Tag Archives: Urban history

New ways to medieval city registers

Screenprint Stadtbücher

How do you get the larger picture? Almost with a sigh we often long to see wide vistas, yet at the same time we want to zoom in while looking at a panorama of particular things. In this post I will look both at a repertory of particular sources, medieval and Early Modern city registers, for one country, Germany, and at an attempt to create a similar overview for medieval Europe. Last week I was alerted to the project for Germany, but this week I noticed also the project for a wider overview, and comparing the two projects is the most natural thing to do.

Efforts in Germany

The German project for Deutsche Stadtbücher has a subtitle in Latin, Index Librorum Civitatum. On closer inspection this portal can indeed be viewed in German, English and Latin. As for now the Latin is restricted to the headings of fields and filters. The project is the fruit of cooperation between the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the history department at the Universität Halle-Wittenberg and the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCEH). The portal offers four main entrances to search: cities, city registers, literature and archives. The word Archives stands here for holding institutions, not only archives, but also libraries. You can also use a free text field search. It is possible to search only for digitized registers, too. An extra is offered in the expert search mode, and you can also use an interactive map. This map can be used with some filters, but it seems a number of them is not yet active. However, you can go to a second interactive map, the DARIAH-Geobrowser which enables you to filter for periods and series of Stadtbücher. The loading of the results takes some time… On the main map you can select other countries as well. The database has for example currently entries for two Dutch cities, Kampen and Groningen. It is great to have bibliographies for many cities.

City registers or municipal registers is a very broad term. The strength of this project is certainly the creation of eleven categories, ten categories with in four of them attention for those registers most dear to legal historians, court registers, statutes and bylaws, council registers, and the classic registers for acts and charters (cartularies). In the eleventh category you will find everything which does not clearly fit into one of the other categories.

In such a vast project, spanning five centuries, you will find inevitably aspects which are either exhaustively or rather sparingly covered. Project leader Christoph Speer explains at his staff web page that for some Bundesländer he could build on the work of Reinhard Kluge in the former DDR for 450 cities with 70,000 registers, and he refers to a number of publications about the project and German city registers.

Getting a larger view

In 2014 I wrote here about a number of projects for the digitization of Dutch and Flemish city registers, in particular court registers and council deliberations. I discussed projects for Leuven, Liège, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc). I briefly mentioned some maritime registers at Amsterdam and a project for medieval charters in Tilburg. The Leuven project Itinera Nova is supported by the municipal archive and the Universität Köln. Especially when I looked at the map of the Stadtbücher project in which a center of this university is one of the main partners I wondered for a few moments why Leuven is not mentioned, but it is better to look first of all within the limits set for the Stadtbücher project.

Having within your reach a good and consistent repertory for one country is a fine thing, but often we set out to search for a digital version of one particular source, instead of going first to a relevant repertory. In this context it is perhaps a blessing in disguise that until recently I had not found many digitized medieval municipal registers. I had noticed a French project, Le Petit Thalamus de Montpellier, and a Scottish project, Law in the Aberdeen council registers, 1389-1511. In my 2015 post about portals for medieval history I mentioned briefly the section Paris médiéval at Ménestrel with much attention to legal documents. By the way, similar section at Ménestrel for Lissabon is promising, but has not yet reached this level.

However, very recently I encountered the project Registres des déliberations municipales au Moyen-Âge: La voix des assemblées [REGIDEL], a project concerning cities in Southern France led by the Telemme laboratory at Aix-en-Provence. On November 24, 2017 the symposium Enregistrer les conflits. Pratiques délibératives et scripturales des conseils urbains en temps de crise (XIIIe-XVe siècles, Europe méridionale) [To note conflicts. Practices of deliberation and scriptural practice in urban councils in times of crises, 13th-15th centuries, in Southern Europe] took place. The project blog contains articles about cities such as Turin, Toulouse, Digne and cities in the Emilia-Romagna, in particular for Bologna.

