Reflections on Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research for the First Time

By Beau Steenken

In my last post, I related my experiences designing and proposing a new Specialized Legal Research (SLR) course on Foreign & International Legal Research. This time around I thought I would share my impressions of how my course went in its first iteration. I will do so by discussing what went most right, what went most wrong, what went kind of right and kind of wrong, and the changes I plan to make in the next iteration (which will occur in the Fall 2018 semester.) Before I get to the analysis, though, I’d like to thank the seven wonderful UK Law students who were intrepid enough to take a brand new course and serve as my guinea pigs!

· What Went Most Right: “Partner Meetings”
My class featured three graded assignments, one for each of the subparts of the course (foreign legal research, international legal research, and European Union legal research). I generally tried to give the students two weeks for each assignment, and midway through the assignment window I required students to come conduct a mock “partner update meeting” with me. This was partially so that I could ensure everyone was on track as the topics were mostly brand new for all of my students, but it also served to fulfil the A.B.A. requirements for self-reflection in experiential simulation courses.i The simulated partner meetings exceeded my expectations. All of my students came in prepared having already conducted significant research on their problems. They also all happily engaged in self-assessment and rightly felt more confident with some sources than others. Finally, none of the students had fully exhausted their available research avenues, so they (and their assignments) all benefited from the meetings for which they were appreciative.

· What Went Most Wrong: Lecture/Discussion Balance
I tried to run my course as a simulation course in preparation of offering it as a way for students coming in under the new ABA rules to use it towards their experiential requirement.ii As such, I treated my class as a mock firm, and planned to deliver most instruction via discussion. We even met in the law school’s committee conference room. Unfortunately, I often found myself drifting back into lecture, as the topics were—well—foreign to my students. While a classroom instructional component remains a part of simulation courses,iii I think that I need to balance it better next time to keep students active more of the time.

· What Went Kind of Right and Kind of Wrong: Assignments
As mentioned above, I had three assignments. In the first, students prepared powerpoint presentations comparing the immigration laws and structures of three different jurisdictions. In the second, they prepared an internal memo recommending one of three possible international defenses for the use of armed force by a fictitious state. Finally, they wrote a client letter to a fictitious American toymaker advising the client whether or not taking steps to accept an offer to expand into the French market would make economic sense after an initial glance at E.U. laws on toy safety. I graded each
assignment with an outcomes-based rubric to track achievement of my course learning outcomes. The assignments went kind of right in that my students did in fact achieve many of the learning outcomes for the course. The assignments went kind of wrong in the fact that my course evaluations universally indicated that the amount of work that went into the assignments would have been more appropriate for a three hour credit course than a one hour credit course.

· Changes for Next Time
When I teach the course again next fall, I plan to do a couple of things differently to mitigate what went wrong last time. First, I am going to take a couple of steps to improve the lecture discussion balance. I think I am going to have students prepare oral reports to their fellow students on some instructive topics. I am also going to teach the international component (which I know better) before the foreign component, as I think I will establish a better balance with the material with which I am most comfortable. I also plan on reducing the size of assignments, possibly by breaking students into groups, so that each student only gets a single issue or jurisdiction, while allowing them to provide evaluation/synthesis as a group.

In conclusion, while I certainly enjoyed my first round of teaching Foreign and International Legal Research, there were definitely areas where I found I could improve. I am greatly looking forward to my second attempt next fall to see how the class improves in its second iteration!

i ABA Standard 303(a)(3)(iv).
ii See ABA Standards 303(a)(3), 304(a).
iii ABA Standard 304(a)(iii)ABA Standard 304(a)(iii).

Introducing …Meredith Capps as the December 2017 FCIL Librarian of the Month

1. Where did you grow up?

My father worked in the horse racing industry, so I grew up in the Triple Crown states—New York, Kentucky, and Maryland.

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

I worked at a student assistant in the Cataloging & Serials department in the law library at George Washington University when I was an undergraduate student at GW and loved it.  I found myself practicing at a big firm in DC for a number of years after I graduated from law school (at Vanderbilt!), but periodically found myself researching library science programs.  When I was ready to take a step back from legal practice, I finally acknowledged that nagging feeling that I should, perhaps, consider librarianship.  I’m fortunate that my husband (who is also a lawyer) thought it was a fantastic, and not entirely, crazy idea, and supported me as I went back to school and made the transition.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

I took several international law courses whilst getting my JD at Vanderbilt—public international law, EU law, human rights, international civil litigation.  The government investigations I helped to manage were almost entirely domestic in scope, so I’m excited that librarianship is now affording me the opportunity to immerse myself in FCIL.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have  you worked there?

I just started working at Vanderbilt in October, so I’m very new to my current position!

