Tag Archives: Medieval history

Along Dutch borders. Looking at Early Modern maps

Book cover of Grensverkenningen

Summer time has been for me amidst of other things a book reading time. One of the new books I read became within a few months a bestseller in my country. Author Kester Freriks published already several books about nature and maps. His new book Grensverkenningen. Langs oude grenzen in Nederland [Border reconnaissance. Along old frontiets in the Netherlands] (Amsterdam 2022) came into existence thanks to Leiden University Library. Martijn Storms, curator of maps and atlases at this library, is his co-author. Earlier books by Freriks showed gems from the maps hjeld at the Allard Pierson, the combined museum and special collections of Amsterdam University Library. The rich map collection created by Johannes Tiberius Bodel Nijenhuis (1797-1872) is the central element of this book which helps you to perceive more borders than you would have imagined yourself. This post offers you some glimpses of the riches of this book and some reflections about them.

150 years Bodel Nijenhuis collection

Leiden University Library celebrates this year the arrival of a great gift 150 years ago. In his will Bodel Nijenhuis donated his vast collection of maps and atlases, not just for the Netherlands but for many other countries, too, to Leiden University Library. It became the core collection of the current Maps and Atlases department. For his new book Kester Freriks not only worked together with curator Martijn Storms. Storms provided for each of the twenty maps shown a description with background information. In each chapter Freriks walked in the particular landscape of the map with different people helping him to either find traces of old borders or to perceive better the meaning of still visible border markings in a landscape.

Kester Freriks is a keen observer. He came first to my attention when I found his book Vogels kijken [Watching birds] (Amsterdam 2009) where he gave succinct descriptions of 300 birds he saw himself in the Netherlands, each of them shown with beautiful old drawings from the library of Artis, the Amsterdam zoo. His concise bird observations originally appeared in the NRC newspaper. In 2010 appeared Verborgen wildernis [Hidden wilderness], written with Jan W.H. Werner of the Allard Pierson, with stories about walks at surprisingly wild locations in my densely populated country, combined with short notes about old maps showing these areas in earlier centuries . Later on Freriks offered with Joyce Roodnat and Erik van Zuylen a hommage to the nine volumes of the Atlas der Neederlanden in a book showing both old and modern maps accompanying Freriks’ observations during various short walking tours in my country [Wandelingen der Nederlanden. Hedendaagse voetreizen door historisch Nederland (Amsterdam 2013)]. Writing about him makes me smile about my own series of posts with adventures of a walking historian…

Maps in many genres

This new book pleases me much. Freriks’ choice to walk together with different people decidedly enlivens the book. The cover of Grensverkenningen shows a map dealing with a national border, in fact a very particular one. After the French occupation of the Netherlands during Napoleon’s reign new borders were drawn at the Congress of Vienna (1815). The map shows the projected border of the new province Limburg with Prussia in the area near the town of Roermond, the former main town of Opper-Gelre, one of the four regions constituing the duchy of Gelre (Guelders). Here Freriks made a walk with Peer Roselie, city archivist of Sittard and Geleen. They ended at Gangelt where German territory now cuts deep into Limburg, not as planned on this map. Gangelt is the place where the famous Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) was a pupil at the Latin school. I suppose this map with both a military and a legal purpose favored my decision to write about this book here, but anyway the combination of insights brought together is simply most captivating (pp. 202-213).

"Brouillon de carte - ou plan des prairies de Doorweerth+ - COLLBN Port 10 N 208
Brouillon de carte – ou plan des prairies de Doorweerth, ca. 1700 – image: Leiden University Library, Maps and Atlases, COLLBN Port 10 N 208

The second chapter (pp. 30-41) opens with a beautiful map created around 1700 showing a part of Guelders – now Gelderland – near the Rhine river and castle Doorwerth, to the west of Arnhem. Architectural photographer Luuk Kramer accompanied Freriks on his walk. This map uses at least partially a bird’s eye perspective. When you look this way the tiny coloured details appear indeed very bright, not just the castle Doorwerth and its gardens, but also for example the nearby gallows. Freriks’ book does show such details very well. The only thing to complain about are the modest dimensions of his book, but for the same reason its price is modest, too.

Until now I mentioned two map genres which are fairly common, a frontier map and a domanial map. In the chapter introducing Bodel Nijenhuis and in another chapter Freriks uses several maps of Leiden showing the impact of the 1807 gunpowder disaster killing many people and destroying an area along the Rapenburg canal in the old city centre (pp. 68-79). Leiden figures also in a chapter around a late seventeenth-century set of city maps showing the division of neighbourhoods (pp. 106-117).

The forces of nature come in particular into view in the chapters about two islands. First comes a chapter focusing on the former island Urk, once a vital point for ships sailing the former Zuiderzee from Amsterdam to the North Sea, now located in Flevoland, a province reclaimed from the sea in the last century (pp. 118-127). From 1660 to 1792 the city of Amsterdam even owned Urk. Freriks looks at a map from 1649 showing a screen of wooden poles protecting the inhabitants against the sea, and he walks with local historian Johannes Kramer. The battle against the sea was eventually lost at another island. In the early eighteenth century the village of West-Vlieland could not be saved from the waves of the Wadden Sea (pp. 214-227). Beachcomber Dirk Bruins helped Freriks to find traces of this story centered around a map from 1712.

It is invidious to select here more chapters. When walking the nearly straight line of the frontier between the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe Freriks visited also the Drents Archief in Assen (pp. 138-151). The Semslinie is reputedly the first linear frontier drawn on a map. It was created in order to settle disputes about fens claimed both by the powerful province Groningen and the much poorer landschap Drenthe. This frontier runs very close to Ter Apel, once the location of a Cistercian monastery, but nowadays known for a very different institution, the national arrival centre of the Dutch inmigration service. Freriks shows his mastery as a writer at its strongest by mentioning very calm this utter difference, and leaving space for your own thoughts about this year’s appalling humanitarian situation. Just for the record, I cannot help remembering the medieval Hollandse Rading, a straight line between the diocese Utrecht and the county of Holland running between the villages Maartensdijk and Breukelen.

Whether discussing a map showing the changing role of waters near the Vecht river in Utrecht, walking the grounds of a former estate near Leiden, imagining the church bells of Leeuwarden toiling and thus delineating jurisdictions outside the town walls or looking into the vast empty lands reclaimed from the sea near Groningen Freriks shows himself a wonderful observer. Moreover, he bcomes a true partner of his companions, be they philosopher, photographer or archivist. At home you can look online at several of the maps discussed in Grensverkenningen within the digital collections of Leiden University Library. This subdomain is not mentioned in the book, but another website might be interesting, too, for your own imaginary walks, the Actuele Hoogtebestand Nederland (AHN), an online map showing in amazing detail current heights in my country which partially is situated below sea level. Freriks’ book is a splendid invitation to explore historic maps about many Dutch regions, to walk yourself in towns and the countryside, and to open dialogues with people helping each other to gain shared fresh insights about the past and present.

Kester Freriks and Martijn Storms, Grensverkenningen. Langs oude grenzen in Nederland (Amsterdam: Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep, 2022; 247 pp.; ISBN: 9789025314637)

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

Archaeologists and historians in general do things differently. Archaeologists search and interpret material objects and traces of human history hidden from sight in the soil, and historians look at still existing documentary evidence, be they written documents or artefacts above ground level. Thus the title of the digital project The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe (DALME) created at Harvard University is at least intriguing. The core and clue of this projects are written documents telling us about objects sometimes no longer existing which offer a glimpse of medieval households.

Without twisting the evidence of these inventories you can view a number of them as the results of actions required by law or statutes. In this post I want to highlight these legal dimensions and look at the qualities of the DALME project which has been awarded the 2022 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Precious traces of material surroundings

Many scholars are involved with this project, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The project is led by Daniel Lord Smail, Gabriel Pizzorno and Laura Morreale. The principal objective of the DALME project is to bring together both inventories in the holdings of archives and objects nowadays kept by museums. The project aims also at developing a common vocabulary and a digital infrastructure facilitating research from various disciplines. The inventories and objects can be approached in several ways and will be accompanied by essays. Until now only three essays have been published at the project website. The latest essay by Marcus Tomaszewski published in January 2022 looks at a German tradition of poems with inventories. Laura Morreale looked in her 2020 essay on enslaved persons in fourteenth-century Florence. In the general overview much stress is put on the difficulties of reading and deciphering medieval scripts and languages, but this is not an unique feature for studying medieval history. Classicists dealing with for example the Near East face similar obstacles.

The introduction to the methodology of the DALME project stresses a kind of material turn that has influenced scholars in many disciplines in the past decades. Inventories are much valued as a window on daily life. Objects are every bit as important to tell us the history of humanity as written sources. It seems logical to bring them together to enhance making relevant comparisons of material life and circumstances.

It is important,too,to have a look also at the DALME workflow for inventories. Before images of documents gain their final form in the system behind DALME a lot of steps are to be set. These images are used to create transcriptions and to provide annotation. The information thus created is subsequently parsed and re-encoded. For creating a uniform and searchable terminology the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) of The Getty is used.

One should not overlook the section with project publications nor the bibliography pointing to source editions, scholarly literature, glossaries and dictionaries and other relevant publications, often with links to digital versions. Links becomes only visible when your cursor arrives at them. Obviously the study of Daniel Lord Smail, Legal plunder. Households and debt collection in late medieval Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2016) has stimulated the creation of the DALME project; incidentally, you can view his bibliography online. There is no section with general online resources, and thus the name of Joseph Byrne and his online bibliography of medieval and Early Modern wills and probate inventories is missing. Byrne points for example to a number of articles by Martin Bertram published in the journal Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (QFIAB) and in other journals on testaments from Bologna. Issues from 1958 onwards of QFIAB can be seen online at the Perspectivia portal. Among general resources for tracing relevant literature and editions the online bibliography for medieval studies of the Regesta Imperii in Mainz, and the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography should take their rightful place. The latter has even a preset filter for material culture. A recent article by R.C. Allen and R.W. Unger about their Global Commodities Prices Database is mentioned, but there is no link to their database. It is good to see the work of Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano, The spoils of the Pope and the pirates, 1357: the complete legal dossier from the Vatican Archives (2nd edition, 2014) has been included.

