Tag Archives: United Kingdom

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

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

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

Ships from every corner of Europe

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

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

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

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

Prize papers at a price

Banner Gekaapte brieven

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

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

Logo Marine Lives

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

Banner Global Worlds

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

A seducing interactive map

Banner Prize Papers Atlas

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

Logo Prize Papers Online

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

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

Some questions

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

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

Banner National Archives

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

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

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

A postcript

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

Going the long roads: Legal history and The History Manifesto

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

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

A call to arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short periods, long periods and legal history

Logo The Republic of Letters

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

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

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

Blessings in disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as the world extends

Cover Entanglements in Legal History

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

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

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

Celebrating common law beyond Magna Carta

Header Et Seq.

2015 is the year of many celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is silly to try to avoid mentioning it here, but I know my readers expect me to find a different slant on the celebration. The four remaining copies of the 1215 version get ample attention at the British Library. The Lincoln copy was put on show in 2014 at the Library of Congress (Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor). Earlier this year there was much media coverage for the finding of a later copy of Magna Carta at Sandwich, Kent. At first I would have almost believed the news concerned the finding of a fifth copy from 1215, but this was not the case. However, this copy from 1300 combined with a copy of the Forest Charter.

Recently Harvard Law Library decided to digitize its collection of manuscripts and archival records with texts concerning medieval English law. At Et Seq., the library’s blog, there were already two announcements, on March 25 about early English manor rolls by Mary Person, and on April 10 ‘Medieval Manuscripts Online-Magna Carta & More’ by Karen Beck. The riches of the digital collections at Harvard Law Library are certainly no secret, but now it seems they surpass their earlier efforts, this time with support from the Ames Foundation. Person and Beck briefly introduced the new digital collections, but there is a real need to tell more here.

A gateway to medieval resources

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16) - image Et Seq.

Detail of a manor roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

Before going quickly to the newly digitized resources it is wise to look at the overview of historical and special collections, the web page on rare books and manuscripts, and finally the overview of digital collections and digital exhibits. This threefold entrance is in some respects confusing, but each approach is in itself valuable. The only snag is remembering where you found a particular collections, exhibit or link! By the way, the overview of digital historical databases deals with subscription databases.

The first series of digitized archival records consists of some 170 medieval rolls, mainly manor rolls and account rolls, most of them stemming from five villages in different English counties (Cheshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Staffordshire and Suffolk). Some items are effectively not rolls, but charters. The time range of the items goes from 1305 to 1770, with therefore not just medieval sources. These rolls will be successively digitized during the coming years. As for now you can read online only items from Moulton in Cheshire, with just one court roll [no. 20, Lenten court, 30 Henry VIII (1539-1540)]. There is an online finding aid (inventory) with descriptions of all items and whenever available links to their digital version. To assess the variety of materials digitized at Harvard Law School you might have a look at an earlier post here about medieval rolls. English manor rolls could be easily found using the Manorial Documents Register of the British National Archives. I find it harder to get an overview of them using the new Discovery portal, but in the end you can find for example other rolls for Moulton Manor.

The series of medieval legal manuscripts at Harvard Law School has been divided into two section, the first with forty registers of statutes dating from the early fourteenth century until 1500, the second for nineteen registers of writs. The oldest register of writs (Registrum brevium with also some tracts) dates from around 1275 (HLS MS 24), the latest one from around 1476 (HLS MS 25). One manuscript contains also yearbooks and tracts (HLS MS 193, around 1350). The volumes with compilations of statutes often contain the text of Magna Carta. The oldest manuscript present at Harvard which includes Magna Carta dates from around 1300 [HLS MS 57, Magna Carta cum Statutis]. You can also search for these manuscripts within the HOLLIS catalogue of Harvard University Library, using the filed “Other call number” and entering “HLS MS XXX”, with XXX for the manuscript number.

HLS MS 172, Sherriff's Magna Carta, around 1327

“Sherriff’s Magna Carta”, around 1327 (?, circa 1298) – Harvard Law School, MS 172

A splendid example of the presence of Magna Carta in Englsh legal life is a socalled sherriff’s Magna Carta said to date from around 1327 (HLS MS 172). However, in the overview of manuscripts it is suggested with due hesitance that it might even date from 1297 or 1298. Such copies were read aloud four times every year.

At the website of the Ames Foundation you can consult an overview of all these registers and manuscripts. The Ames Foundation invites scholars to provide more detailed descriptions of manuscripts, something until now only done for HLS MS 184 which contains the Statuta vetera, writs and some tracts. The description of this manuscript does refer to the overview of manuscripts created by John H. Baker, English legal manuscripts in the United States of America : a descriptive list (2 vol., London 1985-1990; Selden Society; reprint 2 vol., Buffalo, NY, 2010), and earlier in English legal manuscripts, vol. 1: Catalogue of the manuscript year books, readings, and law reports in the library of the Harvard Law School, John H. Baker (ed.) (Zug, 1975). The new description of HLS MS 184 gives you for each item in the manuscript the link to the digitized page. For many items you will find a reference to the numbering in the Statutes of the Realm or additional information about editions. The meta-data of the manuscript are not forgotten either. In my humble opinion this example sets a standard for describing English medieval legal manuscripts. The name of the author of this description should definitely be added.

The overview created by the Ames Foundation makes it very clear that what we encounter here is not just a very regular set of manuscripts. These manuscripts at Harvard will show surprises to those scholars who start with the large labor of dealing in-depth with each of them. The overview points to an unedited tract in HLS MS 24b, a single leaf with a large section of the Tractatus de bastardiae, described in 1997 by Jerome Arkenberg. ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54, an article available also online. I am sure this is only an example, and not an exception of a text yet to be edited and studied.

