Tag Archives: Legal history

Grotius through students’ eyes

During summer some lighter subjects can come into view, but sometimes you suddenly notice something well worth looking at. In order to protect you from too much centenary celebrations I try to choose every year just a few of them. A new virtual exhibit concerning Hugo Grotius starts with a winning title, Grotius: A life between freedom and oppression has been launched in March 2021 by Leiden University Library on a new platform for its web presentations. One of the most celebrated historic events in the canon of Dutch history is the escape of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) from castle Loevestein in 1621 where he was imprisoned as the chief follower of the late Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the statesman who had done so much in creating the blossoming Dutch Republic. An exhibition in Amersfoort on Van Oldenbarnevelt and prince Maurits (Maurice) came into view here a few years ago, and just like in that summer post a particular historical object will figure here. The matters under discussion here are in the end not just light-weight, and thus I finished this post only in autumn.

A canonical figure in Dutch legal history

Before you sigh at the prospect of going on well-trodden paths with me you should know nine students of Leiden University College in The Hague prepared the virtual exhibit in English. Together with their supervisors Hanne Cuyckens and Jacqueline Hylkema they did choose five focal points which are just different enough to make you curious again about Grotius. In the first section, Leiden, the student, he forming years of the child prodigy form the subject. Grotius matriculated at Leiden in 1594 at the age of ten years. For each subject a number of objects are shown, in this case for example the matriculation register, a portrait of Grotius at fifteen, the earliest printed map of Leiden and a portrait of the famous philologist Joseph Justus Scaliger, the best known teacher of Grotius. Grotius started at Leiden with literary studies, not with jurisprudence, freedom indeed for this child prodigy to develop himself in many directions. In 1598 he obtained his doctoral degree in law at Orléans.

In the second section we do not jump at once to his major publications such as Mare Liberum (1609), followed by De iure belli ac pacis (1625) and the Inleidinghe tot de Hollandsche rechtsgeleerdheid (1631). Even a young superstar as Grotius had to immerse himself in at least one subject not just in learned books and contemporary theory, but also in daily practice. Grotius was admitted in 1599 as an advocate to the Hof van Holland, the high court of Holland in The Hague. His position as a lawyer made him for Van Oldenbarnevelt the obvious candidate to set out at length the Dutch position on the freedom of the seas. Already in 1598 Grotius accompanied him on a embassy to France, and afterwards the two men stayed in contact with each other. In this section there is also attention for Grotius’ religious views articulated in his work Ordinum pietas (1613). It put him firmly on the side of the Remonstrant movement favored also by Oldenbarnevelt.

Cste Loevestein - image Wikimedia Commons
Castle Loevestein – image Wikimedia Commons

The third section brings you to Grotius’ imprisonment at Loevestein Castle on ground of his religious and political views. The castle is placed on a marvelous strategic spot in the Rhine delta where several of its branches come together. The nearby towns of Gorinchem and Woudrichem are not easily reached. The background with the execution of Oldenbarnevelt in 1619 gets due attention, as are his religious views. You can also look at two letters. When you try to navigate to subsequent items this does not always function correctly. I had expected a link to the online version of the edition of Grotius’ correspondence at the portal of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam nor to the version at its philological platform Textual Scholarship or to the catalogue at Early Modern Letters Online, but you can look at scans of original letters held at Leiden. The project Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-Century Dutch Republic could be added as well.

At Loevestein Grotius was allowed to borrow books from Leiden university library. These books were transported in a large and heavy chest. Hidden in the book chest Grotius could famously escape on March 22, 1621 from castle Loevestein. In 2020 a part of the television series created by the Rijksmuseum on Historisch bewijs (Historical evidence) was devoted to establishing which book chest of three chests held at the Rijksmuseum, Loevestein and Museum Prinsenhof in Delft was probably the original book chest. The chest in Delft has suitable dimensions and a more reliable provenance from the Graswinckel family who was closely connected to the De Groot family in Delft, but no evidence was adduced to confirm its actual use beyond any doubt. Thus the chest is a kind of objet de mémoire connected with an almost mythical heroic story, and the natural point of focus at castle Loevestein, a typical nationalist lieu de mémoire on a beautiful spot at the point where the Waal branch of the Rhine and a branch of the Meuse come together.

In the fourth section of the online exhibit we arrive with Grotius as an exile in Paris. In this town he completed his treatise De iure belli ac pacis. Apart from letters and a map of Paris poetry by Grotius and a poem by Joost van den Vondel come into view here.

The autograph manuscript of  "De iure praedae"  (Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917) - image Leiden University Library
The autograph manuscript of “De iure praedae” – Leiden University Library, ms. BPL 917 – image Leiden University Library

The fifth and final section of the virtual exhibit deals with the major treatise by Grotius on prize law, De iure praedae. The Leiden manuscript BPL 917 is the sole handwritten and even autograph witness to the text of Grotius’ treatise on prize law and booty composed between 1604 and 1609. Only one chapter was published during his life as Mare Liberum (1609). The restoration of this manuscript and the subsequent digitization for the full digital edition published in 2015 are the very heart of this section.

By choosing four actual locations – Leiden, The Hague, Loevestein and Paris – the nine students succeed easily in freeing Grotius from a too narrow view of him as only a figure in Dutch history who became first a victim of religious strife and later on a figure head in the struggle for tolerance. These backgrounds do matter indeed. No doubt some Dutch people will be surprised to find the article on Grotius in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its rich bibliography. He is regarded as the very founder of natural law. Thus there is an entry for Grotius, too, in the database Natural Law 1625-1850, one of the fruits of a research project of the universities at Halle, Erfurt and Bayreuth. By showing not just works by Grotius, and not only his legal works, but also his poems and a treatise on religion, the students show him as a major intellectual in European history. You might with me deplore the lack of further links or an essential bibliography, but there is surely a place for the approach chosen for this virtual exhibit.

Recently Leiden University launched a new platform for its online exhibits. Among the digital collections of Leiden University Library is a section with nearly fifty virtual exhibitions; in some cases only a PDF remains available.

As for creating a Grotius Year the museum Loevestein can readily be pardoned for seeking a way to attract visitors after the corona lockdowns in the Netherlands. The website for the public events around the Grotius commemoration does mention his importance as a lawyer, diplomat and theologian. Themes as the freedom of thought and religious tolerance are vitally relevant in our contemporary world. Showing things have been very different in the past shakes (young) people free from thinking the present has always been there as a a most natural thing.

In earlier posts about Grotius, in particular the one about a rare early edition of De iure beli ac pacis, I provided information about his main legal works concerning the first printed editions, modern editions, translations and digital versions. I would like to point again to the presence of text versions and seventeenth-century or modern translations into Dutch for a number of his works at the portal of the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL). In the DBNL you can find also digital versions of numerous older publications about Grotius, and the entry for his historical works by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem in their work on Early Modern Dutch historiography, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 (The Hague 1990).

The riches of the Peace Palace Library

Logo Peace Palace Library

The Peace Palace Library (PPL) in The Hague is the natural starting point for any research on Hugo Grotius. Lately this library has put its digital collections on a new separate platform, but for some silly reason the actual URL is not easily found at the website of the PPL, as are alas some other web addresses. A few years ago I wrote here about the Scheldt River collection which now can be found, too, at this new platform. It seems the PPL provides for each collection on this platform a special page with the correct link. However, there is no page or news item for the new platform itself, or maybe it has only to be added to the top bar menu. A platform with eight interesting collections in open access merits a place in the spotlights.

The PPL contributes two collections in open access to LLMC Digital, but no direct links are give on the PPL’s special page for its collections at LLMC Digital. It is only fair to say that finding these collections at the LLMC portal is a feat in itself. So far my attempts to locate them simply failed. Both LLMC Digital and the website of the PPL lack a general search function and a sitemap. The collections at both websites deserve better accessibility. As for the licensed digital collections and also for the databases accessible through the PPL you might contemplate acquiring a library card of this library. For this choice, too, hving a clear overview of digitized materials and their access is most practical.

