Tag Archives: Slavery

Finding Suriname’s legal history

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname - image F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Storage of archival records ready for return to Suriname – photo by F. van Dijk, Nationaal Archief, The Hague

Dutch colonial history is a subject which since 1975 with the Surinam independence sometimes came into view and in other periods seemed to recede into the shadows of neglect and disinterest. The activities surrounding the remembrance of the abolition of slavery in Suriname have rekindled public attention for this subject in the Netherlands. Since many years the Dutch National Archives helps the Nationaal Archief Suriname (NAS) in Paramaribo in creating finding aids and preparing the transfer of archival collections from The Hague to Paramaribo.

Apart from actions for the physical records of these collections, such as restoration and much more, digitization is one of the approaches to make them more accessible both for the people of Suriname and for everyone interested in their history. This week a tweet by the search platform Ga het NA – best translated as “Check it at the NA” – of the Nationaal Archief (@gahetNA) alerted to the online availability of 3,5 million scans, substantial results which merit attention. However, since much information on the websites of these two national archives is only given in Dutch I will provide here a concise guide to a number of the materials which touch aspects of Suriname’s legal history. The translation tools of the famous Grand Omnipresent Web Firm can redeem to some extent the problem of languages, but some guidance is helpful.

My interest in these digital archives grows steadily this month because I have at last added a page about digital archives in the digital corner of my legal history website Rechtshistorie. Adding the collections concerning Suriname certainly fills a gap. Instead of preparing this new page in silence and deploring its incompleteness I might as well invite you to look at it, and contribute your own constructive suggestions.

A tale of archives

Logo Nationaal Archief Suriname

In the forty years of Suriname’s independence much had to be done to provide the new nation with a proper national archive. Dutch support was certainly helpful, but not always completely welcome. The history of Suriname is documented in many archival collections at the Dutch Nationaal Archief, not only in those strictly dealing with parts of the Dutch colonial empire. A start at this more general level can illustrate this rapidly. At Ga het NA you can use 115 online indexes. An alphabetical overview of them takes three web pages. The first page contains for example a guide for Ghana, a country connected to Latin America by the slave trade. At the second page you should not only look for Suriname, but also for the West-Indies, in particular an index for pensions of civil officers. The third page continues with more indexes concerning Suriname and three indexes dealing with the Dutch West-Indian Company, one for the registration of investments at its Amsterdam branch (Kamer van Amsterdam) and two concerning the Dutch period in Brazil.

Logo Ga het NA - Dutch Nationaal Archief, The Hague

In the absence of a good site map at Ga het NA I have to refer you to the Dutch version of the fine research guide for Surinam history. You will quickly understand that politie stands for the police force, notarieel refers to matters dealt with by notaries, and the gouverneurs are the governors. The Raad van Justitie (1671, 1718-1828) and its successor, the Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie, were the main judicial courts. The Hof van Politie en Criminele Justitie (1684-1828) was another important court dealing with cases concerning public order and criminal offenses. The Rechtbank van Kleine Zaken was a minor court dealing with smaller cases. The Militaire Gerechtshof was the military court. The section for maps (kaarten) is also generous. Maps in the archival collection of the Topografische Dienst, the Dutch National Cartographic Service, have been digitized, as is the case for the collections Buitenland Kaarten Leupe and Leupe Supplement. The guide gives you also a succinct bibliography and some links to other websites. It would be most helpful to see immediately in such overviews where online scans are available, because this is exactly what many people today will foremost check for at any website. In a post about 200 years Dutch cadastral office I mention more collections with maps concerning Dutch colonial history.

Here the NAS scores clearly with a section simply called Archieven online. This overview contains currently 35 archival collections. The largest digitized collection with some 590,000 scans has been created by the secretaries of the government between 1722 and 1828, with some materials even dating from 1684 (Gouvernementssecretarie van de Kolonie Suriname, finding aid 1.05.10.1). Here you will find in particular some registers with plakkaten, ordinances (nos. 612 (1684-1782), 742 (an alphabetical index, 1781-1829), 788 (after 1796-1827)). Finding aid 1.05.11.14, Oud Notarieel Archief is the second largest collection with online scans. You can access here nearly half a million scans of notarial registers written between 1699 and 1828. The nos. 758-768 for the period 1707-1803 are registers of letters of exchange and other documents concerning trade, in particular maritime trade. Register 911 comes from John Martyn, “public notary residing at Paramaribo” between 1809 and 1814, during the period of English rule over Suriname. When you want to approach Suriname’s legal history from a comparative perspective such sources are invaluable.

First page of the 1839 dossiers of the Miiltiary Coirt, 1839

The only digitized surviving case record of the military court of Suriname, 1839 – NAS/NA, 1.05.11.5, no. 1, fol. 1r

For a combined civil and criminal court in Suriname, you can find digitized archival records in finding aid 1.05.11.13, Hof van Civiele en Criminele Justitie (1828-1832; 2,100 scans). For the same period there are scans of records from the Commissie tot de Kleine Zaken, a court for minor offences (finding aid 1.05.11.4; 533 scans). The collection for its forerunner with almost the same name, College van Commissarissen voor Kleine Zaken in Suriname (1740-1828) (finding aid 1.05.10.05) contains some 133,000 scans. The digitized records of the military court (Militair Gerechtshof) boil down to scans of a single case heard in 1839 (1.05.11.5). Among the 35 digitized collections I would like to point also to the Gecombineerde Weeskamer (1788-1828) (1.05.11.12; nearly 68,000 scans), an institution which dealt not only with orphans, but also with custody cases and belongings (boedels). A major addition to our knowledge of Jews in Latin America are the digitized records of the Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente (1678-1909). Finding aid 1.05.11.18 gives you some 155,000 scans. You will find among the notarial registers mentioned above some volumes written by jewish jurators. By the way, the scans are currently hosted on a server of the Dutch National Archives. The faded quality of the case record shown here is a useful reminder how much work it takes to preserve and restore to useable conditions of records which survived tropical conditions and will return to a country near the equator.

Banner The Dutch in the Caribbean World

The NAS adds a generous links selection (in Dutch). Hopefully versions in Papiamentu (Sranantongo), English and Spanish will soon be added, following the example of the recently launched Dutch Caribbean Digital Platform, created by the Dutch Royal Library, the University of Curaçao and Leiden University. Its Dutch Caribbean Heritage Collections contains a few digitized books concerning law and government. Let’s not forget the general overview of archival collections held by the NAS. You can trace some 1,100 documents for Suriname and read transcriptions of legislative text using the portal The Dutch in the Caribbean World, c. 1670-c.1870 of the Huygens Instituut, recently moved to Amsterdam.

