Tag Archives: Manuscripts

Blogging about medieval glosses

Today I launched my new blog Glossae – Middeleeuwse juriidische glossen in beeld, “Glosses – Looking at medieval legal glosses”. The very heart of this blog is a manuscript fragment with glosses, marginal and interlinear comments, on Justinian’s Digest, not the ordinary gloss edited by Francesco Accursio (1184-1263) in the thirteenth century, but glosses by twelfth-century lawyers, collectively sometimes known as the glossators. The fragment with these early glosses surfaced during the cataloguing of fragments, in itself part of the preparation of a new manuscript catalogue at the Department of Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Bart Jaski kindly provided detailed photographs of the manuscript (Utrecht UB, ms. fragm. 7.67) which help very much in the decipherment of the glosses which are sometimes very small and barely visible in the original.

The new blog is the first Dutch blog at the Hypotheses network, a French initiative. In 2012 a German branch has been founded. Encouragements from this branch helped me to decide to join this German portal. Of course the question of the main language for my contributions looms large. I have published a first, more general description of the blog in Dutch, with summaries in German and English. The study of medieval legal glosses is indeed marked by the uses of several modern languages, such as French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Publications in English are relatively new in this field. In my first post I mention the appearance of several blogs concerning medieval – in particular Carolingian –  glosses based in the Netherlands.

A very Dutch phenomenon is the collaborative study of manuscripts by both lawyers, historians and palaeographers. I feel privileged to have participated in the yearly Friday seminars on juridical palaeography at Leiden University. It seems this example has until now not be followed anywhere, but its advantages have been recognized and applauded. Scholars from Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam joined in the decipherment and study of medieval legal manuscripts, often covered with tiny glosses. By bringing together each other’s skills, talents and experience we were able to read these manuscripts and to discuss their contents at a level which hardly one of the learned participants could have reached independently. The seminar at Leiden gave me a living example of the great importance of scholarly exchange, discussion and support.

Even when writing (sometimes) in Dutch, a language spoken only by some 22 million people worldwide, I am very much aware of the need to transcend borders in time, language and approaches. I am happy that Bart Jaski will join me to write postings for the new blog, either about the manuscript fragment at Utrecht, about other juridical fragments, or about interesting projects and promising methods to deal with medieval manuscripts at large. In particular the use of digital tools to edit and comment on (layers of) annotation seems able to shed new light on the edition of medieval glosses, too.

In itself the fragment at Utrecht is not particularly long. Its importance lies in the presence of the relatively rare preaccursian – i.e. before the Glossa ordinaria edited by Francesco Accursio – glosses, which help us to document not only the development of medieval legal doctrine but also the growth of the mass with many thousand glosses at the disposal of Francesco Accursio during the decades in which he created the final form of the ordinary gloss. This year hope to bring you regularly news about my new project. Hopefully it will not distract me too much from this blog. I could not resist the opportunity to create a wider network around my new blog with a new Twitter account, @GlossaeIuris.


Protecting manuscripts in Mali to save cultural heritage and history

This month armed groups have been fighting in Mali. In a number of towns in this West-African country manuscripts are kept, sometimes in regular libraries, sometimes in the homes of families who try to preserve valuable sources for the history of their country. Timbuktu is the almost legendary town, the capital of a region with the same name. As for its name, the French spelling Toumbouctou can be found, too. Recently Tuaregs have tried to conquer Timbuktu in order to add it to a new Touareg state. The importance of the manuscripts present in Timbuktu and other cities in Mali has long been recognised. This week an appeal has been launched for the protection of these irreplaceable sources for the history of Mali, and more generally for West-Africa. The West African Research Association of the African Studies Center at Boston University is most active in promoting this urgent appeal. The IFLA, too, backs the appeal. Before more ruthless acts of violence take place with possible damage to people, their homes and belongings action is needed.

