Tag Archives: Legal history

Women and law in medieval letters

Logo EpistolaeHow can you correct some of the deceptive perspectives, or even worse, outright biases, without surrendering your own powers of comprehension? What is humanly possible to change your mind? I think we should embrace every sincere invitation to let us listen better to voices easily overlooked in our regular research practice and use of sources. In the project under discussion in this post I will as usually try to look first of all for its qualities, and not only for things to be repaired or bettered. Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters is a project created by Joan Ferrante, a professor of English literature at Columbia University, New York. Its core is a corpus of nearly 2,400 medieval letters, both in English translation and in the original languages. What does this substantial collection contain, and what not? How easy can you use its contents? What is in these letters for legal historians?

Spanning a continent and a millennium

The second logo of Epistolae

The letters in the Epistolae project are written in Latin. They date from the fourth to the thirteenth century, and thus there are texts from Late Antiquity up to the century which often has been seen as the apogee of the Middle Ages. The collection contains both letters sent by women and letters they received. Apart from browsing the entire collection you can search the letters using separate search fields for the title of a letters, senders and recipients, and there is also a global search field. The first three fields automatically generate suggestions for items containing a part of your search which you can select for quicker searching. By clicking on the title of a column in the results view you can change its sorting order. There is a basic bibliography for the resources used for this project, with in many cases only the title of publications and their presence in Columbia’s university library. In the second section of the project you will find biographies about the women figuring in the project.

One of the things I quickly noticed is probably one of the historian’s idols, the absence of years or a period of years in a number of search results. In some cases a global date can be added easily because we know the years in which the sender or recipient lived. Historians prefer to know from which period or year, or when necessary even from which date a source stems. Temporal precision helps you to avoid generalisations for a period like the European Middle Ages which span a continent during a millennium. However, the thing clearly most important here is showing the existence of letters written by women or received by women in a language mostly associated with men and male education.

However large the number of more than 2,300 letters may seem, you will probably want to see as many letters written by women as possible, and in a second set letters written to women, and you might want to have also easy access to letters sent among women, but I do not see here the possibility to create this subset quickly. With this in mind I was rather amazed that you will find for Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) only three letters dictated by her and three sent to her. Her correspondence is good for three volumes in the modern scholarly edition, Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium, Lieven Van Acker and Monika Klaes-Hachmoller (eds.) (Turnhout: 1991-2001; Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis, 91, 91a and 91b), commonly seen as the one of the largest collections of letters written by a medieval woman. Hildegard is justly famed for the wide variety of people she wrote to and writing to her. The examples given here are restricted to letters to Elisabeth von Schonau, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Bernard of Clairvauc, and letters of Bernard of Clairvaux and Elisabeth von Schonau. The entrance for Hildegard of Bingen mentions the English translation [The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford etc., 1994, 1998, 2004)]. I did not find a statement on the website for this severely restricted choice, but it might be a matter of creating a balance between well-known and lesser known women.

A Dutch and Flemish view

You could bet I would look in the database of Epistolae for Dutch women, and this is indeed fruitful and revealing. There are 127 search results for a global search with the term Holland, and 208 results when you search for Flanders. However, something else becomes also visible. Each letter with more than one sender or recipient is recorded as many times as there are senders and recipients. Let’s look for example at the two charters of count William of Holland addressed to Margaret of Constantinople, countess of Flanders, written both May 19, 1250 in Brussels. I could not help spotting that William is according to the first charter only count of Holland, and in the second charter he figures as king of Romans. Ashleigh Imus provided Ebnglish translations of these charters. I checked the text also in the source mentioned at Epistolae, the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ), A.C.F. Koch, J.G. Kruisheer en E.C. Dijkhof (eds.) (5 vol., The Hague 1970-2006) digitized by the Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History.

The first charter, no. 851 in the OHZ, reads clearly “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus, comes Hollandie,” both king and count, with for Margaret, “Margareta Flandrie et Hainonie comitissa”, yet another county, Hainault. In the second charter (OHZ, no. 856) William is called only king of Romans, “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus”. When you check the OHZ you will see Margaret figures in more charters dated May 19, 1250. In no. 858 her name is abbreviated. No. 701 of December 16, 1246 is present in the Epistolae database, but this charter was not addressed to the abbot and monastery of Doesburg. Thosan is the Flemish monastery at Ter Doest.

In yet another letter, this time addressing pope Gregory IX in 1242, Ashleigh Imus rightly corrected a misprinted location in an old Italian edition. The charter mentions indeed Veurne (Furnes) in Flanders. There is a summary of this charter in the registers of pope Innocent IV [Les Registres d’Innocent IV (1243-1254) I, Elie Berger (ed.) (Paris 1884), p. 52, no. 290], dated “Datum Lateranensi VI Idus Decembris”, December 8, 1243, and not on “III Nonas Decembris”, December 3, and edited from the papal register Reg. Avon. I 289, f. 47. I could not find this charter at the Belgian portal Diplomatica Belgica. Ferrante mentions the conflict about Hainault in her very interesting short biography of Margaret of Constantinople (1202-1280), without however caring to give the date of her birth and death.

You can check the charters of the only Dutch king of the Holy Roman Empire also in Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland, Dieter Hägermann and Jaap Kruisheer (eds.) (Hannover 1989; Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Diplomata), available online at dMGH, the digital platform of the MGH in Munich. The two charters nicely shows the difficulties of recording in a database the presence of multiple people involved with one item, and in this case even two person with two roles in the first charter. Things are clearly not entirely correct when you cannot find Margaret when you use a global search for Hainault. I am afraid that you got to be very much aware of the fact that only 800 letters have been entered into the Epistolae database, even though 2000 letters have been collected and await further treatment.

If you want to follow the trail of charters in the Low Countries you can consult online several modern editions. For Guelders you have the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, for the diocese Utrecht Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S. Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-‘s-Gravenhage 1959). For Brabant the Digitaal Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant brings you even more than the printed editions. Older editions for Frisia, Groningen and Drenthe can be consulted and searched at the Cartago platform.

