Rare Books Illustration - shelf of older bound books from the Chicago-Kent archives with a mix of gilt ornament on and colored leather bindings.

Grantee Report: Law Books: History &; Connoisseurship Rare Books School

This summer, thanks to a CALL grant, I was able to take Law Books: History & Connoisseurship, a course held through the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

The course, which was held remotely, took place from August 1-6 and was team taught by Mike Widener, recently retired from the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, and Ryan Greenwood, of the University of Minnesota Law Library.

The curriculum covered the canon of historical law books, as well as the history of the trade in Europe, America, and Latin America. The course was framed with a view to collection development: assignments required me to think strategically about how I would like to curate a collection, and a rare bookseller was invited as a guest speaker to offer insight into the current market.

Personal Interest

I had long had my eye on this class; in fact, I think it had been in the back of my mind since I started in my position as Special Collections, Digitization, and Archival Services Librarian at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law five years ago.

However, it is only offered every other year, and other professional development opportunities had previously prevented me from taking it. Therefore, I was thrilled when it finally came together this past summer.

In particular, I was excited to learn about the canon of historical law books. My background is in special collections and early modern history; working in a law school library, I have been trying to learn about legal history and its touchstone books, but nothing has been as helpful as this course.

Course Content

Mike and Ryan went over genres, titles, and authors that have shaped the law over time. This knowledge has already proved valuable as I work with our collection, and as I know it will continue to be so as I pursue future initiatives.

Law Books: History & Connoisseurship provided an excellent introduction into the history of legal print, but aside from its content, the expertise of the instructors also provided inspiration for highlighting and promoting rare legal collections.

Since I was able to take this course, I feel more confident managing my collection as well as in finding new and creative ways to engage others with these gems.