Grotius figures of course also on the website of the PPL, starting with the chat function called Ask Hugo! The web page on the Grotius Collection tells you about the general background and the famous bibliography by Ter Meulen and Diermanse [J. ter Meulen and P.P.J. Diermanse (eds.), Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (The Hague 1950)] and a more recent catalogue of the PPL’s holdings of works by Grotius. Instead of the direct link to the licensed Grotius Collection Online: Printed Works of Brill only a link to the title in the PPL library catalogue is provided, yet another minor howler. In fact this digital collection contains also numerous works dealing with Old Dutch law, and I would even single it out as a very representative selection of legal books from the Dutch Republic brought most conveniently together. A research guide for Grotius would be a welcome addition to the thirty existing online guides on the website of the Peace Palace Library. A quick search for a nutshell guide to Grotius brought me only to a very concise guide created by the Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia. It is sensible to look at the Grotius pages of Wikipedia in several languages.

Gaining a wider view

I would like to end this post constructively, and not with criticism on defects. Grotius belongs to the group of thinkers students and scholars cannot approach completely straightforward. Often there is abundant scholarly activity, there might be opposing schools and roads of interpretation and across linguistic borders studies can take refreshing turns closed to those staying content with Anglo-American scholarship. Luckily regularly guides are published in the form of essay volumes by an international team of distinguished scholars to bridge such gaps and bring together different views and themes surrounding a major thinker. In September 2021 the Cambridge Companion to Hugo Grotius appeared in print and online, edited by Randall Lesaffer and Janne Nijman. Interestingly this seems to be the first companion volume to Grotius. There is not yet A Very Short Introduction on Grotius from Oxford, presumably exactly because his versatility can hardly be sufficiently shown in a slim volume by a single author. Hopefully different views on Grotius find space in the scholarly journal Grotiana with apart for the printed version some articles published online in open access.

Logo Open Access Week

This year’s International Open Access Week will take place from October 25 to 31, 2021. The existence of a number of vital online resources for doing research on Grotius only accessible as licensed resources, most often through the services of libraries, diminishes the chances for those outside the circle of blessed beneficiaries to learn more about Grotius or about other major intellectuals whose thought changed the world forever. Institutions not caring or simply forgetting to provide even links to their own digital collections, be they in open or licensed access, should reflect on their duties and capacities to help both scholars and the general public. Of course in some cases it is a matter of discommunication or worse between for example a library staff, a project leader and the communication officers.

It might seem seducing to bring your collections under the flag of a prestigious publishing company, but if this means closing access to your priceless possessions for most of the world the ultimate blame should be in my view on their original holder. In my view individual scholars, scholarly communities, publishers and research institutions, including university presses, all have their own ongoing responsibility to discuss matters concerning access scholarly publications. In actual life both institutions with digitized resources and publishers increasingly offer digitized materials both in licensed and in open access, depending on their policies. Hopefully solutions can be found to create and assure wider access whenever possible and feasible for us and future generations interested in the versatile mind of Grotius and the impact of his works through the centuries. Sailing oceans with free, affordable and sustainable access to research resources would be most helpful to achieve this aim.

Rays of light on illuminated legal manuscripts

Flyer "The illuminated legal manuscript" (detail)

At the start of a new academic year scholarly events, too, start to occur, sometimes already again as live events, but more often as online meetings of scholars. From September 22 to 25, 2021 an online conference took place concerning The illuminated legal manuscript from the Middle Ages to the digital age. Forms, iconographies, materials, uses and cataloguing. Three institutions cooperated to organize this event, the Ius Illuminatum research team led by Maria Alessandra Bilotta (Lisbon), the Biblioteca capitolare di Vercelli and the Biblioteca capitolare di Verona. With its eight sessions and various key note lectures on different themes connected with medieval legal manuscripts and art history this conference addressed a wider audience than just art historians and specialists in legal iconography or medieval book production, and thus fit for a post here. Last week my own time schedule made it impossible for me to follow all sessions, and therefore only a number of themes will come into the spotlights here. Hopefully other participants, too, will report on this interesting event.

Focus on the Mediterranean

Surely one of the most visible aspects of this conference is the partnership for this conference between scholars and two libraries crossing national borders. The Ius Illuminatum team at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa is known for the research by Maria Alessandra Bilotta on medieval illuminated legal manuscripts created in Southern France, in particular in Toulouse. The library in Vercelli is famous for the Vercelli Mappamundi, the Vercelli Book with texts in Anglo-Saxon, and two manuscripts containing the Leges Langobardorum. The library in Verona is renown for its holdings with a number of medieval manuscripts and in particular palimpsests as unique witnesses to texts form classical Antiquity, foremost among them the Institutes of Gaius. Both libraries have also a museum. A live virtual tour of the library in Vercelli focusing on two manuscripts was a nice addition to the conference.

Let’s briefly look at the themes of the sessions. Manuscripts held in Salamanca, manuscripts from France kept in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, legal manuscripts in Salamanca and Naples were the subject of the first session centered around libraries. In the second section a number of individual case studies were grouped together. The third section focused on legal iconography. The cataloguing of (illuminated) legal manuscripts was the theme in the fourth session. The fifth session with just one contribution looked at vulgarisation of law. Medieval city statutes were presented in the sixth session. Two special sessions were devoted respectively to the materiality of illuminated legal manuscripts and to the connection of heraldry to medieval law and illuminated manuscripts. In my view bringing together these themes is already most useful to raise awareness about their interconnections and limitations.

A number of keynote lectures could theoretically be placed within a particular session, but it was perhaps right to set them apart. The lecture by Susanne Wittekind (Universität Köln) stand out for its dense information and insightful comparison of the manuscript illumination in the Codex Albedensis, a tenth-century manuscript at the Escorial with at first sight just a miscellaneous collection of texts, and the Tercer Llibre Verd, a manuscript with statutes of Barcelona, also discussed by Rose Alcoy (Universitat de Barcelona). The miscellany is in fact a well-structured manuscript showing graphically a legal and graphic order of legal and religious texts. Making comparisons and structuring your presentation were elements definitely missing in some presentations without the use of slides, as was being aware of the limited number of themes you can address within thirty minutes, and awareness of the need for structure and clear questions.

The importance of repertories and catalogues

Logo Manus OnLine, ICCU

One of the limitations for studying medieval legal illuminated manuscripts is the state of catalogues and repertories for this genre. It was therefore most welcome to hear a lecture by Gero Dolezalek (University of Aberdeen) on the current state of affairs of the Manuscripta Juridica database in Frankfurt am Main. Only a few canon law manuscripts have yet been entered in this database originally devised for manuscripts with Roman legal texts and commentaries up to 1600. Sadly it seems little progress has been made in the past few years. Illumination has not been consequently recorded. At Turin Maria Alessandra Panzanelli Fratoni is working at two interrelated projects, a new portal called IVS Commune Online, to be launched in October 2021, with an integration of data on manuscripts and early printed editions from existing online resources, and a new section of the Italian manuscript portal MANUS, called MANUSIuridica. The main strengths of these two promising projects are the thorough conceptual preparation. It is not yet clear when MANUSIuridica will become accessible. In this section Andrea Padovani (Bologna) talked about the new phase and face of the project Irnerio with digitized legal manuscripts at the Colegio di Spagna in Bologna – presented here many years ago – and Silvio Pucci (independent scholar) about the online version of the catalogue for the juridical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati in Siena.

It is important to remember the study of medieval canon law still faces the lack of a full manuscript repertory, a paradoxical fact after the appearance of the model given by Stephan Kuttner in his Repertorium der Kanonistik 1140-1234, I, Prodromus glossarum (Città del Vaticano, 1937). Was his level simply too high to follow for others, or did it simply led to a strong and not completely justifiable focus on the classic period of medieval canon law? Luckily we have for the early Middle Ages the excellent guide by Lotte Kéry, Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages, ca. 400-1140: A biographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, DC, 1999).

Legal iconography and heraldry

In the section for the more classic legal iconography papers were read about the illustration of the two powers at the beginning of manuscripts with the Decretum Gratiani (Gianluca del Monaco, Bologna), accompanying the very incipit Humanum genus, the iconography of last wills in some manuscripts of the Institutiones Iustiniani and the Digest (Viviane Persi, Lille), the representation of public justice in the Vidal Mayor (Rogerio Ribeiro Tostes, Evora), and the development of legal iconography in medieval Scandinavia (Stefan Drechsler, Bergen).