Eight collections of inventories

I had honestly thought my remarks about the bibliography of the DALME project would form my last grumbles in this post, but when you choose in the Features menu for objects you will find just a few objects discussed in sometimes very short essays. Maybe this section will be enlarged soon, but now it is still nearly empty.

The Collections section brings you to eight collections. You can search or browse them. Both options come with very practical filters. In the browsing mode you can use a filter for record type showing you graphically all kinds of legal documents and the various genres of inventories. When you choose to explore the collections you can navigate an interactive map of Europe. DALME brings you at this moment nearly 500 records.

Two collections show immediately in the title their legal nature, 58 records for Florentine wards (1381-1393) and insolvent households in Bologna (1285-1299) with 41 records. The section with ecclesiastical inventories focuses currently on French priests and canons. It will contain in the near future inventories from some well-known cathedrals and monasteries. DALME shows its strength in particular in presenting 50 Jewish inventories from France, Germany and Spain, a rare resource. Tax seizures, inquests into crimes and notarial acts or services formed the legal ground to create these records. Apart from a collection focusing on records from cities in Northern Lombardy, from Marseille and the region around this town, with 168 records the largest collection, there is a collection for the States of Savoy (24 records) and a miscellaneous collection, good for 121 records. Each collection comes with a general introduction, a section on its goals and objectives, explanations about the sample, some highlights and information about the intellectual owner of and contributors to a particular DALME collection.

In a second section with four categories you can approach partial and fragmentary lists created for seizures, estimates, sales and tariffs. Currently only a small number of sales and estimates can be viewed.

For my own pleasure I searched in Dutch online resource for an inventory made in 1297 of goods found at the convent of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John in Utrecht and transferred to a canon of the Oudmunster collegiate chapter and Jan van Duvenvoorde. The inventory in this charter has been identified as a list of goods belonging to count Floris V of Holland who had stayed there in Utrecht just before he was killed near Muiderberg on June 27, 1296. You can find editions of the charter in the Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (1297 April 6, OSU V, no. 2812) and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ V, no. 3268). The presence of chivalric cloths, many gloves and silver objects is indeed telling. Alas the original of this charter no longer exists, but seventeenth-century copies of it have survived.

Some early impressions

An example of the record view in DALME
An example of the record view in DALME, here with a Florentine inventory from 1381 – Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato 4, f. 71r

When searching inventories at DALME a few things become clear. You can currently only find items in their original languages or when they are mentioned in the record description, and not yet using the promised thesaurus function. In my view a major feature is thus currently not yet present. There is a difference between records taken directly from archival sources and those taken over from existing editions. In some cases a part of a document has not been transcribed because it does not contain a part of the proper household inventory. For the document shown here above with 31 folia this restriction is most sensible.

To be honest, I feel a bit baffled by the laurels given to this project in this stage. In my view the report about the 2022 DHMS Award shows a cavalier attitude to some of the clear deficiencies and missing qualities of DALME in its current state. Of course I can see that bringing together documents in twelve languages, providing images and transcriptions and commentaries is surely a feat. Creating 500 records in one year is not a particularly large number. DALME does aim at open access and easy interoperability, but the report states it is still unclear whether third-party software can harvest directly from DALME. The use of TEI for encoding the records and Zotero for the bibliography is commendable, but why create your own remix of tools for the management systems behind the screens? At GitHub you can find the necessary technical information about the databases of DALME and the mix of tools applied for it, but no direct link is given to the bibliography at Zotero. For all its qualities Zotero is notably weak when it comes to actually searching a group library within it. The twelve languages do not return in the choice of glossaries and dictionaries in the DALME bibliography.

DALME’s relatively low number of records for inventories, the very low number of objects and the lack of integration between them, are quite visible. Add to this the uncertainty about reuse and the absence of a fundamental essay on the legal nature of many documents, and you have grounds for reasonable doubts about the core qualities of this digital project. For some collections you find more or less detailed information about the kind of legal documents, but as for now there are no general essays introducing the various source genres. Contributions by legal historians would here be most welcome.

Header website Medeival Academy of America

Let’s for a moment turn away from DALME and look more generally at criteria and standards for evaluating digital projects. A few years ago the Medieval Academy of America developed a serious basic set of standards for its database Medieval Digital Resources (MDR), discussed here in 2019. For viewing images the use of a standard such as IIIF is recommended, but this has not been used at DALME. However, its images are at least zoomable. Luckily, DALME seems otherwise compliant with the MAA’s standards advocated at its database and guide for medieval digital resources. By the way, I could not help using MDR to search quickly for other projects concerning material culture. Using the preset filter for this subject I could only view the first page of the results; going to the next page ended at an empty search form. MDR does contain numerous online dictionaries and bibliographies. A number of them has been included in the DALME bibliography.

A medeival key - image Portable Antiquties Netherlands
A medieval key, c. 1375-1500, an example of a early comb-bit key, length 52 mm – private collection, PAN no. 00013245 – image Portable Antiquities Netherlands

The DALME project comes with high aims based on sound research. I truly expected 3D images of objects or at least integration with one museum catalogue for medieval objects or a portal for archaeological objects, such as Portable Antiquities Netherlands. A year after its launch some wishes to make DALME outstanding could perhaps have been already fulfilled. I could not help noticing that for example the collections from Florence and Bologna are a century apart of each other, and thus comparisons are not as straightforward as possible, even though such comparisons remain challenging. As for the Florentine documents, a choice from the early fifteenth century would have invited a comparison with data in the Online Catasto for 1427-1429, created by the late David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, and hosted at Brown University. It is reassuring to find a helpful table with some suggested equivalent terms in various languages and a clear list of online dictionaries in the classroom section. In an upcoming seminar Laura Morreale (Georgetown University) will focus on editing and transcribing Florentine documents.

Logo DALME

How does this project compare to similar projects elsewhere? I looked briefly at the BoschDoc portal for documents concerning the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch. Its search possibilities are impressive. Some eighty inventories have been included, many of them with images, transcriptions, translations and references to relevant literature. The background information, in particular for technical matters, is much more restricted than for DALME, but it does contain a useful list of transcription criteria. The difficulty of scripts and languages is bewailed at DALME, but the actual approach to overcome them is not made completely explicit nor are solutions actually implemented or visible. Hopefully Laura Morreale and her colleagues can quickly add their set of transcription criteria to DALME.

The fact I devoted a rather lengthy review to DALME indicates indeed my opinion that in the end we can welcome a valuable resource for medieval historians at large. Its flaws have to be redeemed, but they help in a way to view similar projects much clearer. I must add that navigating the menus for background information was not as easy as using the collections themselves. The larger essays at DALME are certainly worth your attention and wet the appetite for more. I would be hard pressed to determine whether DALME is a pilot project or a project in its beta phase. In my view DALME is not yet a convincing winner of the DHMS award. Despite all drawbacks Smail, Pizzorno and Morreale deserve praise for their initiative, as do the other scholars who worked hard to provide images, transcriptions and additional information. This international project brings us for now a kind of showcase of what can become a resource not just to use for your own goals, but to discuss with historians from other disciplines as an exercise in rethinking your approaches to medieval documents and objects. The lacks and omissions at DALME should help you to raise your own standards, to apply standards for data exchange with other resources, and to reflect on the use of evaluation standards for digital projects.

Some afterthoughts

After publishing this post I quickly realized some additions might be helpful. A fine example of an image database for medieval and Early Modern material culture is REALonline of the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (IMAREAL) in Krems an der Donau. In its journal Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online (MEMO) the issue no. 7 (December 2020) was devoted to the theme “Textual Thingness”. In this issue the article by Christina Antenhofer, ‘Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries)’, MEMO 7 (2020) 22-46, provides you among other things with a brief discussion of the various forms and (legal) origins of inventories. She mentions the entry for inventories in a German dictionary for legal history by Ruth Mohrmann, ‘Inventar’, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte II (2nd ed. Berlin 2012), cc. 1284–1285.

A great institution at 200: The École des Chartes

The bicentenary lofo of the ENC

Jubilees come in various forms. Some are obviously too arbitrary or only remotely interesting, others call rigthly for your time and attention. Among French educational institutions the grandes établissements take pride of place. The École nationale des chartes (ENC) in Paris is surely very special among them. In 2021 it celebrates its bicentenary. Although it is obvious to make a comparison with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, commemorated here in 2019 for its own bicentenary, the ENC distinguishes itself by being a school for archivists and paleographers. In this post I will look at the fundamental aspects of the ENC, some of its former pupils and at some famous episodes from its history.

The institutional setting

The royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 for the foundation of the ENC – image ENC

Fairly recently the ENC became a part of the Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) after a period as part of the university Paris Sorbonne, hence the different URL’s for some elements of its current digital presence. I had better start here with stating that the ENC is formally not a grande école or grand établissement with an independent status, but it ranks decidedly with its equals. I should tell you also immediately I am deeply impressed by a work on the development of history as a profession in France during the nineteenth century, written by Pim den Boer, Geschiedenis als beroep. De professionalisering van de geschiedbeoefening in Frankrijk (1818-1914) (NIjmegen 1987). This study helps you very much to see major institutions, minor and major figures and developments in their context. During the nineteenth century the ENC provided France in the first place with archivists and paleographers who put their work in archives at the service of historians. The chartistes did write theses, but these stayed closed to the documents; aktengemäss was Den Boer’s vignette for their production. We tend to associate the ENC with critical source editions, but producing book length editions is a much later development. The ENC shows its core qualities in the new critical edition of the royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 founding this institution, available online as a PDF and introduced with a video.

