Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Finding Historical Primary Sources

If you’ve ever tried to trace a historical state code section back through its various amendments and re-numberings, or track down proceedings from early state or territorial constitutional conventions, then you already know the unique challenges involved. A good portion of these historical sources are available in the library’s print collection, but not every state’s collection is 100% complete, and many of the oldest materials are in fragile condition. Fortunately, these early primary source materials are becoming increasingly available online.

The Goodson Law Library has just purchased access to the Making of Modern Law database Primary Sources, 1620-1926, one such collection of early United States and American primary sources. It includes primary sources like early state and territorial codes and constitutional conventions, city charters, and even some historical law dictionaries and case digests. The Primary Sources database joins other “Making of Modern Law” products which are available through the Law Library, including Legal Treatises 1800-1926 and Trials 1600-1926; like these “sister” databases, the Primary Sources collection is searchable and browseable (searching just a particular state or territory is especially effective). The scans are high-quality and allow users to print or download custom PDF files of up to 50 pages at one time.

Similar historical primary sources can also be found in LLMC Digital’s state collections and in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics Library (browse the subject "State Law"). All of these databases are available for use by the Duke University community (with a NetID for off-campus access), and are linked from the library’s Legal Databases & Links page. For assistance with tracking down early primary sources of law, be sure to Ask a Librarian.