Tag Archives: Law and Humanities

A German gateway to applied Early Modern sciences

Start screen Fachtexte (detail)There is a great difference between articles and monographs presenting the latest thought and results of new experiments on one end of the scientific world, and at the other end popularised science in cheap books and leaflets. A blog offers both the possibility to publish early results of new research or to bring synthesized contributions aiming at a wide public. Legal historians can feel the seduction to look only at the developments which in our eyes brought decisive changes, but discontinuity and continuities are all parts of one world. Faithful readers will no doubt know about my interest in digitized pamphlets. Legal pocket books have appeared here, too. In this post I will look at a genre which in my view stands nicely between both poles of attraction. The German portal Fachtexte offers scientific text books from the Early Modern period which aimed at presenting practical knowledge for several disciplines. The project is an offspring of the Kallimachos portal for digital humanities of the department for German linguistics at the university of Würzburg. Legal works are included in this project. The very word Fachtexte cries out for an English equivalent, yet another reason besides the linguistic approach to look at this initiative from Würzburg.

For anyone wondering how I encountered this project I must give you a very simple answer. It is not the first time that I found a notice about an interesting project at the Archivalia blog of Klaus Graf (RWTH, Aachen). On many occasions Graf adds some remarks about a project, often concerning open access, easy or cumbersome navigation and durability of links. Sometimes guest posts appear, too, but the majority of posts stems from this most active archivist.

The attraction of variety

Wordle at FachtexteThere is a third factor making a tour of the Fachtexte project interesting. On the start screen of the German website you will find at the right a wordle with the disciplines represented in the digital collection. The dimensions of a discipline are equal to its numeric presence. Law and jurisprudence loom large here, but they are accompanied by other disciplines. A second thing to note immediately is that this project does not primarily or only touch technical matters, dictionaries and handbooks.

In order to establish a correct English translation of the concept Fachtexte we might as well look at some of the other disciplines. Rhetorik und Formularbücher remind us of the role of rhetorics and formularies in law. With Bergbau und Metallurgie you will encounter mining law. Wirtschaft und Handel, economy and trade are not far away from legal theory and legal business. In the title of this blog I opt for applied sciences as a valid way to render faithfully the scientific discipline behind the texts under discussion. In German and Dutch you have the words Fachliteratur and vakliteratuur, literature for a particular discipline. Only the Dutch German and Lithuanian version of Wikipedia have an entry about this genre.

Legal books for daily business

Logo Fachtexte, Würzburg

Let’s not wait too longer before proceeding to legal books! You can click on Jurisprudenz in the wordle or choose this subject in a more regular list of the Sachbereiche. In this list of subject fields law and jurisprudence are the fifth discipline with 363 digitized items. Medicine scores almost one thousand items, nearly a quarter of the 4,200 digitized items. Apart from the general search field on top of the screen there is also a search page Werke (works) where you can browse alphabetically or in chronological order for works. On a similar page for authors you can search for them, and search also author biographies. The page Datenbankabfrage (database search) gives you a number of search fields and clickable preset filters. You can perform here quickly searches for digitized items from a particular century, printing location or providing institution. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich and the Staats- und Landesbibliothek Dresden provide respectively 883 and 824 items, a third part of all items. The project in Würzburg offers no items from its own university library. Using this search mask you get not only particular results, but also a nice visual representation of related information.

For the sixteenth century you will find nearly 1,100 items and for the seventeenth century 2,900 items. I wondered a bit about the presence of medieval items, but the Fachtexte project does indeed also include some digitized manuscripts. In two cases you will be directed to a text-only version of a text in the colorful and multilingual Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch in Augsburg. In other cases the German Wikisource provides online versions of texts.

The earliest legal text in the Fachtexte project is perhaps surprisingly the Sachsenspiegel (“Mirror of Saxony”), the thirteenth-century treatise about Saxon law by Eike von Repgow. My surprise is the fact this text certainly contains more a description of law than legislation or doctrine, yet it received the honor of several (!) series of glosses. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich published in recent years editions by Frank-Michael Kaufmann of the “Buch’se Glosse”, the gloss created by Johann von Buch, for the Landrecht (2002) and the Lehnrecht (2006), and also the Kürzere Glosse (2009) and the Längere Glosse (2013). There is even an accompanying glossary [Glossar zum Buch’sen Glosse (3 vol., 2015)]. In 2014 appeared Maike Huneke’s book on Iurisprudentia romana-saxonica. Die Glosse zum Sachsenspiegel-Lehnrecht und die Anfänge deutscher Rechtswissenschaft (Wiesbaden 2014; MGH Schriften, 68). Huneke argued this gloss is the first scientific product of lawyers of Saxony concerning the law of their own region. Earlier Bernd Kannowski had already underlined in his study Die Umgestaltung des Sachsenspiegelrechts durch die Buch‘sche Glosse (Wiesbaden 2007; MGH Schriften, 56) the way the glosses change the nature of this work radically. It seems the team at Würzburg finds the closeness to regional law of the Sachsenspiegel – and also of the Schwabenspiegel for Swabia – a sign of closeness to legal practice. The Schwabenspiegel has been fitted into several categories.

For the Fachtexte portal other late medieval Landrechte, regional law books, and Stadtrechte, municipal law books, have also been included in the legal section. For the fifteenth century there is for example a German version of the infamous Malleus maleficarum, the seminal work about supposed witches, Von den Unholden oder hexen (1489), and an imperial ordinance on the quality of wines (Ordnung unnd satzung über weynne, 1498). When you click on the link for the latter text you will see indeed two categories in the meta-data for this incunabula edition. The last incunabula edition of a legal text is most interesting, a book by Johannes Sleidanus about Plato’s view of (city) government, Eine kurtze summa oder Jnhalt der Platonischen Lere (1500).

Among the legal books from the sixteenth century is a great diversity of ordinances, books on feudal law and other treatises. it might be worthwhile to look here at some books that fit into more than one category. There is a Rhetorik vnd Teutsch Formular In allen Gerichts Händlen by Ludwig Fruck from 1530 dealing with rhetorical devices and legal formulas for all kind of actions in courts. An earlier edition of this book with the title Teütsch Formular, wie mann in Gerichts-Sachen Brieffe unnd Instrument stellen mag (1529) definitively should have been listed also under jurisprudence. Having easy access at Fachtexte to a list with works on rhetoric makes it possible to check for such matters. With Johann Haselberg’s Der Vrspruncg gemeynner Berckrecht (1535) we encounter a very early treatise on mining law.