The very last section dealt with a subject often associated with medieval law, heraldry and the use of distinctive signs by knights and noble families, but interestingly medieval law did not set clear norms for unique claims on the use of a particular blason or sign. In 2012 I looked here at this very theme. Bartolus de Sassoferrato (1313-1357) did certainly influence later lawyers with his most often copied treatise De insignis et armis, but in particular Martin Sunnqvist (Lunds Universitet) made it refreshingly clear that his treatise does not help us to understand the rise of heraldry from the twelfth century onwards. The lecture of João Portugal (Instituto Português de Heráldica) on Early Modern heraldic rights in Portugal showed essentially how showing relation with the king was as important as having a official blason at all. Matteo Ferrari (Universit;e de Namur) took us to a painting at the Palazzo di Comune in San Gimignano with a deliberate use of heraldic arms above the text of an important ruling around 1300.

Coutumes de Toulouse, circa 1296 - Paris, BnF, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail)
Coutumes de Toulouse, around 1296 – Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. latin 9187, f. 1r (detail) – image BnF

Finally Laurent Macé (Université de Toulouse) looked at the use of earlier blasons from the former county and the counts of Toulouse in a manuscript with the Coutumes de Toulouse from the late thirteenth century (Paris, BnF, ms.latin 9187). Macé argued these blasons and other signs helped showing continuity to readers in a new period under the French crown.

The forest and the trees

Even with only a partial review of lectures and keynotes the variety of this online conference with an attendance between twenty and forty scholars cannot be doubted. For those thinking the choice of subjects is too wide or simply unfocused the contribution of Carlo Federici (Scuola di Biblioteconomia, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) on the archaeology of the book served as a necessary reminder how leading palaeographers and codicologists in the second half of the twentieth century advocated an integral approach of medieval manuscripts, archival records and book production, away from a choice for studying only either texts, scripts, bindings or scriptoria.

The materiality of manuscripts matters indeed. Thus in my view Including a lecture on legal fragments kept at the Archivio di Stato di Arezzo by Maura Mordini (Università di Siena) is not a bow to what someone in 2021 jokingly called the minor industry of studying fragments. Far more often than we are willing to acknowledge we forget you deal with traces and fragments per se when studying history. So many things are irrecoverably lost forever or only seldom in front of us. Not every tiny bit is important, but there are bits and pieces pointing to larger contexts. As for projects with fragments, I try to list relevant projects, catalogues and exhibit catalogues concerning medieval fragments as part of my Glossae blog on pre-accursian glosses.

Banner Ius Illuminatum

As for the materiality of an online scholarly event, I would not recommend following the example of organizing a full program of sessions from nine to seven with only brief breaks. The quality of the internet connection forced the permanent closure of the video screens of non-speaking participants, a fact which greatly reduces the interaction. There was no virtual lobby, too. In this respect my view is surely influenced by the example of the online event at Frankfurt am Main on digital legal history in March reviewed here. Ensuring sufficient band width and creating a separate online social platform is perhaps a matter of calling upon the appropriate national institution dealing with such matters, yet another thing rightly taken into consideration by the German organizing team. The teams in LIsbon, Vercelli and Verona deserve respect for bringing together scholars from various disciplines and casting its nets wide, With this in mind you should view my remarks on things that could be better in a second similar conference which will no doubt follow soon. The rays of light on illustrations and illumination at this conference contain a promise of more to come.

The birth of a benevolent state? Fighting poverty, cultural heritage and legal history

Aerial photo of Veenhuizen - image Miranda Drenth

In July 2021 no less than three historic sites in the Netherlands, actually three groups of sites and buildings, have been officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Dutch part of the Lower German limes, the northern frontier of the Roman empire, the defense line of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie with water, sluices and fortifications around Holland from Amsterdam to Dordrecht, and the Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the “Colonies of Benevolence”, a number of settlements for poor people who could escape from slums and start to build a new life working hard in the northern province Drenthe. Both the limes and the Waterlinie have figured here already long ago. Last year I mentioned the Koloniën van Weldadigheid briefly in a post on Dutch digital archives. This nineteenth-century project deserves more attention here.

Not just fighting poverty

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

The Koloniën van Weldadigheid, the Colonies of Benevolence, should attract attention with their very name. The use of the word benevolence surely rings a bell and points to some larger governmental objective or aim. The word colony should serve as a remainder these settlements were developed during a colonial period in Dutch history. After the French Revolution it was a near miracle space should have been given to a new Dutch state. The old Dutch Republic had given away for a revolutionary republic, but soon afterwards its territory became just a number of departments in the Napoleonic empire. Mainly thanks to a few politicians, among them Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, a new Dutch kingdom including both present-day Belgium and the Netherlands could come into existence in 1814 and gain European recognition at the Congress of Vienna.

Portrait of Johannes van den Bosch, around 1829 – painting by Cornelis Kruseman – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Colonies of Benevolence were created under the strict supervision of general Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844). Van den Bosch served between 1798 and 1808 with the Dutch army in the Dutch East Indies. On his way back to Europe he was taken prisoner by the British. Only in 1813 he returned to the new Dutch kingdom. In 1818 he started with his plan to start opening the wildernesses of the province Drenthe for agriculture. Adding settlements for poor people was a secondary development. In 1823 he became a government official. After a year in the Dutch West Indies he became the governor-general of the East Indies (1828-1834), and from 1834 to 1839 he served as a minister of the colonies. In the East Indies he introduced the cultuurstelsel, a system of forced labor on plantations bringing much profit to Dutch firms, investors and state finances. His life was indeed a matter of colonies and forms a part of Dutch colonial history. The recent biography by Angelie Sens, De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019) aptly called him in its title a colony man.

A strange mixture

A farm in Veenhuizen - photo by Miranda Drenth
A farm in Veenhuizen – photo Miranda Drenth

The Colonies of Benevolence included four locations in Drenthe (Veenhuizen, Wilhelminaoord, Frederiksoord, and Boschoord), two in Overijssel (Willemsoord and Ommerschans), and two in Belgium, Wortel and Merksplas. In 1818 Van den Bosch founded a private organisation, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid, for his agricultural plan. Already in 1819 a first pilot colony was formed at the Westerbeek estate in Frederiksoord. There is a separate website for the museum of this colony, the Proefkolonie. Veenhuizen (1823) and Merksplas (1822) were founded as penal colonies. Since 2018 Veenhuizen is home to the Nationaal Gevangenismuseum, and Merksplas, too, has become a prison museum. Van den Bosch’s society founded also two agricultural schools.

The history of these places is certainly colorful, and thus it is interesting to look at the motivation for entering them into the World Heritage Register. On July 27, 2021 the Dutch UNESCO branch published a web page about the registration of the colonies. Kathleen Ferrier, member of the Dutch committee and a politician, stressed the uniqueness of the initiative to help people breaking with poverty and building a new existence for themselves, even if the colonies did not succeed immediately in abandoning poverty. She views it as an experiment in social history. The registration of the World Heritage Centre rightly uses more sober and meaningful wordings. Urban poor were relocated to a far away region. The original colonies failed to get sufficient income, and thus the scheme was developed to bring in beggars and to found two special penal colonies. There were guards to supervise the doings of people. At its highest point some 11,000 people lived in the Dutch colonies, and some 6,000 people in the two Belgian settlements. Very revealing is the original geometrical pattern of the colonies. The word panoptical serves as a reminder of Jeremy Bentham’s proposals for prison reform.

The international UNESCO website does not mention the existence of archival records digitized by the Drents Archief. Last year I wrote briefly about Alle Kolonisten (All Colonists, the nifty subset of the project Alle Drenten. These digitized records can even be searched with an English search interface. Archives are mentioned in the English nomination dossier (2020; PDF, 21 MB) where you can find also a rich bibliography, but without any reference to the exact archival inventories at the Drents Archief. Luckily the website Alle Kolonisten figures at page 164, and at the website the inventories are duly listed, as are records elsewhere not included among the digitized records. The dossier makes space for Bentham (pp. 78-81), and also for foreign initiatives inspired by the Dutch colonies, and not just for the French project at Mettray with among its directors Alexis de Tocqueville, but also for instance the Innere Mission in Hamburg (pp. 165-170).