The creation of a journal by the ENC, the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes (BEC) in 1839 was an initiative of the newly founded Société de l’École des Chartes. It is one of the oldest still existing scientific journals. You can find digitized issues at the Persée portal up to 2015. Among the issues from this century are some thematic volumes. With its training in the auxiliary historical sciences and its insistence on using historical research methods the ENC soon became a model institution. Dlplomatics, paleography, chronolology and sigillography are perhaps the best known auxiliary sciences for historians. These disciplines are still taught at the ENC, but next to the classic training for archivists the ENC offers four other masters. digital humanities for historians, digital humanities, transnational history and medieval studies. At the Theleme portal the ENC offers course materials, dossiers on several themes, and a number of bibliographies. You can benefit for example from the materials on book history in the Cours section. When reading Early Modern French documents you will encounter abbreviations listed in the Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises.

The ENC uniquely has both a library and a journal called bibliothèque, and both deserve some attention here. Its collections brought the library a recognition for excellence (Collections d’Excellence). Of course there is also a bibliothèque numérique, with apart form licensed resources also three digital collections from its own holdings, and three virtual exhibits. For the theses of students the library has created a subdomain in its digital library called ThENC@. On a second subdomain Theses you search in all these since 1840. PhD theses defended at the ENC between 2013 and 2020 are conveniently mentioned in a list.

Celebrating a bicentenaire

Of course it is clear the projected celebrations for the bicentenaire could only partially proceed in its original planned format. I will therefore skip presenting the program, except for the special issue on the jubilee published by the history journal L’Histoire (PDF). It is much more interesting to look at some of the educational platforms creaetd by the ENC, one of them put online only a few weeks ago.

The French sense for structure has led the ENC to create yet another subdomain for is applications with the nice abbreviation DH, because a number of them are a part of digital humanities. You can have a look at applications under development, too. The best known is perhaps Éditions en ligne de l’École des chartes (Élec), with currently 32 electronic editions. A few years ago I wrote here a contribution about Graziella Pastore’s edition of the Livre de jostice et de plet. The most used online edition is probably the great dictionary – actually formally only a glossary – for medieval Latin created by Charles de Fresne du Cange. The theme range of the editions is really wide. There are also some acts of scientific congresses, and for example a repertory for medieval French translations of texts in classical Latin and Greek. Among other projects I simply did not know about the online version of the Dictionnaire topographique de la France (DicoTopo,) a very useful tool for tracing French (historical) geographical locations.

I had expected to find here also a reference to the Theleme portal, but the ENC views this as an educational resource. Theleme stands for Techniques pour l’Histoire en Ligne:: Études, Manuels, Exercices, Bibliographies, a host of things much needed by (French) historians. The bibliographies for the historical auxiliary disciplines are splendid. Among the tutorials (cours) I would single out those dealing with book and printing history. The Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises should inspire palaeographers worldwide to create similar tools showing abbreviations for their own country and language. The dossiers documentaires offer both historical and palaeographic commentaries for images of charters and other documents in French and Latin from France. They offer students a most useful introduction in studying medieval and later documents.

The latest addition to the fleet of subdomains and digital projects of the ENC is ADELE (Album de diplomatique en ligne), an online project providing images of medieval charters for diplomatics, the study of charters as an auxiliary historical discipline, a classic activity at the ENC since its foundation.

Beyond reading old scripts

Being able to study old scripts was perhaps the thing most clear to outsiders about chartistes. It was not a coincidence professors at and former students of the ENC got involved in looking at the infamous document posing itself as evidence in the Dreyfus case around 1900. Interestingly chartistes were found both among the dreyfusards, those defending captain Dreyfus, and among his fierce opponents. In an earlier contribution I looked at this case and the importance of a newly found secret dossier. I remember in particular reading the article about the position of former élèves by Bertrand Joly, ‘L’École des Chartes et l’Affaire Dreyfus’, BEC 147 (1989) 611-671 (online, Persée).

It is not entirely by chance that the scientist René Girard (1923-2015) , one of the most famous former students of the ENC, became interested in the role and importance of mechanisms for blaming people. His theories about scapegoat mechanisms made him most interesting for anthropologists, but legal historians, too, have to be aware of such phenomena, and not only when dealing with criminal law. Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958) became an author of famous novels, foremost the series Les Thibaut (1922-1940), which brought him in 1937 the Nobel Prize for literature.

The ENC does not have its own various series of source editions like its slightly older German counterpart, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, but its professors and former students certainly produced numerous critical editions in the classic French series such as the Classiques de l’Histoire de France. Many theses defended at the ENC have as its core a source edition. Today the ENC offers four master degrees, including a degree for digital humanities, beside the original course for archiviste-paléographe. Its horizon goes beyond the Middle Ages. The MGH offer currently summer schools in the historical auxiliary sciences, but the institute does not have a school. A number of German historians did contributed editions for the MGH or were at some time a staff member. Both institutions have their own distinctive qualities and know an equally rich history with sometimes dramatic periods. Both deserve laurels as pioneers and models for contributing to historical research in Europe. For me 2021 would not be complete here without a commemoration of the ENC’s bicentennial!

Charters, cartularies and rolls

Startscreen ANR Rotulus

However fragmentary the transmission of medieval sources may be, the sheer number of charters and cartularies is still impressive. Some cartularies saving the text of charters were not made in the usual codex form of manuscripts, but as rolls. This phenomenon is the subject of the French research project ANR Rotulus at the Université de Lorraine and the accompanying blog, also called Rotulus. Looking at material evidence can help you to avoid looking at sources only as texts. In this post I will look at this project, and no doubt there are also examples of such roll cartularies or cartulary rolls outside France. One of the reasons to look at this subject now is an upcoming scholarly event in April.

A different form

The project ANR Rotulus that will run from 2019 to 2021 is an initiative of the Centre de Recherche Universitaire Lorrain d’Histoire (CRULH), based in Nancy and Metz. The project was prompted by the presence of some sixty cartularies in roll format (“cartulaires-rouleaux”) in the French database for cartularies CartulR – Répertoire des cartulaires médievaux et modernes at the Telma platform of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes (Paris and Orleans). It was possible to add another sixty cartulary rolls to those already identified. The team of ANR Rotulus has created a very well organized bibliography on the use of rolls in medieval society. Eight years ago I wrote a post about the best known medieval use of rolls, for accounting purposes. In a post about heraldry and legal history I mentioned a number of heraldic rolls.

Logo Rotulus blog

At the Rotulus blog you can find announcement of scholarly events concerning medieval rolls. On April 3 and 4, 2020 a workshop will be held at Yale University on the theme “L’édition numérique et les manuscrits en rouleaux médiévaux” [The digital edition and manuscripts in roll form]. The workshop will deal with subjects such as the palaeography and cataloging of medieval rolls, and with the transcriptions of manuscripts and critical editions. There will be an introduction into best practices in digital editing, and the use of XML and TEI will come into view. The workshop will be hosted by the group of scholars united around the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in the project Digital Rolls and Fragments. At the heart of this workshop will be a devotional roll written in Latin and Middle English, dated between circa 1435 and 1450 (Takamiya MS 56, digital version). Of course you can find more (digitized) rolls and scrolls at the Beinecke. You will forgive me mentioning here English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500–1800 by Kathryn James, curator of Early Modern books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library, just published by Yale University Press. The website of ANR Rotulus mentions a meeting later this year on the theme Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire [Functions of cartulary rolls: social and contextual approaches to a documentary genre], to be held at Metz on November 5-6, 2020.

A recent contribution at the Rotulus blog focuses on a cartulaire-rouleau held at the Bibliothèque Municipale of Angers from the abbey of Notre-Dame du Ronceray. This twelfth-century cartulary consists of six rolls, each of them measuring nearly six meters by 29 centimeters and containing six to eight parchment sheets (MS 844, 845, 846, 847, 848 and 848b). The library at Angers posted a somewhat longer and illustrated version of this post on its own blog. This roll cartulary is duly mentioned in the CartulR database (no. 1383), the material units have each its own description on the level called Exemplaire-tradition where it becomes clear it has the form of a roll (rouleau). The database CartulR has a useful glossary showing among other things the variety of cartularies.

On November 14 and 15, 2019 a conference was held at Angers about the diversity of cartulary rollis. Both the material side of these documents as also their place within diplomatics, the historical auxiliary science for studying charters and related resources, came into view. Among the subjects to discuss was the need for creating a special database with a repertory of cartulary rolls. The second day of this event, held at the Archives départementales de Maine-et-Loire in Angers, ended with a presentation of some roll cartularies in the holdings of this regional archive.

The team of ANR Rotulus very sensibly looks at all forms of medieval rolls in order to understand their uses and development. Why did cartulary rolls come into existence? What role could they have? Who did benefit from this particular form? Is it an exclusively ecclesiastical or monastic format? Half of the cartulary rolls repertoried untll now stems from priories. Rolls from Cistercian monks and from nuns form a distinct minority. Approaches to uses of literacy and gender history, too, will have to be invoked to interpret and understand such facts. Of course I checked CartulR for the presence of cartulary rolls. One example among the 65 results is currently held outside France. The Rijksarchief in Bruges has a roll cartulary for the collegiate chapter of Saint Sauveur in Harelbeke (CartulR, no. 5213). The team of ANR Rotulus has not yet added to CartulR the sixty cartulary rolls which they spotted.

Beyond France

Startscreen Materiale Textkulturen

It is only logical to look beyond France for the existence and role of cartulary rolls. CartulR does contain information about some Spanish and Italian cartuiaries, but for these countries no cartulary rolls are mentioned. Recently Stefan G. HolzJörg Peltzer and Maree Shirota edited the volume The Roll in England and France in the late Middle Ages (2019; available in open access), a publication included in the bibliography of ANR Rotulus. This volume is part of a book series published for the Sonderforschungsbereich at the university of Heidelberg concerning Materiale Textkulturen. At the blog of this project you can read a post about this volume (Materiale Textkulturen, Band 28) which is a product of the subproject Rollen im Dienst des Königs [Rolls in the king’s service].

