Tag Archives: Legal history

Laws in the Early Modern Persian world

Detail of startscreen LawformsAt the start of the new year I prefer to honor the tradition of looking at the legal history of a classical Empire. In previous years you would find here in January first of all a post about Roman law. However, the new post on Roman law is not yet ready, but luckily another empire of law came into view. Lawforms – Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World is a new blog at the Hypotheses blog network. The blog reminds you of the large extension of the Persian empire in the Early Modern period, from Eastern Turkey to parts of Afghanistan, but the Persian language and literature had an impact far beyond such borders. In this short post I will look at this international project which runs from 2017 to 2022. The focus of the project will be on the Indian subcontinent.

Another empire

The focus of the Lawforms project will be on Persian and bilingual legal documents and their users. The project distinguishes five linguistic zones. Among the subjects of interest is the impact of the European world on legal practices and the use of one or more languages. The three principal researchers in this project are Nandini Chatterjee (Exeter), Christoph Werner (Marburg) and Farah Bishara (University of Virginia), supported by two research associates in Delhi and Kolkata. The blog presents a number of field work reports, for example for regions with Bengali and Marathi, and for the Punjab. Other post tell us about work. In one case the director of the Rajasthan State Archives came to the South Asia section of the British Library to discuss the project and plans for digitization. I could not help spotting in this post the absence of the link to the website of this institution in Bikaner. The Directory of Archives created by The Memory Company leads you to a number of archives in India, Nepal and Pakistan. For India the list of archives at Wikipedia is very helpful.

On July 13-14, 2018 a workshop was held at Exeter on the theme of transactions and documentation in the Persianate world. The blog gives you the abstracts of contributions. One of the sessions in Exeter was devoted to Asnad, a database hosted by the Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien, Philipps-Universität, Marburg, until now a digital archive for Persian documents mainly from Iran held at several institutions. From 2019 onwards it will be extended to contain also images of documents from South and Central Asia.

Fragments and archives

The most recent contribution at Lawforms is a  notice about a recent conversation in Charlottesville, VA, between Farad Bishara, the author of A Sea of Debt. Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780–1950 (Cambridge, etc., 2017), and Nandini Chatterjee. At the core  of their conversation is the tension between views about legal consciousness and the sometimes arbitrary survival of records and documents in archival institutions. The levels to be researched cannot been seen in a fixed constellation with for instance legal manuals, dictionaries – see the post on a Persian/Bengali dictionary from 1838 by A.B.M. Shamshuddoza – and legal documents. The notice ends with some remarks on the way public records can refer to privately held views and vice versa.

One of the reasons I tried here to look here albeit rather briefly at a project concerning the Middle East and South Asia is the presence at my website Rechtshistorie of a growing overview of archives worldwide, including also Asia. I will not dare to venture into the field of India’s legal history without mentioning here South Asian Legal History Resources, the blog of Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin). It is really a portal for anyone wanting to study India’s legal history. She can provide you also with a host of links to websites with tips and strategies for productivity. Let’s hope the quality and quantity of your research, writing or teaching can attain the right levels in 2019!



Rembrandt’s private and legal life

Bannere exhibition "Rembrandt Privé"

On December 7, 2018 the exhibition Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] opened at the city archives of Amsterdam. In an earlier post on my blog I mentioned the project RemDoc – Rembrandt Documentation which offers a searchable database with images, transcriptions and many English translations of seventeenth-century documents pertaining to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). The exhibit show documents held at the Stadsarchief Amsterdam, the largest municipal archive in the Netherlands, some original works by Rembrandt, a number of maps and the chance to gain access to augmented reality around the documents using a tablet. The legal nature of many documents will soon become clear in this post.

Stories of love, art and money

I started to admire Rembrandt already as a child. His paintings, drawings and etchings are so much alive with people. Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age helped shaping my perceptions of the seventeenth century. I was soon aware of the many decisive turns in Rembrandt’s life. The way he portrayed people both in sorrow and joy, and the dark hours of his own life offered a healthy antidote to viewing the Dutch Republic in too much sunlight. The catalogue of the major Rembrandt exposition in Amsterdam in 1969 was a book I have seen many times. It often referred to historical documents about Rembrandt and his works.

The building of the Stadsarcheif Amsterdam

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam at the Vijzelstraat in the former bank building designed by K.P.C. de Bazel

Reading about somebody in a book is one thing, seeing the works of an artist in museums adds much to it, but somehow having the documents in front of you stirs the imagination even more. The Rembrandt Documentation project of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam and the Radboud University Nijmegen gives you online access to many thousand documents. There was an older work, Die Urkunden über Rembrandt (1575-1721) by C. Hofstede de Groot (The Hague 1906; online, Universität Heidelberg) with transcriptions and commentaries for nearly 500 documents, followed by W.L. Strauss and M. van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York 1979) and M. Roscam Abbing, Rembrandt 2006, II: New Rembrandt Documents (Leiden 2006). The online project has a wider time range, 1424 to 1799, and offers much more documents, and also references about Rembrandt in art literature. Sometimes Hofstede de Groot did not record texts completely. Commentaries can be very different and convincing explanations no longer missing. An example: Hofstede de Groot gave a large extract from an attestatio de vita from July 26, 1632 (no. 25, p. 24-25; RemDoc, no. 4399) made by a notary inquiring about Rembrandt’s health, but the reason for this inquiry was not clear to Hofstede de Groot. In 1979 it became clear it had to do with a rent subscribed to by one hundred citizens with the stipulation the full sum would be paid back to the longest living subscriber.

An enlarged map of Amsterdam and two documents

The exhibit at the city archive shows a selection of documents around a number of themes and events in Rembrandt’s life. Often two documents are shown, with either a print next to them or an image of a painting in the background, most of them from the collections of the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandthuis. With the tablet you can focus on a document and start a short podcast about the document or documents. Often you will see a seventeenth-century map in the background showing you the exact location in the inner city of Amsterdam. The image to the left centers on a document about the execution of Elsje Christiaens, a Danish servant convicted for murder hanging at the display gallows in 1664 on the other side of the IJ, the estuary to the north of Amsterdam. Rembrandt often made sketches in this region. He drawed this young woman twice.

The exhibition shows some familiar documents, and although I had already some expectations, the legal nature of many documents is indeed striking. To mention just a few of them, the betrothal of Rembrandt and his first wife Saskia van Uijlenburgh in 1634, an ecclesiastical procedure about his later mistress Geertje, some testaments, the inventory of his bankruptcy in 1656, and the inventory of his house after his death in 1669 are all legal documents.

The 1669 inventory - Amsterdam, Stadsarchief

A page from the 1669 inventory – Amsterdam, Stadsarchief, Archief Notarissen, subseries 113, Gerrit Steeman, inv.no. 2625C

The death-bed inventory of Rembrandt’s house in 1669 is rather special. It belongs to documents more or less damaged by the 1762 fire in the city hall. Several documents have now been restored and digitized. Until now the transcriptions of this document in RemDoc (no. 13471; Hofstede de Groot, no. 306) could only be incomplete. It is a reminder that a historical state of affairs can change indeed. Illegible or missing words can become clear. In the case mentioned above a document which seemed inexplicable can be studied anew, placed in a context and yield new information. The readability of old Dutch documents was the theme in a post I wrote earlier in 2018. I proposed to everyone wanting to learn online to decipher Dutch documents from the seventeenth century to start with the documents about Rembrandt. As an example I showed an image of an obligation Rembrandt had got into for the purchase in 1639 of his house in the Sint Anthoniebreesteeg for which he had failed in 1653 to pay four years of interest (RemDoc no. 4628). Even if not for all documents images and an English translation is available, a fair number of archival records can be used to gain also palaeographical skills.