A companion to the REGIDEL project has got its own acronym, MUAR, for Medieval Urban Assembly Records, nothing less than a projected repertory for urban council records in medieval Europe. Like REGIDEL it is currently a blog at the Hypotheses platform. The website aims at becoming an archival and biographical repertory of municipal registers, with a focus on council registers, covering the period from the late twelfth to the early sixteenth century. The interface is in English, French and Italian. Currently there are sections reserved for France, Italy, the Iberian peninsula, the German empire, Britain and Ireland, the Low Countries and other countries. The striking feature here is the wish to classify cities in one region. For a moment I thought the team behind MUAR had fallen into the trap of placing cities in regions which successively were ruled by different rulers, but they mean current regions, for France even the départements.

When I checked the various headings I found partially the same cities as mentioned above for REGIDEL. For Italy you can find Perugia, San Gimignano, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and L’Aquila. Orvieto is the most recent addition, but it has not yet been included in the section for Italy. Most links in this post are internal references. So far Marseille is the only French town in MUAR. All other sections are under construction. For each town a timeline of important events is provided. I decided to check the page for Bologna, a town which figured here in a number of posts, for examples concerning Italian city statutes and municipal ordinances. In one post I portrayed Bologna also as a center of legal history when discussing two projects in Bologna for the digitization of medieval legal manuscripts. In this post I mentioned for the Archivio di Stato di Bologna the digital version of the Estimi di Bologna di 1296-97, records estimating the properties of Bolognese citizens, and the Liber Paradisus, a register about the liberation of nearly six thousand slaves at Bologna in 1257. The MUAR project does mention the critical edition of the Liber Paradisus by F.S. Gatta and G. Plessi, Liber paradisus. Con le riformagioni e gli statuti connessi (Bologna 1956), but not the digital version. The Estimi do not figure at all, nor the digitized Registro grosso (1116-1380) and the Registro nuovo. It is tempting to say the team at MUAR has not yet realized how daunting their objective is, but we can read the notice telling the team is looking for scholars willing to cooperate with them. In view of the German project it seems wise they change from a blog to an online database to enhance search possibilities.

For Italy one can benefit from the Scrineum project of the universities of Pavia and Verona, and more specifically from the Atlante della documentazione comunale italiana (secoli XII-XIV). This Atlante certainly does not cover all Italian towns, but you can find entries for cities such as Genua, Asti, Vercelli, and in particular for Florence. Scrineum provides you with background essays about notaries and libri iurium, and with essays on types of municipal legislation, with text examples from Genua and Florence. Is it safe to assume that there are various groups of historians dealing with legal documents in medieval Italian towns, and that every group has a particular focus? Instead of taking you with me through all kind of resources I had better translate words of Paolo Cammarosano: “As for municipal libri iurium for which there is now a prospect of the creation of a repertory and successively editions, the analysis to be done must reckon with great complexity, different articulations, mixing of matters and outright disorder (…)”, a quote from his article ‘I libri iurium e la memoria storica delle città comunali’, in: Le scritture del Comune. Amministrazione e memoria nelle città dei secoli XII e XIII (Turin 1998) 95-108, online at Rete Medievali Open Archive. The impression of a quick search for literature on libri iurium in the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii is that of a wide variety of publications focusing on a fairly restricted number of Italian cities.

 In the wake of earlier projects

One of the questions to ask for both the German and the French-Italian project is the presence and use of earlier printed repertories and related projects. For the Stadtbücher the team could rely on a project for the Bundesländer in the former DDR as a substantial point of depart. On a European scale fifty years ago a team with a great role at the start for two Dutch scholars, J.F. Niermeyer and C. van de Kieft, edited the first volume of the Elenchus fontium historiae urbanae (Leiden 1967), a project for sources before 1250. The first volume deals with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. The other volumes cover France and Luxemburg (vol. II.1, 1996), Great Britain and Ireland (vol. II.2, 1988), Austria (vol. III.1, 1992) and Hungary (vol. III.2, 1997). On the website of the Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des villes (CIHV) you can find PDF’s with the preface and overview of the contents of the volumes I and II.2. The Elenchus contains selected texts for the early history of medieval towns. The CHIV also stimulated the creation of country bibliographies.

