Of sammelbands, coutumes, and broadsides

2 min read

With a vast and rich collection of materials spanning 10 centuries, Historical & Special Collections (HSC), in the Harvard Law School Library, is a treasure trove for those interested in tracing the history and development of the law, legal education, law practice, and the history of Harvard Law School. A current exhibit, called “Spanning the Centuries: An Exhibit of Recent Acquisitions, 1579-1868,” highlights some new and unusual acquisitions.

A 17th-century book on display, which describes “Remedies for the poor people in the countryside,” is part of a bound collection of separate works, called a sammeband, which also includes the treatise on arbitration from the same period. Apparently, the books were used by the same person, who practiced legal as well as medical triage. These early examples of legal and medical self-help, include engravings guiding the viewer on practices from how to properly bandage wounds to how to stand during an arbitration.

Part of the exhibit features the latest additions to the library’s “true crime collections.” The HLS Library has a robust collection of Anglo-American “trials and broadsides” which often present sensational details of crime and punishment (broadsides are typically a single page while trials are more often booklets or pamphlets). They include stories of murders and executions, such as the case of Elizabeth Brownrigg, an 18th-century woman who was executed for torturing and starving several of her apprentice servants.

The exhibit is on view through August 22, 2014 in the Caspersen Room, Langdell Hall, weekdays 9 to 5.