Among cartulary rolls outside France those of Margam Abbey held at the National Library of Wales are easily spotted. The Discovery portal of the National Archives in Kew brings you quickly to at least seven examples in various English archives, but not at the National Archives themselves. I was a bit troubled by the fact the Gaunt Roll held at the East Sussex Record Office (GLY 1139) did not show up at first at Discovery in a simple search for cartulary roll. In the Répertoire des cartulaires d’institutions religieuses médiévales sises dans l’espace wallon actuel (Pratiques médiévales de l’écrit, Université de Namur) you can find in its 2017 overview three examples kept in Tournai. It is tempting to add more examples to this post, but I am confident the interest of some of my readers will be kindled enough to find out more about this remarkable resource type.

An addition

At Archivalia Klaus Graf noted I could have mentioned examples of cartulary rolls from Germany. You could indeed start searching at Archivportal-D with terms such as KopialbuchKopiar and Rotul or Rotulus. Searching with the terms Urkunden and Rotul* brings substantial results.

The situation around COVID-19 led to the posponement of the meeting in November 2020. The new date and program is announced by ANR Rotulus in Metz, March 25-26, 2021: Fonctions des cartulaires-rouleaux : approches sociales et contextuelles d’un genre documentaire.

You might want to look at rolls and other forms of reading in roll form in other periods and settings. The online book of Jack Hacknell, Continuous Page: Scrolls and Scrolling from Papyrus to Hypertext (The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2020) contains twelve chapters on very different subjects connected with continuous reading.

Seals as signs and objects of medieval legal history

Earlier this year I looked here at the portal Medieval Digital Resources, and even though I did not mention them, I looked there for the presence of particular telling objects. When I discussed here in January a new project concerning charters in Dutch archives one of the questions about this database is the visibility of and attention to seals. Lately I noticed there is a substantial number of recent projects around medieval seals. Two recent publications help to view seals in a larger setting than your might suppose at first sight. Seals represent also legal power, and the images on seals should have a niche in the field of legal iconography.

Seals make connections

Seal of the Roman King William, 1252 - Utrecht, HUA, Stadsbestuur 1122-1577, no. 47

Seal of the Roman king William at a charter for the city Utrecht, 1252 June 18 (OSU III, no. 1261; OHZ II, no. 931; MGH Dipl., Heinrich von Raspe und Wilhelm von Holland, no. 281) – Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief, collection 701, Stadsbestuur van Utrecht 1122-1577, inv.no. 47

Searching for a fitting image for this post I decided to put here an image of a seal fixed to a charter held at Utrecht by Het Utrechts Archief. The seal shown shows the figure of count William II of Holland, the only Dutch Roman king (1248-1256). A quick search in the Digitale Charterbank Nederland brings you at first to some twenty charters issued by William, only nine of them with images. In a few cases his seal has been disfigured by the way it was fixed to the charter. William’s charters figure in the oorkondenboeken for the diocese Utrecht and the county Holland, the critical editions of charters until 1300 for these regions. They have been edited also by Dieter Hägermann, Jaap Kruisheer and Alfred Gawlik, Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelm von Holland 1246-1256 (MGH Diplomata, Die Urkunden der deutsche Könige und Kaiser, 18; 2 vol., Hannover 1989-2006), available online at dMGH.

Let’s turn to the two new books. The book edited by Laura Whatley, A companion to seals in the Middle Ages (Leiden 2019) is actually a volume of essays on several themes around and with seals. Its price can seem formidable. In the same series Reading Medieval Sources appeared in 2019 a volume on Money and coinage in the Middle Ages, Rory Naismith (ed.) (Leiden: Brill, 2019) which can be viewed online in open access.

The second book to mention here is the volume Seals – Making and Marking Connections across the Medieval World, Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, (Leeds: ARC Humanities Press, 2019), available in hardprint and as an e-book. This book, too, comes at a very substantial prize. However, you can download the introduction.

Logo Sigillvm network

Instead of speculating about the policies behind the prizes of these works it is perhaps wiser to start with a tour of websites devoted to medieval seals. The presence of the international network SIGILLVM is a natural point of departure. This website provides basic information about research before and after 1800. In fact there is a concise PDF by Brigitte Bedos-Rezak on research perspectives. There is a section about collections of seals in archives and museums and also a section for seals created by individual persons.

The Sigillvm network does not provide a section with web links. The number of blogs about seals is a surprise. I might as well start with projects and websites in France. At the ARCHIM portal, the showcase of the French national archives, is a section with seals from Burgundy. The Bibliothèque nationale de France has created the blog Trésors de cire [Treasures in wax] where you can find among others things bibliographies about the conservation and restoration of medieval seals. In the Sigilla database you can find digital images of seals in French collections. The database can be searched for themes such as seals of for example Cistercians, the corporations of Bruges and the bishops of Paris, and for major collections, including those with seal impressions and casts of seals. SigiAl is a blog dealing with seals in the Alsace and Upper Rhine regions, territories with a place both in French and German history.

In Germany you might start with having a look at the Siegelblog with the subtitel Sphragistik als historische Hilfswissenschaft, sigilography as a historical auxiliary science. The blog Verkörperung kommunaler Identität [Embodiment of communal identity] brings you clearly into the fields of legal history. Seals held at the Stadtarchiv Speyer are the focal point, and in particular the impressions made by fingers on the back of seals. Some seals have another seal on the back, but the beautiful seal of the city Speyer showing the mighty cathedral show also fingerprints. We will follow this track later on. Christian Lohmer has created a digital collection of casts held at the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, mainly for seals of German kings, emperors and princes. The digital collection links as far as possible for each seal to the work of Otto Posse, Die Siegel der Deutschen Kaiser und Könige (5 vol., Dresden 1909-1913), digitized at Göttingen. The Historische Kommission für Niedersachsen und Bremen has created a database for the Welfensiegel, the seals of the House of Welf, one of the oldest still existing aristocratic families in Europe. The database contains currently some 1,450 seals.

From Austria comes the project Siegel der Bischöfe der Salzburger Metropole [Seals of the bishops under the metropolitan see of Salzburg], a title meaning seals of the bishops within the archdiocese Salzburg and the archbishop himself, too. Thus you will find seals from the dioceses Gurk, Chiemsee, Seckau, Lavant, Innsbruck and Feldkirch, all in all some 750 seals.

Among the projects from the United Kingdom the Imprint Project clearly beckons for attention. This project aims at studying the fingerprints in multiple perspectives. They show not only the process of sealing charters, but also the ritual side of signing. The history of using fingerprints for identification and the development of methods for data capture are addressed by the project team. You can follow its activity also on the aptly named blog First Impressions. Durham University has created both a virtual exhibition about seals of Durham Cathedral and a catalogue for medieval seals with digitized images. While writing this post I looked in disbelief at an empty collection guide to seals at the website of the British Library. Seliau / Seals in medieval Wales is a virtual exhibition of the National Library of Wales, with an accompanying blog, Exploring Medieval Seals. You can download the exhibition catalogue Seals in context. Medieval Wales and the Welsh Marches (PDF). The Berkshire Record Office in Reading has created the virtual exhibition Small Objects of Power introducing you to and showing medieval seals.

Start screen Sigillvm Portugalliae

Let’s end this tour with some projects around the Mediterranean. El Sello Medieval is an already longer existing virtual exhibition about medieval seals, created by the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid. The second website is the home of the project Sigillvm. Corpus dos selos portugueses, a website you can view in Portuguese, English or French. Apart from project information and the database with an inventory of medieval seals in Portugal there is a small digital collection of recent relevant literature and a bibliography, and in particular a generous links selection. The inventory can be accessed only in Portuguese, but you can search with terms (Termos usados). Alas the section for virtual exhibitions is empty.

Of course basic guides to sigillography – sometimes the term sphragistics is used – have been around online now for two decades. The links collection for this theme at the portal Historische Hilfswissenschaften at the Universität München is still useful. You can consult online a PDF of the Vocabulaire international de la sigillographie (Rome 1990, with separately the illustrations (PDF) but no the indexes). Sometimes seal matrices have become objects of art, but more often personal seal matrices have been destroyed when their owners died. The survival of originals seals, the creation of seal casts and the interest to collect these combined with the study of matrices make the study of seals a field with several layers. The web directory of the Portuguese Sigillvm project is a fair attempt to present links for a variety of collections.

The approach of the Imprint project and the project at Speyer which bring fingerprints into view open questions about seals in a new way. Legal historians can note how modern forensic expertise can be applied also to historical materials. Who handled seals and matrices? Is the very act of sealing not just as important as attaching a beautifully looking seal which can indeed make an impression on contemporaries and future generations? It is only natural that disciplines such as semiotics, the study of signs, and cultural anthropology look rather differently at seals than medievalists, art historians and legal historians usually do. Visual culture, politics, government and art come together in seals. If my post looks as part of an object lesson in approaching seals as signs and objects – with not just a front side but also other telltale elements – my brief tour here serves its goal.

A postscript

Travis Baker kindly pointed to the volume Seals and their Context in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2015) with an important article by Paul Brand on seals and the law in medieval England.

Banner DigiSig

For some inexplicable reason I did not include the project DigiSig from St. Louis University in this post, but I had duly bookmarked this project dealing with seals from medieval England. It offers a database for searching seals in a number of British collections, and a search facility for the kind of figures represented on seals with a detailed classification scheme. Both tools are most valuable for sigillographic research.

200 years Monumenta Germaniae Historica, a story of editions, projects and scholars

Flyer "200 Jahre MGH-Editionen"Every year some subjects and themes are brought to your attention just because there is some jubilee or centenary. In the face of their sheer number I wisely do not venture to trouble you with all centennial or even bicentennial celebrations. For me the Monumenta Germaniae Historica are exceptional in many ways. In view of the scholarly impact on the field of medieval history, German and European history, and in particular many fields of legal history. A meeting in Frankfurt am Main on January 20, 1819 has had a very important influence on the shaping of history as a scholarly discipline taught at universities. The flow of editions produced in two centuries is one thing to marvel at, but the story of this institution is much richer. Some celebrations have already been held in January, but the last week of June 2019 has been chosen as the week with more events around this bicentenary. I will try to be as concise as possible, but the story of the MGH deserves space!

