Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Medieval manuscripts from France and England united

Banner France-Angleterre 700-1200

The future of the relations between Europe and the United Kingdom can at times seem darkened by current politics. As if no Brexit of whatever nature lies ahead a new online project has been created giving online access to some 800 medieval manuscripts kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London. These manuscripts were produced between 700 and 1200. At least a number of them belongs to the period the dukes of Normandy had conquered England and established connections that would last for centuries. In this post I want to look at the project France-Angleterre 700-1200: Manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200, and in particular at the manuscripts connected with law and justice. You can view the project in French, English and Italian.

Manuscripts in two cities

Logo The Polonsky Foundation

The two libraries cooperating in this project would sorely miss the support of a Dritter im Bunde, The Polonsky Foundation, which supports projects concerning cultural heritage. Medieval manuscripts receive a fair share of its attention, in particular for the digitization of manuscripts held at the Vatican Library in cooperation with the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. The France-Angleterre website is supported by a website hosted by the British Library, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, viewable in English and French, where you will find articles on subjects such as medieval historians, manuscript illumination and the libraries of medieval monasteries. For both the BL and the BnF the website offers an introduction about the history of their manuscript collections and a selection of 115 manuscripts. The selection contains two decorated manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani (BnF, Latin 3888 and BL, Arundel 490), a copy of Justinian’s Digest (BnF, Latin 4454) and a volume with legal texts concerning London, a description of England and Ranulph de Glanville’s legal treatise (BL, Add 14252). You can read also about six themes: art and illumination, history and learning, science and nature, Christian religion and belief, manuscript production and the modern care of medieval manuscripts in library collections. There is a glossary and a series of videos about the making of medieval manuscripts. You can also watch a video touching on legal history, The role of law in governing medieval England. At the resources page the blogs of the BL and BnF can tell you more about the project. Several conferences about these newly digitized manuscripts will be held, too.

The main manuscripts website of France-Angleterre offers four filters to approach the digitized manuscripts: themes, authors, locations and centuries. I assume here you would like to explore a particular theme, canon and civil law; nine other themes are presented as well. With 70 manuscripts of the 800 on this website the score for legal texts is higher here than in the selection, just four among 115 manuscripts, but this is better than the other way around. The presentation of the manuscripts at France-Angleterre looks familiar for regular visitors of the Gallica digital library of the BnF. When you look at the languages of these seventy manuscripts the number of 69 for Latin clearly means some manuscripts contain texts in two languages. The range of dates is from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, with 24 manuscripts from the twelfth century. The presence of BL, Royal MS 8 E XV with Alcuin’s letters is justified by the presence of fragments of a tenth-century charter. Each manuscript is not shown in the viewer used at Gallica, but in the IIIF compliant viewer increasingly used nowadays. With the heading Canon and civil law you would expect a filter to distinguish between legal systems, but this is not provided for. For canon law I mentioned already the Decretum Gratiani, and you will find a number of older canon law collections, such as the Collectio Dacheriana (BL, Harley 2886 and 3845) and the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pseudo-Isidorean decretals, and also the Institutio canonicorum Aquisgranensis, the Aachen rule for canons. The detailed description of BnF Latin 13908 mentions another text in this volume, the Statuta Adalhardi abbatis, the reason why this manuscript with Boethius’ De institutione musica has been included in this section. The Statuta Adalhardi abbatis are a variant title for the Constitutiones Corbeienses or Statuta seu Brevia Adalhardi abbatis Corbeiensis from 826, information easily found at the Monastic Manuscript Project. This manuscript is the oldest one to contain this text.

Image of London, BL. Egerton 2901, f. 1v

The Collectio Francofurtana – BL, Egerton 2901, f. 1r – image British Library

My interest was in particular awakened by the presence of the Collectio Francofurtana in BL, Egerton 2901, a twelfth-century collection of papal decretals, verdicts in the form of letters to delegated judges. During my period in Munich in 1997 and 1998 at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law I had the chance to look at Walther Holtzmann’s card index of twelfth-century decretals, and also at the microfilms of the four manuscripts of the Collectio Francofurtana, an early systematic decretal collections created in or around 1183. Gisela Drossbach has successfully dealt with both the card index, now available online, and this decretal collection. Twenty years later it is only natural to look for the online presence of the other three manuscripts as well. Within the Digitale Sammlungen of the Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main you will indeed find the manuscript Barth. 60, the manuscript which gave its name to this decretal collection. The manuscript BnF, Lat. 3922A is present in Gallica, and the manuscript Troyes, BM 961, has been digitized in the Mediathèque of the Bibliothèque municipale in Troyes. It is quite a change from the black-and-white microfilms to four manuscripts at your screen in full colour.

Among the texts concerning canon law at France-Angleterre you will find texts from several church councils.and also monastic regulations, in particular the Coutumes de Cluny (Constitutiones Cluniacenses) in BnF, Lat. 13875. The Decretum of Burchard of Worms is present in BnF, Lat. 3860.

