Tenth Anniversary of the Rare Books Blog

Students viewing early American legal manuscripts
April 6, 2018

The Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog marks its tenth anniversary this week. The first post was on a presentation to Professor James Whitman’s “Western Legal Traditions” class.

Exactly ten years later, the Rare Book Collection took part in another class session. This time it was the seminar on “Research Methods in American Legal History” taught by my colleague John Nann. After talking with the class about biographical and archival research, they visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room to see a sampling of our manuscript resources for American legal history, such as Aholiab Johnson’s account book for his law practice (see below). They were only the latest of several classes to make use of the collections this year.

I have always been eager to promote instructional use of our special collections. Lately, the increase in classroom use has influenced my efforts and perspectives on collection-building. For one thing, it puts duplicates in a whole new light. The texts of classic works of the common law, such as Bracton or Glanville or Fitzherbert’s Graunde Abridgment, no longer have the research value they once had since their text is readily available online. However, the original printed books remain highly valuable as teaching tools. Having duplicate copies of these works reduces wear and tear on individual copies.

The original printed books and manuscripts also make a visceral impact on students that a PowerPoint slide will never have. They are the tools of the students’ professional ancestors, and virtually our only tangible connections with them. We should conceive of rare book and manuscript purchases as investments in instructional technology, every bit as effective as “smart classrooms,” if not more so.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Pages from Aholiab Johnson's law practice ledger, 1840

Account book of Aholiab Johnson (1825-1840).

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