Wednesday, February 15, 2017

New exhibit on view--Robert Morris: Lawyer & Activist

Cover of Robert Morris exhibit catalog We are pleased to announce the opening of the spring exhibit in the Law Library's Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room. Curated by Mary Bilder and Laurel Davis, the exhibit is entitled "Robert Morris: Lawyer & Activist".

Morris (1823-1882), long known as one of the first African-American lawyers in the country, was a mover and shaker in Boston anti-slavery circles but also a full-throated civil rights activist in many other areas. He also had a fascinating relationship with Boston's Irish community and a very young Boston College.

All books in the exhibit belonged to Morris and are here on generous loan from Boston College's John J. Burns Library. Additionally, the Boston Athenaeum kindly loaned multiple items from their Robert Morris papers. Through his books and papers, we were able to explore Morris's many dimensions.

For a sneak peek, take a look at the online exhibit!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition

The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Ninth Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School.

The competition is designed to encourage scholarship and to acquaint students with the AALL and law librarianship, and is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses to attend this year's AALL Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Winning and runner-up entries will be invited to submit their entries to Unbound, the official journal of LH&RB. Past winning essays have gone on to be accepted by journals such as N.Y.U. Law Review, American Journal of Legal History, University of South Florida Law Review, William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, and French Historical Review.

The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website: Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 17, 2017 (EDT).

Monday, January 9, 2017

New acquisition: 1613 edition of Justinian's Institutes

title page of justinian's institutes
The main focus of our collection is English and early American law books, but thanks to gifts by Professors Daniel R. Coquillette and Michael Hoeflich, we also have a strong collection of Roman law books. This new acquisition is a 1613 Venice edition of Justinian's Institutes, the synopsis of the Roman legal system that was designed to instruct law students. It's a key piece of the body of Roman law known as the Corpus Juris Civilis, organized and preserved by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. 

text of justinian's institutes, with glossThis edition was edited and annotated by Silvestro Aldobrandini (1499 — 1558), a Florentine legal expert. It features red and black printing on the title page and woodcut initials throughout. As it typical in Roman law books, the original text is printed in the center, with the gloss (or commentary) and other annotations printed around it. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New acquisition: heavily annotated volume of Coke's Reports

Along with his Institutes of the Laws of England, Sir Edward Coke's great contribution to English legal literature was his Law Reports. Ultimately printed in thirteen volumes, the Reports were not case reports in the way we now conceive of them, with the legal reasoning and final determination by the justice(s). Rather, the focus was on the pleadings-the back and forth between the lawyers and judge as the issues in the case were crystallized.

This new acquisition is the first edition of the eighth part of the Reports, published in London in 1611. It is in Law French and contains many well-known cases, including Dr. Bonham's Case, often referenced as a source of authority for judicial review of legislative acts. The book is lovely with its contemporary binding, wide margins, and beautiful printing. What makes it most interesting, however, are the extensive annotations. There are underlined passages, marginal notes, and portions of reports where the text is keyed to detailed commentary, allowing modern researchers to see how a contemporary reader engaged with the text.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rare Book Room Traveling Show

Professor Bilder lecturing on various types of books
I was happy to have the opportunity to visit Professor Mary Bilder's American Legal History class this past Friday. Professor Bilder introduced her students to the various categories of legal literature (case reports, statutory compilations, justice of the peace manuals, legal treatises, law dictionaries, etc.) by showing examples from our Rare Book Room. After this introduction, each student received a book and had the chance to actually examine that book in detail. Using a worksheet with some prompts to guide their inquiry, students were asked to think critically about what the object itself can tell us about the book, its previous owners, and how it was used.

It's a great class every year, and this year was no different, with a great group of engaged and curious students. Many thanks to Professor Bilder for inviting us to class and for integrating rare books into her course!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

New exhibit on the history of legal forms and formbooks

Exhibit catalog cover
I am happy to announce the opening of a new exhibit in the Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room for the fall semester. The exhibit is called "Don't Reinvent the Wheel: The History of Forms in Anglo-American Literature". Whether in print sources, online databases, or law office knowledge management systems, good forms are a hugely important resource for litigators and transactional attorneys. Otherwise, every drafting project--complaints, motions, contracts, company documents--would involve starting from scratch!

This has been true for centuries--books with sample forms were among the first legal books to be transmitted via manuscript and later by printing. This exhibit takes a look at this long tradition from the earliest legal treatises to lawyers' personal manuscript books of precedents to pre-printed legal forms (known as "law blanks").

Please take a look at the exhibit webpage if you'd like a sneak peek. The room is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., so please stop by to see the exhibit and say hello!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A look at the "crime of poverty" through a new acquisition

Title page and spine of Cutler's Insolvent Laws of Massachusetts
Our previous post shed light on the legal dilemma of debtors in the early United States. The book on hand today tracks the development of bankruptcy law in Massachusetts up to the eve of the Civil War.

This is the third edition of Joseph Cutler's The Insolvent Laws of Massachusetts (Boston, 1860), which includes relevant laws passed by the Massachusetts legislature through 1859. The fifth and final edition would be published in 1892. Few copies of any edition survive to the present day, and only ten third editions are known to exist. This particular copy, with its marbled covers and gilt fillets to the spine, belonged to W. S. Dexter, who wrote his name in pencil on the front flyleaf.

While the Greeks and Romans considered debtors’ prisons barbaric, the practice flourished in Europe and the English-speaking colonies of North America, beginning in the 1600s. For owing as little as 60 cents, even the rich and powerful, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence , might spend time in crowded communal cells. For the very poor, however, they might spend the rest of their lives imprisoned, unable to pay the debt and eventually felled by disease in the ghastly conditions of the gaol (The Marshall Project 2015).

By the time this book was published, the only writ that could be issued in relation to a debt was one allowing a sheriff to seize all of the debtor’s non-legally-excluded property for payment of the debt, as well as his account books (General Statutes, Ch. 118, Sec. 18, 1859). Federal law had banned debtors’ prisons in 1833, and in 1983 the Supreme Court would affirm their unconstitutionality. Despite this, since the Financial Crisis of 2008, the public has grown more and more aware of the practice of jailing poor people for being unable to pay debts. This occurs when private debtors fail to appear at civil proceedings and are jailed for contempt of court; jail can also be the result of debts incurred through involvement with the criminal justice system due to fines, a variety of evidence testing fees, or pretrial jail per-diems (The Marshall Project 2015).  While banned in law, it would appear debtors’ prisons live on in fact for unfortunate people whose only crime is being poor.

Thanks to the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., for the background information on this item.