The digitized manuscripts help us to come closer to the actual versions of texts seen by those dealing with legal matters in the late Middle Ages, and this can correct the more synthesized critical editions of texts such as the Statuta vetera et nova. A comparison with the text versions printed in incunabula editions comes also much more feasible, and these early editions, too, can now be found in digital versions, too. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) at the British Library increasingly point to digital versions . You can search in these online catalogues for Statuta regnorum and Statuta Angliae or use the GW overview of all editions of statutes.

Magna Carta seen in perspective

In the year of the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta the newly digitized manuscripts at Harvard show above all Magna Carta did not stand alone. It got a place alongside other statutes of the realm. It would be most interesting to see what place or impact Magna Carta had on actual writs, and for answering this question, too, you can now consult at home on the screen of your computer or tablet the digitized registers of writs kept at the magnificent holdings of Harvard Law School. You will benefit also from the resources and articles brought together at the website of the Magna Carta Research Project. As for medieval canon law and Magna Carta, you could very well start with reading an online essay by Anne Duggan at the website of the project Early English Laws. A look at these earlier laws helps also to discern with more precision the new elements within Magna Carta.

At my own web page about legal history you can find among the information about the history of the common law links to other online resources for this subject which merits continuing attention because of the continuities and changes in the history of Anglo-American law at large. Apart from its printed publications and the priceless online Index to Year Book Reports (David Seipp, Boston College) the Ames Foundation is working with Harvard Law School to create further digital access to resources in the field of the history of the common law and medieval law in a wider sense.

The definitive history of Magna Carta will not be written because every generation will come with different questions and methods to approach the old roads to answers, and no doubt each generation will come up with new perspectives worth considering carefully again and again. Thanks to the staff at Harvard University for make these materials accessible for anyone interesting in legal history! As for Et Seq. you can subscribe to its RSS feeds, simply follow the 852 RARE items of this library blog or follow @hlslib at Twitter. If liberty is a value to treasure and foster you cannot pass by in silence this Icon of Liberty, the telling subtitle of a special website created by the American Bar Association for this year’s Law Day (May 1). Magna Carta 800th will keep you informed about many of this year’s celebrations. Among this year’s online exhibitions are Exploring Magna Carta of Boston College Law Library and The Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297 of the Parliament House, Canberra.

A postscript

Linking Magna Carta and medieval canon law is not a whim or an isolated idea. On June 16 and 17 a conference will be held at Saint Louis, Missouri on the theme New Constitutions and Constitutional Beginnings: The Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta 800 years later. The conference is sponsored by the International Society for Medieval Canon Law (ICMAC). The Fourth Lateran Council is the subject of a congress later this year in Rome, November 24-29, 2015: Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

Musing upon liberty and law

While musing myself on themes suitable for a new post on my blog at least one subject offered itself last week in my mailbox. An antiquarian bookshop with stores in Brooklyn, NY and Stevenson, MD, sent me a message about nineteenth-century manuscripts for sale. One of the items attracted my attention because of a remarkable series of subjects touching on law, history and liberty brought together in a manuscript note by a well-known American author. Here I will try to focus on two questions which call out for an answer. Do these subjects really combine so easily and naturally as this author assumed? How can legal historians bring them into discussion again? Here I would like to share with you my first impressions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

The manuscript at the center of this post is a two-page note written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) in 1855. Both the website of the antiquarian firm and their mail message point out this text features in Emerson’s book English Traits (1856). From Emerson Central, one of the online portals to Emerson’s texts, I take the quote at stake here:

Magna-charta, jury-trial, habeas-corpus, star-chamber, ship-money, Popery, Plymouth-colony, American Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman’s right to his dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the British nation to rage and revolt.

Emerson had studied theology at Harvard. He had visited England in 1833 in 1847, and France in 1848 during the year of revolutions all over the European continent. My first impression of this sentence from the chapter “Ability” of English Traits is that of someone applauding the steady character of the British who do not let them foil into violent actions for some goal, however lofty or urgent. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, revolts in medieval England, the break with Scotland and the Dissolution of the Monasteries are conspicuously absent, and I choose here only a few themes. Instead of character I should perhaps say “nature”, taking the lead from Emerson’s famous essay Nature (1836/1849). In his even more famous address The American Scholar (1837) he urged writers to break away from literary conventions and to find their own voice. Some twenty years later love for things British seemed to be very real. Emerson definitely wrote in the century of the nation-state, and his opinions might be both fired and coloured by feelings of national pride, influenced also by personal experiences. His use of the words Saxon and Scandinavian race is distinctively mainly for the apparent conviction it carries, and not only for its factual imprecision. To all appearances Emerson shared here a Whig view of British history, one long and unbroken road to liberty. Emerson was a poet, too, and we should acknowledge that his vision of the United Kingdom is visionary, perhaps even utopic. Historical facts or their reassessment do not alter the poetic view expressed by Emerson.

For a first online orientation concerning Emerson the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful. You can execute illuminating textual searches in Emerson’s writings in the digital edition created by the University of Michigan, and continue your research at RWE.org. The nature of this blog post is a very simple first impression, a first look at a resource which surely can be studied in more depth.

