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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rare Book School: "Law Books: History & Connoisseurship"

Recently I had the great opportunity to assist Mike Widener with his terrific Rare Book School course, "Law Books: History & Connoisseurship," taught in New Haven, Connecticut, from June 11-15. Rooted in Mike's incredible knowledge of rare law books and drawing from the Rare Book Collection at Yale Law Library, the course familiarizes participants with the wide variety of historical legal books that have been produced in Europe and the Americas, and offers excellent insight into how and why these important books should be collected. 

As Mike's course description says directly: "[t]his course aims to teach collectors and librarians how to build focused, interesting, and useful collections of historical materials in Anglo-American, European, and Latin American law. It is aimed at individuals and librarians who collect historical legal materials, and the book dealers who supply them." 

On all of these points, the course offers rich material. During our week together with the class, Mike and I reviewed a spectrum of historical legal materials that may be collected. Mike then invited participants to examine and describe a historical law book in detail, as they might find it described for sale in a rare bookseller's catalog. The aim was to encourage a closer engagement not only with various physical parts of historical books, but with the condition in which books are often found on the market, along with price ranges and special or unique features that may heighten an item's historical interest and its connection to other works within an existing collection. Participants were later asked to draw up a collection development plan for their own collection. Here Mike elaborated on an important virtue: interesting and focused collections (of which there are many kinds) should be preferred over simply valuable ones. Bearing that directive in mind, the participants came up with excellent ideas for their real (and prospective) collections, which were discussed and critiqued together.


Beyond the class's formal structure, Mike imparted much valuable advice on how to use rare law collections and take care of them, with an eye to the kinds of student and faculty interactions with rare materials that can enhance any learning experience, deepen an appreciation for physical and artifactual book history, and expand the scope of historical study. In addition, the course was packed with opportunities to engage directly with rare law books and with the experience of collecting. These included two live and extended book tours of selected books, pamphlets, broadsides and other rare legal material, and two trips to local rare book dealers' shops (both of which have extensive law-related stock). A bonus in the middle of the week was watching and commenting on a live rare book auction, a real thrill even for us causal observers.

Before assisting with the course this year, I had participated in Mike's course as a class member, and the participants this year seemed to enjoy it as much as I did several years ago (Professor Mitra Sharafi at Wisconsin has posted a very nice review of the course already on the Legal History Blog, with discussion of some of the ways the course can impact teaching). The course is a wonderful testament to Mike's knowledge about and passion for rare law books, and I was also grateful to be a part of it. In adding my own perspective as a rare law book and special collections curator at Minnesota, I was able to offer some insight not only into our own collection, but some of the various approaches we have taken to collecting, maintaining and presenting our books.  

In all - though I am certainly biased - the week-long course represents a unique and wonderful experience for anyone interested in working further with rare law books, and certainly earns its billing as an intense and immersive experience. More importantly, it fills its participants (and the instructors!) with inspiring ideas that are built for practical application in law-related special collections. 

For all those who may be interested in this field - or whose curiosity might have been piqued in reading this - Mike's course will be offered again in two years through Virginia's Rare Book School. As usual, it is taught in the summer and requires prior application. Please keep your eyes out for it, and keep in mind that there are scholarship and fellowship opportunities available, with earlier deadlines, that can help participants with costs.

 - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Celebrated Marquis: Cesare Beccaria at the Riesenfeld Center

Professor John Bessler, a visiting researcher at the Human Rights Center, recently gave a great book talk at the Law School on his new monograph, The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World (2018). During the talk, Bessler discussed the subject of his new intellectual biography, Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), and his Essay on Crimes and Punishments, a pioneering Enlightenment text that rejected judicial torture, the death penalty, and religious intolerance. First published in 1764, Beccaria's book sent shockwaves through Europe, pushing governments towards penal law reform and paving the way to modern criminology. An important point of the talk, and Bessler's book, was to highlight the myriad connections between Beccaria and the French philosophes who first championed his work, and jurists and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, the book was received enthusiastically in the American colonies, where it was read by the likes of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and absorbed by other leading colonial figures.


Some wonderful evidence of this influence can be found in the Riesenfeld Center's collections, which include early copies of Beccaria's key work. In all, the collections hold seven interesting editions published before 1800. One of these, our earliest edition, was published in French in 1766, just two years after the original publication in Italian. The title page of the work omits the name of the author and publisher, but gives the place of publication as 'a Philadelphie.' In fact, the work is a false imprint, in this case a work that disguised its real place of publication due to a climate of censorship. The early editions of Beccaria's work in Italy and France all conceal its author and other publication information, in an effort to avoid penalties under conservative monarchs and the Catholic Church, which made legal reform dangerous and (somewhat ironically) often criminal. Our French copy was presumably published in Paris, and it features a beautiful, mottled calf binding with decorated gilt compartments to the spine. In addition, attractive, marbled Turkish endpapers help to locate the publication in France, far from the more humble beginnings of printing in the American colonies.         

On the other hand, our first true American printing of Beccaria's Essay on Crimes and Punishments is one of a kind, produced in Philadelphia by the notable (and rather notorious) Scottish-born printer Robert Bell. This edition was produced in 1778 in Bell's shop in Third Street near St. Paul's Church, a short walk from Independence Hall, where the Continental Congress sat in session in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Bell had already printed works related to law, including the first American edition of Blackstone's Commentary on the Laws of England (1771-1772), and had printed the first edition of Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776), which provided a spark for the rebellious patriots and is still the best-selling pamphlet in American history. In 1778, Beccaria's ideas on penal law reform were available in English from earlier European editions, but Bell must have believed that the time was ripe for an edition printed steps away from the colonies' most influential lawyers and lawmakers.