Comparing categories of Fachtexte is a fruitful exercise. It leads also to some results which need further investigation or seem open to criticism. The group of legal books shows for 1552 a Kirchenordnung (ecclesiastical ordinance) by duke Johann Albrecht I of Mecklenburg tagged for both law and theology. A quick check in the theological corner shows a 1543 edition of a work by Andreas Osiander, Kirchenordnung. Wie es mit der Christlichen Lehre, heyligen Sakramenten und allerley andern Ceremonien (…). I will refrain from delving here into major publications by leading theologians in the German Reformation, but I am sure that Osiander’s work, first published in 1533, was adopted by the princes of several German regions. In a number of cases official publications such as city law books are listed at Fachtexte as works without an author, but an indication they were issued by on behalf of a particular authority is no luxury.

Legal practice in Early Modern Germany

With a book by Heinrich Knaust with a very particular title, Fewrzeugk gerichtlicher Hendel und Ordnung (Erfurt 1558) we finally see the kind of book I would expect here, a treatise aiming to distill information from medieval works by authors such as Henricus de Segusio (Hostiensis) (around 1200-1271), Johannes Andreae (around 1270-1348) and Nicolaus de Tudeschis (Panormitanus) (1386-1445) which he mentions in the long title of his work. The very first word of the title, Fewrzeugk or Fewerzeugk is intriguing. At the German dictionary portal Wörterbuchnetz it is explained under Feuerzeug, meaning a flintstone. In a recent study by Piotr Witmann, «Der da sein Practic auß Teutschen Tractaten will lernen». Rechtspraktiker in deutschsprachiger Praktikerliteratur des 16. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main, etc., 2015; Rechtshistorische Reihe, 458) Knaust and other sixteenth-century authors of practical legal works are discussed. Knaust appears in this section with more works aimed at legal practicioners. I could not help spotting that the digitized copy at Munich is part of the collection with the abbreviated siglum J. pract., “Jus practicum”.

Titlepage Kriehsbuch by Leonhard Frosnsperger, 1571 - image BSB, Munich

A different combination of categories is found in a work by Leonhard Fronsberger, his Kriegßbuch, present at Fachtexte with editions from 1571m 1573, 1578. Only the last edition is apart from the label Militär und Kampfkunst [Military and martial arts] labeled as a legal work. If you browse the edition 1571 you will see for yourself that the title starts emphatically with Vom kayserlichem Kriegsrechten. The first part of his work is concerned with legal matters, the organization of fighting units, military law and the authority of officers. I will not trouble you here with the question of correct labelling, but it is a matter of some concern indeed. Among the best known books for legal practitioners are the manuals for inquisitors and witch hunters. You will find here a number of them here, and also a translation of Jean Bodin’s De la demonomanie des sorciers (first edition, Paris 1580) into German by Johann Fischart, published in 1581 as De Daemonomania magorum : Vom Außgelassnen Wütigen Teuffelsheer der BesessenenHere it has been overlooked that this 1581 edition already mentions Fischart as translator, and not only in the 1591 edition. It seems that some basic matters have not always been correctly recorded. However, the inclusion of multiple editions helps to correct such infelicities.

It is tempting to show your more interesting books, but I would like you to find them yourself. I could not resist mentioning the Newe Bauordnung des Fürstenthumbs Würtemberg, a building ordinance issued in 1587 by the duke of Württemberg. It contains a number of articles you would expect in late nineteenth-century legislation to control building companies. The famous Reinheitsgebot, a Bavarian ordinance from 1516 on beer brewing, is not included in the section Weinbau und Bierbrauerei. However, you will encounter ordinances for apothecaries, for architects, forest ordinances, a treatise discussing the legal or illegal nature of alchemy, ordinances for millers and much more. I leave it to you to discover here works from the seventeenth century, where you will surely find results as interesting as those selected here from the sixteenth century.

Some conclusions

It is brave to attempt select works for more than thirty different disciplines, be they close to the medieval artes mechanicae or to modern occupational manuals, or closer to popular versions of standard works for fields such as law, medicine, theology and mathematics. One of the strengths of the Fachtexte portal is the combination of categories which helps you to look beyond the normal borders of a particular discipline. Widening your horizons is not a bad quality for any project!

Fachtexte is part of a far more encompassing project in Würzburg, Kallimachos, which takes its name from one of the librarians of the ancient library of Alexandria. It brings together a number of linguistic projects, but also for example a project to study school plates, Schulwandbilder. It will be interesting to look into that project for legal iconography. However, I am happy to present here this project concerning applied sciences, because mirabile dictu you cannot find the Fachtexte project with the search function at the Kallimachos platform. One of the lessons in this post is the need to accept – once again, with relief or more neutral! – the fact you cannot find everything yourself. We should be thankful to those people who surf the oceans of online knowledge and share their discoveries as regularly as Klaus Graf!

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E.T.A. Hoffmann, writer, composer, draughtsman and lawyer

Startscreen E.T.A. Hoffmann portal, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

The huge influence of German science and culture on the development of history as an academic discipline in the nineteenth century is something taken for granted. The image of a German professor lost in abstract thought in a country yearning for its romantic past is almost a caricature. However, not only professors walked through German university towns. In this post I will look at a well-known German writer who was also an active lawyer, serving as a judge. In December 2016 the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz launched the beta version of the E.T.A. Hoffmann portal. On December 12, 2017 its final version was revealed. Not only in Berlin events are currently organized around Hoffmann. Let’s look what will fit into one post!

A man of many talents

At the portal you will find the following quote by Hoffmann: “Die Wochentage bin ich Jurist und höchstens etwas Musiker, sonntags, am Tage wird gezeichnet, und abends bin ich ein sehr witziger Autor bis in die späte Nacht”, on weekdays I am a lawyer and at the best a tiny bit musician, on Sundays I am drawing, and in the evening I am a very funny author until late night. I fear any attempt at a short biography of Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822) will inevitably be much longer than this one revealing description. Hoffman was born in Köningsberg (now Kaliningrad). In 1792 he started studying law, but soon he used also his musical talents as a teacher. His study went well, bringing him already early on to Berlin, but he worked also in Poznan, Plock and Warsaw, in that period part of Prussia. A rather successful period in Poznan, where some of his compositions were received well, ended with an affair around anonymous caricatures behind which one suspected rightly Hoffmann.

The arrival of the French to Warsaw in 1806 brought a temporary end to his career as a Prussian servant. Eventually he settled in Bamberg as a conductor, and later he worked in the city theater. Despite his return to law, in 1816 he became a Kammergerichtsrat, but he unsuccessfully tried to get work as a conductor, too. Meanwhile Hoffmann had started writing literary works. Under the restoration regime after the Napoleonic period he had in Berlin from 1919 onwards rather surprisingly the task to investigate people suspected of subversive plans, Hoffman used his knowledge of a particular case in his story Meister Floh, but he was charged with unlawful behaviour because he had allegedly publicized matters he was not allowed to divulge as a state official. Just before his case went on trial Hoffmann died after a prolonged illness.