Letters and charters

My probings in the Epistolae database point in the direction of a conclusion which is not entirely surprising. It seems a good thing to put in both real letters and charters into one database on the same footing, but alas charters need to be treated in a very distinct way in order to become usable for research. The projects for Holland, Utrecht and Guelders give you a searchable database and both OCR-scanned texts and images of the original edition. Of course you want to use all possible relevant sources about particular women, but putting them into a database and creating a reliable scholarly resource is not an easy thing, regardless of the subject you want to investigate. In the Epistolae database you cannot search directly for letters by women sent to other women, a thing many people will want to look for. In many charters women, in particular those of high rank in medieval society, do all kinds of things, in particular actions with legal consequences. It is perfectly understandable that you would like to have as many sources as possible in a single online resource, but one has to accept some consequences. To the philological skills needed to study medieval letters you will have to add the skills of the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatic,s the study of charters, and palaeography.

Joan Ferrante wisely choose to rely on printed editions for her enterprise. Her knowledge of medieval literature and approaches of this vast subject has led her to launching a database that has its strength primarily in the letters given both in Latin and English. Realizing the idea of wanting to show both writing letters and using the pen for legal matters in charters is not unthinkable, but it will be a tour de force. Finding the voices of medieval women is a quest in itself, but you cannot afford to lose sight of all tools needed and existing.

Another thing that needs stressing is attention to the epistolary genre with its own particularities. You can get an idea of a further mixture of matters relevant to legal history by looking for example at a recent volume concerning the papacy and letters, Kuriale Briefkultur im späteren Mittelalter. Gestaltung – Überlieferung – Rezeption, Tanja Broser, Andreas Fischer and Matthias Thumser (eds.) (Cologne-Weimar Vienna, 2015; Regesta Imperii Beihefte, 37), available online at the website of the Regesta Imperii. In his contribution in this volume,  ‘Letter-Collections in the Middle Ages’ (pp. 35-50), Giles Constable explains medieval letters are most often transmitted within collections. A real letter could be expanded and refined to serve as a literary text. He stresses the double nature of letters and charters which can have both a personal and businesslike character. Constable urges scholars to look carefully at each individual letter, and not to conclude things hastily because it is preserved in a particular collection. Wise words from not just one of the best known medievalists, but from a doyen in the field of medieval letters. His volume on Letters and letter-collections (Turnhout 1976; Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental, 17) has been digitized by the MGH. You can learn basic things about medieval letters also in the chapter ‘Epistolography’ by Julian Heseldine in Medieval latin: An introduction and bibliographical guide, Frank Mantello and Arthur Rigg (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 1997) 650-658. On the resources page of Epistolae this guide is mentioned without a reference to this chapter.

Logo MGH, Munich

Speaking of the MGH, it is now possible to find at their dMGH platform also editions of letters in the Epistolae series, in particular the volumes of the Epistolae saeculi XIII e regestis pontificum Romanorum selectae, Karl Rodenberg (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin 1883-1897; MGH Epp. saec. XIII) in which you will find both real letters and more official correspondence. A letter to Joan of Constantinople, countess of Flanders and Hainault, sent by pope Gregory IX on November 5, 1235 (I, 563, no. 666) can be added in the Epistolae database. Among the latest publications of the MGH is the Codex Udalrici, Klauss Nass (ed.) (Wiesbaden 2017; MGH, Die Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 10) with early twelfth-century letters around the investiture conflict compiled by a cleric at Bamberg.

Visible and invisible filters

When finishing this post I could look also at the remarks about medieval letters in the first edition in Dutch from 1962 of the famous Guide to the sources of medieval history (Oxford 1995), also translated and updated as Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale: typologie, histoire de l’érudition médiévale, grandes collections, sciences auxiliaires, bibliographie (Turnhout 1997) by Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, to mention only the latest versions. Both authors mentioned in 1962 already everything I summarized here from later introductions to a rewarding genre which you cannot approach as if you can read everything at face value.

Banner Feminae

The most paradoxical thing about the project of Joan Ferrante is her apparent neglect as a professor of medieval literature of a thing which any student would know and duly acknowledge. It is one thing to set out to correct the bias filtering medieval women out of view, another thing to tackle the apparent biases in two distinct kinds of sources, medieval letters and charters. Both genres share a mixture of objective matters and personal touches. I am convinced of the need to use gender perspectives, but perhaps I am also too much a medievalist to forget about the challenges medieval sources pose for any kind of research. What can and has been done in research about medieval women can be traced in the online bibliography at Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. You should not miss the bibliographies at Queens in the Middle Ages, too. A portal such as Monastic Matrix concerning medieval women’s religious communities is a model of its kind. The presence of English translations and accompanying biographies is surely most valuable for the Epistolae project, but the mélange of letters and charters has resulted in a rather unexpected mixture. It would be wonderful to use both genres together in one database, but one has to overcome some very real problems before you are able to hear the true voices of medieval women. In my opinion this database deserves a remix, an update with the 1200 letters waiting to be entered, and some tuning of the biographies and search interface to become fully operational as a search tool which can fulfill many needs.


A true professor: Knut Wolfgang Nörr, legal historian and lawyer

Knut Wolfgang NörrIn the midst of all kind of things, not only preparing new posts for this blog, I read news which made me pause for thought, and more than that. It is truly sad to hear that Knut Wolfgang Nörr passed away on January 15, 2018. Last week Thomas Duve, one of the directors of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, wrote a brief message about Nörr’s death on the institute’s website. At the university of Tübingen his colleague Jan Schröder wrote a somewhat longer but still very concise in memoriam with however a very full treatment. In fact it is hard to believe you can tell anything about him with so few words. When you look at the enlarged version of the portrait photo it is even more striking how he looked almost unchanged over the years. Here I would like to share a few of my memories of meeting Professor Nörr many years ago, and I will briefly look at his work in the field of medieval canon law. I am sure they show sides of him which are equally telling about his person, his life and achievements as a scholar as more profound obituaries which he truly deserves.