For Germany it is easy to mention recent and earlier works. Ulrich-Dieter Oppitz published the massive repertory Deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters (3 vol. in 4 parts, Cologne 1990-1992), in itself a successor to the earlier work by Carl Gustav Homeyer, Die deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters und ihre handschriften (Berlin 1856; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library; text only, German Wikisource) and his earlier Verzeichnis from 1836 (online, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Both works deal with legal treatises such as the Sachsenspiegel and Schwabenspiegel, but they look also at the laws of individual cities. A number of Rechtsbücher, influential municipal laws, and Schoffensprüche (decisions of aldermen) figure in the online version of the Repertorium Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters under the heading Stadtrecht. I invite you to check also for example at Archivportal-D and the Archives Portal Europe for all kinds of city registers, for they can offer a quick way to relevant registers, too.

Many Dutch rechtsboeken have been edited by member of the Society for Old Dutch Law. Some of the nineteenth-century editions in the first series of editions will not quite stand the proof of modern textual criticism, but at least a large number of them has been digitized at Heidelberg for the Textarchiv accompanying the online version of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. It would be a good thing to create an overview of these texts, the original sources and whenever possible their current digital presence.

To conclude this contribution, proposing the creation of either a national or an European overview of city registers in their various forms is one thing, creating them in a sensible and feasible way implies thorough reflection on many matters before even starting such a project. Overviews of one particular source genre can be most useful, but you cannot lift a source or a genre out of their context completely without impairing in the end historical understanding. This consideration works certainly as a factor which makes scholars rightfully hesitant to cooperate in such projects. The fact that you work with partners from other countries will surely help to widen your horizon and question your assumptions. Let´s wish all courageous scholars who nevertheless join these projects wisdom, good luck and stamina!

A postscript

My view of the German project Stadtbücher is rather positive, but it is right to add at least one comment from Klaus Graf at Archivalia who criticizes the working of the filters and the absence of information for some German regions, in particular Baden-Württemberg. In my opinion the north of Germany is covered massively, for other regions you can clearly wish for more. For Saxony you can benefit from the Gerichtsbücher database for some 22,000 registers concerning voluntary jurisdiction, for example property sales, mortgages, custody and wills.

I spotted in open access the most valuable article on Magdeburger Recht by Heiner Lück in the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte III (2nd ed., Berlin 2013) col. 1127-1136.


Pronouncing the city’s law: aldermen as judges

In pre-modern European cities the aldermen were not just members of a city council charged with deciding on city policies. Creating and maintaining policy in the more pregnant sense of daily law and order was one of their prime tasks. In many cities a number of aldermen sat regularly as the city’s judges. In the past years a number of archives has created online databases to search for cases and verdicts in the records of aldermen. Outside the cities schepenen functioned within regional and manorial jurisdictions. We will meet some of them here, too. This post aims at showing you a wide variety of online search possibilities and presentations. The main focus of my post are aldermen in the Low Countries, called schepenen or in French-speaking regions échevins, I will look at seven projects. The Netherlands and Belgium will bring most of the examples adduced here, but I am sure elsewhere more can be found that would merit as much attention as the cities mentioned here.

Pronouncing the law

Curiosity to find out about recent projects for the digitization of the records of medieval and Early Modern aldermen was my first reason to starting looking for online databases and other projects. I was surprised I did not encounter quickly somewhere a list of relevant projects, or at least some links to similar projects at the websites with a particular database. Unfortunately this might suggest such projects are developed in at least relative isolation, or in the worst cases in splendid ignorance or with complete disregard of similar efforts.

