Rare Books Lectures

The Melbourne Law School Rare Books and Legal History Lecture Series was launched in 2002 to promote and encourage research into the Rare Book Collection. The lecture series also aims to use the collection as a starting point for more general discussions of subjects such as:

  • Legal, business and economic history
  • Early history and development of the Law School
  • Publishing and book selling in Australia.

2017 Lecture

Picturing the Law

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Michael Widener, Rare Book Librarian at
the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

"Law books" and "illustrations" are rarely associated with one another. Yet, for the past decade, hundreds of examples have been assembled in the Yale Law Library by its Rare Book Librarian, Michael Widener, spanning eight centuries and four continents. A major exhibition of the collection, entitled “Law’s Picture Books,” will open in September 2017 at the Grolier Club in New York City.

In his talk, Michael Widener will go beyond a preview of the exhibition to explore how collections like this can open fresh opportunities for libraries, book collectors, and researchers.This exhibition highlights a rich tradition of legal publishing which book lovers - and lawyers - are often surprised to learn exists at all.

"Illustrated law books" may seem like an oxymoron. After all, law is conceptual, analytic, and - wordy. Yet the object of law is human life, and its books, whether published for practitioners, students, or lay readers, mediate between abstract rules and the real world of people and things, between ideals and the everyday. The books on display here respond to this tension. They stem from Europe, Great Britain, the Far East, and the Americas, from the middle ages to today, and include a beguiling diversity of engravings, diagrams, and designs that stand both on their own and in dialogue with their accompanying text

Mike Widener became the Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library in 2006, after 14 years as Head of Special Collections at the Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin. He is also on the faculty of the Rare Book School, University of Virginia, where he has taught the course “Law Books: History & Connoisseurship” since 2010. He edited and contributed to Public Services Issues with Rare and Archival Law Materials (Haworth Press, 2001), and has authored several articles and book reviews in the fields of archives, rare books, and legal history.

Click here to register for this free public lecture.

Previous Lectures in the Series

Speaker Lecture title Date Access
Michael WidenerPicturing the Law18 May 2017Video link
Professor Mark LunneyA very Australian Story: Political Libels and the Conscription Referendums of the First World War21 July 2016Podcast link
Dr July Evans Attending to Place in the Academic life: Telling the Story of the 1881 Coranderrk Enquiry 23 July 2014  
Dr John Waugh The Hanged and the Saved: Death and Mercy in Colonial Victoria 24 July 2014 Podcast link
Professor Travis McDade The Book Theft Century: A Lament 25 July 2013 Podcast link
Bryan A. Garner The Utility and Pleasure of Collecting Antiquarian Lawbooks 26 July 2012  
Dr Shaunnagh Dorsett Why archive? The New Zealand Lost Cases project 27 October 2011  
Professor Michael Bryan The Modern History and Contemporary Issues of Law Reporting: from 1850 to the Online Revolution 18 November 2010 Article
Professor Emeritus Wilfrid Prest William Blackstone: Lawyer and Judge 29 October 2009  
Professor Michael Bryan Early English Law Reporting 12 November 2008 Article
Professor Emeritus Wilfrid Prest Blackstone's Books 15 November 2006  
Professor John M Bennett Judicial Biography: Does it Matter? The Making of 'Lives of the Australian Chief Justices' 24 May 2005  
Roger Stoddard F.O.J. Smith and William Willis: Two Lawyer-Book Collectors in Nineteenth-Century Portland, Maine 14 October 2004 Catalogue record for pamphlet
Michael Piggott Preserving Legal History: The University of Melbourne's Law Archives 11 May 2004  
Dr John Emmerson QC The First English Law Books 12 November 2003  
Professor Wallace Kirsop Buying Law Books in Nineteenth Century Melbourne 8 April 2003 Catalogue record for pamphlet
Professor Robin Sharwood Revealing Hidden Treasures 17 October 2002