Computers and the Humanities

, Volume 12, Issue 1–2, pp 165–175 | Cite as

From microfilm to computer: 15th century cadastral and notarial archives

  • Bernard Saint-Pierre
  • Jocelyn Pelletier


15th Century Computational Linguistic Notarial Archive 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Sevencadastres (registers of real estate maintained for tax purposes) ranging from 1410 to 1470–1478 (Arch. comm. de Brig.: CC 187, 188, 190, 192, 194, 196 and 198) for a total of nearly 35,000 estate descriptions and approximately one hundred notarial registers dating from 1390 to 1475 (Arch. Dép. du Var: series 3E7-48/-189) with about 30,000 notarial acts.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See D. Herlihy, “Editing for the Computer: the FlorentineCatasto of 1427,”American Council of Learned Societies Newsletter, 22 (1971), 1–7. Since then, Herlihy and C. Klapisch have published several papers describing the results of their findings. Other research projects dealing with cadastres and manorial estates (terriers) are underway: namely, L. Stouff (Université de Provence, Aix-Marseille I) on Arles and P. Rück (Université de Lausanne) on the manorial estate of Vuïssens. In the area of cartulary records, projects have multiplied since the pioneer research of L. Fossier and M. Crehange, “Un essai de traitement sur ordinateur de documents diplomatiques du Moyen Age,”A.E.S.C. 25 (1970), 249–284.: including the studies of T. Evergates,Computers and the Humanities 9 (1975), 61–68, and M. Gervers (Scarborough College, University of Toronto). More widely, computer-aided research projects in various areas of medieval history are carried on by research groups at the Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes of Paris (L. Fossier) and at the Université de Paris I (B. Guenée and J.-P. Genet).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    R. H. Bautier and J. Sornay,Les sources de l'histoire économique et sociale du moyen âge, Provence-Comtat Venaissin-Dauphiné—Etats de la Maison de Savoie. (Paris: Ed. C.N.R.S., 1971), t. I, vol. 2, p. 1147: “Mais il convient d'aller au delà: peu de domaines parmi les sources historiques sont appelés à bénéficier davantage de la mise à contribution des systèmes de fiches perforées, de l'exploitation mécanographique, voire des moyens modernes de l'informatique électronique...” While this call remained unanswered by medieval historians, more and more modern historians, especially French ones, working after M. Vovelle on particular segments of notarial records, wills, and inventories, are adopting computer techniques. For further information see the coming edition of the proceedings of the colloquium held in Strasbourg on March 3–4, 1978, “Les actes notariés de la fin du moyen âge au XIXe siècle,” ed. B. Vogler). The various notarial acts for the town of Liège in the year 1751 have been fully treated by Mme P. Pieyns-Rigo, “Formalisation des contrats passés devant des notaires liégeois du XVIIIe siècle,” L.A.S.L.A. one (1971), 121–129. The “bordereau de dépouillement” developed by this researcher for primary structuring of data inspired us at the beginning of our research.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For instance, ourcadastres are quite uninformative about professions, family ties and location of residences. From a critical viewpoint, it is possible to check one series with the other, not only for the dating of thecadastres but also for measuring the degree of social representation in each series (by checking lists of persons, i.e., owners, persons cited, parties to transactions, witnesses, etc.) as well as for comparing property mobility in both series (that is, changes of owners recorded in notarial acts and incadastres, taken as an index of the measure of economic representation). Also, there are a number of subjects of socio-economic analysis that require cross-checking of data between the two series: transformation of rural economy, distribution of wealth, and social mobility, to mention but a few.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a discussion of various approaches, see C. Tilly “Computers in Historical Analysis”,Computers and the Humanities 7 (1973), 323–325. No doubt coding techniques reflect deeper methodological orientations. To stay in the field of European history, modern French historians using the computer usually resort to a questionnaire type of coding which seems most suitable for the kind of serial analysis they practice, while techniques leading to an edition appear to be more in favor with medieval historians and are likely to be more appropriate to monographical studies, as is the case with our inquiry on Brignoles. However that may be, the reasoning behind such a divergence of methods demands a deeper analysis.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The concepts of subordination (or inclusion), co-ordination and data quantity used in this analysis are more fully discussed by J. Arsac,La science informatique (Paris: Dunod, 1970).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This contrasts with the various methods used by historians as exemplified by E. Shorter,The Historian and the Computer, a Practical Guide (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971). These methods always assign a fixed interpretation framework to the data sequence on the punched card, i.e., each field corresponds to a definite information category. In this respect, our method is similar to the type of coding used for management purposes; see J. Arsac, op. cit., p. 172ff.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    On this point, we are of the same opinion as J. H. Levitt and C. Labarre, “Building a Data File from Historical Archives”,Computers and the Humanities 9 (1975), 77–82.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The use of “intelligent terminals” connected to microcomputers would in fact allow immediate editing and validation concurrently with data analysis and coding, that is, a direct transfer of information from microfilm to computer. However, the technology involved is very costly and considerable time is required for software development (machine language) for this type of processor.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Pergamon Press, Inc 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Saint-Pierre
    • 1
  • Jocelyn Pelletier
    • 2
  1. 1.Section d'Histoire, Département des Sciences HumainesUniversité du Québec à Trois-RivièresQuébec
  2. 2.Centre de CalculUniversité du Québec à Trois-RivièresQuébec

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