The first project I would like to present concerns the records of a number of villages situated in the very heart of the Rhine and Meuse estuary. The schepenen conveyed at Tuil, the village most to the west of the contemporary province Gelderland, now a part of the municipality Neerijnen. Tuil gives the project its name, De Hoge Bank van Tuil, “The High Court of Tuil”. Nowadays we say in Dutch parlance these villages are positioned in the Rivierenland, the Rivers’ Country. Geographically it is more sensible to say they are situated in the Tielerwaard, “The March of Tiel”, between the cities of Tiel and Gorinchem.

The website for the Hoge Bank van Tuil is a project of three historians, Peter van Maanen, Gijsbert van Ton and Marco Schelling. It presents transcriptions of some 1,300 records from 1335 to 1525, from 1631 to 1637, and a number of scattered records yet to be integrated. The team has used records from several archives and printed editions. For some records the transcriptions are accompanied by images of the documents. This project aims at a reconstruction of the activities of this high court by combining data from a large variety of resources. As for now the records are not yet part of a searchable database, but they can be searched with the normal web browser search function. It is one thing to bring these materials together, but the material still needs editing before it can become the contents of a database. Exactly the preparation of this step is probably the main hindrance to tackle for further research in these regional records. Consultation with for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem, the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland, Tiel, and the Regionaal Archief Gorinchem will surely be most helpful to start preparing a new phase for this project.

The very beginning

The Hoge Bank van Tuil came first in my post because it presents in a nutshell a number of very real questions and problems you face when you start with a project for the digitization of the records of aldermen. What period do you choose? Do you aim at a full reconstruction of archival records concerning a particular institution or jurisdiction, in this case a schepenbank? Do you restrict yourself to the records from one resource, be it records kept at an archive or records surviving sometimes only in print? Do you prepare from the start onwards for the creation of an online database, or would you like to stick with simple web pages? Sometimes you have to wait for the creation of proper archival guides and finding aids before even contemplating a project… Cities and their archival services often choose themselves for the digitization of judicial records. In the case of the Hoge Bank van Tuil three researchers decided to combine efforts for their project.

Logo Scabinatus

The project that prompted me to write about digitized verdicts of aldermen is concerned with verdicts of the échevins in Liège. The website Scabinatus 4000 was launched last autumn by the Université de Liège. The actual database contains acts from the vast series of scabinal registers kept at the Archives de l’État in Liège dating from 1409 until 1797. Some 1,750 (!) registers exist with each around 400 pages, good for some 750 acts. The registers 1 to 67 could be searched online already at a website of the Belgian National Archives, but this website with registers for the period 1409 to 1510 was last updated in 2007.

On the new Scabinatus website the registers 68 to 153 have been added, reaching now 1558. You can search for particular registers, a particular kind of acts (e.g. approbation, arbitrage, wills and witness statements), toponyms, a particular date or period, the kind of goods at stake, names, professions and social status. The website of the National Archives offered drop down lists for the kind of acts and the kind of goods. The scale of this project is clearly staggering. The functionality of the search screen is very detailed, and you are thus able to conduct all kind of searches. Comparisons in activities over long periods become here possible and fairly reliable. However, this database does not offer the complete text of acts, but only a summary with a lot of details. You will need to view the original registers for further research. This project has clear limits in time and resources which seems understandable in view of the sheer number of records to be processed.