Among the archival records on display I want to single out two documents. The first is a complaint from the Portuguese merchant Diego d’Andrada in 1654 about a portrait of a young lady Rembrandt had made for him (RemDoc, no. 1661) with clauses about the way Rembrandt was going to act to fulfill the wishes in accordance with the regulations of the painters guild.

Documents about the black community in Rembrandt's Amsterdam

The second document involved also the presence of Portuguese merchants in Amsterdam, the burial of Francisco d’Angola in 1659 who had lived in the same street with Selijelij Krablije. Rembrandt could meet in the very street where he lived black people who lived as servants in the houses of Portuguese merchants. In Amsterdam it was forbidden to have slaves, but one can assume in some cases such servants were in fact slaves. Amsterdam had become in the seventeenth century one of Europe’s most important financial and trade centers. You might encounter anyone and anything, and thus Rembrandt’s world stretched far beyond Holland.

More archival records

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam is rightly famous for its digitization service. Some 30 million images of archival records are currently available online. Indexes exist for a steadily growing number of record series, and in most cases they lead you to digital images, too. The ondertrouwregisters (betrothal registers) are probably the most praised record series of the municipal archive, because uniquely for this kind of resource the Amsterdam records often contain additional information about the partners, their professions, origin and family.

Logo Alle Amsterdamse Akten

In 1906 Hofstede de Groot noted in the acknowledgements he had not used himself the notarial registers of Amsterdam, because this rich resource had not yet been adequately inventoried. He had mostly to rely on the transcriptions and editions of the people who had gained access to them thanks to the guidance of archivists. It is one thing to have now at your computer screen full access to digitized images of these registers using the finding aid (toegang 5075), but another thing to find quickly relevant acts. Here the crowdsourcing project Alle Amsterdamse Akten steps in which aims to digitize and create indexes for a staggering volume of notarial registers, good for 3,5 linear kilometer in 700 cupboards. The project overview gives a current number of nearly six million digitized pages, some 680 volunteers at the Dutch transcribing platform Vele Handen [Many Hands] and 267,000 documents. There are more than ten thousand registers from 731 notaries in the Early Modern period. The website contains special dossiers about six themes, among them Rembrandt and also slavery with highlights among the notarial acts, some of them newly found, others already known.

Search screen Alle Amsterdamse Akten

The search screen of Alle Amsterdamse Akten

After free registration you can start searching in the notarial registers from Amsterdam at the website Notarieel Archief Amsterdam. You can search for descriptions, type of act, first names and surnames for two persons, location, day, month and year, or choose a particular notary. When searching for Rembrandt van Rhijn you will immediately get a choice of variant spellings in a dropdown menu, both for Rembran(d)(t) and R(h)ijn. At this point I can no longer hide the fact that the exhibit can be visited in a Dutch and English version, but the other websites of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam are completely in Dutch. The press kit for the exhibit in four languages and the display texts for the documents are the exceptions, but the tablet scripts and transcriptions are only available online in Dutch. There is a strong case to add at least a search interface in one other language. It is some solace to be able to download the 1998 repertory of notaries in Amsterdam between 1524 and 1810 by A.J. Bosma. Earlier on an overview had been created of more than 5000 notarial acts in cases of gross avery between 1700 and 1810, damage to ships in emergency situations, an important resource next to an index on these cases of maritime law heard by a special court. I wrote a paragraph about these verdicts in an earlier post.

Rembrandt and Vermeer in documents

It seems wise to see Rembrandt not in isolation. John Michael Montias (1928-2005) was an economic historian who became an art historian focusing on the social context of art. He found and transcribed lots of Early Modern probate inventories mentioning works of art which can be searched in the Montias database of the Frick Museum, New York. The Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology has created the Boedelbank, a database with Dutch probate inventories from four regions seen as a resource for the history of material culture. In 1989 Montias published Vermeer and his milieu. A web of social history, translated into Dutch as Vermeer en zijn milieu (Amsterdam 1993). Over the years Montias had traced some 450 documents in seventeen Dutch and Belgian archives – not only in Delft! – with direct and indirect about information about Vermeer, his family and people associated with him. The Dutch edition contains as an appendix (pp. 331-403) an enlarged version of the list of documents with a number of full transcriptions. The number of documents for Vermeer is definitely lower than for Rembrandt. Even if such documents do not allow for strict conclusions about the content of his art works, they enormously raise the awareness about the multiple contexts of Dutch art in the seventeenth century.

In the face of an ocean of specialized art literature about Rembrandt and Vermeer the point I liked to make here is not only the legal nature of many archival records in the Amsterdam exhibition, but also the presence of many other persons in these documents. Rembrandt and Vermeer were supreme masters in portraying people who you seem to know and understand in an uncanny way. The Dutch historian Geert Mak wrote a book about the Six family [De levens van Jan Six. Een familiegeschiedenis, 2016; The many lives of Jan Six. A portrait of an Amsterdam dynasty, 2017], a merchant dynasty with Jan Six at its very heart, a friend of Rembrandt, portrayed twice by him. The painting is still owned by his descendants. Viewing someone in his familiar surroundings or in the streets of his hometown is also a metaphor for viewing law not as an isolated element of society, but vitally connected to its utmost veins. Finding and recreating such connections is surely challenging, but searching for a subject in vivo is more rewarding and revealing than staying content with results in a supposedly detached laboratory. At the end of 2018 I would almost say: Keep calm and study legal history!

Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] – Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Vijzelstraat 32, Amsterdam – December 7, 2018 until April 7, 2019

Swiss sermons around executions

Startscreen Standreden, Universität Zürich

The execution of convicted crime suspects attracted the attention of the general public in Early Modern Europe. Authorities saw the public administering of punishments as a key element of criminal law. For a lot of cases we know about the last words people said before their execution, and authors reckoned even on the particular interest of their public to record such words. Less attention has been given to another genre, sermons spoken just before or after public execution. The Universität Zürich has now digitized such sermons, Standreden, based on the materials of the late Urs Herzog, a Swiss philologist.  What was said in these sermons from the eighteenth and nineteenth century? What was the purpose of the preaches and the effect on their public? In this contribution I will look at the digital collection, its background and at some questions surrounding these sermons.

It is not the first time that a post appears here after an alert or message at Archivalia, the blog of Klaus Graf (@Archivalia_kg). It is up to any visitor of his blog to pursue the paths he indicates or to heed his warnings. Anyway, Switzerland has seldom been the subject in my posts.

A wide range of materials

Logo Standreden

The website of this joint project of the department for German language and literature and the center for legal history of the Universität Zürich starts with pointing out how these sermons serve as a focus of attention and as a genre in which the law and Christian teaching came together. Urs Herzog (1942-2015) taught German literature at Zürich. He became a specialist in the field of Early Modern sermons (Barockpredigte), but his interests were much wider. The Standreden are a form of the much more common Leichpredigte, death sermons. As a professor emeritus he did research on the history of criminal justice, moral theology and the spiritual and psychic care for prisoners. In the project only a selection of his materials has been digitized. One of the purpose of the project is to present the sheer scope and range of Herzog’s materials and to invite other scholars to use them for their research.

The image on the start screen shows the execution of a woman in 1851. Below the text the explication mentions an often quoted verse from the letter to the Romans (13,4): “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (King James Version). In the verse immediately preceding this quote it is clear he refers to rulers. This quote was used as an argument to confirm the right and duty of authorities to execute justice in a most literal way, by applying even the death sentence.

The digital project has a page on further sources (Quellen) with a scholarly bibliography. Apart from the nearly 140 digitized sermons Herzog traced nearly 400 other sermons in Swiss libraries. A glossary helps you to understand numerous terms with a very specific meaning. The questionnaire contains at present only three fairly obvious questions you can ask about these sermons. The page for research (Forschung) gives you access to articles written by Urs Herzog and a few other scholarly publications about the Standreden.