In this post I will look at research projects and digitized manuscripts from Mali. These projects might well preserve at least a part of the manuscripts and records that have survived sometimes for centuries, but are now closer to destruction than ever before.

The manuscripts of Timbuktu

The UNESCO has recognized the importance of the manuscripts in Timbuktu. Timbuktu itself was added in 1988 to the World Heritage List. Timbuktu has been home to a university since the fourteenth century. The manuscripts have been added to the Memory of the World register. With some disbelief I found only ten images in the UNESCO’s photobank for this project. Despite all efforts to study manuscripts in and from Mali the results to translate, edit and preserve them are still relatively meagre. The website of the Timbuktu Educational Foundation in Alameda, Ca., is one of the sites providing basic information on Mali and Timbuktu.

Today it was perhaps in illustration of this situation that even information on one of the largest relevant projects at the University of Oslo seemed at first to have disappeared. Between 2000 and 2007 Norwegian scholars have worked in a project for the preservation and promotion of the African literary heritage which led to an article and a provisional list of the manuscripts in the Ka’ati Library. More publications have resulted from the Toumbouctou Manuscripts Project sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the University of Cape Town. You can download three publications from the website, including a guide to the script used in these manuscripts. After registration you get full access to the database with transcriptions of manuscripts.

The African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress has digitized 32 Islamic manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, both in Timbuktu. The manuscripts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century are accompanied by presentations about Timbuktu and the history of Mali. The manuscripts can be searched in various way. Among the subjects are jurisprudence and Islamic law. The Library of Congress has also created an online exhibition on the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu which covers much the same ground. In view of the current situation in Mali it is helpful to use the guide to web resources on Mali at the website of the Library of Congress.

The World Digital Library has within its collections 32 manuscripts from Timbuktu, all from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, the very selection discussed here above. The Center for Research Libraries has created a digital library on the theme Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu with 209 documents from the nineteenth century, again from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu.

At Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the Melville J. Herskovits Collection with Arabic manuscripts from West Africa contains a number of manuscripts from Mali. The catalogue to this collection can be searched online. Northwestern University has a digital collection Maps of Africa with some 100 maps. Stanford University provides a fine list of web resources on Mali, but apart from the projects already mentioned no other project for Mali’s manuscripts is included. Even the Internet Library for Sub Saharan Africa, a meta-catalogue and portal maintained by a number of German institutions, does bring only few projects relevant for Mali not yet mentioned here, but for anything else this portal can help finding answers or paths to answers on many subjects. The first project is based at Timbuktu, the Sauvegarde et Valorisation pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique. It has in particular helped renovating three libraries, and in creating a digital collection of manuscripts at Timbuktu, to be found at the Aluka portal with some three hundred manuscripts. Being accessible only to paying licensed users is a major drawback to view these digitized manuscripts at Aluka. The second project is La Bibliothèque des Manuscrits Anciens de Niger at the University of Niamey in Niger. This library holds manuscripts with texts from several countries in West Africa. Plans for digitization are announced in the library calendar.

Initially I did not find the actual location of the West African Arabic Manuscript Project, but in the end the URL itself is clear enough. In the project the Al-Furqan Foundation, the Centre Ahmad Baba in Timbuktu and Northwestern University combine their forces. This bilingual website (English and Arabic) offers a database with descriptions of some 23,000 manuscripts in several West African countries, including Mali. The introduction to the Timbuktu records explains that now some 9,000 manuscript descriptions from Timbuktu have been entered into the database. Between 1990 and 1998 five volumes of the catalogue of manuscripts in Timbuktu have appeared which have been used for the database. These manuscripts constitute a third of all manuscripts presently entered. This fact shows the importance of Timbuktu very well. A first simple search in the database – approachable in English, French and Arabic – for law as a subject yields already more than 900 results. Much more manuscripts have still not been recorded. The “digital library” of the Al-Furqan Foundation is in fact a manuscript catalogue. At present it contains some 7,000 manuscripts from Mali.

