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July 1, 2014 (REVISED July 2, 2014)
“Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” Exhibition at Library of Congress To Display 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta from England
For 10 weeks—from Nov. 6, 2014 through Jan. 19, 2015—the Library of Congress will display one of only four surviving copies of Magna Carta from 1215, the great charter of rights and liberties, which will be the centerpiece of the Library’s exhibition "Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor."
The exhibition, which celebrates the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, will 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.
The 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta will be on loan from the Lincoln Cathedral in England. The document is traveling first to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it will be on display from July 2 to Sept. 1, and then to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts from Sept. 6 through Nov. 2. Its final stop in America will be the Library of Congress.
The Library’s 10-week exhibition will feature medieval manuscripts, published works, prints, photographs, maps, posters and annotated draft opinions by justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The 75 items will be drawn from the collections of the Law Library of Congress and from the following custodial divisions at the Library: Prints and Photographs; Rare Book and Special Collections; Music; Manuscript; Geography and Map; and Serial and Government Publications.
In addition to the 800th anniversary, the exhibition marks the 75th anniversary of Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta’s first visit to the Library of Congress. After a six-month public viewing in the British Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the document traveled to Washington, D.C. On Nov. 28, 1939, the British Ambassador to the United States, in an official ceremony, 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, Ky. The document returned to England in 1946.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Federalist Society and 1st Financial Bank USA, with additional contributions from The Burton Foundation for Legal Achievement, the Friends of the Law Library of Congress and the Earhart Foundation.
The Library’s exhibition will show how the interpretation 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 will describe 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. Also, liberties associated with Magna Carta are not just for the history books; many of those liberties are still being litigated in U.S. courts today.
The exhibit’s narrative will start with the creation of Magna Carta ("Great Charter"), which was sealed in 1215 in a grassy meadow at Runnymede, by the Thames, when barons coerced King John into granting a number of rights and liberties. It will cover this conflict, the contents and purpose of Magna Carta and the great charter’s re-issue by subsequent kings and Parliament.
As the storyline continues, the exhibition will focus on Magna Carta’s rediscovery in the 17th century, when English jurists, especially Sir Edward Coke, made Magna Carta into the fundamental source of constitutional guarantees of individual liberties; Magna Carta’s adoption and interpretation in Colonial America; and Magna Carta’s influence on the creation of American written constitutions.
The exhibition will show the relevance of Magna Carta by tracing four important areas of constitutional jurisprudence from their medieval origins through present-day litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. A small section will highlight the interpretation of Magna Carta in art, music, drama and cultural commemorations.
The Library of Congress convened an advisory board of scholars to help plan the exhibition content. The board includes Bruce O’Brien, professor in the Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington; Ellis Sandoz, the Hermann Moyse Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science and director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies at Louisiana State University; A. E. Dick Howard, the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Virginia School of Law; and Joyce Lee Malcolm, the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law.
The exhibition curator is Nathan Dorn, librarian in the Law Library of Congress, and the exhibition directors are Cheryl Ann Regan and Martha Hopkins from the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office.
The Law Library of Congress was established in 1832 with the mission to make its resources available to members of Congress, the Supreme Court, other branches of the U.S. government and the global legal community and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of law for future generations. With more than 5 million items in various formats, the Law Library of Congress contains the world’s largest collection of law books and other resources from all countries and provides online databases and guides to legal information worldwide through its website at www.loc.gov/law/.
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.
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