Law Library Uncovers Hidden Legal Histories with Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive

Alleged Copyright Theft by Founders of Encyclopaedia Britannica Among Stories Revealed

Thirty years after the University of Virginia School of Law acquired a trove of legal documents from Scotland’s Court of Session, the supreme legal court there, the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library is building a digital archive and reaching out to partners “across the pond” to open these legal history materials to scholars and the public.

When complete, the archive will provide users with access to the previously hidden histories of people living through an era of profound change.

Last week, the Special Collections team traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to present the digital project at the annual meeting of the Scottish Records Association and to meet with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh Library, who are pursuing a similar initiative.

The Dome Room in the New Register House at the National Records of Scotland holds documents, including legal records, that date back to 1553. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.

The Court of Session, as Scotland’s highest civil court, hears cases dealing with divorce, real estate, bankruptcy, intellectual property, debt and a variety of other civil matters. In the mid-1980s, the Law Library purchased a collection of documents related to about 2,500 cases heard before the court between 1757 and 1834.

The University of Edinburgh Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates Library and the Signet Library hold more than 4,000 volumes of the court’s papers combined.

Unlike the handwritten manuscripts produced by English or American courts from this period, the Court of Session did its work in print. Memorials, petitions and even evidence were given to the court in this form. Today, the clear type makes the collection more accessible to researchers and easier to digitize.

Users will be able to search through a single document or the entire collection, peruse the rich data provided for each case and download documents for free.

War, revolution and the Enlightenment transformed the lives of 18th and 19nth century peoples living around the Atlantic basin. These documents illuminate the lives of Scottish merchants trading with colonial Virginia tobacco planters; provide insight into the transatlantic slave trade; show how Scottish women defend their limited legal rights; and trace conflicts between literary figures and their publishers, among other stories.

For example, the copyright dispute at the heart of Clark v. Bell (1804) opens an entry point into the early history of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Among the sources creators Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell consulted was work by James Clark, a veterinarian and King George III’s farrier in Scotland. In 1801, Clark sued Bell (Macfarquhar having since died) for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1710.

Clark alleged that the two men had incorporated verbatim portions of his two treatises on equine care without his consent. After “the best and most valuable parts of them are inserted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica,” publishers refused to issue new editions of his work, Clark said. He charged that Bell and Macfarquhar had violated the Copyright Act, harming his business interests and reducing his potential income. The court agreed.

The Lords of Session (as the judges are called) sided with Clark and later affirmed judgement on appeal.

 
Joseph Marshall, head of special collections and the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh Library, shows an example of a bound volume of documents held in the library’s collection. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.

What Clark v. Bell offers is a legal window into the creation of one of the most iconic literary productions of the past three centuries. The case documents provide details on the process Bell and Macfarquhar used to assemble the Encyclopaedia’s early editions — and suggest where to look next. (The record makes it clear that Bell and Macfarquhar faced similar accusations from other authors.)

Collaborating with the Edinburgh-based coalition will allow the Law Library’s Special Collections team to continue to bring rich legal materials like these to light as we trade knowledge and expertise with our colleagues abroad.

It will also enable the two groups to reconstruct case histories in digital space, making it easier for scholars, genealogists, bibliophiles and law students to access a complete case record.

Compiled in leather-bound volumes (like similar collections in Scotland) at one point, the Law Library’s documents were removed from their bindings sometime after 1835. They rest now in archival boxes that consume 64 feet of shelf space in the Library’s Special Collections unit — as we steadily continue to digitize their contents.

The Law Library is preparing to release its first batch of documents. Look for them online soon. For more information on the project, including how you can support it, contact archives@law.virginia.edu.

(This article was first published on the University of Virginia School of Law website on November 17, 2017.)

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Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections oninterpretive content for the library’s major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library’s archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library’s significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

End of Semester To-Do List: #1 – Study Break

What do you need to get your end-of-semester reading, outlining, and research papers done? “Quiet,” “books and databases,” “study space,” “research expertise,” “massage chair”…. Massage chair?!    

Yes. Studies say taking breaks (even naps) makes you more productive. Challenge yourself to be more productive the last weeks of the semester and this finals period by taking ten-minute study breaks to[1]:  

  • Flip through Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Essence and other magazines and newspapers in the first floor Klaus Reading Room.
  • Take a walk around the Library’s second floor to check out our annual art show and photos from the 1970 protest on the Rotunda.
  • Get a cup of tea or coffee and chat with friends in MyLab.
  • Browse for a winter break destination in one of the 57 Eyewitness Travel guides in the first floor Klaus Reading Room.
    massage chair
    Karl Lockhart enjoys a quick breather from exam time stress.
  • Try a guided audio meditation (check them out from the short shelves in the Klaus Reading Room). There are meditation cushions and mats in the second floor Collaborative Classroom space.
  • Curl up in a comfy chair in the second floor Collaborative Classroom space.
  • Eat grilled cheese hot off the griddle – stay tuned for date and time of this finals period’s grilled cheese night in the Law Library.
  • Watch an episode of The Office, Scandal, or your favorite TV series and movies from our Reserve Room DVD collection.

