Services for Scholars & Historians
The law library provides many resources and services to academics and historians across the globe. We can help you find information and archival documents on old Louisiana cases or biographical information for judges and attorneys. Our rare books collection is unparalleled in its scope of early Louisiana law and legal history. We also have an extensive number of books and serials on Louisiana legal history. Please contact the library in advance if you wish to visit the rare books collection. You can also visit our research guides on Louisiana legal history, including guides on the history of Louisiana codes and on famous Louisiana cases, and on European legal history.
Some highlights from the rare books collection include:
- More than just law books: history, geography, politics, literature.
- Oldest book – Digesti Novi Textus (1518) – commentary by the glossator Accursius on Roman civil law.
- Second oldest set of books (1587), Las Siete Partidas, or The Seven Parts of the Law, was originally compiled in the 13th century under King Alfonso XI of Spain. The seven parts cover the Catholic faith, royalty and nobility, justice, betrothals and marriages, contracts and sales, wills and inheritance, and crimes and offenses. The 1820 English translation by Louis Moreau-Lislet and Henry Carleton didn’t include parts of the compilation that were inapplicable to United States law.
- Next oldest set of books, La Recompilacíon de los Reynos de las Indias, is from 1681. The set is bound in sheepskin, also called vellum. Like the Siete Partidas, the Recompilacíon is also Spanish civil law, but it is public administrative law for governing the colonies of Spain.
- The Civil Code of France (“Code Napoléon”), published in 1804, was the model in format, but not necessarily in content, for Louisiana civil code. The Code Civilsystematized and made French law uniform but was never adopted as law in Louisiana. The library also has a very rare 1801 projet (draft) of the Code Civil.
- Encyclopedia, or Systematic Dictionary of Science, Arts and the Trades (Diderot) published from 1751-1772 (17 vols. text, 11 vols. plates)–a record of the technology and trades of the pre-industrial world. Diderot’s work was attacked by the Jesuits in France because it represented rational viewpoint and challenged existing ideas about the world.
- Briefs filed in Myra Clark Gaines case–longest running civil suit in U.S. history, originated here in New Orleans and lasted about 60 years. Myra’s father, Daniel Clark, was a rich merchant who owned vast tracts of land in New Orleans. He died in 1813 without recognizing his child Myra as his legitimate heir and a will he had written a few days before he died had mysteriously disappeared. Myra learned as an adult that Clark was her father and she set out to prove her right to inherit his property, some of which had already been sold by his business partners. Myra did eventually receive a judgment against the City of New Orleans for nearly $2,000,000 but she died impoverished before she received any money. Her heirs eventually settled for about $600,000.
- Governor’s order book – official correspondence of several Louisiana governors, beginning with Jacques Villeré in 1819. Villeré couldn’t speak or write English.
- 1883 Robinson’s Atlas of New Orleans. Plate 6 shows squares 39 and 40 between Royal and Chartres, where the Court now resides. The New Orleans Notarial Archives has a digitized copy.
- Digest of 1808 – The Digest of 1808 was drafted by jurisconsults Louis Moreau-Lislet and James Brown, as ordered by the Orleans Territorial Legislature. After the Louisiana Purchase, one of the first items to accomplish on the path to statehood was to establish Louisiana law. The Digest was drafted for this reason. It is a collection of the laws in effect in the Territory of Orleans, which reflect the civil law heritage of France and Spain, Louisiana’s colonial rulers. This document utilized the format of the French Code Civil to organize the existing Spanish colonial laws in force. Printed in French and English.
- Louisiana acts from the territorial era 1804-1811 and statehood 1812-1899 are shelved in the Rare Book Room. Acts were printed in French and English, a practice discontinued after the Civil War.
- Martin’s Reports – François-Xavier Martin is considered the “father of Louisiana jurisprudence.” Not only was he an early Presiding Judge of the Louisiana Supreme Court, but he also served as our Court’s first reporter – at the same time. The set of Martin’s reports contains the Louisiana Supreme Court’s earliest decisions, from 1812-1830s.
- Plaque of François Xavier Martin (1764-1846).
- Born in Marseilles, France, emigrated to North Carolina, learned the printing trade as a way to master the English language, studied law and prospered both as a lawyer and printer of law books in North Carolina.
- In 1810 he was appointed by President Madison to be a U.S. judge for Territory of Orleans.
- First Attorney General of Louisiana (1813-1815).
- In 1815 appointed judge of Louisiana Supreme Court, served 31 years on the court, the last nine years as Presiding Judge.
- Went blind in later years; dictated his decisions to a clerk.
- Two most important contributions–
- Wrote our state’s first history, published in 1827.
- First reporter of decisions of Louisiana Supreme Court, our only published record of important early opinions of the court.
- Scan of Judiciary Article from Louisiana’s first constitution – Louisiana’s first constitution was printed in French and English in 1812. The scan is of the constitution’s judiciary article, which provides the foundation of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
- New Orleans city directories – there are scattered volumes from 1840-1899 in the Rare Book Room. The library has a full collection of directories on microfiche from 1805-1961. Genealogical tool for those with ancestors or relatives who lived in New Orleans.
- Verbatim transcripts of the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention – consulted to determine the legislative intent of an article in the state Constitution.
- First edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries – highly influential treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, published 1765-1769.
- 1808 New Orleans Police Code – earliest code of ordinances compiled for the city of New Orleans. Published in French and English.
- Louisiana’s first Civil Code – 1825. Published in French and English. The French version is the official version and the English translation is considered inferior.
- Code Noir – library has versions from 1742, 1765, and 1767. The first Code Noir was published in 1724. When the Spanish gained possession of the Louisiana colony, they continued to enforce the Code Noir.
- Febrero Adicionado – this 1806 legal practice guide was used in Louisiana and Latin America.
Rare Book & Special Collections Policy
Many of the volumes in the Rare Book and Special Collections rooms are valuable legal and/or historical documents. Some of the volumes are hundreds of years old. The utmost care must be given to ensure that the volumes in these locations are handled properly. Infrequent handling of the volumes will extend their longevity and reduce the risk of loss and/or damage. Authorized persons handling fragile books are to wear disposable white cotton gloves when necessary, or clean hands with alcohol wipes, both of which the library will maintain a supply. The following guidelines have been developed to ensure comprehensive risk management compliance.
Rare Book Room Tours
The Law Library’s rare book collection is a point of interest during the Court’s building tours, which vary in frequency. In order to limit exposure and handling of the books in the Rare Book Room, all tour requests must be made with the Louisiana Supreme Court Public Relations department, which will, in collaboration with the library, determine if access to the Rare Book Room is warranted. No more than 10 persons at a time may gather in the room, and visitors must be aged 18 or older.
Use of Materials
Researchers are not allowed to use Rare Book Room materials that can be accessed in other formats (digital, fiche, etc.) or have reprints shelved in the stacks. Exceptions must be granted by the Director. Researchers must make an appointment in advance with the Director or the Associate Director to use materials in the Rare Book Room.
When the researcher arrives for an appointment, they must check in with the Administrative Assistant or the Director. Please note: researchers who wish to use a digital camera to take photos of materials must make such a request at least 24 hours prior to his/her arrival so that Security can be notified to allow the camera into the Court.
Researchers will use requested materials in the reading room area. A staff member will pull the materials the researcher requests. The researcher will be asked to clean their hands with disposable alcohol wipes prior to handling books if needed. Furthermore, disposable gloves will be provided for the researcher’s use as necessary, depending on the fragility, rarity, or value of the materials used.