For Roman law we encounter not only the Digesta but also the Codex Iustinianus, the Codex Theodosianus and the Epitome Gaii Instutionum, a shortend version of the Institutes of Gaius. A number of Late Antique texts collectively known as the leges barbarorum or the Volksrechte are also present, among them the Leges Visigothorum and the Breviarium Alarici, the Lex Salica and the Lex Ribuaria. These texts are found in manuscripts surrounded by other texts. The French and Italian version of the website specifically mentions this fact for the section on law, “mais aussi tout recueil de lois” and “così come ogni altro compendio di natura giuridica”, but this has been omitted in the English version.

The language filter of France-Angleterre invites you to explore the use of other languages than Latin. For the first manuscript with one or more texts in Old French , BL, Cotton Tiberius E IV, it is not immediately clear which text is written in Old French. The manuscript catalogue of the British Library makes clear two only two separate texts at f. 28v and 29v were written in Old French, one of them the abdication of John, king of Scots on July 10, 1296. The same story can be told for BL, Cotton Vespasian B XX, with only some notes in Old French at f. 25r. I was afraid this story would continue for the three manuscripts with texts in Anglo-Norman, for example BL, Add. 24006 with as its main text the Tractatus de legibus et consuetudines Angliae by Ranulph of Glanvill and the first version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris. The entry for the Early English Laws project does not mention any Anglo-Norman text in this manuscript. However, BL Add 14252 with again Glanvill’s treatise does contain several legal texts in Anglo-Norman, among them laws for London (f. 101-104r, 113r-117r, 119r-124r), and for weavers and fullers in Winchester, Oxford and other towns (f 111r-112r). In BL, Sloane 1580 the text in Anglo-Norman is not a legal text, but the oldest translation in medieval vernacular of a scientific text, the Comput (Computus) by Philippe de Thaon (f. 162v-178r). The manuscript contains only one legal treatise (f. 182r-184r), a kind of prologue connected with the Epitome exactis regibus. BL, Cotton Otho E XIII, has glosses in Breton for the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. The Comput of Philippe de Thaon can be read in four other manuscripts within France-Angleterre.

A rapid tour

With just seventy manuscripts out of a total of 800 for France-Angleterre it is clear the sample taken here deals with less than ten percent of this digital collection. The impression seems clear that the selection contains for the field of law mainly Roman law texts, Late Antique laws, a wide choice of texts touching on canon law, and only a few examples of texts concerning English law. I did not readily find any text on French customary law or French royal acts. Before you might divine this has to do with the division of manuscripts in this selection, I should add that this selection contains thirty-five manuscripts from each library, a perfectly balanced choice with regard to numeric values. The choice for the period 700-1200 could have led to the presence of multiple texts in Anglo-Saxon in this selection, but in fact there is just a single manuscript in this language, the Heliand in BL, Cotton Caligula A VII. The advanced search mode of France-Angleterre allows you to search for several basic fields, for particular languages and time ranges.

I found it very important to see at France-Angleterre how texts we tend to single out were transmitted alongside sometimes very different other texts. It reminded me we should not see medieval law and justice in isolation. For all its qualities the IIIF viewer does not immediately show you how to go quickly to the end of a manuscript, but the gallery view does this for you. In a number of cases there is a side panel at the left which helps you to navigate to particular sections of a manuscript. The detailed description of items is often sufficient, but anyway all items are connected either with the archives and manuscripts catalogue of the British Library or with the catalogue for archives et manuscrits of the BnF. This joint venture supported by The Polonsky Foundation affirms the reputation of both libraries. France-Angleterre seems to me a great gateway for exploring medieval manuscripts, both for beginners and for scholars with their own questions and wishes.

A postcript

Klaus Graf, archivist of the RWTH (Aachen), has checked on Archivalia at random some of the links to manuscripts at France-Angleterre, and he found serious problems. Graf fights for the durability of links, in particular permalinks . It is only reasonable to create a reliable website which can function correctly for many years. Link rot is not a new phenomenon. It would be bad to have weak links right from the start. The team of France-Anglettere should deal quickly and constructively with this matter.

At the introductory website of France-Angeleterre hosted by the British Library Joanna Fronska has published an article on legal manuscripts in England and France with much attention to manuscript production and artistic influences.


A broad view on broadsides

Broadside "John Bull, can you wonder at crime", ca. 1860

Broadside “John Bull, can you wonder at crime?”, ca. 1860 – image The Lawbook Exchange Ltd. (no. 11 in the catalog)

It is the happy liberty of any blogger to choose themes and subjects at will, but sometimes they advert themselves readily. The last years I have written a few times about recent catalog of antiquarian booksellers. In this post I would like to look at a catalog concerning thirty American and British broadsides. Broadsides and pamphlets, including even broadside ballads, have figured here on several occasions. It led me eventually to creating an overview of digital pamphlet collections at my website. This time I will also discuss a matter which is very visible but not always seen in its full implications. Every item in the catalog is offered for a prize which is closely linked with its rarity. Which criteria are commonly used? Is it possible to establish more about the presence of rare books in the collections of libraries and other institutions? Where is the line between a general approach and more detailed procedures? Some roads may be well known, others might not be as obvious as you tend to assume.

Thirty broadsides

Last week the Lawbook Exchange Ltd., a well-known firm from Clark, New Jersey, alerted to a new catalog figuring thirty American and British broadsides, and also one French item. You can view the catalog online or download a PDF version (2,4 MB). You can change the order of the items in eight ways, depending on your wish to see them in alphabetical or chronological order of the titles or the authors, or perhaps starting with the highest prize. The highest prize in this catalog is for the broadside A brief account of the execution of six militia men!!, published in 1828 in the campaign against Andrew Jackson. The catalog refers to a bibliography by Shaw and Shoemaker who did not record this publication.