Among these were two brothers, Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797), both signers of the Declaration of Independence and members of a prominent Virginia family. They were active in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and Richard Henry Lee became a particular firebrand of revolution: at the Second Continental Congress, he introduced the motion for a declaration of independence. It is known that both brothers read widely, and our copy of Bell's 1778 edition of Beccaria's Essay appears to come from this notable family. The title page of our copy shows the name 'Frans. L Lee,' which likely refers either to Francis Lightfoot Lee, the signer of the Declaration, or a son of Richard Henry Lee, also named Francis Lightfoot Lee. That the work may have been owned by the latter is suggested by another name on the title page: 'James Kingsley,' who appears to have been a tutor employed by the family. Both Richard Henry Lee and another brother, Arthur Lee, quoted from Beccaria's work and were associated with figures like Jefferson, who introduced legislation in Virginia, based on Beccaria's views, to restrict the death penalty and reduce the severity of criminal punishments. Although his influence in the new republic eventually waned, Beccaria and his book had important purchase in its early days, where his ideas were taken up by reformers from Louisiana to Pennsylvania.

 - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections     

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thurs. April 26: Book Talk by John Bessler


The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World

When:  April 26, 2018 - 5:00-7:00 p.m., Room 50
A reception will follow in the Law School’s Lindquist and Vennum Conference Room.


John Bessler will give a book talk on his new book, The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World (2018), a fascinating account of Cesare Beccaria and his landmark book that castigated judicial torture, the death penalty, and religious intolerance. Beccaria's Dei delitti e delle pene (1764) was translated quickly into French and English (as An Essay on Crimes and Punishments) and despite its controversial and prohibited ideas became a runaway bestseller. Beccaria and his book provided the spur to 18th-century penal law reform and modern criminology, and deeply influenced the likes of Jeremy Bentham, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. 

A leading scholar on Beccaria, Bessler will discuss the importance of Beccaria's views in a trans-Atlantic context in which ideas flowed freely through France and Italy, England and America, and back again. Beccaria's ringing calls against torture and the death penalty, and his utilitarian views on punishment, resonated throughout Europe and proceeded to shape constitutions and laws around the globe. 

In addition, the talk will highlight several copies of Beccaria's key work in the Law Library and Riesenfeld Center's collections, as well as works that influenced and were influenced by the Essay on Crimes and Punishments.

John Bessler is a Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a Visiting Researcher at the Law School's Human Rights Center.  




Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wednesday, April 18: Clarence Darrow's Birthday!

Come out this Wednesday, April 18, for Clarence Darrow's birthday in the Law Library lobby!

Grab cupcakes, cookies, cake, and coffee in celebration of Darrow, the great American trial lawyer, whose letters the Library holds in the Riesenfeld Center. Don't forget to take a quiz for prizes, and a selfie with a life-sized Clarence (for good luck)!


When: Wednesday, April 18th, 11 p.m - 1 p.m.

Where: Law Library Lobby
What: Cupcakes, cookies, cake and coffee!



Monday, April 2, 2018

Wednesday, April 4: Rare Books Open House!

All are invited to the Riesenfeld Rare Books Center's April rare books open house, this Wednesday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.! 

Come out and enjoy free cookies, snacks and drinks, and see treasures from the library's rare books collection - including items related to Minnesota, to Native American tribes and other highlights.


When: Wednesday, April 4th, 12 p.m - 3 p.m.

Where: Riesenfeld Rare Books Center*
What: Rare books, drinks, cookies and snacks!

*The Riesenfeld Center is in room N30 on the Sub-Plaza, at the end of the hall past Sullivan Cafe.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Wednesday, March 21: Rare Books Open House!

All are invited to the Riesenfeld Rare Books Center's March rare books open house, rescheduled for this Wednesday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.! 

Come out and enjoy free cookies, snacks and drinks, and see treasures from the library's rare books collection - including items for Women's History Month and Irish law in honor of St. Patrick's Day.


When: Wednesday, March 21st, 12 p.m - 3 p.m.

Where: Riesenfeld Rare Books Center*
What: Rare books, drinks, cookies and snacks!

*The Riesenfeld Center is in room N30 on the Sub-Plaza, at the end of the hall past Sullivan Cafe.




Thursday, March 15, 2018

Alumni Weekend Open House, April 20


The Law Library's 2018 spring exhibit marks the 40th anniversary of Mondale Hall. Currently open in the Riesenfeld Rare Books Center, the exhibit showcases building designs, public campaign materials, letters and photos - as well as a scale architectural model and other memorabilia related to the construction and dedication of Mondale Hall - that have been drawn from the Law Library's archives and special collections.  

Before and during the Alumni Weekend Law School Community Reception, on Friday, April 20, from 4:30 - 5:30, stop by for the open house and tours of the exhibit. Curator of rare books and special collections, Ryan Greenwood, will guide visitors on tours of Mondale Hall history and the development of building plans that culminated in 1978 and again in 2001.

What: Alumni Weekend Exhibit Open House and Tours
When: April 20, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. 
Where: Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center (N30 on the Subplaza past Sullivan Cafe; signs will lead you to the Riesenfeld Center from the main reception area)