Walking though the Colonies of Benevolence

This post is my first contribution after a silence of three months. I will not bother you with a full explanation, I have been simply busy doing other things, in particular describing archival records. One of the much missed recurring features at my blog is the walking historian. As a small solace I will look here with you at two students who made a walking tour of the Netherlands in 1823. Dirk van Hogendorp (1797-1845), a law student who was the son of the renown politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, and Jacob van Lennep (1802-1868), the brilliant son of a professor of classics and history at the Amsterdam Athenaeum, wrote respectively a concise diary and letters, and an extensive diary. In 2000 appeared an edition in modernized Dutch of these travel accounts, De zomer van 1823. Lopen met Van Lennep. Dagboek van zijn voetreis door Nederland, edited by Geert Mak and Marita Mathijsen (Zwolle 2000; revised edition, 2017). In 2000 Geert Mak also presented a television series of his attempt at walking in the traces of Van Lennep and Van Hogendorp. You can still watch online the two episodes on the colonies (no. 5, “Charity and discomfort”, and no 6, “Who does not work will not eat”).

Start screen "De voetreis"- Huygens Institute/ING

People were generally quite aware of the high rank of both young men making in 1823 a kind of inspection tour of their country, no doubt reporting about their meetings and views to authorities and influential people. Actually the two men walked only in the northern half of the Netherlands. On July 5 they visited Frederiksoord, and on July 15 they saw Ommerschans. As graphic as their reports of the meetings at both colonies is their description of the backward province Drenthe with in many parts scarcely any normal road. Before getting the status of a province Drenthe had been often called just a landschap (landscape) … The digitized versions of Van Hogendorp’s and Van Lennep’s diaries can now be found at the resources subdomain of the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam.

In this post I tried to kindle your interest in a transnational project for social reform with a clear legal component, the foundation of penal colonies at a safe distance of urban society.The remaining buildings in the Netherlands and Belgium form indeed cultural heritage with many dimensions. The archival heritage needed to be highlighted here. The two Leiden students looking at the colonies in 1823 were definitely among the Dutch urban upper class, and it is their very bias, too, which makes their views interesting for historians. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic period the new Dutch kingdom had a hard time awakening from it and assessing its position. What could serve the new state best? King Willem I acted as an autocrat with patriarchal characteristics, and Van den Bosch’s plans suited him. The general’s plan showed a military grip on people and things. The royal benevolence served first of all the king, and much less the nation, apart from his canal building scheme.

What became of the two walking students? Van Hogendorp became a lawyer serving as a substitute attorney-general and as a judge at two courts. Van Lennep became a prolific writer and a society figure, taking up causes and getting involved in a cause célèbre, the publication of the pamphlet-like novel by Eduard Douwes Dekker about the exploitation of the Javanese by the Dutch government, and at the same time depriving its author of his copyright. The history of the Colonies of Benevolence shows a state doing an attempt at social engineering, and at the same time colonizing its own rural interior. This history helps you to look sharper for the impact of having a colonial empire, and it is great to detect numerous wider connections and intersections in it.

Bringing together European historical bibliographies

Logo European Historical Bibliographies

Making lists and overviews is one of my typical habits. I am always glad to find online overviews of projects and websites or portals to an entire range of projects. Thus every now and then I used the portal European Historical Bibliographies (HistBib), hosted by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW). Only last week I saw this portal had been archived on January 14, 2021. It is clear I do not regularly use this portal, but having quick access to these historical bibliographies can be most useful. In this post I will report on my efforts to find a similar commented overview of these important online resources, because using the right bibliography can make a huge difference for your research. Almost all reources I mention are accessible in open access. Among other reasons to create a new list is the fact yet again a relevant database, the Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis, will disappear in its current form in July 2021.

More than a dozen

Banner European Historical Bibliographies

When using HistBib my impression was always that it covered more or less some twenty countries, but I should have looked more closely. For Germany five bibliographies were shown. HistBib contained bibliographies for only twelve countries with an additional bibliography for Eastern Europe. It soon becomes clear a number of links had not been updated, nor had there been any effort to widen its scope to cover more countries. Reading at the portal about a conference on historical bibliographies organized by the BBAW did not lighten up my mood, because this, too, did not work as a spur to update the portal and to maintain correct links to bibliographies and contributing organisations. Perhaps the portal was more a project for a couple of years than a lasting and durable presence in the virtual world. However, the BBAW does continue its online bibliographic service for the Jahresberichte für deutsche Geschichte.

Surely one of the leading thoughts to end the HistBib portal can have been the assumption that it is easy to find these European historical bibliographies with the Great and Omnipresent search firm. Surely some national libraries would provide the kind of list I expected, but often these institutions refer to HistBib. The news of its closure travels slow! In many other cases libraries put a small number of historical bibliographies in a list with often only an alphabetical order. Retaining the original names which are not necessarily in English is not helping you to find easily the right item, and often any comment is lacking, let alone an indication of open or licensed access.

Although telling the full tale of my brief quest for a complete overview replacing HistBib would be instructive, I think it is better to help you here with examples of a few helpful lists and commented overviews, and adding at the end my own concisely annotated list of current online historical bibliographies for a larger number of European countries.

Historicum, the portal with the Deutsche Historische Bibliographie, one of the five online bibliographies for German history, does you the service of not only mentioning the other four, and the twelve country bibliographies available at HistBib, but also links to other bibliographies for German history and further relevant resources. Heuristiek, the portal for historical heuristics at Ghent University, has a page with bibliographies for Early Modern history, alas only in alphabetical order and without comments, but at least with indications of those bibliographies only accessibie for staff and students of Ghent University. Another Belgian university, the Université de Liège, has in its Guide bibliographique en Histoire a page Bibliographies transpériodes with in clear sections both national and historical bibliographies for a number of European countries. The page contains a fair amount of useful comments and indications about bibliographies in print and online. For Scandinavian countries the Safir portal of Lund University proved most helpful. The page on Bok- och bibliothesväsen contains in clear sections with commented links what you expect from a research institution, inluding useful cross references.

It was a joy to see that the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford put in a blog post published in 2009 about an online bibliography for Spanish history a generous list of other similar online bibliographies. A few years ago I applauded here the online guides for British legal history created by the Bodleian Libraries. However, this information at first seemed not to have been included at the main website or in its LibGuides. In fact it looked like some of these bibliographies could not be traced at all at this website or in the research guides. Enter Oxford Bibliographies, but alas I could not quickly detect in this rich resource the kind of list provided elswehere in Oxford. In this case I hope sincerely I did not search properly, and I would be glad to put things right; luckily I could rather quickly find an overview for nine countries in the research guide of the Bodleian for Early Modern history.

One list?

My search for an overview at least giving you the information at HistBib was not as straightforward as you might like it to be. Among the most helpful resources are databases, but you are tempted to skip them because they do not always show up readily for online search engines. The German Datenbank-Infosystem (DBIS) proved to be helpful. The search results lead to separate pages with well-organized information about resources. Although sometimes you approach subjects from a more general level this does help you to broaden your vision.

The main answer to the question of finding one list is in the end simply negative. For some countries there is currently not any online historical bibliography, or even not one in print, or not anymore. Some countries were for centuries part of another country. Iceland in particular is an example. Some countries are too small to make efforts for a separate historical bibliography sensible at all, sometimes a istorical bibliography has been integrated into a national bibliography or serach portal. Often you will want to find literature for a particular period in European history or for a period in the history of a single country or a region. Using national bibliographies can mean you face nationalist influences, but you cannot evade nationalism by simply ignoring their existence. Creating a commented list of national bibliographies comes with the clear need for some annotation about creators, hosting institution, time range and the presence of interface in more than one language. I am afraid I cannot immediately succeed in offering all these elements in my own attempt at a list. Many online research guides with a page for online bibliographies mention also union catalogues and digital libraries, and even mix them with each other. To me this seems a failure to see the need for clear distinction between national bibliographies, historical bibliographies, national meta-catalogues and digital portals. It is not just a matter of personal taste that information becomes more valuable by its structure, presentation and annotation.

In my memory in the eighties going to the card catalogue at Utrecht University Library implied you had to pass first the stacks with printed bibliographies. Thus even if you did not use them you could not be totally unaware of them. Faithful readers will recognize my quib about those people who know and use bilbiographies and those who do not. I suppose this memory influences me in wanting to see or create this overview. You might think I prefer web pages with relevant information, but having tagged information in a database is more powerful. Over the years I have become more aware of the hard work done by librarians, cataloguers and bibliographers to help scholars. Bibliographical resources can be extremely helpful for your research, not in the least by showing you contexts and the fact you can build on or critically review earlier relvant publications. Bibliogaphies are as important as (meta-)-catalogues and online repositories. 