Great events

The core of Emerson’s note to be discussed here is the combination of familiar subjects for legal historians: Magna Carta, the trial jury, the Habeas corpus rule, the Star Chamber, the Plymouth colony and the American Revolution. The fight against Catholic influences and the creation of the Anglican Church is concisely evoked by the word “popery”. The ship-money was the tax levied by Charles I of England between 1629 and 1640 without parliamentary consent. Once upon a time such subjects might have been included at least in continental capita selecta lectures about British history, but they more probably were and are at the heart of an introductory course in British legal history taught anywhere in the Anglo-American world. By the way, law is not forgotten among the digital resources presented at The Plymouth Colony Archive.

Next year legal historians will face the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta. The original copies will be shown in exhibitions, sometimes far from their present location. Cultural institutions such as the British Library will rightfully exhaust themselves to show their treasures and to appraise them anew. Hopefully historians can take a distance from preconceived opinions and look at their own prejudices, and help explaining how and why some themes in legal history gained their iconic importance.

The thing that struck me most about Emerson’s words is the vitality of history and the value attached to it, even when admittedly the nineteenth century was the century of history par excellence. The two pages with his notes show in a very immediate way – notice the fluency of his hand! – how he saw himself as part of a living continuity. Whatever the reasons behind the American Revolution it followed nevertheless the example of a country with a long experience of institutions safeguarding liberty.

The website of the antiquarian firm gives a five number amount of money as the prize of Emerson’s note. The prize of liberty and the just course of law and justice is beyond any prize. Legal historians should honour the history of liberty by pointing to its prime examples, to the grave and grim periods and events threatening liberty, to mistakes and opportunities recognisable in our days, too.

The 1855 manuscript of Emerson – with a 1875 carte de visite photograph of Emerson – is for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop

A panoramic view of English criminal law

Image of the country-house Oog in AlAs a child and teenager I visited weekly the branch of the public library in Utrecht in the old country-house Oog in Al, beautifully situated along the Leidsche Rijn. Reading books on all kind of subjects in a library with its round tower offering a wide view of its surroundings is a great source of inspiration to look around you as widely as possible. Everard Meyster (1617-1679), the nobleman who had built Oog in Al in 1666, gave a very particular name to his manor. Oog in Al means panorama, a spot with a 360 degree view of things. Meyster wanted to have a good look at his project for the extension of Utrecht with new suburbs. He also launched a plan to build a canal connecting Utrecht with the former Zuiderzee. Some of his more funny projects earned him the nickname “De Dolle Jonker”, the mad nobleman.

Logo The Digital Panopticon

Being able to view things from every direction is a dream of historians, too. Creating a histoire totale, a complete history of persons and events, aims at transcending the traditional borders of academic disciplines by posing questions from several angles, and by using not just one method to approach problems. The name The Digital Panopticon was chosen on purpose for the ambitious project to look in more depth and detail than ever before at British criminal history. The subtitle of the project, The global impact of London punishments, 1780-1925, shows the two focus points, local history on one side, global history at the other side. Five universities, four in the United Kingdom and one in Australia, cooperate in this four-year project (2013-2017).

The Digital Panopticon is at the heart of this post. The project itself is connected with a number of other digital projects which will figure here, too. Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield), the project manager and webmaster of The Digital Panopticon, has more cards up her sleeves. She has created a whole range of websites and blogs which merit attention here if only already for their own quality and range. Legal history might not always be the main subject of these initiatives, but you can benefit indeed from them for doing legal history.

Looking at The Digital Panopticon makes you think about other subjects in legal history as well. How about creating projects for other countries and fields of law following this example? Do current or past projects exist which resemble The Digital Panopticon in some aspects? These questions deserve an answer, but if I added my first thoughts about them this post would simply get too long.

Getting a complete view

The global nature of The Digital Panopticon is not something you can take for granted. You might as well guide your efforts solely to an analysis of the data available at the website of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the core of this project. By choosing a narrower period, 1780 to 1925, the project can deal in particular with those convicts sent into exile to Australia, hence the global dimension alluded to in the subtitle. The project team has developed three central questions touching first on the role and position of digital data for scientific research, secondly on the impact on people of incarceration and involuntary transportation, and thirdly on the impact and implications of digital history on public history and its ethics. These questions are being researched for seven main themes, starting with searching for patterns within digital data; noting the voices of men, women and children in the surviving testimonies; the relations between punishments and the course of ordinary life, the difference between convicts, free men and their offspring in committing offences; the interplay between nutrition, the general health situation and individual height and body mass and other factors dealt with by biometrics; the ways of representation of the criminal past in museums and in those institutions catering for a kind of dark tourism and heritage industry at former prisons and other places of the judicial system, and last but not least the ethics behind the massive digital presence of data concerning persons who lived in past centuries.

Linguistics, biometrics, the history of health, sociology and criminology are clearly present in the approaches and themes chosen for this major research project. As a legal historian I am glad the testimonies given by ordinary people get attention, too. Research into intergenerational patterns of behavior sounds also very interesting, as does research into the impact of offences and punishment on life course events. Giving attention to dealing with data sets with sometimes very personal information about members of still existing families links the past with the present where freedom of information, the access to personal files, and the protection of this information form a vital part of current public debate in many countries.

Logo First Fleet

However rich this variety of themes and subjects already is, you can probably do even more. For example, some time ago Frederik Pedersen (University of Sheffield) wondered about seasonal variations in litigation in ecclesiastical courts in the sixteenth century, more precisely in the York Cause Papers, but you can also ask this question for seasonal variations in punishments. The sheer mass of data in the Old Bailey Proceedings offer an opportunity to ask such questions. One of the obvious things to ask is which trends, variations or invariable outcomes you can distinguish when comparing offences for which people were not banished from England with those offences that led to other punishments. Even when you assume the punishments prescribed by laws or statutes did not change over long periods, the actual verdicts might have changed considerably. Can we detect change in judicial regime? What about the various prisons in London and their inmates? People sentenced by the Old Bailey formed only a minority of the people shipped to Australia. In December 2013 Sharon Howard wrote ‘Thinking about dates and data’,  a posting on the blog of The Digital Panopticon in which she reflects on the possibilities of using the various data sets to get a reliable picture of the people exiled to Australia, in particular those coming with the First Fleet in 1787.