History, nationalism, Romanticism

Logo MGH, Munich

The start of the project we now know as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica happened in a particular time and place. Horst Fuhrmann analyzed concisely in his splendid book on the scholars of the MGH the start of this enterprise and much more, and I follow here his lead [Sind eben alles menschen gewesen. Gelehrtenleben im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Monumenta Germaniae Historica und ihrer Mitarbeiter (Munich 1998; online, MGH (PDF))]. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803, according to the late Peter Landau more important in Germany’s history than the reforms created by Napoleon, after the Napoleonic wars and the establishment of a new political order in Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) there was time in Germany to look backwards. You would assume that a number of people influenced by Romanticism founded the Gesellschaft für ältere deuttsche Geschichtskunde. the society for the study of older German history, but Lorenz vom Stein (1757-1831) and his visitors were not the archetypical romantics. This lawyer and former Prussian minister met at Frankfurt am Main with four delegates of the Bundestag, the central organ of the Deutsche Bund (1815). Vom Stein was known for his proposals for reforming public law and administration. Instead of looking back at the past he wanted to work to rebuild and strengthen Germany as a nation. The project originally set out to publish a number of sources in a relatively short time span, maybe ten years. Vom Stein had been in contact with leading German romantics to ask for their opinion and support.

In the first years the project met with some approval but also with indifference, criticism and even derision. Metternich subjected the first volumes to censorship. One of the ironies was the fact a team of students was sent to Paris to copy medieval manuscripts, because they were more bountiful and better accessible in the French capital than in other major libraries. The German states did not want to put money into the MGH. An offer for funding the project came not from German politicians, but from the Russian tsar. Vom Stein politely declined and spend a lot of his own money. In 1820 an accompanying journal was started, the Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, the ancestor of the current Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters. From 1823 onwards an archivist from Hannover, Georg Heinrich Pertz (1795-1876), led the small team around Vom Stein. He designed the division of the editions into five major series, the Scriptores for editions of works dealing with history, the Leges with legal resources, the Epistolae for letters, the Diplomata for charters, and the Antiquitates for other sources. Pertz stayed with the Monumenta for fifty years.

Fuhrmann, himself a former president of the MGH, was quite right in writing a story about scholars as people, ordinary mortals with great gifts and sometimes wilful personal characteristics. The strife between Pertz and Georg Waitz (1813-1886) was not only a matter of different visions of history and scholarly practices, an archivist developing on his own the historical-critical method to edit sources against a scholar trained by Ranke, but also a clash of two humans. Some projects stemming from the MGH belong to the Vorarbeiten, preliminary works such as the Regesta Imperii started by Johann Friedrich Böhmer who later on after quarrels with the MGH decided to edit a series Fontes rerum Germanicarum (4 vol., Stuttgart 1843-1868). Others, too, had their trouble with the MGH and started their own series. Philipp Jaffé edited after his break with Pertz the series Bibliotheca rerum Germanicarum (6 vol., Berlin 1864-1873). Thus the MGH delivered not only its editions, but set path-breaking examples of using the historical-critical method. It became a model for projects abroad by the very fact they initially stuck to just publishing sources, not scholarly monographs. Controversies about its role and aims led to other important scholarly projects in the field of medieval history.

A human history

With Philipp Jaffé (1819-1870) we encounter perhaps the most tragic of all Monumentisten. Jaffé had studied in Berlin, and without getting a Ph.D. he started his own projects. The first edition of his Regesta pontificum Romanorum, a work listing 11,000 papal acts and charters up to 1198, appeared in 1851. In these years he studied medicine in Berlin and Vienna, believing he had no chance to make a career as an historian being a Jew. However, Ranke considered Jaffé his very best student and made him the first ausserplanmässiger professor in all Germany. Between 1854 and 1862 he worked for the MGH. On the title pages of the six volumes of the Scriptores series Jaffé helped editing his name was not mentioned. In 1863 a feud developed between him and Pertz, who eventually wanted to deny him access to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Jaffé started his own series with major source editions. He got estranged from his family, converted to Lutheranism, and in growing isolation he took his life in 1870, a fact that shocked the scholarly world.

It is impossible to follow here the MGH and its contributors through all its history, if only for the sheer number of scholars for which you can find photographs at the MGH website. Jews had indeed a great role for the published editions. In particular Harry Bresslau, the author of the Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Hannover 1921; reprint 1976; online, MGH) felt hurt under antisemitic attacks. During the period of the Third Reich Ernst Perels and Wilhelm Levison were among the targets of the Nazi regime. The MGH became a Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, but Nazi control was not total. In 1939 Levison could find a refuge in Durham. In 1944 the MGH had to leave Berlin for Pommersfelden near Bamberg. In 1949 the institute came to Munich where the MGH found in 1967 its current location in the main building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. You can find the titles of the MGH’s own publications about its history on this web page.

The library collection of the MGH is now famous for its riches, but it was only after getting in 1907 the books of Ludwig Traube and in 1911 those of Oswald Holder-Egger a substantial library came into existence [see Norbert Martin, ‘Die Bibliothek der Monumenta Germaniae’Bibliotheksforum Bayern 19/3 (1991) 287-294]. One of the special qualities of the online catalogue is the presence of links to reviews of works in the Deutsches Archiv. Nowadays we may take dMGH, the digital MGH, for granted, but such projects are solely possible with financial means and other support by institutions as for example the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The MGH have a legal status under public law as an institution for the Freistaat Bayern with subventions by other Bundesländer. I have been fortunate to work in 1997 and 1998 with the library staff of the MGH, and my fond memories of these days prompt me to write here, too. Apart from the vast collection with printed books on the history of medieval Europe the Virtueller Lesesaal offers a lot of books in several sections. Here I would like to single out the digital version of Paul Oskar Kristeller’s Latin manuscript books before 1600. A list of the printed catalogues and unpublished inventories of extant collections (4th edition, 1993; supplement, 2006; revised digital edition 2016). This indispensable guide has been revised and updated by Sigrid Krämer and Birgit Christine Arensmann.

A mighty enterprise

The time with just five massive series of editions is long ago, a mighty fleet of series has sailed into our century. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica in its printed form take many shelves in a library and make a mighty impression. In the early eighties the very stacks with the folio volumes of the MGH collapsed in the rather new library of the history department in Utrecht, luckily before opening hours. Apart from a library catalogue you might better use the yearly leaflet with an overview of the editions which duly was posted near these stacks. The Gesamtverzeichnis 2019 is also available online (PDF). In 1997 even the library of the MGH decided to catalog again all editions since 1826.

Legal historians will within the old series and the current program of edition projects first of all turn to the Leges and Diplomata series. In the Leges series there are currently projects for sources such as the Collectio Gaudenziana (Wolfgang Kaiser), the Collectio Walcausina (Charles Radding), a part of the Leges Langobardorum, capitularies, formulae, and even for the most intriguing and difficult corpus of Pseudo-Isidorian decretals, just one example of a project which cannot be seen properly without looking to other forged collections around it. More soberly it is also an example of a project running over many decades. If you remember Antonio Agustín’s reluctance in the late sixteenth century to pronounce a clear verdict, a forgery or genuine material, even though he was in the best position to do this, you will understand the courage of scholars such as Horst Fuhrmann, Schafer Williams, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes and now Eric Knibbs to proceed in their wake with finally producing a critical text edition. Among other projects in this series are editions of medieval councils, a new edition of Regino of Prüm, royal constitutions, the glosses to the Sachsenspiegel, and the Latin version of an other treatise on German law, the Schwabenspiegel. It is good to see here attention for several kinds of legal systems

The publications within the Diplomata series may seem more straightforward. The sheer mass of charters issued from the Carolingian period onwards is indeed much greater than one could calculate in the first half of the nineteenth century. Nowadays not only charters of kings and emperors are being edited, volumes for some princes have appeared, too, and also for the Latin kings of Jerusalem. For the charters of the emperors Henry V and Henry VI there is even a digital pre-edition online, for the latter only for German recipients. Dieter Hägemann and Jaap Kruisheer, assisted by Alfred Gawlik, edited the two volumes of Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland (2 vol., Wiesbaden 1989-2006) with the charters of the only Roman king from the Low Countries. It is also the only case in which a Dutch scholar worked on a volume published for the MGH.

As for the newer series it is sensible to look here at just three series. In the series MGH Hilfsmittel we find works such as Uwe Horst, Die Kanonessammlung Polycarpus des Gregor von S. Grisogono. Quellen und Tendenzen (Wiesbaden 1980), the Wortkonkordanz zum Decretum Gratiani, Timothy Reuter and Gabriel Silagi (eds.) (5 vol., Wiesbaden 1990), the monograph of Rudolf Pokorny and Hartmut Hoffmann, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms. Textstufen – Frühe Verbreitung – Vorlagen (Wiesbaden 1991), and the printed edition of Linda Fowler-Magerl, Clavis Canonum. Selected canon law collections before 1140 (2005). Her work is now available online in a database with a German and English interface. Danica Summerlin and Christoph Rolker have added new canonical collections to the database.

The series Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica is one of the oldest series to supplement the original program. You can choose at will in this series for classic studies. I mention here for legal history Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953), Horst Fuhrmann, Einfluß und Verbreitung der pseudoisidorischen Fälschungen von ihrem Auftauchen bis in die neuere Zeit (3 vol., Stuttgart 1972-1974), the six volumes of the congress Fälschungen im Mittelalter (6 vol., Stuttgart 1988-1990), Harald Siems, Handel und Wucher im Spiegel frühmittelalterlicher Rechtsquellen (Stuttgart 1992), and Maike Huneke, Iurisprudentia romano-saxonica. Die Glosse zum Sachsenspiegel-Lehnrecht und die Anfänge deutscher Rechtswissenschaft (Wiesbaden 2014).