Even this concise introduction to a few highlights taken from a huge number of digital scans should convince you that the two national archives can be proud of their efforts to digitize, preserve and disclose priceless records of a country and a people. Suriname’s present condition is not at all good, but nevertheless it will hopefully help to have both physical and virtual access to records from another period where law and justice did not always reign supreme. Luckily having the originals back in Suriname goes together with creating worldwide access.

A postscript

In January 2017 started also a crowdfunding project to create online access to the slave registers of Suriname.

Looking at Cuba’s legal history

With the death of Fidel Castro (1926-2016) an era of revolutionary turmoil ends and a period preluding to a transition seems to begin for Cuba. All over the world the events that made Castro a legendary figure, both idolized and hated, will be brought back into view by the media. In this post I would like to look succinctly at some elements of Cuba’s legal history. My overview is coloured by the sometimes random presence of digital collections, but nevertheless it seems useful to bring them together. As a matter of fact I did not search these collections only in the wake of today’s headlines. You can find my selection of relevant digital libraries for both North and South America on my web page with digital libraries which deal with or concern exclusively law and justice. Lately I discussed here Lara Putnam’s article about the dangers of relying too much on digital resources. I hoped to have steered away of some of the pitfalls she indicates, but there is here ample attention for digital resources.

Law and justice in Cuba

Header dLOC

When looking at Cuba it is perhaps most fitting to look at this island first of all from a Caribbean perspective. The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) is a portal created by an international consortium of research libraries. One country gets special attention at dLOC, Haiti. The section for law at dLOC contains more legal materials about and from Cuba than for any other country, some 6,000 items. A search for Cuba as a subject in the DLOC yields nearly four thousand items. You can approach dLOC in three languages. dLOC contains for example the Diario de sesiones del Congreso de la Republica de Cuba from 1902 to 1957. Among the contributing institutions of the dLOC is another digital portal, Manioc, which focuses on former French colonies in the Caribbean. Luckily this portal has an interface in four languages. With only some thirty digitized historical printed books concerning Cuban law and history the harvest here might seem at first insignificant, but the significance is more to be aware of the melting pot of languages in the Caribbean, with not just Spanish, English or Dutch as European influences. A more general search for Cuba at Manioc brings you nearly 2,300 results. dLOC has a special section for nineteenth-century Cuban imprints. The Braga Brothers Collection at dLOC deals with the history of the Cuban sugar industry.

At dLOC the revolutionary period of Cuba comes in particular into view with the digital collection of Mexican and Cuban film posters. There is also a virtual exhibit of these posters.In opposition to them stands the collection of digitized Cuban exile newspapers produced in Florida. The film posters can be supplemented by the well-known Latin America Pamphlet Coillection of Harvard University. For pamphlets the Latin American Pamphlets Digital Collection of Harvard’s Widener Library is a starting point. The Digital Archive of Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera of Princeton University contains some 900 items concerning Cuba.

logo-bdpiCuba figures, too, at the portal of the Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano. This portal is the fruit of cooperation between a number of Latin American national libraries, among them the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí at Havana. I mention the portal especially because it offers you access with a trilingual interface. The digital library of the Cuban national library can only be viewed in Spanish. At the portal you will find for Cuba mainly digitized literary works. You will find the database for the national bibliography useful. Let’s not forget to mention the Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba and the Instituto de Historia de Cuba.

Header Civil Code (1800-1923) - FIU Law

A starting point for looking at Cuba’s legal history might be the digital collection Civil Codes (1800-1923) in the eCollections of Florida International University Law Library in Miami. You can find here the Cuban Código Civil of 1889 and a second edition from 1919. Interestingly this digital collection contains also nineteenth-century codes of civil law from Marocco, Spain, Portugal, Japan and the Netherlands, the last in a French translation [Code civil néerlandais, P.H. Haanebrink (trad.) (Brussels 1921)]. The FIU Law Library has also created a digital collection for Cuban law before 1961, and in the Mario Diaz Cruz Collection you will find materials collected by a prominent Cuban lawyer. Comparisons between the law in sixteen Caribbean countries are possible thanks to FIU’s digital collection Caribbean Law and Jurisprudence with acts, ordinances and case law reports. The Red des Archivos Diplomáticos Iberoamericanos has a section with the main juridical documents from Cuba between 1904 and 1934 and a link to the Cuban Guia de Tratados, alas as for now without any treaty.

Latin American perspectives

Yet another example of a digital collection which covers Latin America is the Spanish America Collection at the Internet Archive, created by the John Carter Brown University Library, Brown University, Providence, RI. This library has not just digitized some 3,700 works but also very sensibly divided them into smaller collections, among them one for Cuba. Just 35 books might look a meagre result, but among these books are for example Ignacio José Urrutia y Montoya, Teatro histórico, juridico, y politico-militar, de la Isla Fernandína de Cuba, principalmente de su capital La Havana (Havana 1789) and the treatise Instituciones de derecho real de Castilla y de Indias by José Maria Alvarez (2 vol., Habana 1834). The John Carter Brown Library provides also an important visual collection, the Archive of Early American Images. Among the general digital resources for the history of Latin America I would like to mention also the Early Americas Digital Archive, University of Maryland.

The largest quantity of digital collections concerning Cuban history and culture has been created by the Merrick Libraries, University of Miami. The Cuban Heritage Collection with over fiftysub collections covers many subjects. This set of collections is clearly also the core of the Cuban collections at dLOC. It is a matter of choice to look here at them from specific angles or to approach them from a Caribbean perspective at dLOC.

It is possible to pursue many avenues and to spend much time in finding more information. Just two weeks ago Mike Widener (Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University) wrote about some recently acquired books about Cuban law. Speaking of blogs you might as well go straight for In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library at the Library of Congress. You will find much of interest in the seventeen contributions touching Cuba. For Latin American constitutions you can choose at will from several portals dealing with constitutions all over the world. At my website I mention most of them, but you might want to have here the direct link to the main portal for Latin America, Constituciones Hispanoamericanas, part of the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Perhaps more closer to the actual situation at Cuba is the Presidio Modelo, a former prison built between 1926 and 1931 following the panopticon model advocated by Jeremy Bentham. The prison was in use until 1961 and is now a museum. You cannot help thinking that a panopticon model would have suited a particular kind of regime. Fidel Castro himself once was a prisoner here. Anyway, many people were forced to leave or choose to leave Cuba. Duke University has made a digital collection on Caribbean Sea Migration between 1956 and 1996 in which you can find apart from Cuba also Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At Habana Patrimonial, a portal to Cuban heritage, only the links to museums seems to be functioning.

Whatever the future might bring for the Cuban people, Cuba and Castro formed an inseparable unit. To the alliteration of these words many will add the name of Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is the subject of a virtual exhibition created by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. It is easy to focus on the clash between Cuba and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and therefore it seems just to remember here also at least briefly the story of the Amistad. Tulane University has created Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case, a digital collection about the story of a ship with 53 Africans faced with the threat to become slaves. Their voyage to New York started on June 28, 1839 in Havana. Tulane University has also created a digital collection with some 1,800 early photographs of Latin America. For a much wider panorama of Latin American legal history you should not miss Global Perspectives on Legal History, the book series both in print and online in open access of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main. This institute runs several projects on legal history and Latin America.