Preaching a good end

Logo Zentralbibliothek Zürich

The nearly 140 sermons in the digital collection date from 1601 to 1867. In an Excel sheet you can find bibliographic details. However, there is just one sermon from the seventeenth century. 21 sermons stem from the eighteenth century, and some 120 sermons were held during the nineteenth century. The bibliographical information is concise but most useful. Herzog noted the religion of the preacher, the gender of the executed persons, and he even gives his verdict on the nature of the texts. In thirty cases women were executed. Some texts were not really a Standrede. Most sermons were printed, but he traced some sermons in manuscript. Herzog found the majority of the printed sermons, in a way pamphlets, in the holdings of the Zentralbibliothek Zürich. It is a bit mystifying he does not mention where he found the other publications. The digital collection has been created using digitized black-and-white photocopies made by Herzog himself.

In the digital collection each sermon has been given a code for the year, and often the name of the preacher, the executed person and the location of the execution are also included. A small number of sermons was not held in Swiss towns , but in Dresden (1601), Stuttgart (1738),  Wernigerode (1747), Ludwigsburg and Heidelberg, the latter both in 1812. In the Excel sheet you can query for dates and places, names of the convicted and the preacher, the kind of crime and the way of execution, the location where the sermon was held, its public (the delinquent, the beholders or a parish), the location of publication and the publisher, and for the facts I mentioned already in the paragraph here above. Some sermons were addressed directly to the criminal, others only to the public that had watched the execution. Of course I feel tempted to use here one or more sermons, preferably very different ones. A sermon in 1843 was held in a case in which the felon was pardoned. The Jesuit priest Matthias Heimbach held three sermons in 1716, a prime case for comparison. Nine sermons date from 1827.

All the strengths of this project do not hide one particular point. It is understandable to use first of all Herzog’s research material, but in the case of the sermons themselves it is rather remarkable his own photocopies have been digitized, and not the original editions. In view of the more than 35,000 thousand titles from the Zentralbibliothek Zürich digitized for the Swiss portal e-rara, conveniently grouped in one set, it is feasible to search for digitized execution sermons. I suppose one had rather seen a simple list of those items or a notice on the presence or absence of items within e-rara. As a matter of fact I searched for Standreden in e-rara, with two results, only one of them an execution sermon by Alois Diogg, a Capucin friar, Standrede, gesprochen auf der Blutstätte in Schwyz bei der Hinrichtung des Raubmörders Hieronymus Kessler von Galgenen (Schwyz, s.a. (1839); online, e-rara). Using the joint catalogue of the university library and the Zentralbibliothek Zürich you will realize quickly the word Standrede was used for any kind of Leichenpredigt.

You might pause for a thought how it took Herzog years to bring his resources together even with the assistance of online catalogues, but luckily he could at least partially build on the research concerning death sermons. Since many years the Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz is home to the Forschungsstelle für Personalschriften. An important section of its website is devoted to Leichenpredigten. You will find a database and links to projects with digitized German death sermons. Legal historians might want to look in particular at the legal dimensions of these execution sermons, but they can equally be treated as a subspecies of death sermons.

The presentation of these research materials, the digitization of (photocopies) of resources and not in the least the cooperation between two scholarly disciplines is to be welcomed. This Swiss project does homage to the legacy of a scholar with wide interests who found an intersection of theology, literature and legal history. My frowns about some elements should not stop you from investigating the project website and these digitized Swiss execution sermons.


Medieval manuscripts from France and England united

Banner France-Angleterre 700-1200

The future of the relations between Europe and the United Kingdom can at times seem darkened by current politics. As if no Brexit of whatever nature lies ahead a new online project has been created giving online access to some 800 medieval manuscripts kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London. These manuscripts were produced between 700 and 1200. At least a number of them belongs to the period the dukes of Normandy had conquered England and established connections that would last for centuries. In this post I want to look at the project France-Angleterre 700-1200: Manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200, and in particular at the manuscripts connected with law and justice. You can view the project in French, English and Italian.

Manuscripts in two cities

Logo The Polonsky Foundation

The two libraries cooperating in this project would sorely miss the support of a Dritter im Bunde, The Polonsky Foundation, which supports projects concerning cultural heritage. Medieval manuscripts receive a fair share of its attention, in particular for the digitization of manuscripts held at the Vatican Library in cooperation with the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. The France-Angleterre website is supported by a website hosted by the British Library, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, viewable in English and French, where you will find articles on subjects such as medieval historians, manuscript illumination and the libraries of medieval monasteries. For both the BL and the BnF the website offers an introduction about the history of their manuscript collections and a selection of 115 manuscripts. The selection contains two decorated manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani (BnF, Latin 3888 and BL, Arundel 490), a copy of Justinian’s Digest (BnF, Latin 4454) and a volume with legal texts concerning London, a description of England and Ranulph de Glanville’s legal treatise (BL, Add 14252). You can read also about six themes: art and illumination, history and learning, science and nature, Christian religion and belief, manuscript production and the modern care of medieval manuscripts in library collections. There is a glossary and a series of videos about the making of medieval manuscripts. You can also watch a video touching on legal history, The role of law in governing medieval England. At the resources page the blogs of the BL and BnF can tell you more about the project. Several conferences about these newly digitized manuscripts will be held, too.

The main manuscripts website of France-Angleterre offers four filters to approach the digitized manuscripts: themes, authors, locations and centuries. I assume here you would like to explore a particular theme, canon and civil law; nine other themes are presented as well. With 70 manuscripts of the 800 on this website the score for legal texts is higher here than in the selection, just four among 115 manuscripts, but this is better than the other way around. The presentation of the manuscripts at France-Angleterre looks familiar for regular visitors of the Gallica digital library of the BnF. When you look at the languages of these seventy manuscripts the number of 69 for Latin clearly means some manuscripts contain texts in two languages. The range of dates is from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, with 24 manuscripts from the twelfth century. The presence of BL, Royal MS 8 E XV with Alcuin’s letters is justified by the presence of fragments of a tenth-century charter. Each manuscript is not shown in the viewer used at Gallica, but in the IIIF compliant viewer increasingly used nowadays. With the heading Canon and civil law you would expect a filter to distinguish between legal systems, but this is not provided for. For canon law I mentioned already the Decretum Gratiani, and you will find a number of older canon law collections, such as the Collectio Dacheriana (BL, Harley 2886 and 3845) and the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pseudo-Isidorean decretals, and also the Institutio canonicorum Aquisgranensis, the Aachen rule for canons. The detailed description of BnF Latin 13908 mentions another text in this volume, the Statuta Adalhardi abbatis, the reason why this manuscript with Boethius’ De institutione musica has been included in this section. The Statuta Adalhardi abbatis are a variant title for the Constitutiones Corbeienses or Statuta seu Brevia Adalhardi abbatis Corbeiensis from 826, information easily found at the Monastic Manuscript Project. This manuscript is the oldest one to contain this text.

Image of London, BL. Egerton 2901, f. 1v

The Collectio Francofurtana – BL, Egerton 2901, f. 1r – image British Library

My interest was in particular awakened by the presence of the Collectio Francofurtana in BL, Egerton 2901, a twelfth-century collection of papal decretals, verdicts in the form of letters to delegated judges. During my period in Munich in 1997 and 1998 at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law I had the chance to look at Walther Holtzmann’s card index of twelfth-century decretals, and also at the microfilms of the four manuscripts of the Collectio Francofurtana, an early systematic decretal collections created in or around 1183. Gisela Drossbach has successfully dealt with both the card index, now available online, and this decretal collection. Twenty years later it is only natural to look for the online presence of the other three manuscripts as well. Within the Digitale Sammlungen of the Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main you will indeed find the manuscript Barth. 60, the manuscript which gave its name to this decretal collection. The manuscript BnF, Lat. 3922A is present in Gallica, and the manuscript Troyes, BM 961, has been digitized in the Mediathèque of the Bibliothèque municipale in Troyes. It is quite a change from the black-and-white microfilms to four manuscripts at your screen in full colour.

