When looking at a row of law books today, whether in a law library, a courthouse, or a student’s bookshelf, one might be struck by their apparent uniformity – row upon row of nearly identical volumes. This, however, was not always so. Throughout history, legal literature has taken an astounding variety of forms. Law books were more than just repositories of information, like any other tools of a trade, their use influenced their design.
This exhibit highlights the intimate connection between legal literature and legal education. It focuses on the way that the usage of one group in particular – students – helped shape both the content and the form of legal literature over the course of nearly 15 centuries of legal study.
The first case highlights three of the most important textbooks of in the history of legal education, Justinian’s Institutes, Littleton’s Tenures, and Blackstone’s Commentaries, and the various forms in which these essential texts were presented.
The second case looks at books as tools for the student – books whose form was very much a part of their function. While there were many such categories, we have selected four of particular use to law students: visual aids, notebooks, student guides, and legal dictionaries.
–Ryan R. Martins, Rare Book Fellow
“Learning the Law: The Book in Early Legal Education” is on display October 1 to December 14, 2018, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, located on Level L2 of the Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven CT). The exhibition is open to the general public 10am-6pm daily, and open to Yale affiliates until 10pm