Tag Archives: Open access

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.

Approaching digitized pamphlets, broadsides and chapbooks

Cover of a sixteenth century pamphlet - image: The Newberry, ChicagoAmong digital collections with old printed works pamphlets, broadsides, broadside ballads and chapbooks have theit own place. You can find a fair number of them in the largest digital libraries. Commercial firms, too, have created some vast pamphlet collections. However, the number of digital collections in open access for this genre is surprisingly large, and not restricted to the Anglophone world. In some ways these cheap printed works have become priceless, because they record ephemeral and fleating information with a resemblance to social media in our own time. Finding such digital collections is one thing, making them better accessible proved to be another challenge. Recently I completed at Zotero a new searchable form of my list of digital collections devoted to these genres which in my view makes them much more accessible.

Adding value to a list

Logo Zotero

When I started to create a list of digital pamphlet collections my purpose was already not to list them only in whatever sensible order, but to present them with comments on their contents and scope. For years a division in a section with some general themes and periods, and a section in alphabetical order by country seemed sufficient. Occasionally people thanked me for my efforts in compiling this information, no complaints about shortcomings have ever been filed. Of course I could benefit from remarks about lacunae and oversights.

However, a tiny third section with “Other themes” certainly was visible and stood as a kind of question mark about this order of things. Some themes touched only a few countries, others illustrated the growing impact of Europe in other parts of the world, some of them would merit inclusion under another heading, too. At some point I started a section on chapbooks, and later on also for broadside ballads. A post here about complaintes criminelles, French broadside ballads about crimes and trials, prompted me into making space for this genre as well. Politics, government, law and crimes are among the themes of ephemeral printed works. However cheap the paper or crude the illustrations, they, too, form a source for legal history, in particular for the image of law and justice, and even for legal iconography. Festival books, too, deserved inclusion on my list. In 2018 I discussed here a number of digital collections with festival books.

In order not to make anyone unhappy when seeing an interesting collection only accessible at subscribing institutions and for their cardholders, I focused almost exclusively on collections in open access. I listed only those licensed collections when you can at least browse and search them, leaving you with at least some substantial information, even without final complete access. Some licensed collections contain many thousand items, but some digital collections in open access are equally rich in numbers. The first image in this post shows a pamphlet printed in Lyon in 1561 from the holdings of The Newberry Library in Chicago, a collection with 38,000 items in the Internet Archive, also searchable with Philologic4 (ARTFL, University of Chicago). On a separate section of its website The Newberry informs you about many aspects of this project, including data versions of the entire set.

Some projects give you not only digitized items, but also access to an online catalogue or a virtual exhibit. For some subjects bibliographies exist. Sometimes even more can be found: The catalogue of the priceless collection of early editions of works by Martin Luther at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, many of them pamphlets, amounts to a bibliography worth mentioning. When you start counting the number of similar cases it becomes clear that even a commented list can offer you only a restricted number of services, let alone a bare list.

Qualities and quantity

How can you make the various kinds of information in a list better accessible? Having information at your hand is one thing, using it to gain knowledge leading eventually to insight is another thing. When you reach a certain number of items in a list, catalogue or bibliography it may become advisable to store them electronically, not only in a text program, but in some kind of information storage and retrieval system. I contemplated creating an online database, either in a specially created format or at an existing platform. A few months ago I looked rather closely at an online database for the humanities in order to deal with a much longer list. The benefit of accompanying visualization seemed most interesting. For this shorter list a chance encounter with a sophisticated bibliography at Zotero quickly led me to this platform.

At Zotero you can create online bibliographies with facilities for rapid reshuffling and exporting in any layout according to the styles preferred by research institutions and journals. You can restrict access to yourself or a group, or invite people to work together on a project. It is possible to create sections in a bibliography, and, for me very interesting, you can create and use tags, labels and classifications at will. Combining tags is very easy and effective for finding information and relating it to a wider context. Thus Zotero can function to a certain extent as a relational database. Using tags is also most sensible when you deal with collections in a variety of languages. Zotero uses icons for particular kinds of information,, be they books, videos, web pages, statutes or cases. It is also possible to import data using scripts.

In my searchable overview I use icons sparingly. Putting the items into Zotero manually gave me a chance to look again at digital collections. Some of them had grown substantially, some of them are at a slightly or completely different web address, some of them lacked sufficient descriptions. It was pleasant to discover for some collections a web directory, a bibliography or other useful information well worth mentioning. I decided to mark the tags for genres within a collection with colours, and also catalogues and bibliographies. Thus for example collections with both pamphlets and broadsides stand out, as do those with a catalogue or a bibliography. I was able to add also the major separate collections with digitized pamphlets from the First World War which you can find at my blog Digital 1418.

Looking at the new overview I am surprised by the ways you can now relate collections to each other in new ways. In fact these combinations sometimes helped me to add or refine tagging, or I could quickly add a collection that should figure here, too. Some gaps have become more visible, too. To mention just a few examples, until now I have included only few collections with pamphlets concerning the Second World War, and the number of collections concerning women is low, too. There is a substantial number of collections from Spain, but Portugal is currently absent. How about links to digitized catalogues for famous pamphlet collections?! Such examples stress the fact overviews will always remain work in progress.

Digital durabiblity and visibility

Logo the Mmeory of the Netherlands 2020

There is always some reason to adduce here my Dutch view, but this time I am not happy with a change in the digital presence of some Dutch pamphlet collections. The relevant collections that could conveniently be found under the aegis of The Memory of the Netherlands portal have been moved to a new subdomain of the Delpher portal for digitized Dutch books, journals and newspapers. At the old web address a project using the same name, Geheugen van Nederland [The Memory of the Netherlands] announces for a general public new efforts for enhanced visibility of digitized cultural heritage collections. You would have expected the creation of redirects for the old links to the relevant collections, both in Dutch and English, but this has not or not yet happened. The old links were definitely not permalinks, and it seems not all old links have already been turned into permanent links.

In view of the ongoing campaign for digital visibility, sustainability and usability led by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network this is simply inexplicable. Creating a new platform with currently just three themes and giving the old portal a new logo seems to have been more important than realizing the impact of the change of addresses. The absence of effective and wide communication this summer about this change adds to the paradox of removing a working portal with substantial contents for an almost empty shop window. Just one example of the impact: The Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, an important contributing institution, still gives links for its web projects at The Memory at the old Dutch version. In the English version of these links for only one collection the link to the new platform has been set, for other collections the old links lead to error messages. The Memory of the Netherlands is a cultural heritage portal with rich collections in open access in need of good maintenance and a new lifespan. In fact, this portal, too, helped me to think about adding yet another genre of popular prints to my overview. Hopefully the current awkward situation can soon end by putting things into order.

Whatever you may think of this unlucky affair, it underlines the fact some efforts are needed for creating and maintaining a digital portal. In my case I commit myself to continuity and renewal for my list and the searchable overview with working URL’s for more than two hundred digitized collections for pamphlets and related genres, and a score of supporting websites. If you spot any broken link in the list or the new overview, please do not hesitate to contact me by mail. Hopefully this service for scholars and anyone interested can achieve its aim of assisting to find your way to these sources in the virtual world.

Against racism, for justice

These weeks see worldwide demonstrations and outcries against racism after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a victim of police violence. What can we do to stop this violence? Which approaches can help to expose racism? What is our own role? It is a real challenge to add here something worth of your time and attention that has not already been said more eloquently and argued more convincingly by others. In my own country a recent report showed more traces of racism exist than Dutchmen would like to admit. Therefore it is not possible to tell others to change, and at the same time not look at your own country.