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

Very, very rudimentary Spanish.  So rudimentary as to hardly be worth mentioning.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

I don’t know that quitting something can be considered an “achievement,” but it certainly took a lot of courage and planning to quit practicing and try something new professionally.  I know many readers of this publication have done the same, and probably also experienced sleepless nights and periodic nausea.   In general I’ve found that the times I helped people in concrete ways were the most personally satisfying, even when they weren’t the most challenging work.  I managed some complex investigations when I was practicing law that required patience, creativity, and long hours, but the client I remember most fondly was a pro bono asylum client, and I’m always happy when a student is appreciative of my help and returns for advice.

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

Sweets.  Peanut Butter M&Ms and anything covered in very sugary frosting, such as grocery store sheet cake.

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

This could be an entire blog post!  Most recently noted myself doing this to Dancing Queen by ABBA.

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

See question 5—I really wish that I had taken language instruction more seriously.  I also wish that I could play the piano, and did not experience anxiety when faced with numbers.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you can’t go a day without?

Some kind of movement.  I’m a certified Pilates instructor and try to get on the equipment a few times a week, but also enjoy yoga and long walks or hiking.  I have foot and ankle issues from years of ballet/pointe, so I try to go really easy on my joints.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

I’m really excited to join such a welcoming (and fun) professional community.  I attended IALL’s annual conference in Atlanta last week, and it was really encouraging to meet so many wonderful people and see how many resources I’ll have available to me.

Wrapping Up: End-of-Semester Report on Foreign Language Study

By Katherine Orth

In my previous post in the Acquiring Foreign Languages Series, I wrote about conducting known-item searches for FCIL resources using research questions provided in the FCIL-SIS Syllabi and Course Material Database.

In this post, I turn my focus away from conducting FCIL tasks in French and Spanish in order to briefly address a few issues that arise when studying foreign languages for career advancement.  First, how to effectively use your limited study time when you have a full-time job, and secondly, how to prepare for foreign language reading proficiency exams if you choose to take them.  Although I provide specific details from my personal experience, I hope that my advice is generally applicable, even for those who choose to self-study one or more foreign languages.

Making Time to Study and Developing an Effective Study Routine

I work a standard, 40-hour workweek at the UNC Law Library.  This semester, I took “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading.”  The classes were offered through UNC’s Department of Romance Languages, a 20-minute walk from my workplace.  Each class met once a week, in the afternoon from 4:30 to 6:00, so the disruption to my workday was minimal.  If not for this advantageous scheduling, I would have explored the university’s online class offerings, a Coursera course, or an evening class at my town’s foreign language school.

Employ a variety of tasks in your study routine.  When studying to attain foreign language reading proficiency, it can be easy to over-rely on reading texts.  But reading alone can be slow-going, and it requires a lot of mental effort.  Try to integrate differing but complementary tasks into your routine to stay mentally fresh.  Consider using apps like DuoLingo that cater to all four language competencies (reading, writing, listening, and speaking).

Studying in short bursts is effective, provided that it is done 51niFpYq6sL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_regularlyI’m not naturally a morning person, but this past semester I made an effort to get up earlier than usual on weekdays to study before the workday began.  I enjoyed studying at a coffee shop near campus, arriving a little after 7:00.  Thirty-five minutes or so was enough time to fill out a few French or Spanish worksheets in exercise books like the French and Spanish Complete Grammars.

Foreign Language Proficiency Exams

I took the French exam and the Spanish exam, which I had to register for through the Graduate School at UNC.  There was an associated fee of $35.00 per exam.  Each exam took three hours, I needed to show photo ID for entry, and I was permitted to bring a paper dictionary.  One week after the exams, the Graduate School issued letters affirming reading proficiency (grades of at least 70%).

Allow plenty of time to get familiar with all verb tenses, especially the compound tenses.  It’s important to gradually build a substantial foreign language vocabulary in the months leading up to the exam.  However, if you are allowed to use a paper dictionary, then the real test is identifying the correct verb tense.

501-french-verbs-17I recommend the 501 French Verbs and 501 Spanish Verbs books.  Their thorough verb treatments are unparalleled, but I mostly used these books for their grammar primers and self-tests (found in the first 50 pages or so).  The grammar coverage is comprehensive without being overwhelming.  The usage rules are very finely parsed out – only half a page for each rule – and they are presented with sample sentences.  This arrangement is especially helpful for compound verb tenses that do not necessarily get a systematic treatment in other texts, or in class.

Prepare for reading comprehension assessment across a range of tasks.  Certainly, translation exercises are essential to assess bibliographic proficiency.  However, an exam will probably also include short answer questions, and/or summarizations of the assigned text(s).

Spend only as much time as necessary for the task at hand.  Skim the text(s) for key words and phrases used in short answer questions.  Avoid translating passages in order to summarize them.  Instead, read to get the gist of the passage, and use scratch paper to map out an answer.  For example, if summarizing one paragraph has a point value of five, identify at least five facts and prioritize or synthesize the facts on scratch paper.  This prevents you from wasting time looking up more words than necessary to provide a good answer.

My next post will conclude the Acquiring Foreign Languages series.  I will offer some parting thoughts and advice about studying French and Spanish in the service of greater FCIL search and retrieval proficiency.

