“It’s Time for the Lightning Round!”

The term “Lightning Round” may call to mind nerve-racking Quiz Bowls from grade school or the fast and furious stock-picking segment of Jim Cramer’s CNBC show Mad Money. In recent years, however, the lightning round has become a feature of academic conferences and symposia, especially those that involve the digital humanities. Speakers deliver quick presentations of about three minutes each to highlight the core essence of a new project, scholarly method, digital tool, or teaching resource. These rapid fire talks, like the one that I gave with Project Director Loren Moulds on the Scottish Court of Sessions Records Digital Archive at the recent DH@UVA Conference, seek to promote one’s work in ways that stimulate future conversations or potential collaborations.

The traditional academic conference mind meld usually involves a series of panels composed of three or four presenters delivering twenty-minute presentations to their peers on their latest work. They underscore Karin Wulf’s important point that conferences continue to serve as “a vital and distinctive forum for scholarly exchange.” This format is a useful way to articulate an evolving argument or new methodological intervention in some detail, creating the opportunity for the presenter to receive helpful comments or critiques of their scholarship from the audience while contributing to our body of knowledge.

It can also be difficult at times to understand the payoff of any given paper. I have seen—and given—presentations that lack focus or struggle to convey a project’s major points and an answer to the “so what?” question at the heart of any academic research initiative. We’ve all been there. We’ve all listened to and delivered them. These presentations are like Dementors for which we have no effective Patronus Charm.

Incorporating Lightning Rounds into the conference format will never ward off all of the demons, but it does offer practical and pedagogical ways to reinvigorate an intellectual gathering. This is not to say that we should abandon traditional panels altogether. It is simply to suggest that seasoning our conferences with Lightning Rounds can add some much needed flavor.

Unlike the code duello that governed Alexander Hamilton’s fateful encounter with Aaron Burr there are only a few things you need to know about a Lightning Round’s general rules:

1. Speakers typically have three minutes to talk.

2. Visual components to the presentation are limited to three slides.

3. The official Time Keeper enforces the three-minute limit with vigorous enthusiasm. Speakers are afforded a 15-second warning before their time ends. Violators are subject to public scorn. (Not really, but it is considered uncouth to go beyond your allocated time).

4. All presentation slides are packaged into one PowerPoint for ease of transition between speakers.

5. Brief live-demos of projects are fair game as well so long as the speaker stays within the three minutes.

Loren and I used the DH@UVA Conference to talk about our Scottish Court of Session Project and begin to build relationships with people who might want to use this splendid collection or help us think through the challenges of building a digital archive.

Slide 1: Scottish Court of Session Records website home page
Slide 1: Scottish Court of Session Records website home page on the UVA Law Library Special Collections website.

In a nutshell, the Law Library began to develop this project nearly two years ago under the direction of Loren and former postdoctoral fellow Randi Flaherty, now a fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. We are constructing a Drupal-based digital archive out of 64 linear feet of legal records produced by the Scottish Court of Session. The court is Scotland’s civil court of first instance and appeal. The Law Library Special Collections and Archives holds about 2,500 cases that date between 1759 and 1834. As Randi noted in the project’s early days, and what has only become clearer as we continue the work, these documents reveal hidden histories of trade, migration, and life in the British Empire in the years surrounding the American Revolution.

Repositories in Edinburgh and Aberdeen hold the largest Session collections. These holdings date back to the sixteenth century and they are indexed principally by case name. The index provides an excellent entry point into the material. It also reflects the choices that all archives face concerning how much time and energy should be allocated to heavily describing particular collections as opposed to others. The National Records in Scotland and its associated archives are charged with preserving the rich history of an ancient nation. Making records accessible for scholarly and pubic use is a daunting task that shapes decisions about the level of detail that should be provided. The team behind the Georgian Papers Project, an initiative to digitize and describe the papers of George III and his family, is wrestling with these questions at this very moment. So are we at the Law Library as we dive into our Session records in earnest. The relatively smaller size of our Sessions collection affords us the flexibility to experiment with our description process and build into this digital archive ways to collaborate with our fellow institutions in the future.

While these cases contain petitions, court briefs, and appendixes, they reveal more than contested points of law. They pull back the curtain on the everyday lives of people living in Scotland or circulating in the British Atlantic in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They contain correspondence, census lists, voter rolls, corporate charters, shipping records, marriage contracts, and a wealth of other data, along with maps, architectural renderings, and patent designs created as part of the litigation process.

Slide 2 - Information for Elizabeth and Barbara Cunninghames (1775) and "Ground Plan and Elevation of the Distillery" (1828)
Slide 2: Information for Elizabeth and Barbara Cunninghames (1775) and “Ground Plan and Elevation of the Distillery” (1828)

This archive within an archive reveals how people used their property, how they ran their businesses, how old friends became enemies, how woman used the law to defend their interests, and how individuals established personal and economic connections that spanned an ocean and an empire. And almost all of our documents, like the collections in Scotland, feature marginalia created by their former owners that are unique to each collection.

We have developed a rich description process to extract metadata from these complex materials.

Students and staff tease out valuable information such as the people named in the documents, where they lived, their roles in cases, their relationships to each other, and to what organizations they belonged, among other data points. We are also looking at ways to augment the collection through additional research on people and organizations, and to signal to scholars the variety of sources one might encounter in these materials.

Metadata creation is currently underway in anticipation of beginning large-scale digitization in 2017. Our hope is that this project generates new questions about the British Atlantic World as it underwent a period of remarkable change. Students will handle the bulk of the actual digitization of the material. We will create master preservation TIF files for each of the documents and send them to Academic Preservation Trust, perform optical character recognition on corresponding PDF files using ABBYY, make the text searchable via Apache Solr, and generate JPG files for insertion into our Drupal database. Once finished, researchers will have the ability to download searchable PDF versions of the documents.

Slide 3 - Workflow and Technology
Slide 3: Workflow and Technology

In a practical sense, Lightning Rounds like those at DH@UVA can break up the more monotonous aspects of conference going by exposing attendees to a significant number of new ideas or projects in a very short time span. Earlier this year at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, fourteen individuals gave DH presentations over the course of an hour. Then the panel’s organizer, Stephanie Kingsley, very kindly invited audience members with DH projects to show off their work as well. At the DH@UVA Conference, twenty-four individuals or teams gave these talks over the course of about an hour on a Friday afternoon. It was a terrific way to learn about work underway across the university, discover new potential collaborators, or think about curricular development with visitors such as Paige Normand from James Madison University.

Pedagogically, developing and giving a Lightning Round talk can help students (or senior scholars) to distill a project or argument down to its essential elements. Mentors constantly remind their graduate students to have a brief elevator speech at the ready for that moment when they encounter their intellectual heroes in a conference’s book display room or when they land an on-campus interview featuring a dozen or more individual thirty-minute meetings. Participating in a Lightning Round is a good way for graduate students to hone their pitch and gain confidence in delivering it.

The same lessons are applicable to undergraduates. In two research seminars on the American Revolution I had my students give longish prospective topic presentations to their classmates. My goal was to have them practice their public speaking skills and foster a discussion among them about their respective research interests. It did not always work out well. They often struggled to fill the allotted time, could not provide a clear sense of why their topic excited them, or why in their view it was important. In retrospect, I did not provide a reasonable structure for this assignment. In the next version of my course, I will structure these presentations as lightning talks to encourage students to think more concretely about their topic’s big picture. Hopefully, this will create a framework for class discussion that produces more questions than answers.

The Lightning Round at DH@UVA enabled us to share the Court of Session digital archive project with our colleagues in the university community in a concise way. It forced us think about what we considered to be its most important aspects and how to communicate those ideas effectively. Crucially, it exposed us to new ideas that our colleagues are employing in their own work and led to interdisciplinary conversations afterwards that are beginning to shape our thinking as we plot out the project’s next phases. These Lightning Rounds create the possibility for meaningful, perhaps even electrifying, intellectual engagement.


Published by

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.

Remembering Jeb

With deep sadness, the Law Library joins Special Collections assistant Teresa Ritzert in mourning the loss of her service dog, Bubba JEB (“Just Everyone’s Bubba”), who succumbed to canine cancer on Monday.

While at the Law Library, Jeb acquired another job as well. Once he got Teresa safely settled in her office, he would act as the Library’s social chair.  Stationing himself at his regular spot in the hallway outside Teresa’s door, Jeb would watch intently for any sign of a friend – whether that friendship was established or just about to be – who would stop by to give a treat or a rub. Jeb took his duties as social chair very seriously, setting up a daily schedule of rounds for himself on the first and second floors, stopping for brief visits wherever each of his BFFs (that is to say, everyone) was regularly found.When Teresa came to work for the Special Collections department of the Law Library in July 2015, Jeb came to work here, too. Jeb’s primary job was to escort Teresa, who is deaf, to and from work. Last fall, MoreUs featured a two-part article on Jeb and his life as a service dog.

Last fall, we learned with great sorrow that Jeb had cancer. Through chemotherapy, remission and the eventual resurgence of his illness, Jeb came to work nearly every day, never shirking his duties of service, nor on his social obligations. Even when depleted of energy by his illness, he would rally at the sight of a student or staff member “bubba,” bounding down the hall to greet them with exuberance and joy. Students and staff were very supportive of Jeb and Teresa throughout Jeb’s illness. Some brought in a regular supply of venison for his special diet. Others visited frequently and took him outside for walks. Teresa attributes much of Jeb’s unexpectedly long life and well-being to the outpouring of love and support that he received from the Law School community.

The Law Library has set up a memorial display for Jeb at the bottom of the main stairway. A large writing pad has been placed there for those who wish to share their thoughts and memories of Jeb with Teresa.

Many songs require ears to be heard, but those like Jeb’s require only the heart. Though Jeb is gone, his song goes on, and we are all the richer for it.  


Published by

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.

Welcome, Rebecca Hawes!

AJM is delighted to welcome Rebecca Hawes as our new Faculty Services Coordinator. Rebecca manages faculty delivery requests and the Student Delivery Service (SDS). She also supports faculty research, data services, and social media outreach, and she staffs the circulation desk.

Faculty Services Coordinator Rebecca Hawes
Faculty Services Coordinator Rebecca Hawes

Rebecca graduated from the University in 2014 with B.A.s in American Studies and Religious Studies. Most recently she was a college adviser at Nelson County High School, where she worked to improve college access for first-generation, underrepresented, and low-income students. She is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University through its distance learning program. Rebecca is a fan of dogs, dance and travel. Her favorite destinations to date have been London, Paris, and Salzburg.  


Published by

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.

New Charging Station in MyLab

You’re in the middle of watching a really funny cat video when your phone informs you that its battery is at 3% and you’d better plug in soon if you want to see how it all ends. You reach into your backpack for your life-line — the charger! — only to remember all too clearly that you left it in the outlet in your bedroom.

Once this would have been a problem, but no more. MyLab now offers you the opportunity to recharge yourself and your device at the same time! Just plug in, relax for a bit, and you’ll soon be happily viewing again. The plugs provide full-speed charging for both Apple and Android phones and tablets. 


Published by

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.

Fall Introduction to Mindfulness for Law Students Workshop

Sign Up Now!

Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. The UVA Mindfulness Center’s introduction to mindfulness enhances your law school learning by giving you tools to focus, retain information, communicate effectively, and handle stress.

What is it? Eight, 75-minute weekly sessions of hands-on, expert-guided practice in mindfulness techniques like meditation, mindful eating, mindful listening, and mindful movement, led by the UVA Mindfulness Center. 

When does it meet? Tuesdays, 3:45-5pm, September 13 to November 8 (no meeting during Fall Break). There will be a half-day Saturday retreat.

Where is it? At the Law School.

Who can sign up? The workshop is open to all law students, and free of charge (sponsored by the Law Library). Enrollment is limited. To sign up email Kristin in the Library (klg3n@virginia.edu).   


Published by

Kristin Glover

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

“Places of the Piedmont” Art Reception Thursday, September 1

This week the Law Library opens a new art show, Places of the Piedmont, an exhibit of watercolors by Werner K. Sensbach (1923–2015). A public reception will be held Thursday, September 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Law Library.

About the Artist

Werner K. Sensbach was born in Mannheim, Germany in 1923. He worked throughout his life in various fields of artistic endeavor. With professional degrees from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was an architect for firms in Germany, Switzerland, and New York. He served as city planner in Columbia, South Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, and as the University of Virginia Campus Architect during its intensive growth period from 1965 until 1991. Werner Sensbach was also Professor of Urban Planning in the School of Architecture. Upon his retirement in 1991, the University planted an American oak tree between the East Range and Brooks Hall in his honor. Retirement allowed him to discover the Virginia landscape through the eyes of an artist. In watercolor field sketches and al fresco oil paintings, he portrayed the landscape of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains as well as the architecture of the Grounds of the University of Virginia. 