However, remaining silent is exactly one of the problems around racism. In this post I will try to look at some aspects of racism in the United States connected with law and justice. Just listening to people telling us about the impact of racism is one of the most important steps towards a society where people truly enjoy equal rights. A focus on oral history resources is perhaps closest to my own perspective and knowledge. The ultimate aim of the struggle against racism is to achieve a greater measure of justice for all.

A brief look at the Netherlands

In April 2020 the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau [Social and Cultural Planning Office] published the report Ervaren discriminatie in Nederland II [Experiencing discrimination in the Netherlands II] (PDF, 2,4 MB) with an English summary. A quarter of the Dutch population indicated they have experiences of discrimination. The degree of discrimination is different for various groups, and this indicates there will not be just a single solution leading to a more inclusive society. The report shows not only people with a different origin perceive discrimination, but their numbers are surely high, and they perceive it stronger than other groups. They mention things such as not getting a job because their name sounds foreign. Buying a house can be difficult when some estate agents accept wishes not invite them as prospective buyers, even when these agents know this kind of discrimination is not allowed. People told they did not get a job because their place of birth is outside the Netherlands.

The Dutch situation does not stem only from a colonial past in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Labor immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, too, arrived in my country. Many of them have now a Dutch passport, but they and their children do experience forms of exclusion, just because of their names and the perception people have of them. The single most important matter is probably not being aware at all that people experience this exclusion. You might be tempted to thing outright racism does not exist anymore, but suggestive regards, telling remarks and bad jokes exist. My tiny country with just seventeen million inhabitants can seem a paradise, but it is part of a larger world. It may be hard to believe, but it cannot be denied forms of racism and exclusion exist in the Netherlands, too, and you cannot blame just one political party or whatever organisation for fostering racism. Multiple causes are at work.

Eyes wide open, ears willing to listen

Racism touches individual persons, groups and eventually an entire nation or country. It will not do to state you have no idea of any form of exclusion, inequality, injustice and outright violence. It would mean you think you live somewhere else, in another world. Admitting and acknowledging it happens in the very same world where you live, and perhaps not in your own safe haven, but alas surely in many other places, is a starting point. A second thing is harder to achieve, admitting you have probably distinct blind spots in your perception. On the level of a country this might lead to not understanding almost two nations exist within one country. A third thing is the temptation to think in compartments, with “we” on the good side, and “they” on the other side. A fourth difficulty is the great seduction of either deciding for others or letting the government decide about such people, as if you can create a distance from others, instead of listening first of all to others, to their perceptions, feelings and grievances, to their views about ways of building society and administering justice.

In my study I sit across a cupboard with books. A few years ago I put right behind the screen of my computer at eye height a number of books about justice, as a sign not to forget about justice when studying law and legal history. The things staring in your face can be hard to detect, a fact of life.

Logo Black Past

When I started thinking about writing as a legal historian about current events I quickly saw some websites providing you with very good overviews of online materials to start studying African-American history. The Library of Congress marks 22 of its 424 digital collections as directly touching this subject. The Digital Public Library of America has 27 primary source sets concerning African Americans. A good starting point is the Black Past portal with its great range of subjects and themes. Its page on research guides and websites for African-American history is most helpful. It is only natural to mention here the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and its digital resources guide. Pursuing a road to the history of racism within the history of the United States brings you to institutions and portals such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Facing History and Ourselves, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and the National Council on Public History. Two other museums have to be mentioned here, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, the latter with an oral history project. No doubt some of the websites and projects I mention here figure also in this online overview of Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources.

Among the organizations issuing statements about racism and the death of George Floyd is also the American Historical Association. The AHA statement has been endorsed by seventy-five scholarly organizations. This statement focuses on the history of police violence, and it urges to learn from history, even if the facts abut structural injustice and ingrained violence are not welcome, because they damage the image people had of America and Americans.

Oral history

Logo American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Perhaps you would prefer to use visual resources to tell stories of the position of African-Americans in the United States, the racist behaviour against them and the actions of individuals, organizations, state and federal institutions to change society and uphold human rights in a truly equal way for every American citizen. In my view using oral history brings home the message that people tell stories of their lives, of injustice and humiliation, of their efforts against all odds to change things. Looking at television and listening to radio broadcasts of public networks in the United States can certainly show something else, the relative invisibility of African Americans during many decades. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a great resource to pursue this research direction.

Logo Oral History Association

At the website of the International Oral History Association you will find a substantial number of links to sites with oral history projects in the United States. The Oral History Association (OHA) is the organization in the USA for oral history. The OHA, too, issued a statement about the death of George Floyd. The OHA gives you a long list of oral history centers in the United States, To give an example, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNH) does work in the field of oral history, in particular within the project Voices of Minnesota. Within this project of the MNH a number of resources concern African-American history. The Minnesota Digital Library is a portal to other projects and collections for Minnesota’s history, and to an oral history transciption style guide. At Minnesota Reflections you can find some 2,000 oral history interviews, the majority of them with texts, a substantial number with recordings and nearly fifty with moving images.

Logo Place Matters

Writing here “moving images” was at first a literal quote from a search by format for oral histories at Minnesota Reflections, but of course the other meaning of moving images is most expressive and powerful. Other words, too, are these days most telling. While preparing this post I was struck by the very name of a project for community history in New York City, Place Matters. The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, has created Stories Matter Software allowing you to clip, index and export audiovisual recordings to avoid some of the difficulties with transcriptions of interviews. The links list of the center in Montreal is impressive, too. The skills of oral historians, their examples and guides, both in the United States and elsewhere, can help to document also the tragic events in Minneapolis and the reactions of people and institutions.

Listening to the stories about the events in Minneapolis and following the world wide reactions is one thing, pondering their meaning and preserving their memory is important, too, but naturally thoughts go also to ways to tackle racism and exclusion.

Talking from your own position

At the end of this concise post I am very much aware that my overview of resources can seem too detached, taken too much from a virtual helicopter view, as if this would be possible. I am not writing from Olympian heights, but definitively with an ocean between me and America. The news from the United States touched me. I try to think about it, and at the same time I feel emotions, too. In my overview you will notice I gave detailed attention to some resources, other figure only with their name and web address. I tried not to focus only on racism and police violence, and therefore I mentioned first a number of institutions which deal with many aspects of American history.

At my blog I try to look at legal history in its manifold incarnations. Not only positive elements in historical laws, law courts or legal education come into view. Several posts focused on parts of the history of slavery, for example my post on the digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. Violence in the United States was the subject of a post in 2018 on historical gun laws.

I will not and I cannot offer here political advice or show legal roads to eliminate forms of racism, to reform the police force or to diminish endemic violence and the use of guns in the United States. In a recent conversation about what you can do yourself, even at a great distance, we mused about the importance of communication, of listening to each other behind words and moods, about the need for awareness of cultural differences in communication. Changing the way police officers talk with others, prepare themselves for non-violent communication instead of the proverbial Shoot first, ask questions later, and reflect about their image in the eyes of others, is not the quickest and easiest thing to do, but certainly worth an effort. In the same conversation we talked also about the power of symbols and the role of emotions.

