Tag Archives: Middle East

Laws in the Early Modern Persian world

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

Another empire

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

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

Fragments and archives

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

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

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Syria’s cultural heritage online, a case for open access

Logo Open Access WeekFrom October 22 to 28 the yearly Open Access Week will be held. Around the world there are initiatives to create open access in various forms. Institutions can choose for degrees of openness for their digital collections. The debate about open access to major scholarly journals is very important for the future of science and its presence in society. In some cases open access is most helpful in tracing, monitoring and preserving cultural heritage. For Syria this is even absolutely vital. In this post I would like to look at some projects aiming to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage. The war in Syria has taken the lives of too many people. Invaluable objects from its long history have been destroyed, and the same fate threatens today.

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

The UNESCO has created the Observatory of Syrian Cultural Heritage. Its name sounds like The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This UNESCO observatory looks at buildings, movable heritage and intangible heritage, and it launches initiatives for their protection. You can find also information about the actions of UNESCO partners such as ICOM. The ICOM is home to the Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and the Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project, and ICOM has created other portals as well. ICOM works together with The Blue Shield, an organization which helps the coordination for saving and protecting cultural heritage in emergency situations. The UNESCO lists also other initiatives which aim specifically at Syria, some of the well-known, for example The Aleppo Project and the Damascus History Foundation. I could not help noticing Scanning for Syria, an international project led by Leiden University for scanning archaeological objects at Tell Sabi Abyad in the field and creating virtual reconstructions. You can find publications resulting from the excavations in open access in the Leiden University scholarly repository.

An important resource for finding such initiatives for Syria is the Syriac Reference Portal, but today I could not reach this website. Luckily I bookmarked a number of websites. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been created by the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Some of the results can be seen in the iDAi Gazetteer, an interactive map system which is connected with other georeferenced resources. The information for objects in Syria can be approached in several ways, in particular using iDAI objects.

Logo Syri-Ac

The Open Access Week mentions at its website many groups and events, but the very word Syria is sadly missing. It makes me more eager to proceed here to initiatives which offer more substantial contributions for Syria. Syri-Ac is a portal to resources for the Syrian language, literature and culture. There is a generous links section and a scholarly bibliography. Among the valuable sections the overview of digitized Syriac manuscripts stands out. You can use a sortable or a faceted version. The sortable version shows concise descriptions of the contents, and you can perform keyword searches. The faceted version allows you to filter quickly for languages, holding institutions, authors and genres.

The E-ktobe: manuscrits syriaques catalogue created at the IRHT/CNRS (Paris-Orleans) gives currently detailed descriptions of a restricted number of Syriac manuscripts. No doubt this resource will grow in strength. One of the largest online collections with Syriac manuscripts with manuscripts actually held in Syria is presented in the Virtual Hill Monastic Museum and Library, better known under its acronym vHMML. You can view manuscripts after registration. No registration is needed for the palaeographical introduction to Syriac scripts in the online School of the HMML. A perhaps unexpected number of digitized manuscripts and fragments containing items in Syriac can be found at the portal of the International Dunhuang Project, but thanks to Syri-Ac you are alerted to nearly 650 fragments. The Dunhuang project deals mainly with Tibetan texts and manuscripts found in the Chinese town Dunhuang.

Epigraphy is a scholarly field with a tradition for researching a part of Syria’s cultural heritage. Searchable Greek Inscriptions has an overview of online resources for Greater Syria and the East. In particular but not exclusively Palmyra is mentioned among the resources. The Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice has created The Ebla Digital Archives for royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE found in Ebla/Tell Mardikh. The closeness of Syria to ancient and modern empires comes into view at the Hethitologie Portal Mainz which deals with cuneiform inscriptions found in modern Turkey and northern Syria. The Khalili Research Centre of Oxford University is responsible for OCIANA, the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient Northern Arabia, an area which covered at least a part of southern Syria.

One of the general resources for Latin inscriptions is the Photographic Database within the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. You can also search for images of inscriptions at the EAGLE portal. With the EAGLE mobile app you can take photos of inscriptions in situ and compare them with the database.