It is easy to gather from the summary of the main research themes that researchers obviously can use resources which are already more or less ready for use. For example, at the University of Giessen a digital text corpus has been created from the data of the Old Bailey Proceedings which makes it possible to do linguistic research within the proceedings. Research into the health of convicts transported to Australia is facilitated by the project Founders & Survivors: Australian life courses in historical context, 1830-1920 created by historians, demographers, genealogists and population health researchers.

The Convict Transport Registers Database, accessible at the portal Connected Histories, contains 123,000 records of a total of 160,000 persons transported to Australia between 1787 and 1867 from the registers in the HO 11 series kept at the National Archives, Kew. An online research guide provided by the National Archives gives you guidance to a lot of relevant resources, some of them online. A second guide helps you specifically for researching people transported to Australia. You can either access London Lives 1690 to 1800 – Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis at its own website or use it through the portal Connected Histories. In the research guide for themes around and sources on crime and justice at this splendid portal the London bias of the resources is rightly pointed out. The digital resources of British History Online which do redress this imbalance to some extent, can be searched at Connected Histories, too. In the section Connections of Connected Histories you can find fine examples created by users of the way you can combine data on persons and connect the resources assembled at this portal. Its sheer size and variety, even after noticing some resources only to be used at subscribing institutions, is stunning, and I am hard pressed to find any digital history portal elsewhere with at least some of its contents and qualities. Linking records to a particular person depends on correct identification of people, and this makes research at Connected Histories not a straight forward affair.

One of the resources recently added to Connected Histories brings us to the very title of The Digital Panopticon. The transcriptions created by the crowdsourcing project for the papers of Jeremy Bentham, a part of the Bentham project at University College London, will become available here, too. On my blog I have written in 2011 a post about the Transcribe Bentham project. Bentham coined the use of the term panopticon for his famous model of a prison in which all prisoners can be seen by their guards from one point. However, in this new digital panopticon things seem almost reversed. You can look at prisoners from more than just one central perspective! By the way, some of the seven themes of the project have been the subject of postings here. In 2012 I wrote a post about museums and legal history in which I did question the way the history of punishment has been transfigured at some historical spots into a kind of morbid tourist attraction.

A constellation of websites

The Digital Panopticon is heavily dependent on digital data already accessible thanks to earlier projects. One of the most amazing and powerful facts about this interdependence is the role and position of Sheffield historian Sharon Howard. She was the project manager for the digitization of the Old Bailey Proceedings and she had the same function for the portal Connected Histories. For The Digital Panopticon she is again the project manager and also webmaster. No doubt things are sometimes much easier thanks to her knowledge of vital information about the data at these earlier projects and the ways they have been digitized or harvested. Last October I mentioned Sharon Howard briefly in another posting here. I recalled immediately the title of that post, ‘The galaxy of French humanism‘, when I looked at her digital presence in the second part of today’s post.

Logo Early Modern

The personal website of Sharon Howard is a veritable portal to her websites, blogs and the projects she is involved with. Early Modern history is her main research period. Legal historians will look in particular to her Early Modern crime bibliography. What this bibliography with some 500 titles maybe lacks in content is redeemed by her portal Early Modern Resources (EMR) and her blog aggregator Early Modern Commons (EMC). EMR is a treasure trove for anyone looking for historical resources for British and European history between 1500 and 1800. You can follow any particular theme or enter a free text search with always most valuable results which at the very least offer you food for thought, and more often the inspiration for and first guidance on new roads to go. A third abbreviation, EMN, stands for Early Modern Notes, Sharon’s Early Modern history blog. The websites and the blog will get a new form at the Early Modern Hub which Howard currently is constructing.

The section on blogging of Sharon Howard’s personal portal is perhaps its very heart. You can choose here from four blogs and four blog aggregators. As an aficionado of medieval history I would like to mention Medieval Broadside, a blog aggregator about medieval history, with of course a blog roll of the blogs included. The Broadside is not a website about broadsides and pamphlets, but a website which is to some extent its modern equivalent, an aggregator for messages posted by historians on Twitter about history. The New Newgate Calendar is another blog aggregator with a fine blog roll, this time as you would guess from its title dealing with news about research on the history of crime and punishment. A look at the blogs included here gives you a good idea of the wide variety of current subjects and methods in this field. The website for the original Newgate Calendar gives you the stories of English criminals imprisoned in the Newgate prison between 1700 and 1900. I leave it to you to look at the blogs and the blog aggregator with the word “Carnival” in their titles. You might do this during the coming carnival days!

In the projects section we have met already some of the projects for which Sharon Howard worked. Of the other projects I will only mention Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000 to 1500, a portal for online research on medieval manuscripts, and Locating London’s Past, the project connecting John Rocque’s 1746 map of London with texts, artefacts and information about the streets and buildings of eighteenth-century London. Is it by now still a surprise Sharon Howard has done research for an online course on Data Management for Historians?

