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This chapter introduces the relational database “Prosopography and directory of Belgian magistrates, 1795–1962”. The authors return on methodological issues and technical choices made to conceptualise this tool (especially the time management and the evolving nature of the data). They then present the structure articulated around four large interconnected parts: the people, the courts, the appointments and the sources.
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C. Lemercier and E. Picard, “Quelle approche prosopographique?” in L. Rollet and P. Nabonnaud (eds), Les uns et les autres… Biographies et prosopographies en histoire des sciences, Nancy, Presses universitaires de Nancy, pp. 605–630.
The article by Claire Lemercier and Emmanuelle Picard cited above offers a quality discussion of the issues related to the definition of a prosopographical corpus.
The “Prosopography and Directory of Belgian Magistrates” database was created in 2005 as part of a project of the Fund for Collective Fundamental Research (FRFC) submitted by UCL, FUSL and FUNDP. The project was originally focused on the ordinary courts between 1830 and 1914. Since then, additional funding has made it possible to expand the time frame both downstream and upstream as well as to include the military judiciary and the juvenile judiciary. The application was first integrated into the Just-His portal of IAP P6/01 “Justice and Society: The Sociopolitical History of Justice Administration in Belgium (1795-2005)”, then into the website http://www.digithemis.be/. The PAI funded the major recasting of the application in 2010. 2014 marks the beginning of a four-year project dedicated to the colonial judiciary (Congo and Ruanda-Urundi) from 1885 to 1962. This extension of the spacial-temporal framework will require an adaptation of the application to the specifics of colonial data. For documentation on the initial project, see A. François, “Capitaliser les ressources sur l’histoire socio-politique de la justice belge (1797–2005). Le portail just-his.be” in F. Clavert and S. Noiret (eds.), L’histoire contemporaine à l’ère digitale, PIE-Pieter-Lang: Brussels, 2013, pp. 95–106.
The theoretical foundations of the relational model were stated by Codd: E.F. CODD, ‘A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks’ in Communications of the ACM, vol. 13, No. 6, June 1970, pp. 377–387.
C. Souveyet and R. Deneckère, Conception de bases de données. Aspects temporels, On line: Techniques de l’ingénieur, 1998. http://www.techniques-ingenieur.fr/res/pdf/encyclopedia/42309210-h3268.pdf.
The choice between the three types of dates also applies to single events.
Managing conflicting data is a particularly delicate task. When faced with such data—whether the spelling of a name or date of birth which varies from one source to another—which one should we choose? Given that this choice is not that of the encoder, it was decided that several data can be introduced for one and the same field, even those, like date of birth, which a priori can contain only one value. Then we had to address the problem of displaying the results of a query including contradictory data. The issue was resolved by associating a confidence level to each data item. In addition, encoders are free to justify their choices in a “comments” box next to each field. Between two different degrees of confidence, the computer of course displays the data at the highest degree. In some cases, however, it is impossible to determine which data item presents the greatest level of reliability. This situation requires an arbitrary choice, placing one confidence level lower than the other, and indicating the choice made under “comments”. In the detailed display of a particular person, the user can view the different data encoded for the same field.
Following this philosophy, the function of judge exercised, for example, by a member of the judiciary from 1813 to 1833 would have constituted a single step in his career path.
To continue the previous example, the career of a member of the judiciary exercising from 1813 to 1833 as a judge at the Brussels Court of First Instance would be structured in three stages (French, Dutch and Belgian regimes).
More advanced users have the option of interrogating the database (implemented in PostgreSQL) directly in SQL.
The intellectual data distinguish autobiographies from the other publications concerning the person, telling us very quickly which members of the judiciary have left their memoires.
In March 2015.
When a filter “date” is activated in this way, the user always has the option to remove it with a single click and view the court over its entire period of existence.
Act of 15 May 1912 on the protection of children, Moniteur Belge, 27 May 1912.
Act of 31 July 1920 concerning salary increases for members of the judiciary, Moniteur Belge, 13 August 1920.
Law of 15 June 1849 concerning the reduction of the personnel of courts and certain tribunals, Moniteur Belge, 21 June 1849.
In March 2015.
Official Bulletin, Congo Free State, 1898.
The judicial body is always the Court where the place is vacant while the political body is the Senate for the Court of Cassation and one of the provincial councils of the jurisdiction concerned for the Appeal Courts (there is a complex system of alternating between the various provincial councils).
In fact, a double calculation is made. The first relates to all candidates, including those whose political views are unknown. The second calculation applies only to those whose political views are known, while indicating the percentage of unknown data. Besides political tendency, this part is used to encode the opinions given by the authorities consulted. The opinion is taken in its entirety, the encoder also mentions whether it is favourable or unfavourable, and ticks, from a predefined list, the criteria put forward.
Regarding appointments to the Court of Cassation, see: F. Muller, La Cour de Cassation à l’aune des rapports entre pouvoirs. De sa naissance dans le modèle classique de la séparation des pouvoirs à l’aube d’une extension de la fonction juridictionnelle 1832– 1914/1936, Bruges, La Charte, 2011 (Justice et Société).
With the “comments” fields that can be filled for any field of the database, the encoder can add useful information. Take the example of the Act of 25 October 1919 amending temporarily the judicial organisation and proceedings before the courts’. This law establishes the single judge system in Belgium. This information does not transpire from its title. A user wanting to know when the single judge system was initiated in our country can find it by entering ‘single judge’ in a keyword search, the encoder having taken care to indicate this under 'comments'.
An example: the military tribunal for the province of Antwerp, created in 1831, also includes from 1899 the province of Limburg. This change needs to be managed in such a way that this military tribunal represents just a single entry in the database.
Military tribunals in time of war or assize courts are temporary jurisdictions. It is not possible to create a new jurisdiction in the database every time they meet. The indication “temporary” suffices, and the period during which the court meets will be deduced from the judges attached to it.
This will have an organisational impact alongside the technical impact, because during this period of technical adaptation and data migration, researchers and encoders attached to the project will be unable to access this data.
- Prosopography in the Digital Age: Current Situation, Prospects and Perspectives in the Light of the Forthcoming “Belgian Magistrates” Application
- Chapter 13
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