The second highest prize is for a British broadside published around 1850 with a satirical attack on lawyers, Beware Important Caution Beware of a Pair of Bipeds (…), a broadside which looks like an official notification. The staff of The Lawbook Exchange states they were unable to find any copy of this broadside Let’s not forget to mention at least the only French broadside of the catalog, an arrêt of the Conseil du Roi concerning merchants published at Aix-en-Provence in 1765. The catalog comments that the survival of this notice meant to be posted at market places is remarkable, and adds “No copies located on OCLC”.

Logo KIT Karlsruhe

I could have taken you here on a tour through a number of broadsides concerning trials, but somehow the notices about the rarity of the items caught my eyes and kept resonating. The simplest thing to note is that OCLC is the firm behind WorldCat, by no means the only product of this firm. WorldCat is a meta-catalog harvesting its results directly from a vast number of library catalogs all over the world. In this respect it differs from the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) which uses mainly national and regional union catalogs which may lag behind in the actual state of library holdings. One of the reasons to look beyond WorldCat is the fact some rather large libraries have not yet joined WorldCat. Utrecht University Library, not the smallest Dutch library, will join only in August this year, yet another thing that made me reflect.

The KVK gives you access to German and Swiss regional catalogs. It dawned on me regional catalogs in other countries might well exist, even if they are not or not yet accessible using the KVK. At first I did not readily find a single resource for national union catalogues and regional catalogs. I cannot hide the fact the Dutch union catalog, the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, is only accessible at subscribing libraries and for their cardholders. A second Dutch union catalog, the Catalogus Plusbibliotheken (WSF), leads you in open access to the holdings of fourteen Dutch research libraries. For Belgium I could quickly trace Antilope, a city union catalog for Antwerp, and Cageweb, a meta-catalog for the libraries of Ghent University, two valuable resources which supplement UniCat, the union catalog of Belgian university libraries.

The KVK does indeed include all German regional catalogues. Some of the five regional catalogues – GBV, KOBV, HEBIS, SWB and BVB – cover libraries in several Bundesländer, a thing which clearly escaped me. For a number of smaller regions and some cities there are smaller sets taken from a main regional catalog. Instead of guiding you to them you might benefit also from two other German union catalogues for a particular kind of libraries, the Kirchlicher Verbundkatalog and the Virtueller Katalog Theologie und Kirche, an offspring of the KVK.

A gateway to gateways and catalogs

Banner ShareILL

I did not find a good overview of relevant catalogs until I realized I had searched with a focus on meta-catalogs. Using the term (national) union catalog proved to be crucial. I finally arrived at ShareILL with among its finding aids and tools its impressive list of gateways and union catalogs. The list thoughtfully refers also to a number of union catalogs for serials, but the most important thing is the inclusion of a number of regional catalogs, making me curious about more examples. Let’s stick here with British and American libraries, but it is of course possible to mention other interesting regional catalogs. For 25 libraries in London and the surrounding area you can benefit from Search25. The Serials Union Catalogue (SUNCAT) has a useful overview of comparable projects and union catalogs. Alas some links seem to be broken, but you can for example use the UK Union Catalogue of Chinese books hosted at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Valuable are also the references to projects for a survey of special collections, MASC25 for the London area, hosted at University College London, and RASCAL for special collections in Ireland. The SCORE project for searching printed British company reports survives in an archived version created by the National Archives.

The list at ShareILL for the United States looks rather short, but it includes the vast overview of Z39.50 compliant libraries created by the Library of Congress. The overview deal also with union catalogs in other countries, and although it indicates regional catalogs these are almost only public libraries. The Library of Congress provides a special Z39.50 entrance to these catalogs, for example for the Five Colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMass Amherst). The overview does mention Melvyl, the central catalog of the university libraries within the University of California, nowadays fully searchable at a subdomain of WorldCat. I was aware of the CARLI regional catalog for research libraries in Illinois, but at first I found only a few other examples, the JerseyCat for New Jersey and the WRLC Catalog of the Washington Research Libraries Consortium. At LibWeb, the most extensive survey of libraries worldwide, you can easily find regional library consortia in the United States, but only seldom you will encounter research libraries in the very names of projects. I am sure there is more than meets the eye! For the purpose of this post I must mention at least New York Heritage, a portal to digitized collections in the state New York, and the digital collections of the New York Public Library. The NYPL refers to digitized versions in licensed collections of copies of two other editions of the 1828 anti-Andrew Jackson pamphlet (Shoemaker no. 32473). An overview of union catalogs for states in the United States can be found at the website accompanying Godfrey Oswald’s Library World Records (3rd ed., 2017), and he gives even more overviews of union catalogs elsewhere in the world.

In my view it makes sense to refer to specific libraries or even to digital collections when you deal with specific items. For no. 26, a broadside from 1783 announcing a tax in Massachusetts, the staff of The Lawbook Exchange rightly point to a bibliography of early Massachusetts imprints, but they could have referred also to libraries such as Harvard University Library, the Boston Public Library, the library of Boston College, the Boston Athenaeum or the Massachusetts Historical Society. For Confederate imprints pointing to the Boston Athenaeum is surely advisable, because there is for these imprints both a digital collection and a digitized bibliography.

