DiDip at a Diplomatic Workshop on Medieval Arbitration

On December 5th and 6th 2023, our team participated at the 5th Workshop on Diplomatic Studies, titled “Arbiter, arbitrator, or compositor amicabilis. Medieval Arbitration between Diplomatics and Legal History”, hosted by the Masaryk University of Brno. 

The two-day workshop explored the complexities of medieval arbitration by examining its roots, its evolution, and its depiction in diplomatic sources. Adapted from Roman law, arbitration through a mediator or judge chosen by both of the conflict parties was a popular alternative dispute resolution method, due to its lower degree of formality, more acceptable costs, and general flexibility. Accordingly, traces of the process can be found in a wide range of sources from legal manuals to documents from practical cases.

This was shown by the participants of the workshop in several talks on the role of arbitration in Roman, canonical, and land law, the evolution of the historical and modern terminology on the subject, and in multiple international case studies on individuals who acted as arbitrators or specific diplomatic corpora, with a strong focus on the High and Late Middle Ages.

The DiDip project was represented by Daniel Luger and Franziska Decker who highlighted how the research conducted in our project could support use cases such as the need for a comprehensive corpus of arbitration charters.

Multiple factors complicate a targeted search for documents on the subject. Not only are ‘arbitration charters’ not an established charter class in diplomatics, due to the broad variety of their issuers, their wide range of legal content, and a scarcity of internal or external features specific to them. The nature of the data present on the current Monasterium.net also is not uniform – most records come with no full transcription but just an abstract, while some with minimal data don’t even provide the latter.

Daniel Luger demonstrated how a simple search in Monasterium.net for the common formula ‘arbiter, arbitrator seu compositor amicabilis’ or parts of it, as well as for historic terms and their German equivalents (‘arbiter’/’spruchman’, ‘compromissum’/’hintergang’, etc.), or modern terms (‘Schieds*’ for ‘Schiedsgericht’, ‘Schiedsspruch’, ‘Schiedsrichter’, etc.) is possible, but not at all exhaustive at the moment.

Tools like Handwritten Text Recognition, Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision could enable an automated multilingual search in translated abstracts, the identification of typical formulas beyond the few known, and the detection of typical patterns in the external features of the charters. Our team is working on tackling the aforementioned tasks, to create a new VRE for Monasterium.net that will allow researchers with similar use cases to build comprehensive corpora that currently are not obtainable.

Overall, the workshop successfully facilitated a rich exchange of ideas among historians, legal scholars, philologists, and other interested participants, contributing significantly to our understanding of medieval arbitration within the broader context of diplomatics and legal history.

Cite this blog post
Franziska Decker (2024, January 30). DiDip at a Diplomatic Workshop on Medieval Arbitration. DiDip. Retrieved May 17, 2024, from https://didip.hypotheses.org/2329

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