First Impressions of the Legislation Division

Senior English and History major Erik Berner is researching the Legislation division of the original St. Ignatius College library catalog this semester. While this is the smallest of the catalog’s six divisions, it contains some unusual imprints and raises important questions about the origins and intended purpose of these books. This is the first in a series of posts Erik will be writing. Check back for updates!

Initially upon looking at the list of sixty-eight titles (representing 123 volumes) of secular and ecclesiastical legislation, I was actually rather impressed. For the nascent collection of a new school that did not yet have a law school, it is fairly complete for what I presume an American Catholic school’s legal collection to contain. With the emphasis on the capitalized words in the previous sentence, the two strands of law that I imagine this collection to be focused on are American and Catholic (or Canon) law.

The oldest book in the Legislation Division, a 1529 copy of the Magna Carta

The oldest book in the Legislation Division, a 1529 copy of the Magna Carta

The collection covers both of these bases to the standard I would expect from the time period. There are four rough categories of books that should be represented in an adequate law collection addressing the precedents and contemporary nature of American law in the nineteenth century. These are the three “early influences” that were, and still are, seen as the most important sources of inspiration for early American law: British, French, and American Colonial law. A fourth that I assumed I would see, due to its worldwide influence on Republican and Democratic theories, is Classical (Roman and Greek) law. Curiously, there is only one secular book from either of these civilizations (though many religious, which will be discussed later), and it is a Civil Law text from Justinian during the time of the Eastern Roman Empire, not a Classical book. Regardless, from New Haven colonial law, Constitutional interpretation, and American patent law, to two extremely old (sixteenth- and seventeenth-century) copies of the Magna Carta, bases appear to be for the most part covered. There is a curious French book from an eighteenth-century scholar that I can find no information in English on in a precursory Google search, Theodore-Edmond Olivier, called Traite elementaire d’economie politique. My basic French is not enough to get a thorough understanding of him from French sources that turned up.

One of many volumes of Canon law in the Legislation Division. This one descended in Jesuit Province collections.

One of many volumes of Canon law in the Legislation Division. This one descended in Jesuit Province collections.

In regards to Canon law, there is quite an extensive collection, which one would expect from a Jesuit college. A question that this raises for me is whether there was a Seminary already, or plans for one. I find myself most drawn to the fact, however, that a substantial amount of the Canon law books deal with the Council of Trent. I am interested in why. My guesses lie in the supposed relationships between this Council, the Counterreformation, and the Jesuits, but this is speculation.

I am hoping that my research into this collection, as well as other classes I am taking, will help me better prepare for the possibilities of a life in legal studies. I find this unique library catalogue intersects with many of my bases of knowledge (libraries, American history, and Catholicism) and is a fantastic source to investigate.



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