If you are not yet satisfied with the variety and quality of the digital presence of just one researcher I can send you to two other sections of Howard’s portal. The fourth section deals with Fun, but actually some websites which started as a kind of virtual playground are not just play. Anyone thinking about creating an online – or printed – bibliography can benefit from her Zoterowiki, a guide for the popular digital bibliographic tool Zotero. You might need it when you contemplate contributing to her Early Modern crime bibliography! Based on the Old Bailey Proceedings Howard has created a tool to visualize the frequency of crimes and punishments in this data set. Her steps into visualizing hashtags used in tweets by historians brings me to the last section where she offers just links to her Tumblr blog, EMN and her own tweets. The Digital Panopticon can be followed, too, on Twitter (@digipanoptic).

If The Digital Panopticon is about viewing crime and punishment and the people involved from as many perspectives as possible, you might characterize the digital presence of Sharon Howard as a kind of virtual omnipresence! I cannot do better than express my admiration and salute the unflagging efforts of a historian doing so much to bring digital information together for the benefit of historians and anyone interested in history and law. At the end of this post I am sure you will bookmark some of the websites and blogs mentioned here or at Howard’s marvellous portal.

Inspiration for more research

At the end of this post feel mightily impressed with The Digital Panopticon and with the fleet of blogs and websites created by Sharon Howard. Comments, questions and criticism are always possible, and I have commented on some features and hinted at some questions indeed, but my main impression of The Digital Panopticon is positive, The eleven researchers of five universities cross borders in geography, time and themes. Can legal historians boast or at least remember similar projects on a vast scale? When you look around carefully and watch out for new or past projects you will surely find something which equals the scale and scope of The Digital Panopticon. Today the combination of a website, a blog and social media is common practice for many ranges of modern life.

The project that will dwarf earlier projects might well be present already, perhaps not yet visible in English or not spotted easily even by the most used web search engine. This week I have been searching for the website of an international project launched in 2013, but somehow I failed to track it with search engines. Not knowing the exact title of the project did hamper my online search severely. Luckily in the final stage of writing this post I remembered I created a bookmark in my web browser for it. History and the Law: Exchanges of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas aims at becoming a project bridging ages and continents. You can actually visit two websites presenting this project, one at Cambridge University, the other at Harvard. The presence of a webmaster in the team of any large-scale research project using digital tools is surely an essential element of its success and visibiity.

A postscript

In September 2015 the website Convict Voyages has been launched, one of the results of ongoing reserach at The Digital Panopticon.

Selling the Mendham Collection, a poor move

This week alerts appeared about the proposed sale of parts of the Mendham Collection, since thirty years on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral. The owner, the Law Society of England and Wales, describes the collection at its own website as “a unique collection of Catholic and anti-Catholic literature including manuscripts and printed books ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries”. Despite protests of Canterbury Cathedral the Law Society has started removing books from Canterbury on July 18, 2012 in preparation for an auction at Sotheby’s, apparently to raise funds. Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent have jointly decided to involve the general public in their protest against the possible dispersal of a collection with more than 5,000 items including medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An online petition to support both institutions has been launched. To indicate the importance of this collection, let it suffice that CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, has included the names of former owners of books in this collection into its provenance database.

One of the painful things in this situation is the failure of the Law Society of England and Wales to acknowledge that there is now an issue. The notice I quoted here from its website is almost the only piece of information this society provides online. The Law Society indicates they have published a catalogue of the collection in 1994 which can be obtained for £ 40,-. The Law Society has substantial historic holdings in its own library on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the fourteenth century to the present. The action of the Law Society breaks unilaterally the agreement with Canterbury Cathedral to act as a custodian of the Mendham Collection until December 31, 2013.

Gaps in the Mendham Collection

Gaps in the Mendham Collection – photo by Alixe Bovey, University of Kent

Joseph Mendham (1769-1856) was an English theologian who became active as a controversialist and historian. He was the son of a merchant, but his background did not hold him back of buying objects with a value for both cultural and church history. An article from 2008 by David J. Shaw describes the collection and the way Mendham brought it together in more detail. For legal historians Shaw points to editions of the acta and additional sources on the Council of Trent held from 1545 to 1564, and for examples twenty different editions of the Regulae of the Cancellaria Apostolica. The collection contains books from Doctors Commons, a court abolished in 1860, and the Court of Arches. Shaw gives also details on the continental provenance of many books. Mendham’s collection of 37 manuscripts mainly concerning the Council of Trent is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The deposit of the Mendham Collection at Canterbury, the place where Christianity in the United Kingdom started, is at an extremely apt spot. A sale of separate items, even of minor items, but surely only the rarer and more valuable items would bring the expected profits, does harm the collection and its integrity, not only now but for future researchers.

Yesterday the BBC reported on the plans of the Law Society to auction books from the Mendham Collection; a video can be seen at YouTube. Until now only a few websites, including the Medievalists news blog, have covered the story about the threat of the sale. Erik Kwakkel, palaeographer at Leiden University, calls upon people to sign the petition. Supporting solicitors is the noble goal of the Law Society of England and Wales, but I can see no justification for a rash sale of valuable materials held since 1869 and the dismemberment of a collection as wideranging as the Mendham Collection. Surely other ways exist to get money, even if the Law Society says it has not taken this decsion light-heartedly. Some of the items removed now may not be retrieved from Sotheby’s for a possible sale to either Canterbury Cathedral or the library of Kent University. Hopefully the petition will help reverting the plan of the Law Society of England and Wales, and help keeping the Mendham Collection intact and accessible.

