Top Medieval Law Scholars Explore Magna Carta’s Legacy at BORJ Symposium

On Friday, March 18, the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal (BORJ) hosted “After Runnymede: Revising, Reissuing, and Reinterpreting Magna Carta in the Middle Ages.” The day-long symposium explored Magna Carta’s impact between its issuance in 1215 and resurgence in the seventeenth century.

Professor Thomas McSweeney, William & Mary Law School’s resident specialist in the early history of the common law, said that although 2015 represented the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the original document, King John’s death the following year led to important revisions that make 2016 an equally significant anniversary in its formation.

“2016, in a sense, kicks off the anniversary of the later development of Magna Carta, the process by which a failed peace treaty was transformed into a charter of liberties, which became part of both the English and American constitutional traditions,” McSweeney said.

Elaborating on those developments, the symposium offered four panels with world-renowned scholars in medieval legal history from the United Kingdom and North America.The first session, “Magna Carta’s Dissemination,” featured Janet Loengard (Moravian College), Richard Helmholz (University of Chicago), and Paul Brand (University of Oxford), and addressed Magna Carta’s influence upon such topics as the widow’s quarantine, the English Church, and the diffusion of texts in the thirteenth century.

The second panel featured Professor McSweeney and Karl Shoemaker (University of Wisconsin-Madison) delving into the religious dimension of Magna Carta.

The next panel explored the later history of the Charter of the Forest, featuring Ryan Rowberry (Georgia State) and Sarah Harlan-Haughey (University of Maine).

Prof. Tom McSweeney

Prof. Tom McSweeney

Charles Donahue (Harvard University), Anthony Musson (University of Exeter), and David Seipp (Boston University), rounded up the day with a discussion of Magna Carta in the later Middle Ages. Topics included an investigation of the transformation Magna Carta from law to symbol, and Magna Carta’s role in the “lawless” fifteenth century.

Students appreciated the opportunity the symposium held in providing a glimpse into a significant aspect of legal history.

“History not only helps us to understand why the law is what it is today, but it also forces us to think about what the law can be tomorrow and what role attorneys can play in shaping it,” said Alyssa D’Angelo J.D. ’18. “We learn that the law has never been—and will likely never be—divorced from people, economic systems, and governments.”

D’Angelo added that she is confident that “this lesson will serve us well in practice, where we will be forced to confront the law in context.”

D’Angelo’s classmate Breanna Jensen concurred. “Events like the Magna Carta symposium are important for law students because they provide that historical background that we don’t always have time to cover in class.”

The event was sponsored by William & Mary’s Bill of Rights Journal. Since 1992, the BORJ has published important scholarly works on constitutional law. Published four times per year, the journal is ranked the third most-cited student-edited constitutional law journal by Washington and Lee’s Law Journal Rankings Survey.

A Tribute to Our Past: The George Wythe Room in the Wolf Law Library

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

After a summer away, I returned to William & Mary Law School this semester and was welcomed by a brand new edition to the Wolf Law Library: The George Wythe Room. To learn more about the George Wythe Room, I sat down and spoke with Ms. Linda K. Tesar, Head of Technical Services and Special Collections, and I got some more information about the newest edition to William & Mary Law School. As a fan of history, museums, and libraries, I appreciated having the opportunity to learn about the Room.

George Wythe Room

George Wythe Room

In 2007, the Wolf Law Library began gathering books for the George Wythe Collection. The special collection was meant to contain books and other documents that are important the legacy of George Wythe. The idea to create a room dedicated to displaying the collection blossomed in 2010, and the Room was completed and opened in August 2015. Why the focus on George Wythe? Not only is he the partial namesake of our law school with its official title as the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, but George Wythe was the first ever professor of law in the United States while he taught as the Professor of Law and Police at William & Mary in the  late 1700s. Wythe is so important, in fact, that along with having his own room, the Wolf Law Library also runs an academic wiki called the Wythepedia that is an online database of all things George Wythe-related.

The George Wythe Room has been modeled off of the Thomas Jefferson Collection in the Library of Congress, which makes the room seem like a modern replication of the type of library Wythe himself would have had. Currently, the Room contains nearly 330 titles and over 650 volumes. You can even check out a digital recreation of the Room here. Due to some of the books being many, many years old, the displays are protected by ultraviolet (UV) glass, special lighting, and a climate control system that keeps the temperature and humidity consistent. The precautions are important for preservation of the historical documents, or as Ms. Tesar puts it, “That’s what rare books like.”