The road of bibliographies

Mentioning Shoemaker brings me to bibliographies of a particular kind. Specialized bibliographies, both in print and online, are a second resource to gain information about books concerning a particular period, author, subject, publisher or publications from a particular town or country. In the case of Shaw and Shoemaker we need to distinguish between the printed bibliographies by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, American bibliography; a preliminary checklist for 1801-1819 (New York, 1958) and the multi-volume publication A checklist of American imprints 1820-1829 (10 vol., New York, 1964-1973). The licensed online version by the firm Readex abbreviated as Shaw-Shoemaker has as its full title Early American Imprints II; Shaw-Shoemaker 1801-1819, with some 36,000 imprints. For a book or pamphlet printed in 1828 the references in the catalog with thirty broadsides are to the printed edition.

If you look closely at the items in the catalog with thirty broadsides you will notice not every description contains references to online catalogs and relevant bibliographies. For no. 1, $50.00 Reward! The Above Reward will be Paid for the Recovery the [sic] Body of Miss Jennie Warren (…), a broadside from Illinois printed in 1875, we read it is an unrecorded broadside, without indicating which resources have been used. In this case you might conclude thus when you do not find this broadside in the CARLI union catalog for Illinois, the Library of Congress, the KVK, and perhaps as an addition the general catalog of the American Antiquarian Society. Thanks to an initiative of the University of Michigan you can perform full text searches in the digitized version of the National Union Catalog Pre-1956 imprints in the Hathi Trust Digital Library, searching the title of this particular broadside in the online version is challenging. To me it seems more convincing to indicate where you sought without any result than to state merely something is unrecorded.

I would feel perfectly happy when for example the 1836 ordinance on market law in Albany (no. 2) was not found in the New York State Library in Albany, the New York State Archives and the New York Public Library. There is a union catalog for libraries in New York, ConnectNY. No. 4, a broadside about the trial and execution of Henry Anderson in 1822, presented as an item unrecorded in WorldCat and the British COPAC, can nevertheless be found in WorldCat with even a link to a digitized version in Harvard University’s crime broadsides project. The point for me is not to point to any fault or omission, but to underline the need for a consistent approach. For no. 21, Ein neues Lied von der Mord-Geschichte des Joseph Miller (…) (s.l., s.n., [1822]) the bibliographical information is very substantial. Hermann Wellenreuther counted in Citizens in a Strange Land A Study of German-American Broadsides and Their Meaning for Germans in North America, 1730–1830 (University Park, PA, 2013) sixteen editions of this text. It seems this is indeed an unrecorded copy of a most rare edition. PennState University Libraries have created a digital collection with some 1,890 items for these German broadsides which were especially published in Pennsylvania.

Broadsides in digital collections

Banner Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders - Harvard Law School

Trial pamphlets and broadsides have been lucky in digitization projects. My interest in the thirty broadsides of this catalog is also linked with my general interest in digitized pamphlets and broadsides. A few years ago I started with a page on my legal history website for digital collections in this particular field. Apart from the collection mentioned above at Harvard Law School I have checked for the presence of the broadsides under discussion also in the Trial Pamphlets Collection of Cornell University Library. You will spot in my overview at least fifteen digitized collections with broadsides in the United States. In the United Kingdom only a few collections deal explicitly and exclusively with broadsides. On the other hand broadside ballads are rightly regarded as a distinct subgenre, and I have recorded digital collections dealing with them. You might want to read my 2017 post about broadside ballads.

In December 2017 a three-year cataloging project at Het Utrechts Archief ended for some 5,000 Early Modern municipal and provincial ordinances. Archives are the place where you can expect ordinances which have sometimes been published both as pamphlets and as broadsides. In a splendid volume with scholarly articles about Early Modern broadsides, Broadsheets. Single-sheet publishing in the first age of print (Leiden 2017), edited by Andrew Pettegree, the presence of broadsides in archives is a subject which Pettegree rightly mentions in the introductory chapter. Broadsides have not always received the attention they deserve. Their ephemeral nature has been taken for granted. Some of the leading bibliographical projects for Early Modern books even excluded broadsides, among them the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) and the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV). However, the STCV has now started to include Flemish broadsides as well, and even gives them a paragraph in the cataloging manual. Pettegree notes Anton van der Lem has entered sixteenth-century broadsides for the STCN. The introduction by Pettegree is a must-read for anyone interested in broadsides. For Italy Pettegree mentions projects and books concerning governmental publications printed as broadsides. In a post two years ago I could even point to digital collections with Italian Early Modern bandi from Rome, Bologna and Venice. What holds true for Early Modern editions can to a large extent be extended to later editions.

Multiple roads to go

At the end of this rather long post I guess we just touched the surface of a subject deserving detailed attention. Is it possible to give a concise rule for indicating facts about the uniqueness or common presence of old books, prints and broadsides? WorldCat contains information from more libraries than any other resource, but I find it often cumbersome to find in WorldCat which library contributed the information about a specific item. The KVK is strong for European collections and does harvest apart from national union catalogs a number of regional catalogs. We have seen it is possible and feasible to use these regional library catalogs whenever this is sensible. Sometimes you will point to a few libraries where you expect items to be, such as the Library of Congress, major national and university libraries. Legal historians will think of the holdings of the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main. The Vatican Library is of course another institution with very rich holdings. Specialized bibliographies help very much to gain deeper insight.