Turning to good account: medieval account rolls and legal history

How to present a faithful picture of legal history? Writing here about various subjects enforces the conviction that talking about legal histories in the plural is closer to the mark. Taking account of everything that is going on in this scholarly discipline is not possible. In my view the very subject of keeping accounts and its connection to legal history deserves a post here. In this case, too, you can choose a wide variety of perspectives, sources to be highlighted and stories to be told from the Ancient Near East until modern computerized accounting systems. I will in particular discuss a number of projects for the digitization of medieval account rolls.

From clay tablets to computers

Accounts are among the earliest surviving written sources of mankind. From ancient Mesopotamia clay tablets have been found written in cuneiform script. You can find an example of a digital collection of cuneiform records from the Assyrian empire on the website of the Library of Congress. A substantial percentage of ancient papyri, too, tell us about expenses and income, or stem indeed from official administration of all kinds for both secular and religious institutions. At Papyri.info you can search the bibliography for papyri rolls. From Roman times accounts have been preserved on various materials. Wax tablets with accounts are among the Vindolanda tablets found near Hadrian’s Wall in 1973. The tablets now on display at the British Museum in London have been digitized by Oxford University.

Logo Computatio

For our knowledge of medieval history accounts and account rolls are abundantly present. Otto Volk (Universität Marburg) has put anyone interested in medieval accounts and accounting into his debt by his efforts to create at Computatio an online bibliography of scholarship concerning the late medieval and Early Modern period.

Lately a number of projects in the United Kingdom has started to digitize a substantial number of medieval rolls. You will find a very large number of digitized records at Anglo-American Legal Tradition, a website of the O’Quinn Law Library, Houston University in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew. Among the records are plea rolls, Chancery Rolls and pipe rolls (E 372 series). The pipe roll from 1130 is the second oldest item from the royal administration, only preceded by Domesday Book (1086). Finding digitized pipe rolls and digitized editions published by the Pipe Roll Society is made easier using the overview and guide at Medieval Genealogy. The Pipe Roll Society announces for 2012 a new edition of the oldest surviving pipe roll from 1129-1130 and new editions of the pipe rolls for Normandy. The first edition of the oldest pipe roll was by Joseph Hunter, Magnum rotulum Scaccarii vel magnum rotulum Pipae (…) (London 1833; digitized at the Hathi Trust Digital Library). An edition of Norman rolls was published by Thomas Stapleton, Magni rotuli scaccarii Normanniae sub regibus Angliae (2 vol., London 1840-1844). These volumes have been digitized in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich where you can find also the Rotulus cancellarii vel antigraphum magni rotuli pipae de tertio anno regni regis Johannis (London 1833). For Normandy the first volume of the new edition has already appeared, Pipe rolls of the Exchequer of Normandy, I, For the reign of Henry II 1180 and 1184, Vincent Moss (ed.) (London 2004). Mark Hagger writes in his article ‘A Pipe Roll for 25 Henry I’, English Historical Review CCXXII (2007) 133-140, about a fourteenth-century register from St. Albans Abbey containing a fragment from the pipe roll for Michaelmas 1124.

Separate projects are devoted to several types of roles. In the Henry III Fine Rolls Project rolls from 1216 to 1272 are being digitized on which the payments for royal concession were noted (C 60 and E 371 series). A translation will also be provided. This project at King’s College London is accompanied by a blog. The project website can boast a useful links selection to other projects. The Gascon Rolls Project is concerned with rolls similar to the Henry III Fine Rolls for the period 1317-1468 for matters concerning Gascony (C 61). On a French webpage you will find much information on previous editions of earlier rolls concerning Gascony. The Parliament Rolls from 1275 to 1504 have been edited earlier. The digitized version can be consulted only for subscribers at British History Online. Luckily you will find here digitized editions of many types of medieval rolls in open access. Access to a number of relevant sources is also provided by many calendars, the typical English finding aid created for many sources. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is a very useful tool to find digitized editions of medieval sources. At present for example 160 digitized editions of account rolls are included. In the 2011 issue of Digital Medievalist Morgan Kay and Maryanne Kowalewski discuss this bibliographical database which includes now more than 4,000 items.

Accounting and counting in medieval times

In this post I want to look at digitized medieval accounts and in particular account rolls, but sooner or later it becomes necessary to look first at the medieval way of accounting. Accounts were kept and sometimes rolls created to make it possible to account for both the actions of for example a royal officer, and also for the fines due to the king, which might not necessarily and automatically match with the actual amounts of money received. The accounts present a picture of posts concerning actions and money transfers for which the authors were held accountable.

The very word control stems from the practice of checking rolls against the receipts and the amount of money present after a particular period. In the field of trade and commerce medievalists often point to the invention of double entry book-keeping and the treatise La pratica della mercatura by Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (fl. 1310-1347). The edition by Allan Evans (Cambridge, Mass., 1936) has been digitized by the Medieval Academy of America. The first clear late medieval presentation was long said to be found in the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice 1494) by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) – GW 44422, digitized for example at Cologne and at the ECHO project of the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin – whose chapter on book-keeping stems partially from Giorgio Chiarini, the Florentine author of the Libro che tratta di mercanzie et usanze dei paesi. An incunable edition of this work appeared at Florence in 1481 (GW 22847). Alas the link to a digitized version at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart does not work. Vincenzo Gitti edited a text by Pacioli, the Tractatus de computis et scripturis / Trattato de’ computi e delle scritture (Turin 1878), also available online at the Universität Köln.