If anything this brief overview shows in a nutshell many aspects of life and culture in Germany from around 1790 to around 1820. It is characteristic of Hoffmann to be aware of the many sides of his short life. Hoffmann’s sketch from 1815 of the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, the Kunz’scher Riss, is presented at the portal as an interactive map bringing you to a life with many facets. Hoffmann lived nearby this central square in Berlin with the Nationaltheater. In the following paragraphs I will look only at some sections of the Hoffmann portal, but in fact you can find interesting matters in every corner.

Earning his bread with law

During his short life Hoffmann earned most of his bread as a lawyer. The portal has a large section E.T.A. Hoffmann als Jurist by Hartmut Mangold. Hoffmann studied law only in Königsberg, and for just three years. We are used to German students visiting several universities during their student years, sometimes to hear the lectures of a particular professor, sometimes for other qualities of a city. Hoffmann made such rapid progress that he could start very quickly with the practical part of his legal education, first in 1795 as an Auskultator (hearer) at Glogau, and from 1798 onwards as a Referendar in Berlin. He earned enough praise to follow his career in 1800 as an assessor (judge) at the Obergericht of Poznan (Posen). However, within a month he had to move to the small town Plock because of the affair with the caricatures. The two years at Plock were unhappy, but his efforts were recognized by his superiors who sent him in 1804 as a Regierungsrat to Warsaw. The French occupation of Warsaw in 1806 ended a lucky period of hard work as a judge combined with eager cultural activities.

In 1814 Theodor von Hippel, a former friend from Königsberg, helped him to work again as a judge, first at a kind of minimum wage as a voluntary at the Berlin Kammergericht. Only after two years he got the full normal salary. His hard work brought him in 1819 a call to become a member of the special investigation committee, and in 1821 he moved to a rank at the coveted appeal court, the Oberappelationssenat. Mangold looks at Hoffmann’s views of the Schmolling case to assess his views as a judge in criminal cases. Hoffmann carefully analyzed a medical consultation which deemed Schmolling was not liable for his actions. In a following section you will see Hoffmann as a very conscientious member of the special committee which stood as one man against political influence and overruling by higher authorities. The committee had the task of a public attorney to bring supposed offenders of the restrictions on political freedom. The committee saw in almost every case no criminal offense which could led to further persecution. He had to deal for example with Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the man behind the popularity of gymnastics in Germany, often nicknamed Turnvater Jahn, who brough a case for defamation against Albert von Kamptz, a high Prussian official, who had slandered his name anonymously in two newspapers.

Hoffman dealt in a humourous way with Albert von Kamptz in his story Meister Floh [Master Flea]. The story ended with the dismissal of the mischievous official who had created a case out of a few words. However, Von Kamptz recognized himself quickly in Hoffmann’s publication, and started a disciplinary action against him with the argument that Hoffmann had broken his duty to reveal nothing from official procedures. Hoffmann defended himself by pleading for poetic freedom. He died before a trial against him could start. Mangold rightly stresses the way in which Hoffmann conformed to the ethos of Prussian law and lawyers.

Drawing instedd of si a signature

A self-portrait drawing by Hoffmann instead of just signing a letter – collection E.T.A. Hofmann-Archiv, SBPK, Berlin

Writing about Hoffmann I noticed how my enthusiasm to know more about him and about his work as a Prussian lawyer steadily grew. You had better look yourself! A major part of the portal is a digital library for many of his works and papers. You will find letters, editions of his work, portraits, manuscripts, music scores, drawings and ex libris. In the corner Kurioses you will all kind of matters, from a massive wine bill by a Berlin firm to some funny drawings. Hoffman twice kept a diary, during 1803 and 1804 at Plock, and in the years spent between 1809 and 1815 in Bamberg, Dresden and other towns in Saxony.

It is great to find on this portal chapters accompanying the sections of the digital library. Thus you are enabled to look both at for example Hoffmann’s views on music as a discerning critic, gaining even approval and thanks from Beethoven, and at his compositions. His most successful opera Undine had a successful premiere in 1816 and gained high praise from Carl Maria von Weber, but unfortunately the Schauspielhaus burned down after the fourteenth performance. It marked the end of his career as a composer. Earlier on Hoffmann had changed his third name to Amadeus, a fair measure of the importance of music for him.

Logo Kalliope-Verbund

Large sections of the portal are devoted to research on Hoffmann. You can for example look at an attempt to reconstruct his personal library. His juridical books were restricted to almost exclusively works on contemporary Prussian law. I assume he used in Berlin other books from the library of the Kammergericht. I had expected to find legal materials also in the digital library of the Hoffmann portal, but these are simply absent, nor in printed form or in manuscript. Among all the qualities of the portal I missed references to the services of the Kalliope-Verbund, housed at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, the great database with a German and English interface for searching personal papers and manuscripts of famous persons in the German-speaking world held by archives, libraries and museums. The Kalliope database rightfully alerts you to materials concerning Hoffmann in a substantial number of collections, with of course the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz at the first place.

Hoffmann in Berlin, Bamberg and Düsseldorf

The Staatsbibliothek in Berlin is the home of the E.T.A. Hoffmann archive. The Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, too, has holdings concerning Hoffmann. At the website of this library is a selection of drawings, early editions and letters. A look at the German Wikipedia page for Hoffmann brings me to a link for more works by Hoffman digitized at Bamberg. The page on Hoffmann as a lawyer leads only to the edition of his juridical works by Friedrich Schnapp [Juristische Arbeiten (Munich 1973)] and one article by Stefan Weichbrodt, ‘E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776 bis 1822)’. Juristische Schulung 2008/1, 7-13 . Luckily Mangold gives us more at the Berlin portal. The E.T.A. Hoffmann Gesellschaft has made Hoffmann’s house in Bamberg into a museum. You can see six virtual exhibitions at their website, including one about the story of Meister Floh and its impact. With interfaces in seven languages you are bound to read something on the website of the Hoffmann Society which you can understand sufficiently.

In the last section I will turn to another story by Hoffmann which is now the heart of an exhibition at the Heinrich-Heine-Institut in Düsseldorf, Nussknacker und Mausekönig (Nutcracker and Mouse King), with much attention for the modern drawings for this story by Sabine Friedrichson. Hoffmann was and is famous for his certainly for Germany pioneering grisly tales. Combined with elements from other stories by Hoffmann a script was created for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, surely one of the most enduring and beloved ballet scores. Les contes de Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach is an opera in which at least two stories by Hoffmann have been used to create its libretto.