As for real stumble blocks for political change in the United States I could not help remembering the way voters have to register for elections. From the viewpoint of a country where being registered in a municipality and fulfilling some simple criteria such as age and not being excluded from the vote by a verdict of a court, leads automatically to receiving your voting card, this is a remarkable situation. It is a challenge for all Americans to gain insight into the many ways African-American citizens can be hindered in exercising their civil rights to full extent as anyone else, to realize what impact such things have, and to understand how this feels in the face of a history of exclusion, open or veiled racism, and injustice. Looking critically at your own country, your own role, your own prejudices and quick opinions, is something we all can do. It might imply leaving your own bubble, changing your own role and perspectives. In 2017 I ended a post about the United States with words that fit here, too: The old wisdom that politics will touch you sooner or later still holds true, as will visions of law and justice.

A postscript

Among the many links you could possibly add to this post I would like to mention Archivists Against History Repeating Itself and Archives For Black Lives, both with resource lists.

Searching digitized Dutch archival collections

The archives and records are accissibleThe crisis around the COVID-19 virus has stopped normal life in many countries. Many people work at home using digital connections to their office. Public institutions are closed, including archives, libraries and museums. Websites offering easy access to cultural heritage resources and other platforms for their virtual presence with digitized resources and open data have become quite important for everyone who wants to know about the holdings of archives, libraries and museums, let alone for scholars wanting to do research about subjects connected with resources in these institutions. For them having access to online finding aids and catalogues is one thing, being able to investigate sources using indexes, transcriptions and digitized images is a second much valued matter.

Some institutions are rightly famous for their clear presentation of digitized resources, others present some highlights, others have digitized materials, but these are not always easily found. In this post I report from my own experience in March 2020 in finding and accessing their resources. Of course I will focus here on resources for legal history. I could have reported a bit earlier but for the pleasant reason at least one Dutch archive seduced me to start researching some very interesting documents. However, in this case is perhaps better to report from work in progress, and to help first people wanting to start doing research with materials from Dutch archival institutions. The other post will follow soon.

Visible and hidden treasures

When creating a website or digital platform one can design it mainly with a view to the own institution or much more with current and new visitors in mind. I have seen many websites with two menus, one at the top aiming more at the expected public and the other with often practical things such as office hours and background information. In view of their rich holdings many archives face the challenge not to focus too much on famous collections, but to offer also a general introduction.

In this post I will scarcely mention the guides and help offered for genealogical research. Registers for baptism, marriage and burials and the modern civic registration have almost everywhere been indexed and even digitized. Searching for persons is often made easier by using the personen view which enables you to search for persons in several archival collections with one search action. Dutch archives often have a beeldbank (image gallery) for digitized drawings, prints and photographs. Building plans, a particular kind of drawings, can not always been shown at websites due to copyright reasons. Archives increasingly put a special button or link on their homepage with an explanation how to get access to building plans. Historic newspapers (kranten) are often displayed on a separate website. The archival systems and the choice of software play a role here, too, in deciding where to place specific materials. In January 2019 I wrote a post about the launch of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland, a portal presenting medieval and later charters in Dutch holdings, a project which literally was built using the system of the firm behind the Archieven portal.

There are several ways to put digitized archival records online. In some cases there is a dedicated platform for particular resources, or they are presented at a subdomain. Other options are a partnership with other local or regional institutions for cultural heritage with its own platform or international cooperation with other archives. In a fairly large number of cases digitized items are connected directly with the online finding aids of Dutch archives. Depending on the system an icon appears either at the collection level or at the series or item level signalling their presence. Digital library catalogues often offer the choice to search only for digitized items. It is amazing to see Dutch archives only rarely offer a similar search facility.

At this point it is maybe wise to point to my own experience of the past week. A showcase at the website of an archive made me curious about a particular document which was presented without a reference. Even though the image suggested it might indeed been digitized, I had to start with a general search action, not with entering a special digital entrance. The point is that in some cases you will find out about things, however difficult the way to find something you might want to call a hidden gem. However, when offering finding aids archivists most certainly give access to their collections. “Hidden” can be a relative matter, not pointing to obvious ways and entrances is something else.

Logo Dutch Digital Heritage Network

In 2019 Dutch archives themselves were called upon by the foundation Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland (Digital Heritage Netherlands, DEN) to contribute to visible, usable and sustainable digital heritage, and to participate in the efforts of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, available in Dutch and English. For many years DEN presented the projectendatabank, a database for Dutch digitization projects on its website, but this did not return after a redesign of the website. In the section for visible digital heritage the envisaged users are divided into three kinds, the general public, education and professional users. Alas the English section is somewhat reticent about this matter. After a preparatory report on the situation in 2017 (Nulmeting digitaal erfgoed) reports have been made about behavorial profiles of users, the availability and usability of resources for education, and a report on customer travels (Klantreizen Digitaal Erfgoed, 2019). None of these reports is available in English. It seems a report about the specific wishes of professional users has not yet appeared. Eight profiles have been defined for potential users, ranging from people searching entertainment and gaming to persons wanting to search or experience. The ninth user, the visitor who goes to an institution in person, is not forgotten. Better visibility of highlights and treasures is a clear wish, but not the one most often expressed. The report on customer travels tells about the ways users find information and their comments on the experience to reach their goals. it is sobering to read the comment it was not encouraging having to search yourself when you finally arrived at the website of an archive or museum.

Surely archives are aware their holdings are not immediately visible and tangible as the objects in a museum and the books in a library, but on the other hand they hold the keys to surprises and research adventures. Items in an archival collection are part of a context which is every bit as important as the items. I must confess my shame when I saw the derelict website of an earlier combined effort of Dutch archives to present themselves at Ons DNA | De Nederlandse Archieven (Our DNA: The Dutch Archives), its ugliness crowned by a notice “© 2020”. Its initiative for a yearly prize for the most interesting archival item of the year, the Stuk van het jaar competition, stopped after four editions. The project for the yearly History Month supported this initiative, yet another platform that certainly can help to bring archives into view.

Against these negative results stands the appreciation of the biographical-genealogical tv series Verborgen Verleden, the Dutch version of Who do you think you are?, and the tv series Historisch Bewijs of the Rijksmuseum about historical objects put to the test. Forensic research and archival research are combined in this series that amounts to a kind of historical crime scene investigation, but it does shed light on some famous objects and periods in Dutch history. The episodes about the sword used to behead Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and the question of determing which is the real book chest among three chests used by Hugo Grotius to escape in 1621 from castle Loevestein even have a legal history twist. It is not clear whether activities surrounding the commemoration of 75 years liberation can continue, but here Dutch archives certainly contributed successfully to the Second World War portal Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen. Its bilingual offspring Oorloglevens [War lives] just won a prestigious GLAMi Award.

However important the efforts led by DEN for a common approach and a national infrastructure for access to digitized cultural heritage in the Netherlands, these efforts will not led to immediate changes in the visibility of digitized archival records. In March 2020 DEN called for the creation of a national digital collection Coronavirus in Nederland, and many archival institutions quickly responded with initiatives which will eventually will be assembled in a central digital collection. The focus of Dutch Digital Heritage Network seems to be on access at thematic portals, portals for specific sectors and provincial heritage portals, as indicated in the recent report Organisatie van het aggregatielandschap (PDF). I looked at the portals Brabants Erfgoed and Collectie Gelderland where you will find from archives mainly their image collections.

Mapping digitized archives

Logo ICA

The heading of this paragraph would have been a fine title for this post, but it only came into view when I saw the new interactive map of digitized archives created by the International Council for Archives. The announcement by ICA (@ICArchiv) of the map and the invitation to join in this action comes with an online form to add your institution and fill in details about finding aids, digital collection(s) or a crowdsourcing project you would like to highlight. I cannot blame you for going immediately to the interactive map launched on April 1, 2020. This is serious indeed and not a joke for April Fools’ Day.

