Tag Archives: Netherlands

Bruegel’s bewitching legacy

Detail of a print by Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Saint James visiting the magician Hermogenes (detail) – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Exhibitions sometimes make you hesitate to visit them at all. Will they only confirm what you already knew or suspected, or will they offer you food for thought and send you in new directions? Since September 19, 2015 you can see at the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, a museum for the history of Christian art in the Low Countries, an exhibition about images and the imagination of witches. Bruegel’s Witches focuses on drawings, prints and paintings by the great Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (around 1525-1569). The exhibition credits Bruegel with creating in a few works the very stereotype of witches, looking as a woman with wild hairs and flying though the air on a broom. In is very best tradition the museum looks also at Bruegel’s contemporaries, shows earlier images of magicians and sorceresses, and it follows the impact of Bruegel’s imagination through the centuries. In 2016 the exhibition will be put on display at the Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges.

This month Museum Catharijneconvent also shows the Utrecht Psalter (Utrecht, University Library, ms. 32), the most famous medieval manuscript in the holdings of Dutch libraries. This manuscript with vibrantly illuminated pages from the early ninth century is only rarely shown in public, and even scholars seldom are allowed to look at it. If you have your doubts about the Bruegel exhibit, you should come at least for the Utrecht Psalter.

Witches in context

At the Catharijneconvent, a former hospital and convent of the Knights Hospitaller, Christian art is always presented within the context of other expressions of Christian life and practice. In this exhibition, too, you will find objects from daily life and criminal justice, and also books. A particular resource used here are the so-called Wickiana, some 430 illustrated newsletters from the sixteenth century collected by the Swiss protestant vicar Johann Jacob Wick (1522-1580) who also wrote a chronicle about events in Zürich. The Zentralbibliothek in Zürich has digitized the Wickiana. This source is not only a form of communicating news, but it offers also a window to popular culture and protestant views of culture and life. The Wickiana shows the use of images and relate also to the perception of all kind of events and elements of culture at large. From the perspective of book history they belong to the category of pamphlets, or even more precisely to the Einblattdrücke. On my website for legal history I have created an overview of digitized pamphlet collections. Wick’s collection contains also many of his own coloured drawings.

The exhibition shows materials bearing directly on the way courts dealt with witches. There is for example a copy of Joost de Damhouder’s Praxis rerum criminalium (Antverpiae 1556). You can look at archival records from the castle Huis Bergh in ‘s-Heerenberg from 1605 about a trial against Mechteld ten Ham who was accused of sorcery (available online [Archief Huis Bergh, inv. no. 7268]). Interesting is also the so-called schandhuik, the “cover of shame”, from ‘s-Hertogenbosch, an object designed to parade infamous women. Among the books on display is also a treatise by the Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio (1551-1608), Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Lovanio 1599), a book dealing both with the theological interpretation of witchcraft and with the role of judicial courts. Delrio was a humanist scholar, a nephew of Michel de Montaigne and a friend of Justus Lipsius. It prompted me to look at the number of books dealing with witchcraft and demonology signalled by the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) in St. Andrews. The USTC gives you hundreds of titles, and you find of many works several editions. By the way, the book of De Damhouder appeared also in Dutch and French. The USTC is one of the portals indicating also access to digital versions of these works.

Firing the imagination

When you visit the exhibition at Utrecht, you can view the works of art, artefacts, books and pamphlets using a summary guide (Dutch or English), use an audio tour or dive into a fine classical exhibition catalogue. Walking through the rooms and corridors of this exhibition can thus be a rather normal contemporary museum experience, or you can choose a multimedia approach to submerge yourself into the dark world of Early Modern imagination. However strong images and imaginary worlds may be, they combined with the forces of churches and courts to create images of women. Even when they escaped from outright persecution women had to cope with very powerful unfavorable representations of their gender. Imagination, perspectives on gender and anxieties were part and parcel of the period which saw the growing impact of real and imagined magic and sorcery. The role of courts in dealing with witchcraft surely did not always do credit to law and justice.

This exhibition at Utrecht is visually attractive and seduces you to some extent to revel in the imagery of witchcraft, but there is a sober and more disconcerting reality behind which should not be lost out of view. Malcolm Gaskill’s volume Witchcraft. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, etc., 2010) has been translated into Dutch in 2011 by Nynke Goinga [Hekserij, Een kort overzicht (Rotterdam 2011)]. I seldom condemn books or translations, but this translator succeeds in utterly missing the crux of the matters under discussion. Many translated sentences sound strange as if she did not understand at all the subject of this book. Alas witchcraft as a historical subject will remain open to the fascination of those people searching for sensation and esoteric phenomena. There is too much at stake around this subject to leave it to thrill seekers and freaks. However, such statements do not make it easier to face the challenges to deal with this complex subject, starting with the oceans of publications about witches and sorcerers. We need the powers of deep thinking and applying all of the (legal) historian’s crafts to do justice to this aspects of Early Modern history. If this exhibition convinces you at least of the value of this conclusion, your visit will be fruitful.

De heksen van Breugel / Bruegel’s Witches – Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, September 19, 2015-January 31, 2016, and Bruges, Sint-Janshospitaal, February 25 to June 26, 2016

Safe under a shield: A dual approach to the Prize Papers

Logo Open Access WeekThis years’ Open Access Week (October 19-25) is the occasion for a post about a number of projects tapping the wealth of the remarkable archival collection of the High Court of Admiralty (HCA) in the British National Archives. Several projects deal with a few record series within this archive, the Prize Papers. Someof these record series have become accessible online in open access, others, however, can only be viewed only at subscribing institutions. This contribution offers a sketch of the situation facing scholars who might want to use these rich resources. Surely one of their questions is why such differences have been allowed to develop by the National Archives and the partners in the various projects concerning the Prize Papers. My post will not offer a definitive conclusion to this question, but I will try to create a starting point for further consideration.

In 2012 I focused on the project concerning the so-called Sailing Letters, focusing on Dutch letters found among the Prize Papers, and I will therefore discuss this project here concisely. The recent launch in open access of an online atlas created using the Prize Papers and bringing a most interesting example of possible research rekindled my interest in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty.

Ships from every corner of Europe

When you look at the fine online guide for the High Court of Admiralty at the website of the National Archives at Kew some things will attract your attention, that is, when you do not start immediately to read the guide. First of all, the sheer length and detail of the guide does credit to the importance of this archive. For many HCA series you can find more information on consecutive pages, and this feature can only be applauded. Secondly, at the very start it is indicated no materials from the High Court of Admiralty are online at this website, a statement which is correct, but it does not tell you enough. In the section about the Prize Court you will find the link to a finding aid at the website of the Dutch Nationaal Archief in The Hague, with a lapidary statement that this deals mainly with the series HCA 32, the Prize Letters. However, this is simply misleading, The Dutch finding aid does provide with an index of Dutch letters in other HCA series as well.

The website of the NA does not bring you directly from its general HCA guide to the Dutch online general guide to the HCA 32 series with its thousands of letters, and in particular some 8,500 scans of Dutch letters, not just from the HCA 32 series, but from other series as well. You can also download the introduction to this index as a PDF or EAD.

Apart from these remarks the most important thing you will register is the great variety of resources forming entire record series which merit attention both per se and, more importantly, within the context of the history of the High Court of Admiralty. Normally you would not decide so quickly to single out one particular record series of an archival collection without acknowledging its wider context and setting. There are more than sixty HCA record series, eleven series for the Court of Delegates (DEL) for appeals in instance cases, and five series for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PCAP). Nine HCA record series make up the main body of the records of the Prize Court, and seven HCA series deal with appeals in prize cases. HCA 30 appears at several points in this guide, the last time in a paragraph stating this series contains Admiralty Miscellanea. The guide closes before the very useful glossary of legal terms with a clear warning: “HCA is a large and complex collection of documents, and this leaflet does not attempt to be comprehensive. Both the finding aids and secondary reading can be found at The National Archives.”

When you continue focusing at the HCA 32 series at the website of the National Archives you will encounter a set of digitized records, four French muster rolls of ships captured in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar. As is the case with more digitized records at this website, you can search freely in these records, but you have to pay to view this pieces. It would be nice if one could download them at least one day every year without this financial procedure or with a broadly advertised discount, preferably on October 21, the day of the Battle of Trafalgar. Here I leave it to others to find out about the digitization of other records in connection with Nelson.

Prize papers at a price

Banner Gekaapte brieven

My story of open access and subscribers-only access becomes more complicated when we look at the major research projects for the Prize Papers. In my country the project for the Sailing Letters gained most publicity. In five issues of the Sailing Letters Journaal edited by Erik van der Doe, Perry Moree and Dirk Tang a number of letters appeared in critical editions with accompanying essays. At Gekaapte Brieven [Captured letters], a website created by the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam, you can view both the originals and transcriptions of six thousand Dutch letters from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The transcriptions were done to a large extent by crowdsourcing. At the University of Leiden the project Brieven als buit [Looted letters] resulted not only in an online linguistic corpus for roughly the same set of letters, but also in a number of monographs, mainly dissertations. The Dutch Nationaal Archief created as lasting results the finding aid, the searchable index and a substantial number of scans, all of them accessible in open access. At the center of these projects were the Dutch letters documenting social life and the uses of the Dutch language in daily communication.

The blog of the Prize Papers Consortium shows graphically the number of parties participating in projects concerning the core of the archive of the High Court of Admiralty. Interestingly, this blog mainly shows the amount of preparations to launch the Sailing Letters project, and at some points the major project for digitizing a substantial number of other archival records is already hinted at. For the historiographical background of the projects dealing with the Prize Papers this blog – kept alive after finishing the Sailing Letters – is invaluable.