Room 2Aside from books and related documents, other features of the Room have historical significance as well. In particular, the Room contains three notable paintings. The first is one of George Wythe himself, which is displayed prominently in the Room for obvious reasons. There are also two lithograph paintings in the George Wythe Room: one of Thomas Jefferson and one of John Marshall. These two men are among the most notable and nationally prominent of Wythe’s legal students, with Jefferson serving as the third President of the United States and Marshall serving as the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

One of the reasons I chose to attend William & Mary Law School is due to its well-regarded status as a starting point of American legal education. Walking past the George Wythe Room each day helps to remind me of the important legacy William & Mary has, as well as a legacy that I am now a part of.

To learn more about our student bloggers, click here.

1L Tour of Colonial Williamsburg

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

I have always considered myself a history buff. I loved going to museums as a child, I enjoyed history classes in high school, and I majored in history in college. In a decision that surprised absolutely no one, I accepted an offer to join one of the most historical law schools in the country: the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. However, during the first few weeks of classes, I was so busy adjusting to life as a law student that I did not have the opportunity to explore and learn about historic Colonial Williamsburg on my own.

Thankfully, William & Mary offered a guided tour for law students to experience the vast history of the Williamsburg community. The event, sponsored specifically for 1L students by the George Wythe Society of Citizen Lawyers, involved an informational stroll around Colonial Williamsburg followed by a reception in the Sir Christopher Wren Building on the William & Mary campus. As if my love of history was not enough to encourage me to attend, Dean Davison Douglas himself was joining the 1L students, so I knew that it would be a worthwhile excursion.

04The event’s attendees were divided into different groups, and we were each led through Colonial Williamsburg by a very energetic and knowledge tour guide. Our tour guide was not alone in guiding the tour, as we met a few colonial reenactors who shared information as well! Some of my favorite informational tidbits include:

  • In colonial times, twice-convicted criminals would not only spend time in the stocks, where their neck and hands would be locked between two planks of wood, but their earlobes would also be nailed to the planks. Ouch!
  • During the Civil War, a Williamsburg citizen with no military rank regularly ordered soldiers to protect the town at all costs. But she was not concerned with her own safety; instead, she believed that Williamsburg was essential in founding the United States and that it must be protected at all costs.
  • Grave robbers that were caught digging in a Colonial Williamsburg cemetery in search of a Masonic treasure map were a partial inspiration for the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure.

06The tour ended with a presentation by the George Wythe Society featuring Dean Douglas in the Wren Building, and nice reception followed. There was plenty of food and drink for all attendees. During this time, I was able to meet some more of classmates, and I also talked with 2L and 3L students from the George Wythe Society, who really piqued my interest in getting involved with the group.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening on the George Wythe Society Tour. I was finally exposed to the great history of Williamsburg, I got to interact with my fellow 1L classmates, and had a great dinner. What more could you ask for?

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Colonial Williamsburg Collegiate Pass

brownby Cathy Brown, Class of 2017

I like being a tourist.  This past summer, I had the chance to drive through sixteen states and a Canadian province on two separate road trips, taking lots of pictures and visiting numerous sites – and gift shops! – along the way.  I was excited to learn, during Law Week, about a special deal that Colonial Williamsburg offers to William & Mary students.  This gem is called a Collegiate Pass and lets me tour the entire historic area for free.  Yes, you read that right.  I can tour and explore dozens of colonial buildings and local art museums as many times as I want, and I don’t have to pay a cent.  With my Collegiate Pass, I can also get bargain admission on special Colonial Williamsburg events, like ghost tours and concerts.  In addition, I can get reduced-price tickets for my parents and friends when they come for a visit.  All I needed to do to get this offer was walk to the Lumber House Ticket Office and present my W&M ID card.

British flags line the street in Colonial Williamsburg.  As the woman who gave me my pass explained, “You’re not in the U.S. anymore.  It hasn’t been created yet!”

British flags line the street in Colonial Williamsburg. As the woman who gave me my pass explained, “You’re not in the U.S. anymore. It hasn’t been created yet!”