As announced my overview of digital collections in Dutch archives does not mention image galleries, projects for newspapers and digitized records for genealogical resources. Such digital collections luckily already exist for a couple of years, and publishing digitized finding aids is common practice. My overview aims at the levels following these services which have proved to be very helpful for many people, be they ordinary citizens, history aficionados or scholars.

Some archives use the trick to create a subset within their archival collections for those which have been digitized. Thus the Zeeuws Archief (Zeeland Archives) in Middelburg present fifteen digitized collections. You can view this website also in English. I had expected to find very quickly, within a few steps, the digitized archival collections of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, but they were not immediately visible. I distinctly remember some years ago you could reach them quicker.

Clear overviews of digitized resources can be found for a number of regional archives, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg, with both images and transcriptions for charters on a subdomain, at the Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena in Heusden, and at the Regionaal Archief Zuid-Utrecht in Wijk bij Duurstede with a special collection for digitized transcriptions and indexes. The Waterlands Archief in Purmerend has a section for digitized highlights. At the Historisch Centrum Overijssel (Zwolle and Deventer) you can find digitized microfiches and microfilms, including those for some of the medieval manuscripts in the Collectie Emmanuelshuizen.

Logo Koloniën van Weldadigheid

A number of archives works with separate platforms. In the three northern provinces Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe the regional archives have set up platforms with both digitized genealogical records and other resources. At Alle Friezen you can find by clicking on the tab Bron (Resource) for instance records of the nedergerechten, lower tribunals, and also notarial records and registers of other tribunals. For Groningen Alle Groningers offers in the field of justice and order access to acts of lower tribunals and inheritance taxation documents. The Drents Archief in Assen offers for the province of Drenthe not just resources at Alle Drenten, but also a nifty subset with records of Alle Kolonisten, the “colonists” of several nineteenth-century colonies for the poor with the collective name Koloniën van Weldadigheid. You can use indexes, browse images of original registers and also read letters. By the way, these three provinces all have a special website for its archival network, the Groninger Archiefnet, the Fries Archiefnet (interface Dutch. Frisian and English) and the Drents Archiefnet which offer searchable overviews of online finding aids and also thematic overviews. A good example in this category is also the municipal archive of Bois-le-Duc, Erfgoed ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which put notarial acts, a number of other collections and especially the famous scabinal registers of the Bosch Protocol on a dedicated platform.

Other archives offer good access to a number of digital collections. The Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum (BHIC) in Den Bosch offers access to criminal sentences between 1811 and 1930, and to the resources concerning the juges de paix (1811-1838). The central search page of the BHIC for archival collections contains rich digitized resoures for legal historians, in particular concerning the court of the Raad van Brabant (1586-1811), and also access to notarial acts, seals and permissions for having weapons. However, it is not immediately clear you will find here digitized materials. Only after starting searching in these collections icons indicate this. You might expect icons, too, in the Archievenoverzicht, the overview of archival collections. Perhaps the firm of this archival system used by many Dutch archive can quickly come with a simple additional icon within the archival overview. The West-Brabants Archief, Bergen op Zoom, indicates with icons in its browsing view for archival records the presence of scans; by clicking on Bron you can filter for particular document genres.

For the province Utrecht Het Utrechts Archief has several almost completely or partially digitized collections. At least one partially digitized collection, toegang 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties [Collection photocopies and transcriptions] contains a number of digitized transcriptions of medieval and sixteenth-century records, mainly for the city Utrecht, but some also for the States of Utrecht. It seems inside knowledge is necessary to realize that the medieval materials of the Domkapittel, the cathedral chapter (toegang 216-1), and also the medieval records of the city Utrecht (1122 to 1577, toegang 701) have been digitized quite recently. A biblical proverb says your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing, but this does not hold true for the subject of digitization. Not just now, in a period of social isolation and virtual contacts, but generally such information should be communicated swiftly. It is a most natural thing to do, moreover because it has been financed ultimately by tax payers.

Let’s end here with an example from Limburg. The Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg in Maastricht has both a digitized collection on its own website, for notarial acts, and a collection on an external platform, the Early Modern visitation registers of the diocese Roermond held at the diocesan archive.

And now…

It would not bring very much here if I added here also information about the provinces Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Noord-Holland en Zuid-Holland. You might think I mentioned all regional archives in Brabant or Utrecht, but in fact I am not even close to presenting them all. I want to make one exception. When I saw the webpage with an overview of transcriptions at the Regionaal Archief Alkmaar I knew this would at some point return here in a post, because a substantial number of these transcriptions deal with legal records. It seems most practical to create a PDF with my current overview. Of course there are oversights and omissions, but this is natural for work in progress, to be updated as soon as possible.

A few months ago I read with great interest the study of Huub Sanders, Het virus der betrokkenheid. Het Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1935-1989 (Amsterdam 2019; online, OAPEN / AUP). Sanders tells us not only about the vital role of some of the early foreign staff members of the IISH in acquiring important collections. In general some staff members gained superb knowledge of materials, but they could be very reluctant to share information. It took a lengthy reorganization to foster the communication of such tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi). Many people will simply know the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is most famous for its scanning on demand of archival records. The set of indexes with digitized images is justly famous, and the crowdsourcing project for Alle Amsterdamse Akten is one of the largest of its kind (access after free registration). However, the recently redesigned central website of this rich archive still lacks an English version, but when searching the finding aids you can tick a field for only results with scans. On the other hand, the page of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam about the approach and practice of digitization is very interesting.

Dutch archives have successfully digitized finding aids, genealogical records, images, newspapers and charters, and they offer quick and clear access to them. A number of other collections has been partially or entirely digitized, too. These efforts of archivists deserve our thankfullness and appreciation. The segment with these other collections should become more visible, either on the websites of archives or on a portal. The data about Dutch archives at the Archiefwiki can help in creating an interactive map or adding to the ICA map. In my view the most used archival system in the Netherlands allows for the quick creation of a subset of largely digitized collections, following the example of the Digitale Charterbank Nederland where you can filter directly for charters with or without images. I mentioned also the subset Alle kolonisten of Alle Drenten. Knowing this already exists makes its implementation elsewhere in the systems of the same provider more urgent.

It is up to archives to place the link to their subset at the startpage of their websites or at any spot they deem logical. Digitizing materials is one of the things archives now regularly do. I cannot see any good reason to hide this anymore. Excuses about communication strategies, difficult access to the layout of a website or the way to change the display and filters of the finding aids should no longer stop anyone doing this. One of the oldest firms for computer technology used the slogan “The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer”. Archives are now closed, but every bit as much open as normal, and archivists are busy helping the public. The hashtag #closedbutopen has a special dimension for any archival institutions with digitized collections.

Digitized Dutch archives – Indexes, transcriptions and images – March 2020 (PDF)

An addition

In my post I did not mention two most valuable projects helping you to find transcriptions and indexes. An important guide to indexes and transcriptions of archival records held by Dutch archives is offered at Digitale Bronbewerkingen Nederland en België, available online since 1997. The English version is no longer updated, but it still exists. In a number of cases digitized materials are noted as well. The same team has created more platforms. For legal historians Regelgeving in de Nederlanden offers an overview of transcribed resources ranging from ordinances to versions of the Dutch constitution since 1798.

