Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor The Library of Congress celebrates the 800th anniversary of the first issue of Magna Carta with a 10-week exhibition from Thursday, November 6, 2014 through Monday, January 19, 2015. The 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta is the centerpiece of the exhibition. In addition, there are approximately 75 items from the Law Library of Congress and from various other divisions of the Library, which tell the story of 800 years of Magna Carta’s influence on the history of political liberty.

The Library’s exhibition demonstrates how interpretations of Magna Carta through the centuries led to the constitutional guarantees of individual liberty brought forth by the Founding Fathers of the United States. It describes how a number of the most basic principles of the U.S. Constitution—consent of the governed, the right to a trial by jury, the right to due process of law, freedom from unlawful imprisonment and limited government under the law—can be traced to Magna Carta.

The Library’s exhibition also celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta’s first visit to the Library of Congress.  After a six-month exhibit in the British Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the document traveled to Washington, D.C.  In an official ceremony on November 28, 1939, Lord Lothian, ambassador to the United States handed Magna Carta over to Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish for safekeeping during World War II.  The Library placed the document on exhibition until the U.S. entry into the war, when the Library sent Magna Carta to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  The document returned to England in 1946.

Law Librarian of Congress David S. Mao said, "Through this exhibition we celebrate the core tradition of the rule of law.  While aiming to detail the enduring impact of Magna Carta over 800 years, our exhibit illuminates its influence on our legal traditions and political thought while examining the unfolding story of the rule of law throughout the world.  We are honored to take a leading role in the American commemoration of the 800th anniversary of this legal treasure."

The exhibition curator is Nathan Dorn, rare book curator in the Law Library of Congress, and the exhibition directors are Cheryl Ann Regan and Martha Hopkins from the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office.

Additionally, the Library of Congress curated and provided materials for a traveling exhibition on Magna Carta for the American Bar Association (ABA). The exhibition opened at the 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston and will travel across the United States for the next few years. In June 2015, the ABA Magna Carta Traveling Exhibit will journey to England. For more information on ABA’s Magna Carta commemoration, visit www.facebook.com/abamagnacarta.

Events

July 8, 2014 Magna Carta Lecture Series: Trial By Jury—Magna Carta and Influence in Criminal Law and Legal Representation. This program featured a distinguished panel of several local law professors.

August 20, 2014 Magna Carta Lecture Series: Magna Carta and Primary Source Documents featured a panel of Library staff. Nathan Dorn, Law Library rare book curator, Stephen Wesson, educational resources specialist, and Holly Krueger, head of the Library’s Paper Conservation Section, discussed how materials are prepared and selected for exhibitions and educational outreach curriculum. 

September 16, 2104 Magna Carta Lecture Series: Magna Carta and the American Constitution.  The Law Library’s annual Constitution Day event featured Dr. Akhil Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. Professor Amar’s lecture addressed the grand project of American constitutionalism, past, present, and future, highlighting the ways in which the American constitutional experience has both drawn upon and broken with English constitutional precursors such as Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

November 6, 2014 Exhibition opens with a ceremony at 10:00 a.m. in the Great Hall of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. 

November 12, 2014 – Gallery Talk, Nathan Dorn, exhibition curator, will discuss highlights of selected items from the exhibition. The program will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m.

November 19, 2014 – Gallery Talk, Susan Rayburn, a specialist in the Library of Congress Publishing Office, will discuss the 1215 Lincoln Magna Carta"s first visit to the Library in 1939. This program, “Magna Carta in America: From World’s Fair to World War,” will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m.

December 3, 2014 – Gallery Talk, Margaret Wood, a senior legal reference librarian in the Law Library of Congress, discusses King John and life in medieval England at the time of Magna Carta"s enactment. The program will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m.

December 9, 2014 Symposium: Conversations on the Enduring Legacy of the Great Charter. The symposium will expand on the exhibition’s themes and will include sessions on new historical perspectives on Magna Carta, its relevance in the American Age of Reason, its impact on colonial and early republican America, and rulemaking and drafting modern constitutions.

