American Legal History Research Guide

This research guide in American legal history includes materials dealing with settlement through the twentieth century.

Archival Resources

Archives offer rich materials beyond the scope of a typical lending library.  Due to scarcity or high value, materials in archives often differ from libraries in that they are available for access, but not lending or regular circulation.  While digitization efforts are making a wealth of materials available electronically from archives, often an in person visit is necessary to conduct research using archival materials.  This page offers a collection of links to connect patrons with archives in the Washington D.C. area.  Using the pages below researchers can access digital materials and resources or find out how they can set up a visit to use archival materials in person.  Please note each large font title will direct you to the archive's homepage, while targeted links in the descriptions below allow for expedited direction to specific resources and collections of note for each archive.

Sites and Links

DC Historical Society

Focused on sharing the history of Washington D.C., the D.C. Historical Society is now housed at the Carnegie Library on Mt. Vernon Sq. as the D.C. History Center.  Featuring extensive digital exhibits and physical collections, the DC Historical Society is designed to assist researchers looking for primary materials related to the nation’s capital. 

National Archives

Aside from housing the founding documents of the United States, The National Archives is available to aid researchers of any type, from private citizens to professional archivists.  Their website contains extensive information on getting started on research, online researcher tools and aids, and a collection of available online databases.

Law Library of Congress

Links to the Law Library of Congress and its collections.  At over 2.9 million volumes, the Library boasts the largest legal materials collection in the world.  Its collections vary globally by region and by era.  The collection is inclusive of all systems and topics of law. The Anglo-American special collection will have specific interest to legal history researchers alongside other historical collections and legal reports located there.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress offers a variety of tools for researchers to use.  Available tools include a finding aid designed to help navigate the archival sources and collections held by the Library of Congress.  Also, the LoC features over 350 digital collections, including the papers of Abraham Lincoln.

Supreme Court Library

Navigate the Supreme Court's website to find various ways to access case documents as well as transcripts and recordings of oral arguments.  Also consider using the Oyez Project website in order to hear more than 5,000 hours of historical oral argument recordings.  The Supreme Court Historical Society features a brief history of the Supreme Court Library, its resources, and who it serves.  This webpage also contains citations for academic articles focused on the Supreme Court Library itself.

Washingtoniana Collection – MLK Library (DC Public Library)

Links to the District of Columbia’s Public Library’s Washingtoniana collection.  Contains information on accessing the collection, which contains documents from the 18th century onwards with a focus on items relating to the history of D.C.  Includes relevant research and resource guides based on D.C. location, family history and genealogy information, as well as federal documents related to the District going back to 1790.

Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit

Organized in 1990 to preserve the history of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit offers a wealth of unique resources for researchers.  Of particular note are the audio recorded oral histories of individuals affiliated with the courts of the District of Columbia.