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The Penn Law School Legal Oral History Project: Leaders of the Law, in Their Own Words

August 18, 2010

In his book, The Voice of the Past, the sociologist Paul Thompson comments on the cultural importance of oral histories, saying:

[oral history] can break down barriers between teachers and students, between generations, between educational institutions and the world outside … it can give back to the people who made and experienc[ed] history, through their own words, a central place.

Beginning in the 1990s, Penn Law started documenting the testimonies of individuals associated with the Law School, through the Legal Oral History Project.  The project was a collaborative effort from 1999 through 2005, by a team of faculty, librarians, and students seeking to record and preserve first-person narratives.  The project focused on graduates, members of the Penn Law community, and notable public interest lawyers.
The project began as a seminar where students met with accomplished graduates, the goal of which was to train students in the theory and practice of oral history.  By studying the legal accomplishments of distinguished alumni in an historical context, participants gained a vivid appreciation for how the law has influenced historical events.  More importantly, students developed a richer awareness and deeper appreciation of a lawyer’s impact on society.
The oral histories from the Penn Law School Legal Oral History Project are now available.  The collection includes biographical essays of the interviewees, interview questions, background research, typewritten correspondence, occasional photographs, and related materials. The collection’s finding aid is located here.
The Penn Law School Legal Oral History Project provides a valuable perspective on the personalities that have inspired and shaped Penn Law and the larger legal profession.   If you are interested in learning more about this collection, contact Jordon Steele or stop by the Archives.
Thank you to Christiana Dobrzynski-Grippe, Archives Intern, for her assistance in the preparation of this post.