FCIL-SIS Call for Nominations for Vice Chair/Chair-Elect

WWI Irish recruitment posterThe Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Special Interest Section (FCIL-SIS) of AALL is seeking nominees for Vice Chair/Chair-Elect of FCIL-SIS.

The position of Vice Chair/Chair-Elect requires a three-year commitment, as the Vice Chair/Chair-Elect will transition to Chair and then to Immediate Past Chair.  The holder of this office is expected to attend the AALL Annual Meeting as Vice Chair/Chair-Elect and as Chair.  More information is available in the FCIL-SIS Bylaws.

Please communicate with the individual you would like to nominate to ensure his or her interest in serving before sending the nomination to the Committee.  Self-nominations are also welcome.

Nominations must be received by Friday, December 15, 2017. Results will be announced in the spring newsletter.

Please submit your nominations, and any questions to:
Gabriela Femenia, Chair, FCIL-SIS Nominating Committee
Amy Flick, Member, FCIL-SIS Nominating Committee
Kurt Carroll, Member, FCIL-SIS Nominating Committee

We look forward to receiving your nominations!


Wroclaw Travelogue

By Charles Bjork

View from Cathedral of St John the Baptist

View of Wroclaw from the tower of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

When I started my first job as an FCIL librarian three and half years ago, I remember thinking to myself that maybe this new position would provide me with an opportunity to attend the World Library and Information Congress sponsored by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) at some point in the not-too-distant future.  With so many other conferences – AALL, IALL, and ASIL, among others – competing for my professional development funds, the IFLA conference kept getting pushed to the back burner.

Then last year, while I was attending the annual business meeting of the FCIL-SIS at the AALL conference in Chicago, my ears perked up when Sally Holterhoff mentioned that IFLA was planning to hold the 2017 World Library and Information Congress in Wrocław, Poland.  I knew, right then and there, that if I was ever going to cross the IFLA conference off of my bucket list, 2017 would be the year and Wrocław would be the venue.  Why Wrocław, a city that most Americans have never heard of, and one whose name is almost unpronounceable, even for those who have heard of it?  (For the record, it’s VROTS-wahf.)

Twenty years ago, my brother Jim, who is now a history professor at King’s College, London, was researching his doctoral dissertation on the role of the Catholic Church in the formation of national identity in Upper Silesia, a region in southwestern and south central Poland that was once part of Germany.  Altogether, Jim spent about 18 months in Poland conducting research in various municipal and church archives.  Although he was based in Katowice, the administrative capital of Upper Silesia and the center of Poland’s largest industrial conurbation, Jim made several extended forays to the archdiocesan and university archives in Wrocław, the capital of Lower Silesia, 200 kilometers to the northwest.  Of all the places where Jim conducted his research, Wrocław was his favorite.

My parents and I visited Jim about halfway through his sojourn in Poland.  Starting in Warsaw, we traveled by train to Kraków, took a side trip to Zakopane, a resort in the Tatra Mountains near the Polish-Slovakian border, and then visited Katowice and nearby Oświęcim (Auschwitz) before continuing on to Prague.   We never made it to Wrocław.  For the past 20 years, every time I mentioned the possibility of visiting Poland again, Jim insisted that Wrocław be included on the itinerary.  Needless to say, he was delighted when I informed him that I would be attending a week-long library conference in Wrocław.  It didn’t require much effort to persuade Jim to accompany me during the opening weekend of the conference and act as tour guide.

To fully appreciate Wrocław, it helps to have some historical context.  The city was founded on a series of islands in the Oder River by Slavic tribes more than a thousand years ago.  Borders in central Europe were fluid, and the city changed hands many times over the centuries.  It was ruled by the medieval kingdoms of Poland and Bohemia, and later the Habsburg Empire, before being annexed by Prussia in 1741.  For the next 200 years, the city was known by its German name, Breslau, and the population became predominantly, though not exclusively, German.  The city prospered and grew rapidly during the industrial revolution.  When Germany unified under Prussian leadership in 1871 it became the third largest city in the German Empire, after Berlin and Hamburg.

Breslau survived World War I unscathed, but the Second World War was much less kind.  Far removed from the front lines during the early years of the war, the city became a safe haven for civilian refugees from other parts of Germany.  As the tide turned against the Nazi regime, the entire city was converted into a fortified compound – “Fortress Breslau” – to be defended at all costs.  After withstanding a three-month siege by the Red Army, which killed 30 percent of the population and reduced half its buildings to rubble, the city finally capitulated on May 6, 1945.  Almost all of the remaining Germans were expelled after the war ended, as Poland’s borders shifted westward.  Both Lower and Upper Silesia were ceded to Poland as compensation for Polish territories in the east that had been annexed by the Soviet Union. Wrocław reverted to its Polish name and was resettled largely by Poles from the eastern city of Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine).  What had been a mostly German city for two centuries was, within a matter of months, Polish once again.