Logo Marine Lives

A second major project tapping the riches of the HCA archive is Marine Lives. This project puts the life of sailors and the events touching their ships first. In striking difference with the projects for the Dutch letters you find here images and transcriptions for selected items taken from several HCA record series. In fact the team of Marine Lives organizes campaign to deal with a clearly set case or a few registers. At present you will find for example a project focusing on the capture of three ships with Spanish silver in 1652, using in particular the HCA 13 series with in its 272 bundles and volumes in particular answers and examinations in prize cases and instances. For this case only the team does use as main resources four volumes of the HCA 13 series, HCA 13/66 to HCA 13/71. The description of this case is a veritable mine of information, and you will benefit from looking at this case, its references and bibliography. At the website of Marine Lives you can find the transcriptions of relevant pages in HCA 13/69. For other projects participants in Marine Lives have also looked outside the HCA archive, for instance at probate records and chancery records. By casting its nets wide Marine Lives does in my opinion justice to the sheer range and scope of the HCA archive. Marine Lives is not just a project, but a set of projects showing the importance and impact of maritime life for British history in general. Most of them focus on a particular archival record documenting a period of one or two years during the seventeenth century, or in the case of the Silver Ships on a particular case.

Banner Global Worlds

The same width and broad scope is a feature of the bilingual Prize Papers portal created at the university of Oldenburg. Alas this portal does contain only announcements of research, and the website has not been updated since 2012. The projects of German scholars will cover subjects such as cultural exchange, the material world of Frisian in the eighteenth century, missionary activities, views of the body, learning foreign languages and the role of correspondence. Whatever the outcome of these projects their aim is clearly showing the chance to open with the Prize Papers windows on a world in various ways. A nice element of the portal is an image gallery showing boxes holding the paper materials, various objects, word lists, drawings and notes, playing cards and much more. The Prize Papers are indeed a great time capsule.

A seducing interactive map

Banner Prize Papers Atlas

In the last major project open access and subscribers-only access rub shoulders. When I spotted the interactive map accompanying Brill’s online edition of selected Prize Papers I knew I would write here about it sooner or later. The interactive map uses information for the period 1775-1783, the years of the American Revolutionary War and the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, doubtlessly a very interesting sample period. The sample uses some 7,000 interrogations. In her background essay for the Prize Papers Online I Caroline Kimbell of the National Archives skilfully tells the story of the various locations and the rare use of the Prize Papers before 1980, a story not to be missed. At the map you can pose your questions helped by eight search fields about ships and six fields for their crews. The introduction contains a number of preset configurations for a number of subjects, for example the voyages of sailors from Scandinavia or the origins of illiterate crew members. The results on the map contain clickable links to the scans which can in most cases only be accessed by subscribers and subscribing institutions. Only at this point it becomes clear it is indeed the HCA 32 record series forming the backbone of this large-scale project with five sets, each of them focusing on a period of war. Eight sample biographies with scans of the interrogations accompany the map, as does a list of some studies, a number of them available online. You can search online in each set, but you will receive only restricted information and a thumbnail for the purchase of full access.

Logo Prize Papers Online

In the last paragraph I already hinted at a problem with the selected periods, the choice for war years. Wars had and have a major impact on society, but one will have to look at the years before and after a war, too, to gain insight into any substantial differences. The choice for war years during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century does make it possible to compare consecutive wars and changes in conditions for ships and crews. A second problem is the decision to include here only interrogations, presumably taken in overwhelming majority from the HCA 32 series. The guide to the HCA archive at the website of the National Archives shows precisely for this series a nice division into sets stemming from war years, and obviously the temptation to start with its crisply defined sets has been strong and convincing. I cannot help noticing the omission of the very series number in the introduction to each set of Brill’s Prize Papers Online. The correct references are also lacking for the sample biographies, In contrast to the images for the other projects discussed here the images of the scans of Brill’s project do not show the HCA 32 numbers.

Contrary to the policy for many commercial projects with digitized historical resources Brill does indicate clearly the price of € 45,000,- for purchase of access to the five sets, and € 8,500,- for yearly subscription. Access for one set comes at € 9,000,-. As a matter of fact Brill does offer a number of books online in open access, and this publisher gives discounts and waivers to people in developing countries for some online materials. The old motto of this Dutch firm, Tuta sub aegide Pallas, “safe under Pallas’ shield”, has evidently renewed its meaning and significance. Many will read here protection for its own interest instead of protection and care for the texts written by Brill’s authors trusting the high standards of this publisher.

Some questions

Is it a blessing in disguise that only some years of the HCA 32 series can only be accessed online at subscribing institutions? Instead of lamenting the protective shield around Brill’s digital resources we could also consider the chance to create in new projects open access to other series of the mighty HCA archive kept at Kew. In my view the different approaches shown here each have their qualities. The Dutch projects with the letters literally give us the most telling personal stories. Marine Lives makes a choice to look at a number of HCA record series and at particular cases. The team at Oldenburg promises to open vista to global worlds, but the portal shows no results at all, apart from the tantalizing showcase with a great choice of images and objects. The interrogations published by Brill benefit from the standardized form with thirty-two questions which makes this series to a substantial extent reliable and open to statistical treatment. Many scholars will use it as a part of their own research, not as the sole resource at the center of their interest.

Anyone organizing large-scale projects in the humanities does know that finances are often a determining factor in launching and finishing them. Brill obviously reckons the internal qualities of the record series is sufficiently high to make institutions pay for this publisher’s efforts to make this series of the Prize Papers accessible online. The interactive atlas is a showcase inviting scholars to convince their institutions to give them access to this remarkable resource. However, the German project convinces me even in its embryonic stage and hidden progress there is indeed a world to win when we opt for a broad approach to the records of the High Court of Admiralty. Marine Lives probably makes the wisest choice to alternate between singular records and major cases within a limited time span, and thus you can gain relatively quickly more insight into the chances for further research using the entire range of the sixty great HCA record series. The digitized letters remind you to remember the human and personal aspects of the large theme or subject you would like to investigate.

Banner National Archives

Perhaps it is wise to realize your luck as a historian in having at your disposal on your screen one or two major record series within the many boxes of the HCA archive. In view of the prize for the sets offered by Brill the best policy is probably to go to a subscribing institution for online access to one or more of these valuable sets, to arrange for images from the National Archives at Kew, and to pay a visit to this outstanding archive.

A debate about the use of digital resources should not lead us away from scholarly literature en sources in print dealing with the High Court of Admiralty. Using the Karlsruher Virtual Katalog and tapping the wealth of the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main you can find numerous publications. Eighteenth-century pamphlets and books, too, can be most helpful or serve as a starting point for archival research. In his research concerning Admiralty cases from the sixteenth century Alain Wijffels (Leiden/Louvain-la-Neuve) looked in particular at the role of Roman law. Wijffels has devoted several studies to Admiralty cases, including even in 1993 a Cambridge Ph.D. thesis on Civil law in the practice of the High Court of Admiralty at the time of Alberico Gentili. Do not tempt me to add here more than just the titles of relevant publications of the Selden SocietySelect pleas in the Court of Admiralty, vol 1: 1390-1404 and 1527-1545, Reginald Marsden (ed.) (London, 1892; Selden Society, 6), vol. 2: 1547-1602, Reginald Marsden (ed.) (London, 1897; Selden Society, 11) and – more recently – Hale and Fleetwood on Admiralty jurisdictions, M.J. Pritchard and D.E.C. Yale (eds.) (London, 1992; Selden Society, 108)!

There is enough space and material for approaching again this court with its magnificent holdings and using them to the benefit of the field of legal history, too. If legal historians want to have open access to any HCA record series which has not yet been digitized, it is up to us to follow in the wake of the Marine Lives team, and to start our own projects to achieve this aim. Publishing firms will steer their own course. Some universities have already created their own open access publication series or indeed changed their university presses into open access establishments. In my view watching from aside the struggles between publishers and libraries about access to scholarly publications is to take sides. The scholarly community itself has to play an active rol in this turbulent period with major changes in communication and access to information. Fighting for open access has only just started.

A postcript

Almost two weeks after publishing this post I heard about another project with Early Modern letters. The international project Signed, Sealed & Undelivered deals with some 2,600 letters – written in six languages – from the seventeenth century found among the holdings of the Museum voor Communicatie (MusCom) in The Hague which received the letter trunk in 1926. New technology will be used for the deciphering of 600 of these letters without even opening them, and thus preserving the sometimes peculiar foldings of personal messages.

Two centuries of mapping and locating

Banner How can a historian cope with all invitations to look at celebrations and centenary events? On this blog you will expect me to present a different look at such events. Last year the celebrations of 200 years Kingdom of The Netherlands started, and I did write here about the opening activities and a number of portals and websites launched for this occasion. These festivities come now to an end, and one particular aspect offers itself for attention in a posting.

One of the newly founded institutions in the new kingdom was the Kadaster, the land registry office. This week the modern Dutch land registry office launched an educational website called Tijdreis over 200 jaar topografie [Time travel through 200 years topography]. Lately I noticed some online projects concerning Dutch historical cartography and topography which deserve the attention of legal historians and others interested in Dutch history, too. This theme gives me also the chance to look in a second section at other projects with digitized Dutch maps and atlases. In the third and last section of this contribution I will look closer at a recent overview of Dutch digitization projects. I have created a PDF with a list of the most important links in this post.

Travelling in time and space

Bilingual map 1815 - Kadaster

Bilingual – Dutch and French – map, 1810 – source: Kadaster

The special website of the Kadaster succeeds in bringing something you might think existed already, but in fact it did not, although we will meet a slightly comparable project. On this interactive website you can start a time loop for the period 1815-2015 using the scale in the left sidebar, and view for every year – at least when available – a different map. You can stop the loop to contemplate the map in a particular year. Interestingly you can put in the name of a location in a free text search field, choose from the suggestions popping up or proceed with your own choice. You will end with a zoomed-in view of a particular place and zoom out at will.

