Resources for Teachers

The following educational resources are intended as introductions to topics on legal history. These research resources for teachers and students are meant to emphasize the importance of primary source documents. 

Many of these resources are based on exhibits the Robbins Collection has previously developed. For more information, you can view the exhibits here.

To view a specific educational resource, simply click on the title.

California's Legal Heritage

Image of the first page of California's Legal Heritage educational resource PDFOn the eve of California’s statehood, numerous debates raged among the drafters of its constitution. One argument centered upon the proposed retention of civil law principles inherited from Spain and Mexico, which offered community property rights not conferred by the common law. Delegates for and against the incorporation of civil law elements into California’s common law future used dramatic, fiery language to make their cases, with parties on both sides taking opportunities to deride the “barbarous principles of the early ages.” Though invoked for drama, such statements were surprisingly accurate. The civil law tradition in question was one that in fact derived from the time when the Visigoths, one of the so-called “barbarian” tribes, invaded and won Spanish territory from a waning Roman Empire. This feat set in motion a trajectory that would take the Spanish law from Europe to all parts of Spanish America, eventually reaching its last settled territory, Alta California.

A video of this resource is available below:

The Aftermath of Colonialism

The mixed modern legal system of South Africa is a mix of English common law, Roman-Dutch law, and customary law. The influence of English common law and Roman-Dutch law in South Africa is the direct result of successive waves of colonization which began in the mid 17th century, while the ascent of customary law to an equal position to that of English and Roman-Dutch is a relatively new post-Apartheid reform. This educational resource provides a brief overview of customary law and the development of the South African legal system after Apartheid.

A video of this resource is available below:

Screenshot of Indigenous Bolivian Community Justice ResourceNearly 62% of Bolivians are indigenous, the largest proportion of any Latin American country. Since Bolivian independence in 1825, the country has had 17 constitutions, each with varying degrees of recognition and inclusion of indigenous communities. In 2006 Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, was elected with 54% of the vote, the first time in recent history that any candidate won an out- right majority. One of his first acts as president was to submit a bill calling for the election of a Constituent Assembly that would write a new constitution. The new constitution, passed in 2009, signals a clear break with the past, recognizing indigenous rights to a degree the country had never seen before. This educational resource shows the trajectory of indigenous rights in Bolivia from independence to today, especially the right to indigenous community justice.

Introduction to Legal Thinking

Screenshot of the first page of Civil Law and Common Law Tradition Educational ResourceMost nations today follow one of two major legal traditions: common law or civil law. The common law tradition emerged in England during the Middle Ages and was applied within British colonies across continents. The civil law tradition developed in continental Europe at the same time and was applied in the colonies of European imperial powers such as Spain and Portugal. Civil law was also adopted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by countries formerly possessing distinctive legal traditions, such as Russia and Japan, that sought to reform their legal systems in order to gain economic and political power comparable to that of Western European nation-states. This resource covers the development of common law and civil law, and the distinctions between the two.

A video of this resource is available below:

Screenshot of Roman Legal Compilation of Justinian educational resourceLong before the Roman Republic was established in 509 BCE, the early Romans lived by laws developed through centuries of custom. This customary law (ius, in Latin) was handed down through generations and was considered by the Romans to be an inherited aspect of their society as it had evolved from its earliest days. Integral to the notion that this customary law was part of the fabric of early Roman culture was the fact that this law only applied to Roman citizens and was thus ius civile, or civil law. This resource explores how Roman law developed and was eventually compiled by Justinian I into the Corpus iuris civilis, a foundational source for Western legal traditions.

The Medieval Law School

Screen shot of the first page of the Medieval Law School educational resourceThe advancement of medieval jurisprudence was a driving force in the development of universities in the Middle Ages, as the legal revival at Bologna made its way, via the greatest professors of the time, to schools emerging in Paris, Oxford, and throughout the European continent. Inevitably, the expansion of legal education transformed legal culture and practice. Medieval law texts and commentaries increasingly focused on procedural and practical elements of law, reflecting the professionalization of civil and canon lawyers and the importance of knowledge in both areas of law for practitioners. Growing demand for both legal teaching and practice also had a profound impact on the history of the book, fostering new systems of book production and presentation that influenced the way that legal manuscripts, and later, printed works, were organized, read, and reproduced for centuries thereafter.

A video of this resource is available below:


When citing Robbins Collection exhibits or materials the citation should include the original source information, as well as a citation to the Robbins Collection, as follows:
The Robbins Collection: University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.


The Robbins Collection and Research Center offers periodic in-person workshops for K-12 educators in the Bay Area on a variety of topics in legal history. Participants have the opportunity to engage with primary sources from the extensive holdings of the Robbins Collection Library.

Please contact: for more information.