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Online Legal History Sources

Getting Started

Reference Works

Harvard Law School Research Guides

More detailed resources on legal history can be found in these research guides created by Harvard Law School Librarians:

Other Online Research Guides

These guides from other law schools may be helpful when identifying resources. Links may be restricted, but we may have Harvard access to the databases. Check Harvard E-Resources for access.

Books and Theses

Legal Texts & Treatises

Early treatises can be an important source for discovering the law and early cases.

General Historical Collections

These comprehensive collections of online texts include treatises, pamphlets and primary legal materials.

Journals and Newspaper Articles

Indexes, Bibliographies and Abstracts

Historical Newspaper Sources

Journal Collections

Finding Cases

Sources for Early Case Law

Several historical databases include early case reporters and collections of laws:

Using Nominative Reporters

Case citations from early works can be hard to decipher. Early collections of case decisions were cited by the name of the clerk who reported the cases, and citation formats were not standard.

Here are some tips for finding and interpreting early nominative and non-standard citations:

  • Check the source of your citation to see if the author provided a table or guide to the abbreviations.
  • Use an abbreviation index,  or dictionary to decipher difficult abbreviations.
  • If possible determine the jurisdiction.
  • For U.S. Federal and State cases, check Table 1 of the Bluebook.
  • Try finding the case cited in a more modern source with standardized citations.
  • Search case databases by party name instead of citation. Look for  alternate spellings of the party names.

Subject Digests

Digests are a useful tool for finding case citations organized by subject.

Deciphering Legal Abbreviations

Notable and Historical Trials

Accounts and documents for notable trials were sometimes published in books, newspapers or pamphlets. Others have been gathered into historical databases. Other trial documents can be found in libraries and archives.

  • Search newspapers for accounts of the trial. This research guide gives tips for using Harvard's newspaper collection
  • Search historical full-text databases. 
  • Search the web - schools, universities, historical societies, museums and other interest groups sometimes post information on famous trials. 

HLSL Historical & Special Collections

Our Historical and Special Collections department has also digitized some significant and historically interesting trial records and accounts. Additional digital collections from HSC can be found on their web page.

Statutes and Codes

U.S. Statutes

UK Statutes

British statutes are cited by regnal year and chapter. Regnal year refers to the year of a monarch's reign. To convert a regnal year into a calendar year, see this chart.

For example, 2 Hen. 5, c. 7 refers to the 7th act passed in the 2nd year of the reign of King Henry V which, according to the regnal year chart, was 1414.

Deciphering Legal Abbreviations

Combined Sources for Early Statutes and Codes

Several historical databases include statutes and codes:

Constitutional History

In addition to the databases listed under Statutes and Codes, the following sources can be useful for state and federal constitutional history.

Blogs and Web Resources

Getting Help

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