Thursday, May 30, 2019

Correcting the Record

Live on the air during a BBC radio interview late last week, best-selling author Naomi Wolf received some unwelcome news about her new book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. While discussing the history of same-sex relations in Victorian England, the program host disputed the author's claims that "several dozen executions" for the crime of homosexuality were recorded at the Old Bailey (London's Central Criminal Court). Wolf based this claim on the use of the phrase "death recorded" for defendants, such as 14-year-old Thomas Silver, whose guilty plea and death sentence for sodomy were recorded in 1859.

During the exchange, which can be heard around the 20:00 – 25:00 minute mark of the recording, host Matthew Sweet refuted Wolf's assertion that death sentences had been carried out for Silver and others convicted of sodomy or homosexuality. Sweet, whose 2001 book Inventing the Victorians debunked a number of common misconceptions about the era, pointed out that dictionaries of the era defined the phrase "death recorded" not as an actual execution, but rather as an abstention from carrying out a death sentence. Wolf pledged to look closely at this, and has already discussed her plans to correct future editions of the book.

This mortifying moment serves as an important reminder about understanding context for terminology – no matter the era that you are researching, nor how commonplace the words might seem or how straightforward their meaning might appear. Although the phrase "death recorded" is no longer found in modern editions of Black's Law Dictionary, contemporaneous dictionaries are of course a critical source to help you determine historical definitions from a specific time period. The 1st edition of Black's Law Dictionary (1891) included a headword definition for the phrase "sentence of death recorded" ("In English practice. The recording of a sentence of death, not actually pronounced, on the understanding that it will not be executed"), with a note that the practice was already "in disuse." Black’s later moved this definition to appear underneath the definition of sentence, beginning with the 2d edition from 1910, until the term was dropped from the dictionary altogether beginning with the 5th edition in 1979.

You can find other print and electronic dictionaries (both general and legal) in the Duke Libraries Catalog with subject searches for law -- [jurisdiction] -- dictionaries, e.g., law -- Great Britain -- Dictionaries. This search will return results like Mozley and Whiteley's Law Dictionary, which was cited by Black's Law Dictionary as the source for its definition. (As a further reminder that nobody’s perfect, Black's misspells Whiteley's name as "Whitley" in its source list.)

An important rule of thumb for research and fact-checking is to find multiple sources that corroborate a particular point. For her data on convictions and sentencing, Wolf likely consulted the online Proceedings of the Old Bailey, which were digitized several years ago. While the "about" pages on Punishment Sentences at the Old Bailey do not use or explain the exact phrase "death recorded," the text repeatedly notes that the majority of death sentences were mitigated, and notes that only murderers actually received the death penalty between 1840 and its abolition for minor crimes in 1861. Indeed, the Digital Panopticon (recommended in the Old Bailey help pages for determining the eventual fate of defendants) for Thomas Silver notes a prison license (parole) granted three years later, and a possible death date in 1881.

The Duke University Libraries provide a handout for evaluating the reliability of resources based on The CRAAP Test, a framework originally developed by librarians at CSU Chico. The CRAAP Test helps you evaluate print and online sources for their currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. For help with locating reliable sources of information, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, May 20, 2019

50 Years of Wright and Miller

This summer marks the half-century anniversary for many well-known events in American history: the Apollo 11 mission (July 16-24) put the first men on the moon. The Stonewall riots in New York City (June 28-July 1) galvanized the gay rights movement. The Woodstock music festival (August 15-18) showcased the music that defined a generation. The Manson Family murders (August 8-9) shocked the nation.

Legal history, too, includes a few milestones from 1969. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Board (393 U.S. 503), an important First Amendment case protecting the free speech rights of students who protested the Vietnam War at school by wearing black armbands. In May, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was adopted and opened for signature. And late last month, publisher Thomson Reuters noted another 50-year milestone in the law: the publication of Charles Alan Wright and Arthur Miller's seminal treatise, Federal Practice and Procedure (Ref. KF9619 .W7 & online in Westlaw).

