Responsible Researcher

Dr. Douglas J. Osler
Douglas J. Osler
Phone: +49 (69) 789 78 - 153
Fax: +49 (69) 789 78 - 169

Related research

Research Project | Department I

A Bibliography of European Legal Literature, 1450-1800

Around the middle of the 15th century the first printed book was produced in the printing press of Gutenberg at Mainz. By the end of the century the German pioneers had spread the new invention throughout Europe; the printed book had firmly established itself as the primary medium for the storing and communication of information and knowledge. The next three hundred years were to witness a huge, exponential growth in book production.

It has long been supposed that the "printing revolution" had a profound effect on the production and dissemination of knowledge in Europe. Yet our information on the vast book production of European publishing houses remains rudimentary. Only the incunable period up to the year 1500 is well documented, with a majority of editions and even copies being identified, this information currently being assembled in a single data bank in the ISTC project at the British Library. Thereafter, however, our knowledge falls off dramatically.

Under the impetus of the study of the great classics of English literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, first published in printed rather than manuscript form, bibliography in England has always been well ahead of its continental counterpart. The Short Title Catalogue of books printed in England up to 1640 was published by Pollard and Redgrave as long ago as 1926, and the supplement to 1700 was published by Wing in 1945-51. Currently a project covering the 18th century (ESTC) is well advanced. By contrast, our knowledge for the book production of continental Europe remains dramatically inadequate. Figures even for the number of editions published in the three centuries following the incunable period remain no more than educated guesses. Certainly, a modern catalogue of 16th century German imprints (VD16) has now successfully completed its first phase, while the analogous Italian project (EDIT16) has completed only the letter C. Yet for France and Spain there is no equivalent, even for the 16th century. Moreover, the problem of the cataloguing of the two succeeding centuries remains wholly intractable.

It is these considerations which lie behind a number of bibliographical projects currently being pursued at the Institute. The basic principle of all these projects is the establishment of a data bank in which surviving copies of an individual edition are recorded in a census in a strictly systematic fashion. Naturally, for the whole period to 1800 only the foundations of such a huge enterprise can be laid, yet the principle is important.

The first stage of this project, devoted to the 16th century, is now nearing completion. This encompasses some 20,000 editions of legal works held by a wide range of libraries in Europe and the United States. In addition, the contents of a large numbers of collections of tractatus, singularia and repetitiones are being listed. The vast production of the 17th and 18th centuries presents an even more daunting task for the future. While the book production increases dramatically in these centuries, our knowledge of library holdings is in directly inverse proportion, being reduced to a trickle of a few important libraries, and these often providing information in a rather elementary form. As a first step towards confronting this problem, a number of library holdings have been entered in a general data bank of legal works published in continental Europe between 1601 and 1800. In the current state of knowledge it would be impossible to attempt to complete this information as has been done for the 16th century. For this reason four major areas of juristic production are currently being investigated in more detail. These areas have been selected as playing a fundamental role in the traditional paradigm of European legal history (see section C, below).

It is no coincidence that this approach goes hand in hand with the new means for its realisation provided by computer technology. Previous catalogues were short-title simply to make them of publishable size. In the wake of such media as CD-Rom, space has, for practical purposes, become unlimited. Hence the title description is more exhaustive than usual, with the consideration of electronic publication and word search capability in mind. Secondly, we are becoming used to catalogues in a state of flux. It is no longer necessary to freeze the catalogue for ever at one moment by publication, where it is immediately superseded by new information or acquisitions. Now it is becoming familiar to access through a computer network the current state of information of any data base. Both these factors, the newly available space and the possibility of constant updating as new information becomes available, lead to what is essentially a new conception, namely that of registering systematically not just editions but also copies of a printed book for the whole of the modern period.

A. Preparatory catalogues.

Because of the notorious inadequacy of bibliographical information on early continental printing, it proved necessary from the beginning to carry out extensive work of cataloguing of individual library holdings in order to guarantee the success of the larger projects. These catalogues, which simultaneously form an essential input in the various censuses, are also being published separately as convenient guides to the important legal collections they describe. These are as follows:

1. Catalogue of books printed on the continent of Europe from the beginning of printing to 1600 in the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte
Published 2000

2. Catalogue of books printed in Spain, Portugal and the Southern and Northern Netherlands from the beginning of printing to 1800 in the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte
Published 2000

3.Catalogue of books printed on the continent of Europe before 1601 from the Biblioteca di Giurisprudenza of the Università di Firenze.
(forthcoming 2004)

4. Catalogue of early printed books in the Biblioteca Volterra of the École Française at Rome.
(forthcoming 2004/05)

5. Catalogue of early printed books in the Van Zyl Collection of the University of Cape Town.
(forthcoming 2004/05)

6. Catalogue of books printed on the continent of Europe from the beginning of printing to 1600 in the Robbins Collection of the University of California at Berkeley

The information necessary for the Census was gathered during short-term visits to Berkeley between 1990 and 1995. The publication of the catalogue itself is dependent on a further visit to add the new acquisitions and to complete the final checking of some details.

B. Census of 16th Century Legal Imprints.

The Census is intended to provide a panorama of the legal printing of continental Europe in the 16th century. It seeks to gather together under a concise and convenient descriptive format all the copies of a work with a particular imprint which are to be found in a given set of libraries. It is based partly on published catalogues and partly on the direct cataloguing of specific collections. The elements of the description are: author, abbreviated title, imprint, colophon, format, pagination or foliation. As a general rule no comment is made on the question of edition, issue and state, nor, with the exception of the earliest works, does the Census offer a signature collation. It is therefore clearly to be understood as a bibliographical inquisition, a preparatory work which aims to establish the basis for the next essential stage in the study of any text transmitted through the medium of the early printed book, namely the critical bibliographical analysis of the editions which lie behind the imprints. This latter task, however, can only be undertaken on a very much smaller scale, preferably by scholars with a direct research interest in the works concerned.

The most significant innovation in the Census is its division into two sections, the first covering the period from the beginning of printing to the year 1525, the second covering the period from 1526 to 1600. This is a deliberate breach with conventional bibliographical periodisation which insists on setting a fathomless abyss between the incunable period, up to and including the year 1500, and the 16th century. The first printed books have certain clearly defined characteristics which distinguish them from the developed form of the early printed book as it was to survive for some three centuries down to the invention of the machine press around 1800. These features, typically, are the brevity of the title on the title-page, the location of the printing information in a colophon at the end of the book, and the notation of the precise day of the completion of the task of printing. The incunable method of bibliographical description (attributed title; place of printing and printer/publisher recorded in the language of the catalogue; the notation of the day-date) has been evolved to fit precisely these characteristics. Similarly, the standard form of the bibliographical description of the mature early printed book, Anglo-American in origin but now universally adopted in serious bibliographical work, (abbreviated title; imprint as found on the title-page itself; the bracketing of information drawn from the colophon) is also ideally suited to the characteristics of the developed form of the early printed book. The only problem, and it is a vital one, lies in the unfortunate fossilisation of the chosen date of transition at the year 1500.

Although any date chosen will have an arbitrary element, the transition between the two forms of the early printed book seems to fall in the decade of the 1520s. This is the period which sees the closing of so many Italian presses in the political turmoil that descended upon the peninsula in these years. Of the crucial Italian legal printing centres of this period, Pavia ceases to publish in 1520, de Girardis prints his last juristic book at Trino in Monferrato in 1523, and Scinzenzeler at Milan in 1525; all three centres then disappear completely from the map of 16th century legal publishing. Moreover, the veritable flood of legal editions pouring from the presses of the capital of early legal printing, Venice, is reduced in these years to a trickle. Even if the Pincii continued to publish law books of a very traditional stamp, for some three decades Venice retained barely a shadow of its former preeminence until its revival in the second half of the century. By 1525 the centre of legal printing had moved definitively north of the Alps to Lyon and Paris. To this transition corresponds the change in the characteristics of the printed book. In the productions of Kerver and Petit, of De Portonariis, De Giunta, De Porta, Gryphius and all the others, the developed title-page, with extended title and imprint, dated by year alone, with the colophon relegated to a secondary role, begins to emerge with increasing frequency. We have now reached the period in which the early printed book has taken on its mature shape, to which the standard, Anglo-American method of bibliographical description is apposite.

We might add that the era from the beginning of printing to 1525 also has a legal-historical unity, for it is in this period that most of the works of Medieval jurisprudence which were to see their way into print received their first publication. Many of these first editions were published after the fateful year 1500. Thus it is in the Italian period, as we may call it, from the beginning of printing to 1525, that the crucial nexus between manuscript and printed book is located. As a general though not infallible rule, the succeeding flow of editions of medieval Italian jurists from the presses of Lyon, and subsequently of Basel, Frankfurt, Turin and Venice, is more likely to reproduce the text of a previous edition. This is another forceful argument for treating the period up to 1525 as a bibliographical unity. The works of the period to 1525 are thus described in greater detail, including a full signature collation. Moreover, the range of libraries covered by the census has been widened through the inclusion of further major libraries by checking the list of authors in their collections and making a full description of any editions not hitherto included in the census.

C. National Legal Bibliographies to 1800

Just as the catalogues can be viewed as preparatory works for the 16th century Census, so too can the Census be seen, on a wider historical view, as the foundation work for "national" legal bibliographies. Behind this conception lies a re-orientation from the traditional view of the 16th century as a period in its own right, "the age of legal humanism", and rather as a period of transition from medieval to modern jurisprudence, from a pan-European dissemination of Italian legal science, to a nationally-oriented jurisprudence. This indeed is one of the results of the Census, which will reveal the emergence of a vast ocean of hundreds of jurists working against the background of a ius commune of civil, canon and feudal law, blending these with local customs, statutes, collections, professional consilia and court decisions into "national" legal systems. The Rooms-Hollands-Regt is thus not a unique phenomenon of the 17th-18th centuries, but can be taken, mutatis mutandis, as paradigmatic for the legal form in every area of Europe. The date 1600 simply cuts off the beginning of this development, for the period in fact runs from around 1550 to 1750. Accordingly, the national censuses will offer the full sweep of printing history from the 15th century to 1800. Three such projects are currently under way:

1. Census of the juridical works of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily from the beginning of printing to 1800.

The first census to be made available will cover the jurisprudential production of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily from the beginning of printing until 1800. This is the first attempt to present the legal science of an individual European system in its entirety for the whole of the modern period. For the first time it will be possible to form an overview of this major Italian legal system, often relegated as a backwater of European legal history, and to assess which jurists and works remained specific to the territorial legal system and which perhaps enjoyed a wider European dissemination through their reprinting at international printing emporia such as Venice, Lyon, Geneva and Cologne. An appendix will list all the foreign jurists published at Naples, an important legal publishing centre in its own right.

2. Census of the Roman-Dutch law.

In the traditional analysis of European legal history the "Elegant School" of the Netherlands is seen as dominating the legal science of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. This project seeks to encompass the entire juristic production of the Northern Netherlands. It should thereby provide the basis to tackle such questions as the definition of jurisprudentia elegantior and the Elegant School; how far the Dutch school was a continuity of trends already in evidence in the 16th century and how much a new beginning after the foundation of the Republic; what was the relationship in legal matters between the Northern and Southern Netherlands after the partition; to what extent the juristic productions of the professors of the Dutch law schools of Leiden and Utrecht, and of the practitioners of The Hague and Amsterdam, were disseminated through the rest of Europe.

The work is now being carried forward by the two collaborators in Utrecht and Groningen. The scope of the project will go well beyond the traditional authors of the "Elegant Jurisprudence", and is designed rather to set their work in the wider context of the totality of legal writings, Latin and Dutch, in the Northern Netherlands of the 17th-18th centuries.

3. Census of the jurisprudence of Spain and Portugal to 1800.

While the Dutch Elegant School has always been at the centre of legal historical studies in the modern period, the legal history of the Iberian peninsula has suffered from a corresponding neglect. Under prevailing cultural and political impulses Spanish legal history was treated as a matter of only national investigation, and the European elements neglected. This project seeks to identify and record the hundreds of Spanish jurists publishing in these centuries, many of whom certainly belonged to a general European legal culture. Was Spanish legal history as national as the traditional picture of the last half century would suggest, or does it correspond to a wider European pattern to be observed also in Italy and the Netherlands?

4. Census of 17th century Italian imprints.

A vast amount of bibliographical information for this period has been gathered in the course of the work on the various censuses listed below. Since there is no immediate prospect of converting this material into a larger bibliographical Census it could usefully be offered as it stands as a catalogue limited to Italian printing - which, incidentally, would reveal the publications of many hundreds of virtually unknown Italian jurists.

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