These treatises came into existence after some major merchants and towns had already started using the double entry book-keeping system during the fourteenth century. Vittorio Alfieri, La partita doppia applicata nelle scritture delle antiche aziende mercantili veneziane (Turin, etc., 1891) – digitized at Cologne – made already clear that Pacioli was probably not the first to explain this system. Alfieri discusses similar treatises up to Benvenuto Straccha’s De mercatura (1553), the first legal treatise exclusively devoted to commercial law. Straccha is the subject of a virtual exhibition at the Università Bocconi in Milan, where you can find a bibliography on him and more treatises concerning commercial law. Anne van der Helm and Johanna Postma of the Instituut Pacioli found in 1998 the manuscript of a mid-fifteenth century Italian treatise by Benedetto Cotruglio, Libro dell’arte della mercatura with an appendix, La riegola del libro which according to Van der Helm and Postma dates from the first half of the fifteenth century. This appendix is missing in the edition of Cotruglio’s text by Ugo Tucci (Venice 1990). In the paper discussing this newly discovered text – dealing not only with book-keeping but with many aspects of commerce – the authors provide an ample bibliography of relevant scholarship on the earliest book-keeping treatises.

As for the question where double book-keeping occurred for the first time L. Lauwers and M. Willekens mention in their sketch on the history of book-keeping, ‘Five hundred years of book-keeping. A portrait of Luca Pacioli’Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management 39/3 (1994) an article by Michael Scorgie, ‘Accounting fragments stored in the Old Cairo Genizah’, Accounting, business and financial history 4 (1994) 29-42, who studied a fragment of a journal dating from 1080 and four pages of accounting with credits and debts dated 1134. One can search part of the Cairo Genizah in the Genizah On-Line Database of Cambridge University Library. Images can be found also in the Friedberg Genizah Project, and in Cambridge’s DSpace. Lauwers and Willekens mention also a study by John Caldwell Colt, The Science of Double Entry Book-keeping (New York 1844; online, University of Rhode Island). Colt already guessed that the connection with Egypt, Constantinople, and the commercial network of Arabic merchants stretching from northern Africa to India, is vital for the introduction of double book-keeping. Pointing to the activity of Lombards all over Europe is another sensible line of argument. However, his assumption that the Hanseatic League also quickly took over this method, is wrong, because the cities of this commercial league long refused it.

Probably the largest single medieval commercial archive is the Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato, Prato, with the famous documentation about Francesco di Marco Datini, immortalized in Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato (1957). On the website one reads the affirmation that from the end of the thirteenth century double book-keeping was used in Tuscany. However correct or incorrect this statement, the Fondo Datini shows an overwhelming variety of account books.

It would be foolish not to mention at least briefly the use of Roman and Arabic numbers. Counting with Roman numbers was mostly done with an abacus. The story of Leonardo Fibonacci and his Liber abaci (1202) can be found almost anywhere. In this mathematical treatise he introduced the modus Indorum to Europe, the numerals as we know them, including the use of zero. Laurence Edward Sigler published a study and translation in English, Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci: a translation into modern English of Leonardo Pisano’s Book of Calculation (Berlin-New York 2002). The edition by Baldassare Boncompagni, Scritti di Leonardo Pisano (2 vol., Rome 1857-1862) has still to be used, and can now be consulted online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. You can find it also together with other digitized Italian mathematical works on the Mathematica Italiana portal of the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. It is not included in the section for the history of mathematics of the Berlin website European Cultural Heritage Online.

Rolls and scrolls on many subjects

Let’s go back from the treatises to the account rolls and account books. Many years ago I was fascinated by the rotuli mortuorum, the rolls with the names of deceased medieval monks for whom prayers were requested. More recently rolls of arms figured here in a post concerning medieval heraldry. The chapter of the Introduction to manunscripts studies by Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham (Ithaca, NY-London 2007) devoted to rolls and scrolls made me again curious about this format and its uses. Not only here figure rolls, but elsewhere in this book, too, for example a thirteenth-century roll cartulary written by a notary from Asprières in the Provence (Chicago, Newberry Library, Greenlee ms. 39), and a parchment roll with a large hole caused by the corrosive pigments of an illustration (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 22.1). The authors mention also an example of an account roll from thirteenth-century Florence.

Michael Clanchy mentions the use of rolls in his classic study From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London 1979; 3rd ed., New York 2012) and more particular also the way written records were used. Auditing a roll was indeed done by reading them aloud. Clanchy points to the possible influence of Arabic practice transmitted by English mathematicians such as Adelard of Bath on the introduction of the roll form. He reckons also with influence from Sicily which in the early twelfth century had only just been conquered on the Arabs. Scholars still debate the actual forms of this influence from the Arab world and the precise ways they might or could have led to developments in Italy.

You will excuse me for not giving examples here of all kinds of medieval rolls, even though Clanchy discusses a generous range. The Parliament rolls have been mentioned here already. Among the main sources concerning English medieval law are the plea rolls, the Exchequer rolls, the eyre rolls, the coroner rolls, the statute rolls and the assize rolls, almost all of them also treated in Clanchy’s book. For the patent rolls it is interesting to visit the website for the itinerary of King John and the rotuli litterarum patentium, with Hardy’s 1835 edition. It might seem useful to remember the Rolls Series, a major series of editions of sources from medieval Britain, but the Master of The Rolls, responsible for the series, decided to publish mainly chronicles in this series. Court rolls often contain the fines of cases. One of the major online projects for court rolls is The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove and Bury, 1268-1600, based on the edition of sources for this part of the East Midlands with the same title (Toronto 1990) and accompanying the book Ramsey. The life of a Fenland Town by Anne Reiber DeWindt and Edwin Brezette DeWindt (Washington, D.C., 2006). The Conisborough Court Rolls (University of Sheffield) present rolls from a manorial court in Yorkshire. For medieval Ireland the website Irish Chancery Rolls, c. 1244-1509 has been launched recently with rolls patiently reconstructed from the materials that survived the disastrous bombing of the Irish Record Office in 1916. It would be splendid to view documents from medieval Spain. Thomas Bisson’s study Fiscal accounts of Catalonia under the early count-kings (1151-1213) (2 vol., Berkeley-Los Angeles 1984) contains the text of a number of documents. For an earlier period Michel Zimmermann has written a major study on the role of writing in Catalonia, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle) (2 vol., Madrid 2003).