New roads to the records of aldermen

Logo Itinera Nova

At Louvain (Leuven) the municipal record-office has combined forces with a German partner, the Universität Köln, for its joint project Itinera Nova. The city of Louvain can boast a series of 1128 scabinal registers from 1362 to 1795. The project started in 2009, and more than one million pages will be transcribed by volunteers. 255 registers are now available online, mainly for the periods 1362-1460 and 1550-1590. Knowing the difficulties sixteenth-century handwriting can pose it becomes very interesting which role the transcribing software MONK, a tool created at the university of Groningen, has played here. The MONK website presents extensive word samples from the Louvain registers. The Itinera Nova project in cooperation with the department at Cologne for Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung involves crowd-sourcing. An online tutorial helps volunteers to start transcribing pages with a basic knowledge of palaeography. On April 25 and 26, 2013, Louvain hosted an international congress with the title Itinera Nova: Tools, People & History, The blog De Digitale Archivaris [The Digital Archivist] published a series of posts in Dutch about this congress. The website of Itinera Nova can be viewed in Dutch, English and French. You can browse at will and conduct general searches, and there is an advanced search option with drop down menus. You can also restrict a search to a particular register or period. From the transcriptions you can go directly to images of the original register. Registered users can get access to the annotation screen.

One of the major assets is a search interface for annotations. Compared to the project for Liège the texts of the records seems to be the focus and very heart of the project at Louvain. The Scabinatus project allows much more the serial analysis of similar acts, but the website does not bring you to the actual records, images or transcriptions. The approach for Liège seems to have been determined by scholars, the approach at Louvain is much closer to the general public. The schepenen of Louvain served as a court of appeal for other cities following the rule of hoofdvaart. Later in this post we will meet Den Bosch, one of the cities which went to Louvain for this purpose.

Dutch projects

For those readers waiting for a regular element of my blog, commonly known as the Dutch view, I will discuss next some Dutch projects. In March 2013 the Regionaal Archief Tilburg launched the Charterbanka charter database, the result of the combined efforts of archivists and visitors of the regional archive working together in a crowdsourcing community with its own website. The Charterbank contains some 450 medieval charters mainly issued by local schepenen from Tilburg and surrounding places. The search interface has fields for place, date, record number, inventory number, and persons adding their seal. In the result view you can enjoy images of the document, read the transcription in a rather small column, consult information about the seal or seals when present, and check for relevant literature and comments. This project focuses on the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period with a regional approach. Charters until 1312 from Noord-Brabant can be found online in the Digitaal Oorkondeboek van Noord-Brabant.

At ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), commonly called Den Bosch, the regional record office, with as its current name Brabants Historisch Infomatiecentrum, has created an online database with records created by both schepenen and notaries in small towns and villages in the present-day province Noord-Brabant. With some 180,000 records the harvest seems at first rich, but only in a few cases you can study a long period, mainly for Lith and Veghel. Resolutions of the Dutch Supreme Council for Brabant, the Raad van State in The Hague, from 1629 onwards, are also present in this database. In my view they constitute a very important source, but they are in a different class, even if they deal with the villages and towns of Brabant. The Dutch description of the database emphasises the possibility to search for persons in these records. Online projects with a genealogical approach flourish at this regional record office, and I could trace many of my own ancestors using the results of these efforts, but for dealing in real depth with other records this approach is narrow. Scans of many records are available, but you will encounter many items which surely touch upon history and legal history but do not strictly concern the activities of aldermen. The useful overview of processed records and items bears witness to the wide range of records deemed fit for inclusion. However, the word genealogie (genealogy) in its URL seemed at first telling. By choosing in the left-hand menu Gescande bronnen (“Scanned resources”) you can already search directly in a number of digitized registers of schepenen, by selecting the schepenprotocollen.

Very much city-centered are the efforts at the Stadsarchief Den Bosch for the analysis of and access to the series of aldermen’s charters and registers starting with the famous Bosch’ Schepenprotocol. In this massive series running from 1360 to 1811 the schepenen of Den Bosch dealt with matters concerning voluntary jurisdiction, passing acts on the purchase and sales of real estate, probate inventories, acts concerning guardianship, etc. I must strike a harsh note: to my surprise there is here no online database. The information for a database concerning the criminal jurisdiction has been assembled in the project Dataschurk (“Data Villain”). You can download all relevant inventories, an inventory of criminal dossiers and summaries of the dossiers themselves, and there are indexes on record number and name.