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

This post could be much longer, but maybe it is important to realize projects can easily be overlooked. Initiatives do not come from just one country. Some countries have institutes in the Middle East which watch developments in Syria carefully, others follow the Middle East since decades both on location and from the outside. The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Alexandria, Virginia, has created the platform ASOR-Syrian Heritage with reports on damage inflicted to cultural heritage. The ASOR has a digital archive for its rich history in archaeological excavations. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has an extensive digital collection with photographs from the library of the American Geographical Society and also the Wisconsin Palmyrean Aramaic Inscription Project. Damage to archaeological sites in Syria is discussed in particular by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology. Monuments of Syria preserves literally images of the situation in 2011 and gives links to a number of resources. These are just a few of the websites you, too, can find using the ever-active Ancient World Online blog maintained by Charles Jones. Access to Mideast and Islamic Resources is an online journal which helps you to find just what it promises

Just as we cannot take open access as granted, we cannot afford to think every project concerning Syria can be traced easily. Online maps such as the one concerning the civil war in Syria or a similar map at Edmaps are ready at hand, but you need to search for other resources. It is a lucky situation the results of research in the filed of Classical Antiquity can almost always be found in open access. In Europe many people can benefit from an autumn holiday week. For those who like to sit behind a computer screen or surf with a tablet there is every chance to discover next week lots of resources in open access about a country which goes through a dark period in its long history. For me it would suffice if this post invites you to find out more yourself.

A journal for the legal history of Morocco

Logo RMHDLast year I heard about the plans for a new legal history journal, the Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit (RMHD). This month the happy news arrived about its upcoming launch. As I was about to write a brief announcement I read online two contributions about Morocco’s legal history, one in Dutch about the new journal in the Flemish Rechtshistorische Courant edited at Ghent University, the monthly bulletin for the legal history of the Low Countries, one at the Legal History Blog about a book published in 2014 concerning law and history in Morocco. It seems worthwhile to connect both items here with a third announcement on a volume of scholarly articles about the centenary of the Moroccan code of contractual law.

Researching Morocco’s legal history

Let’s start here with translating some of the words of Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent University) wrote in the Rechtshistorische Courant about the new journal led by Fouzi Rherrousse (Université Mohammed Premier Oujda): “We can only applaud this initiative for a Moroccan journal for legal history, because it will be the first of its kind in the Arab world. It will try to answer a great need. There is scarce attention for Morocco’s legal history, the subject is not included in the curriculum of the law faculties. It is to be hoped that the new journal changes this situation and gives an impulse to the study of legal history in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. In a globalising world this is also important for European legal historians”. A number of European scholars has joined the comité de lecture, and others are even members of the editorial board.

By some lucky coincidence the Legal History Blog posted a brief announcement about a book the ever-vigilant team of this very active blog apparently had missed earlier. They wanted to make good this omission, for they deem it an important study. The book in question is Etty Terem, Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco (Stanford, 2014). At the publisher’s website you can read the summary, the first chapter and the start of the second chapter. Terem studied a book in eleven volumes published in 1910 by a Moroccan scholar, al-Mahdi al-Wazzani (1849-1923) called al-Mi`yār al-jadīd, the “New Standard Measure”. Al-Wazzani collected many thousand fatwās, legal decisions, pertaining to Mālikī law. He did this just before France got de facto hold of a large part of Morocco. The treaty of Fez in 1912 divided Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate, apart from the international enclave Tanger and a number of other ports. Terem invites you to look closely at the role, meaning, interpretation and impact of this massive legal collection.

Cover of "Le livre jubilaire"The centenary volume I mentioned above [Le Livre jubilaire. Centenaire du Dahir formant Code des Obligations et Contrats, Fouzi Rherrousse (ed.) (Oujda 2017)] was signalled at Histoire du Droit des Colonies, a French portal for colonial legal history. The Dahir was officially published on August 12, 1913. The delay between the centenary and the publication of this scholarly volume does certainly not diminish its importance. In the first section scholars write about contract law and obligations as an element of European legal history, and about different ways of codification in past and present, literally from classical Antiquity to the twenty-first century. The second section contains nine articles on the Code des obligations et des contrats, for example on the preparation by French lawyers of this code of law, Spanish influences, the impact of Roman law, the role of an Italian lawyer, and also the role of this code between law and economic influences.

The website Histoire du droit des colonies alerts also to the 2016 international conference Regards croisés sur l’histoire du droit [Different regards on legal history] held at Oujda. It underlines the role of a series of centenaries in Morocco’s legal history, with not only the Dahir, but also the first official gazette, the Bulletin officiel. The organizers rightly deplored the absence of legal history at the law faculties, only ancient law is an obligatory subject. They want to free the subject from rough generalisations, shame and confusion about the past of Morocco, and the danger of unreflected changes in current law.

Blog posts are usually not long, and I am afraid my average posts are much longer than many readers will expect, but this time I think it is better to offer only a short contribution to be continued at some point in the near future. Pursuing this path will ask some real efforts, think only of the variety in transliteration of Arab names and book titles. There exists a recent selection of texts by Islamic lawyers from the past, Islamic legal thought : a compendium of Muslim jurists, Oussama Arabi, David S. Powers and Susan A. Spectorsky (eds.) (Leiden 2013) to which Etty Terem contributed a fragment from the opus magnum of al-Mahdi al-Wazzani. You might also want to Iook at the French website Colonialcorpus. The most recent issue of the online legal history journal Clio@Themis contains articles in several languages around the theme Revues et empires coloniaux. I have not yet found a web page or website for the new Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit, nor has the first issue appeared in print, but nevertheless I want to wish Fouzi Rherrousse and his team good luck in paving the roads for more space for and more attention to the legal history of Morocco, North Africa and the Arab world.