I would like to close this post with a shortlist of separately digitized medieval account rolls and similar documents with a clear link to administration, government or jurisprudence. Don Skemer deals with statute rolls compiled by individuals in ‘From Archives to the Book Trade: Private statute rolls in England, 1285-1307’, Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995) 193-206. I will exclude here many other forms, such as genealogical rolls – though I would like to point to the digitized world chronicle and genealogy of Edward IV in roll form at Philadelphia, Free Library – mortuary rolls and heraldic rolls. My brief list opens with a number of examples from the Digital Scriptorium, choosing of course examples completely digitized:

  • Los Angeles, UCLA Library, ms. Rouse 61: Rent roll; Hertfordshire, 1560 – ms. Rouse 53 is an homage roll from Norfolk, 1446-1453
  • Los Angeles, UCLA, Bancroft Library, BANC UCB 119: Purchase of land, Bergamo, 1500
  • New York, Columbia University, ms. Montgomery 22: Account roll, Ely, 1400-1415
  • San Francisco, San Francisco State University, J. Paul Leonard Library, De Bellis Collection, De Bellis H 121, Box1:A3: Roll, 1338; Italy – the exact nature of this roll is not indicated in the description
  • New York, Columbia University, Smith Documents 63: Tax roll of tithes, Vaux (Somme), first half 15th century
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Ash. Rolls 45, Procession to Parliament; 17th century – a beautiful illustrated roll; for digitized genealogical and heraldic rolls Oxford provides an ample choice
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, ms. Oversize 23: Property survey; Val Secret, department Aisne, 1324
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Codex 1116: Distribution of funds for churches; Volterra, 1490
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/216: Toll tarifs, Sens, around 1223; two rolls
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/329: Document of three apostolic commissioners concerning the nullity of the marriage between Charles the Fair and Blanche of Burgundy, 1322
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/III/203: Letter of Uldjaitu, king of Persia, to Philipp the Fair and other christian princes to renew the existing alliance, 1305 – on the back of the roll is an Italian translation of the Mongol text
  • Beaune, Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or, Chambre des Comptes de Bourgogne, B 11525: Tithe roll for the region around Beaune, 1285

Of course one can point to interesting documents concerning legal history in roll form elsewhere, not only in medieval Europe, but for example in medieval Japan. Harvard Law School Library has digitized 22 komonjo, scrolls with various legal texts from the period 1158-1591. Jewish marriage contracts in roll form are being digitized in the Ketubbot project of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. The Society for Old Dutch Law published a merchant guild roll from Deventer, De koopmansgilderol van Deventer voor 1249-1387, H.R. van Ommeren (ed.) (The Hague 1978), and the text of this edition – without images of the roll – can be consulted online. For Flanders and Brabant H. Nélis created an overview of account rolls in his study Chambre des Comptes de Flandre et de Brabant. Inventaire des comptes en rouleaux (Brussels 1914)

At the French Archim website you can consult online the roll with the interrogation of members of the Knights Templars from October 19 to November 24, 1307 (Paris, Archives Nationales, J 413 no. 18). Another roll from this famous trial is J 413 no. 29, a digitized inventory on six parchment leaves of the goods of the Templars in the bailliage of Caen. Using the collections search interface of the French Culture portal it seems you cannot find easily other examples in France. The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. The accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe shows an interesting selection of manuscripts and contains a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. The database of the Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden at Marburg contains examples of charters in roll form (Rotel), of which you can view images in black and white. At Monasterium.net, too, one can search for digitized charters of this type, but the search results here are not straightforward.

When writing this post I had to scroll to the end of my text, and thus in a way this post has become a roll, too. The pieces of parchment of a medieval roll were stitched together. I am afraid my text has some rather obvious stitches. At some points I have been much too brief, and at the same time this post contains almost too much. The scholarship in print on the variety of medieval rolls concerning the royal government of England is extensive, and I have mentioned but a few titles here. Perhaps this post just wets the appetite for more!

A postscript

What should be included, and what excluded in such a long post? Certainly not the website of the center for the history of accounting at the Université Lille-3. You will find more links on this website. Comparable centers are mentioned in the links section of the e-journal De Computis. At least three articles in the e-journal Comptabilité(s) deals directly with medieval rolls, Harmony Dewez’s 2011 illustrated contribution on the manorial rolls of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Jean-Baptiste Santamaria on accounts for the bailliage of Hesdin in fourteenth-century Artois, and Patrick Beck on accounts for the comune of Dijon.

By chance I visited the website Richard II’s Treasure, created by the Institute for Historical Research and Royal Holloway College, where besides many objects the treasury roll of this king from 1398-1399 is featured (National Archives, E 101/411/9). However, you will find on the website just two images of the roll, and the text of this 40 meter roll is missing, too. Jenny Stratford who helped creating the website gives the text in her study Richard II and the Engish Royal Treasure (Woodbridge 2011).

In 2014 the Houghton Library of Harvard University launched the beautiful website Medieval Scrolls where you can find an introduction to the subject, a database, an online exhibition with for example a roll with the text of Glanvill’s treatise on English law, and many illustrations.