A true professor

Jan Schröder succeeds wonderfully in creating a most lively image of Knut Wolfgang Nörr (1935-2018), a man of many gifts. Legal historians tend to see him as a major specialist in the field of medieval canon law, but he made also important contributions to the study of contemporary German law. It was Stephan Kuttner who guided his first research in the field of medieval ecclesiastical law, resulting in his first book around a theme connected with the Council of Basel, Kirche und Konzil bei Nicolaus de Tudeschis (Panormitanus) (diss. Munich 1960; Cologne 1964). Nörr used here the person of the Sicilian canonist Niccolò de Tedeschi (1386-1445) as a focus for a study of views on the balance between church and councils. His versatility became soon visible in his Habilitationsschrift on the position of judges within Early Modern legal procedure, Zur Stellung des Richters im gelehrten Prozess der Frühzeit: Judex secundum allegata non secundum conscientiam judicat (Munich 1967). Nörr became in 1966 a professor at Bonn, and went in 1971 to Tübingen where he would stay despite several alluring calls from other universities.

Combining the history of legal procedure and medieval canon law became a hallmark of his work, but he was equally equipped to study the history of German law, for example with a pioneering study of private law during the Weimar Republic, Zwischen den Mühlsteinen : eine Privatrechtsgeschichte der Weimarer Republik (Tübingen 1988), and crowned with a study on the history of economic law in post-war Germany, Die Republik der Wirtschaft : Recht, Wirtschaft und Staat in der Geschichte Westdeutschlands (2 vol., Tübingen 1990-2007). The results of his research were published also in a steadily flow of articles, a number of those concerning civil procedure were republished in the volume Judicium est actus trium personarum : Beiträge zur Geschichte des Zivilprozessrechts in Europa (Goldbach 1993).

In the field of medieval canon law he looked in particular at the way the papacy used law, not only in papal decretals, letters with decisions by papal delegates, usual bishops or abbots, but also at the courts of the papal curia in Rome. Looking at the titles of his articles and their sequence it shines through how he delved new roads to look at the relevant sources. The importance of his work on medieval procedure is perhaps most visible in the creation of the series Der Einfluss der Kanonistik auf die europäische Rechtskultur, Orazio Condorelli et alii (edd.) (4 vol., Cologne-Weimar-Vienna 2009-2014) in which three volumes deal with legal procedure. Thanks to Knut Wolfgang Nörr the very substantial role of canon law in legal procedure is taken into account in any study of the history of legal procedure, an achievement very much also following his teacher Stephan Kuttner who stressed the role of medieval canon law for criminal law.

Some personal notes

I had promised you not to look only at the publications of Knut Wolfgang Nörr, but seeing this overview helps you to understand what a towering figure he was, certainly in the eyes of a young graduate student. In summer 1991 I came to Tübingen for a period of research for my Ph.D. thesis. My second supervisor, Alain Wijffels (Leiden and Louvain-la-Neuve) had helped me to get support from the university of Tübingen. I had made an appointment at the law faculty, but I was not quite prepared for what happened next. Nörr welcomed me friendly, assuming I would defend my thesis at Leiden University, quod non, but after telling him about my purpose and study plan he did something else, too. He gave me the name of a student assistant whom I could contact for practical matters, and he walked me to the university library. In a seemingly old-fashioned but very effective way he introduced me to the staff of the department for rare books and manuscripts. Twenty-five years ago the electronic library catalogue at Tübingen was still in an early phase, and not all old works had yet been entered. Therefore he handed me the old hand written catalogue of legal books, and urged me to look it through completely before starting with reading specific medieval and Early Modern works.

To illustrate the riches of Tübingen’s university library for legal history Nörr told me a story about another visitor. On a certain occasion he had taken Domenico Maffei, a connaisseur of old legal books, to the library stacks, and left him with the old legal books. After half an hour Nörr looked for Maffei, and found him still between the stacks, murmuring again and again: “Scandalo, scandalo!”. “What is the scandal?”, Nörr asked him, and Maffei answered the scandal was not the stunning presence of many rare books, surprisingly often with more than one copy, but the fact this collection had survived the ages and now was only seldom used.

The Bonatzbau (1912) of Tübingen University - image Wikimedia Commons

I spent part of the following summer again in Tübingen to benefit from the rich holdings of the university library. For at least one particular genre of Early Modern legal books it would be impossible to write its history without taking the collections at Tübingen into consideration, but it is closer to the truth to say that only the Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen made me thinking about this genre. I hope to follow and complete my investigations. Most of all, I cherish the foundations I could lay for such research thanks to the gentle support of Professor Nörr and the efforts of the library staff.

A second loss

While musing about my fond memories I remembered another thing. Knut Wolfgang Nörr belonged to a family with three of Germany’s best lawyers, a Dreigestern (three-star). Last year Dieter Nörr (1931-2017), too, passed away. In my Munich years I worked at the Abteilung B for German and Bavarian legal history of the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte, but luckily I was also in touch with the department for the legal history of Classical Antiquity in its fullest extent. Dieter Nörr, his colleagues and the marvellous library for ancient law ensure that yearly many young scholars come to Munich. For me it was striking to see during the famous Roman law seminar the similarities between the two brothers, in particular his humility and humour in admitting something was too difficult for him to solve. The In Memoriam on the institute’s website says infinitely more about him.

A true professor inspires not only by his research, teaching and publications, but with his whole person, his behaviour and way of living. Knut Wolfgang Nörr set an example of questioning existent views, immersing himself in the matters at stake and charting new territories, and perhaps above all, taking interest in people and sharing his curiosity and wisdom. Even in the few times I met him these qualities were visible. The community of legal historians has lost again one of its giants. Let’s keep alive the sparkle that lived so strong in Knut Wolfgang and Dieter Nörr!