And, let the Klaus Reading Room massage chair work out some of your studying muscles’ kinks.

[1] Many of the resources mentioned here are courtesy of the Walter Whitlock Klaus ’36, endowment fund. 

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Kristin Glover

Kristin Glover is a Research Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

Our Annual Art Show, “We The People”

On Thursday night, the Law Library will hold a reception to express gratitude to the sixteen photographers whose work comprises this year’s art show, “We The People.” Curated by Stacey Evans, the exhibit features works from photographers from Charlottesville and elsewhere in Virginia and D.C..

The show looks at different ways that photographers document and photograph people. Says Evans, “[F]or a photography exhibit, [We The People] seemed an all-encompassing title to give me the opportunity to look at different ways that photographers document and photograph people throughout the country.” In selecting the individual images, Evans looked at different topics – race, religion, borders, personas, and identities – featuring people throughout the United States. Some images capture people engaged in the “daily actions that we go through as a citizen,” such as riding a train or a bus. At the north end of the exhibit is the “Mangini Studio Series,” a collaborative project of Gordon Stettinius and Terry Brown. Over an eight-year period, Stettinius in various reinventions of his persona, and Brown chronicled the transformations in a series of studio portraits. The subject of a TEDx talk, the series explores “how attitudes and impressions toward people can shift based on their appearance.” 

Says Evans, “As people walk through and look at the exhibit, I want them to look and question at the different perspectives … and the different way that we interpret, look at images, look at people, and embrace differences … and understand that we might come from a different place, but that there is a ‘we’ in “We The People.” But … question who is that ‘we,’ and redefine, “Who is your ‘we’?”

The reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Law Library. It is open to the public.

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Amy Wharton

Amy Wharton has been the Research & Web Services / Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia School of Law since 2008.

A Brief Reflection on Difficult Times for Our Community

The Law Library stands with our Dean and all in our community who are trying to grapple with the horror brought here last weekend by white supremacist groups. We’re deeply grateful for the many expressions of care and concern we’ve received from so many this week, including our colleagues at the American Association of Law Libraries and the Virginia Library Association, vendors, friends, and current and former students working in the U.S. and beyond. Knowing that others stand in solidarity with us is a gift that can’t be measured. 

candlelight vigil
Community members left their candles at the base of the Jefferson statue at the end of last night’s candlelight vigil.

Our hearts go out to the families and friends of Heather Heyer, who lost her life while defending our core societal values of diversity and equality, and to those of Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the rule of law in our community. Many others – some with whom we have personal ties — were severely injured during these incidents, and we extend our hopes for the swift and complete healing of their wounds.

It is hard to express our sentiments with any greater eloquence than did Law School Dean Risa Goluboff:

“It is not only our values but our mission that puts us at the center of the struggle to do better. We are in the business of educating and equipping the next generation of lawyers to promote justice, equality, and the rule of law. At my most optimistic, I believe that this weekend will prove galvanizing for our students, as they enter a profession committed to testing ideas through dialogue and persuasion, rather than violence and intimidation. Now more than ever, the mission of the Law School and the values we hold dear are critical to healing and bettering this city and this nation.”

Our librarians and staff are preparing to welcome our new and returning students this year. We stand ready to do our part to help equip them with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to become facilitators and leaders of tomorrow’s better society. We are honored to serve both an institution and a profession that enable that possibility.

 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

UVA Legal Experts Offer Their Picks for Summer Fiction Reading

For many of us, summertime means reading. A lifelong bibliophile, Thomas Jefferson considered fiction to be useful reading for anyone who wanted to understand the law. University of Virginia Law School faculty and staff agree. Here are some of their picks for fiction that helps explain the law.

Daniel Ortiz

Michael J. and Jane R. Horvitz Distinguished Professor of Law
Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596-98)

“In addition to being fantastic literature and containing one of the greatest trial scenes of all time, [The Merchant of Venice] pits justice against mercy and leads the reader to question those who advocate either position to the exclusion of the other. In the end, both sides’ absolutes appear cruel.”  