Rynek Market Square

Wrocław’s rynek (market square). Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

Jim and I arrived in Wrocław by train from Dresden, another city devastated by the Second World War.  After settling in to our Airbnb apartment on the southern end of the Old Town, we decided to take a walk to get oriented.  We headed straight for the Rynek (market square), a remarkably inviting public space made all the more attractive by being completely pedestrianized and traffic-free.  It’s every bit as impressive as the market square in Kraków  (which survived the war with minimal damage) or the Grand Place in Brussels, lined on all four sides by a surprisingly harmonious jumble of beautifully restored or, in many cases, entirely rebuilt Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque facades.  In the center of it all is the Ratusz (city hall), which was built in stages over the course of two centuries and incorporates different architectural styles on each side.  With dozens of cafes and restaurants offering outdoor seating, the Rynek is a magnet for locals and tourists alike.  In the evenings and on weekends it’s packed with couples, families, and groups of teenagers and young adults strolling and soaking up the atmosphere.


Wrocław’s Ratusz (City Hall).  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

Just beyond the northwest corner of the Rynek, stands the Gothic Church of St. Elizabeth, whose bulky, fortress-like tower looms over the center of the city.  Like many of the other historic churches in Wroclaw, its red brick exterior would not look out of place in northern Germany or Scandinavia.  The Baroque altarpieces and statuary inside confirm that it is a Roman Catholic church.  Silesia was an early hotbed of the Reformation, and it remained predominantly Protestant until German rule ended.  In the churchyard opposite the tower is one of the more poignant reminders of the city’s Protestant past:  a memorial to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the dissident Lutheran theologian, who was executed by the Nazis a month before the war ended.  Bonhoeffer was born in what was then Breslau in 1906.

Church of St. Elizabeth

Wrocław’s Church of St. Elizabeth.  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

To the north of St. Elizabeth’s is the warren of narrow streets that comprise the University Quarter.  It’s a lively mixture of specialty shops, bookstores, and bars that provides a welcome contrast to the grandeur of the Rynek.  Affordable ethnic restaurants attract students and tourists alike.  Not just Ukrainian dumpling shops, but Thai takeaways, Sushi bars, and even an Indian restaurant.  This was quite a contrast from my first visit to Poland 20 years ago, when McDonald’s was still a novelty.

Wrocław University was founded by the Jesuits during the Counter-Reformation, when the city was under Habsburg Rule, but was secularized by the Prussians in the 19th century.  The historic core of the University is a magnificent Baroque edifice entered through a blue and gold Rococo gate, which befits its Habsburg origins.  The interior is equally impressive, if a bit over-the-top in places, as is the adjacent cherub-filled Church of the Blessed Name of Jesus.  Immediately to the north, facing the south bank of the Oder River, is another outstanding Baroque complex, the Ossolineum, which houses the University’s most valuable collections of rare books and archival materials, including manuscripts by Copernicus and Adam Mickiewicz, Poland’s national poet, and drawings by Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer.  The bulk of the collection was relocated to Wrocław from Lwów after World War II.

Wroclaw University entrance

The ceremonial entrance to Wrocław University.  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

Wrocław advertises itself as the “city of bridges,” and the reason why became apparent as we left the University Quarter and headed north toward the grouping of small islands in the middle of the Oder, which are connected to each other, and to the north and south banks of the river, by a series of bridges.  Each bridge has its own unique design and character.  Many are pedestrian-only, making this area of the city an inviting place to wonder on foot.  The most eye-catching is the Most Piaskowy (Sand Bridge), a lovely iron bridge from the mid-19th century painted fire engine red.  It carries trams, passenger vehicles, and pedestrians to the Sand Island, home to another of the city’s Gothic red brick churches, Our Lady on the Sand, and a branch of the University Library, where my brother conducted some of his dissertation research.  On the north bank of the Sand Island stands the recently erected statue of Cardinal Bolesław Kominek, the former Archbishop of Wrocław.  He was an early proponent of post-war reconciliation between Germans and Poles and is one of the subjects of my brother’s forthcoming book.

Sand Bridge

Most Piaskowy (Sand Bridge).  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

Just a few yards to the east, the Most Tumski (Cathedral Bridge) links the Sand Island to the Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), where Wrocław was founded in the 7th or 8th century at the intersection of two major trade routes.  It’s no longer an island, as the channel that used to separate it from the north bank of the river was filled in during the 19th century to prevent recurrent flooding, but the name persists.  In addition to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, with its landmark twin spires, this part of the city is home to a dozen or more beautifully restored ecclesiastical buildings connected by a series of traffic-free cobblestone lanes.  They are still lit by gas lamps, making this quarter especially atmospheric at dusk and during the evening hours.  We even caught a glimpse of the lamplighter making his rounds while were eating dinner outside on the patio of the Lwia Brama (Lion’s Gate) restaurant — pricey by Polish standards, but worth the extra cost for the stunning view of the cathedral.

