Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: "Imported Eighteenth-Century Law Treatises in American Libraries, 1700-1799"

Herbert Alan Johnson's 1978 book Imported Eighteenth-Century Law Treatises in American Libraries, 1700-1799 (University of Tennessee Press) attempts to answer a very limited number of questions: what law books, published abroad between 1700 and 1799, were American lawyers likely to own? The book was designed, Johnson writes, "to identify those law treatises which had the greatest currency in the American colonies and states, with a view toward the eventual preparation of a microform publication of the most common titles" (xi).

Johnson has here collected the titles (and, where possible, edition information) of books from twenty-two American libraries (from John Adams to Jasper Yeates), coming up with 212 titles held in at least one of the libraries. For those he notes which library or libraries held the titles. In an appendix he sorts the titles by category and by the number of libraries which held them. A second appendix prints sections of a few of the library inventories used, although frustratingly for those interested in libraries generally, Johnson sometimes only prints the sections of inventories pertaining to law books (but without noting when he's done so, which is annoying).

Overall, a useful starting point for something like that, but thankfully with today's more robust tools and resources, similar studies in the future have the potential to be significantly more broad, deep, and useful.