Some contemporaries concluded Hoffman was a bewildering figure, not to be taken seriously, but Hoffmann gained also admiration for his stories and music. Contemporary lawyers took him most seriously. If you look for some moments at Hoffmann’s life in a country suffering from the Napoleonic wars and its conservative aftermath you will recognize how sharp he saw the very different elements of life, war and society, In a romantic era his figure might at first seem romantic. but there is good reason to agree with Rüdiger Safranski in his masterful study Romantik. Eine deutsche Affäre [Romanticism. A German affair] (Munich 2007) that Hoffmann was a sceptic phantasy writer (“ein skeptischer Phantast”). In 1984 Safranski published a biography of Hoffmann with the same subtitle.

In this post with in the last paragraph a reference to a ballet which nowadays belongs to a particular period of the year, I bring you indeed to the end of this year. When you are weary of legal history, listening to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or reading some of Hoffmann’s tales will hopefully bring you some moments of delight and wonder.

Listening to tuneful news: Streetsongs and crime

Just like law music is almost everywhere. It should be no surprise to find law and justice in songs, and a few years ago I first explored this theme in my post The Legal Song: Legal history in lyrics, This time I want to look a bit closer to a specific genre, broadside ballads, a subgenre of pamphlets, yet another subject not unfamiliar to regular visitors of my blog. Recently the team behind the French legal history project Criminocorpus launched the website Complaintes criminelles en France (1870-1940). Broadside ballads as a musical genre have come into view in particular for the United Kingdom, but this genre existed elsewhere also, and not only during the Early Modern period (1500-1800). The genre definitely widens my perception of pamphlets as a communication medium.

News in songs

Last week I first saw the new French collection. in fact it pushed me to look again at digital collections with only broadside ballads. Even if their number is still restricted, they now exist for more countries than I was aware of, reason enough to have a better look at them.

Marchand de crime - colored engaving, 1845 - source: Criminocorpus

Jean-François Heintzen has created for Criminocorpus a database in which you can search with a simple search with the possibility to use a proximity search. As for now the search interface is only in French, but no doubt an English interface will be added soon, because all elements of Criminocorpus can be accessed in both French and English. You can also search using an interactive map of France which shows you also where most of these complaintes were originally heard. The digital collection with these songs has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France for its digital library Gallica. It becomes quickly clear Paris has the largest share, and also the largest audiences, and it seems people in Brittany, around Lyon, in the Languedoc and near the Belgian border could have heard them a bit more often than in other parts of France. The database is strong in indicating the tunes (timbre) to which a complainte was sung. It even alerts to cases in which another song presented the same criminal event. You will find whenever possible also information about the crime and the fate or trial of the accused. I could not find the exact number of complaintes in the database, but a quick look at the interactive map suggest the number must be around three hundred.

The comment in French under the image of the man with a broadside ballad in his hand connects the songs explicitly with news: Marchand de crimes ou crieurs de journaux, “crime merchant or newspaper crier”. The broadsides featured often a telling image, one of their attractions. Dutch street singers used in the nineteenth century a so-called smartlap, literally a “sorrow cloth”, a large illustrated roll which they could unfold and hang on a pole. The word smartlap is still used as the synonym for tear-jerking melodramatic popular songs.

I searched for other collections in France with exclusively complaintes criminelles, but this selection from the holdings of the BnF is the largest one. When you search for complaintes in the website Moteur Collections of the Ministère de la Culture it brings you a substantial number of results in a wide variety of collections. The French portal for digital cultural heritage Patrimoine numérique leads you to just one collection with recordings made between 1979 and 1988 concerning oral memory, chansons and popular dances from Mont-Lozère for which the link was broken. You can get access after authorisation to recordings in the Ganoub database of the Maison Méditerranéene des Sciences de l’Homme (MMSH) in Aix-en-Provence.

Straatliederen, “street songs”, form a substantial part of the Dutch Liederenbank created at the Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology in Amsterdam. This database contains now a staggering 170,000 Dutch and Flemish songs. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal you can access and search for some 7,000 broadside ballads with nearly 15,000 songs, both from the holding of the Meertens Institute and the Dutch Royal Library. You can listen to recordings of some of the most popular songs, too. The founder of the Liederenbank, the late Louis-Peter Grijp (1954-2016), was not only a musicologist, but also a performer of early music and popular songs, playing the lute as a soloist or with his ensemble Camerata Traiectina. His research into the use of contrafacta, songs made to re-used melodies, helped to recognize texts as song texts, and to find the right melody or melodies for performance.

Logo VD-Lied

For Germany and Austria researchers can go to the project VD Lied: Das Verzeichnis der deutschsprachigen Liedflugschriften. This project builds on the bibliographical project VD16, VD17 and VD18 for Early Modern books from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. VD17 and VD18 link to digitized copies of the works they contain. The partners of VD-Lied are the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Zentrum für populäre Kultur und Musik in Freiburg am Breisgau, and the Archiv des Österreichisches Liedwerkes in Vienna. This database contains 30,000 songs from 14,000 digitized Flugschriften and Flugblätter.

Ballads in the British isles

header-ebba

Digital collections in the Anglophone world get perhaps more attention than collections elsewhere in the world, but it makes sense to bring them here together. The English Broadside Ballads Archive (EBBA, University of California at Santa Barbara) has become the portal to access a number of digital collections in the United Kingdom and the United States, with a focus on seventeenth-century ballads. The Pepys Collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge (1,800 items), the Roxburghe Collection of the British Library (1,500 items), Scottish collections at Edinburgh and Glasgow, and three collections of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, all in all almost eight thousand ballads, can be searched here together. The bibliography and additional information strengthen its online presence. In the Huntington Digital Library you can search among some 500 digitized ballads.

It is well worth including here also the Kenneth S. Goldstein Broadsides (University of Mississippi Libraries) with some 1,500 ballad broadsides from the United Kingdom and Ireland from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. At the web site Glasgow Broadsides Ballads Glasgow University Library has digitized some nineteenth-century ballads from its Murray Collections for which earlier ballads are accessible through EBBA. The National Library of Scotland created the collection The Word on the Street with among the 1,800 broadsides from the period 1650-1910 also some ballads. I am sure I might have missed some websites with transcriptions of ballads. Let’s not forget to point you at least to the Broadside Ballad Index created by William Bruce Olson, and the Folksong Index and Broadside Index created by Steve Roud, accessible online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London.

