Digital Humanities at the mpilhlt
The Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory is actively engaged in developing and applying the resources, methods, and tools enabled by the digital transformation of research. Thanks to this transformation, many resources that research in legal history draws upon are readily available in new ways, new forms, and new quantities. The Institute has a stock of its own such resources, which undergoes constant improvement. Of course, new resources — and even new kinds of resources — are added regularly and comprise part of the Institute’s Digital Library.
Since projects at the Institute pursue vastly different research questions, our digital tools and methods cover a wide range of research objects, analytical approaches and implementation strategies. While one project might pursue a digital scholarly edition (DSE), another could be compiling a graph database of judicial consultations, a third needs visualisations of its geographical findings, and a fourth might draw upon computer linguistics to compare several texts to one another ... On a case-by-case basis, a digital-humanities (DH) expert teams up with the scholars, studies available digital methods or develops new ones, and provides the scholars with the necessary tools and knowledge to understand, apply, and extend them. Having a dedicated DH post since 2017 has allowed the Institute to continuously enhance its DH capabilities. Some of the projects concerned are listed in the box on the left of this page.
Besides tailoring tools to the needs of individual research projects, there are two fields of more general relevance: textual analysis and data modelling. Since legal history is concerned to a large extent with statutory documents and doctrinal texts, leveraging the normative knowledge expressed in such texts is a core concern. Various methods from text classification and named-entity recognition to co-occurrences and word embeddings can help in this endeavour. Formal descriptions of such normative knowledge can help to better understand the domain, to draw sounder conclusions, to effectively search and to compare it to other areas and periods. Because of their potential utility for various projects, their role in the anticipated directions in the field of legal history, or simply because they are urgent desiderata, the Institute engages in these fields regardless of particular research projects.
In order to train scholars in digital methods, a Digital Humanities discussion group has formed and convenes at irregular intervals. The Institute's scholars can access presentations, results and other resources mentioned in the group’s discussions through the group's wiki pages. Among the subjects covered are geographic information systems and some textual analyses.
Since there are obviously trade-offs in pursuing such diverse activities, we conduct regular evaluations to assess and prioritise our activities.