In the face of an increasingly international public it makes sense to enlarge the references to them in order to prevent an impression of sharing arcane information with the happy few who are nourri dans le sérail. I would prefer putting the references in a separate paragraph of the description of an item in a book seller’s catalog. By looking also at archives and their collections you can do justice to the fact broadsides are different from books. In archives you might find more broadsides than you expect. Awareness of both archival collections in libraries and of books and broadsides in the holdings of archives broadens your view and can be most helpful. How to achieve this? Scholars, librarians, archivists and antiquarian booksellers need each other and the services they can provide.

To sum up, mention where you searched for information, thus honouring the principle of responsible incompleteness, use both WorldCat and the KVK, remember also to use the catalogs of libraries and archives nearby, or look at specific libraries, and use relevant printed and online bibliographies. Any time you can add something important from your own knowledge and experience you should feel free to put it into action! In an increasingly virtual world it is good to remember you will find these bibliographies – and access to licensed online resources – in research libraries. As users we should wake up when we read words like rare and unique, but let’s not blame a book seller for wanting to create an interest in his goods.

The Lawbook Exchange Ltd., Clark, NJ: 30 Broadsides, May 8, 2018

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

Banner Repsoitory of Historical Guin law - Duke University

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

Finding laws

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

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

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

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

From the past to the present

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

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

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

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

New views on digitized medieval manuscripts: Parker Library 2.0

Startscreen Parker Library on the Web

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

Removing the barriers

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

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

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

Logo Parker Library

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

Legal history and the Parker Library

Richardus de Pophis, Summa dictaminis secundum stilum romanae curiae

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

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


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

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

Mapping the legal past

How often did you look this summer on a map? You no doubt checked an interactive map for the weather forecasts, and you might have used an app to guide you on the roads you took during your vacation. In this post I would like to look at interactive online maps, more specifically HISGIS systems, historical-geographical maps, which have a clear connection with legal history. The choice of maps is rather great, and I am sure you will pick those closest to your own interests and curiosity.

Several overviews have helped me to bring together the maps I mention here, first of all the overview at Anterosis, a project of John Levin. The Historical GIS Research Network, is one of the oldest websites with an overview of HISGIS projects. Lately I noticed the Electronical Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), but the best current international overview of HISGIS websites has been created by the HGIS Lab, University of Saskatchewan. I dealt with a number of Dutch and Belgian projects in an earlier post concerning the bicentenary of the Dutch Cadastral Service, and thus I thought I could hardly bring you my typical Dutch slant. However, last week I noticed a veritable portal with a number of interactive maps concerning Dutch culture and history which seems perfectly fit for inclusion here.

The British isles

Modern drawing of medieval Swansea

Let’s start the tour with the United Kingdom to honor the work of the team of the Historical GIS Research Network. I could mention a lot of projects concerning London, but Locating London’s Past can stand as a fine representative of other projects. A more general map project deals with Ordnance Survey Maps (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tithes are the subject of a project of the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Tracks in Time: The Leeds Tithe Map Project. Another project with tithes, Cynefin Project: Welsh Tithe Maps, brings us to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

The project City Witness: Medieval Swansea contains some materials which I found particularly fascinating. Maps are only one aspect of this project with as one of its cores the story of nine men around 1300 about the hanging and miraculous survival of William Cragh. Among the textual witnesses used at City Witness is the manuscript Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Vat. lat. 4015, for which you can access online in DigiVatLib a digitzed version of a black-and-white microfilm. For Ireland one has to single out the project The Down Survey of Ireland: Mapping a change (Trinity College Library, Dublin) with information about this very early land survey made between 1656 and 1658, and also Ordnance Survey maps and three historical GIS maps.

Around the world

Cover Digital Gazetteer of the Song DynastySurely HISGIS projects are not confined to the United Kingdom or Europe. The best example to show this is perhaps The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty (University of California, Merced). A book about the rulers and administration of this Chinese dynasty (960-1276) was the starting point for Ruth Mostern and Elijah Meeks to create a much larger project to visualize the locations and extent of the power exercised by this dynasty. Ruth Mostern’s 2011 book provided the spur to start building this HISGIS.

It did cross my mind to look for projects dealing with Classical Antiquity, but I had a firm impression that interactive maps and the use of digital tools are far more common among classicists than among legal historians. The choice of online projects as shown at The Digital Classicist Wiki is stunning. I do not know where to start best with the plethora of projects. Elsewhere I came luckily across a pilot version of a modern representation of the Tabula Peutingerana created by Jean-Baptiste Piggin not yet mentioned in this wiki. Piggin tries to use his knowledge about diagrams to go beyond the Peutinger map website by Richard Talbert. You might want to follow the relevant posts about his project at Piggin’s blog. For an idea of what has been done for HISGIS and Classical Antiquity you can get a distinct idea at the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the Antiquity À la Carte application. It is possible to commission new features to be added to this set of interactive maps.

