Open House 75: Houghton Library Staff Select

May 8 – August 19, 2017, Edison & Newman Room

Open House 75

Houghton Library staff celebrate the library’s 75th anniversary with an open house-inspired showcase of its outstanding collections.

Fifty archivists, conservators, curators, librarians, specialists, and student workers who make up “Team Houghton” share memorable items encountered during careers at the library that range from four months to over forty years. Gained through providing access to over 600,000 printed books and six miles of manuscript and archival materials that comprise the Houghton collection, the staff’s encyclopedic knowledge of the library comes to the fore in this exhibition.

A microcosm of Houghton in breadth and depth, highlights from Open House 75 range from a Renaissance letter written by Michelangelo and a missive stained by Hemingway’s sweat, to a moving instance of gay fandom and women writers on domesticity and revolution. Among the notable “firsts” represented are the diary of the first American meteorologist and an Edison lightbulb that illuminated America’s first electrified theater. Cultural treasures from Liberia and Japan are presented alongside everyday objects such as a Roman coin and a Panama hat; taken together, these and other objects in the exhibition suggest the rich variety of human experience housed within Houghton’s walls.

Visit Open House 75 at Houghton or online to discover the library through the eyes of the people who know it best.

Henry David Thoreau at 200

May 22 - September 2, Lowell Room

Henry David Thoreau

As scholars, teachers, politicians, and pundits debate what America is and means by reimagining or rewriting the America in which we live, it is worth recalling the America actually lived in and written about by the country’s first generation born after the American Revolution. The bicentenary of Henry David Thoreau, who was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817 and died there on May 6, 1862, provides such an occasion.

A contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass, Thoreau did not always share in the prominence they enjoyed. Although his story invariably opens with reference to Emerson, Emerson’s belief that American exceptionalism was synonymous with capitalism made for a stark distinction between the two, a distinction Thoreau underscored in 1853, writing, “I am a mystic—a transcendentalist—& a natural philosopher.” The dominant Thoreau who has emerged among recent generations of readers is an environmentalist who argued for the restoration of the landscape with which humankind was originally blessed, a humanitarian who read capitalism as the supreme threat to individualism and equal rights under the law, and a political thinker who critiqued the popular concept of exceptionalism as promoting destructive impulses such as the virtual eradication of Native American culture and the extension of slavery into the American West.

Henry David Thoreau at 200 invites you to examine the life and thought of the author of “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • First editions of his major works
  • Drawings of Thoreau by his close friend, Daniel Ricketson
  • Thoreau’s own copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature
  • One of his Harvard College examination papers
  • Manuscripts of “Reform and the Reformers” and “Walking”
  • The recently discovered notes on his search for Margaret Fuller after her shipwreck.

The exhibition was curated by Ronald A. Bosco, Distinguished Research Professor of English and American Literature, University at Albany, SUNY, and contributes to the Thoreau Bicentennial, a year-long celebration of Thoreau’s 200th birthday taking place around the world.

John Lithgow: Actor as Artist

April 25 – July 29, 2017, Chaucer Case

John Lithgow, actor as artistJohn 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.

Francis Barber: A Jamaican in Dr. Johnson’s Circle

April 20 – August 19, 2017, Hyde Oval Room

Francis BarberBorn enslaved in British Jamaica, Francis Barber (ca. 1742-1801) grew up, gained his freedom, an education, employment, and married while living in the London household of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the celebrated lexicographer and man of letters. Johnson’s fervent opposition to slavery is recorded in his polemical writings, but found its most radical expression in his naming Barber as his principal heir.

The Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Johnson at Houghton Library is home to most of the surviving letters documenting Johnson and Barber’s long-lasting and close relationship, an unusual one for the period. Through a dozen objects, including Barber and Johnson’s letters, portraits, and early biographies of Johnson, this exhibition charts the remarkable trajectory of Barber’s life from slavery to autonomy in eighteenth-century Britain.

On view during weekly public tours of Houghton on Fridays at 2pm, and by appointment (email

Houghton and the Presidents

March 6 – July 3, 2017, Keats Room

Teddy Roosevelt cartoonOn January 20th, 2017, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America. Presidential inaugurations are a time to ponder this country’s republican institutions, especially the presidency and its rich history. Houghton, with its large collections of presidential material, provides such an opportunity. The library holds items connected to the presidency that span the entire arc of American history, allowing patrons and visitors to explore the lives, times, and deeds of the men who have held the highest office in the land.

This exhibition presents a thematic approach to the presidency, covering large swathes of American history to explain that multifaceted office. Beginning with Washington’s 1789 proclamation of Thanksgiving, Houghton and the Presidents also celebrates items connected to Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They range from reproductions of official documents like Charles Sumner’s copy of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to more personal documents, such as a photograph of Theodore Roosevelt as a sophomore at Harvard.

Above all, the exhibition seeks to provide a holistic picture of the American presidency. It explores morality and pragmatism; domestic and foreign policy; the public and the private; life and death; praise and criticism. The items amassed here all stem from different moments of American history, but they still inform the current state of affairs of the country. No American president was perfect, but every man who held that office felt that he was doing his best to protect the welfare of the American people. That has been and must continue to be the guiding principle of the presidency.

Curated by Houghton 75th Anniversary Fellow Arthur Schott Lopes ’19. See here for information on Houghton Undergraduate Fellowships.

The exhibition is on view during weekly public tours of Houghton on Fridays at 2pm, and by appointment (email

On the Rise: Theodore Roosevelt, the Spanish-American War, and American Imperialism

May 23, 2017 – June 1, 2018, Theodore Roosevelt Gallery

Theodore RooseveltThrough political cartoons from Houghton Library’s Theodore Roosevelt Collection, this exhibition examines the Spanish-American War and its role as the start of the United States as a world power. The exhibition was curated by Houghton Library 75th Anniversary Undergraduate Fellow and history concentrator Arthur Schott-Lopes ’19. It is free and open to the public.

The Theodore Roosevelt Gallery is located next door to Houghton in Lamont Library, Lower Level (enter through the West Door). For a wheelchair-accessible entrance, please use Lamont Library’s main door and take the elevator to level B.

© 2017 The President and Fellows of Harvard College