The National Library of Mali in Bamako is mentioned as one of the partners of the Réseau francophone numérique, a consortium of a number of national libraries in France and francophone countries around the world, but alas no item from Mali is included in this digital library.

A double challenge

When writing this post it became soon clear I face here two challenges, dealing with Africa and with Islamic law from the position of someone trained in European history and law. At my website and here I try to present subjects and themes from all over the world. Until now Asia, Africa and Latin America have been almost absent here. This post will certainly not redeem these gaps. In fact you might agree that slavery is another subject painfully avoided here, as is colonial history. In my latest post I did mention slavery in medieval Italy, not exactly the time and place where I had most expected to detect traces of slavery. It is only sensible not to put several major themes or subjects into one post, but I promise my readers that I will every now and then try to put an Eurocentric and anglophone approach aside.

Having made thus a solemn promise to present here a wider variety I will not hesitate to return briefly to this post’s subject. I would like to point you to a very useful list of digitized Islamic manuscripts at Archivalia, and to the website of the Islamic Manuscript Association. For this post I could use my notes for pages with relevant links on African law and Islamic law that I will eventually add to my legal history website. Writing about subjects stemming from every era, country and civilization need preparation if you want to create a result worth reading.

For your convenience I give an overview of digitized manuscripts:

Islamic manuscripts from Mali, Library of Congress – also at the World Digital Library
Timbuktu Manuscripts, Aluka-World Heritage Sites/JSTOR
– Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu, Center for Research Libraries

A postscript

Both for the background of Mali’s history, the importance of the Timbuktu manuscripts and the actual situation an article for The Root, ‘Fabled Timbuktu in Peril from Malian Coup’, by Michael Gomez of New York University will tell you much more than I was able to do here. The Africa department of Radio Netherlands Worldwide brings more details on the capture and current situation of Timbuktu and civil war in Mali.

A second postscript

There is a second town in Mali home to many manuscripts, Djenné. I briefly mentioned a number of projects for safeguarding endangered archives in Djenné in a post in September 2014 about the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. The website of the Djenné Manuscript Library gives a list of manuscripts. For the Dogon country the pilot project EAP 764 will deal with archival collections in Bandiagara. Among the new fundraising projects for Timbuctu is T160K.

In 2013 the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, too, is involved in digitizing amnuscripts from Timbuktu. For this goal the library received in 2014 a grant from the Dutch Prince Claus Fund. From January 28 to 30, 2015, a conference was held at Bamako, Mali to discuss plans for the future conservation and digitization of manusrcipts in Mali. You can now consult nearly 2,000 digitized manuscripts from Timbuctu at the vHMML (use the advanced search mode). You need to register for free to get full access to these manuscripts. The old online catalog of the vHMML contains nearly 3,000 summary descriptions of manuscripts at Timbuctu.

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles. In this volume is an essay by Sophie Sarin, ‘In the shadow of Timbuktu: The manuscripts of Djenné’ (pp. 173-187), which you can download separately (PDF).

In 2014 Brown University, Providence, RI, digitized the only manuscript from Timbuktu in their holdings with magical and mystical treatises.

Spotlights on Henri Bohic, a medieval canon lawyer

When I started my blog in December 2009 I intended to give medieval canon law attention as often as possible. Nearly two years later it is clear I have widened the scope of my web initiative. This week I received a notice about a website dedicated to a French medieval canonist, Henri Bohic. Apart from the Domus Gratiani website maintained by Anders Winroth and the website created by Bruce Brasington and Martin Brett for the works of Ivo of Chartres there are subdomains for the forged decretals of Pseudo-Isidor and Benedictus Levita at the website of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, but it is really rare to find a website dedicated exclusively to a medieval canon lawyer. Eric Knibbs’ blog about Pseudo-Isidore is one of the few sites to mention. Jean-Luc Deuffic enters a more virgin territory of the study of medieval canon law, the fourteenth century, with his website Henri Bohic, un juriste breton au Moyen Âge. The fact that Deuffic writes French should not stop you from looking at his new website.

