Exploring the Collections

Kids in the Collection

While most of the material in Historical & Special Collections is rooted in the world of adults, children do make appearances, sometimes in unexpected ways. Even the businesslike manuscript collections of Harvard Law School Faculty that are primarily comprised of memos and professional correspondence offer fascinating and delightful glimpses of the creator’s youth and family life.

Exploring the lives of children through the collection, however, is not always a light-hearted romp. A darker side of childhood can be seen in the photographs and art work of children in refugee...

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One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts

Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library

First written in 1215, the ideas of liberty and human rights contained in and derived from England’s Magna Carta (the Great Charter) have persisted for 800 years. They have provided inspiration for developments in law now enshrined in constitutions and treaties across the world. The survival and resonance of those ideas is reflected in the manuscripts currently on display in our exhibit "One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library."

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Provenance Detectives

Revealing the History of Six Library Artifacts

This exhibit highlights six artifacts chosen for their fascinating and sometimes mysterious provenance, as well as their ability to illustrate the different paths provenance research takes. Artifacts featured in the exhibit include: a fourteenth century Magna Carta; furniture used by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.; and a painting of Justice John Marshall by eminent portrait artist Chester Harding.


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Research Revealed

Between 2008 and 2013, Historical & Special Collections (HSC) staff fielded an average of nearly 600 inquiries per year from around the world. Approximately a third of these yearly inquiries result in a visit to HSC’s reading room, the Root Room.

Researchers come to HSC to consult our vast array of historical legal materials in a variety of formats for any number of reasons. A Harvard student may have a class assignment that requires access to one of our medieval manuscripts or a scholar may be compiling a catalogue raisonné for an artist whose work is in our visual collection....

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Law Books in Fancy Dress

An Exhibit of Beautiful Bindings from the Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections

Sometimes one can indeed judge a book by its cover. The books in this exhibit featured a wide variety of attractive bindings from different countries, spanning several centuries.


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Spanning the Centuries

With a vast and rich collection of materials spanning ten 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. Part of HSC’s mission is to collect these materials in a wide variety of formats, including printed books, handwritten manuscripts, paper and electronic documents, portraits, photographs, drawings, and artifacts....

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Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders

Explore the collection of English crime and execution broadsides.

"Dying Speeches" and "Bloody Murders" were terms used in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Great Britain to refer to cheap broadsides, sold in the streets and at the place of execution, which reported sensational crimes or described public hangings.

A broadside is a large, single sheet of paper printed only on one side. These ephemeral publications were intended...

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Legal Portraits

As part of its holdings of legal art and visual materials, the Harvard Law School Library owns a collection of approximately 4000 portrait images of lawyers, jurists, political figures, and legal thinkers dating from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century. Although most of these prints, drawings, and photographs depict legal figures prominent in the Common Law, a significant number document jurists and legal educators associated with the Canon and Civil Law traditions.

In March of 2004 the Special Collections Department presented...

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