C-85. Law Books: History & Connoisseurship

Kathryn James Mike Widener

“I learned something new and insightful every day from both faculty and student interaction.” — 2016 student

Course Length: 30 hours
Schedule: 9–14 June 2024
Format: in person, Yale University in New Haven, CT
Course fee: $1,395

This course aims to teach collectors and librarians how to build focused, interesting, and useful collections of historical materials in Anglo-American, European, and Latin American law. It is aimed at individuals and librarians who collect historical legal materials and the book dealers who supply them, as well as librarians developing collections from existing holdings. Particular attention will be paid to planning collections in light of intended use and availability of materials and funds. This course will follow the direction set by Morris L. Cohen and David Warrington in their earlier Rare Book School course, Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law, while expanding the scope to include the legal literature of Western Europe and Latin America. The course will survey printed and manuscript legal materials and introduce its bibliography and curatorship. Topics include the history of the production and distribution of law books; catalogs and reference books; philosophy and techniques of collecting; building audiences for and teaching with historical collections; and acquiring books, manuscripts, and ephemera in the antiquarian book trade.

In their personal statements, prospective students should include the following:

  • Briefly describe their knowledge of legal history and bibliography.
  • Briefly describe their (or their institution’s) collecting and/or research interests.
  • List any foreign language skills (a foreign language is NOT required for this course).
  • Describe any specific interests or needs relating to historical law collections.

Course History

Kathryn James and Mike Widener co-teach this course in person at Yale.
Mike Widener teaches this course, assisted by Ryan Greenwood, online (22 hours).
Mike Widener teaches this course in person, assisted by Ryan Greenwood.
Mike Widener teaches this course in Charlottesville (2010–2011) and at Yale (2013–2016).
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Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


  • Kathryn James
  • Mike Widener

Kathryn James

Kathryn James is the Rare Book Librarian at the Yale Law Library, before which she was the Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. She received her doctorate in early modern British history from Oxford and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Pittsburgh. Her recent publications include English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500-1800 (Beinecke Library and Yale, 2020) and, edited with Phil Withington, Intoxicants and Early Modern European Globalization, a special issue of Historical Journal (2021).

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Mike Widener

Mike Widener served as the Rare Book Librarian in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, for 15 years until his retirement in April 2021. He is co-author (with Mark S. Weiner) of Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection (Talbot Publishing, 2017), the catalog of a major exhibition at the Grolier Club, which won the 2018 Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award from the American Association of Law Libraries. He edited and contributed to Public Services Issues with Rare and Archival Law Materials (Haworth Press, 2001). He has been a consultant to the law libraries at Texas Tech University and St. Mary’s University on their rare book collections, and with his wife, Emma Molina Widener, to the law libraries at the University of Adelaide, the University of Wyoming, and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. He was the 2012–13 Chair of the Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section, American Association of Law Libraries, and is a former member of the Grolier Club.

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