digital turn and the transnational turn combine into a way of doing research that comes closer to the aims of both movements and developments? Among developments enabling to create a positive influence for the transnational turn Putnam mentions the importance of projects for georeferencing maps. Such maps help in a very concrete way to free yourself from the national perspective, even if such maps were often created by governmental agencies. This example speaks to me a bit more forceful at the very moment Leiden University Library is close to finishing a crowdsourcing project to georeference some 7,000 maps from the collections of the KITLV, Maps in the Crowd. The old search interface is still there, and the accompanying blog can tell you more about this project. The British Library is also working along similar roads to georeference its maps, to give just one other example.

While writing this post I could not help noticing the role of Pittsburgh in global history and digital initiatives. The Carnegie Mellon University has created the Universal Digital Library, with some 26,000 books concerning law and in particular large collections concerning India and China. The East Asia Library of the University of Pittsburgh has digitized a substantial number of rare books in Chinese. The history department has made transnational history into a major focus; regional fields are certainly present, too, surprisingly they cover whole continents!

Cover of GPLH 7: El Jurista en el Nuevo Mundo

All this should remind you at the end of a rather long contribution that the armchair and computer screen historian with his and her armada of digital resources is in a way just as limited as the traditional historian. Digital progress is not only progress, but brings also losses. It is urgent to consider again our methods and practices for legal history, too. The publication series Global Perspectives on Legal History (GPLH) of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main reached in its second year already its seventh volume. You can consult online or download the volumes or buy the printed version. These volumes contain telling examples of research facing the challenges of transnational legal history, in particular for Latin America. The latest issue of the journal Legal History / Rechtsgeschichte [Rg 24 (2016)], another publication from Frankfurt am Main, contains a series of short reports solicited by Christiane Birr on current practices of legal historians who have entered the world of digital humanities. Putnam invites us cordially to rethink our methods and practices, and to consider carefully the traditional strengths and core values of the historian’s trade. Even alerting to some minor and major points with her article should not stop you from doing just that!

Looking for and beyond origins

Finding the origin of something can be fascinating, and this kind of search can bring you much more than just a satisfying conclusion. The direction in which you search for a particular origin can be revealing in itself. Often it is tempting to search within the framework and the borders of current nations and states, but some origins are to be found in periods before these territorial units were shaped or are just outside our normal view of things. In this post I will look at some examples of searches for origins and the way they can bring us at the best partial answers, and in the worst cases only the views of history’s winners.

One of the major current movements with attention to origins is the trend in the United States to search for the original meaning of elements in the American Constitution, especially for the interpretation of a number of the famous amendments. I will not advocate here any particular way to tackle specific questions or to complete quests in this field, but it is tempting to write a kind of nutshell guide to a number of relevant primary sources. Today you can find an increasing number of them in online digital collections. Thus you can check the marvellous Founders Online (National Archives) with papers from six influential Founding Fathers. Interestingly this project includes records from the colonial period (1706-1775), a valuable hint the history of the United States did not start ex nihilo. At The Founders’ Constitution (University of Chicago), a web version of the book by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (5 vol., Chicago, 1986) you can consult the sources in the works of philosophers and other authors of many ideas discussed and taken up by the founders of the United States.

Last year I looked here at the legal history of New Amsterdam, and some legal elements from the Dutch period survived into later centuries. For almost every founding father there are separate digital collections, in particular for the first presidents. It is possible to widen their circle with others, for instance with The Federalist Papers (Library of Congress), also available at Founding Fathers, where you can find conveniently many other key documents. Among the most valuable extensions of this inner circle are the digital projects for the John Jay Papers (Columbia University), the digitized books from the library of John Adams (Boston Public Library), and the digitized archival records in The Papers of the War Department (1784-1800). The Library of Congress provides anyone interested with a quick guide to digital versions of core documents in its web guide Primary Documents in American History.

