LEGALST 178: American Legal & Constitutional History

Contact Your Librarian

  • Jill Woolums
  • Office Hours: 9-5
  • Office Location: Education Psychology Social Welfare Library, 2600 Tolman Hall
  • Contact Info:


About this Guide

Seminar on American Legal and Constitutional History. Charles McClain, Professor. Spring 2013


Overview of Researching Biographies

Biographical information about famous people, including state and federal judges, is plentiful both on the Web and in print.  In either format, you may want to consult both primary sources and secondary sources. Documents such as letters or autobiographies are primary sources written by the person.  Material written by other authors about the person are secondary sources.  Examples include book biographies, essays, commentaries, chronologies, and news stories.  Secondary sources frequently point to primary sources. 

As you start your research on a famous person in history, consider some of the following questions to help focus your search.

Click on the Tabs above in this Guide to find the following types of information:

Book biographies and autobiographies.  Books cover a person's life in depth, although they may focus on a particular period or accomplishment.  Books also provide excellent reference lists for further research. Click on the Books tab to find several catalogs for searching books.

Archives.  UC Berkeley has a wealth of archival information both within the general collections and at the Bancroft Library.  Be sure to peruse both the Online Archive of California and the Regional Oral History Office for transcripts, recordings, letters and more.  Click on Archives for more information on archives at UC Berkeley.

Judicial Cases.  If a judge is known for his or her decision on a particular case, review the case to discover what the judge wrote and decided. Case law databases, such as Lexis,  allow you to search by case and by judge,  Discover cases by clicking the Cases tab above.

Articles. In addition to book biographies about a person, academic and law review journal articles may analyze a judical decision, consider the historical impact of a judge or a case, and place a judge or way of thinking in historical context.  Click the Articles tab to discover several scholarly and legal sources for articles.

Government documents.  The Internet has made large amounts of government documents, both current and historical, available online.  Searching can be challenging, however.  Check the Library's guides to government documents for sites most helpful to your research.

Databases.  News databases, such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers, provide reports from the past and fill in details of the period in which a judge lived. Ancestry Library will turn up personal biographical data showing family influences on a judge's life.  Click on News  for stories from the past, or Databases to find family data about a judge.

Book Search

Search the UC Libraries' catalogs to find both e-books and books in print.

Oskicat catalog searches UC Berkeley's online and print collection. 

searches the UC-wide online and print collections.

UCB's e-book collections link to books only online. Each e-book vendor has its own search engine. Most e-book collections are multi-disciplinary.

LawCat searches the catalog of UC Berkeley's Law School. 

See also:
Biographical Directory of the Federal Judiciary, 1789-2000. Lanham, MD, USA: Bernan, 2001. Law Library reference collection - KF8700.A19 B56 2001.

Great American Judges:an encyclopedia Edited by John R. Vile; foreword by Kermit L. Hall. Law Library reference collection - KF8775,A68 G64 2003.

searches books held by libraries all over the United States.  UC may or may not own a book. Use UC's excellent Interlibrary Loan service for anything you can't find.

Google Scholar and Google Books also discover titles.  Look for the UC-elinks icon to connect back to the UC-wide libraries' collections to see if we own or license it.


Librarian Contact in Bancroft
Theresa Salazar, Curator of Western Americana

Introduction to Library Research Using Primary Sources

Bancroft Collections of relevance

The Bancroft Library has substantial holdings related to politics and government in California and the American West. These include all genres and formats including manuscript and archival collections, photographs and other pictorial materials, oral histories, sound recordings and videos, selected Government Documents, pamphlets and ephemera, along with books. The Bancroft Library is the largest special collections on the UCB campus, and includes both primary and secondary resources.

The collections include the papers of politicians such as Senators Alan Cranston, Thomas Kuchel, William Knowland, Hiram Johnson; of Representatives such as Meldon Levine, Robert Matsui, Thomas Lantos; of Governors such as Edmund (Pat). Brown, Culbert Olson, George Pardee, as well as many other local and nationally significant politicians.

We also have substantial holdings related to the law, including the papers of Lawyers: Charles Garry Legal Files, National Lawyer’s Guild Records, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Collections. There are pictorial materials associated with these collections, including photographs and court room drawings.

The collection also includes the Spanish/Mexican land grant cases for California which were adjudicated after the Mexican American war. These include the maps (or diseños) that were produced as part of the case file.

The Bancroft Library has many collections that relate indirectly to politics and the law including our substantial environmental collections, urban and city planning records, labor related collections, records related to agriculture and other industries in the American West, and many relevant collections. The Bancroft Library also hourse the Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation Papers from WWII and the NAACP (West Coast Region) records, along with many other collections related to ethinic groups in California and the West.

University Archives are also part of The Bancroft Library. These records include the Office of the President for the University of California and the records of The University of California, Berkeley.