As for actions concerning Dutch digital heritage, there is not just a manifesto issued in 2018 about the visibility and durability of collections, but even an interactive map where you can check which institutions signed their adherence to it. KVANBRAIN, since two years the platform of the Dutch Society of Archivists and the BRAIN initiative for archives, shows on its website a quality handbook, Kwaliteitshandboek voor de Nederlandse archieven, developed by BRAIN in 2013, with in particular on pages 19 and 20 statements about the visibility of digitized records and the duty to mention what has not been digitized. A kind of seven-year itch is not strange…

An update

The Dutch Nationaal Archief did not figure in this post because there were no clear indications on its website about digitized archival collections or parts of them. However, since September 2020 a new version of the NA website offers a clear choice to search for digitized materials, with even a filter for different file types. There is a list indicating which collections contain digitized materials (PDF), also as a .csv file. The announcement on this important changes is only available in Dutch. The Nationaal Archief is also the regional archive for the province Zuid-Holland

In Maastricht the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg has created an overview of digitized archival records in an Excel file. The only quibble with it is the absence of admittedly sometimes very long names of the archival fonds, only the number of the finding aid is given. The digital collections of Tresoar in Leeuwarden for Frisia are currently offline. Luckily the Alle Friezen platform works normally.

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

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

Syria’s cultural heritage

The Blues Shield logo

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

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

Logo Syri-Ac

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

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

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

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

Finding more

Starts screen Monuments of Syria, Ross Burns

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

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

Deciphering letters about slavery and abolition

Start screen Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

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

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

A community around abolition

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

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

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

Transcribing the letters

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

Work screen of the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts

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

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

Screen shot Field Guide

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

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

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

The uses of palaeography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American palaeography, a distinct field

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

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

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

Suriname’s slavery registers unbound

Start screen slavery regisyers, Nationaal Archief, Suriname

On July 1, 1863 slavery was officially abolished in Suriname. A ten-year transitional period followed during which former slave owners received a monetary compensation for each former slave. Since many years people originally coming from Suriname celebrate in The Netherlands on July 1 the feast of Keti Koti, “The Breaking of the Chains”. It is only fitting that last week the digital version of slave registers kept between 1830 and 1863, now hold by the Nationaal Archief of Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo, was launched by a number of institutions led by Coen van Galen at the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and Maurits Hassankhan at the Anton de Kom Universiteit van Suriname, with support from the Dutch National Archives in The Hague.

Last year I reported here on the project to move a number of archival collections concerning the history of Suriname from the Dutch Nationaal Archief to the NAS, and to digitize also a number of these collections. Collections with relevancy to legal history figure large among them. The digitization of the slavery registers is a key element completing the efforts for digital access and conservation, indexing the registers and making them much more accessible for researchers and the general public worldwide. In this post I will look at these registers and their online presence.

A crowdsourcing project

Logo crowdsourcing project "Maak de Surinaamse slavenregisters openbaar"In January 2017 the project for indexation and digitization of these slavery registers started, just after the transfer of important archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo. A campaign with the slogan Maak de Surinaamse slavenregister openbaar, “Make the Surinam slavery registers public”, proved effective. Some 600 people donated money for the project, and some 400 volunteers helped indexing the registers. To put the record straight, anyone could and can come to these archives to gain access to the original volumes, provided their material state is not too fragile. It is safe to assume that you need to come with good arguments to touch them now they can be consulted online. The Dutch National Archives did already provide public access. The operation to bring archival collections back to Suriname created a more urgent need for conservation and digitization.

The digitized registers now in Paramaribo [NAS, toegang (finding aid) 16, inv.nrs. 1-43] can be accessed using an index form shown above. On purpose the NAS has not placed these registers among its forty digitized archival collections. The Dutch National Archives provide also online access to the slavery registers among its ever-growing set of online indexes. You can download the index in its entirety (4,2 MB, zipped file). At this point something becomes clear when you look at the URL of this file, a web address in The Netherlands at the search portal Ga het NA of the Nationaal Archief in The Hague. The search form of this digital resource at both archives is almost, but not completely identical.

Accessing the slavery registers

Logo Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

You can use either a simple search form (Eenvoudig zoeken) with three fields, one for a free text search and two fields for setting a period, or go to Uitgebreid (Advanced search) with more fields. In the second mode there are additional fields from the slave name, the name of the mother, and the name of the slave owner. You can click on the search results in order to get both the information on a person, including also gender, references to the registers and the type of register – with its inventory and page number – and an image of the page in question. It is possible to zoom in at will to any image. Each scan has an individual URL, a URL from my country when viewing individual results, meaning there is one single database behind the two versions. By clicking on the field name in the results you can change their order. You will find either the names of owners or the name of the plantation and its location.

NAS, series 16, no. 34, fol. 2667

It is not my purpose to single out here any defects and omissions, but a few things are very visible. First of all the version hosted in The Hague contains additional information which is not or not yet provided at the website of the NAS. The section Achtergrond (Background) informs you about the information given in the search fields, with a second page about slavery in Suriname and the introduction of slavery registers and their survival. There are important losses, not in the least some registers of slaves owned by the Dutch colonial government. In the registers mutations such as birth and death, acquisitions and sales should be written down. A third page on Gebruik (Use) contains instruction on the use of the indexes and the interpretation of results, and also a handy list of common abbreviations in the registers. The other pages contain a colophon about the project and the user license (CC-BY-SA 3.0 NL).

A second thing to note is the incomplete translations in the English version of the search form. Even the simple search form has not yet been translated completely. The field names in the results screen have not been translated. A much sillier thing becomes also visible: In cases where there is no gender information, the volunteers entered the word Leeg (Empty). I suppose there are more concise and effective ways to convey the fact that no data have been entered in a particular field.

Viewing the context

Using to a large extent at this moment only Dutch for this project is not a particular lucky thing, and you can even extend this to the project website. Translations in languages such as English and Sranantongo are not just welcome, they are simply needed to really open this resource to people worldwide with interest in Caribbean history, the history of slavery or Dutch colonial history. For any project on Dutch colonial history in the East Indies contemplating translations into English and/or Bahasa Indonesia is luckily a natural thing. The project team states flatly these registers are a worldwide unique resource, the only series of its kind. On the project website some further, rather important explanations about the actual state of the slavery registers are offered. It appears no general index to the series existed. Some registers could be consulted on microfiches, but without one or more indexes searching would mean wandering in a jungle without much hope for any results. The thing to note here is that only in 2017 the need for an index was perceived as sufficiently urgent to start a project to deal with this sorry situation. Earlier on having only severely hampered access seems not to have led to constructive action. Van Galen and Hassankhan rightly stress the importance of the slavery registers for not only genealogical research, but as a key resource to connect with the manumission registers, neighbourhood registers of the city Paramaribo and other sources for Suriname’s history during the nineteenth century. The historic context and the slavery registers can enrich the information contained in them in both directions.

Surely we need to thank Coen van Galen and Maurits Hassankhan and the army of volunteers who succeeded in getting their tasks completed in time. Van Galen and Hassankhan provide on the project website a very useful page with four PDF’s with information that should immediately be included on the websites of  both versions of the online index. The project leaders provide a list with the names of plantations and other Dutch posts in 1834 (530 kB), a list with the names of free people in Paramaribo in 1846 (2,2 MB), both created by Huub van Helvoort, a list with first names of enslaved people on a number of plantations (70 kB), and even a list of letter forms, letter combinations and some Dutch words in nineteenth-century Dutch script (650 kB). It is good to see some basic historical skills are not forgotten! However, to my disbelief I did not find on the project website the URL of the index, not even after a few days… The slogan Open the slavery registers seems to have been at least temporarily forgotten by the web team. More down to earth, the current summer heat in my country, the gulf of enthusiasm about the launch, and the very end of the academic year created perfect excuses for forgetting to open literally the doors to the final results of the project also at the project website. The absence of news items from June and July 2018 is another indication for the sleeping state of the project website.