However valuable these digital resources might be, it seems they leave out a substantial part of American history. Some vigorous recent alerts on social media and blogs, and in particular the launch of a new digital collection have made me aware of this painful truth. Even my own collection of relevant digital libraries shows the same lacunae, apart from some exceptions which will feature here. It is not just a case of something missing, but a number of people who lived in the Americas are almost absent. It dawned on me that I have been seduced to look too much along the lines of nations and states still present on contemporary maps. To make things worse, there is a problem in designating these people, and this explains also to some extent my omissions. Where are the original inhabitants of both North and South America? Where are the people defeated by the conquistadores? Where are the various tribes we used to name Indians? How useful and truthful is it to use words as native or indigenous people?

In this post I will look at some new digital projects concerning the “colonial period” of the United States, and I will try to provide here some information about projects bringing us to resources and primary sources concerning the people living in the Americas before and during the period shaped by the presence of people from Europe. If I succeed here in documenting here at least some of the gaps and omissions, it is of course just a first step in doing things better in the future, and not a definitive answer to some of the questions to be addressed here.

Colonies and their context


Among the prompts for writing this post is the Colonial North American Project at Harvard University. In this digital collection items from many institutions at Harvard will eventually appear. At present I could find some 120 items when searching very globally for Indians, and this number stands in relation to a current overall number of 2,200 digitized items. With the advanced search mode you can pursue much more detailed questions. Various Indian tribes and aspects of relations of the colonies with both tribes and individual persons might well come more into view when more archival records and books will have been digitized.

Where should one start looking for materials concerning the original inhabitants of the Americas? The Indigenous Law Portal of the Library of Congress can serve as a starting point. One of its strengths is the indication at the very start of both divisions along the frontiers of nations and a more general approach. You can use selections for Alaska, Canada, the United States, North America and Mexico, and you will find links to a number of major relevant portals. The portal was launched in 2014. Interestingly it was Jolande Goldberg, a bibliographer trained as a legal historian, who developed a new classification system, the KIA-KIX series, for the relevant materials in the Library of Congress; this part of the story is nicely told in a post on the In Custodia Legis blog. The portal contains in the United States section first of all a massive and yet compact listing of links to websites, projects and collections elsewhere, and you can narrow your search to large regions or go to a specific current state within the USA. Earlier on the Library of Congress had already digitized a number of Indian constitutions, ranging from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Their sheer number will be a surprise.

Just how large the challenge is to approach the history of original inhabitants is very clear at the portal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. This portal mentions status tribes, Inuit, Métis and non-status Indians, and urban original people. Many of the tribes refer to themselves nowadays as First Nations. Here, too, the very number of tribes, groups and other units will be an eye-opener. Until now I had just missed the concept First Nations on my page with digital libraries. Among the links I had included for Canada until now you might perhaps first go to Peel’s Prairie Provinces (University of Alberta), a portal with digital collections containing a substantial number of books about Indian tribes.

Another thing is clear for me, too. It will not help to lament about lacks, gaps and omissions. Some of the links on my digital libraries page do touch the subject of indigenous people. In fact, this page does gather a number of things not easily found elsewhere at all, and it might become necessary to divide the information on a number of sister pages. Lately I have added to some of the sections for continents a list of general projects which touch several countries. These links used to be positioned near the end, but now they can be found in a better position.

North America

Banner Turtle Talk

Several ways offer themselves to find out more about current indigenous law and earlier periods. One of the tools will be for example finding a blog that helps you to become aware of current matters and which might offer also a repertory of useful resources. In my view the Turtle Talk blog of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law does fit into this description, and its blogroll brings you to more blogs.

