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Jolande Goldberg on Tree Figures, Memorization and the Law of Blood Relations

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Recently, the Law Library welcomed Ms. Jolande Goldberg, Law Classification Specialist at the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress, as a guest lecturer for the Law Library’s Power Lunch series. A longtime employee of the Library of Congress, Jolande Goldberg is well known as the principle architect of the K schedule – the part of the Library of Congress’s Classification system that deals with law and law-related literature. Ms. Goldberg spoke on Renaissance traditions of visual aids in the study of law. Her lecture, “De Arte et De Jurisprudentia: Meditationes ad Res,” was a series of reflections on the origins and development of tree diagrams – called in Latin‘arbores’ – which were a form of visual representation that became the standard method of presenting information about degrees of family relation and their implications for personal status law throughout Europe for hundreds of years.

"Arbor Consanguinitatis" (or the Tree of Consanguinity) from Super Arboribus Consanguinitatis et Affinitatis of Giovanni D'Andrea, Nuremberg: 1517 (LCCN: 75563364)

The lecture was enhanced by an artful slide presentation of medieval and renaissance illustrations and a display of rare books from the Rare Book Collection of the Law library of Congress assembled by Jolande Goldberg and me.

Goldberg’s lecture told the story of the arbores by tracing two distinct traditions: first, she examined the rise of personal status law in the West, noting the great contributions to law made by the three monotheistic faiths on the one hand and by the Roman Law on the other. Second, she discussed the ars memorativa, or the art of memory, a set of practices designed to enhance one’s natural powers of memory. The ars memorativa was used in classical antiquity both for the practice of oratory and for storing large amounts of complex information without the help of written records. It became fashionable again in the Renaissance, especially following the work of the famous Italian Renaissance figure, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who elaborated a system of the art of memory in his 1582 work, De Umbris Idearum.

Goldberg found the link between these two traditions in the words of the Emperor Justinian himself. She quoted Justinian’s Institutes. One should always use mnemonic figures in teaching the laws of marriage and heredity, she said, “because the human mind retains truth better when conveyed through the eyes and not only through the ears. Thus the youth through the eye as well as through the ear gains complete information about the grades of relationship.” (Inst. 3.6.9)

The Tree of Affinity from D'Andrea's "Super Arboribus Consanguinitatis et Affinitatis" (LCCN: 75563364)

Goldberg then showed how tree diagrams had their origin in medieval manuscripts where thirteenth and fourteenth century authors on the Roman Law took Justinian’s advice literally and devised illustrations to convey the complexity of family law. She demonstrated how the diagrams that appeared in early printed works on heredity and succession became templates that were reproduced and reused in many works throughout the continent. Finally she showed how the Reformation changed the appearance of the arbores in Germany, and how the traditional tree metaphor was adapted through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in accordance with the changing demands that the modern world was placing on the organization of information.

Goldberg closed her talk with some reflections on a figure similar to the arbores which she had been discussing, turning her attention to the “the tree of the sciences” – a tradition of illustrating all branches of knowledge as united and related by hierarchy and family resemblance. She explained how the logic of the “tree of the sciences” is naturally carried forward by the work that has occupied her for many years – the creation of a classification schedule for the Law collection at the Library of Congress.

"Arbor Civilis" in Institutiones (Lyon: 1513)

For anyone who was not able to attend this presentation, you are in luck. Ms. Goldberg has been asked by the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress to reprise the presentation in the coming months. In her next presentation, Goldberg will focus more on the contributions of Jewish and Islamic Law to the analysis of family relations in the law. We will keep you posted about the date, time and location of the event.


  1. The first image, “Arbor Consanguinitatis,” just happens to be framed in my office. It was very interesting learning more about it!

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