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, 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.
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.