The Diamond Library

The Diamond Library: an array of resources for legal historians

The Diamond Library: an array of resources for legal historians Legal historians can't pursue their work without the texts and documents generated by governments, lawyers, and any persons who have had a brush with the law. If the historian is setting cases in context by examining social and economic issues of the time as well as the legal ones, she will need to consult a variety of sources, many of them non-legal. At that point, the Diamond Law Library is called in for assistance and suggestions.

Providing electronic access to documents, articles, and databases, the library supplies legal historians with information from the standard legal repertoire as well as from the ever-increasing electronic resources used by American and English historians. For example, one approach to legal history is through biography, where online access to the American National Biography has simplified fact-checking on thousands of Americans. Additionally, the library has long subscribed to major history journals, such as the American Historical Review and the English Historical Review. Through another powerful database, J-STOR (which stands for Journal STORage), full-text searching can be done in the older journal literature and across disciplinary boundaries, into the major journals of economics, sociology, African-American studies, business, political science, and philosophy. For topics in English legal history, the library holds a complete set of publications of the Selden Society, the organization dedicated to editing legal manuscripts in England.

Collecting historic texts and original documents for study and interpretation is also part of the library's role. Among the early printed sources for American legal history held in the library are laws of the individual colonies, justice of the peace manuals, and the earliest American court report, that of Ephraim Kirby, compiling decisions of the Superior Court of Connecticut during the 1780s. Legal manuscripts, too, contribute an immediacy and freshness to history despite the problems encountered in editing them. The work of Julius Goebel and Joseph Smith in editing documents from the law practice of Alexander Hamilton was a painstaking study of the interrelation of English and American law in the new republic.

More recently, the law library has expanded its collection to include modern papers, such as those of Professors Telford Taylor and Herbert Wechsler. Also recently acquired were the papers of Francis Marion Burdick, who was appointed the first Theodore Dwight Professor of Law at the School.

On the English side, the library holds editions of the works that shaped English legal principles: Bracton's De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, Littleton's Tenures, Coke's Institutes, Finch's Nomotechnia, and Blackstone's Commentaries on the laws of England, to name a few. In addition, if the legal historian can read Law-French, there are editions of English Yearbooks offering, in densely packed form, a glimpse into the oldest pleadings and procedures of English courts.