However, in a competition among digital broadside ballads collections Broadside Ballads Online of the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, still clearly would wins for sheer numbers (30,000 items)! In its new design, light-years away from the austere user interface of Ballads Online which had survived all changes behind the surface, you can even choose the colours of the main type font. A second outstanding thing is the coverage in time, not only the period before 1800, but right into the twentieth century. The Iconclass search function for illustrations or if you prefer a simple keyword search, and even for some images a similarity search, place this collection ahead of all others. The illustration search and the overviews of subjects helps you to rethink your own approach and questions. By the way, the Bodleian Libraries recently developed a digital manuscripts toolkit for working with digital images along the lines of the International Image Interoperability Initiative Framework (IIIF).

A look at American ballads

American culture and history come into view at the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). Isaiah Thomas collected broadsides in Boston during the early nineteenth century. Here you can find some 300 broadsides, and also thirty recordings of ballads. You can search directly or browse subjects in alphabetical order, which usefully includes also the woodcuts. It is a treat to look at the overview of digital projects supported by the AAS. Here it must suffice to mention the American Vernacular Music Manuscripts, ca. 1730-1910 hosted at Middle Tennessee State University. The notable collection collected by Helen Hartness Flanders is now at Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT; you can consult some 450 digitized broadsides ballads of this collection in the Internet Archive. Pop music and poetry are the heart of the digital collection Beat Movement: Poetry and Broadsides (Utah State University). I did not conduct an exhaustive search for American examples. You will find them also using the Digital Public Library of America. A quick search in the rich digital collections of the New York Public Library brought me just one result, which cannot be the complete truth. Patient research will surely yield much more. For this the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Smithsonian Folkway Recordings are an appropriate starting point.

If you have doubts about the value and use of these digital collections you can find much in the current issue of the journal Recherche en sciences sociales sur Internet (RESET) on Patrimoine et patrimonialisation numérique / Heritage and Heritagization (6/2017). The acronym RESET is in this case strong! The digital turn is much more than only quick access to resources faraway, a theme articulated for global history in the 2016 article by Lara Putnam discussed here last year. At the Revues portal you will find also the Swiss journal Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie.

Logo Criminocorpus

With the MMSH at Aix-en-Provence and the Smithsonian and other institutions I came from ballads in print to modern recordings of old ballads, and it is tempting to follow that road already here in more detail. I will return to the use of recordings in another post in the near future. In this post you will find hopefully enough for your own interests. On the other hand you might want to look at more treasures at the Musée d’histoire des crimes, de la justice et des peines created by the Criminocorpus team or start following the Criminocorpus blog.

Law and music, a history of norms and sensitivity

droitetmusique-smallWords from completely different domains can be used without even noticing their origin. Scholars conduct research but seldom think of conductors leading an orchestra or choir. A two-day conference in Aix-en-Province (June 30 and July 1, 2016) offers a rare chance to bring the two domains of law and music together. The title Droit et musique: Entre normes et sensibilité, “Law and Music, Between norms and sensitivity”, seems aptly chosen, even though anglophone readers should immediately be at their qui-vive to distinguish between sensibility and sensitivity.

In this post I will give you an impression of the themes to be addressed at this conference held at two locations in Aix-en-Provence, on June 30 at the Amphitheâtre Favoureu of the Faculté de droit et science politique, and on July 1 at the Musée Granet. I found the announcement about this conference at the events calendar Nomôdos, since last year a part of the French Portail universitaire du droit, where you can find also a section for law and culture (Droit et culture).

Two spheres

The two-day conference has two mottoes which link law and music to each other. Danielle Montet formulated reflecting on ancient history and philosophy the thought that both spheres, law and music, deal with composition. The law poses order on society, just like music supports a good disposition of things in the mind and in a city. The second motto stems from Norbert Rouland who wrote law is not the work of a legislator, enlightened or not, but an unconscious collective construction of the Volksgeist, mediated and interpreted by a lawyer. Composition and interpretation seem indeed shared features of law and music.

Let’s look at the program of the conference in Aix-en-Provence. The first day has as its central theme La musique revisitée par le droit, music revisited by law. In particular the section on philosophy and history has space for legal history. Maria Paolo Mittica looks at music and law in ancient Greece. Fouzi Rherrousse will speak about a musical movement within Islam. The Catholic codification of liturgical music in the nineteenth century is the subject of the contribution of Blandine Chelini-Pont. Emmanuele Saulnier-Cassia will present the musical interpretation of the fundamental rights of condemned people. Vassili Tokarev looks at the twin theme of musical criticism and legal criticism in Nietzsche’s work. Patricia Signorile will discuss the philosophical foundations of the connections between law and music.

In the other sections legal history does make less often an appearance. Marc Pena will take Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a starting point for a paper about the realities and representation of Venice’s territory. Ugo Bellagamba looks at the uses of dissonance and musical resolution in operas about Tancredi from André Campra to Gioacchino Rossini to distill views and perspectives on the First Crusade. Interesting, too, is a paper by Antoine Leca about the judge Jean de Dieu d’Olivier, author of a treatise about the art of legislation, and his views on legal composition. It makes certainly curious about his Essai sur l’art de législation and its influence on French revolutionary and Restoration law. In Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, you can consult the editions of his work published in 1800 and 1815. Christian Bruschi will deal with Montesquieu and his views concerning music and society. Tchaikovsky as a failed lawyer and a succesful composer will be the subject of a paper by Anatoly Kovler.

Other contributors will take a more comparative point of view. Giorgio Resta will consider the way lawyers use musical metaphors. Alizée Cirino will discuss the problems of co-authorship of musical works, the possible clash of interests and the way rights are shared. André Roux looks at the relation between the French constitution and the national anthem. I remember the anecdote about the orchestral arrangement made by Hector Berlioz in 1830 of La Marseillaise which allegedly was banned by the French government because it was considered to be too rousing. At a concert in Utrecht decades ago with French revolutionary music by Méhul and Gossec Berlioz’s work indeed made a terrific impression.

It is possible to allude here to a Dutch link to the twin sisters law and music. At least one Dutch legal historian has all rights to feel himself familiar with music and the tasks of conducting, Not only is Jop Spruit the son of the Dutch conductor Henk Spruit (1906-1998), he actually worked a few years for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The way Spruit led a team of Dutch legal historians translating the various parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis does in a way resemble the activity of a conductor. In my view it is not entirely a coincidence Jop Spruit started this project, and more importantly, conducted it to a resounding end. You can read more about his life and career in an interview by Louis Berkvens and Jean-François Gerkens, ‘Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen (13). Interview met J.E. Spruit’, Pro Memorie 17//1 (2015) 3-47.