New views on digitized medieval manuscripts: Parker Library 2.0

Startscreen Parker Library on the Web

An old advertisement trick is using the words new and better. In this post I will look at a new version of a digital collection with medieval manuscripts which indeed can now be reached to a fuller extent. Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is the fruit of cooperation between the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Stanford University Libraries. The first version of this most varied digital collection did not make everybody happy. Let’s look here at some of the changes, and also make a tour of manuscripts which can be connected to legal history.

Removing the barriers

For some reason Corpus Christi College, Cambridge had until January 10, 2018 granted only partial online access to external users for viewing the more than 500 medieval manuscripts in its rich collections. The main problem was you could not look properly at contextual data for the manuscripts, and you were deprived of viewing bibliographical information. One of the jewels guarded is an illustrated manuscript with the chronicle of Matthew Paris (ms. 16), with one of the most used depictions of a medieval church council at f. 43v. I could not show it to you in my 2015 post about the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. However, the important manuscript catalogue by Montague Rhodes James, A Descriptive Catalogue of The Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1909) and Vol. II (Cambridge, 1912) could already be consulted online, but not the information about more recently added manuscripts or about research concerning them since the work of M.R. James was published.

The new version of the digital Parker Library makes up for a lot of these deficiencies. The library now offers an overview of the successive manuscript catalogues where you can view online or download them. The Parker Library owes its start and a substantial number of its earliest manuscripts to archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575). As archbishop of Canterbury he donated in 1574 some 400 books to Corpus Christi College. Many of these books come from monasteries dissolved in 1535. Since 2010 you can follow the Parker Library also on its blog and on Twitter.

Is everything now readily accessible in the new version of this digital library? I could not help proceeding immediately to Matthew Paris’ Chronica majora and f. 43v of ms. 16. The first thing I noticed was the not quite convincing working of the general search field. Searching without filter, using Everything for “Chronica majora”, leads you only to references about this chronicle, and not to the manuscript itself. In 2003 the manuscript and its binding were separated. The manuscript is now called 16II. When searching you have to add a prefix zero, 016. You will have to consult the Hints and Tips section in order to create successful searches. On reaching ms. 016II I looked in vain for the famous illustration. Its presence is not indicated in any way, but you can guess something is missing because you can view only the upper half of this manuscript page. Anyway, you can find perhaps some consolation in the online presence of the study by Suzanne Lewis, The art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica majora (Berkeley, CA, etc., 1987; online, Internet Archive). The image of the cardinals at Lateran IV is shown in black-and-white on page 122.

Logo Parker Library

I had rather not hide the qualities and working of the search function in Parker on the Web 2.0. In fact searching was much easier in the previous version, much more what you would expect concerning search fields than in it 2018 upgraded version. It is a change from a tantalizing distance to things just out of your reach, to a situation where you can go to almost everything, provided you apply your previous knowledge very consciously. In the old situation I would usually skip looking at James’ descriptions, now his clues prove still helpful. The most striking feature is the general search field. Each of the six filters needs careful handling to get useful results. A good example are the 20.000 page details which you can filter using the fields of the general search mode. I had expected these filters to be situated to the left of these results. I suppose also I prefer creating a specific search at the start above applying filters afterwards. Of course I filtered the results for ms. 16II, but the famous illustration is conspicuously absent here, too. However, having a vast bibliography for this manuscript is a thing for rejoicing…

Legal history and the Parker Library

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae – Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Parker Library, ms. 445, p. 3 – image Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

After this foray into the functioning of the new presentation and attempting to find a very particular illustration it is best to try to uncover the rich manuscripts of the Parker Library in another way. Lately Ben Albritton, involved at Stanford with technology concerning digitized manuscripts, wondered at Twitter why a particular manuscript [CCCC MS 445: Richard de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae] was the least visited item of the online Parker Library. This text is concerned with the wording of acts and letters in use at the papal curia, more commonly dubbed the cursus. Let there be no misunderstanding that I could retrieve ms. 445 without any problem. This manuscript is certainly to be linked with medieval canon law, yet it does not occur among the 22 search results for “canon law”. On closer inspection there is no field in the full description for genre and/or subject. A similar search for Roman law brings only four manuscripts. Ms. 77 with Guilhelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale rightly figures among the results in both searches. The variety of texts, including the Decretum Gratiani, the Decretum of Ivo of Chartres, other decretal collections, registers and cartularies, gives you a fair idea of the range of texts concerning medieval canon law. In this respect, too, the Parker Library is indeed interesting.


Wisdom tells me a search for statutes might be more useful than searching for English law, but eventually both yielded some twenty results with not much overlap, another testimony to the rich variety of the Parker Library, but also a fact pointing to the importance of classification. When you search apart from canon law, Roman and English law, for glosses, decretals and judges you will find here most of the manuscripts touching upon legal history. However, the tricky thing is that you cannot be sure you have found all relevant materials without checking also the manuscript catalogues. This diminishes the importance of the new use here of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) for easy and reliable comparison of manuscript images. The Parker Library scores with the easy access to the current and historic manuscript catalogues. For some manuscripts the bibliographical information is excellent. I had some trouble with the Mirador viewer used here to implement IIIF, although this viewer has been optimized for this aim. You can use the arrows to flip through a manuscript, but in the top field with the indication of the page or folio number nothing changes. At other websites I did not have this problem with the Mirador viewer.

Keeping in mind I used here the new version of the Parker Library it seems some problems, such as the counter of the viewer, are typically early user problems which hopefully will be addressed and solved quickly. Finding a particular category of texts or a manuscript genre is not completely possible. I realize I am perhaps too much inclined to the use of categories and tags and to prefer very specific search questions, but I am convinced good classifications are really helpful. Having access to bibliographical information and being able to compare images in a reliable way with manuscripts elsewhere, is certainly among the strengths of the Parker Library. It will be helpful, too, when a correct link to Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is also added to the great portal with the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App (DMMapp). Let my first impressions not deter you from visiting the new gateway to the medieval manuscripts of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge!

