Introduction to the 1828 Catalogue

The First Law Library at the University of Virginia
1828 Catalogue Frontispiece

Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the University of Virginia called for a library at its center—both architecturally and intellectually. That library—the Rotunda—would be the focal point of Jefferson’s Academical Village, and it would feature titles personally selected by Jefferson. When the books that lined the Rotunda’s Dome Room were officially catalogued in 1828, just three years after the university opened, U.Va’s library boasted roughly 8,000 titles—a remarkable number that placed its collections among the largest in the nation. Among these thousands of volumes were 375 titles that Jefferson himself deemed integral to the legal training of UVA students. The 1828 Catalogue Project of the University of Virginia Law Library reconstructs this original collection of legal texts, providing researchers with a firsthand look into the canonical works of early American law and legal education.

Researchers can explore this collection in two ways, in person or online. To date, the 1828 Catalogue Collection includes 336 of the library’s original 375 law titles, all of which are available to researchers at the Law Library’s Special Collections. Researchers can also explore this historical library online through a Virtual Bookshelf tool. The Virtual Bookshelf recreates the law books as they would have appeared on the Rotunda shelves. Each title is full text-searchable, downloadable, and includes detailed bibliographic information to enable deep research into this historical library. By expanding access to these historical texts, this project aims to fulfill one of Jefferson’s foundational goals for the University of Virginia and for the nation, that libraries serve as robust and open portals for scholarly knowledge.