Such omissions and minor problems can be fixed quickly. I would urge anyone involved with this project to proceed as soon as possible with distributing lacking information to both versions and completing the translations. This succesful project well deserves this last effort to remove the barriers and chains which hindered easy access and practical use. The slavery registers of Suriname deserve interest from many corners.

A postscript

The uniqueness of these slave registers should be considered in the light of the presence of similar registers held at the Nationaal Archief Curaçao (finding aid 005, Archief Koloniale Overheid, nos. 1-1070).

A new resource on the legal history of violence in the United States

Banner Repsoitory of Historical Guin law - Duke University

At least on a few occasions even historians who try to remain detached from contemporary matters cannot escape from them. A blog dealing with law and history inevitably will touch major themes such as injustice, inequality, violence and slavery, things that are still present in our world, and are definitively not only history. The four themes mentioned here set a challenge to anyone thinking and writing. The subject of violence I have chosen for this post does not come completely unexpected. This month I read a notice about a new scholarly resource on the history of legislation about arms in the United States. Joseph Blocher and Darrell Miller (Duke University School of Law) have created a repository of historical gun laws. I will discuss here its contents and functions. By looking briefly at some contemporary resources on violence I will not shut out the present here entirely.

Finding laws

Blocher and Miller explain the way they compiled the information for their repository quite clearly. The first thing to notice is that the database does not contain the latest laws, statutes and other regulations. You will find English laws starting in the Middle Ages up to 1776, American legislation for the colonial period from 1607 to 1791, the year the American constitution was ratified, laws around the Fourteenth Amendment, and legislation up to the National Firearms Act of 1934. Colonial legislation has been limited to legislation in later American states. The legislation entered into the repository has been taken from regular resources such as well-known licensed databases on legislation by the Congress and state statutes, the Making of Modern Law, Yale Law School’s Avalon project and more general sources. A search for items mentioning the word gun was performed for the Session Laws. In the Making of Modern Law Blocher and Miller searched for the words gun(s), rifle(s) and pistol(s). The editors decided not to include every local regulation for every period. Sometimes a statute merely repeats earlier legal enactments. The spelling of older texts has been adjusted. On the blog of Duke Law School Blocher and Miller told on April 4, 2018 more about their project which contains currently some 1,500 items. They propose to add continuously newly discovered statutes, to expand the information for the colonial period, and of course they will correct factual errors.

Instead of creating at the outset a database with complete coverage of all possible legislation the two scholars at Duke did very sensible aim to deliver a set of materials which cover a most substantial period with due attention to colonial history. In the repository you can search at will using the free text field, and set filters for seventeen particular themes, for example militia regulations, hunting, manufacturing, sensitive places and times, race and slavery, and involvement of minors. It is possible to limit your search to specific years, and you can search for English law and for legislation from one or more states. The repository gives the texts of provisions, labelled with the usual current legal reference. A link to the sources used is also given. Thus you will find an act about the storage of weapons enacted on March 24, 1629 by the state Virginia with the reference 1629 Va. Acts 151, Acts of March 24, 1629, Act 5, and in this case a link to a digitized version in the Internet Archive of The statutes at large, being a collection of all the law of Virginia (…) (New York,1823). This statute at page 151 of the edition dealt with potash and nitre (saltpeter), vital ingredients for gunpowder.

The repository has six statutes on storage between 1607 and 1776, and eight from 1776 to 1791, and you will find 54 statutes on this subject from 1791 to 1861. Storage is the subject of 191 statutes in this database. I would not have labelled a statute of king Alfred from 890, the oldest law in the repository, about the way one has to carry a spear under storage, but under carrying weapons. The source used for this law is not given. In the edition of F. Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (3 vol., Halle, 1903-1916) it is probably the statute no. 33 (I, 68-71). Of course this is only a detail, and one that can be quickly adjusted. The possibility of classifying statutes under two labels is certainly a matter needing attention. However, the important thing is that this repository enables you to pose questions about a particular genre of gun laws with a more than reasonable chance to find sufficient coverage. Thanks to the project Early English Laws I could quickly search for this medieval law.

At this point it becomes interesting, too, how we encounter laws with a relation to racial matters in the Duke repository. I will not spoil here your own curiosity by giving here a number of results for all subjects. For race and slavery you will find an overall total of 38 results. Here I cannot help thinking about Hein’s massive digital collection Slavery in America and the World where you can certainly find more or at least make valuable comparisons of the coverage. In 2016 I have discussed here at length some of its flaws and omissions, but it is a very valuable collection. Some quick searches among slavery statutes brought me already dozens of statutes which seem relevant for comparisons. Minors and other persons deemed irresponsible occur in 67 results in the Duke repository. Apart from statutes and regulations you will see also references to state constitutions and codes of law.

From the past to the present

It is not a regular thing to encounter a database with matters from the ninth to the early twentieth century. One of the compliments you must make to Blocher and Miller is that the quality of the repository makes one thirst for a sequel into the present. I suppose the editors reckon with the ability to find relevant legislation quickly, using either the licensed databases accessible at American law schools and elsewhere in research libraries, or the marvellous sets of digitized legal materials put online by the Law Library of the Library of Congress, together with links to other resources in open access. If you want to find online more about American legal history you can benefit from Legal History on the Web, the portal site of the Triangle Legal History Seminar at Duke University, for Blocher and Miller perhaps too obvious to mention!

It is impossible to ignore the current turmoil and debate about violence and gun laws in the United States. It would mean ignoring an elephant in the room. I was surprised the ever vigilant team of the Legal History Blog had not yet written something about the Duke repository. Maybe other recent news from Duke University was considered more pressing. The urgency of the situation around the use, abuse and possession of arms is clear to me, but here I can and will not offer my thoughts about possible remedies. For further information you can consult online websites such as the Gun Violence Archive, the Mass Shooting Tracker based on crowdsourcing, and Mass Shootings in America of the Stanford Geospatial Center. Projects such as Every Town for Gun Safety and The Trace bring news and background information concerning shootings, gun related violence, gun possession and gun laws in a larger context. At Mother Jones you can find a dataset concerning mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and 2018. SafeHome has an online dossier Gun Laws vs. Gun Deaths with maps showing the differences between American states.

Judicial statistics can generally be found at the website of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Its page on weapon use will be at the focus of your attention. Those with access at a subscribing institutions can use the online edition of the Historical Statistics of the United States, where you can buy also two-day access to individual parts of it, or you can use the open access version of Historical Statistics of United States, Colonial Times to 1970 provided by the United States Census Bureau which brings you also to statistics for individual states. For statistical comparisons between countries one might start at the Swedish portal for historical statistics with as its core data for 21 countries.

If I had decided to follow here the path of historical statistics I would have added a second post. I am well aware more can be said, and that there are probably other online entrances to this kind of data, but I had rather not hide the main line of this contribution. The shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 led to massive protests. In my view the database created by Blocher and Miller is one of the things helping to reflect on the development of law and justice concerning weapons in the history of the United States. They perform a service to the public. Hopefully others, and in particular law schools, lawyers and other legal scholars are willing, too, to consider what difference they themselves can make by studying the impact of visible and hidden violence, and how laws, statutes and other regulations work and worked to achieve justice for the victims and anyone hurt by violence. Its role in American history and in legal history needs study in all its aspects.

