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Houghton Library

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Houghton Library
Houghton exterior.jpg
Houghton Library
Country United States of America
Type University library
Established 28 February 1942
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
Branch of Harvard University

Houghton Library, on the south side of Harvard Yard adjacent to Widener Library, is Harvard University's primary repository for rare books and manuscripts. It is part of the Harvard College Library, the library system of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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Welcome. I am Tom Hyry. I'm the Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library and the Director of Arts and Special Collections of the Harvard College Library. And I have to tell you, it's an incredible thrill to have you all here tonight. We've had this date circled on our calendar for months, and we're really excited that it's finally here. As most or all of you will know, we have been celebrating Houghton's 75th anniversary throughout the year. And this semester already we've had events focused on faculty, on students, on staff, and many others. And we see tonight's events as pulling the whole thing together for a true anniversary celebration. It's highly fitting to have Ann Blair with us here tonight to deliver the George Parker Winship lecture. The Winship lecture is named after the famed bookman George Parker Winship, and it was established by the John Barnard Associates in 1966 to celebrate broadly the history of the book, bibliography, and their intersections with rare book libraries and special collections. Afterwards, we invite you all over to Houghton Library for a reception, a final opportunity to see the spectacular exhibition, HIST 75H, a Master Class on Houghton Library. And most importantly, for the launch of our new publication, Houghton Library at 75, a celebration of its collections. To start us off this evening, we've invited Sarah Thomas to offer a few remarks. Sarah is the Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Vice President for the Harvard Library, and University Librarian. Sarah has been a remarkably strong supporter of Houghton Library and the other special collections and archives on campus, and I feel fortunate to be able to turn things over to her. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you so much. I really add my welcome to you. It's wonderful to be here. We have, as Tom said, have anticipated this such a long time. Now one of my predecessors was Keyes Metcalf who was a librarian of Harvard from the 30s into the-- I don't know-- actually now, 57, or something like that. And he lived to a very great age. But I've had fun looking at some of his annual reports where he's anticipating the need, and seems to be-- It's always very humbling, actually, to be the head of a library. And then you look at and you think you're encountering these issues-- for you it feels like the first time. But actually, all of my predecessors are always railing about how there is not enough space. And Widener Library, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, was-- although thought to be for the ages, and one looks at it and it's enormous, of course, it was outgrowing its space. And in the 30s, Metcalf was already hatching this idea of what he would do to alleviate those space pressures. And we see in Houghton Library, celebrating its 75th, and in Lamont Library, actually two of his plans that came to fruition. And I do want to say that he was partnering then with one of Tom's predecessors William Jackson who was-- I would say that I often feel like I'm the administrator. I'm solving those problems of space, and money, and personnel. But then you need someone with great vision. And I think Jackson brought to this opportunity enormous vision and also the ability to help conjure up the funds to make it happen. And I was imagining, as I was thinking about today, what it feels like as someone-- For me, when I was first married and you're anticipating that day that you will have children and then you're pregnant and you're reading all those baby books about how you will bring up this child, they were doing that. They were planning this building. They were anticipating. You have all the excitement that leads up, and then one day, those doors open. And you have that opportunity. When you're holding that infant in your arms, you're imagining all the futures that lie ahead for that child. And Houghton has lived through so many of those futures. Now I think my analogy is going to break down a bit here because at 75, and those of us who are getting closer to 75, we feel those creeks sometimes in our bones-- But I think that what happens unlike a human, the building continues to move ahead. When you think of a university such as Harvard, which is deep into its fourth century, we know that we are not just looking at the past of this building and all the lives it's touched-- the people who built it, the people who worked in it, the people who came and researched in it, the collections that have grown with it. But we are looking ahead to multiple futures over many years, quadruple those 75 years, I would say. So I feel at this moment-- It's interesting to look at Babar there and think of a children's book, Babar coming to Houghton. And I feel that we are both celebrating the long past of Houghton Library but, even more with excitement, looking forward to its future as it will build under Tom's leadership, under the colleagues, many of whom are here today, and then our successors, who will continue to solve the problems of space, the problems of money, the problems of all the administrative aspects, but then the grand challenges of life and what is the role of a special collections library in the 21st century. We have many opportunities ahead of us, and I hope you will join me in celebrating them today. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Sarah. Back to me. So when considering the grand sweep of history documented in the holdings of Houghton Library, the 75 years may not seem like all that long of a time, and even at Harvard, a 75th anniversary may not seem as impressive as some others. So it's important to remind ourselves that what we're celebrating tonight is the opening of what was then a state of the art facility dedicated to preserving cultural heritage, producing new scholarship, and educating students through the acquisition, preservation, and study of rare books and manuscripts. Thinking on a grander scale, the opening of a library can be traced back to the earliest days of the university when the clergyman John Harvard bequeathed the gift of 400 books to the university, which was named in his honor. The story of the naming of the university highlights the centrality and necessity of books and, by extension, the library to Harvard. It also set a precedent of generosity that has lived on through centuries at Harvard as each generation has seen sons, daughters, and friends of the university follow in John Harvard's footsteps, committing their own books, their collections, and resources to the library. Tonight we celebrate this tradition, and we remember Arthur Houghton, Jr. whose