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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Our Colonial Indian Law Collection

[Zillah Decisions, Lower Provinces (Bengal)]
The Riesenfeld Center holds a rich and unique collection of colonial Indian law, published under the rule of British India between the 18th and 20th centuries. It is one of the very strongest in North America, comprising statutes, law reports, digests, treatises, journals and other important works. Taken together, the collection sheds significant light on the legal administration of India under the British Empire, and can help to address important questions of legal pluralism, innovation and adaptation. The breadth of criminal and civil materials are likewise excellent resources for the study of Indian social history across many regions, over an extended and very formative period.

Recently we completed a project to identify the rarest titles in the collection, and to move much of the collection to our temperature-controlled stacks or basement storage. This comes in addition to head cataloger Claire Stuckey's terrific project to catalog the collection, and to correct numerous records: over 250 new titles in the collection have now been searched and cataloged. During the process, Claire uncovered the rarity of the titles that have been relocated.

We have been able to identify more than 180 titles in the collection that are held in five or fewer foreign and domestic libraries, according to OCLC. Although OCLC records depend on reporting libraries and are not a full representation of existing copies, they give a strong sense of availability. Below are several recorded as held in five or fewer libraries:  

The Acts Passed by the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal in Council (Calcutta, 1865)
Baroda Law Reports (Vaḍodarā, 1891) [unique title]
Collection of the Decisions of the High Court and the Privy Council on the Hindu Law of Marriage and the Effect of Apostacy After Marriage Up to March 1891 (Madras, 1891)
Collection of the Decisions of the High Courts and the Privy Council on the Law of Succession, Maintenance, &c.: Applicable to Dancing Girls and Their Issues (Madras, 1892)
A selection of Indian leading cases: containing reports of cases decided by the Superior Courts in India (Calcutta, 1893)
The Criminal Cases: A Monthly Journal Containing Full Reports of All Reportable Criminal Judgments of All Superior Courts of India and Burma and of the Privy Council (Nagpur, 1929)

Material from the colonial period, including acts and high court decisions, can be found online, but lots of interesting colonial law has not been digitized. For more on researching Indian law, see the Library of Congress's page, and for historical research and sources, see Professor Mitra Sharafi's website

Stay tuned for a post on recently identified titles and the acquisition of items in the 1930s and 40s.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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