New views on digitized medieval manuscripts: Parker Library 2.0

Startscreen Parker Library on the Web

An old advertisement trick is using the words new and better. In this post I will look at a new version of a digital collection with medieval manuscripts which indeed can now be reached to a fuller extent. Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is the fruit of cooperation between the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Stanford University Libraries. The first version of this most varied digital collection did not make everybody happy. Let’s look here at some of the changes, and also make a tour of manuscripts which can be connected to legal history.

Removing the barriers

For some reason Corpus Christi College, Cambridge had until January 10, 2018 granted only partial online access to external users for viewing the more than 500 medieval manuscripts in its rich collections. The main problem was you could not look properly at contextual data for the manuscripts, and you were deprived of viewing bibliographical information. One of the jewels guarded is an illustrated manuscript with the chronicle of Matthew Paris (ms. 16), with one of the most used depictions of a medieval church council at f. 43v. I could not show it to you in my 2015 post about the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. However, the important manuscript catalogue by Montague Rhodes James, A Descriptive Catalogue of The Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1909) and Vol. II (Cambridge, 1912) could already be consulted online, but not the information about more recently added manuscripts or about research concerning them since the work of M.R. James was published.

The new version of the digital Parker Library makes up for a lot of these deficiencies. The library now offers an overview of the successive manuscript catalogues where you can view online or download them. The Parker Library owes its start and a substantial number of its earliest manuscripts to archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575). As archbishop of Canterbury he donated in 1574 some 400 books to Corpus Christi College. Many of these books come from monasteries dissolved in 1535. Since 2010 you can follow the Parker Library also on its blog and on Twitter.

Is everything now readily accessible in the new version of this digital library? I could not help proceeding immediately to Matthew Paris’ Chronica majora and f. 43v of ms. 16. The first thing I noticed was the not quite convincing working of the general search field. Searching without filter, using Everything for “Chronica majora”, leads you only to references about this chronicle, and not to the manuscript itself. In 2003 the manuscript and its binding were separated. The manuscript is now called 16II. When searching you have to add a prefix zero, 016. You will have to consult the Hints and Tips section in order to create successful searches. On reaching ms. 016II I looked in vain for the famous illustration. Its presence is not indicated in any way, but you can guess something is missing because you can view only the upper half of this manuscript page. Anyway, you can find perhaps some consolation in the online presence of the study by Suzanne Lewis, The art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica majora (Berkeley, CA, etc., 1987; online, Internet Archive). The image of the cardinals at Lateran IV is shown in black-and-white on page 122.

Logo Parker Library

I had rather not hide the qualities and working of the search function in Parker on the Web 2.0. In fact searching was much easier in the previous version, much more what you would expect concerning search fields than in it 2018 upgraded version. It is a change from a tantalizing distance to things just out of your reach, to a situation where you can go to almost everything, provided you apply your previous knowledge very consciously. In the old situation I would usually skip looking at James’ descriptions, now his clues prove still helpful. The most striking feature is the general search field. Each of the six filters needs careful handling to get useful results. A good example are the 20.000 page details which you can filter using the fields of the general search mode. I had expected these filters to be situated to the left of these results. I suppose also I prefer creating a specific search at the start above applying filters afterwards. Of course I filtered the results for ms. 16II, but the famous illustration is conspicuously absent here, too. However, having a vast bibliography for this manuscript is a thing for rejoicing…

Legal history and the Parker Library

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae – Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Parker Library, ms. 445, p. 3 – image Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

After this foray into the functioning of the new presentation and attempting to find a very particular illustration it is best to try to uncover the rich manuscripts of the Parker Library in another way. Lately Ben Albritton, involved at Stanford with technology concerning digitized manuscripts, wondered at Twitter why a particular manuscript [CCCC MS 445: Richard de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae] was the least visited item of the online Parker Library. This text is concerned with the wording of acts and letters in use at the papal curia, more commonly dubbed the cursus. Let there be no misunderstanding that I could retrieve ms. 445 without any problem. This manuscript is certainly to be linked with medieval canon law, yet it does not occur among the 22 search results for “canon law”. On closer inspection there is no field in the full description for genre and/or subject. A similar search for Roman law brings only four manuscripts. Ms. 77 with Guilhelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale rightly figures among the results in both searches. The variety of texts, including the Decretum Gratiani, the Decretum of Ivo of Chartres, other decretal collections, registers and cartularies, gives you a fair idea of the range of texts concerning medieval canon law. In this respect, too, the Parker Library is indeed interesting.

Logo IIIF

Wisdom tells me a search for statutes might be more useful than searching for English law, but eventually both yielded some twenty results with not much overlap, another testimony to the rich variety of the Parker Library, but also a fact pointing to the importance of classification. When you search apart from canon law, Roman and English law, for glosses, decretals and judges you will find here most of the manuscripts touching upon legal history. However, the tricky thing is that you cannot be sure you have found all relevant materials without checking also the manuscript catalogues. This diminishes the importance of the new use here of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) for easy and reliable comparison of manuscript images. The Parker Library scores with the easy access to the current and historic manuscript catalogues. For some manuscripts the bibliographical information is excellent. I had some trouble with the Mirador viewer used here to implement IIIF, although this viewer has been optimized for this aim. You can use the arrows to flip through a manuscript, but in the top field with the indication of the page or folio number nothing changes. At other websites I did not have this problem with the Mirador viewer.

Keeping in mind I used here the new version of the Parker Library it seems some problems, such as the counter of the viewer, are typically early user problems which hopefully will be addressed and solved quickly. Finding a particular category of texts or a manuscript genre is not completely possible. I realize I am perhaps too much inclined to the use of categories and tags and to prefer very specific search questions, but I am convinced good classifications are really helpful. Having access to bibliographical information and being able to compare images in a reliable way with manuscripts elsewhere, is certainly among the strengths of the Parker Library. It will be helpful, too, when a correct link to Parker Library on the Web 2.0 is also added to the great portal with the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App (DMMapp). Let my first impressions not deter you from visiting the new gateway to the medieval manuscripts of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge!

Hide and seek: Finding “hidden” collections

Startscreen CLIR Hidden Collection Registry

Once upon a time you made good wishes for every new year. You promised yourself to set one or more substantial goals to pursue with all your talents and capacities in order to obtain results that often would led to higher self-esteem and other lofty qualities. Wisdom teaches us real changes come in small steps, not with giant leaps. In this post I will look not just at one project, but at a foundation supporting many projects. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), based at Washington, D.C., has a fine record of supporting all kinds of projects for libraries, archives and documentation centers. One of their latest projects is the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry. If this truly works, it would perform a most welcome service. What does this registry contain? How can you search in it for particular collections, themes or periods? Does it fulfill its purpose and promise? Knowing about the support of CLIR for projects which are of interest for legal historians prompted me to test the new registry website. Apart from the findings about the registry I intend to report on some incidental catch as well.

A serious quest

You might be slightly surprised by the jolly title “Hide and seek”, but there is here indeed an element of play. The very title Hidden Collections Registry contains a joke: How can you bring together and register what is described as hidden? If you have found a hidden thing, it is discovered once and forever, provided you share your discovery. CLIR aims here at bringing together information about collections that led a more or less hidden life. Thanks to CLIR funding they have become more visible and accessible to the public.

Some members of the public do equate accessibility with online access. I work at Het Utrechts Archief, an archive with more than 1,300 collections, good for some 32 kilometers on our stacks. It will take herculean efforts to digitize everything, even if you succeed in making every year one million scans. We try to put every finding aid online. Sometimes we can only offer a list of the boxes in a collection in anticipation of fuller treatment. Every year some collections will be digitized entirely, but for some important series we can add only ten or twenty digitized years per annum. Funding can be most helpful to tip the balance between only offering digital finding aids and some small digital collections on one side, and on the other side creating large digital collections or dealing with fragile and very special collections not fit for the normal digital road.

