Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: Introduction

The post-Soviet era of Russian history has made the legacy of the pre-1917 era newly relevant in ways unimaginable. It is not merely a country recovering historical experience suppressed or distorted for ideological reasons during the Soviet regime, but a country seeking to modernize partly on the basis of its earlier legal legacy. A transition to the legal foundations of a market economy is happening before our eyes in Russia, partly an adaptation of foreign legal experience and institutions, partly the preservation and re-adaptation of those elements of Russian legal experience that are essential in the twenty-first century, partly the pioneering of new legal approaches to achieve a transition that is without precedent in human experience.

This exhibition contains principal landmarks of the pre-1917 era, drawing upon the riches of Yale University and augmented by a loans from the Harvard Law School Library and a private collection. So far as we can determine, this is the first occasion in the United States that an exhibition has been mounted on this topic. Wonderful exhibitions devoted to Russian relations with the west or to elements of Russian history generally have omitted law and the legal system.

The notes which follow situate each book in the fabric of Russian legal history. As a general observation, it may be observed that the systematization of legislation is among the larger contributions that Russian law has made to civilization. The story of that contribution is well told by the materials here.

In accordance with normal Russian practice, the relevant titles and other data are provided in Library of Congress transliteration, short form.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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