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Cambridge University Press




The generation of legal historians working in the opening decades of the twenty-first century have an opportunity to use digital technology to bring the sources of legal history to a wider audience of scholars and to facilitate the research of future scholars for many generations to come. I say this because, commencing in 1999, I compiled a searchable database of identifying information about and content of the 22,318 reports in the Year Books, cases decided in England's courts of common law between 1268 and 1535. With the generous support and sponsorship of the Ames Foundation, my database has become an online scholarly resource used frequently by researchers and students of English legal history and other disciplines. This has been the most rewarding experience of my scholarly career. Projects such as the one I undertook, and which I call "big legal history," can require a number of years to complete, as in my case, or else a team of scholars whose contributions all need to be closely coordinated. Because the compilation of large digital resources does not fit the typical career path of most legal historians, I offer here an account of the origins of my project, some of the choices that I had to make at its outset, the progress that I made, and the rewards that I have received along the way.

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