"Studies in Scarlet": RLG Collaborative Digital Collection Project

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

"Studies in Scarlet" was a project of RLG's law community in the late 1990s to develop expertise in and demonstrate the benefits of collaborative digitization initiatives. The project produced "Marriage, Women, and the Law, 1815-1914," a collection consisting of articles, reported cases, session laws, statutes, trial accounts, and more. The resulting database was made freely available through September 2005.

Focused on family law and domestic relations in the US and the UK during the 19th century, the collection provided scholars throughout the world with electronic access to materials supporting research on a broad range of topics, including marriage, divorce, adultery, miscegenation, polygamy, and birth control. It also supported scholarship in the disciplines of law, history, sociology, political science, women's studies, and criminology. This online resource was RLG's initial demonstration of the great potential of pooled digital collections to facilitate and enhance research.

Funding was generously provided by the National Center for Automated Information Research.

  • RLG news release, December 1996: "RLG Receives NCAIR Grant for Digital Collections Project"

    Please note: RLG News releases are no longer directly available on the Web. You may access an archived version of the RLG Web site from September 2007 and follow this path through the main menu at the top of the site: About RLG – News – Complete list of news releases.

  • "Studies in Scarlet"
    RLG News Issue 40, Spring 1996

    Please note: Archived versions of RLG News are available from the OCLC Corporate Library Collection in the OCLC Digital Archive. Choose the issue index and browse from here.

About the collection: "Marriage, Women, & the Law, 1815-1914"

As a virtual collection of primary and secondary materials, Marriage, Women, and the Law was an innovative experiment in the electronic creation, dissemination, and maintenance of scholarly research resources. It was the first RLG-member collaboration to build a digital materials resource. What we learned in this project informed and spurred RLG's subsequent work to bring pooled digital collections online.

The project demonstrated the great potential of digital collections to facilitate and enhance research in a wide range of disciplines. All items had value for scholars of 19th-century and early 20th-century family law and domestic relationships. The strength of this collection was the extent quality, and cohesion of the content. The database united materials in a variety of formats from these research institutions:

  • New York Public Library focused its contribution on materials that document the social conventions and status of women in the 19th century. They also contributed case law from New York courts that played a significant role in establishing critical family law legal precedents in jurisdictions throughout the United States.
  • New York University Law Library contributed sources documenting the federal and state Comstock laws (1873-1914), which prohibited the distribution of information or devices relating to abortion or birth control.
  • Harvard University Law Library helped to develop the collection by contributing US and UK published accounts of trials dealing with marriage and sexuality.
  • North Carolina State Archives provided published and unpublished legal and governmental materials of particular value to scholars researching marriage in the 19th century, especially in the southern United States.
  • University of Pennsylvania Law Library contributed a substantial number of documents on anti-miscegenation laws passed in 39 states between 1815 and 1920, as well as primary sources relating to marriage in Pennsylvania and Utah. The Library Company of Philadelphia contributed treatises on miscegenation.
  • Princeton University Libraries added a significant collection addressing issues associated with the practice of polygamy among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1852 through the end of the century.
  • University of Leeds contribution broadened the perspective by adding previously inaccessible British primary and secondary sources on subjects ranging from marriage and childbirth to divorce and related social issues.

Contributors & content

Collections & project teams

Harvard University Law Library
More than 400 separately published accounts of trials dealing with marriage and sexuality in the United States and Great Britain from 1815 to 1914, providing actual examples of the law being applied and interpreted. All are primary source materials.

Project team:
Will Meredith
Preservation Librarian
David Ferris
Rare Books Curator
Steve Chapman
Preservation Librarian for Digital Initiatives
Harvard University Library Preservation Center
Pam Peifer, Preservation Supervisor, Pat Zudeck, Laura Powers

University of Leeds
Close to 300 items of British primary legal source materials, including reported court decisions, statutes, and Parliamentary papers, as well as secondary works on marriage, divorce, childbirth, care of children, religious viewpoints, literary treatments, sexual diseases, and a variety of social issues.