A provisional list

While working on this post and gathering information concerning online historical country bibliographies I surely realized bibliographies in print can still be very important, too. The list here below has a clear focus as one of its qualities. Another wish for creating a similar list of online bibliographies for legal history for particular, too, grew on my mind. I do mention some examples on my legal history website Rechtshistorie, mainly on the pages for digital libraries, the history of the common law and Old Dutch law. However that may be, I prefer to stick to the purpose of this post. As for the new list with for now just concise comments and indications, it is surely open for comments, corrections and enhancements, and I am still contemplating the right permanent spot for it, perhaps here at the page with research guides. At my website the page for digital libraries seems the logical location, because you can find there already useful overviews of gateways to official gazettes, constitutions, foreign treaties, and a number of bibliographies for early printed books. A search for a bibliography for early printed books from Sweden eventually led to this post and this list, however uneven and in some details surely amusing, too. It is funny to see at least one database which has been integrated into another one some years ago yet still existing, it is disturbing to note the second bibliography for this country is scheduled for disappearance in its current form by June 30, 2021. In this respect my Dutch view in this post is not happy.

The opening of this list with two websites for Eastern Europe is a tribute to online research portals for Eastern European and Slavic studies. I was much impressed by the country guides for this region created by the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana IL.

European historical bibliographies online

Eastern Europe

Bibliotheks- und Bibliographie-Portal, Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung, Marburg – https://hds.hebis.de/herder/index.php – publications since 1994
The European Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies (EBSEES) – https://ebsees.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ – functioning between 1991 and 2007, no longer updated; interface English

Austria

Österreichische Historische Bibliographie (ÖHB), Universität Klagenfurt – http://oehb.aau.at/ – from 1945 onwards

Belgium

Bibliografie van de Geschiedenis van België / Bibliographie de l’Histoire de Belgique (BGB-BHB) – http://www.rbph-btfg.be/nl_biblio.html – covers 1952-2008; interface Dutch, French and English
BGB-BHB, Archives de l’État en Belgiquehttps://biblio.arch.be/webopac/Vubis.csp?Profile=BHBBGB&OpacLanguage=dut –  publications since 2009; interface Dutch, French, German and English

Czech Republic

Bibliografie dějin Českých zemí (BDCZ), Czech Academy of Sciences – https://biblio.hiu.cas.cz/ – interface Czech, English and German – with also digitized bibliographical yearbooks 

Denmark

Dansk Historisk Bibliografi , Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen- https://aleph.kb.dk/F/?func=file&file_name=welcome&local_base=dhb01

France

Bibliographie annuelle de l’Histoire de France (BHF), CNRS and Bibliothèque nationale de France – https://biblio-bhf.fr/ – search interface in English

Germany

Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JBG), Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften – http://jdgdb.bbaw.de/cgi-bin/jdg/cgi-bin/jdg – publications 1949-2015; interface German and English
Jahresberichte für Deutsche Geschichte (JDG), BBAW, Berlin – vol. 1-14 (1925-1938) – http://pom.bbaw.de/JDG/
Historische Bibliographie Online, Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag and Arbeitsgemeeinschaft historischer Forschungseinrichtungen (AHF) – https://historische-bibliographie.degruyter.com/ – publications since 1990, no longer updated since 2015
Deutsche Historische Bibliographie (DHB), Historicum – https://www.historicum.net/dhb/ – with links to other (regional) bibliographies, in particular the Virtuelle Deutsche Landesbibliographie, and other bibliographic resources – a simple search in the search field of the top menu bar leads to the beta version of an interface in German and English
Bibliographischer Informationsdienst, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich – https://www.ifz-muenchen.de/bibliothek/literatursuche/bibliografischer-informationsdienst – for 20th century history, access after registration, with a PDF-archive

Hungary

Humanities Bibliographical Database (Humanus) – http://www.oszk.hu/humanus/index.html – with a section for history; interface Hungarian, English and German
EHM: Elektronikus Periodika Archivum (EPA) – Humanus – Matarka (for Hungarian journals since 1800) – http://ehm.ek.szte.hu/ehm?p=0 – a portal with access to Humanus and three other resources, in particular for journals

Ireland

Irish History Online, Royal irisch Academy, Dublin – https://www.ria.ie/irish-history-online – with links to external resources for Irish history

Italy

Bibliografia Storica Nazionale (dal 2000) (BSN), Giunta Centrale per gli Studi Storici – https://www.gcss.it/easyweb/w7044/index.php?scelta=campi&&biblio=GSS&lang= – publications since 2000; interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish
BSN Catalogo Retrospettivohttps://www.gcss.it/easyweb/w7044/index.php?scelta=campi&&biblio=E7043&lang= – interface Italian, English, German, French and Spanish

Lithuania

Lietuvos Istorijos Bibliografiahttps://aleph.library.lt/F?func=option-update-lng&P_CON_LNG=LIT – interface Lithuanian and English

Netherlands

Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis (DBNG), Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague and Huygens Institute, Amsterdam – https://www.dbng.nl – interface Dutch and English – no updates after 2016, end of service announced for June 30, 2021
Historie in Titels (HinT) – http://picarta.nl/DB=3.30/LNG=NE/ – licensed resource, not anymore updated since 2005, originally created at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) – interface Dutch, English and German

Norway

Historisk bibliografi (Norhist), Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo – https://www.nb.no/baser/norhist/ – for the period 1980-1997

Poland

Bibliografia historii polskiej, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – https://www.bibliografia.ipn.gov.pl/ – access seems to be currently unsafe or disabled; https://bibliografia.ipn.gov.pl/ appears with a notice “offline”

Spain

Indice Histórico Español (IHE), Revistes Cientifiques de la Universitat de Barcelona – https://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/IHE/index – a bibliographical journal
Modernitas: Bibliografia de Historia Moderna, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (CSIC) – http://www.moderna1.ih.csic.es/modernitas/principal.htm
Indices, CSIC – https://indices.csic.es/ – a general scientific bibliography with attention to the humanities; interface Spanish and English

Sweden

Svensk Historisk Bibliografi – digital 1771-2010 (SHBd), Kungliga Bibliotek, Stockholm – https://shb.kb.se/F/?func=file&file_name=find-b&local_base=shb – also available as an app

Switzerland

Bibliographie der Schweizergeschichte (BSG), Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Bern – https://www.nb.admin.ch/snl/de/home/recherche/bibliografien/bsg.html – interface German, French, Italian and English

United Kingdom

Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) – https://www.history.ac.uk/publications/bibliography-british-and-irish-history – licensed resource hosted by Brepols

Remembering Michael Stolleis

Michael Stolleis - image MPILHLTIt seems difficult these weeks at my blog to leave Frankfurt am Main for other locations. The news about the death of Michael Stolleis on March 18, 2021 cannot be passed over here in silence, and thus again Frankfurt comes into view. Some obituaries succeeded very well in showing Stolleis’ role and achievements, and therefore I will not try to repeat everything already said with eloquent words.

The history of public law

On March 19, 2021 the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory announced with sadness the death of Michael Stolleis (1941-2021) on March 18, aged 79 years. Stolleis was a director of the institute from 1991 until 2006, and acted as its interim director from 2007 to 2009. In view of his work for the institute it is certainly necesary to stress he was from 1974 to 2006 also a professor for public law and legal history at the university of Frankfurt. Klaus Günther wrote an obituary for the law faculty. He points to Stolleis’ role for the Research Centre Normative Orders in Frankfurt. In the obituary at the main website of the Universität Frankfurt Enrico Schleiff stressed the fact Stolleis was a true intellectual and a scholar who set Frankfurt on the map worldwide.

Patrick Bahners looked in his contribution for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in particular at the background. Stolleis’ father was burgomaster of Ludwigshafen between 1937 and 1941. After finishing secondary school Michael Stolleis followed the footsteps of his father who was both a vinegrower and lawyer, and started with learning viniculture. From a visit to a wine museum in Aigle I remember in particular how the plants and fruits need attention in every month of the year. Knowing about steps set before you, having to live in the present and working at the same time for the future is an excellent preparation for life. Bahners mentions rightly the way Stolleis combined objectivity with personal kindness. From the few times I met him I remember the word locker, relaxed, a label I did not associate at first with German professors, but luckily Stolleis could indeed look most happy and friendly. Stolleis conributed regularly to the FAZ with articles that struck me as most readable, well-informed and resonating in you mind long afterwards.