Within Studien und Texte, the third series which I like to mention, you will find indeed both source editions and monographs, such as Stephan Beulertz, Das Verbot der Laieninvestitur im Investiturstreit (Wiesbaden 1991), and Sascha Ragg, Ketzer und Recht. Die weltliche Ketzergesetzgebung des Hochmittelalters unter dem Einfluß des römischen und kanonischen Rechts (Wiesbaden 2006), the first of a number of recent volumes in this series with studies and editions concerning medieval inquisitions. For your convenience I refer to the page on medieval legal procedure of my legal history website where I have included these works.

Time to celebrate

Flyer Bock auf MittelalterIn its long and illustrious history the Monumenta Germaniae Historica had to deal with many crises and decisive moments. Think only of the 1880 fire in the house of Theodor Mommsen in Charlottenburg which destroyed working materials of the Monumenta, his personal library and some precious manuscripts in his custody! Remember the periods with a stifling political climate in the dark times of the Nazi regime. During the Second World War some materials were stored in a mine which was destroyed in 1945. Many projects suffered setbacks when editors failed to do their jobs properly, when death came too soon for experts dealing with most difficult matters, or clashes happened between scholars. The presidents and the Zentraldirektion have to steer between many rocks. Sometimes the presence of particular scholars is most helpful. From my own period I cherish the memory of Reinhard Elze, former director of the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome, who walked each day from his home to the MGH in the Ludwigstrasse. I think his steady rhythm and kind presence helped everyone in a way to stay focused and open to people and ways to solve problems of any kind. The funny poster makes me remember the way Horst Fuhrmann could make jokes and show his happiness.

The program for the jubilee contained events in Berlin and Vienna in January, the festivities of last week in Munich, and a symposium to be held at the DHI in Rome on November 28-29, 2019 on “Das Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1935 bis 1945 – ein “Kriegsbeitrag der Geisteswissenschaften”? [The research institute of the Reich for the study of older German history, 1935-1945. A war contribution of the humanities?]. The DHI and the MGH were forced to merge in 1935. What impact did the control of the Reich have, and not only for substantially widening the budget? On June 28 a discussion panel rightly stressed the international character of the MGH has today. In 1947 the MGH for the first time elected corresponding fellows, then and ever since from abroad. The flyer for this event shows a list with more than fifty scholars from Europe, the USA and Japan. The main scholarly meeting on June 28 and 29 dealt with the theme Quellenforschung im 21. Jahrhundert [Research on sources in the 21st century].

What laurels does the MGH need? The founders put a crown of oak leafs around the motto in Latin which defies translation, but inspiration and labor of love is the very heart, not only the forests of medieval Germany. Using the older volumes with the introductions in Latin, slowing down your reading speed to digest the wealth of information in the double apparatus of the annotation, checking the Deutsches Archiv for thorough articles, concise information about new works, and the yearly messages of the Zentraldirektion on the progress of editions in preparation, looking at the website for new books in the holdings of the MGH which you might want to use yourself, too, you realize the contributors to the MGH put all their talents into helping to create sure foundations for research, Grundlagenforschung. They challenge you to do your own tasks in a similar dedicated way. Let’s hope the staff and fellows of the MGH can continue to work for the community of scholars in the fields of medieval law and history!

 

Legal history at Medieval Digital Resources

Banner Medieval Digital Resources

In the tenth year of my blog I feel the need to look back at some telling contributions. In a number of posts I compared portal for legal history, for medieval history, and even two major national digital libraries. In this post I would like to look at one particular portal for medieval studies, Medieval Digital Resources (MDR) created for the Medieval Academy of America. This portal was developed between 2014 and 2016. The project was launched in December 2018. Somehow I have not noticed the launch of this portal. In view of the efforts behind it and the criteria for inclusion and description it seems most interesting to discuss MDR here in detail, with some particular questions as a focus: What place does legal history hold at this portal? How does its place reflect the many roads of legal history?

Aiming high

Logo MDR

The explicit aim of the portal is ” to provide access to websites that contain content of interest to medievalists and meet the Academy’s scholarly and technical standards of web presentation”. In my view this leads to two goals, selecting resources which are sufficiently interesting for scholars, and at the same time considering the quality of the virtual representation. I see here two questions: Do resources meet scholarly needs and standards? How well is their technical realisation? The Medieval Academy of America thanks a number of people in the acknowledgements, in particular Maryanne Kowaleski for designing the database assisted by Lisa Bitel and Lisa Fagin Davis. A team with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers helped to give MDR its present shape.

You can approach the resources brought together at MDR in three ways. It is possible to browse for resources in alphabetical ordering, supported by an alphabet and a section Recent additions. A second way is offered by the search interface with multiple fields. You can search here directly for the title and description of resources, the date range and subject, the type of resource, the geopolitical region and the original language. You can also search for the original author or creator, the type of digital resource, the license, the modern language and the project status. A number of fields work with dropdown menus. The third approach is using the search field descriptions. Here you can find lists of descriptors for five search fields: subject, source type, region, original language and type of digital resource. You can look at the notes about the names of medieval authors which tells us catalogers will enter author names only when a sufficient amount of material within a resource stems from a particular author. The page about project status explains the criteria for giving a project included in MDR a particular status. The MDR depends on good input and suggestions from scholars, and thus the suggestion form is an important element of the website, as is the feedback form.

The page about standards explains at its end the reviewing process for new suggestions and the way the team behind MDR will deal with suggestions, but the sets of standards and criteria take up most space. The first set focuses on scholarly quality: meeting normal standards, the need for explicitly stating aims, goals and methods used, including providing collection parameters, and bringing a substantial contribution or innovation. Digitized monographs are excluded.

The second set of standards deals with access and design. The first criterion is meeting prevailing digital standards, with as examples the NISO standard for digital collections, Dublin Core and IIIF (International Image Operabiliity Framework). The second criterion is the need for metadata and consistent maintenance of content, interface and platform. Image quality according to regular standards is a third criterion, and the fourth criterion is wide availability and easy navigation. The fifth criterion calls for clear and correct dealing with publication rights, copyrights and credentials.

The third set of rules of inclusion explains the definitions used for complete, ongoing and pending projects. A pending project is “new and incomplete”, or unstable because the content is minimal, maintenance is absent or irregular, and thirdly “or that are longer publicly available”. Could it be the word “no” is missing the last clause?! The criteria for an ongoing project are consistent monitoring and regular updates over a year, with portals, databases and collections as examples. A complete project is fully realized and maintained, and a curated image or text collection and a thematic bibliography are given as examples.

Whatever you may think of this project in its present state, the explicit use of standards and the explanations about the criteria to be followed are in se very useful. It helps you to ascertain qualities not only subjectively or from impressions.

Selecting in practice

I had firmly convinced myself to look here first of all at sources you can connect with the study of medieval legal history, but it seemed also interesting to look which projects with the status “Complete” have been included so far at MDR. Nearly thirty projects have been assigned the status Complete. The very first result is the website of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV). Surely the ASV should figure here, but I could not help noticing a number of things about the notice. The term archives has not been used for a searchable field of this description. The modern language of the ASV is only stated as English, but of course you can view this website in Italian. Reading the description of the collections guide, “The downloadable guide lists the over 600 different collections, but not individual manuscripts of their contents.”, offers some food for thought, starting with the fact this guide (PDF) is in Italian. The collections of the ASV are generally archival collections, not manuscript collections as in its neighbour, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In view of the number of collections at the ASV it is silly to expect for every collection full descriptions in a 96-page PDF. The choice of subjects given for the ASV, just three (diplomatics, manuscript studies and papacy) is fairly restricted, even if the additional description mention the wide variety of subjects, including legal history.

However, the main reason I start to frown when reading this description is the presence of the term Catalog in the list of resource types noted for the website of the ASV. An archive has finding aids and inventories, indexes, repertories and other tools to create access to its holdings. Personally I deeply respect the ASV for its various qualities, but you will not find any online finding aid on its website or on a separate portal. The online overview of archival collections at the ASV in ArchiveGrid is based on the Michigan project (1984-2004). Older printed guides can still be very useful. The most recent guide has been created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998) which incidentally goes beyond the ASV. You might want to read also the introduction to the ASV at the website of the Vatican Film Library, St. Louis University. Somehow the MDR notice about the ASV seems not to have been carefully reviewed. I am aware that in American use the word manuscripts can also mean papers of archival records, but its use here is not very lucky.

Looking again at the MDR search interface you will remark the absence of a search field for institutions or type of institution, and thus you will need filter yourself when searching for an archival institution. On the other hand you can filter using the preset combined fields for textual evidence for particular genres of archival records. Let’s have a quick look at some other projects at MDR having the complete status. The medieval manuscripts digitized for Europeana Regia are no longer available at its original URL. It is now available in an IIIF compliant form. The Orbis Latinus dictionary figures in the 1909 version digitized by Columbia University. The updated 1972 version is mentioned, but the notice does not indicate this version, too, has been digitized at Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online. The version of Columbia University is in German, only the introduction and some further links are in English. The notice for the Piccard Watermark collection lacks information about its language (German). The fact this kind of material evidence is also present in printed books and can be used for studying book history should become clearer. In his very early and short review of MDR on December 4, 2018 at Archivalia Klaus Graf suggested another resource concerning watermarks, the Memory of Paper, is more in place.

Using the general term legal in the free text search fields brings you to four projects. It is good to see here Diplomata Belgica, a project which figured here prominently in my recent post about Dutch charters. The three following projects are the Internet Medieval History Sourcebook, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe – my subject in another post – and RELMIN, a project concerning religious minorities, briefly mentioned here, too. I could not help noticing RELMIN is described as an ongoing project, but in fact it is only maintained, and it provides translation not only in French, but also in English. The description at MDR is bilingual! The description of the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe mentions legal documents explicitly

By all means you might start asking me why I devote space to these defective aspects of the MDR database, as if it has no right to exist in its current form. However, it is only fair to assume that a project with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers aiming to achieve goals which follow strict, even rigorous standards, should itself show high qualities, too.