The choice of themes and even a strong preponderance of French subjects at the conference in Aix-en-Provence should work as an invitation to explore this theme yourself. There is more to find out beyond for example the musical background of Anton Thibaut, the German lawyer advocating the codification of German law. He had to face the powerful rhetorical and legal skills of Friedrich Carl von Savigny whose views against legal codification prevailed for many years in the early nineteenth century. This contribution can be only a prelude to the real music. Interpreting law and subjects in legal history is such a common practice that it is most welcome to reflect on this core activity from an unexpected angle.

An age of lawyers and literature

Flyer The Age of LawyersThe power of words seduces every honest writer to do his or her very best to write in a unique way to convey what you want to say and to add to the expressive qualities of language and literature. Only seldom people succeed in achieving immortal fame and enduring influence on a living language. In this post I want to look at an author who conjured up scenes of unforgettable power using the language of his time in ways unheard of. In fact his works were in some periods considered too rough and therefore edited and censored. Together with the English of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible the works of William Shakespeare still have immeasurable influence on the English language and culture.

Shakespeare’s works have the power to stir our emotions and imagination. Until today his portraits of English kings and their courts influence our views of English history and royal circles. No doubt this year’s commemoration of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616 will bring a flood of activities and events. A few weeks ahead of the central day there is still a chance to look here in a more sober setting at some of the digital initiatives which try to shed new light on one of the greatest people in world literature. At least one of them, an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., focused on lawyers in Shakespeare’s age, but it comes into better relief surrounded by other projects of The Folger, and by a selection of recently launched online Shakespeare projects and digital projects dealing with Early Modern letters.

Surrounded by lawyers

Even without the Shakespeare connection the exhibition Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare’s Britain is really interesting. The Folger showed the exhibition from September 4, 2015 until January 4, 2016, but luckily there is an accompanying virtual exhibit. The concept for the exhibition was developed in cooperation with the Georgetown Law Library, a library with early printed legal books in its own digital collection. There are four main sections, Legal LivesThe Great Courts, Law and Communities and The King and the Law. In contrast to usual virtual exhibitions it has not been placed in a clearly defined corner or subdomain of the website, but as a seemingly unconnected item on the Folgerpedia, the website of The Folger for general information. More remarkable is the absence of illustrations. It took me some time before reaching the list of exhibitions at this library’s website. You can only applaud the inclusion of transcriptions of several exhibition items, but they yet have to appear for the fourth section. The very heart of the exhibition is an extended introduction to the materials put on show, to be read side-by-side with the list of items.

The four sections of Age of Lawyers give us a good idea of the world of Elizabethan lawyers. The first section looks at legal education, the Inns of Courts and the various legal professions. The various royal courts are the core of the second section. In the third section legal practice comes into view, its impact on daily life and local communities. The last section shows a great variety of subjects around the central theme of royal power, from major figures such as Francis Bacon and Edward Coke to subjects as Magna Charta and the influence of English developments on early American law and politics, with for example attention to Thomas Jefferson. The wealth of materials put on show in this virtual exhibition is impressive, and it is even more interesting to see how many of them come from the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare Library. In my opinion this virtual exhibition gives you a very valuable introduction to the legal history of England in the decades around 1600.

Logo Shakespeare Documented

The Folger is one of the institutions contributing to a major virtual exhibition of documents from and about Shakespeare, Shakespeare Documented. Documents, archival records and manuscripts from such institutions the National Archives (Kew), the Bodleian Library, the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – and from a host of other institutions worldwide – make this exhibition into a real gem. It amounts to a digital collection divided in four main categories: playwright, actor and shareholder; poet, family, legal and property records, and his seventeenth-century afterlife. With 186 of the nearly 500 items the category connecting to legal history is the second largest category of this exhibition. More documents and transcriptions will be added this year. You can search at will using a free text search or preset filters. Shakespeare’s involvement as a shareholder is mostly shown in the conflict about The Globe. It is really not feasible to pick here even among the highlights an absolute must. For me this virtual exhibit is a bridge between only reading Shakespeare’s works or searching your way among the vast literature on him. It also is in a very real sense the connection and life thread between the major projects presented here.

Close to the sources

The Folger Shakespeare Library offers more things online worth exploring. Among its latest projects is Shakespeare’s World, a crowdsourcing project of The Folger, the Zooniverse project for crowdsourcing and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). One of the objectives of this project is finding words that so far have not been included in the OED. People volunteering to cooperate can choose a genre to transcribe. At first the choice between recipes and letters seems a thing to wonder about, but recipes have not been among the resources used by the founders of the OED. Letters can show words less often used, new uses of words, and, perhaps more importantly for the aim of this post, they might show the impact of literary imagination. An apparent drawback is the lack of an overview of senders and recipients.

Private Libraries in Renaissance England (PLRE) is the Folger’s online adaptation of the printed version of this reference work. It is really a database that helps you to execute queries which you will want to check in the original edition. You can get a closer view of books from this period by looking at the section on bindings of The Folger’s LUNA image database.

Logo EMMO - EWaerly Modern Manuscripts Online

Another project is in the development phase. As for now Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has not yet resulted in a separate website. Since 2014 a lot of workshops and events has been organized. You will find the links section particularly useful, with for example an overview by The Folger of links concerning Early Modern English palaeography and digitized manuscripts.

fdtlogo

For my brief introductions to some of The Folger’s own digital projects I use the overview in the Folgerpedia. Personally I would prefer to have this overview on the main website of The Folger, but I suppose we are dealing here with a kind of planetary system around it. The Folger has also prepared a dedicated website for Shakespeare’s works, Folger Digital Texts. For quick reference and easy access this collection is very welcome, even though scholars might want to have a version under PhiloLogic or similar linguistic tools. For this you can turn to Early Modern Print, a project of the Washington University, St. Louis, MO, and the Early English Books Online-Text Creative Partnership. You will find here tools to gain insights into changes in word frequencies, KWIC (Key Words In Context) and a N-gram browser. The very example of KWIC in this project shows results for the word slander, which might inspire legal historians, too, to have a look at it. This overview at The Folger of digital projects and tools, even the subscription-only resources most times only accessible at research libraries, is actually a splendid nutshell guide to the study of Renaissance England. The University of Chicago provides us with a special subdomain to use its Philologic technology on editions and adaptations of Shakespeare.