Among the texts concerning canon law at France-Angleterre you will find texts from several church councils.and also monastic regulations, in particular the Coutumes de Cluny (Constitutiones Cluniacenses) in BnF, Lat. 13875. The Decretum of Burchard of Worms is present in BnF, Lat. 3860.

For Roman law we encounter not only the Digesta but also the Codex Iustinianus, the Codex Theodosianus and the Epitome Gaii Instutionum, a shortend version of the Institutes of Gaius. A number of Late Antique texts collectively known as the leges barbarorum or the Volksrechte are also present, among them the Leges Visigothorum and the Breviarium Alarici, the Lex Salica and the Lex Ribuaria. These texts are found in manuscripts surrounded by other texts. The French and Italian version of the website specifically mentions this fact for the section on law, “mais aussi tout recueil de lois” and “così come ogni altro compendio di natura giuridica”, but this has been omitted in the English version.

The language filter of France-Angleterre invites you to explore the use of other languages than Latin. For the first manuscript with one or more texts in Old French , BL, Cotton Tiberius E IV, it is not immediately clear which text is written in Old French. The manuscript catalogue of the British Library makes clear two only two separate texts at f. 28v and 29v were written in Old French, one of them the abdication of John, king of Scots on July 10, 1296. The same story can be told for BL, Cotton Vespasian B XX, with only some notes in Old French at f. 25r. I was afraid this story would continue for the three manuscripts with texts in Anglo-Norman, for example BL, Add. 24006 with as its main text the Tractatus de legibus et consuetudines Angliae by Ranulph of Glanvill and the first version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris. The entry for the Early English Laws project does not mention any Anglo-Norman text in this manuscript. However, BL Add 14252 with again Glanvill’s treatise does contain several legal texts in Anglo-Norman, among them laws for London (f. 101-104r, 113r-117r, 119r-124r), and for weavers and fullers in Winchester, Oxford and other towns (f 111r-112r). In BL, Sloane 1580 the text in Anglo-Norman is not a legal text, but the oldest translation in medieval vernacular of a scientific text, the Comput (Computus) by Philippe de Thaon (f. 162v-178r). The manuscript contains only one legal treatise (f. 182r-184r), a kind of prologue connected with the Epitome exactis regibus. BL, Cotton Otho E XIII, has glosses in Breton for the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. The Comput of Philippe de Thaon can be read in four other manuscripts within France-Angleterre.

A rapid tour

With just seventy manuscripts out of a total of 800 for France-Angleterre it is clear the sample taken here deals with less than ten percent of this digital collection. The impression seems clear that the selection contains for the field of law mainly Roman law texts, Late Antique laws, a wide choice of texts touching on canon law, and only a few examples of texts concerning English law. I did not readily find any text on French customary law or French royal acts. Before you might divine this has to do with the division of manuscripts in this selection, I should add that this selection contains thirty-five manuscripts from each library, a perfectly balanced choice with regard to numeric values. The choice for the period 700-1200 could have led to the presence of multiple texts in Anglo-Saxon in this selection, but in fact there is just a single manuscript in this language, the Heliand in BL, Cotton Caligula A VII. The advanced search mode of France-Angleterre allows you to search for several basic fields, for particular languages and time ranges.

I found it very important to see at France-Angleterre how texts we tend to single out were transmitted alongside sometimes very different other texts. It reminded me we should not see medieval law and justice in isolation. For all its qualities the IIIF viewer does not immediately show you how to go quickly to the end of a manuscript, but the gallery view does this for you. In a number of cases there is a side panel at the left which helps you to navigate to particular sections of a manuscript. The detailed description of items is often sufficient, but anyway all items are connected either with the archives and manuscripts catalogue of the British Library or with the catalogue for archives et manuscrits of the BnF. This joint venture supported by The Polonsky Foundation affirms the reputation of both libraries. France-Angleterre seems to me a great gateway for exploring medieval manuscripts, both for beginners and for scholars with their own questions and wishes.

A postcript

Klaus Graf, archivist of the RWTH (Aachen), has checked on Archivalia at random some of the links to manuscripts at France-Angleterre, and he found serious problems. Graf fights for the durability of links, in particular permalinks . It is only reasonable to create a reliable website which can function correctly for many years. Link rot is not a new phenomenon. It would be bad to have weak links right from the start. The team of France-Anglettere should deal quickly and constructively with this matter.

At the introductory website of France-Angeleterre hosted by the British Library Joanna Fronska has published an article on legal manuscripts in England and France with much attention to manuscript production and artistic influences.

Finding Frisia’s culture and legal history

Screenprint website Leeuwarden 2018

Since many years the European Union gives every year two cities the title European Cultural Capital. Cities compete with elaborate bid-books to get this coveted title. In 2018 La Valletta, the capital of Malta, and Leeuwarden, the main city of the Dutch province Friesland (Frisia), share the honours. In this post I will look at Frisian culture and history. However varied the program of events, i would like to look at more enduring institutions and projects which bring Frisian culture and history to you. Legal history has its own place in this context.

A matter of languages, and much more

Logo Leeuwarden-Friesland Capital of Culture 2018

The most striking element of the portal Leeuwarden 2018 is the absence of Frisian as a language to view this commercial website. You can choose between Dutch, Frisian, English and German at another portal, Leeuwarden-Fryslân – European Capital of Culture 2018. Here, too, you will find a calendar of events, but their cultural dimensions are given more prominence. Among the cultural events the parade of three giants in Leeuwarden made a great visual impact. Events took place in many Frisian towns and villages, ranging from opera to a heroic solo swimming tour along eleven towns to raise money for the treatment of cancer. Building the community, mienskip, was a central theme.

Frisia’s legal history

It would be almost easy to foucs here on either medieval Frisian law, with remarkable texts such as the Lex Frisionum, late medieval regulations on water management or the Roman-Frisian law during the period of the Dutch Republic, Frisia’s own version of the Roman-Dutch law. Tresoar provides us also with an overview of sources at Alle Friezen (All Frisians), available in Frisian, Dutch and English. The links section of Tresoar is most useful, You might want to look at other Frisian archives as well, easily found using the Fries Archiefnet. However, I have chosen an other subject within Frisia’s long legal history.

Start srcreen Tresoar with Viglius vn Aytta

Amidst all events for Leeuwarden 2018 you could easily miss the opening on October 19, 2018 of the exhibition at Tresoar, the Frisian archive and library in Leeuwarden, around a Frisian lawyer, and the uncovering of a statue in his honor by Herman van Rompuy.  Wigle van Aytta van Zuichem (1507-1577) latinized his first name to Viglius. He was born at the Barrahuis estate (stins) in Wirdum near Leeuwarden. His uncle Bernard Bucho was a councillor of the Hof van Holland in The Hague and saw to Viglius’ education. As many students from the Low Countries Viglius started his studies in Leuven (Louvain) where he arrived in 1522, but a few years later he went further abroad. In 1526 he was at the university of Dôle. In 1529 he received his doctoral degree in Valence. He continued his travels to Bourges to become a student and assistant of Andrea Alciato. Soon his career started. In 1532 and 1533 he taught the Institutiones Iustiniani in Padua, in 1534 he became the official (ecclesiastical judge) for the bishop of Münster, in 1535 and 1536 he was at the Reichskammergericht in Speyer before teaching law at Ingolstadt between 1537 and 1541.