Stolleis studied law, German language and literature and art history at the universities of Heidelberg and Würzburg. He wrote his doctoral thesis under the aegis of Sten Gagnér in Munich [Staatsraison, Recht und Moral in philosophischen Texten des späten 18. Jahrhunderts, defended 1967, published Meisenheim 1972)]. Stolleis wrote a moving article in remembrance of his Doktorvater, a piece telling you much about Stolleis himself, too [‘Sten Gagnér (1921-2000), ein großer Lehrer der europäischen Rechtsgeschichte’, Quaderni Fiorentini 29 (2000) 560-569; PDF]. In 1973 he defended in Munich his Habilitationsschrift (second thesis) on Gemeinwohlformeln im nationalsozialistischen Recht (Berlin 1974). At that time it was one of the first forays by German legal historians into the history of the Third Reich. Its theme, terms for the common good in Nazi law, can only be tackled succesfully by someone trained also in German language and literature. Just a small example of Stolleis’ gifted pen and his calm judgment is his concise summary of the history of the Deutsche Rechtshistorikertag, in particular the paragraph on the dark years of the Third Reich.

The striking thing for me about Michael Stolleis is the combination of public law and legal history at one side, and promoting both fields whenever possible, as much for the general public as for fellow scholars. Frankfurt had a reputation for critical thinking with the Frankfurter Schule. Among the second generation of this group of scholars which focused on philosophy and social theory Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann stand out. Stolleis is responsible for putting the history of public law in Germany’s history on the same level as political and social history. The four volumes of his Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland (Munich 1988-2012) definitely widened for German legal historians their fields of interest, and opened a necessary perspective on German history long overlooked as a defining and decisive element. However interesting, the history of private law cannot be the sole focus of legal history. Public law belongs as much to it as criminal law, procedure and canon law.

Only in my last post I mentioned the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit, a project started by Stolleis. Social law as a historical subject was the theme in his Geschichte des Sozialrechts im Deutschland. Ein Grundriss (Stuttgart 2003). If you think Stolleis focused only on Germany you might turn to his preface for the biographical dictionary Juristen. Ein biographisches Lexikon von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (first edition Munich 1995). His book on the image and the metaphor of the eye of the law shows him at work also in in the field of legal iconography [Das Auge des Gesetzes: Geschichte einer Metapher (Munich 2004)].

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft loses with Stolleis one of its most active and resourceful directors. Between 1991 and 2006 the institute in Frankfurt transformed already much by opening to wider fields and new approaches, and thus it prepared for the final touch, a change in its very name. Leading such transformations and normal scholarly business in sometimes difficult situations, and through losses as the untimely death of Marie Theres Fögen, is a great achievement. I will not try to list all awards, academy memberships and honorary doctorates Stolleis received. Let one prize suffice, the Hegel-Preis awarded by the city Stuttgart to Stolleis in 2018. Hegel was not just a very influential philosopher. His views became central to state building in nineteenth-century Germany and nineteenth-century science, in particular for historical research, with consequences for the twentieth century at large. In a time when law faculties have turned into law schools or just Fachbereiche we should remember Stolleis as a truly outstanding thinker whose publications can help to free you from preconceived views and following trodden paths. My words can hardly do justice to Michael Stolleis whom I greatly admired. Sadness about his death should be mixed with gratitude for his life, achievements and example of a lawyer and historian firmly rooted in past and present.

A postscript

On March 23, 2021 Thomas Duve published on behalf of the Max-Planck-Institut a much more detailed obituary for Michael Stolleis, in German and English.

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.

Questioning how to do legal history in a virtual world

Banner MPI Legal History and Legal Theory, 2021

This week I received a message from Andreas Wagner of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, about an online survey concerning our views on scholarly events in a virtual world. I had already planned to look at the website of this institute and to ponder the impact of its new name. The word European did no longer fit the actual width and coverage of the scholarly research at the institute. Legal theory has come to the institute as a third branch with its own director. Even the name of the institutional Twitter account has been changed (@mpilhlt)!

With Sigrid Amedick Andreas Wagner is the convenor of the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), originally planned as a normal scholarly event in 2020. At this Max-Planck-Institute Wagner is involved with digital humanities and the project concerning the School of Salamanca.

Let’s not hesitate and give you here right below the message about the questionnaire. Hopefully the answers scholars give will help to establish best practices for online scholarly events and help fostering critical thought about the way digital humanities and online research have an impact on doing legal history.

The questionnaire

Dear colleagues,

After roughly one year of covid-19 pandemic, working from home office, online team meetings and many other online things have come to shape our academic lives. Even academic conferences nowadays are starting to be organized as virtual events rather than be postponed indefinitely. However, no clear picture of benefits and drawbacks of virtual conference formats has emerged, let alone a common knowledge about best practices and about the many different forms that such virtual events can take.

At the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, we thus had the idea to launch a survey in order to solicit the opinions of the legal historians’ community on these things. This survey is meant to establish a glimpse of the state of virtual events in our discipline: the expectations and demands of scholars, the traps to avoid, and maybe even some ideas worth probing.

We cordially invite legal historians of all shades to participate and fill out our questionnaire. It contains about 40 questions in 5 groups/pages (General Questions, Activity Formats, Socializing, Publishing, General Comment) and it should take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. We will be very thankful for every response.

https://s.gwdg.de/jPr7wK

The questionnaire will remain open throughout all of February, closing on Feb 28 at 23:59:59 UTC. Results will be published on our homepage (https://www.rg.mpg.de/) and announced or reported on at various media like twitter, newsletters, blogs and journal sites. The survey adheres to very strict rules about data protection, which is one reason why we will not be able to send you a confirmation message or information about the results individually (the questionnaire is simply not asking for your e-mail address).

If you have any questions about the survey, please send a message to dlh@rg.mpg.de and we will be happy to answer.

Best regards,

Andreas Wagner

A few words

Old Supreme Court Room, Capitol (1808)

The Old Supreme Court Room, later the Law Library, in the Capitol, designed by Benjamin Latrobe – image: Digital Public Library of America / Digital Library of Georgia

This year I waited long, perhaps too long, before finally writing something about the sequence of events from election, confirmation and the attack at the Capitol to the inauguration of a new president of the United States. I will not take on the mantle of a prophet seeing the future by looking into the past to explain anything about these momentous events. By now so much words have been devoted to them, and to the foreseeable future, that I will not bother you with my personal views on this situation. Instead I will simply give here an overview of my posts concerning the United States published here in the last years. You will see a number of themes that can be easily connected with the latest events and developments in the United States.

In order to alleviate to some extent any disappointment I will add here a short paragraph on an institution that came very much into sight this month. In fact I plan to look in an upcoming post on a number of similar institutions in other countries.

(Almost) a nutshell guide to American legal history

The best thing to do is probably to give here a commented list with some of my blog posts concerning or touching upon the United States:

When you click on the word United States in the first paragraph of this section you will be led to all my posts with this tag, and hopefully you can be happy with my selection. For me it was rather interesting to see how often I wrote about America at my blog. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie you can pick your choice among the links for the United States on the pages for digital libraries and archives.

A brief look at a particular institution

The flag of the US Capitol olice - image source{ Wikimedia Commons

At the very heart of the events at January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. was the United States Capitol Police (USCP). Tragically, an officer of this federal police force died in the events, but more tragically on that day the USCP did at first not succeed in protecting the Capitol. The USCP did not employ its full sworn strength of 2,000 women and men. On the history page of its website the USCP explains it came into existence in 1800, but only after a number of incidents an act was passed in 1828 for its formal establishment. Among the incidents was the attack by the British army destroying the Capitol, a fact not mentioned on this page. This part of the USCP website has not yet been updated. You will bear with me being a legal historian for noticing on that page the merger with the Library of Congress police in 2009. The website of the White House Historical Association has a section on the events in August 1814.

Is it possible a part of the USCP was actually deployed around the Library of Congress on January 6, 2021? I can understand no blog post about the events of January 6 has yet appeared at In Custodia Legis, the official blog of the Library of Congress Law Library. I cannot help noticing the USCP does not have a motto beyond Protect and Secure Congress, but the Latin motto surely has a very similar intention. Legal historians will at some point in time start writing about the events of 2020 and 2021, and in view of the mass of written and audiovisual materials an early start at preserving materials is not amiss. The digital life of materials is sometimes suprisingly brief! The Library of Congress should be one of the places to preserve the memory of these troubled times. It is reassuring to see how the services of this library and in particular the Law Library have grown in recent years. Even faithful visitors of its website can be surprised by the wealth of materials made accessible online in 2020.

