For ten weeks, the Library of Congress hosted a whirlwind of events and activities that surrounded the exhibition, Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.
Activities began the day before the exhibition opened when the Law Library of Congress hosted the Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts, Jr., and the former chief justice of England and Wales, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Judge, for a discussion on the legal legacy of Magna Carta. Law Librarian of Congress David Mao led the discussion in which the two judicial leaders explored the influence of Magna Carta through the centuries, the charter’s meaning in modern law, and its importance as a symbol for the future.
To celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington opened the exhibition with a grand ceremony in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Guests included HRH The Princess Royal Princess Anne, British Ambassador to the United States Sir Peter Westmacott, Law Librarian of Congress David S. Mao, and other officials and dignitaries who participated in the ceremony. Special musical pieces were performed by the Howard University Singers, the Temple Church Choir, and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.
The exhibition highlighted the magnificent 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta along with items from the Library’s collections to tell the story of the charter’s creation in England, reinterpretation through the centuries, and emergence as an enduring document of constitutional law in the United States.
An impressive tally of visitors – more than 112,000 – entered the South Gallery in the Thomas Jefferson Building to view the rare items on display. Among the visitors were members of Congress, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and more than 700 local students.
The Library sought to connect Magna Carta to K-12 students in the D.C. area by undertaking intensive outreach to local schools, providing insider tours of the exhibition along with the neighboring exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.”
Additionally, the Library coordinated a number of public events related to the exhibition, such as lectures on jury trials; techniques used in selecting and conserving primary sources for exhibitions and educational outreach; the relationship between Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution; and law related to women in medieval England.
The Law Library participated in gallery talks which were held to share information on a particular aspect of the exhibition. Nathan, Margaret and Robert participated and discussed highlights of exhibit items; King John and life in medieval England at the time of Magna Carta’s enactment; and military authority and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
On December 9th, the symposium, “Conversations on the Enduring Legacy of the Great Charter,” was held in conjunction with the exhibition. Scholars, historians and contemporary thinkers discussed how Magna Carta’s political and legal traditions have carried into our current times. A highlight of the program was an interview by David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, with Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer.
The Law Library staff has enjoyed our participation in the exhibition. We are proud of the curatorial work by our colleague Nathan and are impressed with the skills brought by other divisions working on the project, especially that of the Interpretative Programs Office, the Library division charged with managing and presenting exhibitions. Exhibitions shine a light on the collections of the Library of Congress. “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” gave the Law Library an opportunity to reveal some of our rare legal treasures in a very public way.
After the close of the exhibition on January 19th, the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta was packed up and sent back to Great Britain for a special event. Yesterday, it began a three day display at the British Library, along with the other three surviving issues of the document, giving researchers and the public a rare chance to view the texts side-by-side.
If you did not get a chance to visit the exhibition in-person, don’t despair. You may visit it virtually through the online exhibition. Also, our last Magna Carta lecture series program is set for April 6th at 1:00 p.m. and will feature a leading scholar on Magna Carta, Professor Nicholas Vincent. We will post additional details about this program on In Custodia Legis in the next few months.