Painting of Viglius by Jacob de Punder - image Tresoar

Painting of Viglius van Aytta as chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 1564, by Jacob de Punder (1527-around 1570) – Leeuwarden, Fries Museum

His political career started at an amazingly high level in 1540 when he became a member of the Conseil Secret (Geheime Raad, Secret Council), one of the most important institutions in the Habsburgian Low Countries. In 1549 he became its president, first until 1569, and again from 1573 to 1575. Meanwhile he had joined in 1543 also the Groote Raad van Mechelen (Great Council of Malines), a very important high court for the Low Countries. He conducted the negotiations for Charles V for the Burgundian Treaty of 1548 which led to a more coherent status of the Low Countries in relation to the Holy Roman Empire. In 1554 he became the president of the Raad van State, the state council. At the abdication of Charles V in 1555 he wanted to step down from his functions, but king Philip II convinced him to stay with for example the promise to become abbot of the rich St. Bavon Abbey at Ghent. Viglius’ wife Jacqueline Damant had died in 1553,. In 1562 he had been ordained to the priesthood by Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, the trusted councillor of Philipp II and at the height of his powers as recently appointed archbishop of Malines. By now it will not surprise you Viglius presided since 1563 as chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece. I could have chosen a more sober portrait of him painted by Frans Pourbus the Elder, now in the Louvre, but the painting at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden is most telling.

Legal historians can encounter him as a legal humanist. In 1534 Viglius published the editio princeps of the Greek paraphrase by Theophilus of the Institutes (Institouta Theophilou antikēnsōros) [Institutionum iuris civilis in Gracam linguam per Theophilum antecessorem olim traductae (…) (Basel: in officina Frobeniana, 1534: online, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)], followed by a Latin translation in 1536. Also in 1534 appeared his lectures on the Institutes held in Padua, Commentaria Viglii Zuichemii Phrysii in decem titulos Institutionum (…), published in Basel by Froben (online, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek). When you check the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC; University of St. Andrews) for early editions of works by Viglius you will find a notice about an edition Lyon 1533 held at Montauban, but the database of Lyon15-16. Bibliographie des éditions lyonnaises 1473-1600 makes clear this is probably an edition printed at Lyon in 1564. Only posthumously appeared a series of lectures held at Ingolstadt, Praelectiones in titulum pandectarum, de rebus creditis, et ad titulum codicis Justinianaei, de edicto divi Hadriani tollendo (Cologne: Gervinus Calenius and heirs of Johann Quentel, 1582; online, Universiteit Gent).

The USTC shows a number of pamphlets from 1543 by Viglius from the years on political matters. His Confutatio defensionis ducis Clivensis super jure ducatus Geldriae ac comitatus Zutphaniae (…) (Antwerp 1543), reprinted the same year as Serenissimae reginae Mariae contra ducem Clivensem justificatio also appeared in Dutch, De onschult der coninginnen vrou Marie regeerster der Erf Nederlanden tegen den hertoge van Cleve (…) (Antwerp 1543). Mary of Hungary, governor of the Low Countries, asked Viglius to act as her ambassador at Nuremberg and to speak up against the aggressive policies of duke William of Cleve who claimed the territory of the duchy Guelders (Gelre).

Finding out about Viglius

There is a considerable body of literature about Viglius life and works. The two volumes of the biography by Folkert Postma stand out, Viglius van Aytta als humanist en diplomaat 1507-1549, (Zutphen 1983) and Viglius van Aytta. De jaren met Granvelle 1549-1564 (Zutphen 2000). Not all of Viglius’ writings were published in the sixteenth century. At the multilingual portal site Dutch Revolt only the Dutch version has a section with numerous biographies, the one for Viglius mentions a number of relevant titles. The long article on Viglius by Postma in the Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek is available online, too, but alas this, too, is in Dutch [NBW VIII (1979), col. 837-855]. The Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences has created a bio-bibliographical lexicon of Dutch humanists between 1500 and 1700, but this resource, too, is only accessible in Dutch, as is the one for Viglius by Toon van Houdt. He notes for example an earlier pamphlet by Viglius dealing with the Cleve-Guelders controversy, Assertio ivris imperatoris Caroli hvivs nominis Quinti, in Geldrię ducatu, & Zutphaniæ comitatu (…) (Antwerp 1541; online, Universiteit Gent). Some works have received attentions only in the last decades. Regina Sprenger wrote about Viglius’ notes about his work as a judge (Assessor) at the Reichskammergericht, Viglius van Aytta und seine Notizen über Beratungen am Reichkammergericht (1535-1537) (Nijmegen 1988). This Protokollbuch is kept at Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, ms. Van der Gheyn, nos. 2837 to 2840. Paul Nève and Regina Sprenger have published together articles about his time in Speyer. Joost Pikkemaat has studied the lectures held at Ingolstadt [Viglius van Aytta als hoogleraar te Ingolstadt (Nijmegen 2009)]. Earlier he wrote for example about Viglius’ inaugural lecture at Ingoldstad [‘De inaugurale rede van Viglius van Aytta aan de universiteit van Ingolstadt’, in: Van oud en nieuw recht : handelingen van het XVde Belgisch-Nederlands rechtshistorisch congres, Dirk Heirbaut and Daniël Lambrecht (eds.) (Ghent 1998) 53-65]. There is a brief biographical article in English on Viglius by Michael Erbe in Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation, P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto 1985-1987; reprint 2003) III, 393-395, where Viglius’ position in the network around Erasmus is concisely charted.

Viglius is remarkable also for his historical work and an autobiography. He collected maps and he acted as the first librarian of the royal library in Brussels. A number of his letters, too, were published. You can consult four original letters sent to Viglius in the image library of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The Kalliope guide for manuscripts and personal papers in Germany alerts to some letters and to 23 volumes at Göttingen, and to a volume with letters in Giessen. In Paris the BnF has among its archives et manuscrits a volume of the Manuscripta Zwichemiana (Nouv. acq. fr. 6168) and some letters from king Philip (Mélanges Colbert 409, VII, no. 817). If you search for Viglius at the Dutch archives portal you will find in particular in Leeuwarden and Utrecht archival records. When you use the Archives Portal Europe you will find even more. At Mémoire vive, the digital portal of the city Besançon you can find materials concerning Viglius within the Collection Granvelle. For those with access to the licensed Picarta resources, for instance via the Dutch Royal Library, you will find more letters in the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, and you will wonder why only two letters are listed in another Picarta resource, the Catalogus epistularum neerlandicarum, a database for finding Early Modern letters in a number of Dutch public collections. The two volumes of Postma will help you to trace even more.

It is entirely fitting a former president of the European Commission was asked to uncover the statue of Viglius at Leeuwarden. His published works were often reprinted during his life and some of them even afterwards. His letters and manuscripts ended in major libraries after periods in the hands of many scholars and collectors who appreciated Viglius’ contacts with celebrated humanists. Important archival records can be found in Brussels, Vienna and Simancas. Viglius’ life shows eminently how a an able man seemingly from a far-away corner of Europe could come close to the very nexus rerum of his time. Although he clearly felt much at home in Ghent he never forgot his Frisian roots. In this sense Leeuwarden can indeed claim to be a European capital. Once upon a time studies about Viglius were colored by nationalism and religious positions. If we see him now more as a true European with strong ties to his origin, this might teach us a lesson for our century. At some turns legal historians might have deplored his early goodbye to legal humanism, but it is more sensible to respect his efforts to steer clear of many problems in the middle of Europe’s political turmoil of his time which led to revolt and civil war in the Low Countries and many other parts of Europe.