Lives and letters around Shakespeare

Banner Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

If lawyers played such a large role in Shakespeare’s life you will probably want to know more exactly which lawyers, and more generally which people were closest to Shakespeare. On my journeys around the web I found recently the website Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. The aim of this Anglo-American project is collecting and visualizing data which show you the Early Modern social network. After registration you can download data, and also add new data. Everyone can look at the visualizations or relationships. Bacon (1561-1626) was originally also trained as a lawyer. Even if a similar website could already exist for Shakespeare it becomes quickly clear that you can immensely benefit from using this website when researching Shakespeare’s entourage, especially when you fortify your results with the letters of the project for Shakespeare’s World and the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented.

Choosing Bacon is just an example of the many projects dealing with English letters and correspondents. The most generous portal to them is certainly Cultures of Knowledge: Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750 (University College London). Perhaps its main offspring, and certainly one closely connected to the theme of this post, is the project Early Modern Letters Online under the aegis of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where you can search directly in letters written in many countries. Some of the resources at Cultures of Knowledge stem from the Lives and Letters project developed and led by the late Lisa Jardine. Among its projects is the edition of the correspondence of Francis Bacon, the main resource behind Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. For those wanting to look at more online projects dealing with letters the overview at Digitizing Correspondence should quench a lot of your thirst, and you might also contemplate the examples of interfaces for these projects. If you add to this wealth the links page at Cultures of Knowledge you can start to investigate for yourself the epistolary culture of Early Modern Europe. Going back to the subject of this post it is the project for the letters of Edmund Spenser which comes close to the sphere of action of William Shakespeare.

Celebrating Shakespeare

How can one avoid the obvious things around Shakespeare and have a fresh look at him? The Folger has created its own list of quatercentenary online projects. When preparing this post I thought about the manifold activities of another American research library, The Newberry in Chicago. Among nearly fifty online educational resources you might have a look at three virtual exhibitions concerning William Shakespeare, Marriage and Family in Shakespeare’s England, Shakespeare’s Romans: Politics and Ethics in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the Utopias of the European Renaissance, the last item providing me with a connection to my recent blog post about More’s Utopia.

Instead of going to one of the sections of library websites about their copy of the First Folio, an object for which the label Holy Grail seems almost too simple, it is possible to have a look at digitized First Quartos and to compare various editions. They bring you closer to the times of Shakespeare himself than the posthumous First Folio. However, if you had rather stay with a time-tested resource, there is all reason to visit the section Discover Literature: Shakespeare of the British Library’s website with for example an article by Liza Picard on crime and punishment in Elizabethan England. Andrew Dickson looks at the only existing literary manuscript with Shakespeare’s handwriting, The Booke of Sir Thomas More. The play contains a plea for tolerance towards immigrants, and I cannot help feeling touched by the poignancy of this subject. More was a man for all seasons, and Shakespeare is indeed a writer for all times! The play seems to have been never performed during his life. In the project England’s immigrants 1350-1550: Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages curated by the universities of Sheffield (HRI Online) and York in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew you can find out about 64,000 persons coming to England during two centuries.

Drawing of The Swan. London, by Buchelius

Drawing of The Swan theatre, London, 1596 – Aernout van Buchell, Adversaria – Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132r – image: http://objects.library.uu.nl

The customary Dutch view shown here has in fact figured here in 2013, but without the famous illustration. The image has been used in countless printed publications. Aernout van Buchell (Buchelius) (1565-1646), an antiquarian scholar from Utrecht, copied a drawing around 1596 of The Swan theatre in London (Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132 r). In my earlier post where I wrote about Buchelius you can find the links to more digitized manuscripts of this author.

Of course much more can be said, and has already been said this year. Today I looked briefly at the fine aggregator of Early Modern blogs created by Sharon Howard. If you follow her tag for Shakespeare at Early Modern Commons you will find already dozens of celebratory articles. Hopefully you will appreciate the urgent need to restrict myself here to only a few dozen projects. A search for Shakespeare at Early Modern Resources brings us ten online resources mentioning him. No doubt Sharon Howard will soon add a number of the new Shakespeare projects to Early Modern Resources.

However large and inviting the temptation to end here with one of the countless proverbial words of Shakespeare I had rather invite you to look yourself again and again at this writer whose works breathed life into the English language. His imagination both as a playwright and poet is at many turns so powerful that its glow will last as long people care for the right words which do justice to the humanity living in his works.

A postscript

One of the possible follow-ups to this contribution is looking in more detail at Shakespeare’s plays and the role of law. You can get a taste of this subject by looking at free accessible recent articles in the journals Law and Literature and Law and Humanities.

Musing upon liberty and law

While musing myself on themes suitable for a new post on my blog at least one subject offered itself last week in my mailbox. An antiquarian bookshop with stores in Brooklyn, NY and Stevenson, MD, sent me a message about nineteenth-century manuscripts for sale. One of the items attracted my attention because of a remarkable series of subjects touching on law, history and liberty brought together in a manuscript note by a well-known American author. Here I will try to focus on two questions which call out for an answer. Do these subjects really combine so easily and naturally as this author assumed? How can legal historians bring them into discussion again? Here I would like to share with you my first impressions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

The manuscript at the center of this post is a two-page note written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) in 1855. Both the website of the antiquarian firm and their mail message point out this text features in Emerson’s book English Traits (1856). From Emerson Central, one of the online portals to Emerson’s texts, I take the quote at stake here:

Magna-charta, jury-trial, habeas-corpus, star-chamber, ship-money, Popery, Plymouth-colony, American Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman’s right to his dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the British nation to rage and revolt.

Emerson had studied theology at Harvard. He had visited England in 1833 and 1847, and France in 1848 during the year of revolutions all over the European continent. My first impression of this sentence from the chapter “Ability” of English Traits is that of someone applauding the steady character of the British who do not let them foil into violent actions for some goal, however lofty or urgent. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, revolts in medieval England, the break with Scotland and the Dissolution of the Monasteries are conspicuously absent, and I choose here only a few themes. Instead of character I should perhaps say “nature”, taking the lead from Emerson’s famous essay Nature (1836/1849). In his even more famous address The American Scholar (1837) he urged writers to break away from literary conventions and to find their own voice. Some twenty years later love for things British seemed to be very real. Emerson definitely wrote in the century of the nation-state, and his opinions might be both fired and coloured by feelings of national pride, influenced also by personal experiences. His use of the words Saxon and Scandinavian race is distinctively mainly for the apparent conviction it carries, and not only for its factual imprecision. To all appearances Emerson shared here a Whig view of British history, one long and unbroken road to liberty. Emerson was a poet, too, and we should acknowledge that his vision of the United Kingdom is visionary, perhaps even utopic. Historical facts or their reassessment do not alter the poetic view expressed by Emerson.

For a first online orientation concerning Emerson the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful. You can execute illuminating textual searches in Emerson’s writings in the digital edition created by the University of Michigan, and continue your research at RWE.org. The nature of this blog post is a very simple first impression, a first look at a resource which surely can be studied in more depth.