You might be tempted to think my tour of websites could go on forever! Those who visit my blog more often are used to see contributions with many web links. I provide them for your use, not to chase you away from my blog, but to bring you to resources which are sometimes difficult to find or easily overlooked. Please use these links, it is a pleasure to share them with you, and hopefully they help you to gain insights into Cuba’s (legal) history and culture.

A postscript

Of course more blogs bring posts and comments about Cuban history and Fidel Castro. Here a selection:

-Cindy Hermus, The Cuban Revolution and me, Age of Revolutions – July 4, 2016
-Michelle Chase, Reading List: Cuba, Age of Revolutions – July 7, 2016

One post is always too short to mention everything, but the presence of Cuban legal materials at LLMC Digital merits attention for those able to use them at subscribing institutions. A search at the World Legal Information Institute yields results from 1758 onwards with cases in English reports. The Latin American Interests Group of the FCIl-SIS, a branch of the American Association of Law Libraries, is working on a new online Guide to Legal Research on Cuba. Meanwhile the guide to current Cuban law with lots of links offered by the Law Library of Congress should satisfy many needs. At Globalex Yasmin Morais is responsible for the guide on contemporary Cuban law.

The legal world around American slavery

The advertisement for the slavery digital collection

Early October 2016 came a surprising announcement from a firm known for its licensed digital law collections which most users will visit only through on and off-campus access at university and research libraries, national libraries and law firms which can afford the costly yearly subscription rates. Although I have no intent to create here a platform to champion only the cause of Open Access I have tried to avoid writing about materials hidden beyond pay walls, because such blog posts would have a tantalizing effect on many readers. Kluwer, LexisNexis and WestLaw, to mention a few firms dealing with legal materials in many countries, and for the humanities for example Chadwyck, Gale, Adam Matthew and ProQuest have not yet figured here. However, when HeinOnline announced to create free access to its digital collection Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law I immediately registered. I present here a personal tour of this project, well aware that this are experiences after just a few weeks, not the results of someone immersed into this subject over the years. On my blog slavery has appeared a few times as a secondary subject, but until now only once as the main subject of a post, ‘Remembering slavery’, about the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 and its commemoration in 2013.

Making a tour

HeinOnline certainly has done some efforts to make its new collection as inviting as possible. Paul Finkelman (Albany Law School), the general editor of Slavery in America and the World, gives in the advertisement a concise overview of its main qualities. The core of this digital collection are the statutes and reported law cases concerning slavery in America – both on the state and the federal level – and the Anglophone world. There are more than one thousand pamphlets, many books on slavery and legal commentaries dealing with slavery published in essays and articles which are sometimes very difficult to find. In an introductory essay Finkelman discusses the historiographical background. He places the history of American slavery in the context of slavery worldwide, alas a continuing story in view of human trafficking and labor conditions which amount to slavery, and thus the history of slavery is not confined from around 1450 to the late nineteenth century. The collection contains numerous items from the twentieth century, too. Among libraries contributing to the digital collection Finkelman singles out Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

The start screen of the slavery collection

Even without registering you can download the quick reference guide and the full introduction. Mentioning this you might smile like I do remembering the familiar instructions to students not to jump immediately to the matter you are searching for, but to make yourself familiar with a book by reading the preface and acknowledgements, scanning the chapters, checking for a bibliography, source references, credits for illustrations, and the presence of an index. It is seducing to jump into the ocean and go straight for your destination, but alas there is no plain sailing when studying the history of slavery. One of the assets in Hein’s digital collection are fifty monographs about slavery published by the University of North Carolina Press. Some of these books deal with the Caribbean and Latin-America, and this surely widens the dimensions of the project. The digital collection does allow you to browse all titles, periodicals and scholarly articles, and there are also a bibliographical section and a list of external links, the things users of other HeinOnline collections will expect as normal features. The meta-data of the titles selected for inclusion have been enriched with tagging about their position on slavery, the topics under discussion, the jurisdiction involved, and the document type.

For finding judicial cases the digital collection builds on Helen Tunnicliff Catterall’s Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro (5 vol., Washington, D.C. 1926-1937; reprint Shannon 1968) supplemented by state and federal cases, in particular from the United Stated Supreme Court. The statutes adduced stem not only from American states and the federal government, but also from former colonies. This sounds wonderful indeed, and I understand the lure of wanting to write as Finkelman does in his introduction that this collection “brings together, for the first time, all known legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world”.

A complete collection?

How complete is this collection? There seems to be a paradox between the second half of the title of this digital collection, History, Culture & Law, and the claim to contain all legal materials. In my view questioning the completeness should probe in two directions in particular: First, are materials included for the periods that individual states had not yet entered the Union, and secondly, do statutes and cases indeed represent “all legal materials”? The collection contains slavery statutes from fifteen states, and federal cases from 24 states. The periodicals selected for inclusion are all marked as anti-slavery. You can imagine that in periodicals in favour of slavery sometimes more moderate views appeared. In theory a periodical might even have changed camps. No one can complain about the thoughtful inclusion of the British journal The Jurist and of sets of Congressional materials.

The section with scholarly articles and other documents has nine rubrics. For articles the year 1900 has been set as a useful divider. There are sections with book reviews, British slavery, cases and “foreign” – meaning non-British – cases. Judges, laws and statutes appear in separate sections, and there is even a section on “Historical Ancient Slavery” with a nice selection of articles in law journals up to a contribution by Paul J. Du Plessis from 2014. Before you start rejoicing too much it is time to read the notice these articles are only available online to subscribers or subscribing institutions. As a bibliographical asset this section is certainly most valuable. This brings me immediately to the section marked “Bibliography”. The first thing to notice here it is rather short. Relatively much space is given to reports, individual speeches and even cases. Some monographs appear twice for no good reason. You can view the titles only in two ways, alphabetically ordered by title or author.

The digital collection scores better with the fifty monographs published by UNC Press between 1985 and 2015. The list is not long enough to merit reworking in a database. Topics have been added to titles, something to consider at the very least for an update of the bibliographical section. With just ten links the choice of external websites is ridiculously small, even though I was pleased to see a link to a French website, Le droit des traites et des esclavages (CNRS). If this has been included to ensure this HeinOnline collection has a truly global coverage it does not come from its own strengths. I can understand to some extent the fear to point to digital collections from competitors in their branch, but this does not show much confidence. It is surely the global aspect that suffers most here.

