Last Survivor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The BBC this morning (25 March) reported that Hannah Durkin of the University of Newcastle had traced the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade as one Matilda McCrear, who lived until 1940, dying in Selma, later famous for its role in the civil rights movement in the U.S.A.  Dr Durkin is researching the survivors of the Clotilda, the last U.S. slave ship. Ms McCrear arrived in Alabama in 1860. This is fascinating news.

It is interesting to note that the wreck of the Clotilda was recently found on the Mobile River The voyage has attracted scholarly interest; your blogger particularly enjoyed the book by Sylviane Anna Diouf, Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), which tells an enthralling story of the ship and its people.

There is an understandable tendency to focus on the slave trade and slavery in North America, and no doubt the continuing tensions US society arising from this history, together with the wealth and power of its universities, promotes this. This also means that U.S. slavery has come to seem the paradigmatic form of enslavement of Africans.  It is important to remember, however, that it is estimated that 35% to 40% of all slaves traded across the Atlantic went to Brasil, which did not abolish slavery until 1888. Of course, Brasilian slavery was not U.S. slavery, and it is worth all interested in reading the important work of Keila Grinberg; but the issue remans complex.


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Jesse Norman and Adam Smith

This blog has a strong interest in the Enlightenment in all its facets, but particularly in Scotland. Adam Smith was one of the most important writers of the period whose works and thinking remain of the greatest importance, going beyond his historical epoch. In 2018, Jesse Norman published with Allen Lane his study Adam Smith: What he Thought, and Why it Matters . It was well and extensively reviewed. Amartya Sen commented in the book Norman “not only presents an excellent introduction to the life and ideas of Adam Smith, but also explains why–and how– Smith’s insights can help us solve some of the most difficult social and economic problems of the contemporary world.”  Simon Heffer’s review in The Spectator, for example, rightly emphasizes the extent to which Smith was a polymath and a student of human beings and society, not an economist in the modern narrow sense.

Cosmos and Taxis have just published a symposium on Norman’s book, with a response to the discussion of distinguished thinkers by Norman himself. It is well worth reading.

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Law and Enlightenment Edinburgh City Walk

On Friday 6 March, the Law and Enlightenment LLM class with some friends in Edinburgh went on a walking tour to look at some places associated with the Enlightenment and the law in Edinburgh. The walk took in a discussion of the city walls and the gates, and why they were removed, as well as visiting Adam Smith’s final home< Panmure House, and his elegant grave, David Hume’s grave and where he had stayed in James’s Court and Riddle’s Court The first places where law teaching took place were also pointed out, as well as some of the grander eighteenth-century homes. Here is the class outside Hume’s rather grand tomb.


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“Precedents so scrawl’d and blurr’d …” New Exhibition at Yale Law Library Rare Books Collection

Books are the lawyer’s tools and the law student’s laboratory, and nothing brings this home better than the marks that they leave in their books. Over 30 such annotated and inscribed books from the Lillian Goldman Law Library are on display in “Precedents So Scrawl’d and Blurr’d: Readers’ Marks in Law Books,” the Spring 2020 exhibition from the library’s Rare Book Collection.

Exhibition curator Mike Widener, the Law Library’s rare book librarian, selected items that offer both research potential and insights into the roles that law books have played in people’s lives. The marks left by readers document the lived experience of the law, and remind us that law is above all a human endeavor.

The exhibition’s title comes from John Anstey’s verse satire of the legal profession, “The Pleader’s Guide” (1796): “Precedents so scrawl’d and blurr’d / I scarce could read one single word.”

Many of the volumes illustrate the work of lawyers, law students, law professors, and authors throughout the centuries. Doodles suggest the writers taking a break from dreary legal studies. Scraps of poetry can be sources for literary scholars. Readers also used their books to record events, ranging from a drunken outburst in the New Jersey assembly to a famous naval battle of the War of 1812 and the beheading of Henry VIII’s fifth queen.

“These books represent a small fraction of the annotated books in the Yale Law Library’s rare book collection,” said Widener. “They demonstrate the value of collecting these artifacts, and constitute the Law Library’s invitation to explore them further.”

“Precedents So Scrawl’d and Blurr’d” is the latest in a series of exhibitions that examine law books as physical artifacts, and the relationships between their forms and content. It is on display March 2 to June 17, 2020, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, located on Level L2 of the Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven CT). The exhibition is open to the general public 10am-6pm daily, and open to Yale affiliates until 10pm.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, phone (203) 432-4494 and email  <>.


