Witchcraft in the Law: Exhibit

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. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

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. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

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. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

Don’t miss this collection of first hand accounts and fascinating historical progress from superstition and fear to more modern logic based reasoning.

Faculty of Law: Stories and Snippets

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.

75th anniversary of Viola Desmond challenging racial segregation

On November 1946, Viola Desmond, an African-Nova Scotian businesswoman, challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After being forcibly removed from the theatre by police, arrested and charged, she refuses to accept the charges against her and takes her case to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, where she loses her appeal. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond challenging racial segregation, the Nahum Gelber Law Library presents an exhibition on her life and her struggle for rights in Canada. The exhibition was curated by Sonia Smith. On display until December 2021.

Legal dictionaries through the centuries

A new exhibition is on display at the Nahum Gelber Law Library. Legal dictionaries through the centuries.

It presents items from its Wainwright and Canadiana Rare Books collections published between 1616 and 1882.

A very unique dictionary is the Vocabvlarivm ivrisprvdentiae romanae from 1718, a handwritten small book that provides a quick and simple reference guide to the principle terms and concepts of Roman civil law. Aspects covered are from inheritance and property rights through to contracts and martial law. A section also deals with “Iuris Primordia”, detailing the structure and development of the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Another interesting work is the Dictionnaire de cas de conscience : ou, Décisions des plus considérables dificultez touchant la morale et la discipline ecclesiastique. Tirées de l’Ecriture, des Conciles, des Decretales des papes, des peres, et des plus célebres théologiens et canonistes. A three volumes set published in Paris in 1730 donated to the Library by Paul-André Crépeau.

A work dedicated to the French King and dealing with feudal Law in France is the Dictionnaire des fiefs et des droits seigneuriaux utiles et honorifiques : contenant les définitions des termes, & un ample recueil des décisions choisies, fondées sur la jurisprudence des arrêts, la disposition des différentes coutumes, & la doctrine des meilleures feudistes … by Joseph Renauldon, published in Paris, in 1788.

A recent donation to our Rare Books also presented in this exhibition is the New law-dictionary: containing the interpretation and definition of words and terms used in law… by Giles Jacob, published in London, in 1782. It was donated and restored thanks to the generosity of Penny Polk and Gordon Echenberg.

The exhibition was curated by Sonia Smith.