G. Edward White

David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law

John Galsworthy, In Chancery (1920)

In Chancery “deals with the difficulties of getting divorced in England in the early years of the twentieth century, where virtually the only two ways to obtain a divorce were through cruelty or adultery, and both had to be publicly proven in court. Two of the characters in In Chancery, Soames Forsyte and his sister, Winifred Dartie, who is married to Montague Dartie, would both like to be rid of their spouses, Soames because he wants to remarry and Winifred because her husband has run off to South America with his mistress. Soames’s wife is only too happy to divorce him, but neither he nor she wants to admit in public to having an affair, which would amount to social ostracization for members of their upper-middle class. Winifred is capable of bringing an action against Dartie but wants to avoid public scandal.

“The novel demonstrates the grip of the law on persons in England in its time period. ‘In Chancery’ refers to the fact that divorce proceedings took place in chancery court, whose procedures enforced the adultery and cruelty preconditions for a divorce decree. It also signals that any persons seeking to divorce in England at that time were ‘in the grip’ of those procedures.”

Leslie Kendrick

Vice Dean
Albert Clark Tate, Jr., Professor of Law

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-1853)

The renowned English author’s ninth novel, Bleak House satirizes the English legal system through its exploration of families and wills in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Bleak House is a thrilling read that touches on how the law can be–or at least feel–for those who experience it as parties. That is only one minor reason that it is a great book.”

Rip Verkerke

T. Munford Boyd Professor of Law
Director, Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946)

“The book loosely follows the sordid career of Huey Long. It’s both a gripping narrative and a cautionary tale about corrupt influences in political life. When I recall re-reading the book about five years ago, I can still see, hear, and smell a number of vivid and memorable scenes. Highly recommended.”

Paul Halliday

Julian Bishko Professor of History, University of Virginia
Professor of Law

Jane Austen, Persuasion (1817)

“I don’t think one could do better than look at almost any of Jane Austen’s six novels. I suppose Persuasion is my favorite. The social confines in which the heroine, Anne Elliot, operates were constructed by the ways her family, and most landed families of the Regency period, used the law of property. Contrary to what many think, the property interests of Anne Elliot (or Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood) were not undermined by common law. By common law rules, Austen’s protagonists would have inherited their father’s property, though where there were multiple daughters, they would have split the inheritance with their sisters. Instead, it was the use of entails that meant that their father’s property would pass to a distant male relative. Thus the equitable practice of entails was used to defeat a common law practice: the common law rule that land descends to a daughter in the absence of a son and in preference to collateral males. What daughters lost was less a matter of law than of the cultural norms that shaped people’s choices about the use of law.

“As with everything else, Austen handles law more subtly than other authors. Law is not idiotic (think Fielding), nor is it obscure and self-serving (think Dickens). Austen doesn’t bore us with legal details, nor does she dish out easy criticisms of law and lawyers. Instead, law forms a quiet yet critical a backdrop in her novels. Austen knew that her contemporary readers would appreciate how law could function as a synecdoche for what really mattered: the patriarchal norms about women and families that were her real concern.”

Jessica Lowe

Associate Professor of Law

C.J. Sansom’s “Matthew Shardlake Series”: Dissolution (2003); Dark Fire (2004); Sovereign (2006); Revelation (2008); Heartstone (2010); Lamentation (2014)

Sansom’s mystery series feature Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in King Henry VII’s court. “Sansom is a lawyer as well as a historian, so his books do a great job of portraying the legal practice of the time, while also exploring the moral ambiguities of the Reformation.”

Gordon Hylton

Professor of Law, General Faculty

Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Harper Lee’s second novel was published in 2015, just before her 2016 death. “It is much more subtle and nuanced than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it better illustrates the nature of the power and influence that lawyers traditionally exercised within their communities.”

Kate Boudouris

Law Library Special Collections Metadata Research Team Lead and lawyer

Donald Barthelme, Concerning the Bodyguard (1978)

Concerning the Bodyguard is a short story told almost entirely through questions. For members of a profession that often relies on questions–from discovery to cross-examination–it’s a fascinating meditation on the uses of questions and the challenge of telling a story within formal constraints that preclude a more straightforward narrative. You can hear Salman Rushdie read the story on this New Yorker Fiction Podcast.” The story can also be found in Barthelme’s collection of short stories, Forty Stories.

Kim Forde-Mazrui

Mortimer M. Caplin Professor of Law 
Director, Center for the Study of Race and Law

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

“I’d probably recommend a book that many others have recommended: To Kill a Mockingbird. For me, it reveals that the law is only as good as society is. In the book, a fair trial was conducted but the jury verdict was unjust and based on racism.”

Cale Jaffe

Assistant Professor of Law, General Faculty
Director of the Environment and Regulatory Law Clinic

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952)

“I re-read Charlotte’s Web with my kids a few years ago, and was blown away by how poetic it is…For aspiring lawyers, it carries two powerful lessons. The first comes from Fern, the young girl who initially saves Wilbur from her father’s axe. Her father announces the ruling that awards Fern custody over Wilbur, reasoning, ‘Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice.’ Every client deserves to have an advocate as zealous as Fern.

“The second comes from Charlotte, who reminds us that great writing (legal or otherwise), often requires the most efficient use of language. ‘Terrific. Radiant. Humble. Some Pig.’ Not a 70-page brief with voluminous footnotes. Just five simple words. That’s all it took for Charlotte and Wilbur. I think most attorneys would benefit from adopting a similarly economical–and thoughtful–approach.”

 

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Melissa Gismondi

Melissa leads interpretation for the first phase of the 1828 Catalogue Project. She holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Virginia and is currently working on a book about the political partnership of Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Follow her on Twitter @melissajgismond.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Legal Texts

What comes to mind when you think about the texts that law students read? Most of the time, it’s cases, statutes, contracts, and law review articles. Sometimes, it’s texts on legal theory. But if you asked Thomas Jefferson, in order to understand the law, students needed to read widely in everything from natural science to literature.

Jefferson and his eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century contemporaries didn’t see law as an isolated discipline. Rather, they considered it to be one branch of philosophy (or “reason”), which joined history (or “memory”) and the fine arts (or “imagination”) as the three “faculties” of learning. In “philosophy,” law stood alongside mathematics, ethics, and religion. This breakdown of “faculties” was inspired by the English philosopher, Francis Bacon, whose 1605 book, The Advancement of Learning, shaped the ideas of Jefferson and many other Enlightenment-era thinkers.

In early American legal education, practical training was just one of three components. The other two were theoretical knowledge (note only of the law but also how individuals and societies related to one another) and a general education that often included languages, philosophy, and history. The goal was to train good lawyers but more importantly, craft young men into well-rounded, virtuous citizens.[1]

William Wirt, U.S. Attorney General for James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.

The courses that William Wirt, attorney general under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams and a close friend of Jefferson, advised law students to take reflected this view. In 1822, Wirt wrote Hampton L. Carson about his legal education. Read William Blackstone, Wirt urged, as “the best introductory author,” who can offer “a clear and comprehensive view of [the law’s] present state.” But don’t stop there, Wirt added. In addition to statutes, rulings, and natural law, Wirt encouraged Carson to read history, literature, rhetoric, and the classics.[2]

Adopting a holistic understanding of legal education as something that cultivated virtue and moral improvement meant engaging with a diversity of texts. “[E]verything is useful which contributes to fix us in the principles and practices of virtue,” Jefferson wrote to Robert Skipwith in the summer of 1771. Fiction, in particular, proved a good way to learn about ethics, especially because “[w]e never reflect whether the story we read be truth or fiction.” Jefferson noted that Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan in Shakespeare’s famous 1606 play ignited the same “horror of villainy, as the real one of Henry IV.”[3]

Jefferson believed that fiction proved the best way to learn about ethics because it teaches us what to do and what not to do. We are “as warmly interested for a fictitious as for a real personage,” Jefferson observed in his 1771 letter. “The spacious field of imagination is thus laid open to our use and lessons may be formed to illustrate and carry home to the mind every moral rule of life.” Jefferson maintained that reading Shakespeare’s King Lear, for instance, could better teach young men and women about duties to their elders than “all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity that ever were written.”[4]

Today, fiction isn’t usually required reading for law students, but some law professors still consider it to be valuable. For years, our faculty have integrated works of fiction into the curriculum to add texture and depth to the stories of law.[5] We surveyed UVA law professors this summer to find out of what fiction they consider required reading for understanding the law. You can join the discussion on the UVA Law Library’s Facebook page. We’d love to hear your suggestions as to what fiction you deem essential for a legal education that even Thomas Jefferson would approve of.

 

[1] See, for instance, Mark Warren Bailey, Early Legal Education in the United States: Natural Law Theory and Law as a Moral Science, 48 J. Legal Educ. 311 (1998).

[2] Id. at 321.

[3] Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, Aug. 3, 1771, in 1 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 76, 76-77 (Julian P. Boyd ed. 1950).

[4] Id.

[5] Denise Forster, Using Literature to Make Better LawyersUVA Lawyer, Fall 2005, http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/alumni/uvalawyer/f05/literature.htm.

