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UNC Law Students Research Law of the Old South at Wilson Library

Wilson Special Collections Library was the site of some unusual legal research last year.

Students enrolled in the UNC School of Law seminar “Property and Slavery in the Old South” used the Library’s rare publications and archival documents to investigate how the law was applied to moral issues in the antebellum South.

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Al Brophy and Ben Kleinman research historical debate societies in the Wilson Library at UNC.

Chris Dwight, a second-year law student, ensconced himself in the Rare Book Collection to read an address by Mississippi High Court Justice William L. Harris. The publication documented Harris’s evolution toward anti-Unionism through what seemed to be a straightforward application of legal logic.

“I want readers to understand how ideas can snowball into a conflict that leaves 600,000 men dead,” said Dwight. “There has to be a hyper-awareness that our smallest actions can cause something extraordinarily tragic down the road.”

Third-year law student Ben Kleinman went to the Southern Historical Collection to transcribe handwritten papers from UNC’s student debating societies in the years leading up to the Civil War. The debates reflected the issues of the day. Kleinman credits the project with making him a better writer, more able to frame and contextualize arguments.

Al Brophy, UNC’s Judge John J. Parker Distinguished Professor of Law, taught the research-and-writing seminar.

“The students grappled with timeless questions of the duty of obedience to law in the face of immorality,” he says. “I’ve been working in this area for decades and I learned a lot from every paper.”

To learn more about Brophy’s class and the experience of the students who took it, see “Property and Slavery in the Old South,” in the Spring-Summer 2014 issue of Carolina Law.

Courtesy UNC School of Law. Photograph by Donn Young.

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