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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Visit Abroad: Middle Temple Library

A view of Middle Temple Library
During the recent British Legal History Conference, I had the good opportunity of a tour at Middle Temple Library, courtesy of Bernadette Keeley, an expert guide and the librarian for the Library's UK and US collections. 

A private library for the barristers of Middle Temple - one of the historic Inns of Court in London - Middle Temple Library also contains a terrific rare books collection, including over 9,000 printed volumes and 300 manuscripts. The nucleus of the rare collection was formed from the library of Robert Ashley (1565–1641), through a bequest in his will. The Library itself was built in 1650 and escaped the Fire of London in 1666. Its early collection is recorded in print in the Bibliotheca Illustris Medii Templi Societis (London, 1700). The extent of the current collection, rare and modern, is cataloged and accessible online.  

Among standout treasures in the rare collection are the first printed English law book, the Abbreviamentum statutorum, printed 1481/82 by Machlinia and Lettou, and a manuscript copy of draft Parliamentary acts from 1652 and 1653. Beyond the rare collection, the historic Middle Temple Hall, dating to 1562, is another treasure, and the hallways leading to it feature famous portraits of Temple members, including William Blackstone.        

Today, head librarian Renae Satterley oversees a busy modern library as well as the rare books collection that provided service to the young barristers educated there centuries ago. One of the Library's recent projects was the digitization of the Treasurer's Receipt Books, from 1800-1922, and the Library has used their archives to connect barristers to the rich history of their society. 
There is currently also an excellent rare books exhibit on display, "Disagreeing Badly: Religious Dispute in Early Modern Europe," curated by Dr. Stefan Bauer and Bethany Hume of the University of York. The exhibition highlights collection items from the "age of confessional polemic," the 16th and 17th centuries, including the first vernacular translation of the Quran. In a surprising (and wonderful) connection to the University of Minnesota, the exhibit text was adapted from a text by University of Minnesota English Professor Nabil Matar.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections 


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