In addition to all the historic sites, downtown Williamsburg is also known for its numerous shops and restaurants.  The Collegiate Pass has me covered there too.  As part of my pass, I received a coupon book containing a bunch of good deals for businesses in Merchants Square – including a coupon to the William & Mary bookstore and a BOGO offer on coffee from Blackbird Bakery.  (I may or may not be planning to drink both coffees myself.  Don’t judge.)

Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg

Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg

Everyone knows that law school is a rigorous academic environment.  To maintain a healthy and happy life, it’s imperative to take some breaks and pamper yourself from time to time.  Going on “vacation” to a popular tourist destination that’s within walking distance sounds to me like the perfect way to forget about school for a couple of hours.  Especially if it’s free.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

New Additions to the Law School

This past semester, William & Mary Law School received a gift of bronze two busts – one of John Marshall and one of George Wythe.  For many years, these busts belonged to the Federal Bar Association in Washington, D.C.  (In fact, at least one of the two busts was a gift from the Law School to the Federal Bar Association.)

The Federal Bar Association decided that it no longer wished to display the two busts and put them up for auction so that they might find a more congenial home.  One of our alumni in Washington, D.C., bought them at auction and gave them to the Law School – along with the marble pedestals on which they are displayed.  They are a great addition to the Law School Lobby and are featured prominently when you enter the building.

In person, the heads of both Marshall and Wythe appear worn. It is rumored that decades of passers-by have given them a pat on the head – perhaps for good luck!

George Wythe

George Wythe

John Marshall

John Marshall

Wythepedia is Live!

Wythepedia” is now live! You might ask what exactly is Wythepedia? It’s an online encyclopedia about George Wythe. Wythepedia features pages describing the law library’s George Wythe Collection, aspects of Wythe’s life, his letters and papers, and even some poetry.

George Wythe was William &Mary’s and the nation’s first professor of law. Additionally, Wythe was a statesman, lawyer, and jurist.


Wythepedia is a library-wide project, with Graduate Fellows and law library staff serving as authors and/or editors.  More information and pages will be added as more information is uncovered.  More information can be found here!

Publication of St. George Tucker’s Law Papers

by Elizabeth Cavallari

In late January, the Law School gathered to celebrate the publication of St. George Tucker’s Law Papers.  You might ask– who is St. George Tucker?

He was the second law faculty at William & Mary, after George Wythe.  Tucker was an influential state and federal judge and a scholar that made substantial contributions to the legal profession and legal study in the United States by publishing  5-volume set of Blackstone’s Commentaries in the early 19th century.

Charles Hobson, a specialist in the constitutional and legal history of the beginnings of the United States, worked with the University of North Carolina Press in conjunction with William and Mary’s Omohundro Institute of Early American History.  Hobson’s work culminated in the publication of his three-volume St. George Tucker’s Law Reports and Selected Papers, 1782-1825.

Dean Davison Douglas and Charles Hobson celebrate the publication of the three-volume St. George Tucker's Law Reports and Selected Papers, by David F. Morrill

Dean Davison Douglas and Charles Hobson celebrate the publication of the three-volume St. George Tucker’s Law Reports and Selected Papers, 1782-1825.
photo by David F. Morrill

Many students, faculty, staff, and friends of the Law School came together to celebrate St. George Tucker and Charles Hobson for putting together this importance piece of William & Mary and American history.

To read the full story, click here.

Virginia is for Lovers: Part III

by Rhianna Shabsin

I’m here to round out our Valentine’s week with my wedding story! In case you missed the posts earlier this week, you can catch up by reading Virginia is for Lovers Part I and Part II.

It’s hard to believe, but Chris and I were married almost two months ago now. Our ceremony took place in the lovely Wren Chapel, located in the Sir Christopher Wren Building on William & Mary’s Ancient Campus. The Wren Building is the oldest college building in the country – it’s actually older than the United States! Four centuries of students have taken classes within its walls, and students continue to learn in the building today.

Being married in the Chapel is a great privilege of being an alumna, and we were so happy that it was part of our wedding day. After the ceremony, everyone headed over to the William & Mary Alumni House (just down the street) for the reception. It was a wonderful day, and I’m happy to be able to share some of it with you all!

Ceremony in the lovely Wren Chapel

Saying our vows in the lovely Wren Chapel

Outside the Wren Building

Outside the Wren Building

Catching up with my law school roommate inside the Alumni House

Catching up with my law school roommate inside the Alumni House

One of my favorite cell phone pics - taken on the W&M campus post-celebration.