Hide and seek: Finding “hidden” collections

Startscreen CLIR Hidden Collection Registry

Once upon a time you made good wishes for every new year. You promised yourself to set one or more substantial goals to pursue with all your talents and capacities in order to obtain results that often would led to higher self-esteem and other lofty qualities. Wisdom teaches us real changes come in small steps, not with giant leaps. In this post I will look not just at one project, but at a foundation supporting many projects. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), based at Washington, D.C., has a fine record of supporting all kinds of projects for libraries, archives and documentation centers. One of their latest projects is the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry. If this truly works, it would perform a most welcome service. What does this registry contain? How can you search in it for particular collections, themes or periods? Does it fulfill its purpose and promise? Knowing about the support of CLIR for projects which are of interest for legal historians prompted me to test the new registry website. Apart from the findings about the registry I intend to report on some incidental catch as well.

A serious quest

You might be slightly surprised by the jolly title “Hide and seek”, but there is here indeed an element of play. The very title Hidden Collections Registry contains a joke: How can you bring together and register what is described as hidden? If you have found a hidden thing, it is discovered once and forever, provided you share your discovery. CLIR aims here at bringing together information about collections that led a more or less hidden life. Thanks to CLIR funding they have become more visible and accessible to the public.

Some members of the public do equate accessibility with online access. I work at Het Utrechts Archief, an archive with more than 1,300 collections, good for some 32 kilometers on our stacks. It will take herculean efforts to digitize everything, even if you succeed in making every year one million scans. We try to put every finding aid online,.Sometimes we can only offer a list of the boxes in anticipation of fuller treatment. Every year some collections will be digitized entirely, but for some important series we can add only ten or twenty digitized years per annum. Funding can be most helpful to tip the balance between only offering digital finding aids and some small digital collections on one side, and on the other side creating large digital collections or dealing with fragile and very special collections which are not fit for the normal digital road.

CLIR logo

CLIR succeeds indeed in supporting a wide variety of projects. The latest CLIR overview published on January 4, 2018 is no exception. Among unexpected things is for example the very first item, a project of The Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA, Archiving Antigua: A Digital Record of Pre- and Post-Emancipation Antigua, 1760-1948. The Moravian Brethren are a protestant missionary organization which has been active first in Europe, but rather quickly in the Americas. At Het Utrechts Archief are some thirty archival collections concerning a number of settlements, branches and even factories of the Moravian Brethren; when searching for “Evangelische Broeders” and “Broedergemeente” you will find them. I checked quickly for more Moravian stuff in the Hidden Collections Registry. The newly funded collection should be added to the three very different projects concerning the Moravian Brethren included in the CLIR registry thus far, a music collection, the first hundred years of the Pennsylvania settlement, and a collection documenting several German spiritual movements.

For each item the CLIR registry gives a concise overview and indications of the period involved and the geographic scope. It is useful, too, to have not only the name of the institution but also the name of a person to contact. To every item in the registry tags are added concerning the formats of materials. You can search for themes and periods, for projects funded by CLIR – a total of 162 – and for projects in a particular year, starting with 2008.

CLIR and legal history

You can imagine how eager I am to look for projects before 2017, because the newest projects have not yet been included. I started searching with the words legal history and this resulted in 37 results, a nice percentage of the nearly one thousand projects funded until now. Let’s look at some results. The colonial library of Jasper Yeates was to be digitized in a 2012 project. The city and state of LancasterHistory in Lancaster, PA are not indicated in the registry entry. A second project from 2008 concerned the political and governmental history of Alabama from 1799 to 1948; no institution is specified. The third project dealt in 2014 with Massachusetts petitions on women’s rights between 1619 and 1925, a project of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. With some surprise I saw among these results a project at UCLA for its palaeontological collections, funded by the CLIR in 2010. It seems the separate appearance of the words legal and history was enough for inclusion, as is the case for the project concerning Midwest organic tools. Adding a real field for tags will help much to solve this problem.

It is really difficult to choose among the 37 results concerning legal history more examples, because many projects are really interesting, from Illinois Circuit Court records to the well-known project to digitize 30,000 French pamphlets at Chicago’s Newberry Library, and from the legacy of slavery in the Maryland State Archives to the papers of civil rights activist Margaret Bush Wilson (Washington University, St. Louis, MO), entered in the registry for 2011 and 2012, a project for native American petitions in Massachusetts (Yale Indian Papers Project), and the digitization of the M. Watt Espy papers concerning the history of the death penalty in the United States since 1608 (SUNY, Albany). Legal history is clearly not out of view within the CLIR collections program.

Faithful readers of my posts are used to the proliferation of links in my posts which usually lead you directly to a particular website or project. If you find something interesting and want to leave my blog, you should indeed use these links immediately. It is the very purpose of the links to bring you to particular addresses! However, it is embarrassing to give you in the first half of this post only links to the CLIR registry, and not as usual links to the websites with these projects. The CLIR Hidden Collections Registry does not contain links to the websites of institutions with a particular project nor the links to the results of projects. Not mentioning links, not even only for the CLIR funded projects, is not what you expect in any registry or list of funded digitization projects. In its current state the registry lives not up to reasonable expectations. It is a shame in particular, because the organization proposing this tool without links is the very Council on Library and Information Resources, an organization which aims at helping institutions to communicate better. In its current state the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry succeeds to a certain extent in hiding collections.