I propose to turn now to North America. Among the sites I would like to signal here are first of all projects with the closest affinity to normal maps. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Newberry Library, Chicago) should in my opinion be viewed in tandem with Lincoln Mullen’s project Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912. Quite different are projects such as Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and Redlining Richmond, a project around the House Owners’ Loan Corporation and the New Deal in this town. Social and economic history comes into view at IWW History Project: Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1935 (University of Washington). I could not resist adding here a digital collecion without HISGIS maps, but I am sure the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digitized at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for American history.

Inevitably some projects seems less easy to fit under one heading with similar projects. Close to geography are projects such as LandMark: Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands and Danske Herregaarde (Danish manors) of the Dansk Center for Herregårdsforskning. The Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871 (University of Victoria) is based on the actions of the colonial government in these Canadian regions.

Traces of slavery

One theme is clearly seen as most suitable for the use of HISGIS systems. It is striking how many sites for the study of the history of slavery use it to present sources or the results of research. Instead of going straight for matters connected in the first place with the United States of America or the United Kingdom it can be instructive to start elsewhere.

Header HGIS de las Indias

The HGIS de la Indias (Universität Graz) is a portal with a Spanish interface presenting interactive maps for the period 1701-1808. The Caribbean is the setting of Slave Revolts in Jamaica, 1760/1761. A Cartographic NarrativeTransatlantic Slave Trade is one of the most studied elements in the history of slavery. MCC Slave Voyage The Unity 1761-1763 is a website of the Zeeuws Archief, Middelburg about one particular ship of a Dutch slave trading company. At Mapping Slavery NL you can trace Dutch slave owners in several towns. There are books and websites for city walks along traces of slavery, for example in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I could not readily find these links at Mapping Slavery NL.

For the United States we meet again Lincoln Mullen, this time for his project Mapping the Spread of American Slavery. The Texas Slavery Project focuses on a single state. For a long time it belonged to the so-called Territories, the states joining the United States at a later point in time. Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond) is concerned with a later phase. The aftermath and long repercussions of slavery are a stake at Collective Violence: Mapping Mob Violence, Riots and Pogroms against African American Communities, 1824 to 1974. The United Kingdom comes into view with Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (University College, London). The University of Edinburgh has created the portal Cartographie des Mémoires de l’Esclavage.

Looking at this overview I am sure I have probably missed a number of projects, but it is my objective to make the visual impact of maps for literally mapping slavery and other subjects more clear. When you read descriptions as the topography of terror we are inclined to think only of the Second World War, but creating maps of other events and phenomena is every bit as helpful and important.

A cultural atlas

Logo Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

The last website I want to introduce here is a portal created by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Dutch National Cultural Heritage Service) in Amersfoort. The new WebGIS: Themakaart Portaal offers 22 different maps and atlases covering Dutch cultural heritage. As for now the riches of this portal can only be viewed in Dutch, and I cannot imagine why a version in English has not yet been created or at least announced for the near future. The landscape maps are also accessible at Landschap in Nederland, and the archaeological maps can be found also at a sister site, Archeologie in Nederland. A possible starting point is the Kaart van de verstedelijking (Map of urbanization) where you can among other things view Dutch urbanization between 1200 and 2010 and look at city plans taken from the major cartographical project executed by Jacob van Deventer during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a pity that this cartographical portal does not contain all supporting information present at the landscape and archaeology portals. You can benefit from information about Van Deventer’s maps and the growth of 35 cities. On the other hand, can you really expect to find everything at a single portal? At least one of the maps has very substantial connections with legal history, the map concerning the medieval and later development of fen regions (Agrarische veenontginningen). Newly developed regions often came under a specific jurisdiction. In the north west of the province Utrecht a region is known for a peculiar tax, the dertiende penning (thirteenth penny) which had to be paid until recently at the sale of landed property. These jurisdictions have yet to be added to this RCE map.

While looking at the map concerning flooding risks and cultural heritage I realize how much good maps are needed in regions of India, Nepal and Bangladesh suffering flooding right now, in late August 2017. Creating road maps for Nepal is one of the challenges the Red Cross – for example Missing Maps, American Red Cross – brought to the attention of the world. Volunteers are invited to use recent satellite photographs to make reliable maps for those striving to help people. Historical GIS systems can be as interesting as their modern forerunners, and there is space for legal historians to add to them anything they judge to be important.

Telling tales: Chaucer and the law

Illuminated page wit the Summoner - Chaucer, Catnetrbury Tales - Ellesmere Chaucer

The Summoner, illustration in the Ellesmere Chaucer, early 15th century – San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. EL 26 C 9, fol. 81r (detail), source: http://hdl.huntington.org

Medieval literature sometimes touches law and justice, and thus it can be useful to look sometimes beyond the usual range of sources and materials legal historians prefer to study. The Biennial London Chaucer Conference will devote this year’s conference on June 30 and July 1, 2017 to Chaucer and the Law. At least three stories in the Canterbury Tales have lawyers or other persons associated with the law in its title, the sergeant-at-law in the tale of The Man of Law, the manciple and the summoner. Legal professions come into view in some of the other tales, too. The summoner had been attacked in The Friar’s Tale, to mention just one example. This post looks briefly at the upcoming conference, but I will not hesitate to add some personal remarks, too. A few months ago I came across a blog post by Candace Barrington, ‘Beyond the Anglophone Inner Circle of Chaucer Studies’ at In the Medieval Middle, and I could only agree with her about the importance of Chaucer to wider circles. The programme of the upcoming conference seems a major step in bringing him in a different context. Here I try to come closer to the field of literature than I do here usually.

