Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Oates on the Transylvania Law Library

Charles Harmon Oates, Regent University, has posted Foraging the Transylvania Law Library: A Unique and Valuable Collection:
A good library is the heartbeat of a law school’s operation. As Harvard Law School Dean C.C. Langdell once observed “[t]he law library has been the object of our greatest and most constant solicitude. We have…constantly inculcated the idea that the library is the proper workshop of professors and students alike; that it is to us all that the laboratories of the university are to the chemists and physicists, the museum of natural history to the zoologists, the botanical garden to the botanists.”

The book collection itself necessarily reflects the mission and character of the school. Perhaps nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the unique collection that once comprised the law library of the Transylvania University Department of Law.

Established in 1799, this frontier law school, through the tutelage of some notable faculty, trained many of our young nation’s finest lawyers, jurists, legislators and statesmen. For over fifty years the law department flourished. At its zenith, the law department’s course of study was more comprehensive than either Yale or Harvard and its law library was reputed to be among the best equipped in the nation. Through a tragic series of events, the law department subsequently began a spiraling decline that lasted more than half a century, terminating in the final locking of its doors in 1912. Amazingly, much of its law library collection has survived the abuses of heavy usage, packing, relocation, the better part of a century in unprotected storage, and exposure to insects and mildew. The Regent University Law Library was fortunate to purchase this unique and valuable collection in 1994. It comprises the major part of Regent Law Library’s Founders Collection.

This article will examine the Transylvania Law Department’s contribution to American legal education in the nineteenth century, discuss the development of the school’s historic library collection, and provide an annotated bibliography of a selection of those rare and unique volumes of particular relevance for researchers that contributed most to the Common Law foundation of American law and history. Part II explores the history of the Law Department and briefly reveals what life and legal education were like at the first law school west of the Appalachians. Part III focuses on the development of the collection itself. The annotated bibliography in Part IV offers the reader a glimpse of this historic collection by describing in some detail those rare and unique volumes significant to our modern understanding of the Common Law foundation of American law.
--Dan Ernst