A postscript

In the autumn of 2017 a study by Dan E. Stigall, The Santillana Codes: the Civil Codes of Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania (Lanham, MD, 2017) will appear. Not only the civil law of Morocco, but also the role of the cosmopolitan Tunisian lawyer David Santillana (1855-1931) will be highlighted. You can read a very interesting about this book in a post at the blog of the Friends of the Library of Congress, the library where Stigall did his research for this new book.

Saving threatened archival collections

Banner Endangered Archives Project

The postscript to my recent post about the exhibition on Roman crime at Nijmegen helped me to find the subject of this post. In this postscript I mentioned the decision of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam not yet to give back the items on view at its Crimea exhibition to the lending museums in Ukraine. This post introduces you to an initiative to save archival collections worldwide threatened either by material deterioration, poltical situations or simply by the ongoing progress of modernization in the country or region where they are located. The British Library has set up the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) on a truly massive scale with the aim of digitizing archival records and manuscripts in a few hundred (!) projects. On September 7, 2014 the completion of several projects was announced at the accompanying Endangered Archives blog. Within two months, between July and September, a million images has been added to the online results of EAP, enough reason for me to look a bit more closely to this audacious project and its composing elements.

On my blog the British Library received a few years ago criticism for its policies concerning the digitization of British newspapers. Last year I expressed some disappointment at the low number of digitized legal manuscripts at the British Library, but this time the library shows itself as a most generous cultural institution. The EAP portal is accessible in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Safeguarding cultural heritage in situ and in virtual space

The EAP spans the world in a awe-inspiring way. Among the most interesting aspects is for example the fact that researchers and institutions themselves can apply for grants, often starting with a pilot project. The BL provides a framework to support projects. There is no grand scheme of the British Library dictating the goals and direction of general progress. Typically, EAP does not focus on national archives unless they are in dire need of support, and such projects will not cover all materials under the aegis of EAP. Items documenting the pre-industrial history of a country are the first to come under consideration for new projects. The grants support university projects as well as independent scholars. Of course EAP has contacts with the International Council on Archives and UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

The EAP has created five regions for the projects supported by the EAP: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Let’s start with a look at the overviews of each region to spot projects which touch directly upon law, government and administrations. In the second part of this post other projects with law, the judiciary or other aspects of legal matters constitute a major aspect.

In the overview for Africa you can find for example EAP 607, a project for the preservation of Native Administration records between 1791 and 1964 held at the National Archives of Malawi. The Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho were the subject of EAP 279, where a wide variety of documents and records has been digitized. Colonial history looms large in a number of African projects, for instance in EAP 474, a pilot project for the preservation of pre-colonial and colonial document at Cape Coast, Ghana. In EAP 443 nineteenth-century documents for the Sierra Leone Pubic Archives have been digitally preserved, thus saving the history of a British Crown colony and the impact of slavery, to mention just a few aspects.

For the Americas, too, one can pint easily to projects aiming at preserving documents and records concerning the history of slavery and colonialism. EAP 184 started to support the preservation of records of the African diaspora in the archives of the Cuban province Matanzas. The material condition of these records decays rapidly. In Peru EAP 234 aimed at saving the colonial documentation within the holdings of the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima Metropolitana, with records reaching back to 1562. 100,000 notarial records at Riohacha and the peninsula La Guajira in Colombia documenting an important entrepôt of Caribbean and Central American trade are at the centre of EAP 503. Hurricane Ike in 2004 was only the last threat to archives with govermental records in Grenada which resulted in 132 reordered and digitized volumes (EAP 295).

The number of EAP projects in Asia is much larger than for the Americas. I could not help feeling particularly interested in some projects concerning Indonesia because of its link with Dutch history. EAP 229 and EAP 329 are two related projects dealing with endangered manuscripts in the province of Aceh on the island Sumatra. The digitization of nearly 500 manuscripts helps preserving the cultural and intellectual history of this region. The Dutch fierce attacks on Aceh during the nineteenth century were already a threat to this history, as was the devastating tsunami in 2008. A substantial number of the digitized manuscripts in this project contain texts on Islamic law.

