Why Does the GW Law Library Collect Realia?

Physical objects offer an unexpected and memorable dimension to the narrative of GW Law’s history and culture, and to themes and authors represented in the Law Library’s collections.  They bring to life aspects of an event, idea, or person with an immediacy that eludes written accounts.

Contemplating realia is a powerful complement to reading text.  Imagine if you could see that actual scale that hit poor Mrs. Palsgraf!

The Jacob Burns Law Library is one of only a few U.S. academic law libraries today with a realia collection.  Visit our exhibit in the library that showcases several examples from our collection.

Realia Display

Realia Display

What is Realia?

Realia comprise all non-documentary, three-dimensional objects.

Examples of realia include relics, artifacts, souvenirs, specimens, and other physical objects which do not fit into the standard documentary categories of books, sound recordings, administrative documents, and other records of the human experience.  They may be man-made or naturally-occurring.

Realia typically are primary sources: they are objects which provide direct evidence of past events.

“Realia” is the plural form of the noun, yet accepts verbs in both singular and plural form.