Something about Fools and the Legal World

Sure there are plenty of foolish aspects to the law, but this April Fool’s posting is about foolscap. Foolscap is (among more obvious things) a type of paper used in writing and printing. It’s longer dimensions made it antiquity’s equivalent to today’s legal paper. Read the first paragraph of chapter 10 in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House for a reference. Read all of Bleak House for a commentary on the drawn out, circuitous and expensive nature of judicial proceedings 150 years ago. Then read A Civil Action to see what has changed.


Check it Out: The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that chronicles the life of the 15th Century French martyr, Joan of Arc, focusing on the charges of heresy, her trial, and execution.



The First Library in the United States

Though the Library of Congress was the first official post-revolutionary library, it was not the first governmental library in the United States. The history of the first governmental library stretches back to 1731, when Benjamin Franklin and several of his friends in the Junto society founded The Library Company as a non-profit. Yes, in addition to being an inventor, politician, philosopher, and scientist, it seems that Mr. Franklin found time to be a librarian as well!  During the time that the nation’s capital was located in Philadelphia, The Library Company served as the first official library of Congress, and is still open to the public today.


Ancestry is not a Crime: A Tribute to Gordon Hirabayashi

The exhibit, located on the Law Library’s second floor, portrays Gordon Hirabayashi’s life through photographs, his journal, letters, news clipping, and other materials. Stephanie Wilson (Law Library) and Ryan Barnes (Communications) were responsible for the research, creation, and design of this unique display.

For additional information, please see our Hirabayashi Exhibit page.


History of Voting Exhibit

Come and visit the library’s History of Voting Exhibit, located on the 2nd floor. This exhibit provides information relating to the gradual expansion of voting rights as well as an overview of the technology of voting.


Constitution Day Exhibit

Come see our exhibit celebrating the United States Constitution for “Constitution Day.”  Located on the 2nd Floor of the Law Library, this exhibit highlights the history and significance of the Constitution.


Workers Unite!

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. The colorful history of that day is described on this page of the Department of Labor website.


Ambiguous: the History of Legal Sized Paper

By Jason Giesler, Library Intern

Necessitating larger file cabinets, failing to fit in standard binders, and a real pain in the neck to copy and scan, one wonders, what are the origins of 8 1/2″ x 14” sized legal paper?

There are several historical stories relating to the adoption of legal sized paper. According to one story, during the time of Henry VIII, paper was printed in 17″ x 22” sheets because this was the largest size of mold that papermakers could carry. These large sheets were known as foolscap. Legend has it that lawyers would simply cut the foolscap in half and use the sheets for official documents. Lawyers liked longer paper so that they could take more notes than would fit on a normal page.

Whatever the history, all standard paper sizes in the United States trace their origin to the Committee on the Simplification of Paper Sizes that was formed in the Bureau of Standards in 1921. The Committee consisted of top paper industry leaders and its purpose was to eliminate waste by standardizing paper sizes. The committee adopted two commercial sizes: 17″ x 28″ and 17″ x 22″. Letter and legal sizes were created by simply folding these in half two times. The committee gave no special justification for the sizes that it adopted.

Thus, standard legal and letter paper size appears to have emerged by accident. It appears that legal sized paper will continue to exist and be the cause of many paper jams in the near future. Perhaps one solution to paper jamming problems is to hire an IT cat like this one!!


St. Catherine’s: The World’s Oldest Continually Operated Library

St. Catherine's While many libraries in the ancient world pre-dated it, the library at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt has been continually running since about 565 AD. Constructed near the site of the burning bush, St. Catherine’s was difficult to access for many years, as it required a 10 day trip by camel. The library currently houses about 5000 early printed books and 2000 scrolls. Included in the collection are some of the earliest printed works of Plato and Homer, along with pieces of a bible from the 4th century. You can also find St. Catherine’s Monastery on the web.


New and Notable: Family: A Novel

Family: A Novel
By J. California Cooper
New York: Anchor Books, 1992, c1991
PS3553.O5874F36 1992

From Professor Natasha Martin:

Some topics and problems are just too heavy to confront, let alone to solve. Thank goodness for writers like J. California Cooper. She weaves a story about slavery with grace, at times beauty, and remarkably, with little bitterness. It is a testament to the healing power of a gifted storyteller.

From the banks of the Nile to the bowels of the pre-Civil War American south, Family is a masterfully woven multi-generational story about brutality, survival, and resilience. It is also a powerful exhortation on the meaning of family, identity, and belonging. Narrated by Clora, it is the story of a black slave woman who takes her own life and attempts to take the lives of her children. No longer inhabiting the earth, Clora’s gaze is on her progeny as they navigate the horrors of slavery and move toward freedom. The reader accompanies Clora along her supernatural travels through time following the lives of her descendants as they endure the savagery of oppression. Family reflects the heart wrenching fervor and expanse of a mother’s love.

The power of this novel lies in the author’s ability to offer hope – a space to imagine, to resist devastation, and to affect change. I am deeply moved, for example, at the sheer courage of those who, faced with the horrors of slavery, managed to live, to love, and to find kinship in spite of physical, spiritual, and psychic torture. Love was often forbidden, excised through violence, fear, and domination. Yet, these characters transcend traditional familial boundaries and create community wherever they land. As an adoptive mom, this work resonates because it captures the essence of belonging – kinship is not about bloodline or place, but the shelter of love and the sanctuary of unconditional acceptance. This book reminds me that we are all connected.

Family is a cautionary tale about the chains that constrain our hearts and minds. We live in a world of immeasurable social and legal problems. Amid this complexity, lies a web of seemingly irreconcilable forces and contradictions. How do we more fully appreciate the dilemmas and remedy the suffering of the human condition? Perhaps the antidote is ‘deceptively simple’ – Love conquers all. We must use our heads and hearts to solve the world’s complex problems. As J. California Cooper writes towards the end of Family, “History don’t repeat itself, people repeat themselves! History couldn’t do it if you all didn’t make it.” She reminds us that the “future has a past.” So we have a choice – to love and to embrace our interconnectedness. This relational stance paves the way for justice to prevail. (more…)