Over the last several months, I have been working on a research guide that, hopefully, will help bridge one of the gaps that researchers from civil law jurisdictions face when they do legal research in the United States. The guide, Researching “Civil Law” Subjects at the Harvard Law School Library, was published today, and can be found at https://guides.library.harvard.edu/civil-law.
I designed this resource to provide suggested searches for topics that are normally covered in the civil code in a civil law jurisdiction:
- Legal Obligations under Contract and Tort
- Family Law
- Property Law
- Law of Succession
While I was working on this project, I really tried to channel my civil-law self, and my heavily-used copy of the German Civil Code (pictured at right) came in very handy during this process.
The guide provides links to pre-populated searches, by subject, of the Harvard Library HOLLIS catalog. Searching by subject keyword is a great way to make sure that you are finding materials across multiple languages during your search.
The challenge, of course, is that there is not one single, all-encompassing controlled vocabulary for subject keywords across all types of materials.
What does that mean? When cataloging books, our library catalogers generally use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) controlled vocabulary. However, library catalogers do not catalog individual periodical articles too, of course. Unfortunately, there is not a similar controlled vocabulary for all periodical articles across all journals and databases — at least not one that I’ve found. So “subject” keywords can technically be assigned by anyone — authors, editors, database administrators, etc., which means that multiple subject keywords may be used to represent the same concept.
So what’s the big deal about that? Since, as of a few years ago, HOLLIS can be used to search for both books AND periodical articles, it can be hard to feel assured that you’ve found everything that is relevant to your research when searching by subject. This is why I have included both LCSH and non-LCSH subject keyword searches — as many as I could think of that are relevant. I readily admit that the guide is still a work in progress, and that I will likely find and add many additional subject searches as I discover them.
I hope civil law researchers find the guide to be helpful, and welcome any comments and feedback.