The conference in London is organized at Senate House by the Institute of English Studies at the School for Advanced Studies, in cooperation with the New Chaucer Society and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Senate House is home to the Senate House Library.

A web of tales

If you come more or less from the outside to Chaucer it can really seem you enter a kind of parallel universe. When you spot at the website of the New Chaucer Society the link to the Chaucer Bibliography Online (Mark Allen, University of Texas at San Antonio) the sheer mass of studies about a plethora of subjects is awe-inspiring. With only the search term law you will retrieve more than 400 results. Chaucer definitely is treated as a part of world literature, but Barrington makes it clear it that only lately studying Chaucer has become a worldwide activity which can break though the lines of approach practised in the Anglophone world. Barrington is one of the founders of Global Chaucers, created as the “Online archive and community for post-1945, non-Anglophone Chauceriana”. The resources page of this blog shows you the wide impact of Chaucer and leads you also to a list of modern translations.

Visualizing Chaucer, Robbins Library, University Of Rochester, NY

The social media, too, have a role in creating a wider circle of people delving into Chaucer’s work. Many years ago the House of Fame, a blog maintained by a modern incarnation of Chaucer, was launched. Meanwhile this modern Chaucer has become a master of funny Middle English tweets by Le VostreGC. For Chaucer and the Law there is the Twitter account Chaucer_Law. I will not give a here a complete guide to Chaucer studies, but some websites can help you very much. Among the short introductions to Chaucer the online exhibit The World of Chaucer. Medieval Books and Manuscripts (Special Collections, Glasgow University Library) is helpful. The University of Sheffield has created a portal for critical editions of the Canterbury Tales where you can easily compare some of the main manuscripts containing this work, including the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century (University of Maine at Machias) is a portal with both the original texts and translations, and a concise web guide. Candace Barrington contributes also to an open access companion to the Canterbury Tales. Siân Echard (University of British Columbia) provides a great service with his web pages on Chaucer: Manuscripts and Books on the Web, but for the image of the Ellesmere manuscript shown here I preferred to visit the website of the Huntington Library. Visualizing Chaucer (University of Rochester, NY) is your online port of call for more images of and around Chaucer. If you hesitate about the importance of images you might want to look at The Robin Hood Project of the Robbins Library of the University of Rochester.

The programme of the two-day conference in London shows a wide variety of sessions. With a sigh of relief I saw the first section is dedicated to A Preface for Chaucerians: Chaucer for Historians, a promise that Chaucer will not be only the subject of literary views. Anthony Musson will discuss the sergeant-at-law, the teller of the Man of Law’s Tale, and Nigel Ramsay will speak about the manciple and his tale. A quick view of the programme shows also that the Canterbury Tales are not the exclusive source linking all contributions. Chaucer’s other works figure here as well. It is about time to confess I, too, look at Chaucer from a foreign perspective. My knowledge of English legal history, too, is refreshed and even extended here., and anyway it is simply necessary to tell something more about the three main figures associated with the law in the Canterbury Tales. The sergeants-at-law were for centuries barristers with the exclusive right to argue cases in the Court of Common Pleas. A manciple was a purveyor of goods for a court or college, sometimes a caterer of food. The summoner was an official in ecclesiastical courts who delivered charges to people compelling to appear in court. Peter Guy Brown will discuss this official in his paper.

Let’s not forget to look briefly at Chaucer himself. Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1343-1400) was a public servant with functions such as a valet de chambre to king Edward III, customs official for the port of London and deputy forester in Somerset. He acted as a royal envoy in France and Italy. In 1386 he became a Member of Parliament. As a poet-diplomat he must have met all kinds of people, and these meetings are in a way mirrored in the figures portrayed in the Canterbury Tales and in his other works. He is a master at playing with reputations and stereotypes.

Of course it will not do to plod here through all papers of the upcoming conference in London, you will find here a personal choice. Some papers refer to other kinds of law as well. Samantha Katz Seal will look at laws of lineage in Chaucer’s work. Julie Chamberlin will discuss legal networks in The Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer’s Complaint unto Pity is the subject of Jonathan Forbes’ paper in which the complaint will be compared to a legal plea. Claire Fennell will discuss a Middle English statute book in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 520. The first day ends with a plenary lecture by Emily Steiner on medieval literature and the limits of law.

The second day will start with a contribution from Groningen. Sebastian Sobecki will give a plenary lecture about Chaucer’s lawyers. Sobecki prepares with Barrington The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Law and Literature. Recently he published Unwritten Verities. The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463–1549 (Notre Dame, IN, 2015). Arvind Thomas will speak about literature and legal maxims. Euan C. Roger will look at Chaucer’s career in royal service by looking at the plea rolls. Among other themes to be addressed are sumptuary laws, the role of conscience, freedom of speech, treason and mercy.