While admiring this new digital tool it does not bring you quite what you expect from a land registry office. The educational website shows mostly regular topographical maps, and only when zooming in you can see maps with cadastral information. Of course one has to reckon with the production time itself of the first cadastral maps. The first map on the special website stems not from 1815, but shows the French départements with postal routes on a bilingual map created in 1810. The southern part of the later province Limburg is not included. As for 200 years Dutch land registry office, it was emperor Napoleon who decided in 1811 that this institution should come into existence. Only in 1816 work was resumed, and in 1832 54 offices of the land registry service were opened. Most of the first cadastral maps were created between 1812 and 1832. When the results of both cadastral and topographical maps became available some outstanding maps were created for wider use.

Combining geography, history and maps

Logo Wat Was Waar

The thought of putting historical information into a kind of GIS (Geographical Information System) is already some decades old. The last years convincing results of so-called HISGIS websites start to appear, often after promising beginnings, pitfalls, breakdowns and new design, both in terms of layout and technology. Perhaps closest to the idea behind the bicentennial map site of the Kadaster is the Dutch portal WatWasWaar [What Was Where] with a Dutch interface and an introduction in English. This portal offers you access to modern topographical maps with an overlapping layer with (links to) historical information and in particular other maps. You can set this website to show both a modern map and the pointers to historical information or show just one of these possibilities. I took the municipality Doorn in the province Utrecht as an example: you will find a number of cadastral, topographical and military maps, scans of the cadastral register (aanwijzende tafel), census information and even a nineteenth-century drawing of the manor Huis Doorn, from 1920 onwards the last domicile of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. In particular having access to the original cadastral maps at your screen is a great asset, and it is possible to filter for particular information and periods. There are also scans from map books for the region around Delft, Gelderland (Guelders) and Utrecht which bring you some locations in even greater detail.


More tuned to the needs of historians is the Dutch HISGIS portal. The portal started with a HISGIS for Friesland (Frisia), supported by the Fryske Akademy at Leeuwarden. Its regional background shines through in the absence of three Dutch provinces, North-Holland, Zeeland and Brabant. The modern province Flevoland is not even mentioned. However, you can find nationwide information about municipalities by clicking on the Nederland tab. For Brabant a pilot project has started with one municipality, Loon op Zand, a location famous for Europe’s largest area with moving sands and dunes, the Loonse en Drunense Duinen. A bonus are the sections for Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and even for Antwerp.

Reading the instructions (Uitleg) carefully is really necessary for this portal, for otherwise you would miss a lot on it. Although I have visited this HISGIS portal on earlier occasions I still find it not easy to get hold of specific information, but with due patience you can retrieve here much information. The quality of information depends also on the province of your research. For example, for the province of Utrecht you can look also at sketch maps (schetskaarten) showing the borders of each municipality; these documents, too, have been authenticated at the start of the process to chart all plots.

You must forgive me for mentioning here the great interactive map of the city of Utrecht created by Het Utrechts Archief, with not just historical locations and buildings shown on a modern map, but also access to older maps, images and much more. It really amounts to a HISGIS for the history of this city. The Drents Archief in Assen contributes map to AnnoDrentheNu, a website and an app enabling you to look at and walk using also historical maps.

Here are lions!

Photo of a youn lion - source: Hic Sunt Leones

Dutch municipalities are the subject of two related projects dealing with the history of towns and villages. Their borders have changed very much since the early nineteenth century, but there is another problem as well. Some names of locations are not unique. Even within a small country like the Netherlands some locations share names. An example: I thought Oosterend, “East End”, was only a village on the Frisian isle Terschelling, but there is another one as well. In Frisian, the second official language in my country, Easterein is now in Littenseradeel near Franeker, Aasterein is the Frisian name for the location on Terschelling,, and thus you can distinguish them. At Gemeentegeschiedenis [Municipal history] you can find the names of the 1100 municipalities existing in 1812 and all their successors up to the modern situation with just over 400 Dutch municipalities. You can search also for official place-names in the départements during the French occupation under Napoleon.

A second website, Histopo, also created by the team of Hic Sunt Leones [Here are lions] goes one step further and gives access to some 27,000 historical names of locations, hamlets, villages and cities. Apart from a repertory of municipalities since 1812 the creators acknowledge the use of two valuable sources which you would not immediately come up with. Nineteenth-century militieregisters (military draft registers) contain place names in many variant spelling, duly noted by the city archives in Amsterdam and put into two data sets. Another project at Amsterdam dealing with ondertrouwregisters, registers for the publishing of banns for couples wanting to marry, gives us place-names in sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The national crowdsourcing palaeographic project Vele Handen [Many Hands] deals with both the militieregisters on a nationwide basis, kept between 1811 and 1941, and the ondertrouwregisters between 1602 and 1811.

A third project of Hic Sunt Leones focuses on the historical names of streets in Amsterdam. Combining maps with all kind of data sets is the heart of each project featured here. Yet another Dutch website covers roughly the same subject, ErfGeo, with here, too, among the people in the project team members of Hic Sunt Leones. Here you can search for names of locations, and also for streets and even for buildings. My mother lived twelve years in Zwolle, and she remembered wondering about the Korte Ademhalingssteeg, “Short Breath Alley”, in Zwolle an alley once close to the scaffold at the main market place. ErfGeo can lead you to places no longer existin and show you the growth of cities based on the Atlas van de verstedelijking. It is even possible to ask for the nicknames of Dutch locations during Carnival! For the geographical information on your screen for a particular location these projects are not solely focusing on the Netherlands. The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names can be tuned to work with data sets using the special Getty Vocabularies portal.

Hic Sunt Leones, “here are lions” is the phrase used by early cartographers to indicate zones later termed terra incognita. Lately the use of this phrase and its actual presence on medieval and sixteenth-century maps has been questioned. A few weeks ago a news item described the discovery on the so-called 1491 Martellus Map at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of among other texts a longer phrase with the words in quibus leones, “where are lions”. Multispectral imaging enhanced the faded colours and texts at this map and reinforced its brightness and legibility.

As for more HISGIS projects the links section of the British Historical GIS Research Network and HGIS-Germany are good starting points. The idea of a HISGIS has also lead to several projects using maps within the humanities, ranging from Early Modern London and Locating London’s Past using John Rocque’s map from 1746 to the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt, the Pleiades gazetteer of the ancient world and Stanford’s delightful ORBIS for travelling in Classical Antiquity. Earlier this year I discussed the Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg.

The Low Countries and digitized old maps

It is a joy to write here about historical maps from the Low Countries. Faithful visitors of my blog will perhaps remember how I adduced the beautiful sixteenth-century town maps created by Jacob van Deventer in postings about a number of small Dutch towns. In its links section WatWasWaar points to a number of interesting projects with historical maps. As a finale to this post I will briefly list a number of projects. Even if some information might already be given here in earlier postings I like to bring them together here.

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer

Map of Zwolle by Jacob van Deventer (detail) – Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575) had been charged in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project, the making of topographical and bird-view maps of the Low Countries. The surviving maps, the first set of reliable town maps for this region of Europe, have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

While preparing this post I noticed the link to a digital version of the famous seventeenth-century atlas created by Willem Blaeu at the website of the Regional Archives in Leiden. There is at least one other digital version of this atlas, using the copy in the library of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. This college, too,  has digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya portal for the cultural heritage of Catalonia. This portal in its turn helped me not to forget to mention the Dutch portal Memory of the Netherlands, with among the 133 digital collections the Atlantic World project of the Dutch Royal Library and the British Library containing a substantial number of old maps. The Royal Library contributes the Atlas Van der Hagen (around 1690) and the Atlas Beudeker (around 1750) with not only maps, but also topographical prints and drawings. The 2,600 drawings and prints of hamlets, villages and towns in the Atlas Schoemaker, also held at the Royal Library in The Hague, can give you vivid images of buildings and people in the Dutch Republic during the eighteenth century. In fact the word atlas in Dutch cultural institution can mean both an atlas with maps and a topographical-historical collection, for example the Atlas van Stolk in Rotterdam with many thousands digitized drawing and prints.

On using a new overview of Dutch digital projects

My last paragraph with its seemingly erratic stepping-stones might seem a personal whim, but I steered it on purpose to a project at the Royal Library. On September 10, 2015, I ended my post about Dutch pocket law books with a remark about a recently completed survey of Dutch libraries and their digitization projects. To my disbelief the final report Bibliotheekcollecties in het netwerk [Library collections in the network] published online by the Royal Library does not give you in the overview of actual projects the exact web addresses. Add to this hiding the link at their website to a version of the overview with URL’s included, and you might guess my misgivings. The Royal Library did send me in August a new version of this list, and for your convenience I have uploaded it here. It seems worthwhile to look at this overview and to check for digitized historical maps. If such a survey serves any scholarly purpose it should be that of a concise practical guide with sufficient indications of the scope and contents of collections.

The overview covers 514 collections and gives succinct information in tabular format. At Leeuwarden Tresoar, the combined Frisian regional archives and Provincial Library, have digitized a number of atlases, and there is a pilot for a new digital map collection with for now just five maps. A search for kaarten (maps) at this new portal learned me quickly to prefer the advanced search and filter for the document-type maps, because kaart in Dutch is also used for postcards… The Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam is said to digitize landgoedkaarten (manor maps), but no link is provided; the collection is to be found within the general digital image database at the VU. Interestingly the VU has created the portal VU Geoplaza for modern GIS maps. The link to the nearly 800 digitized maps of the university library in Groningen did contain a typing error. Overijssel in kaart is a portal for digitized maps from four collections in the province Overijssel. Probably the best known Dutch digital map collection is the one held by the university library at Amsterdam with 450 digitized maps which includes the collection of the Royal Dutch Geographic Society, In view of the sheer number of atlases and maps the selection is rather small, but really important. There is a section with seven city atlases covering not only the Low Countries, but even cities all over the world in Jansonius’ work Theatrum urbium (….) (Amsterdam 1657).

