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Law and the 1960s

This semester, CWRU Law School is offering a seminar on Law and the ’60s. Students are to write papers that likely will be more interdisciplinary than some law school research papers.

Most law-student notes focus on current legal topics; offer solutions to circuit splits; or otherwise rely on the most up-to-date research possible. (Of course, there are exceptions to any rule.) Targeted searching on Westlaw Next or Lexis Advance may suffice for researching such topics sufficiently, if not in the most comprehensive and effective manner. Researching a topic anchored in events taking place in the 1960s best employs additional research tools and methods.

Luckily, in 2013, we have a mix of traditional (print) and online resources and tools to assist in researching topics such as the military draft and the Vietnam war, successful and unsuccessful dictators in Latin America, the introduction of women into male-dominated police forces, demonstrations in public places, and other topics that had their heyday/genesis in the 1960s.


JSTOR is a great resource for researching historical topics, because doing so minimizes JSTOR’s main research drawback — a “moving wall” that allows publishers to limit access to recent journal content for up to five years. While searching for articles on the military draft and Vietnam, one can search up to three fields (article title, author, text, etc.), while also restricting the date of publication to the years during and after the Vietnam War. The source documents are from academic publications, with an interdisciplinary scope that likely will capture more political and sociological sources than traditional legal research would. JSTOR recently began offering access to full-text books published by selected academic and non-profit publishers. While such books are a great starting point, one would not want to forget to consult other sources of print and electronic books.

HeinOnline & ILP Retrospective

HeinOnline offers similar access to law reviews (and other materials) from the 1960s, as well as before and after that decade. HeinOnline still embargoes some journals’ current year’s full-text articles, though such articles may also be available on Lexis or Westlaw. One can search HeinOnline by fields, such as article title, author, and full-text. An even better approach might be to use the Index to Legal Periodicals, Retrospective (1908-1980) to find relevant citations, and then access needed articles via HeinOnline, in print, or via Interlibrary Loan.

Academic Search Complete also indexes, and provides selected full-text for about half of, 9300 journals and approximately 1600 additional publications, back as far as the early twentieth century. In addition to the aforementioned field and date search capabilities, Academic Search Complete (and ILP Retro) offers subject searching and restricting the results to peer reviewed/scholarly articles. ILP Retro offers subject searching, as well.


As mentioned, consulting academic and scholarly books is an important part of effective historical research. The OhioLINK catalog offers access to over 47 million books and materials, including 55,000 e-books, available from the 90+ libraries that are part of the OhioLINK consortium. Currently-affiliated CWRU patrons can order such “available” books (not held on campus) and have them delivered in 2-4 working days.  For example, there are over 1100 books with the Library of Congress subject heading “Vietnam War, 1961-1975.” There are 95 books at CWRU libraries with the LC subject heading “United States politics and government 1961-1963″ and over 500 OhioLINK books with the LC subject heading “United States politics and government 1963-1969.” WorldCat provides bibliographic information about several million more items. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses A & I indexes, abstracts, and sells dissertations on many topics of historical interests. Some of the dissertations are available for free via ProQuest, but most would have to be purchased, or requested via ILL. The OhioLINK ETD Center and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) are newer, less-comprehensive alternatives for access to digital dissertations. The ETD Center and NTLTD include master’s theses, which may not be appropriate for researching a scholarly legal paper.

Legislation/Legislative History

The historical researcher may be more interested in the sessional form of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as originally passed), rather than its current version, as amended, in the United States Code. Other legislative history materials, such as House and Senate reports, bill drafts, and Congressional Record excerpts, may provide insight to the legislative process. Given the significance of this law, it is understandable that Westlaw’s United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.) provides access to the related House Report #89-439, Senate Report #89-162, and Conference Report #89-711. For more obscure federal laws, the print U.S.C.C.A.N. may reprint the most important House or Senate report. Additional tools for those who wish to compile more comprehensive legislative histories include ProQuest Congressional index, with links to the digital U.S. Serial Set and ProQuest Legislative Insight, which contains over 18,000 compiled legislative histories of federal laws from 1929 to the present. A privately-published, compiled legislative history of major legislation may also be available.

More Recent and Current Sources and Events

Of course, current books, legal treatises, and legal and scholarly articles may discuss historical issues in past or current contexts. For example, a current source might compare and contrast the implications of free speech during public demonstration in the 1960s to the protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1999, as well as the “free speech zones” at the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions.