I attended the Rare Book School course, Law Books: History and Connoisseurship, at Yale Law School, June 5-10. The course was taught by Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School and Professor Douglas Lind, a legal historian and director of the Southern Illinois University Law Library. The class had twelve students, from a wide variety of backgrounds—law library directors, special collections librarians, court librarians, foreign law librarians, a law professor, and a private collector.
The course was intensive, with five full days of classes. Classes covered the law book as a physical object, English law books & manuscripts, American law books & manuscripts, Roman-Canon Law books & manuscripts, early modern European and Latin American books & manuscripts, the antiquarian book market for legal materials, strategies and techniques of forming a collection, institutional & private law collections of legal materials, preservation, and techniques of research in legal history. Each section had assigned readings and was supported by detailed bibliographies of reference sources. We got to see and touch many rare books from Yale’s collection, which demonstrated the varied formats of early printed books and the variety of illustrations that complemented the books’ contents. I took away an appreciation of the value of rare books, how the past speaks to the present through even ordinary books like law reports, and how working with actual rare books is a very different, and richer, experience than working with a digitized version of the book on a computer screen.
We also met three rare law book dealers. While visiting one dealer’s shop, the teachers and the dealer visited had specific and helpful suggestions for building my library’s rare book collection to support modern areas of research and for building a historical record of 20th century legal controversies.
I am grateful to CALL for paying my lodging expenses and enabling me to attend this course.