Banner Atlas der Neederlanden - UvA

The next link to a digital map collection in Amsterdam is unfortunately broken, but triggered my attention for atlases. Is there indeed no functioning digital version of the famous Atlas der Neederlanden, nine volumes containing rare maps made between 1600 and 1800? A quick search learned me that there is a selection of maps accompanying the project for a facsimile edition of this atlas published in 2013. The list fails to indicate for Amsterdam the presence of digitized maps in the Suriname collection 1599-1975, Of course the quality of the information in this survey led by the Royal Library depends to some extent on the information provided by the institutions organizing projects for digital maps, but it seems little checking and updating has been done, nor is there a good explanation for the many collections without any indication of a URL. I cannot help noting these defects for a library which can boast a major role in many international projects bringing it justifiably great prestige.

We had better look at the collections indicated in the list and find the working web addresses ourselves, and thus I did. The digital map collection of the Royal Tropical Institute is now managed by Leiden University. The list duly notes that a large number of these maps – in fact some 7,100 – can also be reached in the image database of this research institute. In its digital collection Alterra maps Wageningen University shows maps made in the twentieth century dealing with the physical geography of the Netherlands. For Wageningen this list points to the filter for maps in the library catalogue at Wageningen University, but except in a few cases not to digital maps. Conspicuously absent in the list is the university library in Utrecht. There used to be a separate subdomain for digitized maps, but now you can at least find them using the advanced search mode of the library catalogue and check for digital availability. The special collections in Utrecht have great holdings in map collections which can be searched on collection level in a useful repertory.

Logo Caret-Tresoor

Anyone vaguely aware of the history of Dutch cartography knows there is much more to be found, and of course an updated overview – only in Dutch – can be found online at the website of the scholarly journal Caert-Tresoor (old Dutch for Treasury of Maps). Between 2005 and 2010 a number of online map collections has been presented in the section @ la Carte. A quick look at this website gives you digital maps at the regional archives in Groningen, typically missed in the overview where at least a number of libraries at regional archives have been included, but for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem and its maps do not appear at all. The Beeldbank of the Technical University Delft is mentioned, but there is no indication of its contents, though this image database does contribute to WatWasWaar. Has the Royal Library by any chance been misled by the lack of maps in the project database at the portal Kenniscentrum Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland [Knowledge Center Digital Dutch Heritage]? Filtering for cartographical materials offers you some forty digital projects, but alas only a few of the projects presented here show up. To be honest, maps are often included indistinctly within these projects.

This post shares a defect with a number of earlier postings, my clear wish to include many things within the compass of one post! I leave it to you to check the PDF of the list for your own research and to add map projects from the descriptions at Caert-Tresoor. At the national level it is justifiable to mention the digital maps of the Nationaal Archief, and to point to the maps dealing with a much wider territory at the digital portal Atlas of Mutual Heritage, an interactive map accessible in Dutch and English leading you to many objects and bibliographical information, with for example another atlas by Blaeu – held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna – and many rare maps concerning Dutch colonial history, worldwide trade and the history of the Dutch India Companies.

Uncharted digital territories

You might search for the right words doing justice to this kind of overviews, but I had rather use my time and energy to create an overview tailored to my specific need of knowing about a particular type of document within Dutch digital collections. When I could not find any reliable list of digitized pamphlets apart from the seventeenth-century mazarinades I started creating it myself. Surveying the holdings of cultural institutions has successfully been done at the collection level for Dutch museums which led to the creation of a number of regional websites for cultural heritage, often with the word Erfgoedhuis in its name, and in some cases to regional portals for digitized cultural heritage. In my country some themes and subjects are well served indeed with national digital platforms for materials concerning maritime history (Maritiem Digitaal), etnographic collections (Stichting Volkenkundige Collectie Nederland), university collections(Academische collecties), medical collections (Medisch Erfgoed), and also military history (Militair Erfgoed).

There are several gaps and weaknesses in the overview supplied by the Royal Library, with even no changes and corrections between the version of May 2015 and the latest one. Its lack of order is just another characteristic. However, you have to appreciate some dificulties in creating any consistent overview. Should one skip the libraries of archival centers? Should one create separate entries for each document type in a digital collection, or list them in a separate field for each entry? The list contains a number of abbreviations to indicate the presence of meta-data and physical objects, but they have not been used consistently. Strange is the exclusion of the Royal Library’s own digital collections, including the Delpher portal. The editors have listed some digital collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they skipped its collections at the Social History Portal.

It would certainly make a difference if we could access such information in an online database. The very creation of a database would demand solid thinking about the things to include or exclude, and above all concern about reliable input and maintenance. I am sure the Dutch Royal Library is capable of doing this. In fact the Metamorfoze website of the Royal Library offers already a succinct overview of Dutch digital projects which received financial support from the Dutch government. Out of sheer curiosity I looked for any project with maps, and I found the Bunkerarchief, a project at the Nationaal Archief concerning Dutch military defense with scans of some 9,000 maps and drawings made in the twentieth century. Luckily the online inventories of archival collections at the Dutch National Archives do tell you about the presence of scans of materials, but this large collection merits special mention in their research guide for maps and drawings. Here, too, a translation into English of the website or at least useful summaries would be most welcome.

Locating valuable digital collections can be a daunting task. In a digital world you still need reliable guides to information if you have to know more than the ever active global web company and its famous search engine brings you. I should have made a screen print of its name which showed at its start screen this weekend a heart with the Dutch national colours and a crown to honour the festivities celebrating the Kingdom of the Netherlands! You have read here the names of many libraries and archives, but museums, too, have maps in their holdings. Maps help us to realize that historical events and developments took place in particular surroundings, sometimes barely charted, sometimes mapped again and again to inform and please people. Maps help us to chart the past and to discern the variety of perspectives, limits and borders seen, perceived and created by people living in past centuries.

These days you cannot escape from seeing the grim reality of borders, and I feel awkward not to mention here this fact. We cannot be strangers to current events. VU GeoPlaza has in its links section a link to another VU project, Death at the Borders, showing one dot for each dead migrant on his or her way to Western Europe from 1999 until the end of 2013. An interactive map of the Mediterranean shows regions scarcely seen in the main media. Current figures about migrants going to Europe can be found at the online map of the Missing Migrants Project of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.

A postscript

Banner Archiefzoeker

While musing over my experiences in tracing digitized old Dutch maps it crossed my mind to use the Archiefzoeker, the inexhaustible concise guide in Dutch to digital collections all over the world. Eric Hennekam, its indefatigable creator, has put together nearly 5,500 collections. He announces new additions often at Twitter (@erichennekam) or at his blog Point de vue. I immediately found a recent posting about the mobile app of Old Maps Online, a marvellous portal where you can also find digitized maps held at the Dutch National Archives and Utrecht University Library.

Searching with precise search terms can yield much here, but for maps and atlases there is in the Dutch language a particular problem. When looking for the Dutch word kaart the nearly eighty results contain not only maps, but also gezinskaarten and persoonskaarten, family files and personal files in population registers, and prentbriefkaarten, postcards. Even the words kaartenbak, card file, and inspectiekaart appear, the latter for an inspection map of the Dutch Food Authority. Using the word atlas brings you also to a morphological atlas and an atlas of Dutch literary authors. The atlases with maps within The Memory of the Netherlands are not yet included, but some topographical atlases are present.

For more precise results tagging and classifying entries is sorely needed, because it is now rather cumbersome to find the things you are really looking for. Creating a mass of information should be followed by clear cataloguing in order to make the information useful and to ensure clear search results. Any grumblings over broken links, incomplete information or silly mistakes are another matter: constructive comments and contributions are most welcome…

A safe investment almost 400 years on

The bond issued in 1648

This week news came out about the upcoming payment of interest to Yale University on a perpetual bond issued in 1648 by a Dutch water authority, the Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams. Next week its legal successor, the Hoogheemraadschap Stichtse Rijnlanden, will pay the sum of € 136,20 ($ 154), the interest over twelve years. Yale’s Beinecke Library bought the bond in 2003 as a cultural artefact. Not only Bloomberg brings this news item which attracted quickly attention at Twitter, but elsewhere, too, this news has been noticed, for example at the Indrosphere blog by Indrajit Roy Choudhury. On my blog I have devoted some space both to the history of water authorities and the history of shares and stocks, and thus it is logical to write here also about this particular story.

Logo Stichtse Rijnlanden

At the website of the Stichtse Rijnlanden it becomes soon clear how this modern water authority is responsible for a much larger area than only the lands adjacent to the Lek, a branch of the Rhine in The Netherlands, for which the old hoogheemraadschap had been founded. The website of the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rjnstreek en Lopikerwaard, the regional archive at Woerden, offers a concise history of this institution. In 1285 a dam had been placed in the Hollandse IJssel to prevent the water of this river to stream into the Lek near the village of Vreeswijk, now a part of Nieuwegein. After floodings in this region of the diocese Utrecht due to neglect of this dam bishop Jan van Diest published in 1323 an ordinance for its maintenance. The schouwbrief of 1323 was followed by more instructions, in particular by ordinances published on behalf of Charles V in 1537. “Bovendams” means “ahead of the dam”, in this case up to Amerongen, to the east, 33 kilometers. From the dam westwards another water authority came into existence dealing with the Lekdijk Benedendams up to the town of Schoonhoven.

The article in Dutch points to a number of modern studies concerning this water authority. Pride of place should go to an older study by legal historian Marina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams: een onderzoek naar de beginselen van het dijkrecht in het Hoogheemraadschap, voornamelijk in de periode 1537-1795 (Assen, 1961). Its long title mentions not only the hoogheemraadschap, but also the term dijkrecht, dyking law. Marijke Donkersloot-de Vrij, a specialist in the field of historical cartography, edited the volume of essays De Stichtse Rijnlanden: geschiedenis van de zuidelijke Utrechtse waterschappen (Utrecht, 1993). The most recent major study, Ad van Bemmel’s De Lekdijk van Amerongen naar Vreeswijk: negen eeuwen bescherming van Utrecht en Holland (Hilversum, 2009) stands out for its colourful photography.