Part of the attraction of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is his skill in picturing people by their conscious or unconscious use of particular language. In many tales he succeeds in disguising the origin of a story. The fragmentary tradition and the signs alluding to a possibly different ordering and sequence of the tales provide space to use widely different perspectives to gain insights. Every tale in the Canterbury Tales forms a kind of microcosmos with a multitude of aspects, and on the other hand they are part of a network of tales. Being aware of the very variety of medieval life, culture and society is not a bad thing when studying medieval law and justice, and Chaucer offers a focus for looking at the fourteenth century.

A portal for the history of the common law

Screenprint online guide to the history of common law, Bodlieian LibrariesSometimes things arrive really unexpectedly. Good introductions and guides to any research field can help you enormously in getting started, gaining an overall view of things and offering openings to wider context. At my own website for legal history, Rechtshistorie, I offer introductions to several legal systems and their history. Recently a couple of online subject guides were launched by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford which deserve attention here. They amount in fact to a portal. I will focus on the guide to the history of common law, but the other guides are worth visiting, too.

Common law in manifold variety

Logo Bodleian Libraries

A first glance at the new subject guide shows first and foremost an almost overwhelming mass of subjects. It is really a choice to present between thirty and forty subjects on separate pages instead of ordering them a bit by putting for example particular periods or royal courts under separate headings. The first row of headings clearly leads you to more general subjects and some specific sources, the Year Books and law reports. It is easy to point to themes and subjects you might want to add or remove here. Forest law makes a surprise appearance, but you might want to add for example the Inns of Court. Some reshuffling is surely possible, perhaps first of all bringing periods at one level or putting the items in alphabetical order. Anyway I have not yet seen any LibGuide with such a high number of subpages.

In my review of this research guide you must forgive me my personal picks among the headings! Local legal officials is a page giving you general guidance to a fair number of these officials, and understandably sheriffs, constables, justices of the peace and coroners receive most attention here, apart from general information about local government. You will find much more about medieval coroners on my own common law web page.

Under Commentary you will find information about the major current standard works about English legal history and you will be sent also to great historians such as Maitland, Holdsworth, Milsom, Vinogradoff and of course Blackstone. The heading Treatises & Authorities brings you to classic writers such as Coke and Hale, and also to older treatises (Bracton, Britton), but also again to Blackstone. The references to online versions are both to licensed editions only accessible at subscribing institutions, and to free accessible versions. If you have access to subscribers-only materials you are lucky indeed. The free versions give sometimes only a translation of a particular source, a thing not always indicated here.

Among the periods to review here I have chosen a classic era, 1066-1216. The overview of regnal years is most useful, and the choice of electronic resources with both laws and treatises is a good one, as is the choice of studies which you should consult. A second era, 1820-1914, clearly stems from the volume in the Oxford History of the Laws of England. Here the attention to reports is indeed welcome, but I did not find a reference to the U.K. Parliamentary Papers (Proquest). A separate page about the history of Parliament would be very useful, but going to Legislative history solves this apparent omission. On the page about Ireland I missed the Dippam portal with the Enhanced British Parliamentary papers on Ireland. By the way, some pages in this guide have an URL with numeral codes, others contain words which are more recognisable to human eyes. The page on Scotland is strong on important studies and less full for online resources.

The online guide for the history of the common law shows its sheer width by containing a page on canon law. It offers a nutshell guide bringing you to introductions by James Brundage and to some well-chosen studies (Richard Helmholz, Anders Winroth and Stephan Kuttner) and (online) resources. English students starting to discover medieval canon law might want to read also the compact book by Dorothy Owen, The medieval canon law : teaching, literature and transmission (Cambridge 1990).

A web of online guides

The Bodleian Libraries have created similar guides to ancient lawRoman law, the legal history of Western Europe and the history of international law. Using the Bodleian’s general overview of more than one hundred online law research guides the list on the starting page of their LibGuides for law and history can be extended to medieval Scandinavian law and Roman law in translation, a subject dear to me. This overview of translations is very useful. I noticed in particular the online version of excerpts from Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Font (eds.), Women’s life in Ancient Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook in Translation (2nd edition, Baltimore 1992), which deserves inclusion at my own Roman law page. On the page on medieval Scandinavian law I expected a reference to The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen, mentioned here last year. Yet another nutshell guide of the Bodleian Libraries is Witchcraft and the law in Early Modern Europe and the USA: Bad magic by Isabel Holoway. Hannah Chandler contributes an online guide to criminal and judicial statistics, 1800 to present day.

At the end of this quick review our thanks should go to the Bodleian, especially to Elizabeth Wells and Margaret Watson for their courage and librarianship to create five guides covering important fields of legal history. To me it is clear that you can frown at the very number of individual subjects and periods in the guide to the history of common law, but at the same time it invites you also to rethink your assumptions. I remember visiting somewhere an online guide based on LibGuides with many subdivisions which in the end scarcely helped to find the rich resources of the library and university. Personal taste, preferences and concrete research interests will influence your opinions about these guides. However, the most important conclusion is that the Bodleian Libraries and other libraries using LibGuides do not hesitate to face the challenge to give guidance in the virtual world, too, and thus redefine themselves for new service to student and scholars in the age of digital information. With the guides dealing with themes and subjects in legal history the law guides of the Bodleian Libraries set an example to which other institution can aspire. The very presence of LibGuides has already inspired many libraries to create sensible guides to many subjects, and it is good to see legal history among them.