Monday, February 25, 2013

An Important Source on the Legal History of the U.S. West

[At our request, Professor Nystrom prepared the following post on the research tool he has created.  We are also grateful to David Tanenhaus, Nevada-Las Vegas History & Law, for bringing Professor Nystrom's project to our attention.]

An extensive set of records and briefs from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has been made easier for legal historians and researchers to find and use.  The 9th Circuit Historic Records Index System (9CHRIS) was created by Eric Nystrom, a historian at the Rochester Institute of Technology, to help identify individual documents within bound volumes originally collected by the University of California Hastings College of the Law and digitized in bulk by the Internet Archive in 2010.

9CHRIS is free and open for anyone to use.  Based on a wiki platform, users can search the title pages and the computer-generated keywords for each document.  Each page contains a direct link to the complete document online at the Internet Archive.  The wiki will also get better over time with community support -- users are encouraged to help clean up the OCR-generated text and leave notes for future researchers.

The system contains more than 38,000 individual documents, gathered in more than 3,300 bound volumes, spanning from 1891 to the late 1960s.  Though there are occasional gaps in the collection, the briefs, transcripts, exhibits, and other court documents available through 9CHRIS illuminate the wide range of topics heard by the court.

Typically western issues such as natural resource use and extraction (mining, ranching, timber, oil, and water), railroads, and maritime shipping and trade are common.  Questions of race and ethnicity (especially Chinese exclusion), gender, and family appear frequently in the records.  Lawsuits covering inventions, patents, and real estate also appear regularly.  Though these records exist in a few libraries and archives, they have not been readily accessible to historians and scholars until now.

The system is available for use here.  Questions can be directed to Eric Nystrom, eric.nystrom@rit.edu.

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