Getting money for major investments

In the media the news about the payment to Yale University was received with some smiles. Does this institution really need this small sum? The Beinecke Library is this year closed for a major renovation and will open only in Fall 2016. Nowadays it is not easy to work on a building site and stay firmly within your budget, and thus even this Dutch payment can be most welcome. Incidentally when you check the collections website of the Beinecke Library it becomes clear that this record (Gen. Mss. File 565) was a gift from the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management in 2009, a statement which seems to contradict the assertion at Bloomberg about Yale paying $ 24,000 in 2003 to acquire this bond.

Map of the Lekdijk near Honswijk, 1751

Map of the Lek and the dykes near Honswijk, 1751 – Woerden, RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard, Lekdijk Bovendams, inv. no. 1154-H

The bilingual website Beursgeschiedenis/Exchange History has a short article showing the 1648 bond is not the oldest surviving one from this hoogheemraadschap, but one from 1624, since 1938 in the possession of the New York Stock Exchange, thus one of the oldest surviving shares worldwide. The 2,5 percent interest yields even today 15 euros. The bonds of 1648 were issued specifically to build a krib, a pier in the Lek near the hamlet of Honswijk, now situated within the municipality Houten. Maintaining such piers and fighting against piers and other structures at the other side of the river kept the hoogheemraadschap busy for centuries. You can download the archival inventory from the website of the RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard (PDF, 74 MB). Like other Dutch water authorities the hoogheemraadschap was an independent authority which could proceed in court against for instance the counts of Culemborg or the States of Guelders. The website for the history of stock exchange does call to attention the fact that even the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht, in medieval times often deadly enemies, both invested money in the maintenance plans of water authorities.

Light on some details

Some elements in this week’s story need elaboration. You can shake your head in disbelief about a rich university welcoming a payment of just over one hundred dollars, but you might also marvel at the fact of the longevity of institutions vital for the protection of areas threatened by the powers of mighty rivers or seas. Issuing perpetual bonds or rents was not an invention of the Dutch Republic. Medieval rents issued by cities are documented for regions such as Tuscany and Flanders since the thirteenth century. Water authorities could levy taxes to get money, but these taxes were meant to cover the costs of normal maintenance.

Banner Utrechts Archiefnet

To my surprise I found the archival collections of both the water authorities for the Lekdijk Bovendams and Lekdijk Benedendams in the regional archives at Woerden. The archival inventory (finding aid) for the Lekdijk Bovendams had been created in 1980 at the former provincial archive in Utrecht, but a few years ago it was decided to bring a large number of archival collections kept at Het Utrechts Archief to regional archives in the province of Utrecht, and thus you can find currently materials much closer to their origins at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Wijk bij Duurstede and Woerden. Luckily there is a nifty search site for archives in the modern province Utrecht, the Utrechts Archiefnet, but precisely archival records kept at Woerden can only be searched online at its own website. Interestingly the banner of the Utrechts Archiefnet shows a map with at the bottom the Hollandse IJssel and the Lek.

Banner Discover Yale Digital Content

At its collections website the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows for the 1648 bond not an image of the original bond but only the modern talon, the leaflet with notes about payments of interest. The Beinecke’s inventory record gives only the immediate provenance of this bond; information about its earlier provenance is absent. The portal Discover Yale Digital Content does list the bond, but precisely for the original document at first no image seemed available. It took me some time to realize that Stichtse Rijnlanden provides with the news item on its website a direct link to the image at the Beinecke Library. It appears a second record (!) for the original bond has been filed as “Lekdijk Bovendams [water board bond]“, with as signature “Uncat. MS Vault File”.

What shall I say here about the double records for the twin items? I suppose we witness the archivists and librarians at work. It is instructive to see at one hand a very detailed indication of subjects using LC Subject Headings, and in the other record just “Business records” and “Certificates”. The more general description gives you the precise dimensions of both items, and the other one has already been included in Yale’s Orbis general library catalog with a cautious remark “In process-material”. It will be a challenge to merge both descriptions into one record. It will be necessary to look at the back of the bond to decipher ownership indications and to confirm the information of the talon: the verso has a note that in 1944 an allonge was issued. The names of former owners are faded or crossed out, and I cannot decipher them quickly, too. “J.J, de Milly” is clear, as is a note about the States of Utrecht from 1652. Dealing with such dorsal notations is one of the goals for which the historical auxiliary sciences have been developed. In fact Yale might consider bringing these items to the Rare Books Room of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, a fitting place for a document with clearly not only a cultural value but also connections to legal, economic and financial history.

No easy answers

Logo RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard

How shall we sum up the results of this post? This week’s news item can easily be expanded. At PrefBlog I read a nice rejoinder pointing to a sale in 2000 at Christie’s in New York of yet another payable bond issued by the Lekdijk Bovendams in 1634 which was sold for $ 47,000, twice as much as Yale paid in 2003 for their bond. A genealogist tracing the history of the Van Blanckendael family also came across the 1634 bond and asked the regional archives in Woerden about the perpetual bonds. The RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard responded in 2011 drily that the archive of the hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams contains several obligations from 1624 and 1638, and even from 1595. However, these obligations are not payable anymore, with two cuts in the document they have been cancelled. Not only national governments, cities and commercial companies issued rentebrieven, perpetual bonds, but other authorities, too, benefited in the past from the capital market.

Safeguarding the densely populated Netherlands is still the business of the Dutch waterschappen and hoogheemraadschappen. The one for the Lekdijk is remarkable because it dealt only with the dykes along the Lek and Nederrijn, not with the polders inside Utrecht. It literally pays to have institutions created only for this purpose. Regions afflicted in recent years by river floodings in other countries can tell you about the disastrous impact of neglected dykes. A few years ago the village of Wilnis in my own province Utrecht was hit unexpectedly by a flood caused by a dyke that imploded during hot summer weeks without any rain. The etymology of Wilnis, “wildernis”, wilderness, might wryly serve as a warning of what can become of areas struck by the forces of water running freely.

Last but not least there is the matter of describing, conserving and storing archival records stemming from abroad in orderly fashion. The libraries at Yale University contain an astonishing wealth of materials from all over the world, and most often one can only admire the sheer skills in making them useful and accessible for the scholarly community at large. Last week the Findit search website was launched for sarching digital images at Yale University Library, with a clear notice that seven other digital collections at Yale are to be searched separately. Perhaps the double efforts for the rare still active Dutch bond are a blessing in disguise, even if it shows uncoordinated work. Maybe it is a case of not getting in touch immediately with scholars at Yale who could have saved the librarians and archivists from this situation. Years ago librarians at Munich taught me the fifteen minutes rule for cataloguing: when you cannot figure it out within a quarter of an hour, stop and get help. Getting things right is a hard thing to do. In this case scholars at Yale Law School and its marvellous library would have been most happy and willing to assist, and when necessary they would not hesitate to ask for help from all over the world, in order to bring light and truth true to Yale’s motto Lux et Veritas.

A postscript

David Schorr commented at the blog Environment, Law and History on September 21, 2015, my statements about the unique independent character of Dutch water institutions. In particular irrigation districts, too, tend to be independent institutions. I should have been alarmed by my own use of the notorious word unique! The next thing to question is the way such institutions carried out their jurisdiction. Some Dutch waterschappen had in principle the right to inflict the death penalty for not complying with their ordinances. The blog of David Schorr, Adam Wolkoff and Sarah Mikov is well worth following.

Yale Insights published in 2007 an interview ‘What is a long life worth?’ with William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst confirming the purchase of the bond at an auction in 2003. They tell something about other loans and perpetuities. Goetzmann edited the essay volume The origins of value. The financial innovations that created modern capital markets (Oxford, etc., 2005) covering the history of loans from Babylon to modern times, where you can find an article by Goetzmann and Rouwenhorst, ‘Perpetuities in the Stream of History. A Paying Instrument from the Golden Age of Dutch Finance’ (pp. 177-187) dealing in detail with the 1648 bond. The Yale School of Management has created an online exhibit on the history of securities, Origins of Value. You can consult online an interesting bachelor thesis by Mark Hup, Life annuities as a resource of public finance in Holland, 1648-1713. Demand- or supply-driven? (B.A. thesis Economics, University of Utrecht, 2011) (PDF).

Opening a book: Laws in your pocket

Cover A few years ago I came across a pocket-book on the bylaws of eighteenth-century Amsterdam. Its very size made me muse about the kind of books you would like to carry with you, the actual choice booksellers offered and offer you in the particular field of pocket law books. With this post I launch a new series of contributions with the motto “Opening a book”.

The book that prompted me to write about pocket law books has been digitized for the digital library Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO), the fruit of cooperation between the Royal Library in The Hague and the university libraries of Leiden and Amsterdam. Meanwhile EDBO has been integrated into the Delpher project of the Dutch Royal Library.  An anonymous book called Amsterdams burgerrecht: Dat is Verzameling van privilegien en handvesten [Amsterdam’s citizens’ law, being a collection of privileges and charters] (Amsterdam 1787) attracted my attention because of words following the subtitle: “Uit de groote Handvest en andere schriften byeen verzameld, om als een zakboek van ieder gebruikt te kunnen worden”, compiled from the Major Charter and other writings in order to serve as a pocket-book for everyone’s use. Initially I was tempted to see this fifty page book as a typical product of the so-called Patriotic Period (Patriottentijd), the period with a strong movement in favor of political change in the Dutch Republic, but there is a much earlier edition from 1748. Both EDBO and Delpher are connected with the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands, the retrospective bibliography of Dutch books published between 1540 and 1800.