Project team:
Neil Plummer
Senior Assistant Librarian
Michael Emly
Senior Assistant Librarian
Bill Jupp
Assistant Librarian

New York Public Library
A focus on materials that document the social conventions and status of women in the 19th century. Two groups of materials relating to marriage: (1) commentaries, treatises, and other works on the law, social conventions, and women's status in the US and UK; (2) New York State case law. The first includes important narratives documenting the changes in the law and social conventions. The second forms a core of primary sources for case law for the State of New York, one of the most important jurisdictions at the time.

Project team:
Joan Gatewood
Head, Preservation Reformatting
Bob Kenselaar
then Special Assistant, Collection Development
Elizabeth Denlinger
Anthony Troncale
Head, Digital Imaging Unit
Bob DeCandido
Automation Specialist, Preservation Division

North Carolina State Archives
Published and unpublished North Carolina legal and governmental materials on the topic of marriage in the 19th century. These include statutes, judicial decisions, and petitions to the North Carolina General Assembly, as well as a complete manuscript collection of the famed "Tom Dula" case. This contribution will showcase a comprehensive state collection with a uniquely southern perspective.

Project team:
Jesse R. "Dick" Lankford, Sr.
Assistant State Archivist
Barbara T. Cain
Archivist Supervisor
Drucilla R. Simpson
Information Management Archivist
Catherine Brown
Archivist I

Princeton University Libraries
More than 150 printed source materials on Mormon polygamy in the United States, beginning with the official endorsement of the practice by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1852 and continuing until the Mormon Church formally ended the practice of polygamy and authorized excommunication of all who continued it.

Project team:
Robert Milevski
Preservation Librarian
Eileen Henthorne
Technical Services Special Projects Manager, Technical Services
Jean A. Aroeste
Reference and Special Projects Librarian
Rare Books and Special Collections
Alfred Bush
Curator of Western Americana & Historic Maps
Rare Books and Special Collections
Marvin Bielawski
Deputy University Librarian

New York University Law Library
Primary and secondary sources documenting the federal and state Comstock laws (1873-1914) prohibiting the dissemination of information or devices relating to birth control or abortion. Additionally, NY session laws and statutes on all topics relating to marriage to support topical research and facilitate comparative study.

Project team:
Carol Alpert
Associate Librarian for Media/Reference Services
Carolyn Cocca
Research & Technical Assistant
Leslie Rich
Associate Director for Technology

University of Pennsylvania Law Library
Antimiscegenation statutes from various states (1815-1920), with resulting judicial decisions, and secondary literature about interracial marriages and the resulting offspring. Additionally, all marriage statutes from Pennsylvania and Utah for three different years as well as session laws from these two states on all topics (1815-1914). Almost all of the treatises on miscegenation are from The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Project team:
Elizabeth Kelly
Director and Professor of Law
Cynthia Arkin
Associate Director for Special Collections & Collection Development
Chris Cieri
Director, Law School Computer Services
Melissa Backes
Project Assistant

Project planning task forces

Content task force

Joan Howland, Chair
Director, Law Library, & Professor of Law
University of Minnesota
Win-Shin Chiang
Member Services Officer, RLG
Gail M. Daily
Director, Underwood Law Library, & Professor of Law
Southern Methodist University
Richard A. Danner
Associate Dean of Library Computing Services & Professor of Law
Duke University
Elizabeth S. Kelly
Director, Biddle Law Library, & Professor of Law
University of Pennsylvania
Robin K. Mills
Director, Law Library, & Professor of Law
Emory University
M. Kathleen Price
Director, Law Library, & Professor of Law
New York University
David Warrington
Head of Special Collections, Law Library
Harvard University

Technical task force

Ricky Erway, Chair
Member Services Officer, RLG
Darin Fox
Assistant Director, Information Technology & Computing Services
School of Law, University of Southern California
Peter Graham
Associate University Librarian, Technical/Information Services
Rutgers University
Nancy Gwinn
Associate Director, Collections Management
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Tom Hickerson
Director, Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections
Cornell University
Joan Howland
Director, Law Library, & Professor of Law
University of Minnesota
Mark Roosa
Chief Preservation Officer
The Huntington Library