- Law Libraries and the Formation of the Legal Profession in the Late Middle Ages
Historians typically engage in research that attempts to recount “past events pertaining to the establishment, maintenance, and utilization of systematically arranged collections of recorded information or knowledge.” 1Nowhere could this be more aptly demonstrated than in Stanley Chodorow’s study on the emergence of law libraries in the Middle Ages. This work was originally presented on February 15, 2006, at the second annual Tarleton Law Library Rare Book Lecture at the University of Texas School of Law and subsequently published as a book [End Page 236]for those who missed the lecture or wanted a transcript. Chodorow is currently professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of California at San Diego, specializing in medieval and legal history from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries. Although he is not a specialist in library history, he has considerable experience chairing committees on library and information resources and medieval canon law, which eminently qualifies him to address this highly specialized topic with much credibility and authority.
The work published here is a nineteen-page revised text augmented with notes and references. As the author admits, “the records of the Medieval libraries are very sketchy and the remnants rare” (3). It is therefore reasonable to surmise why there are less than adequate citations for archival sources and secondary literature. The inclusion of a bibliography listing works used and considered in preparing this piece would have greatly enhanced the validity of the final product. The author offers a historical narrative of the events that led to the proliferation of legal texts, which allowed for the formation of law libraries during the medieval period. He seeks to answer three primary questions that inform this study: How and when did a standardized law library develop, and what was its relationship to the origins of the legal profession in Europe? Chodorow adroitly traces the evolution of law libraries from the eleventh century, when law books were first introduced to Western Europe, through the fifteenth century, when universities established libraries to support the needs of their fellows by providing books. He contends that in many respects the development of law libraries can be viewed as the foundation for the study and the practice of law during the Middle Ages.
Law Libraries and the Formation of the Legal Profession in the Late Middle Agesis an illuminating account of how law libraries evolved in Europe, from early collections in monasteries and cathedrals to organized and accessible collections of books in universities during the mid-fifteenth century. Exploration of this topic is focused around the historical antecedents for a critical understanding of the emergence of the profession of law during the Middle Ages. For example, Chodorow points to the archbishop of Canterbury’s donation to All Souls College in Oxford in the early 1440s of 359 books, 189 of them on law and the rest on theology, astronomy, and medicine (7). Chodorow argues that this gift is the earliest evidence of the existence of medieval law libraries and is therefore indicative of the genesis of the study of law in Europe during the Middle Ages. A particularly interesting claim that the author raises is that the “library defined the profession” (8). The discussion centers on a description of the nine major legal texts (the Decretumof Gratian, the Decretalesof Gregory IX, the Sext, the Clemetines, Corpus Iuris Canonici, the Old Digest, the Infortiatum, the Codex, and the Parvum Volumen) that formed the law library collection. These legal texts were mastered by students of law and ultimately became the core reference sources for those who practiced or taught law.
The author’s knowledge of this subject is extensive and quite impressive. His unique blend of the two disciplines of law and information science is a refreshing and important contribution to the scholarly literature. This is a...