The extensive information in these resources left me with one question, the actual dimensions of this book. I checked in vain the catalogues of the three libraries holding this book, the Royal Library in The Hague for the digitized copy, the university library at Groningen, and the library of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The copy at the Rijksmuseum is interleaved with pages holding notes said to date around 1770, and this made me wary. The collation, the physical form of this copy is slightly different, too, but this can be due to a mistake in checking the pages of this particular book, π2 A-B8 O6, at Amsterdam A-B~8 C~4 . Alas there is no image of the digitized book with a scale for dimensions or colors, something which you might take to for granted when digitizing old books and manuscripts.

The contents themselves of this book – at least posing as a pocket-size book – on the bylaws and ordinances of Amsterdam are interesting. For readers in 1787 the stress in the first pages on the military duties of the burghers (citizens) was surely interesting. The importance of the old schutterijen, the Dutch city guards, had been curtailed by the Orangist government, and building new militias was one of the items on the agenda of the patriotic movement. The book gives for a number of subjects extracts in chromnological ordr.er from old ordinances, but the anonymous author gives the ordinances from 1394 partially in full length and places them prominently after the first short section about tolls.

An old practice still alive

Some small books: four

Some small books: four “dwarsliggers” in Dutch and a German book from the Reclam series

My insistence about the omission of the exact dimensions of this book is not a petty criticism or a hobby-horse. Dutch books in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were renown for the fine quality of printing and their handsome format. There is no need to remind English and American readers of the success of a series of short scholarly introductions which is surely due not only to the distinct quality of the authors but also to its handy shape. Germans know the Reclam’s Unversal-Bibliothek with cheap but reliable text editions, and the French have the Que sais-je series. Since 2009 a Dutch publisher has gained considerable success with really small pocket books containing texts printed crosswise (dwarsligger) measuring just 12 by 8 centimeter. The Reclam volume on my photo measures 15 by 9,5 centimeter.

Cover .

Lately I bought two pocket books giving you access not just to Dutch law in general, but doing this in a translation into easily understandable Dutch, meaning without juridical jargon. De wet in gewoon Nederlands [The law in normal Dutch] by Douwe Brongers (Amsterdam 2007, 4th ed. 2013; 703 pp.) starts with two documents from another legislative level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, followed by the Dutch constitution, and large sections of the Dutch codes of civil law, criminal law and court procedure. Brongers brings in a second volume, De rechten van iedere Nederlander [The rights of every Dutchman] (Amsterdam 2013; 208 pp.), laws on consumer rights, privacy, equality, door-to-door selling and internet trade, the national ombudsman and the special children’s ombudsman, personal identification, governmental publicity, and the law concerning labour conditions. Their size, both in the number of pages (700 and 200), and physically (16 x 11,5 cm) make them less comfortable as books which you would really put into the pockets of your coat. The idea of combining compact size, concise information and clear language is indeed appealing.

Even legal historians use sometimes the pocket size for their publications. Julius Christiaan van Oven wrote a small book meant to guide his students attending his lectures at Leiden [Overzicht van Romeins privaatrecht. Leidraad bij een inleidingscollege (first edition Zwolle 1934; 7th ed.,1964)]. There exists even a pocket-book edition of Justinian’s Digest [Digesta Iustiniani Augusti, Pietro Bonfante et alii (edd.) (2 vol., Milano 1908-1931; reprint 1960 in one volume)]. In our century of electronic publication it should come as no surprise to find both a digital and a print version of J.E. Jansen’s study guide Romeins recht (2nd. ed., Amsterdam 2014), a volume in a series with more than forty short and small-sized introductions to the various fields of law.

Does this post gives you a taste of more?! You can tune the great database behind the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands to give you any book printed in a particular bibliographical format, but it depends on the data in the catalogues behind the STCN whether you will find the actual dimensions of a publication. Using words like zakboek or zakboekje and older words such as compendium you can spot a trend in Dutch book titles during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, but this is not the first period of the use of these words in book titles attempting to attract the attention of buyers. Pocket-books on law in the late eighteenth century shared for example the company of books on gardening, horse riding, veterinary medicine and freemasonry, and you will find books with a clear political aim, too. Almanacs used to be really small, and their modern incarnation such as the Enkhuizer Almanak bear witness to a clear standard size surviving the centuries.

The Dutch Royal Library has recently created an overview of digitization initiatives in the Netherlands, and with some luck you can still access, too, a useful list with the actual URL’s of digital collections, in my view an essential asset inexplicably missing in the final report Bibliotheekcollecies in het netwerk published online in August 2015. For your convenience I have created a shortlist of the main relevant collections on my page for the history of Dutch law.

Going the long roads: Legal history and The History Manifesto

Cover This year saw in June some twenty conferences in the field of legal history, but now in August the congress calendar of my blog shows no events. It is summertime and scholarly life, too, goes at a slower pace and in different rhythms! During my holiday I could find much time for reading, and without events to attend I hope to read more this month.

One of the books offering itself for a reading in calm and quiet surroundings bristles with energy. Last year Cambridge University Press published The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, both as a book in print, as an e-book, in a web version and as a PDF. In 2014 I read it very quickly, and indeed its style helped me to fly through its pages. However, if the proposals and visions of the two authors make any sense, a more detached second reading is needed. What’s in it for legal historians? Do Guldi and Armitage have a message for them, or even multiple messages? What are the challenges facing the various fields and corners of legal history? Can we safely follow its recommendations and examples, or are there different directions which will be more rewarding? In this post I offer a personal view about this provocative book.

A call to arms

The opening words of The History Manifesto echo the Communist Manifesto which did indeed stir minds and governments. Both texts are divided into an introduction and four chapters, and they share the use of incisive and trenchant statements. However, with 125 pages for the main text the 2014 manifesto is really a book, not just a pamphlet-length treatise, In addition forty pages of notes and an index for persons and subjects place it in another category.

A summary of the book by Guldi and Armitage is not out-of-place here. The authors start with an introduction which depicts the humanities in a state of crisis. The following chapter looks at the origins of the modern concept of the longue durée, associated with Fernard Braudel and the impact of the French Annales school of historiography. In the second chapter they investigate the place of research concerning long-term developments in historical research between 1950 and 2000. The third chapter discusses the amount of attention historians paid in the twentieth century to such matters as worldwide changes in climate, inequality and the ways governments function. The last chapter is a plea to ask the great questions and to use Big Data in new ways that bring sound analyses for the problems of our times leading to actions for the future. One of the themes in the conclusion is the public role of history and historians in our century.

The great seduction of Guldi and Armitage is the invitation to combine without questioning two assumptions, the importance of history and the urgent need to follow the directions they indicate. I would not be a historian if I did not believe in and practice history with all its qualities. The second assumption is presented in a most enticing way. Guldi and Armitage are skilled story tellers, and it feels safe to join them in their explorations. The prophetic tone of the new manifesto brings a smile, because it makes you feel you are at last in good company with people who can see through the layers of society and open vistas of a world where historians and their research are almost bed fellows to power, guardians of the truth and the common good, and councillors with sound counsels. “Historians of the world, unite! There is a world to win – before it’s too late”. Even if there is a spectre haunting the modern world, you can find here a benevolent spirit ready to save mankind.

Guldi and Armitage are serious historians, but you cannot miss the ideological overtones of the manifesto. It would be wrong to dismiss the manifesto as nothing but a resurfacing of left ideologies. In fact they point not only to values and visions worth defending and promoting in their view, but they are also clear about the supposed neutrality of a world reigned by capitalism and neoliberalism. They point to research showing the impact of capitalism not only for the economy, but in particular also for the environment.

On the website promoting The History Manifesto there is ample space for discussion and criticism. The original version published in October 2014 has been followed in February 2015 by a corrected version with an accompanying revision notice. One of the salient features revised is a graph at page 44 depicting the percentage of Ph.D. theses written in the United States dealing with historical subjects during long periods. The alleged “downfall” of interest in long periods was less steep than suggested. One can frown about the very choice of American theses where a comparative perspective or a similar sample of published history books might have been more convincing. British and American history together provide the majority of examples, even if former British colonies are present, too. China gets more space than Japan.

At first I had no intent of looking at this book through Dutch glasses, but on second thought this, too, is useful. At page 65 Guldi and Armitage list a number of infrastructural projects “where nations have assumed responsibility for preserving life into the future”, among them “the government-built dykes of the early modern Netherlands”. The typical Dutch thing about the medieval and later dykes up to 1700 is that the overwhelming majority has been built by local governing bodies with whom resided full authority and jurisdiction. Centralized efforts to restore areas claimed by the floods of 1530 did utterly fail. In the seventeenth century the large land reclamations north of Amsterdam such as the Beemster (1612) and the Schermer (1635) succeeded thanks to the efforts of private investment companies. In the same paragraph the authors make the point that central authority is not always a prime mover, and here the Dutch dykes would have fit in excellently. This might seem a tiny detail, but historians have to deal with both details and larger contexts, especially when you want to give tell-tale details. As for the importance of the history of water management the manifesto does point to the studies of Terje Tvedt.

Short periods, long periods and legal history

Logo The Republic of Letters

Instead of picking at possible faults and mistakes it is perhaps more rewarding to look at the fruits of The History Manifesto that are interesting for legal historians. Do Guldi and Armitage look at legal matters in the past apart from inequality and injustice, and cite research in the fields of legal history? They do indeed, and I will give here a summary overview.

