This guide outlines resources useful for research on legal history, with a focus on American legal history. It is intended to help researchers explore and study events and people in the law in the context of their place and time. Since legal history research often draws primarily from original sources, this guide emphasizes resources that provide access to original sources. Researchers should also keep in mind that the development of the law can be affected by a wide range of factors, so it might be useful to consult databases in other subject areas. For a complete list of university databases by subject, see the GMU Libraries Database Portal.

 


 

Reference Sources

Legal History Collection

Titles related to legal history are available on the third floor of the Law Library in Ranges 318 (American Legal History), 327 (Constitutional Law and Constitutional History), and 340 (Supreme Court History). Search for more books in the GMU Library Catalog.

Journals & Indexes

Blogs

    U.S. and British Historical Documents

    Print:

    Online Databases:

    • Artemis: Primary Sources - Allows researchers to cross-search various databases, including Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Making of Modern Law: Foreign, Comparative and International Law, Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources, Making of Modern Law: Trials, and Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
    • Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution - Includes historical and legal scholarship that draws upon sources to trace the Constitution’s progress through each of the thirteen states’ conventions.
    • HeinOnline - Contains U.S. Statutes at Large; Code of Federal Regulations; Federal Register Library; Session Laws Library; State Statutes: A Historical Archive; U.S. Code; U.S. Congressional Documents; U.S. Supreme Court Library; U.S. Treaties and Agreements; Scottish Legal History; and much more.
    • Historic Documents - Issued annually by Congressional Record Press since 1972, the Historic Document series provides full-text, primary sources covering each year's most significant events. Presidential speeches, international agreements, and Supreme Court decisions are among the sources included.
    • LLMC Digital - Includes historical U.S. primary documents from the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. 
    • Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources - Series I (1620-1926) contains published records of the American colonies, documents published by state constitutional conventions, state codes, city charters, law dictionaries, digests, and more. Series II (1763-1970) consists of United States state and territorial codes, municipal codes, and documents relating to constitutional conventions.
    • Nineteenth Century Collections Online - Provides access to unique primary source materials, including despatches from U.S. counsels and ministers, notes and selected records of U.S. consulates and legations, British cabinet papers from 1880 to 1916, and much more.
    • ProQuest Colonial State Papers - Provides access to thousands of papers that were presented to the Privy Council and the Board of Trade between the 16th and 18th centuries, and that relate to the governance of, and activities in, the American, Canadian and West Indian colonies of England. Also includes the Calendar of State Papers Colonial, an advanced bibliographic search tool providing over 40,000 records of bibliographic description.
    • ProQuest Congressional - Provides the full text of Congressional publications in searchable PDF format including Committee Prints (1817-present); Congressional Record (1789-1999, 1985-present (daily)); House and Senate Hearings (1824-present); House and Senate Documents and Reports (1817-present); Bills (1789-present); Legislative Histories (1969-present); CRS Reports (1916-present); and the Serial Set (1789-present).

    Internet Resources:

    Historical Books & Periodicals

    Online Databases:

    • American Periodicals - Contains digitized images of over 1,100 American magazines and journals that originated between 1740 and 1940.
    • Early English Books Online - Contains full-text images of more than 100,000 titles of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473 to 1700.
    • Eighteenth Century Collections Online - Access over 180,000 titles consisting of every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom during the 18th century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas. Includes a digital collection of over 9,000 legal treatises published in the British Empire from 1701 to 1800. 
    • HeinOnline - Contains 1,000+ legal journals from the 18th century to the present in the Law Journal Library, and 1,000+ 19th and early 20th century legal treatises in Legal Classics.
    • JSTOR - Search full-text of major historical journals from their first volumes up through recent years.
    • Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises - Provides over 22,000 British and American legal treatises published from 1800 to 1926.
    • Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources - Series I (1620-1926) contains published records of the American colonies, documents published by state constitutional conventions, state codes, city charters, law dictionaries, digests, and more. Series II (1763-1970) consists of United States state and territorial codes, municipal codes, and documents relating to constitutional conventions.
    • Nineteenth Century Collections Online - Provides access to unique primary source materials, including European literature from 1790 to 1840.

    Internet Resources:

    • Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1916Georgetown Law Library's online collection of digitized dictionaries.
    • Google Books - Full text of public domain books.
    • HathiTrust - Digital library of millions of titles.
    • Internet Archive - Digital library of over 6 million public domain books.
    • Making of America - Digital collections from Cornell University and University of Michigan on primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. Cornell University's Making of America contains 267 monograph volumes and over 100,000 journal articles. University of Michigan's Making of America contains approximately 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles.
    • Online Library of Liberty - A collection from the Liberty Fund of over 1,000 historical titles on individual liberty, limited constitutional government, and the free market.