I suppose as an historian you should feel an itch when writing about current events, if only to remember your own views take form within the present, influenced no doubt by the past. The present enables you to see a few things at close hand, but even so often you will have difficulties to see larger developments and to stand at the right distances for seeing vital connections, ruptures and continuities. Interpreting facts will come soon enough. As for other interesting police forces and their history they will appear here, too, in 2021.

Looking at fragments

The exterior of Utrecht Univrersity Library, location Utrecht Science Park

In December bloggers face the perennial challenge of the seasonal post. In my view 2020 has hardly had any regular season. The world has changed in many ways. What seemed certain has become the object of doubts, and uncertainties have come into the spotlights. I will not pretend to see things better here than anyone else. My Dutch view is no cure for everything!

Like someone standing outside Utrecht University Library you cannot look directly into what’s inside. Our visions are often fragmented, and thus it seems appropriate to look here simply at some fragments of charters and manuscripts I could recently study at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Reporting from field work may not have the same status as presenting glorious final results, but it is in a way closer to tangible objects. Fragments offer a glimpse of a larger whole, and sometimes they are a kind of time capsule. Faithful readers know about my penchant to bring in here every now and then a very particular location, but this time it comes just briefly into view, perhaps only as a possible sequel in 2021.

History in fragments

Once upon a time it was clear a library contained books and an archive archival collections, but this nicely organized world seldom existed in real life. Archives can have a substantial library collection, and a research library can have important archival collections in its holdings. The history of a number of archival collections from medieval institutions and manuscripts held at Het Utrechts Archief and Utrecht University Library is a good example. Generally archival collections can be found now at the combined municipal and provincial archive, and most manuscripts are held at the university library, but some remarkable exceptions exist. Luckily Utrecht University Library created an online repertory for its archival collections. The manuscripts at Het Utrechts Archief can be found in the online library catalogue. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized.

Sometimes there is another explanation. The Wttewaal van Stoetwegen family brought the papers of the Wickenburg estate (‘t Goy, now part of Houten) into the care of Het Utrechts Archief [toegang (finding aid) 254], but other papers and charters are kept since the early twentieth century at the university library. Its inventory lacked descriptions of the charters, After a frst foray it became only natural to describe these charters as a sequel of the fruitful cooperation between both institutions in recent years, in particular for the exhibition and essay volume Perkament in stukken [Parchment in pieces] (2018).

Fragments of charters came also into view in my project which thus goes beyond the eighty charters of the Wttewaal family. A number of charter fragments had been described summarily in Latin in the manuscript catalogue [P.A. Tiele, A. Hulshof and B. Kruitwagen (eds.), Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Rheno-Trajectinae (2 vol., Utrecht-The Hague, 1887-1909; online, UB Utrecht, vol. I and II)]. The manuscript catalogue and later additions have been integrated into the online library catalogue; a guide for special materials helps you to use the catalogue and other resources efficiently. A substantial number of fragments has been taken from the bindings they once reinforced, some of them without due reference to the host volume, others with clear references to their origin.

Other fragments can in particular be found in situ in bookbindings made for Hubert van Buchel (1513-1599), a canon of the collegiate chapter of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. In 1569 Buchel fled to Cologne. In his will he donated his books to the parish of St. James’ at Utrecht, but no doubt the church wardens must have influenced the final decision to add them to the collections of the city library founded in 1584, the nucleus of the university library founded in 1636. My project was restricted to charter fragments. Vito Santoliquido (ENNSIB, Lyon) recently looked for Fragmentarium at the entire corpus of maculature fragments in books with a Van Buchel provenance, a collection with some 1,000 relevant volumes. I dealt with just over one hundred charter fragments.

For strengthening the bindings of his books Van Buchel provided the bookbinder with parchment and paper from books which might have belonged to the chapter of St. Mary’s. He even jotted down the costs of many bindings. Few manuscripts from this collegiate chapter survive nowadays. The fragments might offer a kind of window on the books held and read by the canons of St. Mary’s at Utrecht. At Fragmentarium Vito Santoliquido gives a sketch of his research project Maculature in the Van Buchel Collection.

It is tempting to continue here with a paragraph about the aims of fragments research. In the past years it has become a discipline with a name of its own, fragmentology, and even a journal with this title, thus claiming its own distinct place next to codicology and palaeography. In the second part of this post I will look at some fragments with a clear connection to legal history. At my blog Glossae. Middeleeuwse juridische handschriften in beeld I published a few days ago a succinct account of these fragments in German, ‘Utrechter Fragmenten und Urkunden’. At Glossae you can find also an overview of projects and catalogues concerning medieval manuscript and charter fragments.

Some legal fragments

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited

Two parts of fragment Hs. fr. 6.92 reunited – Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92

Legal history is the focus in the second part of this post, but it is necessary to remember other perspectives can be equally interesting and important. I would like to start with Utrecht UB, Hs fr. 6.92, coming from a Van Buchel volume (108 O 12), not just one fragment, but two sets of cuttings, group A with ten larger and one small scrap, and group B with ten cuttings. Of course I started trying to fit the parts of group A together, but this did not work. Combining the two sets was the obvious solution, but actually they still are kept as distinct sets, with a notice on the combinations I worked out for them.

Looking at fitting underlinings and dates proved to be clues to find adjacent parts of the cuttings. Here the data helped me to find the right parts, January 13, 1528. Other parts contain information about a case concerning a house in Cologne, the question of the validity of a mandate, and a letter from the official of the archbishop of Cologne, his ecclestastical judge, to the plebanus of Bonn. Some of the acts in these cuttings have marginal annotations about an act. One of the questions around these cuttings is their nature: Are they part of a kind of trial file or are we looking at a legal consultation (consilium)? As for now I opt for the first interpretation. Apart from two dates in 1527 and 1528 the names of some lawyers appear. At least one of them, Bernhardus de Harderwijck, can be traced in the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum and the Repertorium Germanicum for papal registers at the Romana Repertoria portal (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Rome). He started his studies at Cologne in 1486 and got his doctoral degree in law in 1510, the year he also joined the tribunal of the Reichskammergericht, then at Speyer.

There is a second set with sixteen similar cuttings, Hs. fr. 6.77, from F. oct. 76, another Van Buchel volume. The year 1522 is mentioned in them, and also the word Coloniensis appears within a very similar layout and the same cursive script, which suggests they could belong to the other fragment. However, these sixteen cuttings did not fit together when I tried to repeat my actions with them.

Trial document in Utrecht 108 N 9

A fragment of a trial document bound with Utrecht 108 N 9

In the volume 108 N 9, also with a Van Buchel provenance, I saw yet another cutting which seems to stem from the document cut into pieces and now kept as fragments 6.92 and 6.77. The handwriting looks very similar, although the interlinear space here is larger. It seems safe to assume at least a datation between 1520 and 1530. It seems logical, too, to locate its origin in the German Lower Rhine region. This fragment mentions a dean and a church without any further indication of a specific location. It would be wonderful to trace yet another fragment still in situ within one of the volumes once owned by Van Buchel or among separately kept fragments, but with possibly three witnesses of the existence of a legal document the harvest is already interesting in itself. One of the immediate challenges facing me is to try to fit pairs of these cuttings into single folia. As for now for each act there are only beginnings, parts representing texts halfway and endings, a tantalizing state of affairs. It is a sobering thought other fragments need to be described first consistently, too, before starting a miniature quest to reconstruct these acts.

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

A canon law fragment bound with the volume E oct. 122

The third example I want to present here concerns two fragments of a lecture on canon law, bound with the Van Buchel volume E oct. 122. On one side of the fragment with two columns the words per osti. in su., “per Hostiensem in summa”, stand for Hostiensis, the nickname of Henricus de Segusio, cardinal of Ostia (around 1190/1200-1271). The first version of his summa was completed in 1250-1251, which provides us with a terminus post quem for dating this text which seems to be a lecture on the Decretales Gregorii IX. On closer inspection you can read at the top of the right column Spec. in ti., which I read as “Speculum – or Speculator – in titulo”. Guillaume Durand (Durandus) (1231-1296) finished the first version of his Speculum iudiciale around 1271, a second terminus post quem for dating the text and these fragments. Alas both columns of the original page have suffered when cut into pieces, making the number of clues for identification much smaller. The fragment bound at the front in this volume shows an allegation no. Pe. de Ve., a medieval lawyer I have not yet identified.

