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To Exhibit or Not Exhibit?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Earlier this month I installed the latest Cracchiolo Law Library exhibit, “1864.” This exhibit was co-curated with my colleague, Kristen Keck, in response to the recent United States Supreme Court Decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In addition to highlighting the topic of abortion in Arizona and at Arizona Law, we also highlight the 1864 Howell Code.

On display in the law library’s reading room is a print copy of the Howell Code. Produced over 150 years ago in 1865, there are only 14 other known holding records according to Worldcat. Fourteen!

The Howell Code has been a topic of previous library exhibits including a 2019 exhibit titled, “Territorial Arizona and the Impact of Spanish Law on the Howell Code” on which I served as co-curator in collaboration with Michael Brescia, Curator of Ethnohistory at the Arizona State Museum. At that time, I made a decision to not put my law library’s copy of the Howell Code on exhibit for preservation purposes. Below is an image of the 2019 physical exhibit that includes text panels and colored images of our digitized Howell Code. You can access a digital copy of the Howell Code by visiting our digital collections website.

The law library’s copy of the Howell Code is a gift of E.E. Ellinwood, a “noted Arizona jurist.” Unfortunately, there is no associated documentation for the gift. The copy contains black and white reproductions of preliminary leaves or prelims, the pages that precede the actual text of a book. It is unknown if the original prelims were bound with the text block when they were gifted to the law library.

Our copy is fully leather-bound in a “smooth calf of rather disagreeable yellowish fawn color” known as law calf. It is also likely case bound, meaning that adhesive was used to bind the outer leather covers with the text block (the inner pages or individual leaves that have been sewn together). Definitions are pulled from the ABC for Book Collectors.

As you can see from the image above, the book is not in great shape. I would choose to describe our copy of the Howell Code as defective or gone in that the outer leather cover is no longer attached at the spine (the back or backstrap).

So why exhibit it now? As an archivist and the librarian responsible for my law library's special collections, it is my responsibility to treat and view the book as a physical object, an artifact. Choosing to exhibit this object now will not serve to preserve it for the future, and I do not doubt that this object is beyond repair. The text block is still in tact, and the original front and back boards are still in good shape even if they are no longer attached to the text block. It is possible that the book could be rebound. So why risk further damage?

My opinion: Sometimes an artifact and the content held within, like Title X, Sec. 45, are worth showcasing as defective or deteriorating. Sometimes, there needs to be an understanding that some objects, and more importantly, some of their content, may not be worth preserving.

This post was written by Jaime Valenzuela, Archivist and Scholarly Communications Lead at the Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library. He is a LIPA Member-at-Large.

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