Digitale Charterbank Nederland (DCN): a digital portal to 200.000 charters in Dutch archives

Activiteit: Toespraak of presentatieAcademisch


In the Netherlands, tens of thousands of original charters from the Middle Ages and the Early modern period are preserved in hundreds of archival funds in dozens of archival institutions. In total, this concerns more than 200,000 documents, not counting the charters that have only been handed down in later copies. This corpus is of course an invaluable source of information on many societal aspects, spanning a period of more than a thousand years. Yet this rich source is underused in historical research. Most charters up to about 1300 are edited in various charter books published in the twentieth century, but the the charters after the thirteenth century are hardly represented in editions. For late Medieval charters the researcher has to make do with a few antiquated editions, which contain only a fraction of the material; the charters from after 1500 are completely unexplored territory.
The Digitale Charterbank Nederland (DCN) now makes most of this corpus accessible in an integrated database, in which all documents can be searched. DCN was set up and established in a short time, in fact within one year. This was possible on the one hand thanks to the collaboration with a a number of archives and especially with the company De Ree in Groningen, which processes the digital management of three quarters of the Dutch archives, and on the other hand because conscious choices were made that preferred speed and mass to the traditional diplomatic approach. In an automatic process the desired documents, the original charters, were selected from the archival inventories available in De Ree’s system. This selection was supplemented with the data of charters in archives not present in the company’s files, which were harvested by hand; in most cases, the archives themselves were able to generate the data automatically in their own digital system and submit them in a suitable format. As a result, the majority of Dutch charters can in DCN be searched for the basic data that are present in the archival inventories: the date of issue, the archival location and signature, and of course a short description of the content of the document – and in some cases also the more extensive text of a regest. In addition, almost 40,000 scans of charters are accessible.
This set-up has of course practical consequences for the use of the database. The chosen method of data collecting limits the user’s search options to the descriptions of content in combination with a time indication. However, those data and the underlying structure of the inventories allow both detailed research into persons or places as well as broad studies of developments over a long period. With a simple name search one will find many entries in not only the obvious archives, but also in those that would otherwise probably have been omitted. And much easier than before, research into the longue durée is now possible, even after 1500, as the production of charters remained at the same high level from the fifteenth to the late eighteenth century. A well-chosen keyword such as ‘erfpacht’ (a hereditary leasehold on property) quickly provides insight into the rise and decline of the phenomenon, and into the regional differences that occur. Research capabilities will be greatly expanded when in the near future advanced tools such as Handwritten Text Recognition and Named Entity Recognition are integrated into DCN. In addition, the database will be enriched by linking more traditional charter editions to it, both digitised charter books and digital born publications.
Periode28 sep. 2021
EvenementstitelDigital Diplomatics: From Digital to Distant Diplomatics
LocatieGraz, OostenrijkToon op kaart
Mate van erkenningInternationaal