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The Archives' Far-flung Researchers

What an exciting week at the Archives! I had a patron come all the way from the hinterlands of Norway to conduct research in arguably our most valuable records: The American Law Institute's "Statement of Essential Human Rights" Collection. (More after the jump.)

I'm not sure what it is about European researchers and the Human Rights records, but this is the second European scholar in as many years that the Archives has assisted in researching these materials.

In the wake of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the American Law Institute--located just up the road on 40th and Chestnut Streets--set about drafting a document that would "define the indispensable human rights in terms that would be acceptable to men of good will in all nations." International in perspective and participation, the Statement of Essential Human Rights was and continues to be an influential document. Most notably, it influenced the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated in 1948.

One of the founders of the American Law Institute was William Draper Lewis, who ran the ALI out of his office at Penn Law while he was serving as Dean. The partnership between ALI and the Biddle Law Library Archives, formalized in the mid-1990s, grew out of this long-standing relationship.

The ALI Archives includes correspondence, drafts, publications, and other records related to all sorts of interesting projects conducted by the ALI in its 84-year existence, including the Institute's Restatement projects, the Model Penal Code project, and the joint effort between ALI and NCCUSL to create the Uniform Commercial Code. However, in my brief tenure as Archivist, I've found that no other collection has the cross-disciplinary appeal that the Human Rights records have. To wit: both European researchers are not legal scholars per se, but historians.

The person I helped last week is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Oslo. She traveled here on an east-coast tour, of sorts, which began at the law school and ends at the Library of Congress next week. She's writing her dissertation on the role human rights played among American lawyers and legal associations (like the ABA) in the 1940s and 1950s. Given the current discussion regarding human rights going on around the world and on the homefront, it's no surprise that correspondence, drafts, and other material related to the creation of the Statement of Essential Human Rights would continue to interest scholars more than 60 years after their creation.

In the end, it was a busy but rewarding week at the Archives. My weekend was certainly well-spent!

If you're interested in learning more about these and other collections located in the Biddle Archives, visit the Archives' website or come talk to me.

UPDATE: I just finished creating a finding aid for records related to the Statement of Essential Human Rights. This should give you a better idea of the scope of our holdings.