Back into the light

By | 23 May 2012

Please note that the LawBod has a separate collection of more recent foreign dissertations on the Lower Floor /Freshfields IT Room Floor which date from c.1973 to 2004. All these have been properly catalogued so their records can be found via SOLO.  What follows concerns a more historic – in every sense of the word – collection …

Old scholarship newly made prominent!
Now that the revamping of the LawBod’s ground floor has made most of the material shelved there on open access to readers, a  team of Law Bod staff have been working hard behind the scenes to  make sure that scholars and researchers can find out the content of a collection of  foreign theses which occupy several cases of rolling stacks down there .

These are colleagues who have been working at the database in 2011/12. To those who started the project but have since left we salute your efforts too!

Sometime long, long ago – well before the arrival of any of the current members of staff that is! – the Bodleian received a large donation of legal theses dating from the late (19th to the 1930s.  On arrival, they were carefully recorded in long hand on paper slips & in notebooks. However, as these records were not part of the proper card catalogue, they were not transferred to the online catalogue:  they can not now be found by SOLO searches. Consquently, they have rather languished in obscurity.

To address this problem efficiently & effectively, the LawBod decided to create a Microsoft Access database that could be searched online by author, title and subject. (The subject classification system pre-dates our adoption of Library of Congress Subject Headings – it uses terms “reasonable” for those with some understanding of the law.)

Although this database is still being added to and proof read, it  has now gone live on the LawBod website on a page called  Search Foreign Dissertations.

Some answers to general questions based on work so far.

Who is going to find this collection useful? People studying the history of law or the history of legal education – especially in the (19th century. Impact of the railways? New labour laws in industrial society? Family breakdown in the same? These theses are often held in the libraries of their country of origin and/or being found by google. As far as we know the LawBod is the only English depository for them: if a WorldCat or google search picks up a European dissertation from the (19th which looks interesting for your studies, it would definitely be worth searching our database.

How large is the collection?  So far the project has 10,000 individual authors recorded on the database.

Which Universities have they come from? Before this project started, we thought they were 100% from the Continent of Europe.  However there is one submitted to the University of Pennsylvania,  with place of publication  Menasha, Wisconsin. Perhaps it is the  exception which proves the rule! So far the majority are French or German;  with Dutch, Belgian, Swiss  and Scandinavian universities also represented.

What is the date range? Mostly from the 1850s to the 1930s.

Looking across just a fraction

Subject coverage
As would be expected from the geographic locations of the universities, studies of aspects of the German or French legal systems predominate. Some of topics now seem quaint – eg Duelling – but the majority are dealing with areas which continue to be a fertile source of study today – among them banking, bankruptcy,  copyright etc

But there are other jurisdictions here too – Finland, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Argentina, Vietnam ( so far there are more on Egypt than on England!) – and many have a comparative dimension.

Public international law and  jurisprudential works are also well represented. There are also some classical studies – Roman and Babylonian for example.

Perhaps it is the effect of the spring sunshine  – but I cannot help but weave a fantasy behind 2 Parisian theses: the first was submitted in 1911  by a DG Angelesco on Des promesses de mariage, leur nature et leurs conséquences juridiques ; three years later an  R Angelesco had submitted a thesis on De la rupture des promesses de mariage …. !  If I say it probably just reflects the presence of a dynamic law professor, please do not read between the lines.

As mentioned above, the theses themselves are mostly open access on the Ground Floor of the LawBod – but as this is an area of the library not generally used by lawyers, please ask a member of staff for assistance  if you would like guidance the first time you want to venture down.


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