Houghton Library opened its doors in 1942. Throughout 2017, we are celebrating the library’s world-class collections, and support of research and teaching over the last 75 years. Join in the celebrations by participating in our year-long program of events that promises visitors a unique glimpse of some of Houghton’s most treasured holdings:

  • Three exhibitions showcasing highlights from Houghton's collection selected by Harvard faculty, and the library’s curators, archivists and librarians
  • Film series screening movies inspired by or connected to Houghton’s literary archives
  • Houghton Library at 75, a new guide to the collections
  • Houghton Library: Who Cares? A 75th Anniversary Symposium exploring why and how curators, conservators, artists and researchers care for special collections
  • Weekly tours, and special events

For updates, check back here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Happy Gore Vidal’s birthday! ⠀
He was born Oct. 3, 1925, and would have been 92 years old today.⠀
Gore Vidal hand-wrote all of his first drafts. He usually inscribed on each of them the day and place he begun them in the top left-hand corner as this one: “6-1-1985; Rome” which became Empire: a novel published in 1987.  This novel portrays the conjunction of government and mass media in the creation of the fictional newspaper dynasty of half-sibling characters, Caroline and Blaise Sanford. As always Gore Vidal was trying to share lessons from American history with his nation which he referred to as the “United States of Amnesia.”⠀
This part of the collection is currently being processed by Jennifer Lyons, manuscript cataloger at Houghton. [MS Am 2350 (4620)]⠀
The library has been the center of Vidal studies since his papers were opened for research in 2007.
  • Cooler temperatures in the spring delayed the season, but strawberries are now abundant in farmers markets throughout the Cambridge/Boston area.⠀
To celebrate their tasty goodness, here is a rather interesting strawberry from a French fortune telling volume from 1532, "Le liure de passe temps de la fortune des dez" [Typ 515.32.804]. This is a translation of a 15th century Italian original by Lorenzo Spirito.⠀
Three dice would be cast relating to a question, here it is whether a woman's child was a boy or a girl, leading one to circular diagrams of zodiacal symbols, and finally on to 56 numbered "answers" under the names of prophets. ⠀
The 1482 Italian edition (which Houghton sadly doesn't have), instead of flowers, has an assortment of figures in the middle for this section: sun, moon, star, scorpion, griffon, heart, unicorn, etc.⠀
#fortune #fate #astrology #fortunetelling #16thcentury #rarebook #french #italian #strawberry #dice #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary #bookstagram #librariesofinstagram
  • "John Lithgow: Actor as Artist," a look of the the actor’s talents for drawing as well as drama, has been extended through Thursday, September 7, due to popular demand.⠀
This featured drawing is a caricature of the entire 1998 M. Butterfly original Broadway cast—Lithgow himself included—and is one of the many cast drawings currently displayed on the Library’s ground floor. Join us for this encore performance.⠀
[MS Thr 396]⠀
Original description of the exhibition: "John Lithgow enrolled at Harvard in 1963, intent on becoming a painter. Even as a professional actor, he has never lost interest in the visual arts. To honor Lithgow as this year’s recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, Houghton Library presents an exhibition of the actor’s drawings, featuring designs for student productions at the Loeb Drama Center and caricatures depicting his career on Broadway and in television, including memorable performances in M. Butterfly, the hit sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Netflix’s The Crown."⠀
#lithgow #mbutterfly #exhibition #broadway #harvardartsmedal #caricature #drawing #artsfirst #populardemand #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary
  • Check out the Harvard Gazette today ( for a featured article related to our current exhibition, "Henry David Thoreau at 200," which made Editor's Pick.⠀
"As the bicentennial nears for the birth of Henry David Thoreau [July 12], it’s clear that Harvard College influenced the churlish naturalist far more than he would have admitted, author says."⠀
The image is from AC85.T3912.854w (B), and is Thoreau's friend Daniel Ricketson’s copy of Walden (1854), with his extensive manuscript annotations concerning his friendship with Thoreau, visits paid him by Thoreau, etc.  This is one of two portraits of Thoreau by Ricketson, pasted inside the front cover.⠀
Come see the exhibition until September 2nd, upstairs in the Amy Lowell Room.⠀
#thoreau #transcendentalist #nature #walden #manuscript #portait #librariesofinstagram #bicentennial #200 #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary #exhibition
  • First published in 1570, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is generally regarded as the first modern atlas, being a comprehensive suite of maps derived from empirical observations and issued together as a single work. Edited and published by the Flemish geographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), with plates engraved by Frans Hogenberg, the Theatrum was a great success, going through over twenty-five editions in various languages. With each edition, new maps were added, and old ones altered or replaced as further European “voyages of discovery” filled in the expanses once designated terra incognita. The world map shown here is derived from earlier maps by Giacomo Gastaldi and others. ⠀
Buyers of the atlas could choose either a plain, uncolored version, or with the maps colored by hand, as in this copy from the 1574 Latin edition (Ortelius himself had started out as a map colorist, and for many years employed his sister Anne in this capacity).⠀
NC5.Or850.570tℓ. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Plate I: Typus Orbum Terrarum, 1570. ⠀
This is on display in Houghton's current exhibition, Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select, in the Edison and Newman Room until August 19, 2017.⠀
#maps #geography #engraving #ortelius #world #16thcentury #rarebook #color #handcolored #houghtonlibrary #librariesofinstagram #exhibition #harvardlibrary
  • Critics lowered their eyebrows after watching John Lithgow, a 6’4” American, transform into the stout British Bulldog in the 2016 @Netflix series ‘The Crown.’ This watercolor of Lithgow as Winston Churchill was painted by the actor himself and is featured in our current exhibit, John Lithgow: Actor as Artist, on display through July 29. 2016MT-55 Courtesy of John Lithgow @thecrownnetflix #johnlithgow #thecrown #thecrownnetflix #netflix #winstonchurchill #harvardtheatrecollection #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary
  • The Houghton75 podcast has been launched! Find it on iTunes, SoundCloud, and on the podcast menu on the link in our profile.

