One of Mr. Jefferson’s theories was that an easily accessible library should be one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, allowing citizens and scholars to conveniently access knowledge. The UVA Law Library is making that theory a reality. This past fall, the Law School’s Digital Collections Librarian, Loren Moulds, and Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, James Ambuske, sought almost $30,000 in funding from the Jefferson Trust to complete a forty year goal of the UVA Law Library, digitizing 375 rare legal texts that were originally selected by Thomas Jefferson for the first UVA Library. The Digital 1828 Catalogue Collection Project will allow greater access to this esteemed collection by providing a virtual bookshelf for these texts. Throughout the summer, this student-centered project provided an opportunity for students to gain research experience in digital humanities, learn the history of early American law and legal education, and master the process of digitizing rare books.
To date, project directors and student interns have digitized more than 1/3 of the books and the entire collection will be digitized by the end of 2017. They are also in the final stages of developing the virtual web experience. Under the direction of Institute for Public History intern, Melissa Gismondi, student researchers also compiled and organized data about the collection, noting concepts and volumes worthy of further investigation in the future. Gismondi’s contributions were remarkably productive. She wrote several interpretive essays historicizing the University’s use of the books, including Jefferson’s view on the proper methods of using the books to educate students in reading the Law. She also contextualized the books’ intellectual place in the early republic.
The project directors are planning a conference in 2018, centered on Jefferson’s catalog for the University’s first library. The fully realized digital, virtual library project is planned for early 2018.