 

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Melissa Gismondi

Melissa leads interpretation for the first phase of the 1828 Catalogue Project. She holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Virginia and is currently working on a book about the political partnership of Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Follow her on Twitter @melissajgismond.

Corporate Prosecution Registry Website Launched

After several years of effort, the Legal Data Lab has helped Professor Brandon Garrett launch a new platform for the exploration of federal corporate prosecutions. The website, Corporate Prosecution Registry, is an actively maintained, continuously updated database with over 3,000 entries. The data has been well-received in the past, and our hope is that a new interface designed with users in mind will be useful for scholars, attorneys, and the public for years to come.

The new site combines two sites—one on corporate plea agreements, the other on prosecution agreements—into one. This single site for research makes it easier for users to access and explore a wide range of information regarding federal corporate prosecutions. The site includes all the supporting documents (dockets, agreements, press releases, etc.) used to create the database, as well as options to download all the data we’ve collected in either CSV or Excel formats. We’ve worked with countless datasets over the years and are glad to be able to give something back.

Going forward, we plan to add more visualizations and/or dashboards to the site and are actively testing various R and Python packages. If there are features you wish to see incorporated in the site, feel free to drop us a line at legaldatalab@virginia.edu.

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Jon Ashley

Jon Ashley has been the Business Research Librarian at the University of Virginia Law Library since 2008. Prior to coming to UVA he was a general reference librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received his M.L.S..

Meet Special Collections’ Public History Summer Interns

Late Spring brings new growth to Special Collections at the Law Library as academics everywhere turn their thoughts to Summer research and writing. We are fortunate to have two stellar individuals joining the team over the next few months in partnership with UVA’s Institute for Public History to spearhead two important legal history projects. 

Abby Holland - Special Collections
Third year Abby Holland will contribute to the Dean Lile Diaries digitization project this summer.

Abby Holland, a rising 3rd year American Studies major with a concentration in race and ethnicity, brings her experience working with Civil War diaries in Small Special Collections and the digital tool Neatline to the Dairies of William Minor Lile project. 

Born into an Alabama slaveholding family in 1859, Lile studied law at the University of Virginia in the early 1880s. He later settled in Lynchburg to practice his trade. In 1893, UVA’s Board of Visitors appointed Lile to a law professorship in the expectation that he would succeed his great uncle, John B. Minor, as head of the law department. Minor died in 1895. Nine years later, during a period of administrative reorganization, university president Edwin Alderman named Lile as the Law School’s first dean. Lile died in 1935.

Lile produced an eleven-volume journal over the course of his adult life. The entries begin in 1882 and cease in 1932. They record Lile’s experiences in post-Civil War and Reconstruction Virginia as the United States entered the Gilded Age and the new international order. Lile’s journals illuminate the intersection of local and national politics and culture. They detail his participation in numerous Virginia and regional legal cases, comment on Democratic and Republican politics at the state and federal levels, technological changes such as the introduction of automobiles in Charlottesville, prohibition activities, and economic booms and busts that gripped the nation. 

Abby will spend the summer developing her digital history skills by preparing a new transcription of one of Lile’s volumes and writing interpretive essays that introduce readers to him. Her work is part of an on-going effort to prepare a digital documentary edition of these wonderful journals. She will also pursue a project of her own design based on the diaries that will enrich our understanding of the law, Virginia, and the United States during a period of chaotic transformation. 

Melissa Gismondi comes onboard as co-director of our Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project, an initiative supported by the Jefferson Trust Foundation. Melissa specializes in the history of nineteenth-century North America. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her Ph.D. in August 2017. Her work focuses on the military and political partnership of President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, which she is developing into a book. She is also the moderator of BookStory, a new book club from BackStory, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 

Melissa Gismondi - Special Collections
History Ph.D. candidate Melissa Gismondi is co-director of our Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project.

As we noted in our Jefferson Trust grant application:

“In 1820, Thomas Jefferson believed the new University of Virginia would empower the ‘illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it’s contemplation.’ Jefferson envisioned the library as the centerpiece of university life and the foundation of his grand vision for American education. In 1824, he selected 7,000 volumes, including over 700 law books, to fill the library’s shelves. Jefferson believed that enabling access to these texts at UVA would overcome economic disparities and create educational opportunities for a broad audience. ‘Great standard works of established reputation, too voluminous and too expensive for private libraries,’ he wrote to the university’s purchasing agent, ‘should have a place in every public library, for the free resort of individuals.’ In Jefferson’s mind, an easily accessible library should be one of the cornerstones of a democratic society by allowing citizens and scholars convenient access to knowledge and the tools to create new knowledge.

The Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project reconstructs the original corpus of 721 legal texts purchased for the first UVA library and listed in UVA’s 1828 Catalogue. The UVA Law Library has been working for forty years to collect these rare legal titles, most of which were originally selected by Thomas Jefferson. This student-centered project will build a digital version of this collection using a new tool called the Virtual Bookshelf. The Virtual Bookshelf will enable new historical scholarship on foundational texts in early American and transatlantic legal history, and provide UVA libraries with a powerful new way to manage their digital presence. Built on a rich database of bibliographic information, this immersive website preserves the traditional browsing experience while providing students with experiential learning and leadership opportunities to explore the law library’s international origins and contribute to the university’s digital evolution.”

Over the next few months Melissa will create interpretive content for the new 1828 site, explore interesting facets about particular texts, and help us lay the groundwork for new scholarship centered on these fascinating volumes. Along the way she’ll develop her own professional interest in digital history and engage the public through social media. 

Both Abby and Melissa will contribute regularly to this blog over this summer. Be sure to follow us on social media for updates about these exciting initiatives. 

 

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Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections oninterpretive content for the library’s major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library’s archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library’s significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.

Jefferson Trust Award to Facilitate Digitization of Jeffersonian Law Book Collection

Congratulations to our Digital Collections team, which was just awarded a grant from the Jefferson Trust to fund the Digital 1828 Catalog Collection Project. The project seeks to assemble and digitize all of the law books that were hand selected by Thomas Jefferson for inclusion in the 1828 Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia.  

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Citizen Historians Wanted: Help The UVA Law Library Transcribe Historical Legal Manuscripts

In the early 1820s, a young Harvard College graduate named Jared Sparks devised a plan to preserve the early history of the United States.  Like many Americans, Sparks sensed the closing of an age. Nearly fifty years had passed since the Declaration of Independence and many of the American Revolution’s central figures were dead or soon would be. George Washington took his last breath in December 1799 at Mount Vernon, six months after Patrick Henry succumbed to stomach cancer. In the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson remained busy overseeing the creation of the University of Virginia from his home at Monticello. From there he also maintained a lively correspondence with his friend and former adversary, John Adams, who spent his remaining years at home in Quincy, Massachusetts. Yet they would soon be dead, too. 

One August day in 1823, Sparks determined to preserve the nation’s past as he meditated “on the importance of having a new History of America.” He recognized this difficult task would require him to “go to the fountain and read everything on the subject.” That meant finding original documents. Like his contemporary and fellow historian Peter Force, Sparks set out to find and transcribe copies of correspondence, reports, and a host of other material in private homes, court houses, and libraries across the nation and in Europe. He became a prolific documentary editor. Over the next thirty years he published numerous volumes, including The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution (12 vols.), Life of Gouverneur Morris (3 vols.), and The Works of Benjamin Franklin (10 vols.). His twelve volume edition of George Washington’s writings was his most significant achievement and served as a forerunner of the current Papers of George Washington Project at UVA.1 

Sparks was a citizen historian long before the development of the modern historical profession in the late nineteenth century. His efforts to collect, transcribe, and arrange manuscripts into publishable form broadened what his fellow Americans could know about their own history.  In the nineteenth century that required traveling by horse or ship to archives in a quest for manuscripts. Today, professional historians and documentary editors use slightly faster modes of transportation to reach libraries and archives, but digital technology has also allowed us to bring the archive to the scholar and public. For example, you can now read George III’s thoughts on kingship in his own hand from the comfort of your office or explore a vast array of American women’s experiences in their own voices with students in your classroom.

Technology has also made the creation of historical knowledge participatory on a grand scale. Crowdsourcing transcriptions of manuscript collections has become an important way for professional librarians and scholars at institutions and projects large and small to work with people interested in the past. Manuscripts and rare books can languish in archival boxes unseen for years, keeping the stories they tell unintentionally hidden. Digitizing the documents and asking for the public’s help to transcribe them is a means to unlock their potential for future research and a form of civic engagement with our history. 

The UVA Law Library Special Collection is delighted to announce that we have partnered with FromthePage.com to make some of our manuscripts available for public transcription. Inspired by our friends in The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at the University of Iowa Library and initiatives such as the Colored Conventions Project, we seek the help of citizen historians to tell the stories of the women and men who appear in our collections.

The law touches everyone in some way. That was as true in the past as it is today. The legal documents that we present on FromthePage.com capture how people in the United States, England, Scotland, and Italy lived and died. Their presence in a petition to a court, in a letter seeking favors from a government official, a catalog of their private property in a probate record, or in a lecture before eager young law students reveal much about them and the legal culture in which they lived. 