One of my favorite cell phone pics – taken on the W&M campus post-celebration

Professional photography by E. Leise Photo Design.

Happy Birthday W&M

by Elizabeth Cavallari

Today celebrates 320 years of the birth of the College of William & Mary by Royal Charter. While the Law School was founded in 1779, the College’s Royal Charter was issued on February 8, 1693.

Formal activities include a ceremony for the entire campus at 4 pm, an Alumni Medallion ceremony that will recognize three alumni, and a concert Saturday evening.

Here at the Law School, Chancellor Robert M. Gates, ’65, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, opened the room to questions to students, faculty, and staff this morning before returning to Charter Day activities on main campus.

For more information on Charter Day, click here.

Happy Birthday William & Mary!


W&M’s Super Bowl Connection

by Guest Blogger Sam Mann


Last Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. While we all have our own fan allegiances, much of the William and Mary community was rooting for one of their own, Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin, a 1995 graduate. Tomlin’s Steelers, the 2009 Super Bowl Champions, fell just short of their second title in four years.

Tomlin maintains an excellent relationship with William and Mary and the community of Williamsburg. A recent article in the Virginia Gazette discussed Tomlin’s friendship with Pete Tsipas, owner of Paul’s Deli, a local establishment across the street from main campus. (Paul’s happens to be one of the most popular locations in town for both food and nightlife. You are likely to find a few law students in there most Friday and Saturday nights.)  Tomlin worked at Paul’s Deli during his undergraduate years, and he and Tsipas have remained friends and keep in touch often. Tomlin also returned to campus in 2008 to give the commencement address at graduation. While I’m not a big Steelers fan, it is easy to admire Tomlin’s work ethic, humility and accomplishments. He was the youngest coach to ever win the Super Bowl, and is widely thought of as one of the premier coaches in the NFL. If you’ve never heard him speak, watch one of his press conferences; they are excellent.

That someone as accomplished and visible as Mike Tomlin is still so connected to Williamsburg and William and Mary illustrates the type of community we have here. Even though the Steelers did not triumph, Tomlin still proudly represented William and Mary and his rise within his profession helps show why this is a special place to go to school.

William & Mary Law School’s Proud History

by Jaime Welch-Donahue

Dave Douglas

Dean Davison M. Douglas, author of “Jefferson’s Vision Fulfilled”

William & Mary Law School has commenced its 231st year, having first opened doors in 1780 at the urging of Thomas Jefferson (Class of 1872).  Though much has changed since William & Mary established the nation’s first law school at the height of the American Revolution, the law school’s mission of training citizen lawyers who seek to serve the greater good remains firmly in place.  We are proud of our story and want to share it.  We want you to know the early training of citizen lawyers and how the philosophy permeates the William & Mary legal education experience today.

  • Law students contributed more than 68,000 hours to community and public service activities in the 2009-10 academic year.
  • Marshall-Wythe awarded $300,000 in summer Public Service Fellowships to 109 rising second- and third-year students in 2010.  These students worked at 91 nonprofit organizations and government agencies in 18 states, the District of Columbia and seven other countries.
  • The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic is among the newest clinics at the law school and accepted its first clients in 2009.  Law students working under faculty supervision help veterans with their claims for disability benefits while students and faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Psychological Services and Development provide assessment, counseling and referrals to veterans in need of those services.
  •  Through a joint effort of the Election Law Society and Election Law Program, law students trained 66 area college students to work at polling places on November 2 as part of the Tidewater Roots Polling Project.
  • Law students are leading an eight-part series of “Constitutional Conversations” for school-aged children and their parents through May 2011 in a program co-sponsored by the Institute of Bill of Rights Law and the Williamsburg Regional Library.  The program seeks to educate members of the local community about core constitutional principles.
  • William & Mary law students have gone to New Orleans to serve the Katrina damaged area during spring break for four years. Students established a chapter of the national organization, Student Hurricane Network.  Through SHN students were placed in various service opportunities, including helping with manual labor, community organizing, and work in the city’s legal offices.  The last two years W&M students worked in the Gert Town neighborhood. Law student volunteers make a difference for the post-Katrina clean-up and renewal.

We are proud of our unique history and today’s students earning the William & Mary degree!