Medieval law in focus

Let’s stick with legal history in the following paragraphs. I will look in MDR at projects filed with the subject Law, Law – Civil, Law – Crime and Law – Religious law. I will look also at some key resource types associated with medieval jurisdiction and authority. I will honour the attention of MDR to both textual and material evidence. Charters and legislation offer textual evidence, seals form also material evidence.

Searching for the general subject Law brings you at present 23 items. The alphabetically ordered list with 22 results shows foremost general resources, but starting from Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France you are sure law is not far away. The French scholarly journal Cahiers de Fanjeaux devotes issues to matters of religious law, in particular heresy and inquisition. With The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library and the project for medieval Welsh law you arrive safely in the fields of legal history. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) does contain a substantial number of editions of legal texts and sources, and within the French TELMA project charters occupy an important place. The filter for civil law brings you to three results: British History Online, the bibliography of the Feminae project and again the MGH. For religious law as a subject MDR brings you to five results starting with the Digital Scriptorium again to Feminae, the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is present again, and you will find the digitized versions of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca. Clearly the subseries MGH Concilia with editions of medieval councils has not been taken into consideration, as are manuscripts with conciliar texts within Europeana Regia or in the Digital Vatican Library, to mention just two MDR resources. For the subject category Law – Crime I saw only British History Online and Feminae.

For charters MDR shows currently four projects, the original French charters from before 1121 at the TELMA portal, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe, RELMIN and the TELMA portal. Diplomata Belgica has not been tagged with the term Textual evidence – Charters. The subject category Textual evidence – Legislation yields nine results in MDR. A search for seals in MDR brings you only to British Museum Collections Online. A search for courts brings you to British History Online, the French charters of TELMA and the Internet Medieval History Source Book. In the following section I will look at the implications of this situation regarding legal history for a general opinion about the qualities of MDR.

A beta version?

When I first encountered Medieval Digital Resources I had positive expectations about its content and quality. You might think my opinion of MDR has sunk dramatically in view of the way resources for legal history are currently presented, or are present at all.  However, I think it would be foolish to judge this gateway after analyzing only one subject in some detail. Anyone hopes to find something for his or her favorite subject. Alas another thing is perhaps more disturbing. When you search for items linked for a particular modern language, let’s take Danish, it is somewhat mystifying to get more than one hundred results without Danish being explicitly mentioned when you check these results. Of course I checked for Dutch also as an original language, and here it becomes clear that in the entry for the database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections Middle Dutch has not been entered explicitly as an original language. In due time the database for manuscripts with literary texts in Middle Dutch, the Bibliotheca Manuscripta Neerlandica et Impressa (BNM-i) should be added to MDR, too.

For some subjects the MDR is already very rich, for example for music. For other subjects you would like to see more than one or two scattered references, for example for palaeography. In a general search for the word archives you would expect to see the MDR entry for the online catalog Archives et manuscrits of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but it does not show up. In early March 2019 the MDR database contained just 136 items. Yet nowhere on the website it is presented as a beta version, and the term “growing collection” is simply too vague. On the contrary, the preparations started in 2014, and the team worked on the database until 2018. Medieval Digital Resources now looks like a pilot for a much grander project.

One of the problems I see in the MDR database is the lack of a good working distinction between literary texts and non-literary textual resources. Another problem is how to deal with resources with a very wide coverage: Do you enter all themes and subjects separately or is there a category “General”? Perhaps a more serious matter is the approach to resources which focus on a particular language, source type, region, theme or subject, and to other resources where these are present at a more secondary level. A thorough control of the current entries and the preset filters might be helpful and is certainly feasible in view of their current number.

The team of MDR faces some very real challenges. How to steer between the justifiable wish to include projects according to strict rules in clear presentation, and the very real need to provide a sensible web guide for medievalists? If you want to get an impression of the sheer width of medieval studies you might want to look at the online Medieval Studies Bibliographies originally created by Charles Wright and now provided by ARC Humanities Press. You could start comparing for example the coverage in its bibliography for medieval Christianity and ecclesiastical sources the sections on the papacy and on canon law and councils. The ordering of sources and scholarly resources is not really clear, and comments are absent or very concise. However, Wright very wisely divides matters over nearly twenty bibliographies, including a general overview for medieval studies. I suppose you will acknowledge the fact that in daily practice we might rely often on some resources which are not absolutely perfect. You need also guidance to use the proper resources, preferably in their most reliable and updated version. The massive Handbook of medieval studies. Terms – methods – trends, Albrecht Classen (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin-New York 2010) has more than 2700 pages.

Despite my reservations and critical remarks I cannot help admiring the idea to provide a commented gateway to resources using review to clear standards. By starting with just 130 resources the MDR exposes itself to criticisms. You cannot hide the fact that a project with eighteen team members from an institution promoting excellence in medieval studies should have started differently after five years of preparation. I had expected to see already a tag IIIF compliant added for projects with digitized medieval manuscripts. Perhaps it is wiser to start enhancing MDR with a focus on countries such as England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Germany, and to add only gradually additional resources following a plan for particular subjects, languages and resource types. It seems wise to make such things clear right from the start. Technically I found MDR rather slow functioning. Among the projects I encountered at MDR I had not yet used the licensed ACLS Humanities E-Book collection with nearly 300 books in the subject category European 400-1400. The selection contains an electronic version of Anders Winroth’s The making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000).

If Medieval Digital Resources will become worth visiting and using in the future, some quick measures are necessary. Hopefully scholars are willing to suggest new resources for inclusion. However excellent it will eventually become, I am sure maintaining standards and doing ordinary maintenance will be core matters for the team working to make MDR successful.

Digital approaches to medieval charters

Start screen DCN

On January 25, 2019 the Digitale Charterbank Nederland [Digital Charter Database Netherlands, DCN] was launched at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. In this project the Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch History of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences works together with Het Utrechts Archief, many other Dutch archives, and the IT firm De Ree in Groningen to create an online database with not only medieval charters, but also charters written between 1500 and 1800. Among the speakers at the presentation was Els De Parmentier (Ghent) who made an illuminating comparison with the Belgian project Diplomata Belgica. It is only natural to compare both projects and to report on some early impressions of the new database.

The third attempt succeeds

In fact two previous attempts at the Huygens Institute to create an online database for all medieval charters in Dutch holdings had not reached their goal. Almost by chance financial support of the Dutch Science Foundation NWO, the presence of an archivist, Karel Engbers, who had recently joined the staff of the IT firm De Ree which supplies an archival system used at many Dutch archive, and the preparatory work of the Huygens Institute together resulted within eighteen months in the current database.

The DCN has a search screen with both a simple search and an advanced search mode which opens by clicking on arrows. The advanced mode is fairly restricted. You can search for phrases and for single words, and you can set a time period to limit the search results. The search tips lead you to the Dutch archives portal created by De Ree. The portal has a search interface in Dutch, English and German, but the page with search tips is only available in Dutch. In the top menu you will not find in the English and German version the choice for newspapers (kranten) and the very useful guide to institutions with holdings for cultural heritage (erfgoedgids).

The second half of the DCN starts screen

I did not want to go immediately to another track of this post, but you can hardly escape from the crucial role played by the archival system of De Ree. In fact the start page of the DCN looks below the introduction very much like the result pages of the Archieven portal. On the right you can use filters for archival institutions (diensten, shortened from archiefdiensten), the presence or lack of images and other files (bestanden), and for toegangen, finding aids. By the way, Het Utrechts Archief figures large with more than 25,000 charters, but as for now only for some 6,600 items digital images have been provided. For each charter you can go directly to the relevant finding aid. Currently the database of the DCN contains already 170,000 charters with for some 24,000 items digital images.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and thus two invited speakers, Hans Mol (Leiden University and Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden) and Ronald van de Spiegel at the presentation gave an early report about the functions of the DCN. Finding all occurrences of the abbot (abt) of Middelburg proved to be not straightforward. The use of wildcards is of course important in view of the different spellings of names and locations. With the DCN you can chart for example the changes in the preponderance of papal and royal charters or measure the importance of towns. More disconcerting is the way the datations of charters can led to a presentation of results with in the date field the number 1000 – or another year starting with 1 – instead of the date in the description. In order to work properly the archival system needs to have correct input in its own date field of the finding aid. Instead of blaming this particular system – or any system for that matter – you will have to look more carefully at the quality of the original input created by archivists. Some crucial fields might have been left empty, and sometimes even a clear indication you are dealing with a charter might be absent. The institutions using De Ree’s system can continuously add and correct their data, but those institutions which do not use it cannot easily update their data within the DCN.

Karel Engbers (De Ree) explained how he urged to widen the selection of charters mentioned within the finding aids at the beginning of the project and during its unfolding. He urged for instance to include also specific genres of charters, and also the occasions where only a top-level description is given, even the most superficial ones like “a bundle of charters, 1350-1550”.

A look at Diplomata Belgica

Startscreen Diplomata Belgica (detail)

Maybe you will already have some ideas about the DCN, but I think you can see them much clearer when you compare the DCN with Diplomata Belgica. In fact I would have preferred to write here about this outstanding digital project much earlier, but things went different. The subtitle of this website with a French and English interface clearly sets its limits and character, “The diplomatic sources of the Medieval Southern Low Countries”. You will find here charters from the territories corresponding more or less with the current country Belgium. The word diplomatic stems from the auxiliary historical science diplomatics, the discipline dealing with medieval charters. For practical reasons, the sheer number of medieval records, this discipline often halts at the year 1300, and only seldom much later, up to 1340.

