An Odd Request for an Out-of-Town Research Assistant:

Can you recommend someone who lives in or near

  1. New Haven

  2. Bloomington, Indiana

  3. Brunswick, Maine

  4. Northfield, Minnesota

  5. New York City

  6. Clinton, New York

  7. Cincinnati

  8. Abington, Pennsylvania

  9. Charlottesville

  10. Dublin (yes, in Ireland)

  11. Ceredigion, Wales

  12. or Leeds, England

and would be willing and able to read some volumes of a mid-1700s translation of Livy's history of Rome, and find all references to a particular two-word phrase? We'd pay for the person's time, though at an unprincely rate: The likely range would be $10 to $16 per hour, depending on the person's educational status — that's just the normal UCLA rate, which is calibrated to whether the research assistant is an undergraduate student or a graduate student, though presumably we can fit nonstudents in somewhere there.

The person need not have any knowledge of Roman history, though I suppose interest in Roman history may make the task less tedious. The person does need to have the (not that common) ability to read text and spot every occurrence of the phrase, which will likely be fairly rare in the work (if it occurs at all).

The reason for the request, as you may have guessed, is that (1) no library is willing to interlibrary-loan these 250-year-old books, (2) this edition (unlike many 1600s and 1700s books, including several 1600s translations of Livy) doesn't seem to be online in scanned form anywhere, and (3) this particular edition is especially important for my research. But the bottom line is that we need someone local in one of those places whom we can hire as a long-distance research assistant — and the chief condition is that the person be a careful, attentive, and not easily bored reader.

In any case, if you know someone who answers to this description, and whose reliability you personally know about, I'd love to hear about it. Please e-mail me, at volokh at, if you'd rather not post the person's name and coordinates in the comments. Many thanks!

David Schraub (mail) (www):
I got a bunch of friends who are staying over at Carleton (Northfield, MN) over the summer. I'll see if any of them are interested.
6.5.2007 4:31am
Jerry F:
I assume that making photocopies of these old books would damage them and so this is not permitted? Because there exists software that can convert scanned text into a Word-like format that would make it easy to make a global search for the two words.
6.5.2007 5:17am
If you can cover travel expenses I'm sure you could find someone interested in a trip to Wales or Ireland...
6.5.2007 6:25am
Suggestion Giver:
Perhaps it'd be more worthwhile to inquire what it would take for a library to digitize the volumes of interest, so that other researchers wouldn't have to make similar "odd requests".

Also, when will we get to learn what this magic two-word phrase is?
6.5.2007 6:54am
NicholasV (mail) (www):
Rather than photocopies, what about taking a photo of each page using a high resolution camera? I've taken photos of documents with my 13.5 megapixel camera before and with the right combination of a good lens, good light, good focus and proper camera placement, it can be quite readable (depending on the size and condition of the text relative to the page size, I suppose).

It might only take a few hours for someone with a tripod and camera to photograph each page in a way that doesn't damage the book, and then anyone could scan it (the task could even be distributed).
6.5.2007 7:38am
Somewhat unusual assortment of locations. Not Boston, New York City, Washington, etc. Brunswick, ME would be the library at Bowdoin College, our daughter's alma mater?

EV, having piqued our curiosity, or at least mine, can you tell us what "two-word phrase" you are after and why Livy's history of Rome. Not any interest stimulated by HBO's recent series on Roman history, I trust, since fine points of law wasn't their focus.
6.5.2007 8:42am
Joe Bingham (mail):
This reminds me of an Arthur Conan Doyle story...
6.5.2007 9:17am
Matty G:
Clinton, NY? It makes me laugh to think that the the library at my Alma Mater - Hamilton College - has this volume.
6.5.2007 9:32am
I'm sure Howard would be happy to help; perhaps on a pro bono basis, given his enormous financial success as the only appellate specialist in Pennsylvania (according to his recent column)
6.5.2007 9:47am
Drive By Comments:
A little part of me dies every time I see scholarship based on a translation, particularly when it deals with an era when all the educated men and women would be literate in the original Latin.
6.5.2007 10:06am
Felix Sulla (mail):
Which volumes of Livy are to be read?
6.5.2007 10:28am
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
I doubt that this is that kind of scholarship. It looks more like someone wants to argue that (e.g.) founding father X got his favorite English phrase Y from a translation of Livy popular at the time, and needs to confirm whether translation Z is in fact the source of the phrase. I believe some of the founding fathers read some of the classics in translation.

Of course, it would help if EV gave us a few more clues.

