The covid-19 pandemic precipitated significant changes to the way that legal historians were able to collect archival data. Public repositories were closed. It was no longer possible (at least, for many) to travel internationally, or even interstate. University funding shrank. For scholars tracing histories of law and empire, the inability to undertake traditional archival research in repositories far from home posed a significant challenge.
How might resources from the digital humanities help? The idea was to develop a digital platform to support knowledge sharing about archival holdings around the world. Such a platform would also help build FAIR data principles (findable, interoperable, accessible and re-useable data) into legal history research methods and provide a platform for empire legal history scholars to publish research data.
The LHE (Legal Histories of Empires) archive was then developed with three specific aims in mind:
- to provide a free, public, searchable database of information about archival holdings relevant to empire legal history
- to allow users to contribute to the database, and
- to allow users to contact one another to share more information about those archival holdings.
Beyond the lingering effects of the global pandemic, the LHE archive offers a new, innovative and accessible pathway into traditional archival research. It will help scholars (with extensive or limited archival experience) work out what materials might be available at a particular repository and what it is like to research there. The database also provides a platform for a collegial network of scholars to (re)describe and (re)categorise archival material according to discipline-specific modalities, above and beyond the descriptions and categories found in repository-specific catalogues.
For those interested in learning more about empire legal history, we suggest visiting the Legal Histories of Empires website (lhbe.org), which provides a central point for news and information about upcoming events and conferences.
The design and build of lhearchives.org was funded by Australian Government through an Australia Research Council Discovery Project grant to Professor Shaunnagh Dorsett: Colonial Innovations: The Foundations of Civil Justice in Australia; (DP190101123). Ongoing website administration is provided by Professor Dorsett at the University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law. The site is generously hosted by the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII, a joint facility of the UTS and UNSW Faculties of Law). The site was built by Rachel Bolton.
Our thanks also go to the following people who provided feedback on the website and database design: Isabella Alexander (UTS), Lyndsay Campbell (Calgary), Lisa Ford (UNSW), Diane Kirkby (UTS), Simon Kruik (UTS), Amanda Nettlebeck (ACU), Naomi Parkinson (UNSW), and Alana Piper (UTS).
The LHE archives team acknowledges and pays respects to the traditional owners of the lands upon which this project was undertaken and on which the digital database is stored. This includes the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation (Broadway, Sydney), the Dharug and Gundungurra people (Blue Mountains) and the Wadi Wadi people of Five Islands Dreaming (Port Kembla).
We can be contacted at the following email address: email@example.com
General statement on copyright
It is generally considered that copyright does not subsist in metadata concerning factual information (such as archival reference numbers, document titles, dates etc). However, copyright may subsist in original, value-added content created by contributors, such as long descriptions or archives experiences. Any such copyright is retained by the contributor and made available on the website under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (see below for more detail). To the extent that any copyright or sui generis rights arise in the LHE Archives database (in relevant jurisdictions), those rights are governed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.