LOD for early modern normative texts. Cooperation between law, history and DH

Romein, A. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


LOD for early modern normative texts
Cooperation between law, history and DH
Policeygesetzgebung or police-ordinances can be seen as the first kind of voluntaristic laws. These norms fit between formal law and traditional statutes, customary law and social norms. These normative rules could thus come in a plurality of forms; therefore, literature regularly refers to these various types as multinormativity. Institutions issued these normative rules. These normative rules contain much information, which is relevant for many historical sub-disciplines (see figure 1a); but more so, these rules are an underestimated connector in history. As such, I would like to develop an ontology that could be used by multiple fields of research. In this developmental phase, I have not decided on the LOD-tool yet.

Figure 1. Police-ordinances include much information, useful and connecting various research fields. Some examples.

In the 1990s, a large project at the Max-Planck-Institute für europäische Rechtsgeschichte (MPIeR) was launched, resulting in an inventory (repertorium) of 68 states leading to a dataset containing summaries of over 200,000 texts with metadata on each of the individual sources. The focus of this project was on the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland (Bern and Zürich), Austria, Denmark and Sweden – up to now data for 31 states has been redacted and published in twelve printed volumes, containing an overview of the police-ordinances of these areas. This data is all structured alike, though it does not make use of full-text. The repertory is presently being prepared to be published as an online database. Since 1846 the Royal Commission for the Publication of Ancient Laws and Ordinances has been collecting norms in Belgium, and a few recent projects aim at connecting this to the MPIeR data with similar metadata.
The map below shows the MPIeR studied areas (light green) and the areas under investigation (dark green).

Figure 2. MPIeR Repertorium and other initiatives (dark green), period 1500-1800.
The MPIeR project has created a bespoke data-scheme to reflect changes in territorial denomination over time, legislators and different forms of ordinances. Most importantly, it has defined a vocabulary of subject matters that was then applied across all states in the database. However, up to now, this has been made accessible only via subject matter indices in the respective printed volumes, and there has been no quick way to investigate cross-boundary developments, for instance. Presently, this is about to change by the imminent publication of the repository as one consolidated database. But none of the aspects of the data will, in this first step, be rendered in an interoperable, i.e. formally defined and machine-readable way (neither the various administrative units in their historical dynamics, nor the legislative persons or bodies, nor the vocabulary of subject matters).
For now, the ontology is a mere sketch that is still flexible in what could/ should be changed; hence a choice of LOD-tool has not yet been made as it may depend on the possibilities too. Having experiences with Protégé, Web-Karma and Blazegraph these are potential options – but advice here is more than welcome.
As various disciplines benefit from digital accessibility of normative texts, an international group of researchers is setting up an ontology allowing to machine-read the data. However, even though we try to incorporate all potential disciplines and ideas; I would like to present a poster with the ontology for normative texts as-is during the DHBenelux and ask participants to comment on it. As such, we hope to enrich the ontology and see if there are elements missing or issues that should be clarified.

Period05 Jun 2020
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Linked Open Data
  • Linked Data
  • Normative texts
  • Legislation
  • Ontology
  • Digital Humanities
  • DHBenelux