For the United States I did see in the past six years a number of relevant projects:

For Canada my links collection might be meagre, but luckily I did find two collections tucked away on my page for virtual exhibitions in the field of legal history. Libraries and Archives Canada created a digital collection called Aboriginal Documentary Heritage, and there is a small collection around the first settlement with native people in 1899, Treaty 8. It proved to be relatively easy to find more relevant digital collections in Canada, and in order to make this post not too long, I will offer here just a list:

The History Education Network / Histoire et Éducation en Réseau offers a useful repertory of digitized primary sources for Canadian history, yet another starting point for further research. I was aware of projects such as Early Canadiana Online, but I had simply overlooked its section on Aboriginal Studies with some 900 digitized titles. The wealth of specific collections for a particular theme does not always diminish the value of more general portals. Only when you decide to create a database for links collections and provide sufficient tagging you can largely avoid such omissions. Such projects require the forces of teamwork or crowdsourcing. My appeal on my website for additions and corrections is not just a kind gesture or a rhetorical phrase, but a very serious question!

Latin America, Australia and New Zealand

For South America, too, I can point to some digital collections. In Chile the Memoria Chilena: Salas Virtuales created by the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile does have a section Derecho indiano as a part of a larger field termed Política y legislación. The University of Arizona is home to the Morales de Escarcéga Collection, accompanied by a virtual exhibit. For two of the historic people in Latin America I can at present not point to a digital collection, but instead we have at least the guidance of a fine virtual exhibit at the Tarlton Law Library (University of Texas at Austin) with a bibliography devoted to Aztec and Maya Law.

At least a part of the legal history of the aboriginal people in Australia is documented in two digital collections, Founding Documents: Documenting a Democracy of the National Archives of Australia – with 110 digitized documents – and Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project (University of Melbourne). Centers have been founded to study indigenous people and law, for example the Indigenous Law Centre of the University of New South Wales. New Zealand can point to the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (Victoria University of Wellington) with among their projects for example He Pātaka Kupu Ture – The Legal Maori Archive. The New Zealand Digital Library is in fact a portal to several digital collections, one of them concerns Indigenous People. The Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the subject of a virtual exhibition of Archives New Zealand which puts on display not only this treaty from 1840, but also the subsequent treaties.

Instead of giving here more examples it is better to mention just the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library, yet another galaxy of resources discussed here earlier. In many cases projects focus on minorities in many parts of our world whose cultural heritage needs urgently to be described and preserved, or they document historical phases threatened to disappear completely. The very short lengh of this section should at least remind me there is a lot of work to!

Some steps towards a search strategy

Banner database Smithsonian Libraries

If you want to find more virtual exhibitions about indigenous people all over the world you can benefit as much as I have done so far from the marvellous database of the Smithsonian Libraries. Virtual exhibitions often provide a basic bibliography, bring you telling images and point to other relevant websites. Some of them are in a class of its own, and I cannot help pointing to the virtual exhibit about Aztec and Maya Law of the Tarlton Law Library, not just because Mike Widener helped creating it, but because of its excellent qualities.

Indigenous people live on all continents, and it is simply not feasible to present here an exhaustive search strategy. In this section I will look at some tools guiding you to digital collections with a focus on the United States, but often you might find materials relating to other countries, regions and people. Let’s start with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a portal created with the support of an increasing number of digital projects; I wrote here about it in 2013. The DPLA portal serves as an aggregator of these projects and you can enjoy the harvest. A blurb on the website tells us there are now nearly 12 million digitized items in the DPLA. When you use the subjects tab you will find a list in either alphabetical or descending order with the number of items for a particular subject. The general subject United States is used for 450,000 items, the highest number for any subject. The term Native Americans is good for nearly 70,000 items, Indians of North America for 22,000 items, and Indigenous population yields some 6,000 items.