Early Modern celebrations and legal iconography

Header Early Modern Festival Books, University of Oxford

Sometimes history is almost literally on parade. Events can be an occasion for festivities, and even stronger, an event can be organized as a feast. The signing of peace treaties is celebrated, as are the ascension to the thrones of monarchs and popes, their entries to cities, marriages and funerals. Historians search for eyewitness accounts to find out what actually happened, but there is attention, too, for the image rulers and other authorities wanted to convey, in particular views of law and order, justice and policies. The generic term for books published for such occasions is festival books. Their often lavish illustrations make them into a most interesting resource in the field of legal iconography. The very term festival books has somewhat misled me to view them only as a source for the history of art and culture. In this post I will look at some resources to approach festival books, and of course some of them are discussed in some detail. A number of festival books are no longer than a pamphlet, a genre which significance for legal history comes increasingly into view on my blog.

Representations of power

Earlier this year I could take over a copy of a study by Ria van Bragt, De Blijde Inkomst van de hertogen van Brabant Johanna en Wenceslas (3 januari 1356) [The Joyeuse Entrée of Joanna and Wenceslas as dukes of Brabant] (Louvain 1956; Standen en Landen/Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États, 13). This study deals with a charter granted to the States of the duchy of Brabant on the occasion of the Joyeuse Entrée, a document containing promises about the way the duke and duchess would rule. The charter became an example for later similar charters elsewhere, for example the 1375 Landbrief consented by Arnold van Horne, bishop of Utrecht. Such documents are primary sources for the political and institutional history of the medieval Low Countries, but the actual surroundings of both occasions remain largely hidden. In this contribution I will look at printed sources, but I am sure archival records exist for medieval entries and accompanying festivities, too.

Header Renaissance Festival Books, British Library

For years one the main online resources for Early Modern festival books was the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, created in cooperation with the University of Warwick. The British Library digitized 253 books from their holdings with more than two thousand festival books. The concise introduction to the collection focuses on the mixture of art history and political history offered by festival books, and the reference section points to a number of major studies and to two bibliographies. On the opening page of the collection you will find a list of subjects which can be associated with this genre. In the links section nine other collections are mentioned, and we will see a number of them in this post. You can also read a number of articles written by experts in the field of festival books.

The Early Modern Festival Books Database has been created in 2011 at Oxford as an updated and expanded version of Festivals and Ceremonies. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Court, Civic and Religious Festivals in Europe 1500-1800, edited by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Anne Simon (London 2000), rekindled my interest in festival books. The original bibliography described books in the collections of the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal – administrated by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) – and the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. In the database a fifth collection has been added with books held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. The menu of the database provides five ways to search for these festival books, 3000 items in twelve languages. You can search directly for particular works, proceed from the artists or places involved, the kind of event or the kind of festival elements, and for participants. Thus it is possible to search for events with everything from cannonades, horse ballets and orations to jousts, tableaux or water processions. The participants are seen as persons involved as key figures with particular festivities. When digital versions of books exist their URL is indicated.

For me it is a fairly obvious matter to establish whether you can easily find all relevant digitized copies of a particular collection. However, the advanced search mode of the online bibliography with fourteen search fields does not contain a field for collection. The Victoria and Albert Museum has no longer information on its Piot Collection, neither does the website of the National Art Library housed in the V & A. The BnF offers a good introduction to the Collection Auiguste Rondel of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a subdomain for Festkultur Online with 314 digitized books which can be searched thematically with Iconclass. At the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek I could not find a page about its festival books

Logo Society for European Festivals ResearchIt is only natural to pursue this path for the other relevant collections mentioned at Renaissance Festival Books, a list repeated at the website of the Society for European Festivals Research of the University of Warwick. The Getty Institute in Malibu, CA, has a good introduction, and this institution has created a subset in its digital collections for 1,300 digitized festival books. The New York Public Library has a very brief page about the Spencer Collection without any indication of the festival books. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden offer no information for our subject, but you can search for festival books in their digital collection. The 102 digitized festival books in the library of The Warburg Institute in London are at the current version of the website only hinted at under the header cultural history. However, they can be found as a preset selection in the digital collections of the Senate House Libraries of the University of London; entering “Warburg Institute digital copy Festivals” in the keyword field will do the trick.

The crowning of emporer Charles V in Bologna, 1530

The pope and the emperor in the 1530 processsion after the coronation

Pope Clement VII and Charles V in procession at Bologna, 1530, February 24 – Nicolaus Hogenberg, ca. 1535-1539 – The Getty Institute, Malibu, CA, (CMalG) no. 1366-954 (detail of print 27, resized)

By chance The Getty Institute shows at its page about festival books an image showing the procession in Bologna in 1530 around the coronation of Charles V as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from a printed scroll by Nicolaus Hogenberg, published between around 1535-1539. Print 27 of this lavishly illustrated scroll shows the pope and the emperor, both wearing their crowns and riding on horseback under a beautiful canopy. If you think I indulge here in art history I would like to remind you of the study on the thought of medieval Italian lawyers about the crowning of emperors by Marco Cavina, Imperator triplici corona coronatur. Studi sull’incoronazione imperiale nella scienza giuridica italiana fra Tre e Cinquecento (Milan 1991). The emperor’s coronation in Bologna in 1530 was the last of its kind, and it was certainly not in all aspects similar to other coronations, if only already for its very location. Surely visual display was an important element of Charles’ coronation. The pope and the emperor had stayed for months in Bologna, but only after prolonged consultations it was finally decided to celebrate the coronation in this city.

Logo Heritage of the Printed Book database

While searching for more collections of festival books and if possible also digital versions I found an online bibliography created at the McGill University, Montreal, Theatrical space as a model for architecture. Here the focus is on temporary buildings and their relation with theatre. A focus on a single town and one singular princely court can be found at the website Mantova Capitale Europea dello Spettacolo with an Italian and English interface. The database of the Archivio Herla contains some 12,000 documents documenting theatrical spectacles during the long reign of the Gonzaga family (1480-1630), to be seen in connection with three other database at the portal Banche dati Gonzaga. It is seducing to pursue a quest for more websites and resources, but let’s least not forget the German project Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne. Theatrum-Literature der Frühen Neuzeit, the subject of an earlier post here. In the Early Modern world there was definitely an awareness of the theatrical side of life and printed publications about many subjects. For any research in the field of Early Modern printed books the Heritage of the Printed Book Database of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) can help you very much. It will help you for example in checking for the presence and absence of relevant works in the Oxford festival books database. Apart from the digital collections with festival books mentioned at the project websites under discussion I can at least add one specific digital collection created at the Beinecke Library of Yale University, Celebrating Italian Festivals, with 231 works.

Which texts and prints around the coronation of emperor Charles V in 1530 figure in Early Modern Festivals? The database mentions some twenty works, a number of them not dated. The Hogenberg scroll figures as no. 696, dated in 1532 with The Hague as printing location. The records points to a digital version of it in the British Library (signature 603.I.16), one of four copies in this library. This copy has not been colored, and like the copy at The Getty Institute it has no title page. For me it is interesting to notice also verses by the famous Neolatin poet Janus Secundus (1511-1536), a son of Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), president of the Hof van Holland (1516-1528) and the Grote Raad van Mechelen (Great Council of Malines) (1528-1532). I checked for this work also in the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, and a second copy in this library has been digitized, too (sign. 144.g.3 (1.)). The BL’s digital collection has 1529 as date of the coronation. Exceptionally the poem has been used as the identifying title, starting with the words Gratae et laboribus aequae posteritati. I was intrigued by the different versions of this remarkable print, and therefore it was only natural to check the catalogues of the other four libraries of the Oxford project. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a damaged copy (sign. 31.3.1 Geom. 2°). It is the only copy with this title in the HPB database. The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) has two entries for the same edition. The first entry mentions the copies of the BL, the second entry has been created for a copy in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce Prints b.31, both dated in 1532. The COPAC entry rightly shows a question mark behind this date. Henricus Hondius can only be associated with later editions.

