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The Collections

Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections

In keeping with the Library's mission to support the teaching and research programs of the Harvard Law School, Historical & Special Collections collects, catalogs, and provides access to printed materials, manuscripts, and visual materials that document the history of the law in general and that of the Harvard Law School in particular. The Collection is broken down into four primary collecting areas: Rare Books & Early Manuscripts; Modern Manuscripts; The Red Set; and Art and Visual Materials.

Begin your research by searching HOLLIS+, the Harvard Library catalog.

Rare Books & Early Manuscripts

The Rare Books & Early Manuscripts collection contains over 200,000 printed books, pamphlets, broadsides and other material, with imprints between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries.

The collection has developed from the early years of the school, and now includes all of the Library's pre-1851 holdings and most pre-1877 American imprints. Also in the collection are many Anglo-American legal materials to 1900; international law to 1911; Russian law to 1918; and Soviet and Chinese law to 1960.

The Early Manuscripts Collection contains a wide variety of documents relating to the law, ranging in date from the late thirteenth to twentieth centuries. The collection includes lawyers' business records, lecture notes, student notebooks, commonplace books, accounts of trials, peerage claims, judges' opinions, docket books, precedents of pleading, and collections of writs.

Modern Manuscripts

The Modern Manuscripts collection contains more than 250 individual collections that include papers of distinguished members of the bar, bench, and legal teaching profession. In addition, it maintains papers relating to specific U.S. court cases; individually bound and loose English and American manuscripts written after 1701.

Use OASIS, the Online Archival Search Information System, to search Harvard's union catalog of finding aids. When conducting a search, select "Harvard Law School Library" from the "Limit by repository" drop-down menu to restrict your search to material held by Historical & Special Collections at the Harvard Law School Library.

The Red Set

The history of The Red Set dates from the 1890s when the Library began to preserve in a non-circulating collection one copy of each book or article published by the faculty. The name, "Red Set," derives from the red buckram used to bind most items placed into this special collection. Currently, the Red Set contains the following: faculty-authored publications created during the years that the author was a member of the faculty; Student-created material including prize essays, graduate theses and dissertations; all publications created by Law School offices, departments, and programs; publications of student-run law reviews and other student organizations.

Art and Visual Materials

The Art and Visual Materials collection, one of the world's largest collections of visual materials relating to the law, documents the history of legal systems in general and the common law in particular through prints, photographs, paintings, sculpture, and three-dimensional artifacts. Over 300 paintings and sculptures are on display throughout the School. Some of the most outstanding of these, along with the rare volumes on law, are kept in the Caspersen Room.

Use VIA to search Harvard's union catalog of visual resources. When conducting a search, select "Harvard Law School Library" from the "Limit repository to" drop-down menu to restrict your search to material held by Historical & Special Collections at the Harvard Law School Library.

Image credit: Detail, Roscoe Pound at his round desk in Langdell Hall, Harvard Law School, 1934, olvwork359791. Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

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