A few weeks ago I noticed the link to the project Opening History of the Grainger Engineering Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign did not function anymore. This project was launched in 2007, and consisted of nothing less than an exhaustive searchable database for finding digital collections created by libraries, museums and archives in the USA concerning US history. When you still might mutter I did exclude aspects of history from my website you might question yourself why you never or seldom used this resource for doing North American history. The change of the university’s name into University of Illinois has to be taken into account for the changes in many web addresses. Under its new name IMLS Digital Collections and Content – and a new logo cleverly suggesting you look at a beta version of DPLA – you can search among some 2,400 digital collections. If this is too much of a good thing, you might like to look at two web guides of the Library of Congress, the first for State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical and Cultural Materials Collections, the second called State Resource Guides. When you use these overviews it might be enlightening to compare them with the links put together as Resources for Doing Legal History provided by the American Society for Legal History. A very practical need for historical research can be served by HISGIS systems such as the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Chicago, Newberry Library).

In an exchange with Klaus Graf a year ago at Archivalia – this happened originally at its old address – we discussed concisely the overviews of a number of suppliers of systems for digital collections. Graf admired the overview by Bepress of book and archival collections created by users of its Digital Commons system. However impressive this and four other lists of collections using this system are, they remain just alphabetically organized lists. I will not repeat here my discussion of other suppliers, but in my view the best representation of digital collections powered by the same system is the Collection of Collections database for the CONTENT-dm system, a product of OCLC. You can use the simple search or the advanced search to find collections for a particular subject. For tracking down a relevant collection among the nearly thousand digital collections you simply need a relational database. Since many of these collections are either based in the United States or deal with aspects of its history it is good to have a look at it. Part of the fun here is that the overview, too, has been built using this very collection system. In fact other suppliers, too, provide a database to search for particular digital collections using their systems. Alas there is only a list of examples for the open access Greenstone system.

Facing complexity

Let me close the circle of this post and return to the colonial period, and more specifically to New Amsterdam. The digital collections of the New York Public Library are a mer à boire. It is a joy to look at them and it makes your curious about what else you might encounter. Among the digital collections of Harvard University you should take a look at other projects concerning colonial history, Images of Colonialism: Africa and Asia and Harvard in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

If you conclude there is not a single gateway to the history of indigenous people, this mirrors exactly the challenge facing our world. The UNESCO devotes a section of its portal to indigenous people. If you want to look at current indigenous law, you could start with the concise research guide at Globalex. The complexity of matters touching indigenous people, the complexity of talking in a sensible and direct way about them, is not something coming out of the blue. History and law, legislation, jurisprudence and treaties, court decisions, legal education, the use of languages and much more come together here.

Sometimes you need to be pushed into action. Last week a tweet of David Armitage brought me to Rebecca Onion’s article at Slate on the colonial trade in North American slaves, more precisely, “Indians”. Yet another spur to write was this week’s post about Chief Justice Roger Taney at the Maryland Appellate Blog. I might perhaps have chosen ‘First Impressions’ as my title! This post is more or less a field report. It might be impossible to see and understand everything, but I am convinced you cannot reach perfection. You can only make faults and mistakes if you start at all with looking beyond your comfort zone and the tacitly agreed limits of a discipline. Keeping a portal on legal history up to date will always include making minor and major adjustments, spotting omissions, and gaining insight. To rephrase words of Timothy Radcliffe, if you want to debate the results, let’s talk about them, not to win an argument, but to become wiser together.

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 vol., 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. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie I have created a page with links to online guides and tutorials for palaeography.

Saving threatened archival collections

Banner Endangered Archives Project

The postscript to my recent post about the exhibition on Roman crime at Nijmegen helped me to find the subject of this post. In this postscript I mentioned the decision of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam not yet to give back the items on view at its Crimea exhibition to the lending museums in Ukraine. This post introduces you to an initiative to save archival collections worldwide threatened either by material deterioration, poltical situations or simply by the ongoing progress of modernization in the country or region where they are located. The British Library has set up the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) on a truly massive scale with the aim of digitizing archival records and manuscripts in a few hundred (!) projects. On September 7, 2014 the completion of several projects was announced at the accompanying Endangered Archives blog. Within two months, between July and September, a million images has been added to the online results of EAP, enough reason for me to look a bit more closely to this audacious project and its composing elements.