The center of Wrocław is dotted with little bronze statuettes of dwarves, which have been installed as a tribute to the Orange Alternative, a protest movement that arose during the early 1980s in tandem with the Solidarity trade union movement.  Its leaders employed absurdist tactics, such as holding a demonstration in support of dwarves, to enable ordinary citizens to obliquely express their disdain for the humorless communist authorities while minimizing the risk of being arrested.  The first five bronze dwarves were unveiled in 2005.  Since then, dozens more have been installed, and they’ve started to become a tourist attraction in their own right.  The city’s tourist bureau even distributes a dwarf map and encourage visitors to go “hunting for dwarves.”  You really do have to hunt for them.  At only six to ten inches in height, they don’t jump out at you.  Once you’ve found one, it’s hard to resist the urge to track down more.

Motorcycle Dwarf

Motorcycle Dwarf.  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

After providing me with a thorough introduction to Wrocław’s Old Town, Jim decided to accompany me to the conference venue the next day, since it was being held in a part of the city he had never visited before.  We took tram No. 10 on a 15-minute journey east of the center to the Hala Stulecia (Centennial Hall), which is situated in a large park opposite the Wrocław Zoo.  The building was designed by the German architect Max Berg as a multipurpose structure for hosting exhibitions, concerts, and sporting events.  It opened in 1913, a year before the First World War began, and somehow managed to avoid serious structural damage during the Second World War.  (The name commemorates the centenary of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig.)  Though not the most aesthetically pleasing building, the Centennial Hall is nonetheless considered to be an architectural landmark for its pioneering use of reinforced concrete and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.

With the conference underway and Jim heading back home, I didn’t have too much time to explore other parts of the city.  However, I did make the effort to visit the White Stork Synagogue, another reminder of Wrocław’s fascinating but often tragic past.  Constructed during the 1820s on the site of an old coaching inn, from which the synagogue takes its name, it was the smaller of the Jewish community’s two houses of worship prior to World War II.  (The larger one was burned to the ground on Kristallnacht.)  Roughly one-third of the 30,000 Jews who lived in Breslau at the time Hitler came to power managed to emigrate before the war started.  Of those who remained, only a handful survived the war.  Heavily damaged, but structurally intact, the synagogue was left to decay for decades.  The local Jewish community finally regained ownership of the building in 1996.  In 2010 it reopened and now serves as a house of worship, education center, and concert venue.

White Stork Synagogue.jpg

White Stork Synagogue.  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

The free museum inside the synagogue does an excellent job of tracing the history of Wrocław’s Jewish community, which dates from the 12th century, making it one of the oldest in Poland.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the story is the fact that the Jewish population of Silesia increased dramatically shortly after the Second World War ended.  Once the native German population had been expelled, it seemed like the obvious place to resettle displaced Jews from the east, including many from the Soviet Union.  The problem was that the Jewish refugee population was disproportionately young and male.  The dearth of women of child-bearing age, coupled with the hostility of the newly installed communist regime and the wariness of many Poles, most of whom also had been recently uprooted from their ancestral homelands, convinced the vast majority of the Jewish refugees that they would be better off emigrating to Israel.  By 1950, almost all of them had done so.

After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the Jewish community in Wrocław gradually rebounded, and there are now about a thousand Jews living in the city.  The narrow alleyways and courtyards in the immediate vicinity of the restored synagogue, just a few blocks south of the Old Town, are some of the most tranquil and atmospheric in the city center.  In addition to the synagogue and museum, the neighborhood is home to a newly opened Jewish Information Center and even a small kosher deli.  The diverse selection of cafés and restaurants, which are frequented mainly by locals, make this area a less touristy option for a leisurely lunch or dinner.

The final day of the conference was devoted to library tours.  Although I was tempted to sign up for a tour of the city’s academic and research libraries, I decided to join a tour of public libraries in some of the outlying parts of Lower Silesia instead.  The latter tour included a stop in Świdnica, a small city of 59,000 that boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site with an international law connection.  Under the Peace of Westphalia, the landmark series of treaties that ended the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics in 1648, adherents of the Lutheran faith in Lower Silesia were allowed to build three churches, even though the province was ruled by the Roman Catholic Habsburgs.  The churches had to be built entirely of wood, without any steeples or church bells, and construction was limited to one year.  Despite these constraints, three churches, known collectively as the Churches of Peace, were erected in Świdnica, Jawor, and Głogów.  The one in Głogów burned down in 1758, but the other two survived and received their World Heritage site designation in 2001.


 Świdnica’s church, one of the Churches of Peace.  Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

The Świdnica church was the first stop on our tour, and it proved to be the highlight. Laid out in the shape of a Greek cross, it is the largest timber-framed church in Europe and has remained structurally unaltered since its completion in 1657 – a remarkable survival for a large wooden building that was lit by candlelight for most of its existence.  The interior is surprisingly light and airy, with a brightly painted ceiling and galleries, and an original pipe organ, still in working order, installed in 1666.  The Baroque altar and pulpit date from the early 18th century.


Baroque pulpit inside the Świdnica church. Photo courtesy of Charles H. Bjork.