Tavamani document - EAP 314

Legal history is a central element in EAP 314, a project for the digitization of Tamil customary law in Southern India. The documents of village judicial assemblies between 1870 and 1940 are the subject of this project of the Institut Français de Pondichéry. You can follow this project at its own blog Caste, Land and Custom – Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950), where you can find also an overview of other relevant EAP projects for India. The recent huge increase in digitized materials within EAP is to a large extent due to the 750,000 images of some 3,000 books printed before 1950 in eight public libraries in Eastern India near Calcutta which have been digitized within EAP 341. The number of EAP sponsored projects in India is really large. On my legal history portal Rechtshistorie I had already put a number of links to digital libraries in india, but EAP brings substantial additions to my overview.

Although I am woefully aware that I skip here a lot of interesting projects in Asia I would like to mention at least two European projects. EAP 067 is a project to digitize extremely rare materials, mainly from the twentieth century, about the Roma’s in Bulgaria, including not only ethnographic and musical items, but also for example a manuscript of a history of the gypsies. Keeping these materials at all was often dangerous for the Roma during the communist period in Bulgaria. A second project deals with the results of archaeological excavations between 1929 and 1935 in the Kyiv region of Ukraine (EAP 220).

For those worrying about the length of this post it might be a relief to read that within EAP there has been only one project from the Oceania region. In EAP 005 the Australian National University created inventories of materials at the Tuvaluan National Archives. This group of islands in the Pacific is in acute danger of being flooded.

Preserving the history of law, customs and government

The project concerning the preservation of manuscripts written in the Vietnamese Nôm script between the year 1000 and the twentieth century in EAP 219 is an example of documents threatened by sheer memory loss. The Nôm script went out of use around 1920. For decades teaching this script had been forbidden. The Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Hanoi had collected materials before 1954, but no proper inventory had ever been made, and the present storage conditions are poor. The 1,200 surviving manuscripts offer information about laws, courts, imperial decrees and land ownership, Within EAP 272, a project for ephemera and manuscripts in Nepal, a number of manuscripts all dating around 1808 contain legal texts.

Drafting a list of EAP collections with materials concerning legislation, jurisprudence, courts and other legal institutions is not an easy thing to do. The EAP website allows simple and advanced searches at item level, but as for now you cannot search for a particular subject or theme at the collection level. This is certainly a blemish, but not an impossible situation. A search for laws shows you only a few projects, but for EAP 144 you get directly a number of digitized manuscript from this project for Minangkabau (Sumatra) manuscripts. Anyway you can retrieve a list of all 240 projects; the short descriptions can be expanded. You can also search for projects using an interactive world map. Browsing the various projects is no punishment, but an object lesson in appreciating the rich varieties of human culture.

Projects with legal aspects are no exception. Using the tag Governmental records at the EAP blog helped me in tracing some relevant projects. EAP 688 is a new project for digitizing deed books from the Caribbean island Saint Vincent during the slavery era (1763-1838). EAP 561 aims at creating inventories of and digital versions of records for landownership in imperial Ethiopia. At Accra, Ghana, witchcraft trial records will be digitized (EAP 540). A project to make inventories of court and police records from the period 1820-1960 and digitize some of them has been successfully executed in Gambia (EAP 231). Ecclesiastical records from colonial Brazil are the subject of EAP projects such as EAP 627 leading to the digital archives at Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies created by the Vanderbilt University.

Several projects deal with manuscripts from Mali. Not only in Timbuctu a vast number of manuscripts is still present. Last year the threat of massive destruction of this unique legacy by terrorists became a very real menace; a post on this blog informed you about initiatives for their safeguarding and digitization. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. In yet another project at Djenné photographs are being digitized (EAP 449).

Luckily, there is more!

Often I apologize at the end for the length of my contributions, but this time I am happy to point to the links section of the EAP portal which will bring you to a nice number of projects all over the world for the digital conservation and presentation of rare and endangered manuscripts and records. You might be tempted to say that the efforts of the Endangered Archives Project can deal only with a limited number of projects, but luckily the British Library is not the only cultural institution and research institute to look beyond the borders of a country. Often these institutions have to face the threats of budget cuts, and a political climate in favor of focusing on projects which benefit solely the own nation, or they even have to fall back to provide only fairly basic services.

The British Library and all involved in similar projects deserve the gratitude of scholars, of peoples and countries whose cultural heritage is or will be rescued thanks to them. Scholars should be encouraged to look beyond their own culture and national history in order to perceive its peculiarities much sharper and to understand its importance in greater depth. Let’s hope such arguments can convince those responsible for setting cultural agendas and developing research strategies with lasting results. Digitization will be one step in a much longer process, and no doubt digital retrieval and presentation will change its outlook as has been the case already since the earliest uses of computers by historians and lawyers alike.

A postscript

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles.