Tag Archives: Women’s history

Women and law in medieval letters

Logo EpistolaeHow can you correct some of the deceptive perspectives, or even worse, outright biases, without surrendering your own powers of comprehension? What is humanly possible to change your mind? I think we should embrace every sincere invitation to let us listen better to voices easily overlooked in our regular research practice and use of sources. In the project under discussion in this post I will as usually try to look first of all for its qualities, and not only for things to be repaired or bettered. Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters is a project created by Joan Ferrante, a professor of English literature at Columbia University, New York. Its core is a corpus of nearly 2,400 medieval letters, both in English translation and in the original languages. What does this substantial collection contain, and what not? How easy can you use its contents? What is in these letters for legal historians?

Spanning a continent and a millennium

The second logo of Epistolae

The letters in the Epistolae project are written in Latin. They date from the fourth to the thirteenth century, and thus there are texts from Late Antiquity up to the century which often has been seen as the apogee of the Middle Ages. The collection contains both letters sent by women and letters they received. Apart from browsing the entire collection you can search the letters using separate search fields for the title of a letters, senders and recipients, and there is also a global search field. The first three fields automatically generate suggestions for items containing a part of your search which you can select for quicker searching. By clicking on the title of a column in the results view you can change its sorting order. There is a basic bibliography for the resources used for this project, with in many cases only the title of publications and their presence in Columbia’s university library. In the second section of the project you will find biographies about the women figuring in the project.

One of the things I quickly noticed is probably one of the historian’s idols, the absence of years or a period of years in a number of search results. In some cases a global date can be added easily because we know the years in which the sender or recipient lived. Historians prefer to know from which period or year, or when necessary even from which date a source stems. Temporal precision helps you to avoid generalisations for a period like the European Middle Ages which span a continent during a millennium. However, the thing clearly most important here is showing the existence of letters written by women or received by women in a language mostly associated with men and male education.

However large the number of more than 2,300 letters may seem, you will probably want to see as many letters written by women as possible, and in a second set letters written to women, and you might want to have also easy access to letters sent among women, but I do not see here the possibility to create this subset quickly. With this in mind I was rather amazed that you will find for Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) only three letters dictated by her and three sent to her. Her correspondence is good for three volumes in the modern scholarly edition, Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium, Lieven Van Acker and Monika Klaes-Hachmoller (eds.) (Turnhout: 1991-2001; Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis, 91, 91a and 91b), commonly seen as the one of the largest collections of letters written by a medieval woman. Hildegard is justly famed for the wide variety of people she wrote to and writing to her. The examples given here are restricted to letters to Elisabeth von Schonau, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Bernard of Clairvauc, and letters of Bernard of Clairvaux and Elisabeth von Schonau. The entrance for Hildegard of Bingen mentions the English translation [The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford etc., 1994, 1998, 2004)]. I did not find a statement on the website for this severely restricted choice, but it might be a matter of creating a balance between well-known and lesser known women.

A Dutch and Flemish view

You could bet I would look in the database of Epistolae for Dutch women, and this is indeed fruitful and revealing. There are 127 search results for a global search with the term Holland, and 208 results when you search for Flanders. However, something else becomes also visible. Each letter with more than one sender or recipient is recorded as many times as there are senders and recipients. Let’s look for example at the two charters of count William of Holland addressed to Margaret of Constantinople, countess of Flanders, written both May 19, 1250 in Brussels. I could not help spotting that William is according to the first charter only count of Holland, and in the second charter he figures as king of Romans. Ashleigh Imus provided Ebnglish translations of these charters. I checked the text also in the source mentioned at Epistolae, the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ), A.C.F. Koch, J.G. Kruisheer en E.C. Dijkhof (eds.) (5 vol., The Hague 1970-2006) digitized by the Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History.

The first charter, no. 851 in the OHZ, reads clearly “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus, comes Hollandie,” both king and count, with for Margaret, “Margareta Flandrie et Hainonie comitissa”, yet another county, Hainault. In the second charter (OHZ, no. 856) William is called only king of Romans, “Willelmus Dei gratia Romanorum rex semper augustus”. When you check the OHZ you will see Margaret figures in more charters dated May 19, 1250. In no. 858 her name is abbreviated. No. 701 of December 16, 1246 is present in the Epistolae database, but this charter was not addressed to the abbot and monastery of Doesburg. Thosan is the Flemish monastery at Ter Doest.

In yet another letter, this time addressing pope Gregory IX in 1242, Ashleigh Imus rightly corrected a misprinted location in an old Italian edition. The charter mentions indeed Veurne (Furnes) in Flanders. There is a summary of this charter in the registers of pope Innocent IV [Les Registres d’Innocent IV (1243-1254) I, Elie Berger (ed.) (Paris 1884), p. 52, no. 290], dated “Datum Lateranensi VI Idus Decembris”, December 8, 1243, and not on “III Nonas Decembris”, December 3, and edited from the papal register Reg. Avon. I 289, f. 47. I could not find this charter at the Belgian portal Diplomatica Belgica. Ferrante mentions the conflict about Hainault in her very interesting short biography of Margaret of Constantinople (1202-1280), without however caring to give the date of her birth and death.

You can check the charters of the only Dutch king of the Holy Roman Empire also in Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland, Dieter Hägermann and Jaap Kruisheer (eds.) (Hannover 1989; Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Diplomata), available online at dMGH, the digital platform of the MGH in Munich. The two charters nicely shows the difficulties of recording in a database the presence of multiple people involved with one item, and in this case even two person with two roles in the first charter. Things are clearly not entirely correct when you cannot find Margaret when you use a global search for Hainault. I am afraid that you got to be very much aware of the fact that only 800 letters have been entered into the Epistolae database, even though 2000 letters have been collected and await further treatment.

If you want to follow the trail of charters in the Low Countries you can consult online several modern editions. For Guelders you have the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, for the diocese Utrecht Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S. Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-‘s-Gravenhage 1959). For Brabant the Digitaal Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant brings you even more than the printed editions. Older editions for Frisia, Groningen and Drenthe can be consulted and searched at the Cartago platform.

Letters and charters

My probings in the Epistolae database point in the direction of a conclusion which is not entirely surprising. It seems a good thing to put in both real letters and charters into one database on the same footing, but alas charters need to be treated in a very distinct way in order to become usable for research. The projects for Holland, Utrecht and Guelders give you a searchable database and both OCR-scanned texts and images of the original edition. Of course you want to use all possible relevant sources about particular women, but putting them into a database and creating a reliable scholarly resource is not an easy thing, regardless of the subject you want to investigate. In the Epistolae database you cannot search directly for letters by women sent to other women, a thing many people will want to look for. In many charters women, in particular those of high rank in medieval society, do all kinds of things, in particular actions with legal consequences. It is perfectly understandable that you would like to have as many sources as possible in a single online resource, but one has to accept some consequences. To the philological skills needed to study medieval letters you will have to add the skills of the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatic,s the study of charters, and palaeography.

Joan Ferrante wisely choose to rely on printed editions for her enterprise. Her knowledge of medieval literature and approaches of this vast subject has led her to launching a database that has its strength primarily in the letters given both in Latin and English. Realizing the idea of wanting to show both writing letters and using the pen for legal matters in charters is not unthinkable, but it will be a tour de force. Finding the voices of medieval women is a quest in itself, but you cannot afford to lose sight of all tools needed and existing.

Another thing that needs stressing is attention to the epistolary genre with its own particularities. You can get an idea of a further mixture of matters relevant to legal history by looking for example at a recent volume concerning the papacy and letters, Kuriale Briefkultur im späteren Mittelalter. Gestaltung – Überlieferung – Rezeption, Tanja Broser, Andreas Fischer and Matthias Thumser (eds.) (Cologne-Weimar Vienna, 2015; Regesta Imperii Beihefte, 37), available online at the website of the Regesta Imperii. In his contribution in this volume,  ‘Letter-Collections in the Middle Ages’ (pp. 35-50), Giles Constable explains medieval letters are most often transmitted within collections. A real letter could be expanded and refined to serve as a literary text. He stresses the double nature of letters and charters which can have both a personal and businesslike character. Constable urges scholars to look carefully at each individual letter, and not to conclude things hastily because it is preserved in a particular collection. Wise words from not just one of the best known medievalists, but from a doyen in the field of medieval letters. His volume on Letters and letter-collections (Turnhout 1976; Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental, 17) has been digitized by the MGH. You can learn basic things about medieval letters also in the chapter ‘Epistolography’ by Julian Heseldine in Medieval latin: An introduction and bibliographical guide, Frank Mantello and Arthur Rigg (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 1997) 650-658. On the resources page of Epistolae this guide is mentioned without a reference to this chapter.

Logo MGH, Munich

Speaking of the MGH, it is now possible to find at their dMGH platform also editions of letters in the Epistolae series, in particular the volumes of the Epistolae saeculi XIII e regestis pontificum Romanorum selectae, Karl Rodenberg (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin 1883-1897; MGH Epp. saec. XIII) in which you will find both real letters and more official correspondence. A letter to Joan of Constantinople, countess of Flanders and Hainault, sent by pope Gregory IX on November 5, 1235 (I, 563, no. 666) can be added in the Epistolae database. Among the latest publications of the MGH is the Codex Udalrici, Klauss Nass (ed.) (Wiesbaden 2017; MGH, Die Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 10) with early twelfth-century letters around the investiture conflict compiled by a cleric at Bamberg.

Visible and invisible filters

When finishing this post I could look also at the remarks about medieval letters in the first edition in Dutch from 1962 of the famous Guide to the sources of medieval history (Oxford 1995), also translated and updated as Introduction aux sources de l’histoire médiévale: typologie, histoire de l’érudition médiévale, grandes collections, sciences auxiliaires, bibliographie (Turnhout 1997) by Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, to mention only the latest versions. Both authors mentioned in 1962 already everything I summarized here from later introductions to a rewarding genre which you cannot approach as if you can read everything at face value.

Banner Feminae

The most paradoxical thing about the project of Joan Ferrante is her apparent neglect as a professor of medieval literature of a thing which any student would know and duly acknowledge. It is one thing to set out to correct the bias filtering medieval women out of view, another thing to tackle the apparent biases in two distinct kinds of sources, medieval letters and charters. Both genres share a mixture of objective matters and personal touches. I am convinced of the need to use gender perspectives, but perhaps I am also too much a medievalist to forget about the challenges medieval sources pose for any kind of research. What can and has been done in research about medieval women can be traced in the online bibliography at Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. You should not miss the bibliographies at Queens in the Middle Ages, too. A portal such as Monastic Matrix concerning medieval women’s religious communities is a model of its kind. The presence of English translations and accompanying biographies is surely most valuable for the Epistolae project, but the mélange of letters and charters has resulted in a rather unexpected mixture. It would be wonderful to use both genres together in one database, but one has to overcome some very real problems before you are able to hear the true voices of medieval women. In my opinion this database deserves a remix, an update with the 1200 letters waiting to be entered, and some tuning of the biographies and search interface to become fully operational as a search tool which can fulfill many needs.


Hide and seek: Finding “hidden” collections

Startscreen CLIR Hidden Collection Registry

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

A serious quest

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

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

CLIR logo

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

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

CLIR and legal history

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

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

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

Finding the missing links

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

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

With a little help…

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

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

A postscript

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

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

The many sides of Belgium’s legal history

Banner Digithemis

In the ocean of legal websites you encounter very different sites. There are relatively few attempts at creating portals. When I saw the Digithemis portal for Belgian legal history and discovered its qualities it was only a matter of time before I would write about it here. Digithemis has been created by the Centre d’Histoire du Droit et de la Justice, Université Catholique Louvain-la-Neuve. Currently there is no portal site for Dutch legal history, and thus there is every reason, not only for Dutchmen, to look at this website. It might well inspire scholars in other countries, too.

Simple layout and rich contents

Logo CHDJ, Univers't Catholique, Louvain-la-Neuve

One of the powerful aspects of this website is its simple layout, with an implicit promise you will not get lost here. The subtitle Système numérique d’information historique sur la Justice is best translated as “digital system for historical information about justice”. Under the first heading Applications three databases are presented. The first, Belgian Magistrates, is concerned with officials in the Belgian judicial system. The database contains personal information, details about nominations, jurisdictions and institutions. Cubes, the second database, gives you judicial statistics, information about the number of cases and given verdicts in Belgian courts of justice. As a matter of fact I was hunting for websites with historical statistics when I ran into Digithemis. The third section brings us a bibliographical database for Belgium’s legal history. The database is the fruit of cooperation between the CHDJ at Louvain-la-Neuve and the project BeJust 2.0 – Justice et Populations.

In the second section, Ressources documentaires, you will find four subjects: legislation, doctrine, jurisprudence, and surprisingly again judicial statistics. Under Legislation you can find the French versions of the various codes of Belgian law, bulletins of the Ministry of Justice (circulaires), legislation concerning the judicial structure of Belgium, and a similar section for Congo during the colonial period. For doctrine you can look at a number of legal journals, at mercuriales, discourses pronounced at the start of the judicial season by the attorneys general, and there is a bibliographical database for criminology with some 8,500 entries. The corner with jurisprudence seemed at first straightforward: for arrêts of the Cour de cassation between 1832 and 1936 you can consult the Pasicrisie, alas currently not available, and for the period 1937-2011 there is a similar site, but here I can see only verdicts between 2002 and 2015. A very much contested period in Belgium’s history comes up with the online version of La jurisprudence belge depuis le 10 mai 1940The section for judicial statistics is enhanced by a historical overview and a concise bibliography.

The section Expositions virtuelles contains two virtual exhibits. The first, Classified, looks at Belgian military intelligence forces. The second one, Mots de la Justice [Words of Justice] is concerned with images and imagery of law and justice. The accompanying congress in Bruges earlier this year has figured on this blog at the time the bilingual catalogue was published.

The next stop of this tour are the contributions, As for now there are only two scholarly articles. The Lignes de temps interactives show interactive timelines for three subjects, women and legal professions, the Belgian judicial organisation, and the jury d’assises. In particular the timeline for women in the legal profession is telling. Ten short videos with presentations in French and Dutch about recent research are the last element of this section.

Logo BeJust 2.0

Finally the links section of this website confirms its claim to be a portal for legal history. The concise choise of links concerns Belgium, France, digital resources, and some Transatlantic websites and projects. In the right sidebar you can browse for interesting items in a RSS feed. This portal does build on other major projects in Belgium, starting with BeJust 2.0. Other portals often have an events calendar, but it seems Françoise Muller and Xavier Rousseaux wisely have built a compact portal with space for future extensions. The footer of the portal mentions the 2016 prize of the Fonds Wernaers awarded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) for the best scientific website.

More statistics

Logo Lokstat

I found the attention to statistics a strong feature of this portal. I could not help noticing that it might be useful to add a more general website for Belgian statistics to this portal. The University Ghent has created the Lokstat project, an abbreviation of Lokale statistieken, local statistics. This project currently offers local statistics taken from the 1900 census in Belgium, with additionally an agricultural census from 1895 and an industry census from 1896, this one accompanied with maps. It would be interesting to combine these data with judicial statistics.

As a Dutchman admiring these efforts of a neighbour country I have not yet found similar Dutch judicial statistics at a special platform. The Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS) has made a fine website for Dutch Censuses 1795-1971, accessible in Dutch and English. At CBS Historische Collectie you can consult digitized reports from almost two centuries. For the field of law and justice there are mainly reports from the second half of the twentieth century, for example prison statistics (1950-2000), crimes between 1950 and 1981, juvenile criminality (1974-1981) and crime victims (1980-1984). A quick look at general publications since 1813 in this digital collection shows judicial statistics were part and parcel of the yearly overviews. For four Dutch provinces there are yearbooks since the 1840’s (Provinciale verslagen).

It is not because you find everything at particular websites, but because they help you to look further, to value information, to think about problems you want to study or to contact scholars or read their work, that portals such as Digithemis deserve a warm welcome and attentive followers. Digithemis should serve as an invitation for the creation of similar portals for other countries and regions, too.

Legal rhetorics and reality in Early Modern France: The factums

Jeam Coras, Arrest memorable du Parlement de Tolose - edition 1565

Arrest memorable du Parlement de Tolose (…) – edition Lyon: Antoine Vincent, 1565 – copy Université de Toulouse

How can we be sure to view things as they really were in the historical sources we use for our research in the field of legal history? It is by all means wise to look as closely as possible at relevant sources, preferably close to the events and problems we want to study. In particular Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge have made us aware of the importance of narrative sources to deepen our understanding of French legal history in the Early Modern period. Davis gave us in Fiction in the archives. Pardon tales and their tellers in sixteenth-century France (Cambridge-Stanford, CA, 1987) both the true and the fictional stories, just as she had done earlier for Martin Guerre [The return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, MA-London, 1983)]. Thanks to Davis the lettres de remission have become a well-known resource, used also for other periods, lately for example by Walter Prevenier and Peter Arnade, Honor, Vengeance, and Social Trouble. Pardon Letters in the Burgundian Low Countries (Ithaca, NY, 2015). Arlette Farge, too, alerted scholars to the way narratives, rhetorics and expectations shape perceptions of reality in judicial resources, in particular in her essay Le goût de l’archive (Paris 1987).

In this post I want to expand on some notes about another very interesting source, the factums or mémoires judiciaires, a term perhaps to be translated as legal briefs, which I mentioned in passing in one of my recent posts concerning the French Revolution. However, this particular source does already appear in the late sixteenth century and lives on well into the second half of the nineteenth century. The possibility to compare the development of a genre over a number of centuries is most appealing, and therefore I would like to introduce the factums. I owe here much to a short notice published in 2014 by Léo Mabmacien at his blog BiblioMab: Le monde autour des livres anciens et des bibliothèques. A post in July at his blog rekindled my interest. The existence of new digital collections with factums is a further prompt to share my thoughts about this resource which merit attention not only in the Anglophone but also in the Francophone world. For French readers one of the main points of attention should be here to look beyond the central institutions and a France centered around Paris.

Getting a fuller picture

Léo Mabmacien’s post about factums is a real treat. In crisp and clear French he succeeded in creating a nutshell guide to the subject which leaves little to desire. In fact the idea to give here only a translation crossed my mind, but I am happy to rely here heavily on his account. The term factum stems from the Latin. In medieval legal consilia, pieces of juridical advice for courts, the exposition of a case is often introduced with the words “Factum est tale”, the case is such and so. A factum or mémoire judiciaire contains both a description of the case, the faits, and also moyens (literally the “means”), arguments to be used to argue the outcome of the case. The length of a factum can be anything between a few and many hundred pages in cases where as appendices pieces of evidences and other materials were included. Most factums do not have a title page.

The existence of factums is most interesting given the fact that French criminal court proceedings were in principle secret, as stated in the Ordonnance criminelle of 1670. Each step of a case at court proceeded by producing written statements. The final verdict, too, was presented in writing only. Oral pleading was introduced in the eighteenth century for civil law cases. Factums offer a window on French legal history like few other sources can do. A blog post in 2010 on factums of the Bibliothèque nationale de France had the evocative title ‘Factum, vous-avez dit factum ? Qu’es aquo ?’, “Did you say factum? Whatever is that supposed to be?”, and cites Robert Darnton who wrote in an article for Le Monde in 1995 there are media under the Ancien Régime we have forgotten about: the rumor in public, the factums of lawyers, the messages in your hand, the newsletters, the improvised songs on existing melodies… Darnton took up this theme in his 1999 presidential address for the American Historical Association.

Under the Ancien Régime the word factum was used also for violent pieces of writing in which someone asserted his views with forceful arguments. The juridical factums, too, do not only give legal arguments, but all kind of motivation to ascertain the offensive or defensive position of a party. An ordinance of the Parlement de Paris from 1708 demanded that each factum be signed by a lawyer, and contained also the name of the printer, without any other formality. Thus factums escaped the vigilance of French censors, and could indeed become a kind of platform for any kind of opinion, provided they were signed by a barrister, yet another feature making this genre attractive for historians. Mabmacien concluded his post with references to the vast collection of factums held in Paris at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), and to a virtual exhibition on factums created by the municipal library of Clermont-Ferrand.

A new generation of scholars

Some of the research cited by Mabmacien stems from the eighties and nineties of the last century, but in fact a lot of work started before 1900. Augustin Corda began at the BnF with the Catalogue des factums et d’autres documents judiciaires antérieurs à 1790 (10 vol., Paris 1890-1936). Volume 7 is a supplement, the volumes 8 to 10 contain registers. You can consult the volumes 1 to 8 in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Charles Patey had published a few years earlier a succinct overview of some 200 factums in the BnF related to Normandy [Factums normands conservés à la Bibliothèque nationale (Caen 1888; online in Gallica)]. Apart from the factums mentioned in Corda there are at the BnF two massive card box catalogues for a total of nearly 86,000 items. The main study used by Mabmacien is an article by Sarah Maza who studied with Robert Darnton. Her article ‘Le tribunal de la nation : les mémoires judiciaires et l’opinion publique à la fin de l’Ancien Régime’, Annales ESC 42/1 (1987) 73-90 is available online at the Persée portal. In 1997 appeared the French translation – Vies privées, affaires publiques. Les causes célèbres de la France prérévolutionnaire (Paris 1997) – of her monograph Private lives and public affairs: the causes célèbres of prerevolutionary France (Berkeley, etc,, 1993).

There is more scholarly literature in French available online, and I had in mind giving here a judicious amount of links. However, when I encountered at Theses, the portal for French Ph.D. theses, the very recently defended thesis of Géraldine Ther, La représentation des femmes dans les factums, 1770-1789. Jeux de rôles et de pouvoirs (Ph.D. thesis, Université de Dijon, 2015) with its rich bibliography I decided to restrict myself to a few recent publications. Ther investigated an intriguing theme, the representation of women, a theme emerging with force during the French Revolution, but with rather different relations between these events and the preceding period than you would expect. The acts of a symposium held in 2012 at the École de Droit of the Université d’Auvergne (Clermont-Ferrand) can be consulted online in a special issue of La Revue Centre Michel le Hôpital 3 (April 2013) [Découverte et valorisation d’une source juridique méconnue : le factum ou mémoire judiciaire (PDF)]. The contributors discuss factums as a source for legal history, look at a number of libraries with large collections, and staff members of these libraries discuss the current projects for cataloguing and digitization. A third recent online publication with attention for factums has as its focus lawyers in Marseille and transcends the supposed and real chronological watersheds of the French Revolution [Ugo Bellagamba, Les avocats à Marseille. Practiciens du droit et acteurs politiques (XVIIIe et XIXe siècles) (Aix-en-Provence 2015) – online at OpenEdition]. A number of relevant online publications is also included in the section on sources and bibliography of the virtual exhibition in Clermont-Ferrand.

ImpressionThanks to the hard work of librarians and scholars you can now get online access to a substantial variety of factums. Let’s start with the collection I first encountered, Tolosana, la bibliothèque virtuelle des fonds anciens, a collection of digitized books at the Université de Toulouse, with a substantial number of legal works between 1500 and 1850, among them 300 factums from the sixteenth century – just three items – to the nineteenth century (82 items). Looking back it is most fitting I bumped into these mémoires judiciaires in the context of the Calas affaire, but effectively it is the other way around that explains definitely also part of the impact of the publications around this cause célèbre. In particular you can find here some 300 factums and mémoires judiciaires. Interestingly, here, too, the Early Modern period does not end at 1789. The second collection is La Coutume et le droit en Auvergne, Patrimoine de Bibliothèque de Clermont, a digital collection of the Overnia portal with a great variety of legal resources on customary law, especially more than six hundred mémoires judiciaires in the section for sources procédurales. The tree structure of Overnia enables you to filter for a number major legal topics with temporal subdivisions; the general search function can assist you, too. A similar large but technically very simple collection is Droit en Provence et en outre-mer (Aix et Marseille Universités) which brings us a great variety of sources, in particular a number of digitized factums; this collection is held at Aix-en-Provence. The digital items are only available as PDF’s. It is a pity that only few of the announced items from the nineteenth century have already been digitized, but at least there is an overview of them. Some of the items are recueils, collections with sometimes scores of factums. With the fourth collection we return to Paris. The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève has created a digital collection concerning droit (law) in the Internet Archive with nearly one thousand publications. Some 860 of them are factums et mémoires judiciaires.

Banner TolosanaThe first image in this post shows in black and white the title page of an early edition of a famous arrêt of the Parlement de Toulouse from 1560. This is a copy of the edition digitized for Tolosana. The book of Jean de Coras, a French legal humanist, contains his report on the very case of Martin Guerre. Nowadays it is easy to find a digital version of earlier – and later – editions using the Karlsruher Virtual Catalogue, and I will leave it to you to find them quickly. I did check in vain for this book in the Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Humanistes (Université de Tours) which figured here earlier in a post on legal humanism. However, you can trace this book  and its sixteenth-century editions and other works by Coras using the Universal Short Title Catalogue. Even if in this case Coras’ book uses a verdict of the case, and thus does not exactly present a mémoire judiciaire, its character is sufficiently close to factums to merit explicit mention here. It opens with a summary of the facts of the case, the factum, and then Coras comments the arrêt, sometimes word for word. Did I already say Tolosana does merit your attention by all means, and not just for two famous cases, Martin Guerre and the affaire Calas?

One of the factums in the Onslow case, 1830 - source: Overnia

“Consultations pour MM. Onslow puinés contre M. Georges Onslow”, 1832 – BM Clermont-Ferrand, no. A 10850 1 – image: Overnia

When looking for another image of a mémoire judiciaire I decided to look at the collection created at Clermont-Ferrand. By sheer luck I found very quickly something which can serve as a reminder not to look only at French legal history in isolation. The Overnia portal contains several sources documenting the life and works of Georges Onslow (1784-1853), a composer born at Clermont-Ferrand from an English family. After many successes as a composer of chamber music ill health forced him around 1830 to return to his native Auvergne. Other matters, too, clearly brought him trouble. In six factums written in 1830-1832 (nos. A 10850) the question of his right to inherit goods in England is discussed. Both French and English law figure in the arguments used by the respective lawyers. These sources can form a perfect starting point for yet another contribution about law and music in history, a theme figuring here lately, but anyone interested in comparative legal history might have a good look at them, too. You can easily compare these six documents with other mémoires in the section on successions of the Overnia portal.

At Clermont-Ferrand the university library has started the digitization of the 1100 factums in 40 volumes of the Cour d’Appel at Riom. As for now you can consult already nearly 100 factums collected by Jacques Godemel, and also one hundred factums collected by Jean-Baptiste Marie which cover the period from 1792 to 1812.

Searching more collections

In fact it is really important to keep in mind the wide coverage of subjects in this genre. This becomes clearer when you look for factums in French archives. Scholars using historical sources in French archives can usually rely on the strict order of archival collections. Often you can restrict yourself to one particular série marked with a letter or combination of letters. The Archives nationales de France have created for the série U a useful PDF which mentions a lot of factums and mémoires judiciaires. A search for factums in the holdings of the French national archives yields an impressive result showing multiple séries with factums, not just within the séries B (Cours et jurisdictions de l’Ancien Régime) or U (Justice).

In this post Robert Darnton’s name appeared already three times. In The business of enlightenment. A publishing history of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800 (Cambridge, MA-London, 1979) Darnton mentioned just one factum without much explication about the nature of this source (p. 48). Anyway, he inspired some of his students to do research on and with factums. A few years ago Darnton put on his personal website 500 eighteenth-century police reports on authors written between 1748 and 1753 [Paris, BnF, ms. Nouv. acq. fr. 10781-107833]. It would be interesting to check for authors of factums published in the mid-eighteenth century in these police reports. We can be sure at least a few of them only pretended to be barristers. In the manuscripts section of Gallica you can now look at digitized records of the Archives de la Bastille, yet another resource where you might find among the prisoners and people under surveillance of the Parisian police force authors of pamphlets and factums. Add to them the data and maps available at the web site of the project The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe (University of Leeds and Western Sydney University) which focuses – as Darnton alrady did – on Neuchâtel, and you will be quite busy for some time with following all these avenues.

At the end of this post you might be tempted to conclude that factums only in Southern France and in Paris. At my website Rechtshistorie I have brought together commented lists of digital libraries for many countries, and France is particularly rich in digital collections. I checked for factums in a number of digital collections which feature works on customary law or are located in one of the French regions where the droit coutumier was important, and I looked at the towns which were once seats of the parlements, for example Bordeaux, Toulouse, Grenoble and Dijon. Only for Grenoble in the small collection Droit dauphinois of the Université de Grenoble 2 et 3 I found a few plaidoiries (pleas) and one single factum.

Why should one take the trouble of looking outside the main French online resources? Alas at the portal Patrimoine numérique I found only the digitized factums at Aix-en-Provence. At Fontes Historiae Iuris, the very useful digital library for French legal history created by the Centre d’Histoire Judiciaire (Université Lille-II) you can find in the section Consultations ou plaidoyers d’avocats for three parlements some collections of pleas and mémoires (Toulouse, Paris and Lille (Parlement de Flandre)). There are links to digitized recueils d’arrêts, collections of verdicts, for seven parlements. Even if factums are a remarkable source on its own, it is their judicial context which can make them even more special, and thus it is a small service to point at least to some courts and their printed verdicts. At Gallica’s Essentiels du droit you can benefit – mainly for the nineteenth century – from the digitized Recueil Dalloz and other series in the section Sources jurisprudentielles. The section Histoire du droit with a number of classic works on French law (Domat, Loisel, Pothier) and droit pénal, too, can be most useful. The webmaster of the Portail Numérique d’Histoire du Droit told me last year he would like to add more links to relevant digital collections in France, but he has few moments to fulfill this wish.

In the very week the World Wide Web exists 25 years you might indeed reflect a few moments on the long way the virtual world has gone since 1991. The proliferation of digital resources for many fields of culture and society is both a marvel and something really difficult to grasp and use. As for scholarly work on factums I am as surprised as anyone by the meagre results in the Bibliographie d’histoire de la justice Française (1789-2011) at the Criminicorpus portal. Using the advanced search mode of the Bibliographie d’histoire de droit en langue française (Université de Lorraine, Nancy) brings you only to a small number of additional relevant titles, but Ther shows there is certainly more to be found.

A search for catalogues of collections of mémoire judiciaires yields currently apart from the two catalogues for the BnF a work by Jacques Droin for collections held in Geneva, the Catalogue des factums judiciaires genevois sous l’Ancien régime (Paris-Genève 1988). You might want to read the article by Michel Porret, ‘L’éloge du factum : autour des mémoires judiciaires genevois’, Revue Suisse d’Histoire 42/1 (1992) 94-99 [online, e-Periodica]. A quick search among digital collections of some Swiss towns, in particular Geneva and Neuchâtel, did not bring me yet to more digitized mémoires judiciaires. Factums and briefs appear in contemporary law, too, for example in Canada, but here we arrive of the end of my post. At the brink of the rentrée, the start of all activities in France after the summer holidays, I hope to have awakened your curiosity for a fascinating source and to have given you some guidance for your own investigations.

A postscript

How can one search quickly for French scholarly publications when some online bibliographies seem currently not as helpful as you would like them to be? At Isidore, a French research portal, I could find more literature about factums and even links to digitized items. Some other libraries I did not mention here contain also some digital copies of factums, but they are not part of a mass digitization project. The digital portal Mémoire vive of the town Besançon is an example with some twenty digitized factums. A second thing worth noticing is the policy at Gallica, the digital library of the BnF, to harvest also digital materials from partner libraries. Thus factums at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Toulouse and Clermont-Ferrand can be found at Gallica. More surprisingly it becomes clear that the BnF, too, has digitized possibly many hundred factums, but alas the exact number is not established easily, because the filter function does not contain a filter for descriptions of factums from the vast collection of factums at the BnF in which the word Factum has been put at the very beginning of each description.

Eric Panthou alerted me to the additions to the digital collection at Clermont-Ferrand for the Cour d’Appel de Riom. It contains now nearly 900 factums in four collections. nThe Bibliothèque Clermont Université will organize a one-day symposium concerning factums on June 19, 2017, Valorisation d’une source historique originale : la numérisation des factums de la Cour d’Appel de Riom.

At a few turns i have complained in the past about the lack of attention to sources for French customary law in Gallica. For some years the section Essentiels du droit dealt only with law at the national level. The new subsection Sources du droit coutumier et local fills this evident gap. The only snag is that you cannot click on the images of the title pages on the starting page, you will have to use the menu on the left. At the portal Fontes Historiae Iuris (Université Lille-2) you can find not only editions of French customary law but also treatises about them.

The power of words: Some thoughts about Umberto Eco

Image of Umbert Eco - photographer unknown - source: Wikimedia Commons

Umbert Eco – photographer unknown – source: Wikimedia Commons

The death of Umberto Eco (1932-2016) makes the world mourn a most versatile author. In fact you might do him justice by seeing him almost as a true uomo universale. In his writings, both his scholarly work and his novels, the thing resonating within you long afterwards was and is the encounter with a mind full of curiosity about the world, culture and life at large. As a small contribution in remembrance of a great intellectual I will look here at a few aspects of a period close to his heart, the Middle Ages. With The Name of the Rose Eco did not only write a great detective novel and a philosophical treatise about visions of reality and truth, but he returned in a way to the territory where his career started. This novel is marked by elements of law and justice, reason enough to have a look at it here.

A story in black and white

Eco’s great story, set in the early fourteenth century, has not just one central narrative thread, the quest of William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso of Melk to solve crimes and the mysteries surrounding them. The Name of the Rose is also a book about confrontations between old and new ways of thinking and action, and of strife even between people at both sides. The Franciscan William of Baskerville meets a formidable opponent when the Dominican friar and inquisitor Bernard Gui arrives on the scene of the monastery in Northern Italy. Both religious orders came into existence shortly after 1200. They almost fought each other to receive able men into their ranks. The different ways of living and preaching inspired them to outshine each other. Now Bernard Gui (around 1262-1331) was a historical figure. Interestingly he was not only the most famous inquisitor of his time, but also a very active historian of his order, see A.-M. Lamarrigue, Bernard Gui. Un historien et sa méthode (Paris, 2000).

Cambridge Uniersity Library, ms. Ff 3.18,fol. 1r

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, start of II-I; England, circa 1320-1340 – Cambridge, UL, ms. Ff 3.18, fol. 1r – image: Cambridge University Library

800 years ago the Dominican order was founded. Part of the worldwide jubilee celebrations is the virtual exhibition A pipeline from heaven: eight centuries of Dominican books created by Cambridge University Library. Among the manuscripts shown in the online gallery you can find the Summa Theologiae, the major work produced by Thomas Aquinas. I searched in this exhibit in vain for the inquisition and Bernard Gui, but let’s first remember how Eco started as a scholar with writing about Thomas Aquinas. Eco’s Ph.D. thesis dealt with the views on art of this Dominican philosopher and theologian. Aquinas wrote many of his works using the scholastic method of distinctions using questions and answers. Argument after argument is dissected in a seemingly cool and calm way. Personal views or involvement seldom surface. Eco succeeded in pinpointing Aquinas’ views of art in his discussions of perception, contrary to the opinions of eminent scholars such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Once you realize this, it is easier to see how this discovery influenced Eco’s later scholarly and literary works.

When William of Baskerville reads and explains the telling signs which contain clues to unravel what happened at the Benedictine monastery infected by crime, Eco knowingly plays with scholarly views of medieval and modern philosophy. Using and focusing on signs was for some time the very heart of the vogue for microhistory. The Italian word connected with the microhistory paradigm is spie, traces. Eco was virtually the founder – together with Roland Barthes – of semioticsthe theory of signs, their meanings and relations. In the thirteenth century a number of Dominican friars set out to write both manuals and encyclopedias covering all kinds of knowledge. Very soon the papacy realized that their deep theological knowledge made these friars fit to become inquisitors. Bernard Gui himself wrote a manual for inquisitors, edited by Michel Mollat, Bernard Gui. Manuel de l’inquisiteur (Paris 1926, reprint 1964; Les classiques de l’histoire de France au moyen âge, 8-9). Gui made notes and instructions and carefully documented his activity in the Languedoc in another manuscript [Le livre des sentences de l’inquisiteur Bernard Gui (1308-1323), Annette Pales-Gobillard (ed.) (Paris 2002)]. David Burr (Virginia Tech) has translated a number of the texts in this edition, in particular Gui’s views on detecting heresy. Gui mentions among other heretical matters the views on poverty of the Franciscan writer Petrus Olivi which figure in Eco’s novel, too.

As part of the Dutch jubilee celebrations of the Dominican order the journal Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven [Journal for Spiritual Life] published a special about Dominican history [Het hart op de tong. 800 jaar dominicaanse verkondiging (TGL 72/1 (2016)] with an article by legal historian and theologian Daniela Müller (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) on Bernard Gui (pp. 27-35), summarizing in Dutch at the same time a part of her recent research about medieval heresy and the position of women. Müller writes Gui served his order also as a procurator generalis at the papal court in Avignon, and even became involved in the canonisation of Thomas Aquinas. He also acted as a papal nuntius. Müller’s recent research about Gui’s protest against the decision of pope Clement V compelling bishops and inquisitors to work together is real news (see her article ‘Der Bischof und der Inquisitor’, in: Ketzer und Kirche. Betrachtungen aus zwei Jahrtausenden, Daniela Müller (ed.) (Münster 2014) 237-262).

For Bernard Gui words and views did not stand independent of beliefs and practices. You might say he read the views of people as signs of religious convictions and adherence. He outright connected particular expressions with heretical views, even if he had not yet asked specifically about the latter. Eco succeeded most powerfully in showing one of the major faults of the inquisitorial procedure, the combination of the function of persecuting officer and judge in one person. Is it a play on his own name – Eco means echo in Italian – that the other main character in The Name of the Rose, Jorge of Burgos, the monk killing so many of his brethren, also acted as a staunch persecutor of new views and a terrible self-appointed judge? Eco would have spoilt his novel by placing the motto Only connect used by Virginia Woolf at the start of his first novel, but surely this is the most concise clue to his book.

The joy of writing and sharing knowledge

Banner Index Translationum

Eco involved himself in Italian life and culture with his own column for a newspaper and regular appearances on television. In a number of his books, for example about the history of beauty, he left behind him his familiar territories of medieval history and current philosophy, and reached out to a much larger audience. Among these books I personally most like his work touching on the history of language research, La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993), translated into nearly twenty languages, as you can check in the Index Translationum of UNESCO. The history of the search for the perfect language brought Eco in many cases to authors expressing their own theory about the original language of humanity. Even Dutch was in the seventeenth century sometimes presented as the language spoken in Paradise! Having started with studying the world where Latin was the lingua franca this subject certainly made Eco smile. His command of European languages made him the ideal author for this theme.

I first read The Name of the Rose as a student of medieval history. Although I did find at first his proliferation of extracts from medieval authors close to going through an overturned card file I had no doubt whatsoever of his skills as a great story-teller. The joy of writing and sharing is visible everywhere in his writings. Since I first read this book I have reread it several times, and my admiration for it has grown. While writing this post I noticed how many tags I can use for classifying my musings about Eco. We are lucky to see in Umberto Eco someone defying normal classifications. He was a great scholar, and even his faults and flaws have turned into art. Few scholars have been as candid and full of humour as Eco about his own mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but Eco’s legacy will continue to help us perceiving signs, detecting hidden perceptions and connections. He makes you transcend the world of books and marvel at the Book of the World.

A fortress of social history

Logo IISH, Amsterdam

More than once I have expressed here my concern to connect legal history with major issues, but preferably without breathlessly following the daily news. When discussing here this summer The History Manifesto I singled out legal history as a discipline particularly equipped to study and analyze for example slavery, inequality, racism and the unfair distribution of wealth, because laws and regulations, legal institutions and their policies, and the ideas and visions of those people trained in legal matters do touch these issues into their very heart. Add violence and immigration to these issues and you have covered major issues in contemporary society. Last week I saw the announcements of four upcoming conferences and symposia confronting these issues, all of them organized this month by or created in close cooperation with the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam.

Earlier this year the IISH reached already headlines with its digitization of the papers of Karl Marx. For me the four scholarly events form only the last push to write here an entire contribution about this marvellous institution, its holdings and importance for historians. In the process of writing it turned out to be rewarding to devote a second section to a number of similar institutions in Europe. Hopefully this comparison makes the strenghts and opportunities of the IISH clearer for you.

Four events

On December 9, 2015, the IISH organizes with the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences and its Academy of Arts a symposium about science and the immigration crisis. The speakers will be introduced by IISH research director Leo Lucassen, a specialist in the field of migration history who actively participates in the current public debates concerning the impact of immigration into Europe, not in the least with tweets – in Dutch – as @LeoLucassen.

A photo of the attack by Auguste Valilant on the French Chambre des Deputés, 1893

The attack of Auguste Vaillant on the French Chambre des Deputés, December 9, 1893 – image IISH, Amsterdam

Since 1979 the IISH is one of the research institutes of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences, and thus it is only naturally to find them cooperating also on December 10, 2015, for a one-day symposium Utopie en geweld [Utopia and violence]. Utopianism is one the branches within the socialist movements for which the IISH has important holdings from numerous countries. In fact it is the very presence at the IISH of a great variety of collections, from personal papers to party archives coming from all over the world that gives this institution its prominent position. This event is almost too close to current world news, but there is also attention for utopian visions within capitalism.

In Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) the IISH brings from December 10 to 12, 2015, the authors together of the project for The General Labour History of Africa. This project has a number of aims, for example bringing Africa’s history into focus, supporting African scholars, creating new perspectives on the history of slavery and its impact, and contributing to the centenary in 2019 of the International Labour Organization.

From December 14 to 16, 2015, the first conference of the European Labour History Network [ELHN] will take place at Turin. The ELHN was founded in Amsterdam in 2013. One of the recent initiatives of the IISH and sister institutions is the Social History Portal, hosted at a server of the IISH, but there is evidently space needed for similar cooperation in the field of labour history. At this conference the business of working groups will be the main activity, and their range is impressive.

Multiple constellations

Anyone trying to do justice to the IISH, the history of its holdings and initiatives faces the challenge of striking a balance between its apparent core activities and actual main business, and this balance is not found so easily. Around the IISH are a number of institutions, and you cannot properly assess its doings without looking also at sister organizations, partners in international projects, and the offsprings of the IISH. Let’s have a brief look at the origin and history of the IISH. The historian N.W. Posthumus (1880-1960), the principal founder of the IISH, had already founded in 1914 the Nederlands Economisch Historisch Archief (NEHA). The collections of the NEHA can to a large extent be searched using the online catalogues of the IISH. Important donations for Posthumus’ new project came from Nehemia de Lieme (1882-1940), the director of a labourers’ insurance and banking company with close relations to the Dutch social-democratic party. In 1934 De Lieme helped acquiring the archives of the Jewish Bund, an association of Jewish workers in Lithuania, Poland and Russia, and a year later he joined the board of directors of the newly founded institute. Soon afterwards the IISH acquired the archives of the German socialist party. Librarian Annie Adama van Scheltema-Kleefstra succeeded in smuggling the manuscripts of Bakunin out of Vienna just before the Anschluss, and the IISH got the archives of Marx and Engels in its possession. Posthumus had set up branch offices of the IISH in Paris and in Britain. In the face of all threats during the Second World War the losses in materials were surprisingly low. A part of the collections resurfaced only in 1991 in a secret archive in Moscow.

The history of the socialist movement in all its diversity during the nineteenth and twentieth century can safely be dubbed the original heart of the IISH, but adjacent branches of history, in particular labour history and economic history were always near. Today Dutch social and economic history are surely not neglected, and the international dimensions have grown far beyond the homelands of European socialism. In its current form the IISH truly aims at covering the history of work, labour and labour relations in the fullest possible sense. Writing this I feel forced to show here at least some of the IISH activities, but it is quite a feat to write concisely about the IISH. For my First World War blog Digital 1418 I wrote in 2014 about the IISH and its collections concerning this war. There is not only a special research guide for this period dealing with some twenty collections, but also a similar guide for the war and peace movements. At the Social History Portal the IISH contributed to the online exhibition about the 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference, and the IISH shows relevant digitized items at the portal Europeana 1914-1918.

In 2011 I could point my readers already to the Virtual Library Women’s History and ViVa Women’s History, an online current bibliography of women’s and gender history, both maintained by the IISH. In the field of Big Data the IISH offers you a lot of data hubs, for example Historical Prices and Wages and a database on strikes in the Netherlands from 1372 to 2008. Among digitized works are the editions of two economic enquêtes from late medieval Holland, the Enqueste from 1494 and the Informacie from 1514, with a bibliography on both documents. If you search images of economic activities you might benefit from the History of Work Information System with occupational titles from five centuries accompanied by contemporary images. The eleven online exhibitions also show the sheer width and variety of the IISH’s holdings. Where else can you find together online exhibits on posters from China, Cuba and the Soviet Union, the images of a rare seventeenth-century tulip manuscript illustrating the tulipomania, the history of censorship, Red-Haired Barbarians, the Japanese expression for Europeans in Japan between 1800 and 1865, and Rebels with a cause, the 75 year jubilee exhibit about the major figures of the socialist movements and parties?

Lately the IISH has made great progress in digitizing some of its most important collections. By now you might conclude more easily with me that it is wise to start your visit of the IISH website with some of the nearly twenty online research guides. Those who think British scholars can find everything in London either at the British Library or the London School of Economics might want to visit Amsterdam for the Kashnor collection in the IISH library, where legal historians, too, can find materials ranging from laws ordered by Oliver Cromwell to the Corn Laws and Indian colonial history. The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences is creating an online version of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe) of which you can now consult online a number of economical writings, including Das Kapital. The IISH has digitized the original papers of Marx and Engels from the archive of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands in their holdings. By the way, this year’s publication of a new Dutch translation of Das Kapital would be another reason to contemplate writing about Marx. There is a useful overview of the main socialist collections and their finding aids at the IISH website, but for quick access it is wise to look also at the general overview of the IISH socialist archival collections. The IISH does provide you online with a general introduction to its archives. Using the guide by Jaap Haag and Atie van der Horst (eds), Guide to the International Archives and Collections at the IISH, Amsterdam (Amsterdam 1999) is a must. Looking at the spectacular time-table of the socialist collections did exceed even my expectations.

I will not hide from you the Dutch connections of Karl Marx. He often visited in Zaltbommel Lion Philips, the grandfather of Anton and Gerard Philips, the two founders of the Philips multinational firm. Lion Philips actually sponsored Marx who constantly needed money. Marx worked often in the reading room of the British Museum, but large parts of Das Kapital were written in Zaltbommel. Marx’ father’s stepfather was a rabbi at Amsterdam, and Henriette Presburg, Karl’s mother, came from Nijmegen. Last year the Dutch television series De IJzeren Eeuw [The Iron Century] about the Netherlands in the nineteenth century devoted time to this period of Marx’ life. Jan Gielkens edited a number of family documents and letters in ‘Was ik maar weer in Bommel’ . Karl Marx en zijn Nederlandse verwanten. Een familiegeschiedenis in documenten (Amsterdam 1997) and Karl Marx und seine niederländischen Verwandten. Eine kommentierte Quellenedition (Trier 1999).

Violence and its history

Alas we must leave the peaceful surroundings of Zaltbommel on the Waal river and return to the start of this post, the history of violence and other contemporary issues which sometimes seem to move to the background but are never totally absent. We had best look at the rather brief introduction to the IISH anarchism collection guide and use the relevant parts of the online exhibit Rebels with a cause to get a taste of what follows. The following sections on archives, literature and highlights redeem its conciseness. Among the many anarchist archives Michael Bakunin, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, the Provo movement in Amsterdam and the May-June’ 68 revolt in Paris are just the familiar landmarks. Having access in the IISH library to really rare collections of relevant literature, including the magazines and journals of movements, personal photographs, and perhaps best of all, access to the collections of people such as Max Nettau and Augustin Hamon documenting the history of anarchism, is the thing that you will search for in vain at other major institutions in the field of social and economic history.

Flag with De Strijd logo

It needs perhaps stressing that anarchism historically was not just a movement choosing to use violence as its exclusive means, but an attempt to rethink and reshape politics and the use of power and the role of authority, and of course anarchism was marked by its great diversity in thought, aims and actions. I confess to a slight passing bias in the direction of violence because of my admiration for a current television series about the history and role of Dutch socialism with the suggestive title De Strijd [The struggle].

Banner Social History Portal

Have I fallen victim to a misplaced belief that the IISH is really outstanding and almost unique, or do I have to correct my views? For a start it will help to look at the Social History Portal mentioned above. In the news section is a notice about yet another scholarly event at the IISH where at December 4 and 5, 2015 a two-day conference was held on Global Capitalism and Commodity Frontiers: A Research Agenda. Last week the IISH awarded a prize for a M.Litt thesis about the Amna Suraka torture museum in Irak. Let’s compare this with some upcoming and recent activities of sister institutions listed in the news section of the Social History Portal. This year the library of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bonn organized meetings around books documenting right-wing populist movements in Germany. The Open Society Archives and Museum in Budapest has on December 8, 2015 a symposium around an exhibition concerning privacy in an open society. The Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv in Zürich has acquired the archives of a movement fighting against human trafficking. The BDIC at Paris-Nanterre organized a two-day conference about the deportation of women in France during the Second World War.

The resources section of the Social History Portal does much to redress the balance. Here all partner institutions contribute to at least one and often more online exhibits. When you look finally at the digital collections section of this portal, and check for instance the number of collections from the various institutions, you will find the IISH with eleven collections. Six other institutions show more digital collections, the institute at Budapest even 46 collections and the archive at Zürich with 45 collections. The Press Museum at Amsterdam, a sister institute of the IISH, is present with one collection, the early twentieth-century caricatures of Albert Hahn depicting Dutch political life and events in a very powerful way, sometimes as aggressively as some of today’s cartoonists. Disappointingly the IISH and the Press Museum have to bow in front of recent claims about image right to keep them out of view, which makes the inclusion of this collection at this moment rather futile. Behind the Social History Portal is the Heritage of People’s Europe network which brings digitized materials also to the Europeana portal.

Comparing institutions


When looking somewhat longer at the major European research institutions which share the fields and interests of the IISH in Amsterdam it is in particular the Bibliothèque de Documentation et Information Contemporaine (BDIC) in Paris-Nanterre which has a similar wide scope in time and space as the IISH. The department and collections dealing with the First World War are a world in itself. If you think that the BDIC’s website was not easy to navigate the new design does make things easier, although the English version has not yet been completed. There is a separate digital library, L’Argonnaute. The IISH is still in transition between its old URL and the present incarnation of its bilingual website, and every now and then you will encounter dead links. The list of themes and countries are helpful, but I do miss dearly the old site map. A separate entrance or portal for the IISH’s digital collections might be helpful in creating rapid access to the riches of the collections.

Logo FES, Bonn

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Bonn has several institutions under its aegis or collections amounting to separate institutions, including for example the Karl-Marx-Haus in Trier. Instead of trying to fit everything into one portal the institute at Trier can be reached online through the Archiv der sozialen Demokratie. This archive is in particular home to the Portal zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, a portal for the history of German labour movements with much choice in materials and databases. The library of the FES has it own digital library. In view of the number of themes presented by the FES there is a clear case for having not just one website but several platforms, though this hampers gaining a unified overview.

Logo LSE

Last but not least in this rapid European tour is an institution conspicuously absent at the Social History Portal. Does the London School of Economics and Political Science create its own virtual presence with sufficient character, scope, depth and width to stand alone? Being a research institution of world renown the LSE nicely gives you part of an answer by pointing to its own history of pioneering and leading scholars in a number of related fields. The LSE is celebrating 120 years of LSE, with for example also a number of virtual exhibitions. The library of the LSE is home to some 1,500 archival collections accessible through a special catalogue, a better solution than the time-consuming approach at the IISH. You are sure to find something of interest in the subject guides and topic guides; among the topics are Africa, India, Latin America and the Middle East. The last topic guide amounts to an extensive research guide of its kind which will kindle interest in the intricacies of the Middle East. One of its many virtues is leading you to collections and libraries elsewhere in London.

In the LSE’s library the Women’s Library accounts for a separate unit. You might almost describe the LSE’s digital library as a jewel in the crown. There is much attention for the Fabian society with the original Fabian Tracts and the modern Young Fabian Tracts, the digitized diaries of Beatrice Webb, notes concerning the Bretton Woods agreement, and more than 1,000 recordings of LSE public lectures between 1990 and 2006. However, the number of virtual exhibitions is with four distinctly low, even when one includes the fine but small fifth exhibition World War 1 at LSE: a common cause. The LSE could contribute to research for European social history by creating better access to for example its Russian collections. When you visit the websites of the LSE and the IISH you might find the former more rigorously organized, covering more disciplines and easier to use, the latter more inviting but sometimes more difficult to navigate, but leading you always to social and economic history. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, when you contact them, ask your questions, develop your projects or do actual research with or helped by their vast resources.

At the end of this post I realize much more can be said about the role within contemporary society of institutions with such rich collections in the fields of economic and social history. The comparison of four institutions might have helped me to create here yet another long post, but I think it has been rewarding to enlarge this post with the IISH at its centre into a tour bringing you to these important institutions. Their wealth in archival collections and massive libraries on many subjects, themes, countries and regions do merit the attention of lawyers and historians. Their interactions with the public and their role in today’s world can offer a mirror for scholars in the humanities and other disciplines.

Bruegel’s bewitching legacy

Detail of a print by Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Saint James visiting the magician Hermogenes (detail) – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Exhibitions sometimes make you hesitate to visit them at all. Will they only confirm what you already knew or suspected, or will they offer you food for thought and send you in new directions? Since September 19, 2015 you can see at the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, a museum for the history of Christian art in the Low Countries, an exhibition about images and the imagination of witches. Bruegel’s Witches focuses on drawings, prints and paintings by the great Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (around 1525-1569). The exhibition credits Bruegel with creating in a few works the very stereotype of witches, looking as a woman with wild hairs and flying though the air on a broom. In is very best tradition the museum looks also at Bruegel’s contemporaries, shows earlier images of magicians and sorceresses, and it follows the impact of Bruegel’s imagination through the centuries. In 2016 the exhibition will be put on display at the Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges.

This month Museum Catharijneconvent also shows the Utrecht Psalter (Utrecht, University Library, ms. 32), the most famous medieval manuscript in the holdings of Dutch libraries. This manuscript with vibrantly illuminated pages from the early ninth century is only rarely shown in public, and even scholars seldom are allowed to look at it. If you have your doubts about the Bruegel exhibit, you should come at least for the Utrecht Psalter.

Witches in context

At the Catharijneconvent, a former hospital and convent of the Knights Hospitaller, Christian art is always presented within the context of other expressions of Christian life and practice. In this exhibition, too, you will find objects from daily life and criminal justice, and also books. A particular resource used here are the so-called Wickiana, some 430 illustrated newsletters from the sixteenth century collected by the Swiss protestant vicar Johann Jacob Wick (1522-1580) who also wrote a chronicle about events in Zürich. The Zentralbibliothek in Zürich has digitized the Wickiana. This source is not only a form of communicating news, but it offers also a window to popular culture and protestant views of culture and life. The Wickiana shows the use of images and relate also to the perception of all kind of events and elements of culture at large. From the perspective of book history they belong to the category of pamphlets, or even more precisely to the Einblattdrücke. On my website for legal history I have created an overview of digitized pamphlet collections. Wick’s collection contains also many of his own coloured drawings.

The exhibition shows materials bearing directly on the way courts dealt with witches. There is for example a copy of Joost de Damhouder’s Praxis rerum criminalium (Antverpiae 1556). You can look at archival records from the castle Huis Bergh in ‘s-Heerenberg from 1605 about a trial against Mechteld ten Ham who was accused of sorcery (available online [Archief Huis Bergh, inv. no. 7268]). Interesting is also the so-called schandhuik, the “cover of shame”, from ‘s-Hertogenbosch, an object designed to parade infamous women. Among the books on display is also a treatise by the Jesuit Martin Antonio Delrio (1551-1608), Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Lovanio 1599), a book dealing both with the theological interpretation of witchcraft and with the role of judicial courts. Delrio was a humanist scholar, a nephew of Michel de Montaigne and a friend of Justus Lipsius. It prompted me to look at the number of books dealing with witchcraft and demonology signalled by the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) in St. Andrews. The USTC gives you hundreds of titles, and you find of many works several editions. By the way, the book of De Damhouder appeared also in Dutch and French. The USTC is one of the portals indicating also access to digital versions of these works.

Firing the imagination

When you visit the exhibition at Utrecht, you can view the works of art, artefacts, books and pamphlets using a summary guide (Dutch or English), use an audio tour or dive into a fine classical exhibition catalogue. Walking through the rooms and corridors of this exhibition can thus be a rather normal contemporary museum experience, or you can choose a multimedia approach to submerge yourself into the dark world of Early Modern imagination. However strong images and imaginary worlds may be, they combined with the forces of churches and courts to create images of women. Even when they escaped from outright persecution women had to cope with very powerful unfavorable representations of their gender. Imagination, perspectives on gender and anxieties were part and parcel of the period which saw the growing impact of real and imagined magic and sorcery. The role of courts in dealing with witchcraft surely did not always do credit to law and justice.

This exhibition at Utrecht is visually attractive and seduces you to some extent to revel in the imagery of witchcraft, but there is a sober and more disconcerting reality behind which should not be lost out of view. Malcolm Gaskill’s volume Witchcraft. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, etc., 2010) has been translated into Dutch in 2011 by Nynke Goinga [Hekserij, Een kort overzicht (Rotterdam 2011)]. I seldom condemn books or translations, but this translator succeeds in utterly missing the crux of the matters under discussion. Many translated sentences sound strange as if she did not understand at all the subject of this book. Alas witchcraft as a historical subject will remain open to the fascination of those people searching for sensation and esoteric phenomena. There is too much at stake around this subject to leave it to thrill seekers and freaks. However, such statements do not make it easier to face the challenges to deal with this complex subject, starting with the oceans of publications about witches and sorcerers. We need the powers of deep thinking and applying all of the (legal) historian’s crafts to do justice to this aspects of Early Modern history. If this exhibition convinces you at least of the value of this conclusion, your visit will be fruitful.

De heksen van Breugel / Bruegel’s Witches – Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, September 19, 2015-January 31, 2016, and Bruges, Sint-Janshospitaal, February 25 to June 26, 2016

A postscript

Klaus Graf pointed in one of his latest 2015 posts at Archivalia at the online version [PDF, 200 MB] of the dissertation by Renilde Vervoort: “Vrouwen op den besem en derghelijck ghespoock.” Pieter Bruegel en de traditie van hekserijvoorstellingen in de Nederlanden tussen 1450 en 1700 [“Women on brooms and similar ghostly things”. Pieter Bruegel and the tradition of witchcraft iconography in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1700] (Nijmegen 2011).