Our next stop was the public library in Świdnica, housed in a creatively converted 18th century monastery a few blocks from the market square.  This was followed by a tour of the public library in Wałbrzych, a former coal mining center that is still struggling to diversify its economy.  We finished the day in Czarny Bór, a village of 2,000 inhabitants nestled in the Sudeten Hills near the Czech border.  The mayor and other local dignitaries were excited to show off their brand new library and cultural center, strategically located next to the local public school to provide easy access for students.  At each stop, the local librarians had tea, coffee, cake, and cookies waiting for us.  Before leaving Czarny Bór, our tour group was unexpectedly treated to a late afternoon meal consisting of a delicious dill-flavored cream soup, followed by platters of pierogis, all served in a banqueting room with an arched ceiling housed in a converted 18th century stone barn.  It was a wonderful way to conclude a very full day of sightseeing.

Wrocław is no longer off the beaten path for European tourists, especially Germans, but it remains largely undiscovered by Americans.  For those who don’t relish the prospect of constantly hearing American accents while visiting more popular destinations like Prague or even Budapest, Wrocław makes for refreshing alternative.   Poland is not as dirt cheap a destination as it was 20 years ago, but prices are still significantly lower than in most Western European countries – more on a par with prices in Portugal.   Accommodations, restaurants and other amenities have improved dramatically over the past 20 years.  LOT, the Polish national airline offers connecting flights to Wrocław from Warsaw.  The newly renovated and expanded airport is also served by several European discount airlines, which offer flights to many destinations in Western Europe.

IALL 2017 Recap: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Civil Rights Struggles in the American South

By Kim Nayyer


Professor Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and South History Since Reconstruction, Emory University. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

The conference theme, Civil Rights, Humans Rights, and Other Critical Issues in U.S. Law, was delivered with insight in this first academic session.  The speaker, Joseph Crespino, PhD, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and Southern History Since Reconstruction, Department of History, Emory University, brought retrospective and historical context to our understanding of present and historical race relations in the United States.

For those of us from outside the U.S., Professor Crespino helpfully contextualized his talk with a specific and clear explanation of the Jim Crow era, presenting dates, events, and visual illustrations.[1] Whereas I’d read and seen reference to the terms “Jim Crow” and “Reconstruction,” I, as a non-American, didn’t fully understand the details and historical context. Briefly, Reconstruction is the era that began just post-US Civil War. The Civil War itself was a rebellion by southern states (the Confederacy) against the Union and centered on the issue of slavery. Stated simply, the victory of the Union resulted in the emancipation of slaves and the period known as the Reconstruction Era.


Professor Crespino gives his talk on the rise and fall of Jim Crow at IALL 2017 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

Professor Crespino based his session on a course he teaches at Emory University, and he did an admirable job condensing “some of the highlights, some of the low lights” of his course into less than an hour. The session presented a substantial amount of content, and most of his time was dedicated to explaining the rise of the Jim Crow era despite Reconstruction. Professor Crespino concluded with discussion of markers of the fall of the Jim Crow regime. From my perspective, the session successfully elucidated this history and its present impact for international attendees while—based on my discussions with American colleagues—remaining stimulating and thought-provoking to American law librarians.

Professor Crespino outlined the history and meaning of Jim Crow, explaining that the term refers to legalized system of subjugation and disfranchisement, which followed by several decades the emancipation of freed people after the Civil War. Emancipation began with the 1865 passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. The Reconstruction Era continued with the 14th Amendment of 1868, which granted civil rights and some broad citizenship rights to former slaves, and the 15th Amendment of 1870, which gave black men the right to vote.


Slide from Prof. Crespino’s presentation. Photo courtesy of Kim Nayyer, October 23, 2017.

We learned that the term “Jim Crow” came from a recurring character in racially degrading minstrel shows, in which white actors wore blackface in mocking and dehumanizing portrayals of comical slave characters. Those minstrel shows began in the years before the Civil War, the 1820s and 1830s, in the north as well as in the south. Professor Crespino noted that historians are unclear on why or how this Jim Crow character name came to refer to the segregationist system of laws, in the late nineteenth century.

Professor Crespino devoted much time to sharing his thinking on a question that had puzzled historians even into the 20th century: why it was that Jim Crow system of laws didn’t appear on the books until around the 1890s—after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. He offered several hypotheses rooted in historical context. First, the Jim Crow laws may have reflected folk practices that existed but were not codified during the period between Reconstruction and the beginning of the regime, wherein blacks and whites self-segregated. Some specific laws of the Jim Crow regime in the south created segregated public spaces and disfranchised black Americans and some poorer whites. This is even though in the 1870s and into the 1880s, blacks were in fact participating in public life in states of the former Confederacy.