December 10, 2014 – Gallery Talk, James Martin, a senior Legal Information Analyst in the Law Library, presents “The Merriman Case and the Writ of Habeas Corpus.”

January 14, 2015 Magna Carta Lecture Series: Magna Carta—Women in Medieval Europe in 1215. The Law Library welcomes Dr. Ruth M. Karras, chair of the History Department at the University of Minnesota, for this program. The program will take place at 1:00 p.m. in the Mumford Room (LM-649).

January 14, 2015 – Gallery Talk, Nathan Dorn, exhibition curator, will discuss highlights of selected items from the exhibition. The program will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m.

January 16, 2015 – Gallery Talk, Heather Wanser, preservation conservator, will discuss the conservation of George Washington’s copy of the U.S. Constitution which is displayed in the “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” exhibition. The program will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m.

January 19, 2015 – Gallery Talk, Chris Woods, director of the National Conservation Service (United Kingdom) discusses the care and conservation of Magna Cartas, including the Lincoln Cathedral 1215 manuscript copy on exhibition. The program will take place in the South Gallery, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m.

January 19, 2015 Exhibition closes.

April 6, 2015 – Law Day Program. Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, will give the lecture “Magna Carta from Runnymede to Washington: Old Laws, New Discoveries.” The program will take place at 1 p.m. in the Montpelier Room (LM-619), James Madison Building.

Press Releases

  • March 13, 2015 - Nicholas Vincent to Present “Magna Carta from Runnymede to Washington: Old Laws, New Discoveries”
  • December 29, 2014 - Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor Exhibition Closes Jan. 19
  • November 10, 2014 - Symposium on Enduring Legacy of Magna Carta, Dec. 9
  • November 6, 2014 - “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” Exhibition Opened Today at Library
  • November 4, 2014 - Magna Carta Is Subject of New Book, Exhibition
  • September 18, 2014 - The Great Charter’s Enduring Influence
  • September 5, 2014 - Lecture on  “Magna Carta and the American Constitution” Will Mark Constitution Day at Library of Congress
  • July 25, 2014 - Magna Carta Lecture Series Will Examine U.S. Constitution, Women in Medieval Europe and More
  • July 16, 2014 - Library Collaborates with ABA to Create Traveling Facsimile Exhibition on Magna Carta
  • July 1, 2014 - “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” Exhibition at Library of Congress To Display 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta from England
  • June 20, 2014 - “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” Exhibition Lecture Series Starts July 8 with “Trial by Jury” Discussion
  • March 7, 2014 (REVISED March 10, 2014) - “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” Exhibition Opens Nov. 6

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Sponsors

Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor has been organized by the Library of Congress in partnership with Lincoln Cathedral—Bringing Magna Carta to the USA.

The exhibition is made possible by support from:
  • The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies
  • 1st Financial Bank USA
  • The Friends of the Law Library of Congress
  • BP America
  • The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Earhart Foundation
  • White & Case LLP
  • The Burton Foundation for Legal Achievement

The Library of Congress also gratefully recognizes contributions received through the Friends of the Law Library from Thomson Reuters, William S. Hein & Co, Inc., Raytheon Company, Brill|Nijhoff Publishers, and the generous support and assistance provided by the British Council.


Additional support is provided by:
  • The Office of the General Counsel, American University
  • American Association of Law Libraries
  • Baronial Order of Magna Charta
  • Christopher J. and Sheilah F. Brous
  • Georgetown University Law Center
  • Tom and Erika Girardi
  • Magna Carta Foundation
  • Mark Medish Family
  • Patricia Glass Schuman and Vincent C. Civello
  • Roberta I. Shaffer

As well as contributions from an anonymous donor; Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress Professional Association; Mary Alice Baish; Robert R. Newlen; and Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution.


The Library gratefully acknowledges contributions from members of the Executive Board of the Friends of the Law Library of Congress: Kim Phan and Ambassador Robert Orr; Geoffrey William Anderson; Paul Godlewski; Martin B. Gold; Marian Blank Horn; Steve Hrubala; Billie Jo Kaufman; Kenny Kraft; Emily Rae; Robert Sargin; and Charles Owen Verrill, Jr.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Last Updated: 06/03/2015