If you haven’t seen it yet, there is one month left to check out the current Gelber exhibit: Witchcraft in the Law. This exhibit, which has been in place since October 2022, highlights rare materials collected from the Rare Books collection here at the Gelber, along with materials from ROAAr and the Osler History of Medicine Library.
This was a very fun exhibit to plan and we all learned a lot about the history of witchcraft in the law! Many of the materials displayed in this exhibit are first hand accounts and perceptions of witchcraft throughout history. There are books in this exhibit dating from the 15th to early 17th century, in which we see fearful rantings about the influence of the devil and witches and their evil ways, including descriptions of exorcisms, how to detect witchcraft and of course witch trials. As we move to the later publications you can see a change which happens in the late 17th century – suddenly the discourse is much more logical and centered on disproving these superstitions about the existence of magical powers in any corporeal sense. The timing of this transition of thinking is why we see fewer cases of witchcraft in Canada, the country was still so sparsely populated in the early 1600’s, and your neighbors were often your lifeline, so you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to accuse them of witchcraft. However, there are still a few cases, in fact mostly from New France.
One such case from New France is the legend of Corriveau, which is one of Quebec’s most popular witch or ghost stories. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was convicted of murdering her husband in the mid 18th century. Original descriptions of the case contain incredibly verbose language, describing her as evil and wicked and theatrically claiming she took delight in the murder. Corriveau’s rather gruesome punishment was to “hang in chains until dead” after which her corpse was displayed publicly in a body shaped hanging cage called a gibbet. You can see this very cage at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City. While the legend lives on, Corriveau’s conviction was overturned more than 200 years later in a mock trial by the Young Barristers Association of Montreal.
Don’t miss this collection of first hand accounts and fascinating historical progress from superstition and fear to more modern logic based reasoning.
We’re excited to announce a new exhibit at the Law Library. Some of you may have noticed, our exhibit tables have been relocated next to the stairs to make it easier for everyone to stop and peruse as you go about your days of studying.
McGill University has recently reached its bicentennial and while the faculty of law was founded a few years later, it was the first law school in Canada and has contributed greatly to McGill’s notoriety and prestige over the last (almost) 200 years. In honor of this impact, we have curated an exhibit highlighting the Law Faculty through the ages. One half of the exhibit focuses on notable faculty members, graduates, and organizations, of which there are too many to do justice in a 3×5 exhibit case! In the other we have dredged up some often forgotten contributions and snippets of student life.
Take a moment to learn about some notable figures in the faculty’s history, like 1891 Graduate Robert Stanley Weir who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem. Or Quebec’s first female law graduate Annie MacDonald Langstaff; and of course, John Humphrey, McGill professor and Canadian Human Rights icon, just to name a few.
Student life of the past is often elusive. While we keep records of publications like the Quid Novi or student theses, often the memories of student groups, unofficial activities and just daily life are lost. This is why we dug deep into local news publications and our Head Librarian’s collection of memorabilia (thanks Daniel!). We were able to put together snippets of the life of law students; from 1920’s sports stars and student plays to environmental activists’ groups of the 70’s. We even discovered that McGill Law was featured in a short run Quebecois 70’s sitcom! So, join us for a walk down the Law Faculty memory lane and learn a few fun facts about our history.
Nahum Gelber Law Library staff is looking forward to welcoming students back this fall with clean views via some freshly washed windows.
The Law Library is privileged to boast an abundance of natural light, although in recent years our impressive fenestrations have become a little cloudy. Studies have shown that natural light improves both productivity and mental health(1) – both of which are top priorities for library staff in serving McGill Law Students.
We are looking to the future with hopeful anticipation of study spaces filled with engaged students enjoying our beautiful library with some of the cleanest views we’ve seen in years.
(1) The effects of exposure to natural light in the workplace on the health and productivity of office workers: a systematic review protocol, JBI Library of Systematic Reviews: Volume 8 – Issue 16 – p 1-19
Sonia and Mila’s forward thinking “Wellness Collection” and subsequent article, have been a huge success with students. This project started in 2018 in response to several studies discussing the particularly high rate of stress and mental health issues among law students. The authors had no idea what a vital resource this would become during the widespread mental health crisis that students would face during the 2020/2021 pandemic. While in person, students were able to relax by taking advantage of a “de-stress corner” where they could take a much needed break from rigorous academic pursuits. Over the past year students have benefited from the thoughtfully curated Wellness Resources for Law Students Libguide. Now more than ever we appreciate Sonia and Mila’s hard work and dedication to McGill Law students.