What we hope to accomplish: As Jared Sparks knew the publication of transcribed manuscripts democratized historical knowledge and made it possible for amateur and professional historians alike to write better histories. We have the same goal in mind. Producing transcriptions of the Law Library’s legal manuscripts can make the material more accessible and encourage new research. It will also enable the Special Collections librarians to create better finding aides that will make research and discovery more efficient. Using a combination of technology and interpretation, the librarians will identify subjects, key themes, and relationships that can increase a collection’s usability.  Importantly, we would like teachers to use this tool and our material in the classroom to help their students understand the complexity of the past.

How can you help: Participating is easy.  Follow these simple steps:

1. Go to FromthePage.com and create a free username and password.

2. One you are logged in, take a moment to read the “Transcription Instructions” in the Frequently asked Questions. Then go to “Collections” and look for those collections owned by “UVA School of Law Library.” Click on a collection that interests you.  (More on our available collections below).

3. In your chosen collection, review the “About” section to get a sense of the documents inside. Then investigate the “Works.” Think of “Works” like a folder of documents in a box. Select the one you want.

4. One you are inside a Work, select a document page or several to read through first before transcribing. It is important to gain a sense of an author’s handwriting and language. This will help you better understand an author’s thoughts and objectives, stylistic choices, and common trends across items. It helps, too, to read through another transcriber’s work (if available) to prepare your brain for the content you will see on the manuscript page. Previous transcriptions are important reference tools for each untranscribed page. 

Now you are ready to transcribe. Find a page to work on and click on “help transcribe this page.”

5. You will then be in transcription mode. You can adjust the position of the document to your likening. Be sure to look at the “Transcription Conventions” below the white transcription field to find information on how we would like you to transcribe the document.

6. Start to transcribe and be sure to save your work frequently. 

7. Know something about the people in one of the documents? Please feel free to put a note in the “Note” field at the bottom of the screen. The more we understand about these documents the better stories we can tell about the people in them.

We do not expect perfect transcriptions. Sometimes unclear or confusing words befuddle even the best professional documentary editor. And it is always possible that another transcriber will come after you and identify a word that you could not. You can also mark a page for formal review and leave a note for the Special Collections team should you want us to take a closer look. Documentary editing is a communal process.

What is important is the knowledge that we can begin to gleam from the transcriptions and the stories we can tell about the past. Citizens historians are crucial to making that possible. 

Manuscripts now available for transcription:

We have ranked these seven projects by degree of difficulty, which increases as one moves down the list.

1. The Papers of Roger B. Taney, 1792-1820  

Roger B. Taney practiced law in his home state of Maryland long before he became an influential member of President Andrew Jackson’s cabinet and later authored the majority opinion in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford case (1857) as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. 

Taney (1777-1864) handled many of the cases in this collection just as he began his political ascent in state politics. The papers featured here are legal documents from his practice in Frederick, Maryland. Most items fall between 1805 and 1818. A few cases deal with slaves. These papers offer a unique opportunity to examine Taney’s legal career in its formative years before he rose to national prominence. 

2. Practicing Law in the Early American Republic

The papers offered here feature documents written by major figures from the American Revolution era. These include Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and future Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; President James Monroe; future president John Quincy Adams; George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson’s mentor at the College of William and Mary; John Marshall, future chief justice of the Supreme Court; Charles Lee, the brother of Light Horse Harry Lee and uncle to Robert E. Lee; and Edmund Randolph, the first Attorney General of the United States. 

3. The Papers of John B. Minor, 1845-1893

John B. Minor joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1845 at the age of thirty-two. An 1843 graduate of the university, Minor began his teaching career following a decade in private practice. Minor, along with James P. Holcombe, directed the law program at UVA amidst national debates over slavery and the American Civil War. Following the war, Minor and his colleagues presided over a post-war enrollment boom that saw over 100 students in the law program. Meanwhile, Minor took an active role in reforming Virginia’s public education system and published major legal works that established his reputation as one of the South’s legal leading minds. 

The papers in this collection are wide and varied. They include Minor’s lecture notes, legal work, documentation on slaves, correspondence about secession in the Civil War, and post-war politics. They shed important light on Virginia in the Civil War era and illuminate the development of legal education during a period of national upheaval and reconstruction. 

