Zürcher Ratsmanuale 1700-1798

The Zurich Council Manuals contain the minutes of the meetings of the authorities from the old city-state of Zurich until 1798. They represent the central series for the study of Zurich’s history in the pre-modern era. The manuals from the 18th century have been processed by the State Archives of Zurich using Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR).

About the content

Political alliances, marital conflicts, crimes: A wide range of topics was discussed in the meetings of Zurich’s council and thus recorded in the Council Manuals throughout the pre-modern era and up to the end of the Ancien Régime in 1798.

The authorities of the old city-state of Zurich were composed of the Great Council and the Small Council. The Small Council was the central decision-making body, and the Great Council served as its extension. Its members, the «Burger», elected the two mayors and the members of the Small Council. The remaining councilors were guild masters and lords delegated by the guilds and the Stubengesellschaft of the Constaffel. Women and non-citizens had no right to vote. The Small Council was divided into two council halves, each with 24 councilors and a mayor, who replaced each other in office every six months on St. John's Day in June (St. John Baptist, hence «Baptistalrat») and in December (St. John the Evangelist after Christmas, hence «Natalrat»). The incumbent half of the council was called «Neuer Rat» (New Council). However, the New Coucil often met together with the Old Council (i. e. the acting council of the previous half-year, known as «stillstehender Rat»). In this case, decisions were formally made on behalf of both councils («beide Räte»).

The proceedings were documented in a separate manual for each half of the council. In addition, both the town clerk («Stadtschreiber») and his substitute («Unterschreiber») kept separate protocols. Therefore, the manuals consist four volumes for each year, covering approximately 300 years

Across the decades, various scribes contributed to the manuals. As a result, the text recognition models trained for this project cover a wide range of different handwritings from Zurich’s chancellery.

At the end of each volume, the clerks have kept an index for easy reference.

Project background

The State Archives of Zurich (StAZH) is eager to provide digital access to the most essential series as well as important individual documents that provide insights into Zürich’s history. The Council Manuals. can be considered the most essential series from the pre-modern era, reaching from 1484-1798 (with a gap from 1516-1545). The manuals from the 18th century have been processed as part of our project «Pilot Vormoderne Quellen» (PVQ) using automatic text recognition. However, some two pages per volume were transcribed manually as training material for handwriting models. In these cases, people, places, and organizations were tagged as well. The remaining pages were automatically recognized with handwriting models. Consequently, the quality of individual pages may vary. Due to the heterogeneity of handwritings, automatic text recognition has an error rate of 5 to 8 percent, which still ensures adequate searchability as well as sufficient legibility. To prevent redundant search results, the registers at the end of each volume have not been text-recognized (cf. the "no text found" display), but are available as images.

On average, two pages per volume were transcribed manually as training material for the handwriting models. In these, people, places and organizations were also tagged. The other pages were automatically recognized with handwriting models. The quality of the preparation of the individual pages can therefore vary Due to the mentioned heterogeneity of the fonts, the automatic handwriting recognition has an error rate of 5 to 8 percent, which usually ensures both good searchability and good legibility.

Project background

The Council Manuals from the 18th century (1700-1798) provide an extension to other essential series such as the «Kantonsratsprotokolle>>» (legislative) and the «Stadtratsbeschlüsse» (executive) that have already made online accessible for the public, covering Zurich’s history from 1803 onwards.

In the coming years, the manuals from the 17th and subsequently also from the 15th and 16th centuries will be processed in the same way and published online. Further development steps include the automatic tagging of people, places and organizations as well as dates across the entire corpus.