In her lecture Els De Parmentier made it very clear how you can use Diplomata Belgica to search for very specific questions about medieval charters, giving you a very comprehensive range of fields with both diplomatic and additional information, in particular the presence of religious orders. Apart from the main search interface you can use the interface Recherche Tradition / Tradition Search to search for the textual transmission of charters, as original or as a separate copy, in particular repositories, the writing material, the name of manuscripts and even the Stein number for French cartularies. Perhaps the most important information of De Parmentier’s lecture was the attention to the multiple way you can study charters. Within the text of a document, in documents with the same actors, documents with identical compositions, and for example in documents issued by a particular person or institution for the classic research into the working of medieval chanceries. I will leave out here her comparison with other digital projects for medieval charters, for example those at the French Telma portal, the Digitaal Oorkondenboek Noord-Brabant, the Cartago project for charters from Frisia, Drenthe and Groningen, the registers of the Hainault counts of Holland (1299-1345), the international Monasterium project. the Anglo-Saxon charters and the DEEDS project. Each of them has many qualities, but all are slightly different in their approaches. Their common denominator is the choice of approaches founded on diplomatics.

Two approaches to charters

Some impressions become clear after De Parmentier’s lecture. In its current form the DCN is mainly what it shows on your screen, a set of charters filtered from the online finding aids of a large number of Dutch archives and from data sets – and images – provided by some other archives. You can see quickly where to go for rich holdings, but the crucial quality of the data provided by these archival institutions is very clear, too. It is a bit silly to see lots of charters dated in 1000, 1040 or 1085 when you know the actual number of charters for these years is much lower. The time range of the DCN goes considerably beyond the normal scope up to 1300 of (digital) editions of charters for particular regions or princes to include charters issued between 1500 and 1800.

The DCN faces a serious problem with the way datations of charters are handled due to the quality of the input provided by holding institutions. Sometimes one date field with incorrect or insufficient information can lead to a wrong representation of the actual date range. Instead of grumbling about this state of affairs it is perhaps wiser to check the actual input and the cases which are or seem incorrect. The larger lesson is for many digital projects you will need to use fields in a correct way, think only of such standards as EAD (Encoded Archival Description) and Dublin Core, and of course for your own digital presence and services. Sooner or later you will want to share information. Many Dutch archives offer their finding aids also as open data, yet another spur for checking interoperability and correct working before connecting to other projects or presenting data to the general public. In a finding aid archivists describe items as succinctly as possible but uniquely distinguishable from other items, and it should be no surprise descriptions do not contain all possible information, let alone full transcriptions. Some archival institutions provide transcriptions, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg.

The DCN website mentions a diplomatic definition of charters, a single act written on parchment or paper pertaining to a legal situation or a legal action – e.g. a sale, a donation – made legally valid by the internal and external characteristics of the deed, such as a seal or a signature. For me the use of the phrase bevoegd persoon (authorised person) seems almost to exclude private persons. The phrase ‘Charter’ is de archiefterm, “[a] charter is the archival term”, wordings written by Jan Burgers, the project leader (Huygens Institute and University of Amsterdam), is simply not correct. In the latest version of the Dutch archival terminology (2003) a charter is defined as a document containing an act validated by one or more seals or a notary’s sign. This definition clearly differs from the definition in the famous Dutch manual by Muller, Fruin and Feith (1898) who saw a charter as the expedition (grosse) of an oorkonde, to be distinguished from a concept or a final version (minuut). The 2003 definition is much clearer about the documentary nature and more succinct. It is foremost an archival definition, and not primarily a concept from or defined by the needs of diplomatics. Luckily the explanations by Burgers about the importance of charters as historical sources are on spot.

Logo Huygens Institute / ING

In my view the Digitale Charterbank Nederland is a tool which reflects archival practices and needs. Its great power is the way you can look at charters within their archival context instead of seeing them only as specimens of a separate documentary genre, and having images of them on your screen. The search possibilities of the DCN are somewhat restricted, even when you allow for the way you can focus on a single archival collection. It is only wise to remember two earlier attempts to create this Dutch charter database failed. Hopefully the problem with the dates in the charters can be solved quickly by the contributing archives and De Ree. Thus we will have at our disposal a primarily archival tool which supplements other Dutch digital projects for medieval charters, such as the digitized versions provided by the Huygens Institute of the oorkondenboeken for Utrecht (OSU), Holland and Zeeland (OHZ), and Gelre (Guelders) and Zutphen (OGZ). Creating links between these editions and the DCN is one of the things that will enhance this database. In particular the coverage with digital images in the DCN is still a bit low, but no doubt this will change rapidly. The qualities of the DCN should also become rapidly available with an English, French or German interface for all scholars worldwide wanting to use charters in Dutch holdings for their research. Without some understanding of archives, archival theory and the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatics, palaeography, chronology and sigillography you will and cannot tap completely the wealth of information charters can provide.

Diversity and unity: Raoul Charles van Caenegem (1927-2018)

Raoul Van caenegem - source: Academia Europaea, https://www.ae-info.org/On Friday June 15, 2018 Raoul van Caenegem passed away. Last week the legal historians of the Law Faculty at Ghent University, his alma mater, sent an in memoriam in a special issue of the Rechtshistorische Courant. The Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History published on June 25 a short notice about Van Caenegem. After some reflection about the right way to write here about Van Caenegem, translating these most fitting words from Flemish into English is probably the best thing to do.

Diversity and unity

After briefly mentioning his honours and awards the eulogy starts as follows: “The oeuvre of Van Caenegem is very diverse. A typical Van Caenegem story tells how he meets someone who expresses his admiration for his book. In such cases Van Caenegem did not reply “Which book?”, but remained friendly and tried to divine which book the other person could mean. Along his career Van Caenegem published about a wide range of subjects, making it difficult for relative outsiders to oversee his production. However, even knowing a small part of these publications leaves you mightily impressed. The editorial committee of the Rechtshistorische Courant will point here mainly to publications about legal history. Flemish medievalists do know him from his book on Flemish criminal law and criminal procedure in the fourteenth century, works inaccessible to foreign scholars because they have never been translated. It is the other way around with his Appels flamands, an edition of appeals from Flanders to the Parlement de Paris in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, widely read in France, but much less in Flanders.

The general public in Flanders knows Van Caenegem as the author of Geschiedenis van Engeland and Engeland Wonderland. His Flemish readers do not know generally about the praise of English legal historians for books such as Royal writs in England from the Conquest to Glanvill, The birth of the English common law and English lawsuits from William I to Richard I. English readers in turn might not know about the two general books on English history. Generations of Flemish students have toiled over Van Caenegem’s Geschiedkundige inleiding tot het recht, not knowing at that time this work has been translated meanwhile in languages ranging from English to Chinese, and that they are not used as student handbooks, but by graduate students and professors of legal history and comparative law. Two other publications fit into the same row, Judges, legislators and professors and European law in the past and the future. Medievalists might pass these books, but they were able to benefit from the Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen and its later translations and adaptations such as the Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale. In this case Van Caenegem continued a work started by his own teacher François Ganshof, in other cases he was a pioneer without followers. For a general history of European procedural law you still have to turn to his synthesis in the History of European civil procedure. He was also the editor of many volumes and articles. There are two volumes for his English articles, but many could follow filling easily some bookshelves. We can point to his work on Flemish keuren – not only customary law, but also legislation by the Flemish counts, OV – and his studies about Galbert of Bruges.

The truly groundbreaking thing is Van Caenegem did not look upon old law as a national but an European phenomenon. Now it is commonplace to speak about European legal history, but this started only after 1990. Without diminishing the role of other great scholars we can safely say Van Caenegem’s handbook did play a vital role in this development. They helped lawyers all over Europe to realize this continent had once upon a time one common legal history, and that Europe is heading again to a shared legal culture. It is no coincidence that the European Society of Comparative Legal History awards since 2014 the R.C. Van Caenegem prize, named after the savant seen by this society as its great example. Van Caenegem himself did underline the fact European legal history in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period is not only a history of unity, but of diversity. Next to the great professors of the ius commune you can find the Grote Keure of Ghent. Long before the Brexit Van Caenegem emphasized how the common law was a strange element in the story of Europe. European law has many aspects. Van Caenegem knew as few others how to show this diversity for many branches of law: private law, criminal law, criminal procedure and public law. When you have an overview of Van Caenegem’s oeuvre you can only humbly confirm the words of an American scholar who many years ago said to a young student of Van Caenegem: You’ve been studying with God himself!”

A few words

I can confirm the mighty impression Van Caenegem could make when I remember my very first appearance for an audience of Belgian and Dutch legal historians. I felt instantly the presence of someone who was not only bodily, but also scientifically a giant with an inquisitive mind. In later years I knew also his kind but still towering presence. Fifteen years ago a vice-president of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences told how relieved he was when he finally knew how to address Van Caenegem without trembling to make a fault: mijnheer de baron, a consequence of the peerage bestowed on him.

For many years Van Caenegem served as a member on the governing board of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. He wrote in 2010 a lovely article about his own memories of great scholars for one of the scholarly journals of this institute, ‘Legal historians I have known: a personal memoir’Rechtsgeschichte / Rg 17 (2010) 253-299. Earlier this year I received a copy of the first Dutch edition (1962) of the Guide to the Sources of Medieval History. Even when it is clearly the work of both Ganshof and Van Caenegem you cannot escape from the thought Van Caenegem made already his imprint. For those thinking all his books have been mentioned above, I can mention at least one other book I have at home, Over koningen en bureaucraten. Oorsprong en ontwikkeling van de hedendaagse staatsinstellingen [On kings and bureaucrats. Origin and development of contemporary state institutions] (Amsterdam-Brussels 1977), a book on state formation, institutional history and public law. For decades Dutch legal historians and historians abroad saw his name on the cover of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. It will not help much to add here other things. We can only mourn with scholars at Ghent University the loss of Van Caenegem, we can share with them the profound gratitude for his countless services to European and legal history during his long and productive life.

A postscript

The blog of the association Standen en Landen / Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États published on June 19, 2018 an in memoriam in Dutch and French. On June 25, 2018 Maastricht University published a notice on its website with a drawing of Van Caenegem taken from his 2010 article in Rechsgeschichte/Rg.

Women and law in medieval letters

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

Spanning a continent and a millennium

The second logo of Epistolae

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

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

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

A Dutch and Flemish view

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

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

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

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

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

Letters and charters

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

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

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

Logo MGH, Munich

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

Visible and invisible filters

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

Banner Feminae

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