However, not everything is as appalling as it might seem in these two last paragraphs. HeinOnline merits consideration on its own basic quality, presenting legal cases in a quick and convenient way. The search possibilities to find cases according to different characteristics are great, and you can download, print, enlarge and use other view facilities at will. The feature to link directly to other cases highlighted in the text of a case is most useful. The stream of relevant cases adduced here and readily available is most impressive and deserves praise.

I enjoyed very much looking at the section with digitized printed materials from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. You do not only find for example a nice choice of pamphlets and even volumes with collections of pamphlets, with special mention for the sixteen volumes of the series Slavery, Race and the American Legal System, 1700-1872: The Pamphlet Literature, edited by Paul Finkelman (Clark, NJ, 2007), and a number of useful bibliographies. The presence of novels, biographies, poems and songs does add a substantial cultural element to the collection. Only some forty items date from before 1800. A quarter of all digitized publications in the set stem from the period 1826-1850, and more than 400 items cover the period 1851-1875. The literature can be browsed in several ways (author, title, date and subject), and you can select literature using four filters (position, document type, jurisdiction, topic) with for each filter an apt drop down list of possible choices.

Alas more has to be said. I can accept as a matter of fact the citation forms used for the federal statutes, but would it not have been sensible to supply more information about the various state statutes used for this project? I am aware of The Indigo Book, the liber pauperum version of the Blue Book, with all niceties to refer correctly to all kind of legal materials. The legal problem of slavery in the United States during the nineteenth century was to a great extent a matter of apparent and real differences between state and federal jurisdiction and legislation, and – almost more importantly – their perception. In the bibliography of this digital collection I missed Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York 2010). Strangely Lincoln’s speeches are missing, too. Foner is not content with just following Lincoln’s political actions, but does at many point look at legal matters in particular states and on the national level. Foner looks at some of Lincoln’s 34 cases involving black people among the more than 5,000 cases Lincoln handled as a lawyer. I had expected to find in Hein’s open access digital collection the full texts of all cases, but instead you will find only references to them in the digitized literature and the summaries or at its best excerpts given by Catterall. No doubt this information will lead you elsewhere to the complete text of the relevant cases, but the claim “all legal materials” is diminished.

Logo of The Revised Dred Scott Collection

For one of the most influential cases in American legal history it is not only possible but necessary to look at the period between the original case before a circuit court and the epochal case before the Supreme Court ten years later. The new free digital collection does of course contain the Dred Scott case [Dred Scott, Plaintiff in Error, v. John F. A. Sandford 60 U.S. 393 (1856)]. I could not help noticing in the HeinOnline version under discussion how not every reference to cases adduced in this long verdict and the opinions of the judges has been highlighted and linked. In fact I would expect also highlights for and links to for the statutes invoked or mentioned in passing. The Dred Scott case started in 1846, and there is historical documentation for the subsequent phases of the case at the state level. Washington University, St. Louis, MO, has not only created The Revised Dred Scott Case Collection, but also a digital collection for St. Louis Circuit Court Records where you can find the original Dred Scott case and documents concerning seven (!) subsequent cases at St. Louis. In its section for judicial cases HeinOnline does not give a single federal case from Missouri, nor is any link to external resources given, not even at the Library of Congress. In this case Wikipedia does a better job.

Let my plea about this digital collection not only rest on the presence or absence of cases! Among the fugitive slave laws the Fugitive Slave Act of September 18, 1850, often referred to as the Compromise of 1850, stands out. It belongs in every collection dealing with this subject. To my utter disbelief I could not trace here the text of this landmark piece of legislation. In my search for an online version the exact text I seldom saw a correct and complete reference to the original act of Congress, let alone a legal reference. Here again Wikipedia got it right, although it does not include the text of 9 Stat. 462 [Chapter 60, 31. Congress, Session 1]. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 [1 Stat. 302] and even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 are present; the latter is the very first federal statute of Slavery in America. It might be useful to add a concordance of popular names of laws and their official names.

Cases and statutes in context

I will not completely dismiss the efforts of HeinOnline for this new collection, but I can hardly avoid making some negative statements about it. It seems this firm thought it would suffice to create a historical version of their normal case finding system with the Catterall set as its heart, enhance it with a generous amount of relevant statutes, one thousand interesting (legal) pamphlets, and a thoughtful choice of recent scholarly literature, and launch it perhaps in conjunction with the long-awaited opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Is it only a guess that HeinOnline has been blinded by its own success in making systems adapted to the needs of law schools? This new collection seems to me ideal as a tool on which law students in their first year can show some of their talents in finding legal information. However, even from a point of the development of American legal doctrine Slavery in America does not offer what it promises to do. With sometimes only incomplete cases it is impossible to determine what has been filtered out for any reason. If you believe legal history cannot exist properly without sufficient attention to legal institutions and social history, this digital collection is just a tool to be supplemented by other collections now widely available online, too, and a lot of them in open access.

As for the position of other countries you had better start inside the United States of America, by looking at the Territories, the states in North America that joined the United States between 1776 and 1861 but somehow are here undocumented, i.e. without cases and statutes. You might argue the materials from these territories are not United States legal materials, but they constitute certainly legal materials fit for inclusion. It is startling to see a collection marred by such barriers and omissions. Far more important is the fact that the subject of the place of slavery in law and society surfaced every time a new state wanted to enter the Union. Changes in political geography such as the Mason-Dixie line had immediate consequences regarding slavery, slaves and slave-owners, and former slaves. The thing that you would expect most here are the debates in Congress and in the various state senates concerning aspects of slavery. Of course I am aware this would result in a much larger digital collection, but I think this is necessary for a better understanding of statutes and cases. Hopefully such considerations will be taken into account for the massive Case Law Access Project at Harvard University.

To sum up my first impressions, HeinOnline has created an important but flawed digital collection. The 1,100 digitized publications form a great asset as do the digitized scholarly articles and periodicals. The digitized version of the Catterall set is most helpful. There are some distinct problems with the cases included and the internal references. In my view the choice of state statutes is too limited. The historical bibliography has some merits, but the list with external links is a howler. I pointed also to some real problems in creating a digital collection on this wide-ranging subject. Alas as for now you cannot find here “all legal materials” in open access. However, it does take courage and experience to bring such materials together in an easy navigable way. No doubt some of my criticisms can be easily repaired. Others should be addressed in a thorough explanation of the choices made in creating this digital collection. This will not only help law students and lawyers to benefit from this collection. On purpose I have not looked while writing this post at other reviews of Slavery in America and the World, but in fact I could only find a short announcement at the blog of the Canadian Osgoode Hall Law School Library.