Decades of painstaking research have resulted in a rich harvest of materials. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol itself can be consulted on microfiches. It will certainly take courage to create a workable database which brings all information together and makes them accessible in a most reliable way. Luckily archivist Geertrui van Synghel can guide your research with her guide Het Bosch’ Protocol: een praktische handleiding (‘s-Hertogenbosch 1993), and her study “Actum in camera scriptorum oppidi de Buscoducis”: de stedelijke secretarie van ‘s-Hertogenbosch tot ca. 1450 (Ph.D. thesis Leiden 2006; Hilversum 2007) with a cd-rom containing 5735 scabinal charters and acts written by the city’s secretaries until 1450. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol transcends the city borders with the letters of surety enabling the confinement of psychiatric patients, even at institutions as far away as Liège. In his comment Christian van der Ven (Den Bosch, BHIC) announces that preparations for a digital version of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol are in a final phase.

Making choices about periods and subjects

Logo Stadsarchief Amsterdam

Last week The Guardian included the city archives of Amsterdam in a survey of Europe’s best free museums. The building of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is surely imposing, but the reason for being featured here are the archival records kept here and the way their contents are disclosed more and more online. When I look at sources with a relation to legal history you can choose from a substantial variety of resources. The example I present here is restricted to a particular class of verdicts, those concerning “averij grosse“, general average or in German “Grosse Haverei”, cases in maritime law in which either a ship, a cargo or both had suffered unavoidable damage in emergency situations, and costs thus made or yet to be made or recovered had to be divided in an equal way [Archief van Schout en Schepenen, nos. 2806-2924, Vonnissen terzake van averij grosse, 1700-1810]. A separate chamber of the schepenen for “Assurantiën, Averijen en Zeezaken” dealt with relevant affairs.

Two splendid overviews of the history of European private law, Helmut Coing’s Europäische Privatrecht, I: Älteres Gemeines Recht (1500 bis 1800) (Munich 1985) 554-555, and Reinhard Zimmermann’s The law of obligations. Roman foundations of the civilian tradition (Oxford 1996) 406-412, provide you with basic information about the legal principles at stake, the role of the Lex Rhodia de iactu (D. 14.2.2), and references to important commentaries, including those issued in the period of the Roman-Dutch law. Zimmermann gives the date of publication of the first edition of Quintyn Weytsen’s early treatise in Dutch on general average as 1651. According to the information in the Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands this can be corrected to a first appearance in print in 1617 as an appendix to Cornelis van Nieustad’s Curiae Hollandiae, Zelandiae & West-Frisiae decisiones (…) Item een tractaet van avarien gemaeckt door Quintijn Weytsen (…) (Leiden 1617), and a first separate edition in 1631 [Een tractaet van avarien, dat is Ghemeene contributie vande koopmanschappen ende goederen inden schepe bevonden (Haarlem, 1631)].

Quintyn Weytsen (1518-1565) became a councillor in the Court of Holland only in 1559, and in 1561 and 1562 he was also charged with hearing accounts in the province of Zeeland, information easily gathered from resources such as the Dutch Biografisch Portaal and the Repertorium van ambtsdragers en ambtenaren 1468-1861 (The Hague, Huygens Instituut). Some of the later editions of his work, specifically Adriaen Verwer’s Nederlants see-rechten, avaryen, en bodemeryen (editions e.g. 1711, 1716 and 1730) contain also two ordinances concerning general average from 1551 and 1563 which no doubt prompted him to write his treatise. The lapse of half a century before a printed edition was published is remarkable. The 1617 edition gives no introduction at all for Weytsen’s text, and therefore his short text (from p. 203 onwards) might have been circulating already in manuscript – or perhaps a much read pamphlet? – long before.