Artist’s Statement

Werner Sensbach’s work flows naturally from his interest in the landscape and man-made environment of the Piedmont Region. The Grounds of the University of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville are the subject of many of his architectural paintings. In the mid-1940s, Werner Sensbach received his initial artistic instruction from painters of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Realism) movement of the Twenties: Erich Heckel (1883 – 1970) and Karl Hubbuch (1891 – 1979) of Karlsruhe, Germany. Their style of slashing line drawings proved useful in his later career in architecture, urban design, and campus planning. After retiring from his position as University of Virginia architect and planner in 1991, Werner studied at the University of Virginia Department of Art with Richard Crozier, Phil Geiger, Dean Dass, William Bennett, Lincoln Perry & Elizabeth Schoyer.



Published by

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.

DH Fellow: Changing of the Guard

Today is the last day for the Law Library’s Postdoctoral Fellow for the Digital Humanities and colleague-extraordinaire, Randi Flaherty. Randi’s contribution to advancing the work of Special Collections is difficult to calculate. It was Randi who inspired many of the updated interfaces and designs of our websites generally and, importantly, re-investigated the Scottish Court of Sessions papers, persuasively arguing for their digitization. She has provided a model for our outreach efforts by identifying compelling documents and objects from our collections and writing deeply-researched and compelling blog posts [link, link] and essays. She tirelessly engaged with our entire library staff and eloquently contributed to advancing the mission of the library and its archives while laying out a compelling vision for our future. I personally have come to implicitly trust her judgement and have repeatedly relied on her to help tackle problems and envision new possibilities. Without a doubt, she has laid out an exciting path for us and we will sorely miss her contributions and wonderful personality. Her next adventure as a fellow at the International Center for Jefferson Studies offers her an unparalleled opportunity to complete her book project based of the research she did in her dissertation. Much the same as she was here, she will most certainly be an astounding colleague there. We wish her the best of luck.

Amidst our sadness at Randi’s departure, we are very excited to welcome our next Fellow, James “Jim” Ambuske. Jim defended his dissertation this summer on Scottish soldiers and immigration to the American Colonies and Early Republic. Jim has also worked extensively with institutions around Virginia and the British Commonwealth to design digital research tools for accessing and analyzing archival collections. Jim will be taking over the Scottish Papers digitization project as well as helping continue our outreach efforts.



Published by

Best wishes to Bryan Kasik!

Bryan Kasik and AJM
Among the many things AJM will miss about Bryan is his affinity for all things zombie.

The law library sadly bids adieu to Bryan Kasik today as he heads over to Alderman Library on Main Grounds to begin work as a Reference Librarian. Bryan has spent the past nine years with us as a our Faculty Services Coordinator. For all of the law faculty and students who have appreciated how quickly we have been able to pick up and deliver books and other items from any of the other libraries at UVa–Bryan has been the backbone to that service. Every day for the past nine years, he has happily stalked the Grounds at UVa for us with his book bag, flying up and down the stairs, in and out of the stacks, retrieving books and microfilm and journals, and then delivering them all promptly to you. Bryan made his library runs in the heat of summer, in the snow, in the rain, all with unflagging energy and enthusiasm.

Tim Breeden with Bryan Kasik
Tim Breeden (left) points the way to Alderman Library for Bryan at his farewell gathering today.

The law library prides itself on its service to faculty, staff and students and Bryan has made us look good every day. He has also been one of our friendly faces at our circulation and reference desks, getting to know many of the students who have passed through law school along with all of the faculty. We will miss him. We’ll miss his energy, his creativity, his enthusiasm, and his ability to somehow walk down stairs while reading a book. Fortunately for the University community–he is not going far. Look him up in the Alderman Library Reference Department: he will be happy to help you find what you need.


Published by

Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

Scottish Session Papers and the Bar Exam

In the summer, the Law Library provides a quiet study space for recent graduates who are preparing to take the bar exam. Studying for the bar can be a stressful, all consuming experience, and one possible side effect is the tendency to see bar exam fact patterns everywhere. For those suffering from this condition, it becomes nearly impossible to unwind by watching a procedural drama (crim pro!), a soap opera (family law!), or even an infomercial (products liability!).

In the spirit of solidarity, we’ve been considering how the Law Library’s Scottish Court of Session Papers may resonate with the subjects tested on the bar exam. The library’s collection of Session Papers features case materials presented in Scotland’s highest civil court from 1759 to 1834. Despite their origins in a foreign legal system, the documents raise many issues familiar to modern bar-takers. They also feature memorable and significant historical facts.

The case of Birnie and Co. v. Weir, 3 Shaw’s Dig. 1732 [1800], aff’d [1800] 4 Pat. App. 144 (Scot.), presents a colorful example. Samuel Birnie developed a new, “British” form of a bleaching agent called potash. His company claimed in printed materials that this British potash had been “found to answer every purpose in bleaching, &c. equal to the best American pot.” Helen Weir, a bleacher, ordered several casks of the potash for her business but later refused to pay her bill; Birnie brought suit to collect on the account.

Why didn’t Helen Weir pay? According to her lawyers, the British potash contained “a radical latent defect.” Materials bleached with the potash initially looked white, but they turned a reddish or bluish color after being exposed to the air. Because the problem wasn’t immediately apparent, Weir had shipped defective products to her customers—including some whose white thread turned red after being sewn into the seam! Weir argued that the potash was unfit for the purpose of bleaching, and that Birnie should be held responsible for his warranty comparing British potash to American potash. In addition to withholding payment, she raised a claim for damages based on harm to her business and her reputation.

In response, Birnie pointed out that Weir had ordered the potash in three different shipments, all of which were consumed, and that she hadn’t complained until Birnie demanded payment. In Birnie’s view, these facts were decisive. Further, he maintained that British potash was suitable for use in certain stages of the bleaching process (just like American potash); the problem was Weir’s unskillful use of the product. Birnie also explained that the statement comparing British potash to American potash hadn’t been used to advertise the product or to establish its character. Instead, it was contained in “directions” given to customers after they purchased the potash.

Petition of William Alexander and sons (1772)
Petition of William Alexander and sons (1772)

It’s striking how the case materials in Birnie address some of the same questions posed by modern bar examiners: What constitutes a warranty? What happens if there’s a non obvious problem with the seller’s product? How should damages be calculated? The vivid facts and fascinating characters in Birnie bring these issues to life.

Another case in our collection, Colville v. Lauder, [1800] Mor. 1 (Scot.), resembles a multi subject exam fact pattern combining estate law and conflict of law issues. Again, though, the facts matter. Colville is a darker story than Birnie, recounting an ill-fated personal history set against the backdrop of British colonialism.

Shortly after marrying Jean Colville, David Lauder left Scotland under indenture to work on the island of St. Vincent. While living there, he wrote home to describe his experiences with sickness and violence (probably the Second Carib War). David was released from his indenture as a result of the war.

Hoping that a cooler climate would ease his health problems, he reserved enough money for passage to New York and sent his remaining savings to his father, William. David asked William to secure the money in case he returned to Scotland, and wrote that if he was not heard from again, “the money is either at [father’s] or my dear mother’s disposal.” During the next year, David traveled to New York and then Canada, where he was drowned while bathing in the Saint Lawrence River. James Watson, another Scotsman living abroad, wrote that he had “dived for [David] for two hours, and at last brought him up from twenty-four feet [of] water” to bury him. According to Watson, David’s effects included letters stating that he was going home the next year.

David’s death led to the multi-part legal quandary we mentioned earlier. William Lauder kept the money that David had sent him, claiming that his son’s letter was a valid will, and David’s widow Jean Colville sued to recover a share of the funds. Colville’s lawyer argued that it didn’t matter whether the letter was a will, because a choice of law question could resolve the case: Was the claim governed by the law of Scotland or the law of England (which regulated British territories)? Under Scots law, David’s widow was entitled to half of his moveable estate, notwithstanding any will. Under English law, a will could cut off her inheritance completely. Unsurprisingly, Colville argued that Scots law controlled.

Colville's Answer
Answers of Jean Colville.

The Scottish Court of Session Papers show that for hundreds of years, life has been full of messy, surprising, tragic disputes that need to be resolved using legal principles. And like the practice of law, our documents occupy a space where human stories meet the overarching principles used to organize society. The collection provides a rich historical record, insight on past approaches to the law—and evidence that, for better or worse, questions like the ones posed on the bar exam have mattered to everyday people for hundreds of years.  (Bar-takers, please take note: Despite the similarity of the issues raised, the Court of Session may not have reached the result you’d expect based on modern state law.)

Good luck to those preparing for the exam!


Published by

Kate Boudouris

Kate practiced energy and environmental law before joining the Law Library. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Yale Law School. Kate works at the reference desk and in Special Collections.

New Sunday Hours for Bar Exam Study Period

Now through July 22, the Law Library will be open on Fridays until 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Best of luck to all of our recent grads now studying for bar exams!

– AJM 


Published by

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.