Finally, $10 to $16 per hour may not sound like much to the lawyers on this site, but some private high-school teachers (even those with Ph.D.s) would find it very attractive. (One of my colleagues last year worked part-time at Border's for less than $7.50/hour.) Too bad Chapel Hill isn't on the list, or I'd do it.
6.5.2007 10:32am
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Livy's Latin is online at If you know the original Latin for the phrase, you can narrow down the book-based search to specific passages.
6.5.2007 10:48am
I, too, join the chorus wondering what this is all about. What could be important enough to justify paying people to look for a two word phrase at over a dozen locations throughout the world, yet not important enough that the relevant works have been digitized?
6.5.2007 11:00am
AppSocRes (mail):
I'd be willing to wager, based on my recollections of Livy, that this has something to do with "cruel and unusual punishment".
6.5.2007 11:46am
Eli Rabett (www):
Have them take a decent digital camera and take pictures of the pages without a flash.
6.5.2007 12:08pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
I'd be willing to wager, based on my recollections of Livy, that this has something to do with "cruel and unusual punishment".

If so, then the passage may be from 1.28, which says:
Exinde duabus admotis quadrigis, in currus earum distentum inligat Mettium; deinde in diuersum iter equi concitati, lacerum in utroque curru corpus, qua inhaeserant uinculis membra, portantes. avertere omnes ab tanta foeditate spectaculi oculos. Primum ultimumque illud supplicium apud Romanos exempli parum memoris legum humanarum fuit: in aliis gloriari licet nulli gentium mitiores placuisse poenas.

Or, in Robert's translation of 1905:
Thereupon two four-horse chariots were brought up, and Mettius was bound at full length to each, the horses were driven in opposite directions, carrying off parts of the body in each chariot, where the limbs had been secured by the cords. All present averted their eyes from the horrible spectacle. This is the first and last instance amongst the Romans of a punishment so regardless of humanity. Amongst other things which are the glory of Rome is this, that no nation has ever been contented with milder punishments.

While the concept is there, a translation would have to be pretty loose to get the collocation "cruel and unusual punishment." I suppose that's why looking at a specific edition would be crucial.
6.5.2007 12:58pm
I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair.
With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door
behind me. "You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson," he said cordially.
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"So I am. Very much so."
"Then I can wait in the next room."
"Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."***

On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of 4 pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Appiy in person on Monday, at eleven o'clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope's Coun, Fleet Street.***
6.5.2007 1:28pm
Another Steve (mail):
What is the specific title of the book? would you happen to have the OCLC number?
6.5.2007 1:57pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
"a particular two-word phrase"

Guess that leaves out "cruel and unusual"....
6.5.2007 5:02pm
Richard Gould-Saltman (mail):
Evidently, I'm not the first to read this and immediately think "Red-Headed League".
6.5.2007 5:19pm
Abe Delnore:
It might only take a few hours for someone with a tripod and camera to photograph each page in a way that doesn't damage the book, and then anyone could scan it (the task could even be distributed).

One of my side jobs in grad school was imaging sixteenth-century books for University of Virginia Special Collections. We used specialized scanning cameras in very sturdy mounts and a suite of lights to get our pictures. It took about three minutes to scan each page.

We did take requests and you might actually get one of these libraries to scan the book for you. If the library owns such an old volume, chances are there is already a plan to scan it at some point in the next five years or so. Your request might get it moved up the list.
6.5.2007 6:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Hmmm. Does this strange list imply that there were at least a dozen separate translations of Livy in the 18th c.?

Or is Professor Volokh employing a version of the astronomer's dodge of salting cosmological photographs with false positives to be sure that hoi polloi checking them for anomalies (before computers, this was) are really paying attention?

And is the assumption that our 18th c. grandees who read Livy in translation would necessarily read him in English translation?
6.5.2007 7:30pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Why not just email a request to the classics departments at the schools whose libaries have copies of the book?

It's not always clear from your list where the copies are; for example, the New York City copies could be at the N.Y. Public Library, the Brooklyn Library, Columbia, NYU and/or quite a few other institutions. A student who doesn't know if his/her own campus library has the book will be less likely to want the job than one who knows that it does. Targeting your inquiry to schools which you know have copies will eliminate this uncertainty. It will also make it more likely that the person you hire will be familiar with the particular library and would not waste time searching for the book.
6.5.2007 9:46pm
I think that the idea of hiring someone to scan the book(s) is probably best, but if you do go with the original plan of hiring wetware to read the book(s), I think that you probably need someone who is autistic. Try contacting a local chapter of the Autism Society, or perhaps the local high school special ed department. What you need is someone who is high-functioning autistic, who will probably be overjoyed to get paid for doing something where the autism is a strength rather than a disability.
6.6.2007 3:49pm
theobromophile (www):
Is there a deadline? Most of those are college towns, and students are gone for the summer. You might have better luck in September.

The person does need to have the (not that common) ability to read text and spot every occurrence of the phrase, which will likely be fairly rare in the work (if it occurs at all).

If it wouldn't completely bore them, your research assistants should read backwards (bottom right to top left of a page).
6.6.2007 8:24pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Re-reading the request, it seems the professor wants 12 people to read the same edition. Curiouser and curiouser.
6.7.2007 12:00am