Legal materials in open access

It would be wrong to create a picture of American law online as a treasure completely beyond the reach of normal people, but it certainly takes efforts to find legal materials for the United States online in open access. Creating here a full guide would take up too much space, but I can offer a kind of nutshell guide. To assess the role of commercial databases for American law you might want to look at Legal Databases: A Comparative Analysis (Center for Research Libraries). In particular the Hathi Trust Digital Library contains substantial materials in open access. Harvard Law School has a fine guide to legal materials in open access. The Legal Information Institute (Cornell University Law School) has an overview of state statutes in open access. The Jerome Hall Law Library (Indiana University) has created an online research guide for state legislative history. Sources in open access do not primarily bring you historical materials. Among the exceptions is The Supreme Court Database (Washington University), but this is primarily an indispensable search tool for decisions of the Supreme Court. The website of the American Society for Legal History has a fine links section guiding you to many aspects of US legal history. Anyway it is wise to start your online searches with the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Its web guide for U.S. States and territories is very helpful. Congress.gov is extending its coverage in the near future. Among the digital collections of the LoC you will find much that has relevance for the history of slavery, both in the section on government, law and politics, and in the African-American section. The American Memory portal of the LoC is sometimes more helpful in finding these collections.

By the way, HeinOnline is not the first firm in its branch to place some of its products in open access. LLMC Digital has created free access to The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800, Maeva Marcus et alii (eds.) (8 vol., New York, 1985-2004).

Slavery is a vast subject. On my legal history portal I hesitate to dedicate a complete page to it, but I do give there at least some of the websites which should help your research. The Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal is a good starting point, as are the digital collection of the institute behind it, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition. You will not want to miss The Bibliography of Slavery and World Slaving, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. I urge you to look for relevant online exhibitions in the superb database for online exhibits created by the Smithsonian Institution. Not yet included is the impressive virtual exhibit created by the Inner Temple Library in London, British Black History and the Law, which shows the long impact of slavery and discrimination. Among the best known digital collections concerning American slavery is the Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection, Cornell University Library, but there is certainly more. If you want to check the quality of Paul Finkelman’s work in creating a set with a selection of pamphlets concerning slavery and abolition in facsimile you might want to look at some of the digitized pamphlet collections in the United States. For me it is a good thing to see that it matters indeed to look at pamphlets, too, when doing legal history. I feel happy to bring together commented links to relevant digitized pamphlet collections. If I have failed to detect things not clearly immediately transparent in Slavery in America and the World I welcome any constructive guidance to do more justice to it!

A postscript

For those who like myself would like to find the quickest way to US statutes in open access I add a link to the reinforced version of the Library of Congress’ Statutes at Large. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 can be found in the materials for the 31. Congress, but unfortunately the direct link to the relevant chapter (Ch. 60) was broken when I checked it. I am happy to report it has been quickly repaired. By the way, only after publishing this post I noticed it was Open Access Week

In the November 2016 newsletter about the collection HeinOnline points to additions and offers some guidance, in particular for the Slavery Quick Finder tool. In an image with an example the topic happens to be cases and trials based on one of the Fugitive Slave Acts. I tried to find one of these acts with this tool, but alas to no avail. The section with major statutes contains the statute of June 28, 1864 [13 Stat. 200; Chapter 166, 38 Congress, Session 1] which repeals the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, with the year 1850 explicitly mentioned in the title, yet the 1850 document is still absent in this section. The links selection contains now sixteen links including some of the websites I mentioned here. In January 2017 the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was finally included at Slavery Online.

Messages on stones and histories in fragments

Banner Epigrafia 3-D

How can you make the memory of past actions last for later generations? In the Ancient World important matters were often committed in writing on stones. Studying inscriptions is one of the way historians dealing with Classical Antiquity approach their subject. Since the sixteenth century scholars versed in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, help to gain insights into a vast subject which deals with three continents and roughly two millennia. Only a fraction of possible sources have survived, and thus it is understandable and necessary historians want to make the most out of them. Access to new resources and wider access to existing sources are most helpful in refining and re-adjusting our insights about this period.

Lately a number of online projects has come to my attention which bring ancient inscriptions closer to our century. You can do this in particular by just following the notices about epigraphy at the indispensable blog Ancient World Online of Charles Jones. Old editions have been digitized, new inscriptions are increasingly edited immediately in the digital domain, and some projects literally give us a wider view of these sources. A few years ago I already noted here a project sponsored by a Californian firm to present clay tablets from Mesopotamia in three-dimensional view. A Spanish project, Epigraphia 3D, dealing with Roman inscriptions in 3D-view prompted me to write here again about inscriptions. In some cases I will also look at other ancient sources, in particular papyri, but Roman inscriptions will be the main focus point.

Preserved in stone

Logo Hispania Epigraphica

The project Epigraphia 3D is the result of the combined efforts of the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid) and the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano in Mérida. Even if your Spanish is rather weak navigating the website is easy. Two galleries with three-dimensional images of inscriptions form the heart of the project. The first gallery (Galería 3D MAN) for the archeological museum at Madrid contains 37 images, the second gallery (Galería 3D MNAR) shows nearly 60 images from the collections at Mérida. It is simply great to look at stones with inscriptions and to view them as if you were walking around them. Inscriptions mentioning slaves should remind you about an element of Roman society and law calling for particular attention. The variety of formats is in itself already a lesson widening your horizons. For every object the relevant epigraphical databases referring to them are mentioned. It would be a great service to have for each object direct links to these databases. However, you can at least use the link to its original location at the well-known Pleiades interactive map of the ancient world. For Roman inscriptions in Spain the main online resource is Hispanica Epigraphica (Universidad de Alcalá) with an interface in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Epigraphy as a historical auxiliary discipline has long been dominated by scholars writing in German, French and English, and therefore a Spanish point of reference is actually very welcome. In fact there is even an impressive and extensive online guide (labeled Recursos) introducing you to epigraphy. The section with enlaces (links) will bring you to many of the more traditional online resources. Some of these projects try to cover not just Roman of Greek inscriptions. Trismegistos, a platform created at Cologne and Louvain dealing with papyri and materials restricted to ancient Egypt and the Nile valley, recently started covering also inscriptions from other regions. By the way, the list of the Trismegistos partners and contributors is another fine overview of the main projects for papyri and ancient inscriptions. The mighty Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby (EDCS) features now also a searchable map for Roman inscriptions all over Europe.

Logo Digital Epigraphy and Archaeology

The Digital Epigraphy and Archeology Project led by the University of Florida has as one of its aims creating a toolbox for making three-dimensional inscriptions from squeezes, paper casts of inscriptions. with a nice showcase of 3D images of various ancient and medieval objects. The other projects on this website are a virtual museum of world heritage with 3D-images, seemingly now filled with just one object, and a section on interactive classical theatre. My first impression is that of a pilot project, and in fact it made me search again for projects showing more results. i could fairly quickly find a very relevant example which uses the freeware Sketchfab technology, a 3D-image of the famous Law of Gortyn, a legal text cut into the stones of a city wall on the island of Crete. You can find the Greek text online in the Searching Greek Inscriptions database, and an English translation in Paul Halsall’s Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University).

