HIST 75H: A Masterclass on Houghton Library

January 10 – April 22, 2017, Edison & Newman Room

Harvard faculty celebrate Houghton Library’s 75th anniversary with a masterclass on its outstanding collections.

Nearly 50 academics in fields ranging from astronomy to government reveal Houghton treasures of personal and professional significance. From a wanted poster for Lincoln’s assassins to Charlotte Brontë’s childhood handmade miniature books, the assembled objects represent formative encounters from their student days and careers at Harvard, and the inspiration behind countless publications, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller.

Each year, Harvard faculty lead hundreds of class sessions at Houghton, introducing generations of students to the learning and research potential of the university’s rich and varied special collections. Their ever-evolving perspectives constantly invigorate collections in the library’s care.

Houghton Library invites you to take part in this masterclass with Harvard's world-renowned teachers and scholars by choosing your own track through this exhibition. We hope they inspire you to have your own encounters with the collections in the reading room, seminar rooms and online.


Fuel for the Fire of Learning: Houghton Library Opens its Doors

January 4 – April 22, 2017, Chaucer Case

On February 28, 1942 Arthur Amory Houghton, Jr., Harvard alumnus, vice-president of Corning Glass Works, and president of the Steuben Glass Co., offered a solemn challenge at the dedication of the library he founded to house Harvard’s special collections against the backdrop of World War II: “Upon us has fallen the responsibility of safeguarding education in its broadest and most liberal sense.”

This exhibition revisits the opening of Houghton Library, the first purpose-built special collections library at an American university, through six contemporary publications, art and photographs that document the momentous occasion. Seventy-five years on, Houghton Library remains steadfast in providing faculty, students, and researchers, as Mr. Houghton hoped it would, with “fuel for the fire of learning.”


Collecting at Houghton Now

January 17 – March 30, 2017, Amy Lowell Gallery

Houghton Library opened its doors for research 75 years ago. Built to house 125,000 rare books accumulated over the centuries by Harvard, within its first year Houghton acquired more than 8,000 printed books in addition to manuscripts and autograph letters.

Since 1942, Houghton’s founding collections have been greatly augmented by a curatorial team whose responsibilities are now divided by period or theme. Today’s curators balance consolidating Houghton’s areas of traditional strength, and forging new directions to better serve the library’s mission to support teaching and research.

Multiple factors influence curatorial choices in building Houghton’s holdings, including changing curricular demands and an increasingly diverse student body; new and emerging trends in scholarship; once-in-a-lifetime acquisition opportunities and available funds; collaborations with faculty and other Harvard libraries, and the generosity of donors.

This exhibition introduces you to Houghton’s curators, showcases some of their recent acquisitions, and reveals their plans for the future of the collections.

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 houghtonlibrary_events@harvard.edu).

© 2017 The President and Fellows of Harvard College