Another theory about why the Jim Crow laws began to be enacted well after Emancipation and Reconstruction reflected the reality of post-slavery era blacks. Around the 1890s to the turn of the 20th century, there was a discourse of concern among white southerners about what Professor Crespino said was described as the “new Negro,” African Americans who were not born into or socialized within slavery or white supremacy. He described how the myth of the “loyal slave” worked hand in hand with the rise of Jim Crow, and he noted this trope was depicted in 20th century films such as Gone With the Wind.

Another factor that may have contributed to the rise of Jim Crow laws was a growing racist and pseudo-scientific narrative of characterizations of black people. He quoted from a newspaper of the era which demonstrated the racist discourse used to justify subjugation of blacks despite Emancipation. He observed this was reflected in another film heavily criticized for its false and racist depictions of black men, Birth of a Nation.


Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

By the 1890s, those false and racist characterizations of black men had fed the crime of lynching, then perpetrated by mobs of whites attacking black men. Lynching refers to extralegal or mob violence. Professor Crespino explained that, until the1880s, lynching was a frontier America phenomenon whose victims were mostly white, and where law enforcement was insufficiently developed.

A final theory historians offer to explain the rise of Jim Crow laws is the serious economic unrest of the time, which gave rise to a third party movement called the Populist party. Destabilizing southern politics for a time, the Populist movement rose mostly among rural farmers who felt disempowered by the economic forces that were the reality of their daily lives. Thomas Watson, a leader of this movement, talked about the common economic interests of blacks and whites, but did not propose or advocate integration.

To Professor Crespino, the most convincing reason Jim Crow laws appeared so long after Reconstruction is the view that segregation laws were a product of modernity or the growing urbanization of the south in the twentieth century. New public spaces were arising—for example, railroad cars— which didn’t have a history of “racial etiquette” or regulation. This opened the door to the “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v Ferguson, in which the majority denied the right of Mr. Plessy to sit in a railroad car of his choosing. Professor Crespino reminded us that, at the time, this separate but equal outlook was actually considered to be a necessary tool of regulation or government reform, but in retrospect clearly made subordinate and inferior allocations for black people. When we look at the words of the majority’s reasoning now, their arrogance is blatant. The dissent, by Justice John Marshall Harlan, was consistent with his approach to those segregation decisions, which earned him the nickname “The Great Dissenter.”

Professor Crespino explained three kinds of consolidation in the Jim Crow regime. In addition to legal consolidation, seen in cases like Plessy, a political consolidation was seen in the shifts in the Republican party. Until then, the Republican party had been framed as the party of Lincoln, of emancipation, of equality. The Lodge Bill of 1890 was a last Republican effort to empower the federal government to enforce the voting rights of blacks to vote. It failed in Congress because southern Democrats allied with some Republicans to prevent its passage.

Finally, a cultural consolidation, in movies and books for example, took hold by the turn of the 20th century. Professor Crespino referred again to the heavily criticized film, Birth of a Nation and the book it was based on, which actually celebrated the Ku Klux Klan. He described the rise of a new interpretation of Reconstruction. Instead of seeing the movement toward civil rights of former slaves, some people justified their later aims by retrospectively re-characterizing Reconstruction as a tragic era (which Professor Crespino notes was the title of a book popular at the time).

Professor Crespino concluded his talk by pointing to three markers of the fall of Jim Crow. He referred to the nineteen-teens as being the period of the seeds of the dismantling, though it coincided with some of the cultural retrenchment he just described. Even as The Birth of a Nation was screening, political developments began to undermine the Jim Crow era.

The first marker was the beginning of the migration of African Americans out of the south. At 1910, 90% of African Americans lived in the southern states. Only 50 years later, half as many African Americans lived outside the south as in those states, with a population shift from the rural south to the urban north. Because blacks could vote in those northern districts, the US began to see African American members of Congress in the late 1920s and1930s, which led to a big change in the political and government discourse from that of the 1890s. In 1928, Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman, was elected, representing a Chicago district.

The second marker was the New Deal, the programs of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, carried out through initiatives pursued by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She engaged in social efforts and symbolic actions to advance the civil rights and societal participation of African Americans.

The third marker toward dismantling of the Jim Crow era noted was World War II. African Americans served and became empowered by their service to advance deserved civil rights. These were accompanied with new Supreme Court decisions, such as Smith v Allwright (1944), which disallowed discriminatory voting practices, and Brown v Board of Education (1954), which declared segregated public schools to be unconstitutional.

I found this talk remarkably timely and illuminating. One of the most profound impacts of Professor Crespino’s presentation is the sense that much of this history also rings sadly and even frighteningly familiar; it echoes in some of the uglier rhetoric of recent months. We see arguments about the present plight of relatively poor and economically dispossessed Americans giving rise to nationalist or racist populism, for example. To me, though, Professor Crespino’s presentation recalled quite precisely the arguments of Ta-Nenisi Coates in his book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Mr. Coates likens the years of the Obama administration, in a way, to the period of Reconstruction. In fact, though President Obama was in office for eight years, his title refers to the 1875 words of South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller, in reference to Reconstruction and its civil and social equality measures (Coates at xiii).