Great events

The core of Emerson’s note to be discussed here is the combination of familiar subjects for legal historians: Magna Carta, the trial jury, the Habeas corpus rule, the Star Chamber, the Plymouth colony and the American Revolution. In the image above you can spot that the ship money figured immediately after Magna Carta, but in the published text it has been moved to a fifth place. The fight against Catholic influences and the creation of the Anglican Church is concisely evoked by the word “popery”. The ship-money was the tax levied by Charles I of England between 1629 and 1640 without parliamentary consent. Once upon a time such subjects might have been included at least in continental capita selecta lectures about British history, but they more probably were and are at the heart of an introductory course in British legal history taught anywhere in the Anglo-American world. By the way, law is not forgotten among the digital resources presented at The Plymouth Colony Archive.

Next year legal historians will face the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta. The original copies will be shown in exhibitions, sometimes far from their present location. Cultural institutions such as the British Library will rightfully exhaust themselves to show their treasures and to appraise them anew. Hopefully historians can take a distance from preconceived opinions and look at their own prejudices, and help explaining how and why some themes in legal history gained their iconic importance.

The thing that struck me most about Emerson’s words is the vitality of history and the value attached to it, even when admittedly the nineteenth century was the century of history par excellence. The two pages with his notes show in a very immediate way – notice the fluency of his hand! – how he saw himself as part of a living continuity. Whatever the reasons behind the American Revolution it followed nevertheless the example of a country with a long experience of institutions safeguarding liberty.

The website of the antiquarian firm gives a five number amount of money as the prize of Emerson’s note. The prize of liberty and the just course of law and justice is beyond any prize. Legal historians should honour the history of liberty by pointing to its prime examples, to the grave and grim periods and events threatening liberty, to mistakes and opportunities recognisable in our days, too.

The 1855 manuscript of Emerson – with a 1875 carte de visite photograph of Emerson – is for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop

Nicolas Le Floch, chasing crime in eighteenth-century Paris

Sometimes I write here about historical subjects and their presentation on television. It is much rarer to find an example of the reversed, a television series which becomes the subject of historical debate. French scholars will organize a one-day symposium about the series running since 2008 on France 2 featuring Nicolas Le Floch, a police commissioner in eighteenth-century Paris. The call for papers at Calenda attracted my attention, thanks to the Frühe Neuzeit blog for Early Modern history. Is it typically French that I cannot find here the date of the event which no doubt will take place in Paris, and only the deadline of the call for papers, October 31, 2012? In this post I will inform you about the series, the books behind it, and the aims of the symposium.

The Maigret of the Enlightenment?

Nicolas Le Floch -Jerôme Robart - photo France 2

Nicolas Le Floch works in Paris during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774). His first appearance is in 1761, during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) between France and England. Le Floch works for De Sartine, the lieutenant-general of the French royal police force. Not only this war, but also royalists opposing the Jansenists and the Jesuit order form the background of the various stories and events in the series.

The French series is actually based on a number of novels by Jean-François Parot. On the website of France 2 he explains his view about the idea of a series around an imaginary police commissioner. Parot does not want to recreate a faithful picture of Paris in the eighteenth century, but he admits that a number of details help us imagining the surroundings in which Le Floch worked. The website proceeds with a number of maps of Paris, presents a number of dishes and recipes mentioned in the various installments as in the original novels, gives even a glossary of words and terms used in the series, and introduces you also to various prostitutes figuring in the series. The website amounts to a veritable portal around Nicolas Le Floch, including merchandise, a forum and a photo gallery, an overview of all installments and a page on Facebook. The signature tune of the lavishly produced series, a nice pastiche of late eighteenth-century music, is as memorable as that of a Maigret series!

Jean-François Parot has created his own website on Nicolas Le Floch. His novels featuring Le Floch have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. Inevitably some elements shown on the series website return here, too. Even if you dislike detective series you can enjoy the maps of Paris and the images of buildings which feature in his stories. One of the strengths is the careful list of credits for the images used on the website. This “Sources iconographiques” section is really instructive. Getting the credits for images right is not a task easily accomplished.

Law and fiction

The French scholars preparing the colloquium Fiction policière et série télévisée : Nicolas Le Floch, un “expert” au temps des Lumières do not keep Parot’s novels and the fictionalized crime series at a wide distance, but view it as an opportunity to ask questions about the way the series has been created. The first four installments followed more or less Parot’s novels, the following four are not directly founded on them. The central question helps to look at Le Floch from a wider perspective than just checking the historical correctness of the situations depicted and the details adduced. What was the position and role of police officers like Le Floch? How did one perceive his job? What status did someone charged with his tasks really have? For this series it will lead to looking at his cooperation with inspector Bourdeau, Sanson, the hangman, and his chef, Le Sartine, and more general the way he moves in public society, both in high circles and in the Paris underground. Other themes will be the relation between fictionalization for television and faithfulness to historic facts and surroundings, the freedom (“franchise”) of fictional persons and the freedom in developing a series, the use of language, and the choice of venue and public for the series: is France 2 the only possible channel for this series? The producers of the series have bought the right to create new adventures for Le Floch as they see fit.

Personally I would like for example to discuss the uses of music in this and similar series, stylishly composed for the series or existing period music. Remembering some of the BBC television series recreating novels by Jane Austen the art of getting things also musically right merits attention, too.

Natalie Zemon Davis published in 1987 her study Fiction in the archives. Pardon tellers and their tellers in sixteenth-century France. In order to get a lettre de rémission, a pardon for their crimes, suspected criminals had not only to tell the truth but more importantly a convincing story. The series with Le Floch is a challenge to legal historians to tell the story of crime and persecution in eighteenth-century Paris as imaginatively, vigorously and utterly compelling by the sheer force of truthful historic representation as novelist Parot and the creators of this French historic crime series have thus far succeeded in doing. The call for papers at Calenda points to several new French studies on history and fiction.

Even if you would prefer to label Nicolas Le Floch under the heading of Law and Humanities, it is a reminder that “doing the real thing”, research into criminal history during the Ancien Régime, will ultimately lead to an interpretation, a representation or reconstruction of a particular part of the past. Any paper, article, book or video presents not the past itself, but a view of the past guided by your questions, views and background. Scholarly research, too, creates an image of the past. We had better learn to use images creatively, too, instead of depreciate and deplore such series. Those who have followed Downton Abbey on television will remember how legal historians were asked to scrutinize the representation of the entail featured so prominently in this series. Readers of Austen’s Pride and prejudice have met with the entail, too, and this list can be easily expanded.