Finding the missing links

As for now teachers should not hesitate to test the digital abilities of their students and pupils, and ask them to find the URL’s of complete projects! In some cases you will not find the results at the website, subdomains or portal of an institution. I will not completely spoil this game, but a few examples might be instructive. The Newberry Library in Chicago has uploaded 30,000 digitized French pamphlets to the Internet Archive. At least one resource mentioned here does reach into the twenty-first century, and gains in value from the long period covered. In fact the very project that made me want to use the CLIR Registry is the project concerning the death penalty in the United States, a resource not only of interest for historians. The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives at SUNY, Albany, is home to the National Death Penalty Archive, with as its jewel the M. Watt Espy Papers. You can find the results until now at the Espy Project page. As for now, data are being processed in a GitHub project. You can find some examples of notes in these papers on a news page of the libraries of the State University of New York at Albany. The links section for this project in the CLIR registry will have to be substantial. The Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP) has only an announcement about the funding by CLIR, but you can already find some digitized petitions, maybe from other institutions not touched by the grant, or on the other hand the first results. I am aware that in a number of cases there is not yet a URL for a project. In such cases you will need even more the web address of the relevant institution.

The Hidden Collections program of CLIR aims at the realisation of the potential of collections, by helping with funds for either the preservation and cataloging of one or more collections, or by giving grants which make digitization and online open access possible. It is only logical to show the successes of this program. Dozens of projects in the CLIR registry are concerned with civil rights, women’s history, slavery and Afro-American history, even if you got to acknowledge that some entries look very much like an all-compassing grant apply. It would be logical to filter results by adding the category Funded, but alas this is not yet possible.

With a little help…

Before turning our back on the major and minor shortcomings of the registry project it is only fait to look at some CLIR projects which deserve applause. In Recordings at Risk CLIR invites institutions to apply for grants in order to safeguard endangered audiovisual recordings. CLIR supports the Digital Library Federation with for example a guide for digitizing special formats. Among CLIR’s own projects I would like to single out the project for a Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME), a project with partners such as Stanford University Libraries and the Qatar National Library. The DLME will be developed to contain not just digitized printed books, but also digitized archival collections, manuscripts and artefacts documenting the cultural heritage of countries in the Middle East. This project will join the ranks of project such as Patrimoines partagés of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, launched a few months ago, Menalib, the Middle East Virtual Library of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle, and – closer to CRIL – the Oman Digital Library of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. In the project of the BnF the Middle East is just one section among eight sections covering various regions and countries. CLIR rightly mentions the Endangered Archives Project led by the British Library, a project which deserved a post here. CLIR provides also fellowship grants.

Everybody writing a grant application knows he or she has to fulfill several demands. The CLIR calls them core values. For the Hidden Collections program openness is one of these values, and I quote approvingly: “The program ensures that digitized content will be made available to the public as easily and completely as possible, given ethical and legal constraints.” It would be a sign of respect to all those scholars, staff members and institutions benefiting from or sponsoring the work of CLIR when the Hidden Collections Registry, too, does operate accordingly. In my view supplying the missing links is a necessary gesture. Some tuning would be welcome, too. When you look at all good things supported by CLIR the present state of this registry is hopefully only a temporary exception.

A postscript

Part of my concern about the CLIR registry stems from the situation around the IMLS Digital Collections and Content: U.S. History Resources from Libraries, Museums and Archives, a portal created at the Grainger Engineering Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After technical changes and a move to a new web address this potentially very rich resource does not function anymore. Ironically it is the version with the penultimate layout saved in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive which you can still browse, for example in the version of January 2012. You can easily retrieve the URL’s of digital collections at the end of the archived web addresses in the links of the old IMLS portal.

Another example: Some of the firms selling digital collection systems had their own overview. One firm even used its own system for a database in which you could find almost 1,000 projects, the Collection of Collections, but alas this database has been removed, too; you can only browse the latest capture from January 2017 at the Internet Archive.

On studying the Theodosian Code

Banner Cedant- Il codice Teodsoiano

It is a good tradition to start here every year with a post about Roman law. Sometimes a new resource deserves attention, but this year I want to look at a text, the Theodosian Code, because it will be at the heart of a three-week course at Pavia with the title The Theodosian Code: Complilation, Transmission, Reception. The week is hosted by the centre CEDANT (Centro di studi e ricerche sui Diritti Antichi) from January 8 to 26, 2018 at the Collegio Ghislieri. The course will be led by Detlev Liebs (Universität Freiburg) and Dario Mantovani (Università degli Studi di Pavia). In particular the partial tradition of the Codex Theodosianus has been the subject of investigation. Only a part of its text has survived the centuries in its original form, and a critical tradition arrived only belatedly. The edition in 1905 by Theodor Mommsen and Paul Meyer did not solve all riddles. The participants of the course in Pavia have the chance to hear about the latest developments in scholarly research from the very scholars who delve into this work of legislation from Late Antiquity. In this post I propose to create a kind of nutshell guide to the current state of knowledge.

New knowledge about an old text

Modern research does of course not lose sight of the critical edition published by Mommsen and Meyer, Theodosiani libri XVI cum constitutionibus Sirmondianis et leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes (2 vol., Berlin 1905), but we tend to look in this century first to its availability online. Only its first volume in the Internet Archive is everywhere accessible online without having to use a U.S proxy. Perhaps you want to start 2018 with finally using this and similar tools. Klaus Graf explained a few days ago again concisely how to start using a proxy for Hathi Trust. For quick reference one can turn to the digitized version with only the text at The Latin Library. We will see to which source the cross references in this online edition point. Another quick way to the text is provided by the invaluable Amanuensis app of Peter Riedlberger and Günther Rosenbaum, introduced here in 2015. You can run his program also on your computer. There is no excuse nowadays for not giving references to the main text of Roman law. Clyde Pharr’s The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions: A Translation with Commentary, Glossary, and Bibliography (Princeton, NJ, 1952) provides you with a helpful translation in English of this code which assembled acts of Roman legislation between 311 and 437 AD.