A lawyer from Brittany

Henri Bohic was probably born around or before 1300 and died in 1357. Sometimes his name is spelled Bouhic or Boich. Deuffic uses on his website information he published in two articles, ‘Au service de l’Université et au conseil du duc. Notes sur le canoniste breton Henri Bohic (+ v. 1357)’, Pecia 4 (2004) 47-101, and ‘Henri Bohic et le receveur Yves de Cleder’, Pecia 9 (2009) 57-62. Deuffic is the editor of the journal Pecia for which he also has created a very interesting blog, Pecia: Le manuscrit médieval – The medieval manuscript. Deuffic adds to the summary biography of Bohic who had studied law at the University of Orléans. He taught in Paris and acted as a councillor to the duke of Orleans and king Philip VI. He owned a house in Paris called the Clos Bruneau. His family stemmed from the Bas-Léon, the most western region of Bretagne (Brittany).

Utrecht, University Library, ms. 615, fol. 9r

Henricus Bohic, Distinctiones in liber primum Decretalium; Utrecht, University Library, ms. 615, fol. 9r - image by kind permission of Utrecht University Library

Deuffic gives on the new website a very extensive list of the remaining manuscripts of Bohic’s major work, his Distinctiones super quinque libris decretalium, a commentary on the Liber Extra, the collection of decretals edited in 1234 by Raymond of Peñafort on behalf of pope Gregory IX. He adds to this some notes from archival records, a survey of printed editions, starting with an incunable published at Lyons in 1498, and a bibliography of studies which mention Bohic either in passing or in some depth. For both famous and less known medieval canonists Kenneth Pennington (Catholic University of America) provides on his webpages the provisional version of the volume with bibliographies that will eventually be published in the series The History of Medieval Canon Law. It has taken Pennington many years to bring together the massive amount of information in these Bio-Bibliographies of Medieval Lawyers. The project is now being extended to include jurists from the Early Modern period. Pennington gives four references to literature on Bohic, admittedly references to articles and a book paragraph summing up the knowledge at the time these authors were writing. In particular the article by Paul Fournier is important.

Knowing this one can only look in disbelief at the amount of notices and references found by Deuffic. Perhaps the seemingly indispensable search tool with all its accessory devices – yes, the one which name has almost surpassed the verb surfing in daily use – has helped, too, finding some of these references, but the results are stunning. These references are often concerned with the content of Bohic’s Distinctiones. The sheer number of manuscripts of Bohic’s main work, too, is a reason for pausing and looking attentively at Deuffic’s list, for he gives far more than listed by Giovanna Murano on her fine overview of Initia operum iuris canonici medii aevi. The number of manuscripts is flattered by the fact that in many of them only a part of Bohic’s commentary is transmitted. Even the manuscripts Amiens, Bibliothèque Municipale (BM), 365, Arras, BM, 445, and Chartres, BM, 270 with the complete text, consist of two volumes. For many manuscript notices Deuffic has provided links to the online version of the relevant library catalogue. Some of the colophons by the scribes in these manuscripts are very expressive!

In my eyes the number of manuscripts with Bohic’s Distinctiones containing illuminated pages is quite remarkable. Of the main text books of medieval canon law, the Decretum Gratiani and the Liber Extra many illuminated manuscripts are known,1 but apart from these works hardly any commentary on canon law received this honour. Frank Soetermeer found only a substantial number of illuminated manuscripts for the summa of Henricus de Segusio (Hostiensis) (circa 1200 – 1271), one of the most famous treatises on medieval canon law. 2 In my view the illuminated manuscripts of the Distinctiones point to a much higher rank and esteem for Bohic than modern historians of medieval canon law have thus far imagined. The number of manuscripts, too, is surprisingly high. Is it rash to guess that Bohic’s activity as a councillor to the French king has helped creating demand for his commentary? In the face of possible questions about the copyright for the images shown by Deuffic at his site I suggest you look either there or at the Enluminures website for illuminated manuscripts in French municipal libraries.