On my blog the British Library received a few years ago criticism for its policies concerning the digitization of British newspapers. Last year I expressed some disappointment at the low number of digitized legal manuscripts at the British Library, but this time the library shows itself as a most generous cultural institution. The EAP portal is accessible in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Safeguarding cultural heritage in situ and in virtual space

The EAP spans the world in a awe-inspiring way. Among the most interesting aspects is for example the fact that researchers and institutions themselves can apply for grants, often starting with a pilot project. The BL provides a framework to support projects. There is no grand scheme of the British Library dictating the goals and direction of general progress. Typically, EAP does not focus on national archives unless they are in dire need of support, and such projects will not cover all materials under the aegis of EAP. Items documenting the pre-industrial history of a country are the first to come under consideration for new projects. The grants support university projects as well as independent scholars. Of course EAP has contacts with the International Council on Archives and UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

The EAP has created five regions for the projects supported by the EAP: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Let’s start with a look at the overviews of each region to spot projects which touch directly upon law, government and administrations. In the second part of this post other projects with law, the judiciary or other aspects of legal matters constitute a major aspect.

In the overview for Africa you can find for example EAP 607, a project for the preservation of Native Administration records between 1791 and 1964 held at the National Archives of Malawi. The Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho were the subject of EAP 279, where a wide variety of documents and records has been digitized. Colonial history looms large in a number of African projects, for instance in EAP 474, a pilot project for the preservation of pre-colonial and colonial document at Cape Coast, Ghana. In EAP 443 nineteenth-century documents for the Sierra Leone Pubic Archives have been digitally preserved, thus saving the history of a British Crown colony and the impact of slavery, to mention just a few aspects.

For the Americas, too, one can pint easily to projects aiming at preserving documents and records concerning the history of slavery and colonialism. EAP 184 started to support the preservation of records of the African diaspora in the archives of the Cuban province Matanzas. The material condition of these records decays rapidly. In Peru EAP 234 aimed at saving the colonial documentation within the holdings of the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima Metropolitana, with records reaching back to 1562. 100,000 notarial records at Riohacha and the peninsula La Guajira in Colombia documenting an important entrepôt of Caribbean and Central American trade are at the centre of EAP 503. Hurricane Ike in 2004 was only the last threat to archives with govermental records in Grenada which resulted in 132 reordered and digitized volumes (EAP 295).

The number of EAP projects in Asia is much larger than for the Americas. I could not help feeling particularly interested in some projects concerning Indonesia because of its link with Dutch history. EAP 229 and EAP 329 are two related projects dealing with endangered manuscripts in the province of Aceh on the island Sumatra. The digitization of nearly 500 manuscripts helps preserving the cultural and intellectual history of this region. The Dutch fierce attacks on Aceh during the nineteenth century were already a threat to this history, as was the devastating tsunami in 2008. A substantial number of the digitized manuscripts in this project contain texts on Islamic law.

Tavamani document - EAP 314

Legal history is a central element in EAP 314, a project for the digitization of Tamil customary law in Southern India. The documents of village judicial assemblies between 1870 and 1940 are the subject of this project of the Institut Français de Pondichéry. You can follow this project at its own blog Caste, Land and Custom – Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950), where you can find also an overview of other relevant EAP projects for India. The recent huge increase in digitized materials within EAP is to a large extent due to the 750,000 images of some 3,000 books printed before 1950 in eight public libraries in Eastern India near Calcutta which have been digitized within EAP 341. The number of EAP sponsored projects in India is really large. On my legal history portal Rechtshistorie I had already put a number of links to digital libraries in india, but EAP brings substantial additions to my overview.