    Historical Newspapers

    Online Databases:

    • Accessible Archives - Contains full text of 18th and 19th century American newspapers, including African American NewspapersCivil War CollectionGodey's Lady's Book, the Pennsylvania GazetteThe Pennsylvania Genealogical Catalog, and Pennsylvania Newspaper Record.
    • Chadwyck-Healey Historical Newspapers Online - Contains the Historical Index to The New York Times for 1851-1922; indexes to The Times of London for 1790-1980; and the full text of The Times of London for 1785-1870.
    • Early American Newspapers, Series 1 and 2, 1690-1900 - Includes fully searchable issues from almost 1,000 historical American newspapers.
    • HarpWeek - Access digitized copies of Harper's Weekly, America's leading 19th century illustrated newspaper, from 1857-1912.
    • Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers - Includes digitized images of both full pages and clipped articles for hundreds of 19th century U.S. newspapers.
    • ProQuest Historical Newspapers - Full text of the Atlanta Constitution 1868-1945; Boston Globe 1872-1981; Chicago Defender 1910-1975, Chicago Tribune 1849-1988; Christian Science Monitor 1908-1998; Los Angeles Times 1881-1989; New York Times 1851-2009; Wall Street Journal 1889-1995; and Washington Post 1877-1996.
    • Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Collection Newspapers (United Kingdom) - A collection of English news media, including newspapers, newsbooks, proclamations, and pamphlets.
    • Times Digital Archive - A fully-searchable archive of The Times of London from 1785-1985.

    Internet Resources:

    • Chronicling America –Library of Congress collection provides access to U.S. newspapers from 1836 to 1922. Also has a U.S. Newspaper Directory to locate specific newspapers published from 1690 to present. 
    • Google News Archive - Includes scanned images of newspapers as far back as the 1750s.

    Historical Trials & Court Documents

    Note: It might also be useful to search for newspaper accounts of court proceedings using the resources listed under “Historical Newspapers” and for published court documents using the resources listed under “Historical Books.”

    Print:

    Trial-related books are available on the third floor of the Law Library in Range 317. Search for titles in the GMU Library Catalog.

    Online Databases:

    • HeinOnline - Includes Early American Case Law; English Reports; State Reports: A Historical Archive; and World Trials Library.
    • Making of Modern Law: Trials - Includes unofficially published accounts of trials; official trial documents, briefs and arguments; and official records of legislative proceedings, administrative proceedings, and arbitrations; plus documents from the Library of the Bar of the City of New York, from 1600 to 1926.
    • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs, 1832-1978 - A digitized archive of court documents, including appellants', appellees' and amicus curiae briefs, plus records, for United States Supreme Court cases.

      Historical Statistics

      Print:

      Online Databases:

      Internet Resources:

      • U.S. Census Bureau - Provides scanned copies of Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789-1945, Bicentennial Edition: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, and Statistical Abstracts of the United States back to 1878.

      Ephemera

      Online Databases:

      • America’s Historical Imprints – Allows researchers to cross-search Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800; Early American Imprints, Series I: Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1670-1800; Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819; and Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1801-1819.
      • Early American Imprints Collection Series I (Evans) - Contains digitized books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the United States in 17th and 18th centuries, plus unique items like ballads, forms, cookbooks, elegies, playbills, sermons, and more.
      • Early American Imprints Collection Series II (Shaw-Shoemaker) - Provides books, pamphlets, and broadsides published in America in the early part of the 19th century, plus unique items like advertisements, blank forms, directories, hymns, poems, songsters, and more.
      • Nineteenth Century Collections Online - Provides access to unique primary source materials, including ephemera related to British labor, and playbills and programs related to arts in the Victorian era of British history.

      Internet Resources:

      Biographies

      Print:

      Biographies are available on the third floor of the Law Library in Ranges 301 (late eighteenth century) and 302 (nineteenth and twentieth centuries). Search for titles in the GMU Library Catalog.

      Online Databases:

      Internet Resources:

      Personal Papers

      Print:

      Collected works of American statesmen are available on the third floor of the Law Library in Range 301. Search for titles in the GMU Library Catalog.

      Online Databases:

      Internet Resources:

      • Accessing the Papers of Supreme Court Justices: Online & Other Resources - Guide to online and print collections of Supreme Court Justices’ papers, compiled by SCOTUSblog.
      • Founders Online - Collection from the National Archives and University of Virginia includes correspondence and writings of the six major founders of the United States: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.
      • Library of Congress Manuscript Division Finding Aids Online - Finding aids to the collections at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, which includes presidential papers, papers of government officials, and other notable figures in political, cultural, and scientific history.
      • Library of Congress Online Collections:
        • Frederick Douglass Papers - Contains approximately 7,400 items from 1841 to 1964.
        • Thomas Jefferson Papers - Consists of approximately 27,000 documents from 1606 to 1827 from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress.
        • Abraham Lincoln Papers - Consists of approximately 20,000 documents from 1850 to 1865 from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College.
        • James Madison Papers - Consists of approximately 12,000 items from 1723 to 1836 from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress.
      • Library of Virginia Online Collections:

      Presidential Papers

      Print:

      U.S. Presidents’ messages and other executive papers are available on the first floor of the Law Library in Range 101 and on the third floor in Range 304. Search for titles in the GMU Library Catalog.

      Online Databases:

      Internet Resources:

      • The American Presidency Project - Contains over 100,000 records relating to the office of the Presidency, including executive orders, proclamations, addresses, and press conferences. Users will also find summary data for presidential elections, approval ratings, public appearances, executive branch growth, and congressional activity.
      • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States - Contains material dating back to the administration of President Herbert Hoover.

      Last edited June 12, 2014