Medieval manuscripts and the pecia system

In the second part of this post I would like to look more generally at medieval manuscripts and the guidance for the study of this subject offered by Deuffic’s websites. The name of Deuffic’s blog Pecia stems from the medieval Latin word for a quire, a part or piece of a manuscript. In the cities with medieval universities the pecia system refers to the process of text control and multiplication. Quires of the official copy of a medieval text-book were lended by professional scribes to copy for their patrons, medieval students and other people using these texts. In many medieval manuscripts you can find pecia marks, indications of the particular quire and the sequence of peciae used to produce a manuscripts.3 The first volume of the Bohic manuscript Amiens, BM, 365, contains a note on the number of quires and refers to an official copy, an exemplar, held by the Carmelites: “Item sciendum est quod exemplar totius libri constitit in locagio Martino bedello Carmelitarum quinque francos”. This manuscript was produced in Paris. Soetermeer does not mention Bohic in his overview of juridical works available within the pecia system at Bologna and Paris, but it seems worthwhile to check the descriptions of Bohic’s manuscripts for the presence of pecia marks.

On the Pecia blog you will find more articles of interest for legal historians. On the blog appear regular posts in a series on medieval masters from Brittany. Among them figured recently Guillaume Chaloup (died 1370), a canonist at the University of Paris. One of the earlier post in this series is concerned with Guillaume de Rennes (around 1250), a decretist – a law professor teaching on the Decretum Gratiani – and his commentary on a summa by Raymund of Peñafort (circa 1180-1275). The books in the will of Laurent Surreau, a fifteenth-century canon of the cathedral at Tours, are the subject of another post. Surreau owned a substantial library with a lot of law books. Deuffic wrote about a missal from Italy owned by Thomas James, a canon lawyer and bishop of Dol-de-Bretagne around 1500. Recently Deuffic made a very useful list of the digitized volumes of the Gallia Christiana and its sequel Gallia Christiana novissima which offer precious information on the medieval history of French dioceses. The same post indicates also a number of digitized volumes of the Recueil des historiens des France. Deuffic alerted his readers recently to a new French database for researching illuminated manuscripts, Initiale.

This week Deuffic launched a second website, Manuscrits du Moyen Âge. Like the Bohic site Deuffic uses a new blog system. The choice for a grey background on both sites might hamper the visibility and contrast of the texts he publishes. As for now the second site seems to aim at publishing information about medieval manuscripts that will be sold at auctions.

The first time I noticed Henri Bohic was in citations of his work in the book of Nicolaus Everardi on juridical argumentation and in his consilia, extended advisory notes on juridical questions. Thanks to Jean-Luc Deuffic we now know a lot more about Bohic and about the transmission in manuscript and print of his legal commentary. It is really interesting to see how he and other masters from Brittany hold important posts in France, because this is one of the dimensions which show the degree of integration of the Bretons within France. Yves Hélory de Kermartin (around 1250-1303), a lawyer from Tréguier in Brittany, is one of the patron saints of lawyers, together with Raymund of Peñafort. It is good to realize this Breton lawyer stands not alone among the medieval lawyers from Brittany.

A postscript

When I created this post I did intend to point you also to the actions on behalf of the Wissenschaftliche Stadtbibliothek in Mainz. The city of Mainz has plans to either close this municipal library and to disperse its collections or to cut its budget drastically. You can sign the online petition to keep the rich collections at its place. The Stadtbibliothek has four manuscripts with parts of Bohic’s Dinstinctiones: II, 31 (liber V), II,118 (libri III-IV), II,231 (liber V) and I,1500 (liber V).