Canonists in the 1530 procession

“Unnumerable canonists and legists”, plate 66 – Nicolaas Hogenberg, 1530-1536 – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, object RP-P-OB-78.624-30 [Frederik Muller, Nederlandsche historieprenten, no. 377-d/29]

To cut a long story short, this print can also be found in the holdings of museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Its catalogue contains references to the catalogues of historiated prints which document the various states and later use of the original plates. There are versions with and without blazons above the pageant. The lack of a title and the possibility to approach this work both as a book and as a print show nicely the difficulties you encounter when studying festival books. Book historians and art historians study them with their own approach and methods, and the way such prints are catalogued differs, too. Apart from the different versions you will have to be alert for individual copies and their aspects. In this case it should be no surprise that the Karlsruher Virtuelle Katalog can add only few copies, Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kupferstichkabinett and Pesaro, Biblioteca Oliveriana. When you check the library catalog for Pesaro and Urbino you will see it is an edition from 1582.

The Early Modern Festival Books bibliography and online database should be seen as one tool among others. I think I showed here one of the most remarkable but perhaps not totally representative examples which however also show some of the problems you might encounter when dealing with festival books. The database helps you to compare many aspects of books concerning major events and festive occasions, but it is asking too much to view it as a catalogue of existing copies of a particular work, sometimes even for the participating libraries. As legal historians we might prefer to stick to sources concerning the legal side of events such as the double coronation of Charles V. Marco Cavina’s study is by all means most helpful to look at doctrinal matters concerning imperial coronations from the thirteenth century onwards. Exploring visual resources can remind us how very much alive people and surroundings of such events were. Such events made indeed a graphic impact.

Deciphering letters about slavery and abolition

Start screen Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Easy access has become a byword not only for creating online versions of sources, but also for transcribing important source collections as part of efforts to bring them literally better into view for both scholars and the general public. The participants of transcribing and indexing projects certainly stand out from the crowd. Recently Boston Public Library partnered with the Zooniverse crowdsourcing program for a project concerning nineteenth-century letters about abolition and slavery. The Anti-Slavery Manuscripts was launched on January 23, 2018. The collection contains some 40,000 pieces from the 1830’s to the late 1860’s, after the Civil War, with at its heart documents and letters donated by the family of William Lloyd Garrison. Some 12,000 items in the collection have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth, the digital platform for cultural heritage collections in Massachusetts. Nearly 2,200 images have been selected for the first phase of this project. One of the themes in this collection is the role of women in the struggle for abolition. Deciphering these resources can at times be difficult, and it seems right to look here also at palaeography in the United States.

In my discussion of the project for these manucsripts I will look also at other crowdsourcing transcription projects. My search for American palaeography was not as straightforward as you might expect.

A community around abolition

At the start I want to stress the fact this project of Boston Public Library and Zooniverse runs smoothly. Almost four thousand volunteers have registered to transcribe letters, and the progress is good. You can follow the project on a special blog of the Boston Public Library. Besides the letters in the collection there are also pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, books and realia. If the letters show us a more intimate side of the abolitionist movement, the newspaper The Liberator (1831-1866) founded by William Lloyd Garrison might aptly be named the motor and public actor of the movement. Interestingly, in her blog post about the history of The LIberator Kelsey Gustin draws attention to the changes in the masthead of this weekly published newspaper. These images depict not only black and white people, but also use art to convey at least a part of the inspiration behind the movement.

Only issues for the years 1831-1842 and 1861-1862 of The Liberator have been digitized at Digital Commonwealth. You can find information about more complete versions of this Boston newspaper in licensed digital collections in the online database of the International Coalition On Newspapers (ICON), hosted by the Center for Research Libraries, Chicago. There are complete digitized runs in open access at Fair Use and The Liberator Files.

The collection at Boston Public Library contains materials from several abolitionist societies, among them the Female Anti-Slavery Society. Unity about opposition to slavery did not take away the very issue of the participation of women and women’s rights in general, and thus these matters, too, appear in the letters. The correspondence preserved here came from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Transcribing the letters

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

The 12,000 letters to be transcribed will be released in five sets, mostly in chronological order. There is a rather important blog post by Samantha Blickhan (IMLS) on the divisions of the fivesets and decisions to exclude a number of letters. Some of them have already been published in critical editions, in particular those of William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In one case, the Ziba B. Oakes Papers, bring a series of letters by a slave trader. The first set now visible contains the oldest letters from 1800 to 1839.

You have to register in order to participate in the project, but anyway when you click on Transcribe in the menu bar you will view the tutorial explaining the way you enter your results. On the right there is a toolbar for navigation. In the top left corner you can enlarge or scale down the image, or go to other pages of a document. The Field Guide gives practical guidance to decipher letter forms and other elements of writing, and instructions to present such elements consistently and correctly in your transcription. After finishing a piece or when you have questions you might want to visit the forum at Talk for news, frequently asked questions, and for discussions about matters presented by the participants. Zooniverse Team member @GrifftinTranscribes answers questions as a specialist in nineteenth-century handwriting.

Screen shot Field Guide

When you notice you can open the Tutorial whenever you click on Transcribe in the menu bar or using the button to the left of the images, you would expect the same navigation for the Field Guide. In fact both elements become visible as pop-up-only screens. I was not able to detect their exact web addresses.Screenshot explanation on abbreviations

The Field Guide deals with fourteen subjects. The team behind the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts takes no risks and instructs participants explicitly to leave abbreviations as they are found in the letters. For further information they point to a web page of the National Archives and Records Administration for their projects under its Citizen Archivists umbrella. However helpful in many ways, this page does not contain every element of a full-grown palaeographical manual. When you visit the History Hub, a support community concerning American history managed by the NARA, you will encounter in the user forums a lot of very useful communities, including one for legislative records, but on this platform questions about handwriting have not yet been given a corner of its own.

An endearing and lively blog post about the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts has been written by Lisa Gilbert, an instructor who reports on the experience of 8th graders (13 tot 14 years old) who tried to read a letter from the collection in Boston. Line after line they struggled to understand the text. The struggle helped the teenagers to get an idea of what it meant to fight for abolition or for any political idea. Awareness of the fact how many questions you can ask from a single document was another thing becoming clear.

The uses of palaeography

If historians had read documents exclusively by fighting their way through original documents, instead of learning how to deal with all kind of scripts, not just from one century or in a single document genre, little could have been accomplished. The study of old scripts and their context is one of the earliest historical auxiliary sciences. Manuals and guides, including classic books on forms of abbreviations, exist in fair numbers. Since February 2017 I have tried to find online tutorials for palaeography and to create a commented overview of them on my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Sometimes it took quite an effort to find a tutorial or at least a digital version of a recent guide, in other cases it was almost a question of choosing the best. One of the things I spotted was a division in the United States and the United Kingdom between manuals aiming at reading genealogical records, and tutorials dealing with other historical records. The United Kingdom is well served with a large number of tutorials for dealing with either manuscripts or archival records, with also at least three websites for Scottish resources, but there seem to be few online tutorials for American palaeography.

You will find sources in American history written in many languages, and certainly not only European. For Southern states you must reckon with Spanish and French resources. The difficulty to read Dutch script from the Early Modern period in archival sources concerning New York has been the subject here of a post in 2015 about the transcriptions and editions of these invaluable materials. For the history of Pennsylvania sources written in German are important. It can be most useful to rely on palaeographical guidance for Early Modern records in these languages, even when they deal more specifically with records written or still held in Spain, France, Germany or the Low Countries. It can be wise to look at resources for Canada, too, but in fact my harvest for Canada is until now distinctly meagre.

