Because what the world needs now is more talking animals—and a good laugh—I’ve created an exhibit about images of animals in legal literature for the Rare Book Room at Yale Law Library.
The exhibit includes books from around the world—including Argentina, Russia, the Netherlands, England, and the United States—more than half of them printed before the nineteenth century and the earliest published in 1529. One section of the exhibit focuses entirely on books with images of dogs. Other sections include “Gentle Creatures,” “Predators,” “Swimmers,” and “Beastie.”
From the introductory text:
In late 2016, a group of over twenty animals—speaking through their chosen representative, Judge Mouse Marshall—approached a frequent visitor to the Rare Book Room at the Yale Law Library to express a gnawing concern. Tapping the visitor politely on the shoulder, Judge Marshall explained that many animals had long ago taken up residence in the rare book “vault,” but that they sadly had few opportunities to meet people out in the library. “Students, professors, visitors,” said Marshall with a squeak, “they don’t seem to realize we’re here. By the way, I think I smell something in your backpack. Is that a cheese sandwich?”
This exhibit grew from that initial conversation. Over a series of meetings, it was decided that the mouse and his colleagues would tell their stories in their own words, for human animals of all ages. They also were asked to share their names, which until now have been largely unknown—except those of Abby Smith’s cows and Judge Wise the owl, which are matters of public record. Unfortunately, only brief excerpts from their remarks can be shared here.
You may be surprised that so many animals live in the Rare Book Room. But law books with illustrations are one of the specialties of this library, and many illustrated law books have provided animals with especially welcome habitats. What different roles do animals play in these books? This exhibit explores that question, in the process quietly meditating on the relationship not only between animals and the law, but also between law and the imagination. Come with us and explore. And stop by the Rare Book Room, where many more animals are sleeping on the shelves, waiting to say hello.
“Shhh! Don’t give me away,” reads one exhibit label accompanying a legal treatise by Hugo Grotius, the father of international law. “Dogs like me love to appear in seventeenth-century engravings of Dutch courts, right in the foreground. Is it because dogs are so loyal? Because we’re so earthy and full of life, like so much art in the Dutch Golden Age? Or because our presence suggests that truly everyone can have access to justice? Whatever the reason, the phenomenon certainly gives me paws!”
I hope you can make the exhibit—but if you can’t, you can view the images in this Flickr gallery. And here’s another image: it’s of me setting up the exhibit this past weekend with Rare Book Librarian and compatriot in educational delight Mike Widener.