Although I am woefully aware that I skip here a lot of interesting projects in Asia I would like to mention at least two European projects. EAP 067 is a project to digitize extremely rare materials, mainly from the twentieth century, about the Roma’s in Bulgaria, including not only ethnographic and musical items, but also for example a manuscript of a history of the gypsies. Keeping these materials at all was often dangerous for the Roma during the communist period in Bulgaria. A second project deals with the results of archaeological excavations between 1929 and 1935 in the Kyiv region of Ukraine (EAP 220).

For those worrying about the length of this post it might be a relief to read that within EAP there has been only one project from the Oceania region. In EAP 005 the Australian National University created inventories of materials at the Tuvaluan National Archives. This group of islands in the Pacific is in acute danger of being flooded.

Preserving the history of law, customs and government

The project concerning the preservation of manuscripts written in the Vietnamese Nôm script between the year 1000 and the twentieth century in EAP 219 is an example of documents threatened by sheer memory loss. The Nôm script went out of use around 1920. For decades teaching this script had been forbidden. The Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Hanoi had collected materials before 1954, but no proper inventory had ever been made, and the present storage conditions are poor. The 1,200 surviving manuscripts offer information about laws, courts, imperial decrees and land ownership, Within EAP 272, a project for ephemera and manuscripts in Nepal, a number of manuscripts all dating around 1808 contain legal texts.

Drafting a list of EAP collections with materials concerning legislation, jurisprudence, courts and other legal institutions is not an easy thing to do. The EAP website allows simple and advanced searches at item level, but as for now you cannot search for a particular subject or theme at the collection level. This is certainly a blemish, but not an impossible situation. A search for laws shows you only a few projects, but for EAP 144 you get directly a number of digitized manuscript from this project for Minangkabau (Sumatra) manuscripts. Anyway you can retrieve a list of all 240 projects; the short descriptions can be expanded. You can also search for projects using an interactive world map. Browsing the various projects is no punishment, but an object lesson in appreciating the rich varieties of human culture.

Projects with legal aspects are no exception. Using the tag Governmental records at the EAP blog helped me in tracing some relevant projects. EAP 688 is a new project for digitizing deed books from the Caribbean island Saint Vincent during the slavery era (1763-1838). EAP 561 aims at creating inventories of and digital versions of records for landownership in imperial Ethiopia. At Accra, Ghana, witchcraft trial records will be digitized (EAP 540). A project to make inventories of court and police records from the period 1820-1960 and digitize some of them has been successfully executed in Gambia (EAP 231). Ecclesiastical records from colonial Brazil are the subject of EAP projects such as EAP 627 leading to the digital archives at Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies created by the Vanderbilt University.

Several projects deal with manuscripts from Mali. Not only in Timbuctu a vast number of manuscripts is still present. Last year the threat of massive destruction of this unique legacy by terrorists became a very real menace; a post on this blog informed you about initiatives for their safeguarding and digitization. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. In yet another project at Djenné photographs are being digitized (EAP 449).

Luckily, there is more!

Often I apologize at the end for the length of my contributions, but this time I am happy to point to the links section of the EAP portal which will bring you to a nice number of projects all over the world for the digital conservation and presentation of rare and endangered manuscripts and records. You might be tempted to say that the efforts of the Endangered Archives Project can deal only with a limited number of projects, but luckily the British Library is not the only cultural institution and research institute to look beyond the borders of a country. Often these institutions have to face the threats of budget cuts, and a political climate in favor of focusing on projects which benefit solely the own nation, or they even have to fall back to provide only fairly basic services.

The British Library and all involved in similar projects deserve the gratitude of scholars, of peoples and countries whose cultural heritage is or will be rescued thanks to them. Scholars should be encouraged to look beyond their own culture and national history in order to perceive its peculiarities much sharper and to understand its importance in greater depth. Let’s hope such arguments can convince those responsible for setting cultural agendas and developing research strategies with lasting results. Digitization will be one step in a much longer process, and no doubt digital retrieval and presentation will change its outlook as has been the case already since the earliest uses of computers by historians and lawyers alike.

A postscript

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles.