As part of the anniversary celebration of Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents, we recruited seven remote interns to transcribe, review, and conduct research on this unique collection of materials from the 15th to 19th centuries. If you want to learn more about this remarkable group of undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals, who are the first to conduct research exclusively on this digital collection, join us on March 17 starting at 2:00PM EDT for a Lunch & Learn Webinar: A Conversation with the Herencia Crowdsourcing Interns. In addition, from March 15 to March 19, the Law Library of Congress is hosting a Review Challenge for our Laws & Statutes: Crime and Law Enforcement collection of Herencia. For more updates, visit our Twitter and History Hub pages.
As part of their internship, we asked all of our Herencia interns: What has been your favorite item in the collection so far and why?
Here’s what they had to say:
My favorite item is a Royal Order from 1800 documenting the recruitment process for soldiers in the Spanish Army. I think it’s really interesting for a few reasons, one of them being that it gives insight as to what social qualifications men had to have in order to be considered fit for military service, which didn’t necessarily have to do with their physical abilities. It also details the administrative side of the military, the systems in place to register conscripts and call them to duty, and of course punishments for anyone who tried to dodge their obligations.
One of my favorite items is a Royal Order from 1783 that created public schools for girls in populated areas of Spain. The document describes how these schools, for the education of “niñas pobres,” were necessary and useful to the country. Girls were to receive an education in the Catholic faith, how to practice kindness and virtue, and how to develop women’s homemaking skills. The document argues that it is in the interest of the State to impart such skills to girls of the lower classes in order to protect the nation, since girls and women of that time were viewed as the protectors of religion and the shapers of patriotic citizens (their future children). There are also rules on the type of teachers that should be hired, as well as further instructions on the type of lessons the girls should receive.
Reviewing medieval legal documents is fun, educational, enlightening. As you become acquainted with the language and the rich (very verbose) narrative, you realize that these documents are not only legal evidence per se. So far, some of my favorite items in the Herencia collection are legal documents related to dowries, inheritances, and gifts (i.e., “Pleytos Matrimoniales,” or “Marriage litigations” found mostly in the “Briefs: Family and Domestic Relations” project).
Some of the lawsuits resonate with today’s marriage litigations. There are a significant number of allegations of illegitimate children and spouses claiming inheritances. It was quite cumbersome transcribing the entire lineage of both sides of the family to determine legitimacy and also to detect inaccuracies in the claims. There are also documents in which spouses claim they never received a dowry or it was not what was agreed with the family of the bride.
As a librarian, I perceived these documents as valuable primary sources worth promoting and sharing with historians, scholars, linguists, and the public in general.
My favorite item in the collection so far would have to be the brief on behalf of Tomás Casimiro Clavero y Sesse, a cavalier of the Kingdom of Aragón, in the criminal case against Diego Rebolledo, an official of the city of Zaragoza. In the collection of criminal case briefs, and especially the brief in this case, you are able to capture a glimpse of Spanish judicial debate and deposition of witness testimony which is quite rare and fascinating. Whether comparing it with how we argue cases nowadays or trying to examine the information given and come to your own conclusion, these case briefs situate us in a history, generally untold which is thankfully becoming more visible due to the Herencia campaign.
My favorite item in the Herencia collection is the brief on behalf of Francisco Rius, a merchant of the city of Barcelona, versus the Fiscal Prosecutor of the Royal Court, concerning criminal charges against the former for the death of Eleonor Planes. More broadly, I enjoy transcribing any of the Latin documents regarding criminal charges. I find these types of documents particularly fascinating because while Latin writing is well known for describing mythical adventures and incorporating poetic imagery, these documents show a different, more official side of Latin that is used to present real legal arguments and includes a set of vocabulary that I had never seen before.
A series that I especially enjoyed were all the documents going back and forth between Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Ferdinand VII. The Order of April 8, 1808, welcoming Napoleon Bonaparte was particularly interesting. It brought in many political stages that normally people would not think about linking closely, such as the Spanish Empire, Simon Bolivar, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
I chose an article from the Laws and Statues: Crime & Law Enforcement project: Royal Order of February 17, 1746. It has to do with justice in the kingdom and more specifically, the land that would remain in possession of the archbishop. This article was one of the first ones I encountered while reviewing documents, and it reaffirms the power that the government shared with the church. In the document, we see the organization of Aragon that introduces and enforces laws, always going according to the central office of the church, la Mitra. There is strict obedience under this office as each law and ordinance must be per la Mitra. Personally, it astonishes me to think of how present the church was in government affairs. They went hand-in-hand, and when I recently visited Spain, I was able to see the way the churches were almost always near governmental buildings. I am interested in learning more about the legal systems of Spain and how the church was heavily present in lawmaking and the executions of those laws.