The 1828 Catalogue Project

Time and fire scattered many of the original editions that lined the Rotunda shelves.  But in the 1980s, Marsha Trimble, the former Special Collections Librarian at the University of Virginia Law Library, began collecting copies of the law books listed in the 1828 Catalogue.  Since then, Law Archives staff have continued her efforts.  Today the Law Library’s 1828 Catalogue Collection includes 336 of the original 375 legal titles. Although none of these books are the originals that once sat in the Rotunda Library, they are exact duplicate copies.  Each comes with its own interesting history, provenance, and unique marginalia, providing yet another rich avenue for research.  The physical copies of the 1828 Catalogue Collection are housed within the Law Library’s rare book room and form a part of the Library’s broader collection of roughly 10,000 rare books.

Since 2012 the UVA Law Library has worked to construct a digital archive to supplement its physical collection. In 2017, Law Special Collections received a grant from the Jefferson Trust, an alumni organization of the University of Virginia, to digitize our entire 1828 Catalogue Collection and make this historical library available to a broad audience on the web. When this grant-funded work is complete, users will be able to search and explore the Library’s 1828 Catalogue Collection through an interactive Virtual Bookshelf tool.

The Virtual Bookshelf makes these titles more accessible than they ever were in Jefferson’s time. Built using Drupal, an open-source content management system, the site features a user-friendly bookshelf interface that sits atop a robust database of rich metadata.  From a visual standpoint, the bookshelf interface recreates the law books as they would have appeared on the Rotunda shelves in 1828.  From here, researchers can interrogate individual books or the collection as a whole.  Each title is full‑text searchable, downloadable (.pdf or text file), and equipped with detailed bibliographic information.  Moreover, researchers can search across the entire collection using a variety of filters such as publication location, date, author, or purchase location.  Those interested in Jefferson’s vision for legal education can further filter to see if a specific title in the 1828 Catalogue appeared in Jefferson’s 1825 wish list for the library.  Based on these filters, the site highlights those books that match the search criteria, allowing users to see their results relative to the entire collection.  With such a rich database of metadata, the Virtual Bookshelf of the 1828 Catalogue Collection will be useful to researchers interested in law, historical scholarship, bibliographic studies, text mining, and data science. 

In the future, the site will feature interpretative essays that examine the historical significance of select titles in the Catalogue.  Additionally, the bibliographic data for each title will include links to instances in which Jefferson mentioned the work.  Jefferson repeatedly referenced the legal texts featured in the 1828 Catalogue throughout his letters and other writings. By cross-referencing these writings with digital editions of the texts, researchers will have an even better understanding of Jefferson’s vision for legal training in the early American republic. 

Writing in 1821, Jefferson lamented the difficulty of obtaining books.  They were often “too distant and difficult to access for students and writers generally.”  With this open-access digital archive, the University of Virginia Law Library seeks to democratize access to these historical books, enabling anyone interested in them to peruse their contents, query their metadata, and study the foundational works of early American law.  

Project Team:


Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. (Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow for Digital Humanities)

Randi Flaherty, Ph.D. (Special Collections Librarian)

Loren Moulds, Ph.D. (Digital Collections Librarian)


Cecilia Brown

Research, Interpretation, and Development:

Mary Draper, Ph.D.

Susanna Klosko, Ph.D.


Adele McInerney, M.A.

Heeseok Joo

Jeremy Lofthouse

Alderman Library Technical Support:

Michael Durbin

Louis Foster


Bill Kennedy (Agile Humanities)

Dean Irvine (Agile Humanities)

Law Library Director:

Amy Wharton

Past Contributors:

Special Collections Librarian:

Marsha Trimble

Research and Interpretation:

Melissa J. Gismondi, Ph.D.

Philip Herrington, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Ladner

Cannon Lane


Amber Anglada

Jeannie Kim

Law Library Director:

Taylor Fitchett