On display for the 2019 fall semester is a baker’s dozen of rare books from the Law Library’s extensive and growing collection of works on the legal history of dueling.  The selections, which include works from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, shed light on the duel’s evolution from a legal means of deciding disputes between two people – the judicial duel – to the duel of honor, an extrajudicial means of settling private matters unregulated by the law: matters of honor and insult.

Dueling was deep-rooted in both European and American culture, and withstood a centuries-long assault by legal and ecclesiastical authorities, until its final fadeout near the end of the nineteenth century.  The works on display include an early Italian dueling “manual” (1583), a collection of French anti-dueling laws (1689), a 1674 printing of the decrees of the Council of Trent (which prescribed excommunication for duelists, accomplices, and spectators), and the story of a duel called off after the chosen “cowardly” armor was disputed (1560).

Code of Honor Title Page

Code of Honor Title Page

Duel Exhibition 2019

Duel Exhibition 2019

Classic jurists opined on dueling, its legality, and control; works by Blackstone, Beccaria, and Grotius are on display.  American works include an 1806 anti-dueling sermon published after Alexander Hamilton’s death and the 1858 Code of Honor authored by South Carolina’s governor.

The accompanying photo of the exhibition shows two American swords, one of Civil War vintage, and the other a 1930s ceremonial sword.  Both are on loan from generous members of the Law School staff.

The Duel in History runs until January 2020, and is located on the first floor of the Law Library next to the Circulation Desk.  In January 2020, the exhibition will move to our Online Exhibits page at https://law.gwu.libguides.com/exhibits?group_id=14689 .

For information about The Duel in History, please contact Jennie Meade at jmeade@law.gwu.edu.

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