1. See Anthony Melnikas, The Corpus of the Miniatures in the Manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani (3 vol., Rome 1975) and Kathleen Nieuwenhuisen, Het jawoord in beeld. Huwelijksafbeeldingen in middeleeuwse handschriften (1250-1400) van het Liber Extra (Ph.D. thesis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 2000).
2. Frank Soetermeer, ‘”Summa archiepiscopi” alias “Summa copiosa”: Some remarks on the medieval editions of the “Summa Hostiensis”‘, Ius Commune 26 (1999) 1-25, online at the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main.
3. See for juridical manuscripts Frank Soetermeer, Utrumque ius in peciis. Aspetti della produzione libraria a Bologna fra Due e Trecento (Milan 1997), also translated as Utrumque ius in peciis. Die Produktion juristischer Bücher an italienischen und französischen Universitäten des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main 2002).

Paul Krüger’s legacy at the Library of Congress

On August 15, 2011 In Custodia Legis, the blog of the law librarians of the Library of Congress, published a post by John Hessler who works in the Geography and Map Division of this library. Recently Hessler had been doing research on land ownership in Roman law when rare book curator Meredith Shedd-Driskell showed him a notebook by Paul Krüger (1840-1926), one of the most important German scholars in the field of the study of Roman law in the nineteenth century. He published editions of the Codex Iustinianus, the Institutiones Iustiniani and with Theodor Mommsen the editio maior of the Digestae, editions still in use today. His edition of the Codex Theodosianus remained unfinished. This notebook turned out to be not the only item written by Krüger present in Washington, D.C. A whole wall contains the private library of Paul Krüger which was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1930. The post contains a link to the PDF version of an article in the Library of Congress’s Law Library Journal by Hessler on his findings. He promises another article in the Revue d’Histoire des Textes. My immediate reaction was this post from Washington does merit more attention.

When reading this really interesting post I somehow could not help asking myself whether Hessler and Shedd-Driskell were really the first to detect the notes of Paul Krüger? As it turned out to be I could get an answer to this question in an almost too quick way. In 2005 appeared Library of Congress Law Library: An Illustrated Guide (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2005) edited by Jolande E. Goldberg and Natalie Gawdiak. This book has been digitized by the firm with the seemingly unavoidable internet search website, and thus checking it is really easy. On page 72 of this book the collection is concisely described. The Library of Congress acquired Paul Krüger’s private library in 1930. The library consists not only of notes on his edition projects. There are also some manuscripts and manuscript fragments, transcriptions from manuscripts, manuscript collations, facsimiles of papyri, and much more. In 1934 the Library of Congress made a list of all the items which Goldberg and Nawdiak judged to be preliminary. It seems clear Hessler is the first to study materials in the Krüger collection since its acquisition and summary description.

Habent sua fata libelli! And the memory of scholars, even those as deservedly known among the scholars of Roman law, can have its fate, too. In the small but useful Historikerlexikon. Von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, Rüdiger vom Bruch and Rainer A. Müller (eds.) (Munich 1991) the name of Paul Krüger is not mentioned. The articles in the volume Juristen. Ein biographes Lexikon. Von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert, edited by Michael Stolleis (Munich 1995) do not mention him either. Gerd Kleinheyer and Jan Schröder, the editors of Deutsche und Europäische Juristen aus neun Jahrhunderten (4th edition, Heidelberg 1996), do mention only Krüger’s praise for the edition by Johann Göschen of the Institutiones Gaii. In 1884 Paul Krüger and Wilhelm Studemund published an edition of this text. I did not find an article on Krüger in the main German biographical dictionaries, which you can search quickly at the German Biographie-Portal.

Of course editors have to make tough choices when selecting names for inclusion in a small or large biographical project. Just how tough is graphically shown by the rare appearances of Paul Krüger. At the Portal Rheinische Geschichte I did at last find an online article in German with more details on this scholar who taught at Marburg, Innsbruck, Königsberg and Bonn. The post at In Custodia Legis helps to bring Krüger back into light. I am sure further research in the materials at the Library of Congress will yield important fruits for the historiography of Roman law.

