Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843: The Textbook-Lecture Method

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century law books became widely available at affordable prices, thanks to the growth of the American publishing industry and improved communications. Instruction shifted gradually to the textbook-lecture method. In this system, still used today, students are assigned a schedule of readings, asked to summarize their readings in class, and answer questions about them. From its founding, this was the method used at the New Haven Law School. It remained the dominant form of instruction in American law schools until the late nineteenth century, when it was gradually supplanted by the case method, which was introduced by Harvard Law School in the 1870s.

William Cruise, A Digest of the Laws of England Respecting Real Property (4th American ed.; New York: Collins and Hannay, 1834), vol. 2. Ownership signature of Samuel J. Hitchcock. Founders Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

The library that Hitchcock assembled was used by students in the New Haven (later Yale) Law School. The titles owned in multiple copies, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries and Cruise’s Digest of Real Property, were those issued to students. The remnants of this library make up the Founders Collection. This volume of Cruise’s Digest, from the Founders Collection, indicates the dates of recitations under Hitchcock’s supervision.

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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