The Ames Foundation

About the Ames Foundation

The Ames Foundation was founded in 1910 by contributions of the friends of the late Dean James Barr Ames “for the purpose of continuing the advancement of legal knowledge and aiding the improvement of the law.” The Foundation was incorporated in 1912. The trustees, a majority of whom must be active members of the faculty of the Harvard Law School, decided to devote the efforts of the Foundation to legal history, and the Foundation has proceeded with that charge ever since. The members of the corporation constitute, together with the officers and trustees, the Foundation’s board of directors. The Foundation is a section 501(c)(3) organization.

Since its inception the Foundation has made some research grants and has supported a number of publications in legal history. Its principal effort, however, has been its own publications program. 2014 saw the publication of The Spoils of the Pope and the Pirates, 1357: The Complete Legal Dossier from the Vatican Archives, edited by Daniel Williman and Karen Ann Corsano, the first volume in the Foundation’s new ‘eseries’, and Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue, edited by Sharon O'Connor and Mary Bilder with the assistance of Charles Donahue, Jr. Both were published in paper and in digital form. In 2011, it published, in conjunction with the Southampton Record Series, an unnumbered volume, The Common and Piepowder Courts of Southampton, 1426–1483. 1998 saw the publication of the eleventh volume in the series of Publications of the Ames Foundation, an edition of the thirteenth-century treatise Lex mercatoria, with an elaborate introduction and commentary. 1996 saw the publication of the tenth volume in the series, the seventh volume in its series of Year Books of Richard II. The Foundation has also published Joseph Henry Beale’s Bibliography of Early English Law Books, Robert Bowie Anderson’s Supplement to Beale, and Bertha Haven Putnam’s Proceedings Before the Justices of the Peace in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. All Ames volumes are in print and available from William S. Hein & Co., Inc.

The Year Books Series. The Year Books are the most important source for the history of English law from the late thirteenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth. Written in the curious dialect of Norman French known as “law French,” they give, in dialogue form, the arguments of counsel and the questions asked by the judges in the most important cases that were pleaded before the central royal courts in this formative period of English law. Most of the Year Books were printed in the sixteenth century, but the Year Books of the reign of Richard II (1377–1399) were, for some reason, never printed, though a number of them survive in manuscript. Modern editions of the Year Books, including those of the Ames Foundation, print a carefully edited French text, accompanied by the Latin text of the record of the case, where it has been found, and an English translation of both the French and Latin on the facing page. A scholarly introduction, tables, and elaborate indices round out the volumes and make them of permanent value not only for students of legal history but also for students of social, political, and economic history.

Digital Publications. Since the year 2000, the Foundation has been actively engaged in pursuing a program of digital publications in legal history. These are all listed on the home page. Particularly notable are an online edition of Bracton and David Seipp’s massive index of the printed Year Books. Even more recently it has had digitized a large collection of Harvard Law School Library’s rare books and manuscripts. Particularly notable in this regard is the digitization of the Harvard Law School Library’s large collection of manuscript notebooks from the Litchfield Law School (1784–1833), the Foundation’s first venture into American legal history. More recently, it participated in the digitization of 57 medieval manuscript English statute books and registers of writs.

A more ambitious digital project is Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue. This website catalogues all the known cases appealed to the Privy Council from the thirteen British colonies that became the United States. In addition to the catalogue, based on the Acts of the Privy – Colonial Series and Joseph Smith’s magisterial Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations, the index includes images of printed briefs in the cases that are held by the British Library and by other libraries and images of the relevant manuscript records in The National Archives (UK). Further along in the pipeline is a conversion to database form and transfer to the Ames web server of Kenneth Pennington’s Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Medieval Canonists.

The ‘eseries’. Related to, but separate from, the program of digital publications described above, is the Foundation’s eseries. The series was announced with the publication of the first two volumes in the series in 2014 (listed above). Another volume in this series is in advanced stages of production: The Register of the Official of the Bishop of Ely: 21 March 1374 – 28 February 1382, edited by Marcia Stentz and Charles Donahue, Jr. The page proofs of this volume are already available online. Volumes in the eseries are normally available online in PDF form. (Appeals to the Privy Council is available online as a website rather than in PDF form.) All the volumes in the eseries are also available, or will be available, in hard-bond paper copies.

Ames Foundation Officers, Trustees, and Directors


  • Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, President, Trustee
    Harvard Law School
  • Professor Charles Donahue, Jr., Vice-President and Treasurer, Trustee
    Harvard Law School
  • Professor Bruce H. Mann, Clerk, Trustee
    Harvard Law School
  • Professor Mary Bilder, Literary Director, Trustee
    Boston College School of Law
  • Ms. Karen Beck, Director
    Harvard Law School
  • Professor Daniel R. Coquillette, Director, Trustee
    Boston College School of Law
  • Professor William W. Fisher, III, Director
    Harvard Law School
  • Professor Sally Hadden, Director
    Western Michigan University College of Arts and Sciences
  • Professor Tamar Herzog, Director
    Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Professor Maeva Marcus, Director
    George Washington University School of Law
  • Professor Thomas J. McSweeney, Director
    William & Mary Law School
  • Professor David Seipp, Director, Trustee
    Boston University School of Law
  • Professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman, Director
    Fordham University School of Law
  • Professor Mark Tushnet, Director
    Harvard Law School

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This page last updated 05/13/21 . Contact Rosemary Spang with comments.
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