A bird-eye’s view

Logo Europeana Eagle

Reading about maps helping you to trace quickly inscriptions all over Europe – in fact I spotted a number of them found within my own neighbourhood – wets the appetite for more. You would like to be like an eagle finding inscriptions everywhere! The Epigraphia project shows in its bottom banner a number of logo’s, unfortunately not directly clickable, and one of them is to the Europeana Eagle project, a new branch of the Europeana network with magnificent online portals for several major subjects and themes in European history. It is infuriating that Europeana fails to give a quick list to them at its galaxy of sites. I have looked here in two posts especially at Europeana Regia with manuscripts from the libraries of three medieval kings. Currently the Eagle project covers nine online collections, including Hispania Epigraphica, the EDCS and the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH). The EDH has a clickable map of Europe bringing you to specific regions. Eagle contains now some 300,000 items.

Somehow I must be a bit old-fashioned when I worry about not seeing immediately at Eagle any reference to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, but surely this has been connected to the main databases for searching Roman inscriptions. For those worrying about a too exclusive view at and use of inscriptions it is reassuring to see among the nine collections harvested at Eagle the Arachne database (Universität Köln) for archaeological objects. In my view Eagle scores with one particular feature, a mobile app for the two main platforms which enables you to view inscriptions in situ and check for their presence within Eagle. The app can even tell you whether Eagle contains similar inscriptions.

For scholars and everybody

Banner Ancient Lives

Greek and Latin can be formidable barriers to understand the classical world, yet the attraction of Classical Antiquity remains strong as ever. Precisely the inventive use of digital technologies has opened the world of classical studies to a much wider public. Interestingly the inverse connection, too, has started. Recently I encountered the crowdsourcing project Ancient Lives, a partnership between the Classics Faculty of the University of Oxford and the Zooniverse initiative. It is most remarkable that the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection (P. Oxy), almost the Holy Grail of papyri from ancient Egypt, should figure in a collaboration of classicists and the general public. Asking people to get involved in transcribing papyri is audacious indeed, even if you can see the appeal of this treasure to scholars worldwide. The Oxyrhynchus papyri is also one of the largest papyri collections. Nearly 80 volumes have been published for their critical edition. In view of the many aspects of creating this edition it becomes understandable to call upon people outside Oxford to help with one phase of the editorial process, creating reliable transcriptions which of course have to be checked and fortified by a critical apparatus. Imaging Papyri is the main project dealing with the Oxyrhynchus papyri.

On purpose I mention this project for papyri at Oxford, even if it seems to be a turn away from inscriptions. Exactly this effect can be viewed, too, at Oxford. There are at least two other epigraphical projects at Oxford I would like to include here. A focus on Egyptian papyri might almost blend out another project for sources from Egypt, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions for the study of some 550 inscriptions and monuments with inscriptions. It is important to notice here the use of EpiDoc, an international initiative to develop a tailor-made version of TEI XML for publishing inscriptions online. With the Vindolanda Tablets from Northern England in the first and second centuries CE we encounter a resource particular close to daily life in a Roman province. The Vindolanda fort was situated south of Hadrian’s Wall. A concise virtual exhibition accompanies the online edition. The tablets contain not only complete documents and letters, but also drafts and school exercises. The presentation with at the left an image of a tablet, in the middle a transcription and at the right a translation is readily usable, and the search functions are most helpful. These tablets help you to look at Roman law in the context of daily life. They show encounters between the Latin culture and the peoples newly brought into the Roman empire or living at its borders.

A number of the websites highlighted here contain lists of links to other epigraphical projects, and thus you can easily expand my post to look beyond my personal interests. To round off my tour of projects I would like to look briefly at two other British projects dealing with inscriptions in regions where their very survival has become a matter of grave concern. King’s College London has created websites for the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT) and for the Inscriptions of Roman Cyrenaica (IRCyr), regions in modern Libya, a nation with currently almost no functioning state, where ancient monuments a prey to rivalling armed groups.

Histories in fragments

Lately I looked at the project portal Fragmentary Texts which aims at bringing together research concerning lost texts from Antiquity and their afterlife in fragments. The links section of this portal gives you a nice overview of various projects dealing with the fragments of ancient authors. One of the reasons this project resonates for me is the fact that the study of legal history in ancient times also very often deals with fragments. Complete texts are actually exceptional. We might forget that for example the Twelve Tables, the praetorian edict and the texts of classical lawyers are mainly known from reconstructions. The textual transmission of Justinian’s Digest is nearly complete, but in its turn it contains enough elements of elder texts to allow scholars to reconstruct such texts which no longer exist independently. Only since two centuries we have a complete text of Gaius’ Institutiones when a palimpsest manuscript was finally discovered in Verona.

Inscriptions can help completing ancient texts or show a different textual transmission. Graffiti in Pompei sometimes help scholars to find the right wordings of famous quotes from literary texts. When you study Justinian’s Digest and Code you will note the inscriptiones, the preliminary references giving the names of consuls or the reference to the work of a classical lawyer. The very word inscriptio might remind you to look beyond manuscript sources, and to study law also in relation to its role in society. Reading for instance about the special inheritance rights of Roman legionnaires who had served many years with the Roman army, something linked with the concept of the peculium castrense, comes much more into life when you can look at military diplomas and inscriptions bearing witness to their lives and activities. Instead of only admiring such objects in a museum or knowing about editions of the texts engraved on them it is now possible to connect your own research and interests with them on many levels.

Let’s end here with pointing to three blogs. Two blogs of the Hypotheses network deal with ancient epigraphy, the French blog Épigraphie en réseau of the EpiDoc project, worth reading even if not updated seriously since 2012, and the Spanish blog e-pigraphia: Epigrafia en Internet, very much kicking and alive. Current Epigraphy is another blog that you might want to consult to keep up with developments in an old but vital part of Classical Studies. Studying inscriptions from other periods is of course also a most interesting theme, but here I prefer to remain close to Classical Antiquity.

A postscript

Both for those who think my post was too short and those who think it was (again!) too long follow here for your benefit and quick reference some of the newest additions about epigraphy at Ancient World Online: the Claros database (Madrid) with a concordance for Greek inscriptions, Axon; Silloge di Iscrizioni Storiche Greche (Università Ca’Foscari, Venice) the projects at Berlin for the Inscriptiones Graecae (IG) and Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae (ICG) with Christian inscriptions in Greece and Asia Minor, the Inscriptions of Israel / Palestine (Brown University) and even some of the latest issues of the Année Epigraphique in open access. All of them would perfectly suit another post on epigraphy. I should have pointed also to the digital library of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), New York, home to the AWOL blog, and at at the very least I can give here a link to the digitized publications about ancient law and inscriptions.