In the first chapter the influence of Theodor Mommsen and Henry Maine is mentioned with approval as an influence on various social history studies by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Paolo Grossi’s research about the history of property figures in a footnote. Later on it is no surprise that ownership figures prominently, for example Aaron Sakolski’s Land Tenure and Land Taxation in America (1957) who wrote about the views of major legal historians about the history of ownership. The two authors point to older studies such as Eugène Garsonnet, Histoire des locations perpétuelles et des baux à longue durée (Paris 1878) which helped Braudel during the fifties in creating his concept of the longue durée. Paul Warde traced the impact of real and perceived wood shortage on emigration using court records from many places in Europe. The series of digitized criminal court records of the Old Bailey between 1673 and 1914 is proudly present, as is Colin Wilder’s project Republic of Literature (RL) where legal texts are linked to a vast network of scholars and students and the ways they influenced German society in the Early Modern period. The datasets and the conceptual model behind RL are open to scholars for doing their own research. Paul Johnson and Stephen Nicholas studied criminal records in England and Wales between 1812 and 1867 which contain the height of the accused in order to find evidence for any improvement in living conditions. The history of slavery and its changing interpretations appear in every chapter. Using the contents of probate inventories as a kind of testing ground for all kind of changes is another example of sources familiar to at least a number of legal historians, In the final chapter Guldi and Armitage cite a possible study to words for emotions in court records as an example of future research for which historians are in their view exceptionally well equipped.

While looking for the relationship between attention to long periods and legal I was somewhat mystified by the role allegedly played by Quentin Skinner. Guldi and Armitage present him (pp. 47-48) as a defender of contextual scholarship who attacked those favoring grand theories including attempts at long-term history. Skinner did certainly criticize those who tried to construct fanciful histories of ideas, but in his later publications he certainly did not avoid major subjects such as republicanism and freedom in Early Modern Europe, a time range of three centuries. I cannot help thinking about the proverb coined by George Bush “Who is not against us is for us”. Another saying, “Why should facts hamper my theory?”, is probably closer to the mark.

Blessings in disguise

As a medievalist I am used to the fact that results in studies dealing with long periods and major themes cannot be transplanted ceteris paribus to medieval studies. For The History Manifesto legal history mainly serves as a stepping stone or sometimes as an approved guide for a particular subject or problem. To do justice to the facts one should note that the website of the Republic of Literature, too, does in its present state only refer to the titles of legal texts as examples chosen from Roman and medieval law.

However, it is one thing to depreciate a book completely. and another thing to signal problems concerning the aims, scope, scale and value of a book. If I would make here only negative remarks about their book, I would take the trees for the forest. Guldi and Armitage express their genuine and sincere concern about the practice of history and its impact on society. The authors did a sincere job, and they could benefit from comments on lectures and early drafts by noted historians such as Peter Burke, Paul Freedman. Lynn Hunt and John Witt. You might have heard too often about crises in the historical trade and within the humanities, but even the ideological tone of The History Manifesto does not harm the main argument about the importance of choosing relevant subjects to be studied within a sufficiently long time span. Sometimes it is necessary to look just before and after a particular period to gain real insights, but even so often the micro-historic approach of telescoping into very short periods will pay off.

One of my greatest hesitations with the summons of The History Manifesto is the wish to be close to those in power, in order to give sound counsels and guide long-term policies. We had better watch out to remain independent as far as possible, and not sacrifice this for a clear role in current affairs. The results of historical research can shed light on the present, but they seldom contain infallible guidance for the immediate future or decades ahead of us.

The second major fault of The History Manifesto is perhaps more devastating. The authors highlight at several turns aspects of legal history, but somehow for me it sounds hollow. Generally I do not like to attack the main thrust of a book, but is it not very strange that a book with much attention to struggles against racism, inequality, slavery, environmental threats and the unfair distribution of wealth does not put legal history at its center? Uses and abuses of powers, legal doctrine and institutions, legislation and justice are not just at the periphery of such matters. They are part and parcel of these problems, prime movers and causes, channels of consequences to many events and solutions.

Jo Guldi and David Armitage want historians to tell stories that matter. Just choosing a long period in itself is not enough, and just dreaming about the chances of Big Data is no help, but creating and presenting sizeable answers when accessing and analyzing massive information is an aim not easily to accomplish. This book needs to be read with a red pencil. Your copy should be full with question marks and underlinings, emoticons and marks of approval, wonder and disbelief. The real question is not what these two distinguished scholars do within the provocative chapters of their double-length pamphlet, but what does it mean for your own future research practice, or from a reader perspective, what kind of history might be more rewarding than the studies I preferred until now? Combining the strengths of micro-history and a more synthetic approach within serial contextualism is one of the roads advocated by Guldi and Armitage. The study of revolutions, be it the French, the Industrial, the Russian or the Green Revolution, is helped both by studies with a narrow focus in location and time to look beyond the glamour and clamor of the great cities, and by attempts to create new syntheses building on existing studies, studies that will cover much longer periods. In the manifesto revolutions are a clear example, but it could be as helpful to look in this way, too,at the similarities and differences in riots and revolts, surely somewhat smaller events, but nevertheless often resonating long afterwards. You might find some inspiration in a post about the history of riots on my blog.

In fact studying riots can take you right into living history. The riots after the death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, got world-wide attention. The Washington University in St. Louis, MO, has created the digital archive Documenting Ferguson, and you can look also for example at a Ferguson research guide created by the University of Arizona and a similar guide from Michigan State University. This university has also put online a special guide concerning riots and trials touching upon African-American history, Outrageous Justice: Riots, Lynchings, False Accusations and Court Trials with numerous links to websites about trials and courts.

As far as the world extends

Cover Entanglements in Legal History

What are the new roads, scopes and aims of legal historians nowadays? A few paragraphs ago I wrote on purpose about transplanting. Looking at different legal systems is not only a practice in the field of comparative law. In the twentieth century Stephan Kuttner, David Daube, Alan Watson looked across the supposed borders of legal systems, and other scholars have followed their example. The latest issue of the journal Rechtsgeschichte-Legal History / Rg 22 (2014) is dedicated to transnational legal history. The preface by Thomas Duve, one of the two directors of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, makes clear how this institute seeks to include the whole world in is research, without forgetting its own history of research focusing on European legal history, fittingly symbolized by the new Helmut-Coing-Weg near the institute. It points to new roads with its publication series Global Perspectives on Legal History (GPLH), with the first two volumes already available not only in print but also as PDF’s. The first volume, Entanglements in Legal History: Conceptual Approaches, Thomas Duve (ed.) (GPLH, 1; 2014), sets an agenda for future research. The essays in this volumes look back at the positive and negative sides of earlier research, they chart the impact of colonial and imperial history, and look in more depth at legal transfers and reception of law in the field of international law since 1800. The second volume, Derecho privado y modernización. América Latina y Europa en la primera mitad del siglo XX, María Rosario Polotto, Thorsten Keiser and Thomas Duve (eds.) (GPLH, 2; 2015), looks at the interplay between European and Latin-American history in the field of private law during the first half of the twentieth century.

Closer to my country I am happy to see the very quick publication of the papers read during the last Dutch-Belgian Legal History Days in Brussels, December 2014, a biennial event which gives the floor in particular to young legal historians. Dave de ruysscher and four other scholars edited the volume Rechtsgeschiedenis op nieuwe wegen / Legal history, moving in new directions (Antwerpen-Apeldoorn 2015). Not only the Low Countries, but also the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Argentina figure in this volume. Of course much more could be mentioned. Let three examples suffice: John W. Cairns published this summer Codification, Transplants and History: Law Reform in Louisiana (1808) and Quebec (1866) (Clark, NJ, 2015) and Martin Vranken published Western Legal Traditions: A Comparison of Civil Law and Common Law (Sydney 2015). Earlier I wrote here about the Digital Panopticon, a larger than life offspring of the Old Bailey Online project, spanning the oceans and centuries between Britain and Australia and court records as its backbone.

Qua Patet Orbis, “as far as the world extends”, is the motto of the Dutch Marine Corps founded in 1665. Its history of world-wide presence right until now reminds me that we cannot shake off entirely the impact of colonial history and imperialism. Being aware of traditional perspectives and biases is often already an effort, and taking new directions might easily become just a slogan. The book of Jo Guldi and David Armitage deserves at the very least your attention to check for cobwebs in your own thinking and actions. Legal historians might not be able to change the world by the force of their research, but they cannot completely ignore the major problems of our century, such as violence, racial tensions, slavery, human traffic, fundamentalist movements, the weaknesses of civil society and the destruction of natural resources. Legal historians are well equipped to gauge the impact or lack of impact of laws, the workings of bureaucracies, the shifting meanings and connotations of words associated with justice and injustice, equality and equity. It would be a shame to create only results to save yourself a place within the ivory towers of the academic world, and luckily I trust that many legal historians are simply too human and wise to enclose themselves.

Old laws in a new world: The case of New Amsterdam

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

In my latest post I almost lamented the emphasis on European history on my legal history website. In order to make up for any deficiencies I decided to choose a subject outside Europe for my next post. Ironically I arrived at New Amsterdam 1647-1661 thanks to the European History Primary Sources portal. This portal brings succinct records for digitized source collections of whatever nature, tagged with basic information about countries, languages, periods, subjects and resource type. The subject colonial provided an entrance at the EHPS portal for this digital collection created by the New York City Department of Records and Administration. The contents of this digital collection are mainly original and translated ordinances and regulations, a theme firmly within the scope of my blog. In fact the very preponderance of legal resources made me very curious about this collection. Other ordinances from Dutch colonies during the Early Modern period are now also available online elsewhere. Here I will look briefly at those digital collections, too.

A legislative legacy

Earlier this year I enjoyed reading Russell Shorto’s book Amsterdam. A history of the world’s most liberal city (2013) about the rich history of the Dutch capital. In a conversation someone pointed me to his book about the early history of New York The island at the center of the world (2004) which I still had not read. In his book about Amsterdam Shorto dedicated a chapter about the impact of Amsterdam on New York (“Seeds of influence”), yet another reason to get hold of his study about the colorful history of the Dutch colony on American soil.

At the moment of writing the digital gallery consists of just fifteen images and the series of municipal bylaws created between 1647 and 1661. The Municipal Archives and the Municipal Library of New York City will soon add more digitized items to this gallery.