4. The Papers of Solicitors J.M Shugar and A. W. Vaisey, 1850-1914

The documents in this collection contain the stories of nineteenth century English men and women. Solicitors J. M. Shugar and A. W. Vaisey worked as probate and property lawyers in the town of Tring, Hertfordshire, in south central England. They handled wills, estates, and personal property issues for their clients from about 1850 through 1914. Shugar practiced law in Tring from roughly 1850 until his death in 1876. Vaisey, a newly minted lawyer, took over Shugar’s practice and made it his own. Fortunately, their combined papers have survived the years and make it possible for us to know about the lives of their clients in some detail.

Estate papers are crucial for historians’ ability to reconstruct the social world in which people lived. Transcribing wills, estate inventories, and associated documents will help historians reconstruct this nineteenth century world and offer relatives new insights into their ancestors.

5. Letter book for the Receiver of Wrecks at Kingston upon Hull, England, 1855-1861

This handwritten letter book was kept for James Sparrow, who worked for the British Board of Trade as the Receiver of Wrecks at Kingston upon Hull, 1855-1861. The volume begins with an index of correspondents and subjects. While the book primarily records copies of all outgoing mail, there are frequent notes about disposition of matters or copies of replies in the margins.

The letter book offers fascinating insight into British commercial and maritime activities from Kingston upon Hull, a port community in eastern England along the North Sea. Transcribing this manuscript could help inform our understanding of British maritime activities in the mid-nineteenth century. The letters record not just merchant activity and doomed vessels, but government patronage and power. 

6. Scottish Court of Session Records Marginalia Project

This transcription opportunity is one of the most challenging and builds upon a larger initiative at the UVA Law Library to construct a digital archive and research platform centered on our Court of Session Collection. The Court of Session is Scotland’s supreme civil court and court of first instance. Eighteenth century Scottish court records are distinctive for the printed word. Unlike in England or in the American colonies and states, briefs, memorials, petitions, and depositions were printed and given to the court’s judges for their evaluation. Copies of these documents exist in other archives, but the Law Library’s are unique for the marginalia scribbled on them by their two owners, William Craig, Lord Craig, a judge on the court, and Andrew Skene, who briefly served as Scotland’s solicitor general. 

The marginalia illuminates how Craig and Skene interpreted and studied Scots Law as they participated in the making of it. Craig, who owned the papers first and had the worse handwriting of the two, scribbled over cases in which he was involved with as a lawyer before he sat on the court. Skene, who either bought or inherited Craig’s papers, added on to the collection, and made his own notations next to Craig’s. Scottish judges did not issue formal written opinions as the U.S. Supreme Court does. A clerk took note of what the judges said in conversation on the bench. Later, these decisions appeared in legal digests. Skene and Craig often wrote on their papers what the judges said in the court room, probably as they heard them say it. The marginalia pulls back the current on law making and takes us into the room as it happened. 

7. Giusticiati: Italian Manuscript List of Persons Condemned to Death in Venice, 726-1804

The law library knows very little about this manuscript. This project will require people with Italian language skills. Written in Italian and probably composed around 1804, this bound volume contains the names of 1,068 Venetians executed between 726 to 1804. It records names, dates of execution, crimes, and method of execution. Relatively few executions are listed until the late sixteenth century, and almost half of the total listed in this manuscript occurred in the seventeenth century. Crimes included conspiracy, rebellion, treason, theft, forgery, usury, homicide, sodomy, aggression and disturbing the peace. Death was usually by hanging or beheading, but occasionally included torture and display of the bodies.

Please contact Jim Ambuske (jpa4ad@virginia.edu) with any questions. 

1. Journal entry, 18 August 1823, quoted in Lester J. Cappon, Jared Sparks: The Preparation of an Editor, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 90 (1978): 3. See this article for a concise overview of Sparks’s career in documentary editing. The UVA Law Library Special Collections owns a complete twelve-volume set of Sparks’s 1847 edition of The Writings of George Washington. Peter Force’s American Archives remains an important resource for students of the colonial period and American Revolution. The introduction to the digital edition of his Revolutionary era collection at Northern Illinois University Libraries contains a useful brief overview of his career. The site itself is a wonderful research tool. The UVA Law Library Special Collections holds a first edition set of the nine-volume printed work, which covers 1774 to 1776. Force published these volumes between 1837 and 1853.

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Jim Ambuske

Jim Ambuske is the Horatio and Florence Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. He received his Ph.D. from UVA in 2016 and is a historian of the American Revolution and early Republic. At the UVA Law Library, Jim works in Special Collections oninterpretive content for the library’s major initiatives, curricula for future courses in the digital humanities, and research projects rooted in the library’s archives and manuscript holdings. His primary responsibilities at the Law Library include oversight of the Scottish Court of Session Papers project and promoting scholarly access to the library’s significant holdings in early American, Virginian, and transatlantic legal history.