On March 10, 2016, Sarah E. Bond published Epigraphy Enchiridion, a post on her blog about online handbooks and guides for Greek and Latin Epigraphy.

Going the long roads: Legal history and The History Manifesto

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

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

A call to arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short periods, long periods and legal history

Logo The Republic of Letters

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

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

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

Blessings in disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as the world extends

Cover Entanglements in Legal History

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

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

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

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

Digital gallery New Amsterdam

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

A legislative legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eager for more

Logo New Netherland Institute

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping the early history of New York

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

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

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

Chances for new research

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

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

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

A postscript

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

Everything but law? On revisiting portals for medieval studies

Logo Reti MedievaliHowever vast the variety of all possible sources of information on Internet, and however strong the seduction of One Tool to Find Them All, there has always been a need for gateways and portals to find your way to specific subjects. The field of medieval studies has been lucky to benefit since many years from some great virtual portals and gateways. Some have become my favorites, others I visit only rarely. Lately I realized I use at Reti Medievali only the Calendario, its calendar of scholarly events for searching events linked to legal history which I gather at the congress calendar of my blog. Reti Medievali translates literally as “medieval nets”, because the information of this portal is literally located at a number of separate websites. Can you fetch in medieval law with any of these nets? How does Reti Medievali compare with some other portals and gateways? At least some parts of Reti Medievali can be viewed not only in Italian, but also in English, French, German and Spanish. In the second part of this post I will look at a most valuable contribution to the history of medieval law, the online version of a multi-volume publication published last year. For me its presence at Reti Medievali was a welcome trigger to have a broader look at this portal, to write about it and to compare it with some of its companion portals.

Fishing the seas of medieval studies

Reti Medievali (RM) started in 1998 as an initiative of scholars at five Italian universities to support and unite medieval studies both in the real and the virtual world. RM has even its own society. Since 2001 RM worked also with scholars outside Italy. Nowadays you might see Reti Medievali as a fleet, with on its ships a library, an events calendar, teaching tools, e-books, essays, an internet guide for medieval studies and its own online journal. At RM the section RM Memoria has the least transparent title, but it offers a concise bibliographical introduction to the medieval history of Italian regions and a number of Italian medievalists, and also a small section with three medievalists from abroad and a corner for medieval Spain. Among these scholars are some famous legal historians, for example Carlo Guido Mor, Pietro Torelli and Giovanni Tabacco. Reinhard Elze figures among the three non-Italian medievalists.

My first port of call at Reto Medievali should be the Repertorio. Here you can find at a general level overviews of the situations of medieval studies in eight countries, an overview of scientific journals, and nearly thirty introductions on a number of subjects and themes. Each introduction contains a – sometimes elaborate – sketch on its subject, and then proceeds to relevant sources in archives and libraries, editions, online resources, and closes with a bibliography. Legal history is certainly present here. The report by Riccardo Rao on Le risorse colletive nell’Italia medievale (2007) deals with recent scholarship about communal goods and several forms of medieval commons; Italy gets the main focus, but Rao provides also some references to other countries. Primo G. Embriaco dealt in 2006 in a similar way with the Regnum Italicum and with the power of lords in Italy from the ninth to the thirteenth century. In both introductions he mentions law at a few turns. Enrica Salvatori only mentions statutes in her essay on La civiltà comunale italiana [The civilization of the Italian comune], and apart from the useful references concerning municipal statutes law is nearly absent as a primary subject. Anyway, updating this introduction written in 2003 would be sensible. Tommasso Duranti gives an introduction to late medieval diplomacy (2009), and Nicola Lorenzo Barile deals with Credito, usura, prestito a interesse [Credit, usury, loan with interest] (2010). Reti Medievali could score much higher here if they had not presented the general theme overview with a plugin that your browser might not support in any language version. Translating the titles of the contributions for a number of items within the general scheme would be a most desirable and not too difficult service.

A tour of medieval portals

Instead of being content with such criticisms I prefer to look now first at some other well-known portals and see whether they give more space, a wider view or a more up-to-date treatment of matters concerning medieval law and justice.

Logo MénestrelCan the minstrel of the French portal Ménestrel convince us to visit it regularly for information about medieval law? Luckily there is an English version of many pages, or at least an introduction in English, and in some cases a clear promise to translate particular pages. Ménestrel started as an offspring of the journal Le médiéviste et l’ordinateur (1979-2007), one of the earliest journals concerning the use of computers for medieval studies. Ménestrel wisely admits it will not try to outdo websites which fulfill all possible wishes about a subject, but instead this portal will refer to them. Alas this promise is not kept for the field of medieval law. Although this subject does show up many time when you use the free text search (droit) there is no attempt for a general overview. However, implicitly you can reach legal subjects by looking at the auxiliary sciences (palaeography, codicology, diplomatics) and some of the classic sources such as charters and cartularies. These sections rank with the best guides in this field. In its early days there was a fine section on medieval canon law maintained by Charles de Miramon (Paris, EHESS). but eventually this section was removed. Among the few spots at Ménestrel with space for ecclesiastical law was the section on histoire religieuse, but alas that section, too, is now defunct.

As a ray of light is the recent inclusion at Ménestrel of juridical documents in the section for Paris médiéval. In the section with documents you can learn about documents normatifs, sources such as ordinances, and sources judiciaires, in particular sources about the judiciary, but strangely also customary law. However great or small these deficiencies at Ménestrel, it is great to have this guide to medieval Paris. Ménestrel is wonderful for its country overviews of medieval studies and the overviews of archives and manuscripts, and there is also a section on teaching medieval history.

Logo MediaevumAt the German portal Mediaevum, the great online gateway to medieval Germanic languages, it is only in the large section for dictionaries (Wörterbücher) that legal matters come to the surface. Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) has created online versions of several of his dictionaries, among them one for medieval High German (Mittelhochdeutsch). Koebler’s website is a veritable portal to Germany’s legal history. Of course Mediaevum mentions the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, a project described here in a post last year. A promising link to a bibliography about Jews in medieval Europe is actually broken, but I did arrive at the Arye-Maimon-Institut für Geschichte der Juden (Universität Trier) and at a project led by Christoph Cluse concerning Medieval Mediterranean Slavery which does contain both a bibliography and a bibliographical database.

Logo ORB

There are several medieval portals with an exclusively English interface. The ORB (Online Resource Book for Medieval Studies) is one of the oldest still working portals. For this portal Brendan McManus created a concise section for medieval law, with reference to online version of Roman law texts, bibliographies for Roman law and canon law, and some links. The Labyrinth (Georgetown University) used to be a substantial gateway to medieval studies, but in its present clear design it is just a web repertory with commented links, lacking law as a general category. The number of relevant law links to be found with a free text search is meagre. Some links lead to the Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). This university in New York has placed this project conceived by Paul Halsall on a legacy subdomain, but you can still find here a splendid selection of sources in English translation for many subjects and themes, including medieval law and justice, for example about feudalism; the introductions, too, are interesting. However, The ORB and The Labyrinth do not attempt at covering the whole field of medieval studies. You will look in vain for an events calendar, a discussion forum or an online journal.