Rare Book Librarian

Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

127 Wall Street, New Haven CT 06511-8918

Phone: (203) 432-4494



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British Legal History Conference 2021: Call for Papers

The theme of this conference will be “Law and Constitutional Change”. The call for papers is now live on the BLHC website:

The website explains:

2021 will be a significant year in the “Decade of Centenaries” in Ireland, north and south, marking both the centenary of the opening in June 1921 of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and the centenary of the signing of articles of agreement for the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State.  Against this background, BLHC 2021 will take place in partnership with the ILHS in Belfast.

While the conference theme – “Law and Constitutional Change” – has been chosen in the context outlined above, this is without any intention to restrict the scope of the conference papers to Anglo-Irish history.   The theme will be interpreted in all its historical breadth, examining from any historical perspective the relationship between law and law-making on the one hand and, on the other, the shaping of constitutional principles and the disruption or maintenance of constitutional balance.

This blogger certainly intends to be there. Belfast is a grand and beautiful city with a splendid setting, friendly people, and a beautiful University campus adjacent to the city’s Botanic Gardens.

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American Society for Legal History’s Peter Gonville Stein Book Award

Peter Gonville Stein Book Award
American Society for Legal History

The Peter Gonville Stein Book Award is awarded annually for the best book in non-US legal history written in English. This award is designed to recognize and encourage the further growth of fine work in legal history that focuses on all regions outside the United States, as well as global and international history. To be eligible, a book must be published during the previous calendar year. Announced at the annual meeting of the ASLH, this honor includes a citation on the contributions of the work to the broader field of legal history. A book may only be considered for the Stein Award, the Reid Award, or the Cromwell Book Prize. It may not be nominated for more than one of these three prizes.

The Stein Award is named in memory of Peter Gonville Stein, BA, LLB (Cantab); PhD (Aberdeen); QC; FBA; Honorary Fellow, ASLH, and eminent scholar of Roman law at the University of Cambridge, and made possible by a generous contribution from an anonymous donor.

Last year, Khaled Fahmy won the award for In Quest of Justice: Islamic Law and Forensic Medicine in Modern Egypt, and Rohit De received honorable mention for A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic.

For the 2020 prize, the Stein Award Committee will accept nominations of any book (not including textbooks, critical editions, and collections of essays) that bears a copyright date of 2019 as it appears in the printed version of the book. Translations into English may be nominated, provided they are published within two years of the publication date of the original version.

Nominations for the Stein Award (including self-nominations) should be submitted by March 16, 2020. Please send an e-mail to the Committee at and include: (1) a curriculum vitae of the author (including the author’s e-mail address); and (2) the name, mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number of the contact person at the press who will provide the committee with two copies of the book. This person will be contacted shortly after the deadline. If a title is short-listed, five additional copies will be requested from the publisher.

Please contact the committee chair, Matthew C. Mirow, with any questions at

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Peter Chiene Lecture. Reminder

This is to remind readers that the Chiene Lecture for 2020 will be delivered by Professor Humfress of St Andrews. The Lecture will be followed by a Reception in the Quad Teaching (formerly Lorimer) Room.

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Rare Book School: Yale Law Library

All legal historians know the importance of the work of Mike Widener in developing greater knowledge about rare books, particularly through the Rare Book School at Yale Law Library. He is offering it again this summer. See the note below:

Rare Book School is now accepting applications for admission to “Law Books: History & Connoisseurship,” which Ryan Greenwood and I will teach here in the Yale Law Library June 7-12, 2020. Enrollment is limited to 12 students. The course description, advance reading list, evaluations from previous students, and a link to the application site are here:

Information on the application process, program costs, etc., is available here:

This intensive, week-long course is about building focused, interesting, and useful collections of historical materials in Anglo-American, European, and Latin American law. It is aimed at individuals and librarians who collect historical legal materials, and the book dealers who supply them, as well as librarians developing collections from existing holdings. Lively discussion and extensive hands-on activities are hallmarks of the course.

This will be my seventh time teaching the course. It will the second time for my co-instructor Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Law Library. Due to my retirement from Yale in April 2021, future offerings of this course are uncertain. If you have wanted to take the course, and haven’t yet attended, now is the time.

I can answer questions about the content of the course. All questions about applications, registration, tuition, and housing should be directed to the Rare Book School staff, at

Rare Book Librarian
Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School
127 Wall Street, New Haven CT 06511-8918
Phone: (203) 432-4494

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Peter Chiene Lecture

The next Peter Chiene Lecture will be delivered on 31 January by Professor Caroline Humfress of the University of St. Andrews at 17.30 in the Usha Kasera Lecture Theatre in Old College. Her title is “Beyond (Roman) Law and Empire”. See

Professor Humfress is a distinguished legal historian, currently based at the university of St Andrews where she is Professor of Medieval History. She is Director of that University’s Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research. A leading scholar of late antiquity, Professor Humfress is currently working on a monograph entitled Multilegalism in Late Antiquity.