Every week, we will feature a different faculty member at Harvard speaking about a favorite item in the collection, and how it relates to their research and teaching. We also hand-selected interesting music to accompany each episode.

Listen and subscribe today!

#librariesofinstagram #houghtonlibrary #podcast #faculty #teaching #rarebooks #manuscripts #interview #houghton75 #audio
  • There is a long history of Valentine's verses being composed and sent to one's beloved. Here is the end of a flowery one from 1843. It is part of Houghton's autograph collection, and is presumed to be by John Palfrey (1796-1881). [Autograph File (Palfrey, John Gorham)]⠀
Lady fair and lady bright - ⠀
Eyes of beauty sparkling light,⠀
Lady from the realms above⠀
When all is harmony and love,⠀
Lady of a heavenly birth⠀
Too much alas! for this dull earth⠀
Lady fair, be, lady, mine⠀
Take this for your Valentine.⠀
February 14, 1843⠀
#valentinesday #palfrey #poetry #verse #1843 #19thcentury #modern #autograph #houghtonlibrary #librariesofinstagram⠀
  • We have a soft spot for circular and spherical diagrams in astronomical manuscripts. So here's one for #sciencesaturday from a French manuscript from ca. 1600 titled "Abregé cosmographique : divisé en deux livres." [MS Fr 122]⠀
This part seems to be about constructing an astrolabe, that scientific instrument common in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as a means to identify stars, and use them to measure one's latitude (or local time, knowing the latitude).⠀
#science #diagram #astrolabe #astronomy #manuscript #french #1600 #librariesofinstagram #houghtonlibrary #harvardlibrary #specialcollections #rarebooks #earlymodern

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  • Collections Now Available for Research: December 2017
    Houghton Library is pleased to announce that the following collections now have descriptive finding aids and are available for research in the library’s reading room. Claudia Goreva and Ivan Kireef Photographs and Other Papers, circa 1902-1993 (MS Thr 1693) – processed by Magdaline Lawhorn Hubert François Gravelot Drawings, 1738-1764 (MS Typ 404-MS Typ 404.2) – […]
  • Aspects of Edward Lear (Part I)
    Houghton Library at Harvard has an incomparable set of materials relating to Edward Lear—the largest, most diverse collection in the world: his natural history illustrations, thousands of landscape paintings, travel journals, diaries, letters, nonsense books and manuscripts, and personal documents including musical scores. This is the first of four blogs by Matthew Bevis, Professor of English Literature […]
  • On “On Pornography”
    Here at Harvard we recently concluded Sex Week, an annual week of events focused on issues of sex, sexual health, sexuality, gender, gender identity, relationships, and more. In my capacity as 75th Anniversary Fellow here at Houghton, I brought a Sex Week focus into my work with Houghton and examined the collection for materials related […]
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