The pages on general average at the website of the municipal archive of Amsterdam were launched in Autumn 2013. They offer a succinct introduction to the doctrinal side of things, and introduce you to the procedure before the bailiff and schepenenOne of the important things stated is that both the Dutch East India Company and the West India Company did not use the services of this court, because the administrators took care of freighting and transport. Statements confirmed on oath before Amsterdam notaries about cases of avarij formed the starting point of the procedure; you can find them using an index of these scheepsverklaringen (PDF), some 5,400 cases. The hint to check the Amsterdamsche Courant for its notices about shipwrecks and averages in its scheepstijdingen is most useful. You can check this newspaper in digital format at the new Delpher portal of the Dutch Royal Library. Do reckon with variant spellings such as avarieavary, avarij and averij! The suggestions to look in other record series for further information are most helpful. In the database of the Amsterdam city archives you find a digital version of the index created in 1980. The search interface allows you to search for the names of shippers and ships, harbours of depart and arrival, and dates. Two examples of cases from 1726 and 1780 help you to prepare your specific search actions. A search action leads you to further information on a particular case, often supplemented with thumbnail images of the documents.

Can I mention anything negative about this project in Amsterdam? With just two titles about general average this information is rather to short, and the reference to the article by Ivo Schöffer lacks the page numbers (pp. 73-133). Elsewhere on the website a treasure page has been dedicated to the case of the vessel St. Antonio di Padova which was attacked by pirates off La Spezia in 1704. The ship commanded by Jan Lens suffered a lot of damage during a four-hours fight. Repairs were made in Genua. The page shows a part of the notarial statement on this case. Somehow the section on general average does not link directly to this showcase, the only relevant page translated completely into English. In view of the international standing and importance of this archive the maIn point to criticize is alas the absence of a page-to-page translation into English of its marvellous website. The Amsterdam city archives ask people to pay for full-scale images of scanned documents, but before deploring this you must realize they offer a very rapid scanning on demand service.

Different situations, different approaches

In many fields awards and prizes are given yearly for the best project. Is it possible and sensible to do this for this group of six random picked projects? In a bird’s-eye view we saw:

  • transcriptions from the Rivierenland in the Hoge Bank van Tuil
  • large-scale indices and an analytical approach in the Scabinatus 4000 project for Liège,
  • crowdsourcing, transcriptions and images, with even an annotation tool for Itinera Nova at Louvain
  • images and transcriptions of charters at Tilburg
  • indexes for both scabinal and notarial registers, and a growing number of scanned registers for the province of Noord-Brabant
  • inventories, indexes and finding aids concerning the wide judicial functions of the schepenen of Den Bosch – with a printed guide and a cd-rom of the earliest records but without a database –
  • finally the verdicts from Amsterdam concerning maritime law from a distinct period, with an online searchable index and scanned images which have to be paid for.

If you put these seven projects into a grid you can probably more easier see which qualities they share or lack. What makes these projects successful or not? I cannot predict what visitors of these websites will want to know nor what they would like to have at hand on the screen of their computer or tablet. Some researchers might want to start making grand analyses as quickly as possible and therefore applaud transcriptions and online indices, others prefer painstaking transcriptions of the originals or of images provided by an archive. The pioneers for the Rivierenland have not yet reached the phase of building a database. One archive, the city archive at Den Bosch, does not provide a database, and I suppose this is a policy decision, because so much energy has already been put into the resources in question during more than twenty years. For other cities printed critical editions of the verdicts of schepenen exist, and thus the need for an online database might be less urgent.

Even though this is a rather long post I still feel I have treated all projects presented here rather briefly. It is wise not to judge their qualities too quickly! A stronger objection is the choice of examples which is very much personal, but at least also for a part guided by the lack of an easy overview of relevant digitization projects for this particular kind of resource. I would not feel ashamed if this post serves as a stepping stone for more and better.

A postcript

In his comment Christian van der Ven of the BHIC at Den Bosch stresses the actual cooperation of Dutch archives for this kind of projects. I have taken over his factual corrections, and the important information about online access to a number of registers of schepenen already avaiable now at the BHIC, and the appearance of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol in digital form in the near future.