Let’s look at these online resources aiming specifically at the United States and Canada. For Canadian history I have not yet found a resource which deserves to be recognized as a tutorial. The only resource I found for Canada after repeated searches is a contribution by Leah Grandy for Early Canadiana, aptly called ‘Skills for historians of the future: palaeography’, and her two posts on palaeography (here the second) at the blog of The Loyalist Collection, University of New Brunswick. There is a Study Guide Colonial Handwriting, created in connection with the Indian Converts Digital Collection, Reed College, Portland, Oregon. The study guide accompanies a digitized version of a 1727 book on Indian converts. You can test your knowledge of Early Modern handwriting with an online tool of Reed College, Early American Handwriting. DoHistory has created How to read 18th century British handwriting, a companion to Martha Ballard’s diary for the years 1785-1812 [Augusta, ME, Maine State Library, ms. B B 189]. The State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh have published three consecutive blog posts, What Does That Say? Deciphering the handwritten records of Early America. The posts present colonial documents. They provide also a bibliography and links to digitized works. Perhaps the most surprising tutorial comes from the Smithsonian Institution. Reading Colonial Handwriting is part of the section Just for Kids! of the virtual exhibition Out of the mails created by the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Two of the manuals mentioned in this paragraph deal only with eighteenth-century documents. To say the least, American history covers by all means a much longer period.

The need for an online tutorial for American palaeography was the subject of a short blog post by Ricc Ferrante on the blog of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, ‘Is there a place for palaeography in the archives?’ (January 23, 2018), incidentally also the day the Boston Public Library launched its project. The Smithsonian Institution Archives deal with the history of this research organization with many branches. The SI Archives support also the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers and its transcription center. It provides general tips for transcribing, and also more specific instructions for transcribing historical documents, and eight other sets of guidelines, for example for transcribing the papers of the Freedmen’s Bureau which dealt with abandoned properties after 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Just as the NARA for Citizen Archivists the Smithsonian Institution provides substantial transcription guidance. Explaining such rules is definitely important, but they do not substitute palaeographical guidance.

Ferrante did not find quickly an online palaeographical manual for American documents, and thus he choose some of the websites mentioned in the fine overview in the Folgerpedia of online resources for English palaeography. The quality of this overview is excellent, but it can suggest no online tutorials for American handwriting exist. Ferrante started his search for an online manual when he tried to read a handwritten journal from the mid-1840’s. He signals also the difficulty to read old cursive scripts for those who have not received any instruction in cursive writing, and he hesitantly admits a place for palaeography for historical periods after the Middle Ages.

The development of palaeography as an auxiliary historical science started mainly for dealing with medieval documents and manuscripts, but it widened its territory soon. Historians can choose to study only printed – or typed – resources, especially for modern history. However, we know how important it is to use letters and diaries, drawings, poems and daily notes – scribbled or in capitals – from the Civil War, First World War, the Depression Era, the New Deal or the Second World War.  These sources help to give us vivid details in order to understand these periods better or to raise questions about our understanding and views. In official records, too, we can encounter handwritten elements. In my training as a historian following courses in palaeography was optional. I still remember the collective sigh of satisfaction after our first lessons, because getting the skills to read original documents felt immensely practical.

The absence of online tutorials covering several periods of American history does not mean nothing can be done. In particular the series Script Tutorials of the Brigham Young University helps you reading texts in seven languages, but the focus is clearly on genealogical records. However, at some point you will want to consult other resources genres, too. Tax registers and military records contain valuable information about your ancestors, and it would be a pity if you are unable to read them by lack of some necessary skills which can be taught and learned without too much effort. Apart from universities archives often offer courses.

Zooniverse has several projects concerning or touching American history, for example on African-American Civil War soldiers, and The American Soldier about the aftermath of the Second World War. Projects on the League of Nations in the digital age and concerning coded information during the Civil War are currently paused. For these telegrams you can benefit from a blog post with the title ‘Now I Know My (19th-Century) ABCs’ by Mario Einaudi (Huntington Library). Of course other crowd transcription projects exist. A cursory look at the overview of such projects provided by the American Historical Association should suffice you of their widespread occurrence.

I could find little about palaeography on the website of the AHA and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The useful and concise AHA Guide to Archival Research has a short paragraph about the need for palaeographical skills, with some lines worth quoting: “Get ready to read script. Do not be surprised when 15th-century documents are not typed”. This piece of advice is found typically in the section on research abroad, but you will read older scripts already when dealing with the colonial period. The fact this guide is also downloadable with the title Research Trip Tips is telling. Skills and competence in dealing with unfamiliar scripts is only implicitly reckoned among the capability to interpret historical records in the 2005 AHA report about essential skills for the MA in history degree. The SAA certainly brings into view the variety of skills archivists do need today.

When you search at the website of the SAA and in The American Archivist (AA) you will find palaeography in many cases associated with medieval and European sources, but you might want to read articles such as Laetitia Yeandle, ‘The evolution of American handwriting in the English-speaking colonies’, AA 43 (1980) 294-311, and Alfred E. Lemmon, ‘The archival legacy of Spanish Louisiana colonial records’, AA 55 (1992) 142-155. Laura Schmidt’s fine guide Using Archives: A guide to effective research – also downloadable (PDF) – mentions reading skills in particular in a paragraph about scheduling time for the unexpected. Sometimes my memory comes back of a visit to an archive more than thirty years ago where I found myself dumbfounded by a document in front of me. I was unable to even start an attempt to decipher it. Online tutorials and many digital collections with archival records can provide you with the same shock which should make you think and reconsider your abilities.

In 2016 The Junto: A group blog on Early American History, an initiative of young historians, brought Archives around the Atlantic, a series of contributions on doing research in archives and libraries in Spain, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Reading skills figure in some of the posts, but seldom as a central or essential skill. The Dutch period of the East Coast has been completely overlooked in this series. Sometimes there is a hint to use the library of an archive to consult relevant literature and manuals. I would agree in principle that you should acquire knowledge of the nation’s palaeography you will encounter probably most times in your particular field of Early American history, but there will be moments when you have to cross linguistic and palaeographical borders. Some areas changed from Spanish into French possession. For Canada you will need both French and English palaeography.

American palaeography, a distinct field

In this post we made a journey from a very particular subject, sources concerning the abolition movement, to sources for American history more generally. Perhaps trained historians are those who generally will less often need online tutorials in their professional life, but others do not benefit from their head start. Relying solely on palaeography from one country ignores the fact migrants to the United States came from many countries, and not only in those states known during the first half of the nineteenth century as The Territories. If people increasingly do not any longer learn cursive writing, any form of training to read cursive scripts becomes necessary. It is paradoxical to create exhaustive transcription guides to ensure enhanced fidelity for editions, and at the same time to assume everything is readable without preparation or instructions. The need for a distinct palaeographical approach of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will steadily grow.

In my opinion Zooniverse is in the position to help creating rather quickly a basic palaeographical manual for American history using both the Field Guide of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts and the blog post of Mario Einaudi created for Decoding the Civil War. If they consider themselves unable to achieve this, a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s transcription center is one of the logical directions to take. Surely one or more a state archives, university libraries or major research libraries such as the BPL, the Newberry Library in Chicago or the Huntington Library are capable of combining forces to create it, and perhaps add materials for advanced needs. It will help not only the volunteers in transcription projects, but anyone interested in American history and able to view the massive digital collections with images of American handwritten documents. Of course there are classic printed guides such as Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1998) and Harriet Stryker-Rodda, Understanding colonial handwriting (Baltimore, MD, 1986), but there is room for online manuals, too.

Doing history calls for many skills. When you cannot readily start deciphering written records because you do not have reading skills, you are unable to interpret them and use them in your research. Others might help you to read archival records in some cases, but not always. Palaeographical skills can be decisive for the success of your visit to a local archive or to an archive which you can only reach after a voyage. Let reading skills accompany your historical voyages, be they virtual travels at your computer screen, reading books with images of written documents and manuscripts or visiting archives to use historical records!