A postscript

John Hessler has posted here some lecture notes and a number of photos from materials in the private library of Paul Krüger. The university library at Bonn has other papers from and addressed to Paul Krüger for which you can search an online finding aid at the Kalliope portal.

Young and old

How can one bring life to legal history? How to find young people able to develop an interest in a subject is a perennial question for any discipline. Some people happen to know at a very early stage in their life what profession they will choose, others find their specialism with more difficulty. At school and university it is not just the subjects taught that will ignite a sparkle, but more often just one teacher or professor whose approach and personality makes you happy to go for one particular subject.  Thinking about your initial choice, even after many years, you will remember her or him, and smile because of memories rekindled. The sheer enthusiasm, the inimitable gestures, the way of putting questions to you, and so much more influence you for the rest of your life.

I have a soft spot for the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Mike Widener, its librarian and chief contributor to the blog, published on May 4 a post about letters with questions and remarks from children who had recently visited the library with their school class. Earlier this year Widener received a number of medievalists who visited the exhibition on reused fragments of medieval manuscripts used as bindings in old legal books. The Yale blog presents the items put on exhibition. Some of the fragments need further identification: sometimes the exact nature of the text is not yet fully clear, and for other items the provenance poses riddles. If you like you can help solving questions of this kind.

Of course showing young children historical materials is not the only way to kindle historical interest. The story of this visit is very much also a story of curiosity, of questions asked without any educational or professional blockades, of remarks which make you think again. In my opinion confronting people with a rather different world than their own, a world that partly belongs to the past, and yet a world with real people, is one of the major tasks of history. It can set us free to look again at what seems unchangeable, at what seems modern, at what seems dead or forgotten. It can indeed show us our prejudices and other weaknesses. Any sensible contribution to fulfill this task is very much welcome.

Centers of legal history: the Robbins Collection

First of all an apology: I have been just too busy this month with other activities and duties, including work on my new website, to publish new posts on this blog. Today’s post might offer you some solace…

The Robbins Collection

Perhaps you know already about the Robbins Collection at Boalt Hall, the library for legal history of the University of California at Berkeley. This library started in 1952. In 1970 Stephan Kuttner, the founder of the Institute of Medieval Canon Law, now in Munich, became its director. The Robbins Collection with over 300,000 volumes is not just one collection, it brings together collections on civil law, religious law and comparative law. One of its strengths is the collection of European law books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. In the field of religious law you will find not only works on canon law, the law system of the Catholic church, but also on Jewish and Islamic law. The Robbins Collection offered from 1970 a fitting surrounding for David Daube, the most versatile scholar of legal history of his generation. For Daube no boundaries existed between research on history, law systems and religions: the essays in the commemorative issue from 2004 of the online journal Roman Legal Tradition will give you some idea of the sheer width of Daube’s research. The Robbins Collection has its own publication series in which the collected articles of Daube have been published. On the website of the library you get an impression of some of the books in the rich collections: there are online exhibitions on The Medieval Law School and The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition; you can also consult the manuscript and incunables catalogue online. Manuscripts from the collections can be seen on the Digital Scriptorium, a website originally at Berkeley but recently moved to Columbia University, New York. The Robbins Collection organizes regularly conferences and lectures on legal history.

An addendum: thanks to Mike Widener (Yale University) I was alerted to another online exhibition at the website of the Robbins Collection, called Milestones in Legal Culture and Traditions which offers a general introduction to the various collections at Boalt Hall. It seems now I had simply overlooked the general link to the exhibits on the Robbins Collection website. A fourth exhibit from 2008 was held on Famous Trials and their Legacies. A fifth exhibit from 2012 presents California’s Legal Heritage, with links to digitized books.