A story of fragments and history in fragments

Normally a scholar would probably thirst for much more information, daring hypotheses and smashing conclusions. In my view it is wiser to start just getting things right for each fragment. Creating consistent descriptions might seem straightforward, but already the fact fragments and volumes did not arrive at my desk at Special Collections in numerical order should make you pause a moment. I took photos in the order of inspection, and my notes follow the same order. It is a nice job to combine my photos correctly with the normal order of the fragments. By sheer luck I could view side by side as the very first and second Early Modern editions I consulted two volumes with in their bindings corresponding fragments of a charter referring to Hubert van Buchel himself!

In a period with restricted possibilities for research on location I feel lucky and even blessed with all efforts of my colleagues of Utrecht University Library to bring fragments, manuscripts and printed books to the reading room. I am sure I will look back at these months with Special Collections as one of the most extraordinary periods in my scholarly life. I could arrange and photograph objects using as much space as I liked, but working often alone in a reading room was a strange experience. The collection of the reading room with books about book history, manuscripts, palaeography and other relevant subjects was within immediate reach. In a year where so many people were forced to work at home, under sometimes difficult circumstances, I had the privilege of working on location, touching even historical artefacts, the very traces of past periods, sometimes susceptible to quick reconstruction, but more often just sign posts of a larger whole lost to us. Describing charters and fragments is doing fundamental research. For me doing this is among the solaces, the comforting things and rays of light in a period darkened by the pandemic which cut into our world as sharply as the scissors cutting manuscript pages into fragments.

At the very end of this project I saw a number of references to manuscript with fragments turned out to be small and medium-sized archival collections with a number of charters, not just single fragments. It would not do to hastily create descriptions of these charters, even when using Tiele’s descriptions as a starting point. They deserve equal attention as the other charters and fragments I described this year. When I noticed in one case charters and deeds referring to houses near and atthe Janskerkhof square in Utrecht I knew I could complete the circle of this year for my faithful readers! Between 1584 and 1820 the Janskerk was home first to the city library and later to Utrecht University Library. Instead of lamenting unfinished work it is better to look at the things which against all odds did succeed. I am not the only one much more conscious how vulnerable life is, and how many obstacles can hinder the completion of any project now and in the near future. Hopefully the kind of research you dream of or do normally can become (again) reality in 2021.

Studying the American constitution

Logo of ConSource annoucing the ove to Quill

At a moment when the turmoil around the election of a new president of the United States of America is still living history, thoughts naturally turn to the key elements in the administration and government. The nomination of a new judge to the Supreme Court did not immediately lead to more stability. Political division in the Congress seems to harden. It is no wonder people look at the American constitution as a beacon of light and direction. In this post I will look at some of the online resources for studying the American constitution, in particular ConSource, just before it will become fully integrated with The Quill Project (Pembroke College, Oxford). At some points I will look also at other useful resources.

Digital resources for and around the US constitution

Logo The Quill Project

The Quill Project of Pembroke College, University of Oxford, the new home for ConSource created by the Center for Constitutional Studies, Utah Valley University, has certainly the US constitution as its core, but it is also home to other projects concerning legislation and constitutional history. I confess my surprise about the presence of these projects. The American constitution has so many aspects that even a dedicated website can touch only a number of them. A look at the original ConSource website can help to keep a clear focus.

At ConSource you can choose items in the menu bar at the top of the screen or go to the four sections indicated at the start page. The Library is the central element where you can use a research browser or enter eight different collections, for example for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the amendments, constitutional debates, the Federalist Papers and reactions to them, and state constitutions and charters. The Index is an index in three sections, for the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments, and a section for the amendments 10 to 27. The section on education contains videos, lessons plans and information on some other projects concerning education about civil society.

Federalist Paper No. 1, 1787

The Federalist Paper No. 1, 17, 1787 – images source: ConSource

The other approach at ConSource goes through four sections, starting with Documents which turns out to be the Library, the Constitutional Index, the videos and the lesson plans. There are several ways to search and filter the documents collections. It is good to see here also a collection concerning Magna Charta. Interestingly, both the original edition of the Federalist Papers and transcriptions of these pamphlets are given. Resources with original documents are indicated with a scroll icon. There are 21 videos for a wide range of topics, among them one concerning the role of legal history for interpreting the constitution. The lesson plans contain not only units concerning the constitution, but also for the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention and the history of the constitution in the early republic.

Finding the constitution in a new context

Start screen Center for Constitutuional Studies, Utah Valley University

How do these rich resource figure at The Quill Project after conversion? Even without looking deeply into the new online presence it is good to see immediately a user guide. One of the main differences with ConSource is the navigation. In my view it is wise to start with the items in the top menu bar, unless your item of choice is visible in the selection at the start page. Here the Library has two main sections, one for resource collections and one for commentary collections. However, the layout below the links to these section starts with a section labelled Negotiations. You can find here five collections concerning the constitutions and related central documents, and also two section on Utah legislative history. For some unclear reason there is no alphabetical or chronological order, nor have the Utah items be marked with a different symbol or color, things that can be easily mended. With such riches at your finger tips you will want to benefit also from the Reader’s Tools. At this web page you will find things in a very clear and sober layout. The Compare Tool is surely one of the things you will like to use.

When you see some minor problems with the layout in the paragraph here above it is not entirely by chance the overview of resource collections contains some elements which had better been set apart quickly, such as Quill Project News and Forthcoming Events. There is no clear order for the 33 collections, but you will smile when seeing the weather reports collection during the constitutional convention! It is great to have access here to letters edited for the Electronic Enlightenment project. There are eight commentary collections, a number with less chances for confusion or unclear layout, yet I cannot honestly detect a clear order here, too. The inclusion of materials about the creation of the electoral college for the election of the US president is most welcome. If you think I jotted down only some quibbles you might try to find a specific resource using the Reader’s Tools. I tried to locate the Federalist Papers, but alas I could not find them, maybe because some search index does not work correctly, but more probably they have not or not yet been transferred to the new platform.

Negotiations are the central theme at The Quill Project. Being somewhat an outsider to American legal history I can only applaud the attention to the fact the major documents of Early American legal history are the fruits not just of Founding Fathers defending principles with their best qualities, but of debates which did not happen in a laboratory. Decisions were made, postponed or cancelled under live conditions of debate, shrewd or honest use of rhetorical powers, and even under changing weather conditions, and in some years facing clear and present dangers. In my view The Quill Project does help with its resources in open access to break current debates about the American constitution and some of the amendments out of a straightjacket focusing too narrow on a restricted number of resources. The label originalism should indeed be reserved for that kind of framework. This portal helps you to see how origins are elements among many other things. It shows the constitution as an historical document coming into existence after many years of political and legal experience and debates.

Logo Law Library of Congress

At the end of this post you might be waiting for my usual service of a variety of other relevant links. However, in this case it would be foolish to make your own selection of links. A number of libraries at American law schools provide you with sure guidance to materials for constitutional history, a number of them in open access, others licensed and often only accessible at universities and research libraries. I mentioned a number of resources for legal history in open access in my post about the resources portal for the history of slavery in the United States. The Law Library of Congress is the obvious starting point for any research touching upon the US constitution. Its logo deserves a place at the very start page of the Library of Congress!

For those more interested in actual political action around the constitution in the early American republic and the way one of the Founding Fathers worked I would like to point to the digital collection Jefferson’s Three Volumes created by Princeton University. It offers apart from the history of three volumes of papers purposedly and explicitly put together by Jefferson himself and disastrously torn apart by the action of archivists a kind of time capsule. These documents in “3. volumes bound in Marbled paper” stem from his period as Secretary of State between 1790 and 1793. They show graphically the kind of information he daily received, his drafts and sometimes neat copies of his reactions and own actions. For me these documents make him more human. They do not diminish the fact he was indeed a Founding Father. In view of the fact resources can be part of licensed online collections you might want to consult my generous selections of resources for American history in open access in the form of digital libraries and digital archives at my legal history portal Rechtshistorie.