CLIR logo

CLIR succeeds indeed in supporting a wide variety of projects. The latest CLIR overview published on January 4, 2018 is no exception. Among unexpected things is for example the very first item, a project of The Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA, Archiving Antigua: A Digital Record of Pre- and Post-Emancipation Antigua, 1760-1948. The Moravian Brethren are a protestant missionary organization which has been active first in Europe, but rather quickly in the Americas. At Het Utrechts Archief are some thirty archival collections concerning a number of settlements, branches and even factories of the Moravian Brethren; when searching for “Evangelische Broeders” and “Broedergemeente” you will find them. I checked quickly for more Moravian stuff in the Hidden Collections Registry. The newly funded collection should be added to the three very different projects concerning the Moravian Brethren included in the CLIR registry thus far, a music collection, the first hundred years of the Pennsylvania settlement, and a collection documenting several German spiritual movements.

For each item the CLIR registry gives a concise overview and indications of the period involved and the geographic scope. It is useful, too, to have not only the name of the institution but also the name of a person to contact. To every item in the registry tags are added concerning the formats of materials. You can search for themes and periods, for projects funded by CLIR – a total of 162 – and for projects in a particular year, starting with 2008.

CLIR and legal history

You can imagine how eager I am to look for projects before 2017, because the newest projects have not yet been included. I started searching with the words legal history and this resulted in 37 results, a nice percentage of the nearly one thousand projects funded until now. Let’s look at some results. The colonial library of Jasper Yeates was to be digitized in a 2012 project. The city and state of LancasterHistory in Lancaster, PA are not indicated in the registry entry. A second project from 2008 concerned the political and governmental history of Alabama from 1799 to 1948; no institution is specified. The third project dealt in 2014 with Massachusetts petitions on women’s rights between 1619 and 1925, a project of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. With some surprise I saw among these results a project at UCLA for its palaeontological collections, funded by the CLIR in 2010. It seems the separate appearance of the words legal and history was enough for inclusion, as is the case for the project concerning Midwest organic tools. Adding a real field for tags will help much to solve this problem.

It is truly difficult to choose among the 37 results concerning legal history more examples, because many projects are really interesting, from Illinois Circuit Court records to the well-known project to digitize 30,000 French pamphlets at Chicago’s Newberry Library, and from the legacy of slavery in the Maryland State Archives to the papers of civil rights activist Margaret Bush Wilson (Washington University, St. Louis, MO), entered in the registry for 2011 and 2012, a project for native American petitions in Massachusetts (Yale Indian Papers Project), and the digitization of the M. Watt Espy papers concerning the history of the death penalty in the United States since 1608 (SUNY, Albany). Legal history is clearly not out of view within the CLIR collections program.

Faithful readers of my posts are used to the proliferation of links in my posts which usually lead you directly to a particular website or project. If you find something interesting and want to leave my blog, you should indeed use these links immediately. It is the very purpose of the links to bring you to particular addresses! However, it is embarrassing to give you in the first half of this post only links to the CLIR registry, and not as usual links to the websites with these projects. The CLIR Hidden Collections Registry does not contain links to the websites of institutions with a particular project nor the links to the results of projects. Not mentioning links, not even only for the CLIR funded projects, is not what you expect in any registry or list of funded digitization projects. In its current state the registry lives not up to reasonable expectations. It is a shame in particular, because the organization proposing this tool without links is the very Council on Library and Information Resources, an organization which aims at helping institutions to communicate better. In its current state the CLIR Hidden Collections Registry succeeds to a certain extent in hiding collections.

Finding the missing links

As for now teachers should not hesitate to test the digital abilities of their students and pupils, and ask them to find the URL’s of complete projects! In some cases you will not find the results at the website, subdomains or portal of an institution. I will not completely spoil this game, but a few examples might be instructive. The Newberry Library in Chicago has uploaded 30,000 digitized French pamphlets to the Internet Archive. At least one resource mentioned here does reach into the twenty-first century, and gains in value from the long period covered. In fact the very project that made me want to use the CLIR Registry is the project concerning the death penalty in the United States, a resource not only of interest for historians. The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives at SUNY, Albany, is home to the National Death Penalty Archive, with as its jewel the M. Watt Espy Papers. You can find the results until now at the Espy Project page. As for now, data are being processed in a GitHub project. You can find some examples of notes in these papers on a news page of the libraries of the State University of New York at Albany. The links section for this project in the CLIR registry will have to be substantial. The Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP) has only an announcement about the funding by CLIR, but you can already find some digitized petitions, maybe from other institutions not touched by the grant, or on the other hand the first results. I am aware that in a number of cases there is not yet a URL for a project. In such cases you will need even more the web address of the relevant institution.

The Hidden Collections program of CLIR aims at the realisation of the potential of collections, by helping with funds for either the preservation and cataloging of one or more collections, or by giving grants which make digitization and online open access possible. It is only logical to show the successes of this program. Dozens of projects in the CLIR registry are concerned with civil rights, women’s history, slavery and Afro-American history, even if you got to acknowledge that some entries look very much like an all-compassing grant apply. It would be logical to filter results by adding the category Funded, but alas this is not yet possible.

With a little help…

Before turning our back on the major and minor shortcomings of the registry project it is only fait to look at some CLIR projects which deserve applause. In Recordings at Risk CLIR invites institutions to apply for grants in order to safeguard endangered audiovisual recordings. CLIR supports the Digital Library Federation with for example a guide for digitizing special formats. Among CLIR’s own projects I would like to single out the project for a Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME), a project with partners such as Stanford University Libraries and the Qatar National Library. The DLME will be developed to contain not just digitized printed books, but also digitized archival collections, manuscripts and artefacts documenting the cultural heritage of countries in the Middle East. This project will join the ranks of project such as Patrimoines partagés of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, launched a few months ago, Menalib, the Middle East Virtual Library of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle, and – closer to CRIL – the Oman Digital Library of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. In the project of the BnF the Middle East is just one section among eight sections covering various regions and countries. CLIR rightly mentions the Endangered Archives Project led by the British Library, a project which deserved a post here. CLIR provides also fellowship grants.

Everybody writing a grant application knows he or she has to fulfill several demands. The CLIR calls them core values. For the Hidden Collections program openness is one of these values, and I quote approvingly: “The program ensures that digitized content will be made available to the public as easily and completely as possible, given ethical and legal constraints.” It would be a sign of respect to all those scholars, staff members and institutions benefiting from or sponsoring the work of CLIR when the Hidden Collections Registry, too, does operate accordingly. In my view supplying the missing links is a necessary gesture. Some tuning would be welcome, too. When you look at all good things supported by CLIR the present state of this registry is hopefully only a temporary exception.

A postscript

Part of my concern about the CLIR registry stems from the situation around the IMLS Digital Collections and Content: U.S. History Resources from Libraries, Museums and Archives, a portal created at the Grainger Engineering Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After technical changes and a move to a new web address this potentially very rich resource does not function anymore. Ironically it is the version with the penultimate layout saved in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive which you can still browse, for example in the version of January 2012. You can easily retrieve the URL’s of digital collections at the end of the archived web addresses in the links of the old IMLS portal.

Another example: Some of the firms selling digital collection systems had their own overview. One firm even used its own system for a database in which you could find almost 1,000 projects, the Collection of Collections, but alas this database has been removed, too; you can only browse the latest capture from January 2017 at the Internet Archive.