After a period in which these exhibits seemed to have disappeared they resurfaced again in 2018. The manuscripts catalogue is now available as a searchable database.

Once in a life time…

As an historian I have been trained to regard the word unique with the greatest possible mistrust. Uniqueness in the past cannot be verified, and in the present too many things and events share the epitethon “unique”. Bearing this in mind I would like to write about a rather special exhibition at Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The fifteenth-century book of hours of Catherine of Cleves, the duchess of Guelders, kept in two parts at the Pierpont Morgan Library of New York (M-917 and M-945), has been lifted from its bindings. Thus it is possible to show several of the 158 surviving miniatures at the same time. It will not be an unique exhibition, because from Februay 5, 2010 on this beautiful manuscript will be shown in New York after its return. The uniqueness of the Nijmegen exhibition is the accompanying exhibition at the same museum near the Valkhof, a former Pfalz of the dukes of Guelders where the old chapel is said to date from the Carolingian age. It shows the duchess at her table. Her husband, Arnold of Egmond, made in 1451-1452 a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; a Venetian safe conduct for him has been preserved. Luckily accounts survive which show how and where the duchess lived during her regency, and in particular her expenses for food and cookery, registered by the ducal toll of Lobith. The price of her book of hours must have been an immense sum, surely the greatest expense of Catherine’s life. In the Stratemakerstoren near the river Waal  in the old city of Nijmegen, a sixteenth-century former rampart, a small exhibition is held on Catherine’s travels through the duchy of Guelders.

The Vereniging Gelre, the society for the history of Guelders, has been very active since its foundation in 1897. Its journal, de Bijdragen, and the Werken, its publication series, contain many contributions for the legal history of the duchy of Guelders and the province of Gelderland. The links page of this society’s website guide you to information on the parts of Guelders which are situated now in the province of Overijssel and Limburg, and also in Germany. The Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis has published a research guide to the archival records concerning the administrative, economic and social history of the counties Holland, Zeeland, Guelders and the diocese Utrecht edited by Michel van Gent and Marie-Charlotte Le Bailly, Gids voor de landsheerlijke archieven van Gelre, Holland, Zeeland en het Sticht. Bestuurlijke, economische en sociale geschiedenis voor 1500 (The Hague 2002; also available online). Many records for the history of Gelre are kept at the Gelders Archief in Arnhem. At the site of the Institute for Dutch History you will find an online database on the landdagen (diets and official meetings) of Guelders from 1423 to 1584, with digitized images of the records. Charters have been carefully edited in the eight volumes of the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, edited by E.C. Dijkhof, E.J. Harenberg and M.S. Polak (The Hague 1980-2003), now also available online.

For those unable to visit either Nijmegen or New York  a popular book has been published on the Catherine of Cleves Hours (available in Dutch, English and German), together with a book on her table expenses and travels – Ruud Priem (ed.), Op reis en aan tafel met Katherina van Kleef 1417-1476 (Nijmegen-Antwerpen 2009); only in Dutch – , and a splendid full catalogue on the exhibition, Rob Dückers, Ruud Priem (ed.), The Hours of Catherina of Cleves. Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (Antwerpen 2009); only in English. For some reason no images of this famous manuscript are shown on the remarkable Corsair website of the Morgan Library. Instead there is now a complete online digital version of the Catherine of Cleves Hours on the main website of the Morgan Library.  Among the over twenty thousand images from medieval and renaissance manuscripts on the Corsair website surely some will be of interest to you. You will find in the Morgan Library legal manuscripts and documents, too, for instance a Codex Justinianus, a Summa Institutionum, the Decretals of Gregory IX and the Clementinae, a Bolognese register of creditors, a Livre de gouvernement des rois et princes, Italian city statutes and an English register of writs.

Books on medieval manuscripts are often announced on the e-journal Bifolium. The earlier printed version was founded by the late Jos Hermans, professor of paleography at Groningen University.