The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) is a part of The Bancroft Library. They have produced oral histories related to many individuals involved in State government as well as oral histories related to prominent individuals involved with legal issues. The oral histories produced by this office can be accessed online through their website:

Finding Resources in The Bancroft Library

Electronic access -- All formats can be searched on the University of California Berkeley Library’s online catalog Oskicat, The catalog description will include information the creator, extent of collection, subjects, any restrictions as to use, collection specific notes, and also will indicate location of material (onsite, NRLF). More extensive groupings of materials, including manuscripts and pictorial material may have detailed finding aids that will provide more detailed information about the contents of the collection. Patrons can order material online, which will be held at the Bancroft for one week at a time, and can be renewed throughout the semester. See:


California – Politics and Government.
Governors – California.
Legislators – California.
United States – Congress – Senate.
United States – Congress – House of Representatives.
Law—Political aspects – California.
Judges – California.
Freedom of speech.
University of California, Berkeley. Students – Political activity.
Academic freedom.
Loyalty Oath – California.
Legal ethics – California.
Obsenity (Law) – United States.
Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945.
Japanese Americans --Civil Rights
Water rights – California.
Suffrage – California.

Finding aids -- Because manuscript and archival collections are unique gatherings of materials, a finding aid in the form of an inventory, box list, or other summary of the intellectual organization of the collection is often available to help a researcher determine the contents of the materials. Finding aids provide an overview of how the collection is organized in order to facilitate access. It often will include a biographical or historical note about the creator, and include a scope and content note about what is in the collection, as well as indicate the size of the collection. Most of these are available in-house, but increasingly they are becoming available on the Internet. Access to the finding aid is essential to understanding the true content of a collection and for determining whether it is likely to satisfy a scholar's research needs.


The OAC, part of the California Digital Library (CDL) is a digital information resource that facilitates and provides access to materials such as manuscripts, photographs, and works of art held in libraries, museums, archives, and other institutions across California. The OAC includes a single, searchable database of "finding aids" to primary sources and to their digital facsimiles which are selectively available. Describing primary sources in detail, finding aids are the guides and inventories to collections held in archives, museums, libraries and historical societies. Access to the finding aid is essential for understanding the content of a collection and for determining whether it is likely to satisfy your research needs. OAC home page: 

CALISPHERE, is a website that allows patrons to search for selected images available on the OAC.

Judicial Cases

The following sources link to United States judicial cases.

Court Listener.  Free tool for researching and tracking case law,
born out of a project at Berkeley's I School.

Findlaw.  Free source with mostly current case law.

Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases
.  U.S. Courts' short list of cases dating back to 1803.

Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases.  Streetlaw's short list of cases.

Articles Legal Studies

Articles in academic journals and law reviews are excellent sources for finding analyses and commentaries on famous people.  Some of the following resources are specific to the law; others are more general.  All discover information on persons of great accomplishment. 

See also the Law Library's Online Research webpage for additonal materials.

For early American materials, i.e., 18th century and early 19th century, check the following resources all linked under the News tab above.

17-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers
19th Century U.S. Newspapers
Early American Imprints, Series I and II (1639-1819)
Early American Newspapers

Making of Modern Law, Primary Sources 1620-1926; 1763-1970 
Fully searchable digital archive containing constitutional conventions and compilations (reports, journals, proceedings, debates, manuals, rules of order, and information for the use of delegates); city charters (the texts of enacted and proposed charters and ordinances in American jurisdictions); law dictionaries; and early U.S. state codes. Primary Sources will also include colonial records from the Primary Source Microfilm collection Published Records of the American Colonies

Biographical Government Documents

The following Government sources provide biographical information on American judges.

The Supreme Court/Judiciary.  UCB Library's webpage lists several sources for information about the federal judiciary.

Federal Judicial Center.  Provides a history of the federal judiciary and a directory of federal judges, 1789-present.  Search by court, ethnicity, gender, date.

California Courts.  The official California website for the Judicial Branch. Lists past and present justices for California Supreme Court and Appellate Courts.

California Appellate Court Legacy Project.  Historical information on appellate justices.

California Supreme Court Historical Society.  Provides a history, a guide, and research resources about California courts.  Lists past and present justices.

California Commission on Judicial Performance.  Independent agency that investigates judicial misconduct. Searchs decisions from 1961.

Council of State Governments.  Book of the States includes information about state judiciaries. Search engine finds brief articles regarding state judges. 

United States Courts.  Federal courts website with information about judges and judgeships. Sponsored by the Administrative Office of .the U.S. Courts.

American Judicature Society.  Information on judicial history and state judiciaries. Provides links for further research.

News Search

Here are some general news and newsmedia databases.  For a full listing of the Library's news resources, check this list.

Biographical Databases

The following databases provide biographical information, including overviews, birth and death dates, and ancestry data.

How Do I Make an Appointment?

Research and writing can very specific and a single in-class library presentation may not provide you with all the information you need.  You are more than welcome to contact a Librarian.   Feel free to schedule an appointment via the EDP Research Advisory Service, or contact Jill Woolums(
or Dean Rowan  ( to ask a question, set up an appointment, or get more help with anything related to the Library and research.  You can also use the 24/7 Reference service.

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