Paul Krüger (1840-1926) could only publish an edition of the books I-VIII (2 vol., Berlin 1923-1926). He would surely have pursued this path but he died before he could achieve this. In an earlier post I looked at his legacy, in particular at his papers hold at the Library of Congress. Krüger had worked together with Mommsen on a complete edition of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, but Mommsen decided to finish his own edition of the Codex Theodosianus without even mentioning Krüger on the title page of the edition.

Logo Pôlib - Lille

Having access to a text is one thing, approaching it in the right way is another. Probably the best way to start is to go to the version in the Roman Law Library created by Yves Lassard and Aleksandr Koptiev at the Université Grenoble-Alpes. Here the Constitutiones Sirmondianae and other texts are clearly distinguished from the main body of the Theodosian Code. The code came into force in 438 AD. Lassard and Koptiev give in separate sections the text of the Gesta Senatus Romani de Theodosiano publicando and the Leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes. They also point to the digital version created at Lille of the Leipzig 1736-1745 edition of the version published by Jacques Godefroy (1587-1652). They point in their digital library correctly to a digitized version in the Internet Archive the second volume of the Mommsen-Meyer editions with the Theodosian Novellae.

As a student I was intrigued by the title of the Constitutiones Sirmondianae. Jacques Sirmond (1559-1651) was a French Jesuit who published editions of many early medieval ecclesiastical authors. His fame for later generations rests upon his editio princeps in Appendix Codicis Theodosiani novis constitutionibus cumulatior (…) (Paris: Cramoisy, 1631, online, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome) of a number of missing constitutions in the editions that had appeared until his time. Of course the fame of this edition is a relative thing: you will see that only the German Wikipedia article for Sirmond mentions it.

Centuries of scholarship

With Godefroy and Sirmond we entered the field of legal humanism and erudite scholarship, and we have to note another thing that somehow is not always clear. The textual tradition of the sources of Roman law rests only for a small part on inscriptions and papyri from Classical Antiquity. Medieval manuscripts and Early Modern editions are very important. Earlier scholars might have seen manuscripts that no longer exist or are mutilated. Sometimes manuscripts were simply destroyed after the printer had finished an edition.

Late Antiquity is the perspective of the Projet Volterra at University College London, named in honour of Edoardo Volterra (1904-1984), with the Law and Empire AD 193-455 (“Project Volterra I”) database which helps you to search efficiently for laws concerning particular subjects or from a particular emperor. The section Early Medieval Texts is a fair attempt to create a nutshell portal for early medieval legal history, and the parallel section Resources for Roman law is perhaps even better, with for example a section for online journals and an overview of online contents of other journals. You might want to look also at the website Roman Empire of Simon Corcoran, one of the main scholars in Projet Volterra. Sadly the link to the Projet Volterra version of books 1 to 8 of the Theodosian Code does not work currently.

Banner Biblioteca Legum

It should not be a complete surprise to find ample information about both the Codex Theodosianus and the Constitutiones Sirmondianae also at the website of a project concerning early medieval law. the Bibliotheca legum: Eine Handschriftendatenbank zum weltlichen Recht in Frankreich led by Karl Ubl (Universität Köln). The project website can be consulted in German and English. In the Bibliotheca legum Ubl and his team give concise introductions to a number of early medieval laws, in particular the so-called Völkerrechte (“Law of Peoples”). The first part of the Theodosian Code (books I-V) has been transmitted to us only in the Lex Visigothorum Romana, sometimes called the Breviarium Alaricianum – hence the reference to Brev. in the version of The Latin Library – and its abbreviated versions, with pride of place for the Epitome Aegidii, first edited in 1517 by Pieter Gillis. You can read more about this Flemish scholar in a post I wrote in 2016 around him and Thomas More’s Utopia. By now it is clear that dealing with the Theodosian Code means entering a constellation of related texts. The Bibliotheca legum leads you to existing editions of texts, to a current bibliography and to the manuscripts containing a particular text. Both for the older editions and the manuscripts you can often go to a digitized version. Ubl points to seventeen manuscripts for the Theodosian Code and ten manuscripts for the Constitutiones Sirmondianae. For the Lex Visigothorum Romana and its abbreviated forms 105 manuscripts are mentioned, and you will find even articles published in 2016 and 2017.

Studying the Codex Theodosianus is an international affair. Among the studies after 2000 Ubl mentions for example John F. Matthews, Laying down the law: a study of the Theodosian Code (New Haven, CT, 2000), A.J.B. Sirks, The Theodosian Code. A Study (Studia Amstelodamensia 39; Friedrichsdorf 2007) and the late José María Coma Fort, Codex Theodosianus. Historia de un texto (Madrid 2014), a study which you can download as a PDF. There is an updated version (2017) of the very useful article by Detlev Liebs, “Codex Theodosianus”, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte 1 (2nd ed., 2008) col. 868-870) in the scholarly repository of the Universität Freiburg.

In this post I focused on the transmission and reception of the Codex Theodosianus. During the seminar at Pavia there will be attention also for the redaction of this code of law, with due attention to inscriptions and papyri, too. Boudewijn Sirks and Simon Corcoran will be among the scholars who will teach at Pavia a public of talented and hopefully most attentive students and graduate students about the latest findings and views concerning one of the great attempts in Late Antiquity to bring as much Roman laws together as humanly possible. As for myself, I learned at the very least a few things that needed to be added or corrected to the Roman law page of my legal history website Rechtshistorie. More importantly, I was most happy to see how a line of research starting with Johann Sichard, Jacques Godefroy and Jacques Sirmond through Gustav Haenel and Carlo Baudi di Vesme to Mommsen and Krüger is clearly kicking and alive in this century. Seeing the continuity, the disputes and new starts is a good thing!

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.