Federal Practice and Procedure (known just as well by its authors' names, "Wright & Miller") remains one of the most authoritative and respected legal treatises on American law, widely cited by courts and scholars. The multi-volume set provides a detailed overview of federal law practice topics, with substantial primary law references in footnotes. Any student or scholar researching a matter of federal law would be well advised to consult the set early in their research. The earliest volumes were similarly hailed as a worthy successor to the 1951 treatise by Barron & Holtzoff that it replaced, such as in this pair of reviews by a judge and an attorney that were published in the 1969 Michigan Law Review (via HeinOnline; NetID login required).

A new legal podcast series, in which Prof. Arthur Miller reflects upon the development, publication, and impact of Federal Practice and Procedure, has released its first episode. Additional episodes will be released throughout 2019.

For help with finding or using Wright & Miller's Federal Practice and Procedure, or for other research queries, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, May 13, 2019

WSJ Online Now Available

The Goodson Law Library and Ford Library at the Fuqua School of Business are pleased to announce a partnership to provide campus-wide access to, the online platform for the Wall Street Journal. All current Duke University students, faculty, and staff may sign up at this registration link (NetID login required) with their,, or email address. Once created, the can be used on the web and on the WSJ apps for Apple and Android.

Faculty and staff accounts will last for renewable 1-year terms for the duration of your Duke employment and the library subscription. Student accounts will be free for the duration of enrollment at Duke. After graduation, students enjoy a 90-day grace period. After that, students must transition to self-funding a personal subscription; there are discounted rates in the first two years after graduation.

If you have an existing account to with your email address, you will first need to cancel your personal subscription before joining the Duke group. More information can be found at the Ford Library FAQs for

With this new WSJ subscription, current Law School community members can now create free accounts to the online platforms of three major newspapers. Access to Financial Times ( can be set up by first registering an account with your Duke Law email account on a networked Law School computer (e.g., in the library Reading Room) and joining the Duke Law Library "group subscription." Access to The New York Times ( can be set up here by selecting Duke University School of Law from the "Find School" menu and registering an account with your or email address.

For help with access to these new subscriptions, or with accessing the full text of hundreds of other online newspapers at Duke, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Mother's Day in Legal History

For more than a century, the second Sunday in May has marked the Mother's Day holiday in the United States. A Congressional joint resolution passed on May 8, 1914 recognized the holiday, and requested that the President issue a proclamation to display the U.S. flag on the second Sunday in May in order to recognize "public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." This language about the purpose of Mother's Day can still be found in the current U.S. Code, at 36 U.S.C. § 117. Woodrow Wilson issued the first presidential proclamation recognizing the national holiday one day later, on May 9, 1914; a copy of the original proclamation document can be viewed online at the National Archives.

Most modern Americans likely associate Mother's Day with flowers, greeting cards, and brunch. This news would disappoint Anna Jarvis, who is widely credited as the originator of Mother's Day. A West Virginia native, Jarvis organized early local Mother's Day church celebrations in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves, who died in 1905; she selected the second Sunday in May since it was the closest date to her mother's death. Jarvis began a letter-writing campaign to encourage state governments to recognize Mother's Day as an official holiday. Her home state of West Virginia recognized "Mothers' Day" (note the plural vs. singular possessive) in 1910; an online copy of the proclamation can be found in the Duke Libraries Catalog.

Following the national recognition, Anna Jarvis later bristled against the commercialization of what she perceived as a "holy day" to recognize the contributions of mothers, encouraging boycotts of florists and successfully fighting against efforts to rebrand "Mother's Day" as "Parents' Day." Historian Katherine Lane Antolini summarizes this history in a Smithsonian Magazine article and gives it expansive treatment in her book Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother's Day (in print at Perkins/Bostock HQ759.2 .A57 2014 & online). For help with locating legislative history materials – about Mother's Day or any other topic – check out our research guide to Federal Legislative History or Ask a Librarian.