How can one bring life to legal history? How to find young people able to develop an interest in a subject is a perennial question for any discipline. Some people happen to know at a very early stage in their life what profession they will choose, others find their specialism with more difficulty. At school and university it is not just the subjects taught that will ignite a sparkle, but more often just one teacher or professor whose approach and personality makes you happy to go for one particular subject. Thinking about your initial choice, even after many years, you will remember her or him, and smile because of memories rekindled. The sheer enthusiasm, the inimitable gestures, the way of putting questions to you, and so much more influence you for the rest of your life.
I have a soft spot for the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Mike Widener, its librarian and chief contributor to the blog, published on May 4 a post about letters with questions and remarks from children who had recently visited the library with their school class. Earlier this year Widener received a number of medievalists who visited the exhibition on reused fragments of medieval manuscripts used as bindings in old legal books. The Yale blog presents the items put on exhibition. Some of the fragments need further identification: sometimes the exact nature of the text is not yet fully clear, and for other items the provenance poses riddles. If you like you can help solving questions of this kind.
Of course showing young children historical materials is not the only way to kindle historical interest. The story of this visit is very much also a story of curiosity, of questions asked without any educational or professional blockades, of remarks which make you think again. In my opinion confronting people with a rather different world than their own, a world that partly belongs to the past, and yet a world with real people, is one of the major tasks of history. It can set us free to look again at what seems unchangeable, at what seems modern, at what seems dead or forgotten. It can indeed show us our prejudices and other weaknesses. Any sensible contribution to fulfill this task is very much welcome.