A meeting of laws in ancient Egypt

Start screen Synallagma

In December 2009 I started my blog on legal history, and every year I look back in particular to see how far I succeeded in “spanning centuries and continents”, a phrase I used in an early post. The number of gaps and omissions is perhaps not as large anymore as I had feared, but some subjects and themes seem to escape my attention, or they are definitely outside my range. This week I encountered a subject which reminded me how historians can avoid a subject not only for some sound technical reasons, but also like a kind of elephant in the room, very visible but nevertheless almost not to be mentioned. When studying Roman law we long to see its influence everywhere in the Roman world, but there is a state of mind in the Roman world we do not often mention, the awe of the Romans for Greek culture. A redesigned website about contracts in Greek law can perhaps help to put the balance right. Ancient Greek law seldom figures here, another reason to look at this interesting project.

Ancient Greek law

How should one approach ancient Greek law? Even when I did not dare to write about it here I have been aware of the very useful Nomoi portal for this vast subject, hosted by the Simon Fraser University. The Digital Classicist Wiki gives you a fair idea of digital projects concerning Classical Antiquity. For the latest news you can often reckon on the marvellous Ancient World Online blog (AWOL) which figured here prominently in a 2016 post about journals for ancient legal history. In a post about inscriptions I did mention projects on the rim of the Roman empire, but in fact all countries around the Mediterranean and in the Near East form the territories of Classical Antiquity. I did not hesitate to mention papyri in that post, too.

In the project in the middle of this contribution a lot of themes come together: Greek law, inscriptions, papyri and Ptolemaic Egypt. The very title of the project Synallagma. Greek Contracts in Context goes with an explicit reference by its creator, Uri Yiftach (Tel Aviv University), to its earlier title, “Greek law in Roman times”, a phrase which indeed suggested Greek law is only a footnote or at its best a lesser relative of Roman law. Synallagma means originally mutual exchange. In the user guide and introduction Yiftach explains the working of this database with some 6,000 legal documents. With twelve fields you are able to filter for your specific search question. In the advanced search mode you can add search fields at will. In the overview of results the locations of documents, mainly in Egypt, take pride of place. Among the strengths of the Synallagma database are not only the references to the main overviews of inscriptions and papyri, but they will even directly link to them. You will see for example an embedded screen with information from Papyri.info, an aggregator of the main papyrological databases. These databases bring you to images, too.

A very useful function is the clauses section which distinguishes the elements of a contract. In the start screen you can select from twelve contract categories. You can set the presentation of search results in various orders. Thus it is easy to ascertain for example the first occurrence of a cheirographon in 247 BCE, and its latest in the eighth century CE, or to filter for contracts with women as one of the parties involved, in 1220 items. The drop down menu for gender includes also a couple, groups and forms of incorporation. Acts of sale dominate with 2820 items, followed by petitions and applications. some 2,500 items, nearly 1,600 lease contracts, and nearly 1,400 loans and deposits. The sum is higher than the total of 6,000 items, and one can readily assume the petitions concern all kind of contracts. There are 420 laws and decrees.

From Greek law to the Roman empire

P.Rain Cent. 166 - image Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

P. Rain. Cent. 166 – image Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

I was intrigued by the testamentary dispositions (235 items) in the Synallagma database. When I saw two of them stem from Ravenna in the sixth century CE I could not help being greatly interested from the perspective of Roman law. Alas the two papyri, P.Ital.-01-00004-and 5, dated 552-575, and P.Ital. 01-00006 from 575 did not show up correctly at first in Synallagma. At Papyri.info only P.Ital. 1.4-5 (ChLA 17.653) is present. P.Ital I refers to the edition by Jan-Olof Tjäder, Die nichtliterarischen lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit 445-700 (Lund 1955). In the Trismegistos database (TM) P. Ital. 1-6 (ChLA 2.714) is recorded as a Latin text in Greek script. ChLA stands for Chartae Latinae Antiquiores, and you can search for items in ChLA using an online database.

Synallagma notes two other documents from Ravenna. The first is P. Rain. Cent. 166 / ChLA 45.1346 = P. Ital I 10 = TM 35870, a Latin act of sale from the sixth or seventh century CE, digitized at Vienna. Another act of sale from 151 CE (SB 6 304, TM 18822) in a papyrus held at Giessen which turns out to be a wax tablet, written in Latin with passages in Greek script. You can read about it online in a study by Hans Georg Gundel, Antiker Kaufvertrag auf einer Wachstafel aus Ravenna (Giessen 1960). Papyri.info has a checklist for the most used editions and their abbreviations. I have on purpose expanded some of these references to papyri, but in fact I left much more out as you can check yourself.

Logo Trismegistos

Recently appeared a volume of essays with the title Ravenna: its role in earlier medieval change and exchange (London 2016), edited by Judith Herrin and Jinty Nelson, now put online in open access by the School of Advanced Study in London. Simon Corcoran contributed an article on ‘Roman law in Ravenna’ (pp. 163-198) and looked also at the evidence of papyri. Trismegistos makes it very clear that many hundred papyri stem from Ravenna, but only 70 are dated later than 400 CE.

One of the few quibbles I have with Synallagma is the absence of a possibility to save your results. No doubt such features are present for those who register with the project, and do not stay content with the guest access I used. You can frown on me for leaving Synallagma so quickly for the lures of papyrological databases, and eventually even for Roman law, but we should admit Synallagma inspires you to check such resources and link them with your own favorite subjects.

As for linking places with objects I cannot help adding here a link to Peripleo, the latest jewel in the crown of the Pelagios initiative. It offers nothing less than an interactive map where you can click on modern and ancient locations to find objects from Classical Antiquity associated with them. Miraculously there is no direct entry for Ravenna, but in one of its supporting resources, the Pleiades gazetteer, it is present, clearly a case of oversight. You might feel sometimes almost sick from manoeuvring from one site to another, but did scholars not use to work with piles of books in front of them to find their way? By patiently combining and comparing information, and as often as possible looking at projects or studies with a very particular search angle such as Synallagma, you can build slowly and cautiously but also consistently. Hopefully such resources will surprise you also every now and then with insights that help you decisively.