An early Dutch record from New York - image NYC Department of Records

The first ordinance issued by Peter Stuyvesant as Director-General of New Amsterdam, May 31, 1647 – NAR, BK 1

The heart of the digital collection is made up of ordinances and regulations. As for now there are four distinct series, the first with original Dutch records between 1647 and 1661, the second for a manuscript with translations of Dutch records (1647-1654), the third with a digitized version of a manuscript by E.B. O’Callaghan from 1868 with ordinances of New Amsterdam (1647-1661), and the fourth a digital version of the first volume of Berthold Fernow’s Records of New Amsterdam (7 volumes, New York, 1897-1898).

The first section gives you an immediate experience of the surviving resources from the Dutch period of New York. Dutch historians will recognize a smooth seventeenth-century hand, and for others this kind of handwriting is vastly different from English handwriting of the same period. The manuscript with translations of the register shown in the first section might be the work of Cornelius van Westbrook or Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan. The third section gives a manuscript by O’Callaghan with his translation of the same register. In the last section Fernow took over O’Callaghan’s translation of the first register. The digital version shows only the translation of the same register (up to page 49).

The register has been used to create a portrait of Stuyvesant, busy regulating daily life, in particular formulating policies ensuring the common good and adjusting affairs. The general impression is that of working out policies instead of working to ensure justice. Nevertheless I saw also an undated prayer for opening council meetings. If you would look in more detail you would for instance notice the ruling urging to pay Indians correctly for their work (September 28, 1648) and the order on the conveyance of real estate in courts convened by the Director-General (February 7, 1650). This raises the general question of ordinances concerning private law, other laws, the borders of jurisdiction and the functioning of courts.

The first register is given an honoured place, but somehow I had expected more. It is nice to see the different stages from transcripts to translation, and it shows Charles Gehring and all working in his trail were not the first to deal with the records of the Dutch colonial period of New York and surrounding settlements and areas. Those dealing with Dutch palaeography would certainly welcome here a transcription of at least a part of this hallowed register. Let’s say it without hesitation, this digital gallery is really a showcase, if not for its content, then surely for using in its web address proudly the new domain .nyc, anyway shorter than the .amsterdam domain.

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

Russell Shorto’s book appeared eleven years ago and it has become a classic work, even to the degree that its references remain unchanged in later impressions. For the latest scholarship about colonial New York and the New Netherland period you can turn to the only website Shorto refers to, the New Netherland Project, nowadays called the New Netherland Institute (NNI). This institute maintains a bibliography, and it has created an impressive digital library with both older publications and editions, and also digital versions of its own publications. In 2010 the New Netherland Research Center opened in the same building in Albany, NY, where the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are housed, too.

The logical question to ask here is what we can find here concerning legal history. Property law is written large for example in the three volumes of the Register of the Provincial Secretary (1638-1660). Here, too, is the luxury of a digitized version of the first attempts at translation, Gehring’s modern translation and digitized images of the register itself. Three volumes have been edited with the Council Minutes for the period 1638-1656, a primary source for the executive, legislative, and judicial proceedings of the Director General and Council of New Netherland. The sixteenth volume in the publication series gives us Laws and Writs of Appeal (part I, 1647-1663). The second part of volume 16 contains translations of court minutes from Fort Orange (1652-1660). Again property law is the subject of the translated Land Papers (1630-1664). Fort Orange became eventually Albany. There are minutes of the court of Albany from 1668 to 1685, now kept at the Albany County Hall of Records. The list grows really long! The Van Rensselaer Manor comes into view, too, as are the New Netherland Papers of Hans Bontemantel, a director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West Indies Company. Dutch colonial history elsewhere is also present, in the Curaçao Papers (1640-1665) (volume 17), here with a transcription, translation and images .

With separate access to the introductions of all sets, a guide to weights and measures, and last but not least both the original guide to Dutch papers created by Charles Gehring in 1977 and 1978 and its digital successor (2011-2012), you can only wish to have an online directory to the older phases of Dutch palaeography to try to decipher some of the images and to look more closely at Dutch words in the transcriptions. Luckily the magnificent multivolume Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal has become available at Leiden in a fine searchable version. The link to the digital collections of the New York State Archives does at first only lead to a free text search and four browsing filters (collections, places, repositories, state agencies), but I could quickly spot the collection for the Dutch settlement at the Delaware river (just one document from 1656), the administrative correspondence for the Dutch colony in New York (231 documents) and colonial council minutes with for example the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance.

Elsewhere, too, you can find digitized sources from the Dutch colonial period in the United States. At a branch of Ancestry is a useful links collection called New Netherland and Beyond. The section about the Dutch period (1621-1664) is the one to go for my purpose. You will find here for example A.J Van Laer’s selections from the Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts (1908) also dealt with by the NNI, and generally digitized versions of the finding aids, reports and translations created by Van Laer, O’Callaghan and Fernow.

Interestingly Dutch ordinances from the Early Modern period are in particular available online for the Dutch colonial period. The Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch history has created a digital version of the West-Indisch Plakaatboek within its project The Dutch in the Caribbean World c. 1670 – c. 1870. The digital Plakaatboek Guyana 1670-1816 has been launched in February 2015, and this project dealing with Essequibo, Berbice and Demerary, too, is accessible with an English interface. The Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek 1602-1811, Jacobus Anne van der Chijs (ed.) (17 volumes, Batavia, 1885-1901) has been digitized partially at Oxford (vol. 1-3), but it is available completely – and nicely searchable, too – within the Colonial Collection of Leiden University Library. For the Kaapse Plakkaatboek (6 vol., Cape Town, 1944-1951), edited by M.K. Jeffreys and S.D. Naudé, the first free volumes appear in the digital books section of the firm aiming to be the One and Only Web Firm. The two volumes of the Ceylonees plakkaatboek, Lodewijk Hovy (ed.) (Hilversum 1991) deal with the period 1638-1796; in arrangement with the publishing firm you can view large parts of it online in the same virtual library as for its South African counterpart. Hovy added to his edition a book-length introduction. The Dutch presence in Brazil was an element in my post last year about Brazil’s legal history, but there is not yet a general edition of ordinances. By the way, in the Dutch language both spellings plakaatboek and plakkaatboek exist side by side, yet another difficulty to trace these modern editions and their older predecessors.

Mapping the early history of New York

By now it should be clear how necessary it is to view the digital gallery of one early register within a larger context, for example that of the Dutch colonial enterprises, but it is certainly wise to look also at other countries and their activities on the American continent. Even the English colonies show great differences. A monolithic view tailored to the taste of those wanting rapid answers caters for a substantial niche, but it does not bring you answers with subtle nuances or even new questions.

Shorto makes a case for looking anew at both the origins of New York and the United States. Looking at the Dutch period and the legal transplants effected by the English can help to see American legal history in more depth, beyond the battlegrounds of originalism. Shorto tries to create a new picture of Peter Stuyvesant (around 1611-1672), yet it might seem he overstates his case. I cannot help thinking that one tries to make out much of relatively scarce resources. The translated documents show more pieces of a puzzle, and maybe indicate we have to deal with several puzzles with large gaps or with maps showing empty areas.

In fact when preparing this post I did not just look at sources indicated at the website of the New Netherland Project. The Fordham University in Nw York City has created a digital collection of old maps showing New Amsterdam, New Netherland and New England. In Chicago the Newberry Library presents an interesting gallery with maps for American colonial history, initially made for educational use. A particular link with New Amsterdam is provided by the digital slavery collections of the New York Historical Society. Even if they do not deal directly with the Dutch period it is seducing to look at them in connection with the certification in 1665 by Peter Stuyvesant of land grants to manumitted slaves, digitized at the NNI.

Chances for new research

In 2016 the exhibit Origins – Light on New York’s founders will start. At the accompanying website the portraits of some iconic Dutch figures look already at you. Let’s hope this occasion will be just another spur to delve into the early sources of New York’s history and of American colonial history in general. It would be most welcome if at least some scholars and in particular legal historians study aspects of that early history starting with the original sources and reading the Dutch of the founders. Shorto makes you see the people, hear the many languages, smell the filth of the colony and the fresh air of a green island, and takes you on a voyage back in history much in the style of a novel. Exactly his fluent style and evocation of people and events make me shiver sometimes when I feel his imagination gets too strong. L.J Wagenaar wrote in 1995 in his review of Hovy’s edition of Dutch ordinances for Ceylon these sources provided him with living images just like a novel.

Russell Shorto cannot be faulted for using with verve a style that might be termed journalistic. His books make you curious for more. He raises questions and new views, and books with these qualities are as important as book with answers. He challenges us to write as lively as he can, to do the hard work in searching, studying and analysing resources, formulating new theories and creating vast vistas we would not have dreamt of before.

Here I will honour Shorto by pointing in his way to a fact that might shed light on Stuyvesant. I am finishing this post at the Frisian island Terschelling, a familiar location for readers here. Near the village Midsland-Noord, a new part of the old village Midsland, is a spot with sands and heath called Stuyvesant, perhaps best translated as “moving sand”. Peter Stuyvesant came from a village in West-Frisia. Even without pursuing this toponym in full depth it hints at a certain quality of things eternally moving, partially hidden, partially blowing in your face, a presence which slip though your fingers like sand. My country can still boast a number of these moving sand regions as nowhere else in Europe. Just as New York Terschelling is blessed with a bay offering itself as a perfect natural harbor… There are limits to our knowledge, but they will move with every new question, with every new concept and view guiding our quest for perceiving the realities of the past. Legal sources might be tapped in ways yet untried, and historical sources can be read very differently when you put them side by side with the traces and sources of legal history.

A postscript

After finishing this post I felt slightly awkward about not mentioning any resources at the New York Public Library. For historical maps of early New York one can start with the online exhibition Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-2009. Among the digital collections of the NYPL are early maps. The research guide Sea Blazers and Early Scriveners: The First Guide Books to New York City introduces you not only to these early guide books, but gives you also quick access to relevant literature in the holdings of the NYPL.