Coates even, I think, alludes to the later tragic reinterpretations of that era by those who would not want to see a black person as president. These writings echo Professor Crespino’s description of the “threat” of the “New Negro” that gave rise to the Jim Crow regime, likening this to racial tensions and perhaps overt anti-black discourse in the years since the first Obama administration. “Friends began to darkly recall the ghosts of post-Reconstruction. The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history” (Coates at 336).

[1] I understand from a conversation with Professor Crespino that his session was recorded. It a recording was made and will be publicly available, I’ll update this post with a link.

Searching High and Low: An Initial Foray into Conducting Known-Item Searches for FCIL Resources in French and Spanish

By Katherine Orth

In my previous post in the Acquiring Foreign Languages Series, I wrote about dipping into French and Spanish primary law by browsing and reading select provisions of national constitutions.  But I registered for “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading” classes in order to develop the skills needed to search for and retrieve FCIL materials.  Reading has been fun and informative, but now it’s time to commence the search!

You Have to Take the Bad with the Good

Preparation for the Foreign Language Proficiency Exams continues apace in my French and Spanish classes.  For the past month, our homework and in-class assignments have been reading French or Spanish texts running to two, three, or four pages single-spaced.

My Spanish class recently fumbled our way through an especially difficult in-class reading assignment: a news story about nuclear physicists.  The story was full of unfamiliar vocabulary, prompting one of my fellow students to joke that he would prefer it if we went back to reading fairy tales! (Fairy tales had been some of our first reading assignments in the early weeks of class).  Our professor explained that she was purposefully alternating easy readings with difficult ones, and sure enough, the following week we were reading about the life and times of Celia Cruz!

The Task

I also need to alternate easy FCIL research tasks with more difficult ones.  Reading constitutional provisions in foreign languages for my previous task bolstered my confidence, but I’m not ready to throw myself into the deep end just yet.  I’d like to find FCIL research questions accompanied by model answers, and that’s exactly what I found in the FCIL-SIS Syllabi and Course Material Database referenced by Beau Steenken in his post about designing an FCIL course.

From the “Assignments” list, I selected four well-crafted research questions (many thanks to Alison Shea and Tom Kimbrough!).  I allotted twenty minutes to each question: ten minutes of search in the foreign language, and ten minutes (if needed) to use English-language resources.

Seek, and You Shall Find . . . Eventually

Resource to find:  A law passed by the Legislative Assembly of Venezuela in December 2010.  Just the Facts: The outgoing legislature, aligned with President Hugo Chávez, passes the enabling law for the executive to rule by decree for an 18-month period.

asambleanacionalThe easy part was conducting the Google search in Spanish for the Asamblea Nacional de Venezuela.  General navigation within the site, by resource, was also easy.  Cognates (words that are spelled similarly to English-language words) were a big help, such as “actos legislativos” (legislative acts) and “decreto” (decree).  However, the resource I needed is now seven years old, and the archives from the official website don’t go back that far.  When I ventured to other sites, I encountered difficulty with link rot, as well as website inaccessibility (I could only access the Twitter account of Venezuela’s Tribunal Suprema).

Resource to find:  A decision issued by a Canadian Court of Appeal in November 2010.  Just the Facts: The Court of Appeal for British Columbia held in favor of an Anglican bishop against four parishes seeking to remove themselves from their diocese, in which same-sex unions performed by Anglican clergy were permissible.

To my surprise, the hardest part about this task was keeping each step of the search in French!  Initiating my French-language search in CanLII, I was able to browse collections by province.  Once on the Colombie-Britannique page, I could easily retrieve the decision by its date of publication.  Perhaps because British Columbia is an English-speaking province, the decision is seemingly only published in English.  (I made a mental note to search at a later time for a decision issued by a Québécois court.)

Resource to find:  An Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 2010.  Just the Facts: Kosovo adopted a Declaration of Independence in 2008.  The United Nations General Assembly requested the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion speaking to the declaration’s possible violation of international law.

logoIt was smooth sailing in the French portal for the Cour Internationale de Justice.  I was initially concerned that I might have to sift through all decisions rendered in search of an “avis consultatif” (advisory opinion).  But fortunately, these opinions are categorized separately within the “Affaires” (Cases) drop-down box.  It’s possible to download a “bilingue” (bilingual) PDF of the decision: each English-language paragraph is followed by its French equivalent.

Resource to find: The Repertoire of the Practice of the United Nations Security Council.  Just the Facts:  The United Nations Security Council is authorized to consider the admission of new members to the organization.  In the period between 2000 and 2003, it made recommendations for admission to a small number of states.

Choosing the Spanish-language option from the UN homepage, I was able to navigate through the site to the Security Council page.  But I bogged down in the procedural language, finding it difficult to locate keywords.  I decided to re-calibrate my search strategy by clicking through options on the sidebar.  After a few clicks, I saw the magic words: “Miembros de las Naciones Unidas” (United Nations Members), easily leading to the procedure laying out criteria for “Admisión de nuevos Miembros.”