Logo Netserf-Law

This parade of American portals for medieval history would not be complete without NetSerf, a classic web repertory for medieval studies. Its choice of general subjects is balanced, and every link is accompanied with a concise introduction. The section on medieval law has a main overview and seven subsections, one for documents and the six others for barbarian laws, criminal law and punishment, canon law, Roman law, the English common law and Spanish law. Some pruning might be needed. A nice example is a Carolingian capitulare, a law from 802 figuring among the “barbarian laws”, the “national laws” published within the territories of the Roman Empire between roughly 400 and 750 A.D. Thanks to further subdivisions the section on the medieval period English common law is thoroughly useful. The cross-references are often helpful, and NetSerf is certainly worth visiting.

Let’s not forget here the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which often mentions translation, too. I should have added this reference to my recent post about digitized manor rolls at Harvard Law School, because in this resource you can search directly for editions of particular types of documents. The Avalon Project at the Lillian Goldman Library of Yale Law School has in its section for medieval documents (400-1399) some thirty legal documents and sources, most of them in English translation.

I would have been most happy to show you here a portal to medieval studies from the Netherlands and Belgium, but alas I cannot give you an unqualified example. The website of the Onderzoeksschool Mediëvistiek, the Dutch research school for medieval studies is strong in bringing news and information about scholarly events, as is its Flemish counterpart, the Vlaamse Werkgroep Mediëvistiek. The Contactgroep SIGNUM deals with the social, economic, legal and institutional history of Dutch and Flemish ecclesiastical institutions, but even the fine list of web links does not make this website into a portal site. The Francophone medievalists in Belgium have surely their useful society blog, and also the well-informed L’agenda du médiéviste, but as for now they have not yet launched a portal.

Banner Mittelalter blog

In Germany you will find in particular online tutorials for medieval history, for example Mittelalterliche Geschichte (Universität Augsburg), an online tutorial at Tübingen, and a Leitfaden Mittelalter at the e-Studies website of the Universität Köln. Within the Hypotheses network of scholarly blogs the Mittelalter blog has quickly gained a central role. This blog is close to current scholarly events and contributions. In a tree structure for scholarly disciplines at this blog legal history gets a niche in the section for Spezialgebiete (“special areas”), together with the history of medieval philosophy, religious orders and prosopography, surely nice company, but also a bit surprising. This tree has some other remarkable juxtapositions which gives you food for thought. Whatever you might think about this blog with its substantial blog roll, Martin Bertram did not hesitate to publish here last year an article about legal quaestiones from mid-thirteenth century Paris.

The results of this quick tour from a particular perspective are relatively clear. Ménestrel offers scattered information about legal history, but it almost turns the balance with the sections for the auxiliary sciences and its most valuable online guide to medieval Paris where legal records get judicious space. Mediaevum offers less relevant links than Ménestrel, but some of them are really useful. Thanks to its concise sections on medieval law the ORB Net scores better than the Labyrinth. NetSerf scores nicely with its section on medieval law which brings you to further sections with links, basic comments and cross-references. Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook and Yale’s Avalon project have both substantial attention for medieval legal history, and often they give you quick access to translation in modern English of important legal sources. A round-up of Dutch and Belgian websites did not add much to this tour, although all of them have at least one useful element. In Germany we saw a number of online tutorials for medieval history. The tree structure of the important Mittelalter blog left us somewhat bewildered about the role it accords to legal history.

Summa summarum

At the end of this post I bring Reti Medievali again into view. In my opinion this portal shines out for the sheer range of sections and approaches. Mediaevum is perhaps even better, but it is restricted to the Germanic languages and literature. Ménestrel satisfies many needs and it is strong on some fields with traditional importance for legal historians, but a general section about medieval law is sadly lacking, as are pointers to better resources. The absence of legal history is precisely more visible because the sheer width of disciplines is stunning, and some of these sections are truly superb. Italian medievalists can benefit for the auxiliary sciences from the Scrineum project at the Università degli studi di Pavia, and thus it does not matter so much that the Repertorio of Reti Medievali does have only one section from 2003 on this subject.

I f you create a grid with a number of fields for elements at these portals, such as sections for various disciplines with guides and bibliographies, an event calendar, news, a blog, a digital library, teaching tools and a scholarly journal, preferably in open access, you can quickly see which portal meets most demands. Even though it does not offer you everything in this list, Reti Medievali trumps the other portals when you look primarily for sheer width. Of course I realize that you will often go from one portal to another, and in fact I have set out here how to do this for medieval legal history. RM has a digital library and an online journal, RM Rivista appears since 1999. This journal is supported by Firenze University Press which publishes more journals in open access.

RM e-Book, the series of digital publications, is published also in cooperation with FU Press. The twenty books so far published in open access often touch upon subject related to legal history. Political history, political theory and the interplay between secular and ecclesiastical powers are the main subjects. No. 19 of the series is in itself reason enough to start having a closer look at RM, and in fact this spurred me to start writing this post. The four volumes of Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (2014) are a Festschrift for one of the most versatile contemporary scholars in the field of legal history. These laudatory volumes for Ascheri (1944) deal not only with medieval Italy, but also with towns and cities in Early Modern Europe, the cultural dimensions of the history of law in Europe, and also contemporary law and institutions in Europe and America. The overview of the contents will reassure you immediately of the presence of contributions in English, German and French side by side with articles in Italian. Medieval consilia, Siena and Tuscany, to mention some of Ascheri’s beloved themes, are often addressed by the authors, but in fact you will find articles touching many corners of Europe. The online versions are not just helpful for everyone without access to the printed version, but give you the possibility to search quickly for your own favorite themes and subjects.

The gist of my post is clear: instead of staying with one portal it can be most useful to look elsewhere, sometimes for specific questions, sometimes because of sheer curiosity or the expectation of interesting news just outside your normal fishing grounds. In my experience you will surmount the difficulties of other languages whenever your interests are really awakened. When you come back from one of these portals you might turn to the mighty volumes of the great Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, and find at every turn new aspects of medieval and later legal history. The four volumes build an impressive plea for the importance of legal history, meriting not just a room of its own in the mansions of history, but more convincingly as core connections between periods, subjects and themes.

A postscript

The staff of Mittelalter blog received my remarks about the tree structure with Spezialgebiete (“special areas”) with interest. They did indeed change the tree structure, and it looks now more convincingly. Legal history (Rechtsgeschichte) is now a an element of history (Geschichtswissenschaft).