Peter Chiene was an Edinburgh graduate in law and philosophy. He was fascinated with Scottish legal history and after his early death the Chiene Lecture in legal history was founded in his memory by friends and relatives.

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David Armitage: George III and the Law of Nations

The second Berriedale Keith Lecture was delivered in Edinburgh on 5th December, 2019. The lecturer was Professor David Armitage of the History Department at Harvard Professor Armitage talked on “George III and the Law of Nations” The lecture was a tour de force. Starting with the “indictment” of King George in the American Declaration of Independence, arguing that this was based on principles of the law of nations, and in a sense was claiming that George had acted contrary to the law of nations, the lecture explored the king’s attitude to the law of nations. In fact despite the list of grievances, Professor Armitage, drawing on the Royal Archives at Windsor as well as the Royal Library, showed that the king was well-educated in the law of nations, and placed importance on the study of history, the law of nature and nations, the civil law, and the municipal law. He had been prepared and educated for his role as king, and was aware both of his prerogative and of his authority under the law of nations. Some of this reminded me of the education in law his tutor, the Earl of Bute, will have received at Groningen and Leiden. Professor Armitage showed how the young Prince George had assimilated and made his own Montesquieu’s arguments against slavery, leading him to produce in the 1750s an account of the law of nations, under the title, “Of Laws Relative to Government in General” (one of the documents now accessible in the excellent Georgian Papers Online), that incorporated a radical abolitionist argument. Influenced by both Montesquieu and Blackstone, the young king was aware of the foundations of the law of nations in natural law and treaties, while aware that treaties with other sovereigns fell under his prerogative and were a mark of his sovereignty.  The successful (from the British perspective)  Treaty of Paris of 1763 was followed later by the Treaty of Paris of 1783 recognizing the loss of the American colonies and Florida, which was returned to Spain. This was a hard blow for the king, who saw himself as sovereign of all the varied peoples of his Empire. A last interesting act was the protection sought from George by Kamehameha the King of the Sandwich Islands. This led to the Hawaiian flag having the Union flag emblazoned in its top left corner, which it still bears as a state of the U.S.A. In all the paper was a rich and brilliant contribution to the ongoing revision of our understanding of George III.

It is worth saying a little on the lecture series and Arthur Berriedale Keith (1879-1944). Back in the late 1970s, when working on his PhD thesis, your blogger for the first time encountered the extensive Berriedale Keith Collection in Edinburgh University Library. He was too ignorant to know who Berriedale Keith was, but found in the collection material that he needed on Quebec. Subsequently he has become very aware of Berriedale Keith’s importance both as a philologist and scholar of Sanskrit and as a (in reality “the”) legal expert on the history and constitution of the British Empire and Commonwealth. In recent years, your blogger in working on the development of comparative law in Great Britain has had occasion to consult some of Berriedale Keith’s own works to understand the legal nature of the Empire. Ridgway F. Shinn published an excellent biography of Berriedale Keith in 1990, and, with Richard A. Cosgrove, published his correspondence with A. V. Dicey in 1996. Shinn’s biography revealed that in Berriedale Keith’s house in Polwarth Terrace in Edinburgh the professor had the great good fortune to have two studies.

Colleagues in Edinburgh, Dr Harshan Kumarasingham and Dr Asanga Welikala, have established the Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism , naming it for Berriedale Keith. Its website states: “The Keith Forum on Commonwealth Constitutionalism aims to harness the reservoir of comparative ideas from the Commonwealth for current UK constitutional debates; and conversely, to benefit Commonwealth states facing similar challenges, from a closer engagement with constitutional developments in the UK.” It adds that “Edinburgh was once the centre of this scholarship through the work of Arthur Berriedale Keith. This project places Scotland at the heart of this global intellectual reengagement.” It inaugural event on 5 November 2018 was the first Berriedale Keith Lecture,  entitled “Things Done in the Dark and in the Middle of the Night’: Nehru, Kashmir, and the Subterfuges of Building Constitutional Democracy”, delivered by Professor Sunil Khilnani, Director of the King’s India Institute. This was linked with a two-day discussion of the history of the Commonwealth’s constitutional experiences, its politics and law.

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