tremendous act of generosity allowed Houghton Library to be built. And we're fortunate to have some members of the Houghton family here with us tonight, so we welcome you. We are also thankful that this tradition extends to this very day. And I want to offer my deepest gratitude to the many donors and supporters of Houghton and Harvard Library, especially those of whom we have with us here this evening. The opening of Houghton Library on February 28th of 1942 that we celebrate tonight was fundamentally an act of optimism. That date was less than three months removed from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the newspapers and newsreels carried difficult news from the war in the Pacific and in Europe on a daily basis. Harvard was in the midst of a transformation in which most of its curriculum and research agenda would become dedicated to wartime concerns. By the end of the war, more than 27,000 students, alumni, faculty, and staff would serve in the armed forces, and almost 700 would die. In that setting, the university staged a relatively modest ceremony to open and dedicate the library at which President James Conant and Arthur Houghton spoke briefly. Referencing the war, Houghton spoke of the responsibility of safeguarding education in its broadest and most liberal sense. The preservation of the records of scholarship and of truth will make it possible to bring forth a more enlightened civilization in the peace that will follow war. Conant called the founding of the library "an act of peace in time of war" and concluded his remarks by invoking the ancient duty of a company of scholars to cherish the creative spirit of mankind and treasure those things, which the world will not willingly let die. So I have been quoting from these remarks liberally throughout the winter and spring for inspiration and because we continue to feel the responsibility and duty so wonderfully articulated by our predecessors. Today, we would speak of humankind and be sure to define the concept of scholars ecumenically to include librarians, archivists, students, donors, and other friends passionate about our mission. But we still understand our own work is building links in a long chain of custodians that stretches backward and forward through time, doing our part and our best to make sure our cultural heritage can be preserved and understood for generations to come. As we think back upon Houghton Library 75 years, we can confidently state that we have lived up to the faith in mission on which this library was founded. Houghton has grown tremendously in these 75 years, attracting collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives, and many other materials of astonishing quality and quantity. More importantly, these collections and our brilliant and dedicated staff have facilitated the pursuit in discovery of knowledge in a diverse and numerous array of disciplines and contributed to the education of countless students. As much as we appreciate our past, anniversaries ought not to be about nostalgia but, more importantly, the opportunity to consider critically our current moment and our future. Today, we find ourselves in a moment of unease in which many of us sense a kind of existential threat to the values of Houghton, Harvard, and the country as we've known it. Education, in its most broad and liberal sense as Arthur Houghton put it, feels imperiled. Within the University, and higher education in general, we hear narratives about the decline of the humanities. More often than we like, we field flippant questions about why libraries are even necessary in the age of Google, the smartphone, and the many other technologies that continue to change how we create, store, exchange, and preserve knowledge and information. So though this backdrop presents serious challenges, like our predecessors, I am filled with optimism about the future of Houghton and Harvard Library, which we are well-positioned to have an expanded impact on the university and for the public good. We look to seize the opportunities afforded by new technologies to connect scholars, students, and others to the collections of the libraries as never before and to support new types of research and teaching that answer questions formerly too complex to even ask. At the same time, we remain committed to the physical objects of books, manuscripts, and so much more. This commitment grows in significance as we have an increasingly disembodied relationship to what we read, view, and consume. The ability to connect with physical artifacts, drawn from around the world and surviving decades, centuries, and even millennia, gives us an enhanced understanding of our own existential nature. So let us take Houghton's 75th anniversary as an occasion for renewal, reinvigoration, and rededication, valuing the pursuit of knowledge and truth, fostering critical thinking and understanding of the past, encouraging inquiry and discovery, and welcoming others to join us in preserving a diverse cultural heritage. We have the perfect speaker to help us with this task tonight. Ann Blair is the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor of History here at Harvard University and was our top choice to give a lecture this evening on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Houghton Library for many reasons. Most importantly, her scholarship has helped us ground the work of contemporary libraries and librarians in historical precedent. Ann is simply one of the greatest historians of the book working today. And we are incredibly fortunate to have her here at Harvard. Ah, but Ann's connection with Houghton in particular is a special one. Ann worked at Houghton while an undergraduate, retrieving materials for researchers. And in fact, I am told that she is the original stack girl. Here's the truth. Ann still works at Houghton. Her teaching and researching bring her to the library regularly, and I cannot imagine a faculty member more generous of her time and energy on behalf of Houghton and the library at Harvard in general. Ann's kindness and generosity are only outmatched by her brilliance. Her lecture tonight is titled-- The Objects of Houghton Library, Past, Present, and Future. And I ask you to join me in welcoming her tonight. [APPLAUSE] Thank you so much. It's really a thrill to be here. Some of you may have been here for the 50th and more for the 25th. I'm honored to be here for the 75th. Thank you so much for coming. I'd like to take the opportunity, following on the wonderful comments of both Sarah and Tom, to reflect on what Houghton Library is, has been, and we trust will long continue to be, and on the nature of libraries more generally. A library is a place. A library is people. A library is, of course, books and all those other objects it's there to preserve and make accessible. And finally, a library is a set of objects in the sense of goals, which motivate all the investments of resources made in the place, the people, and the physical objects. We are at a time of change, and not all libraries have fared very well. This on the upper left is the History Department Library, which now houses a Foosball, and I think it's doing very well as a lounge space for graduate students. Houghton Library, on the other hand, is playing a bigger and bigger role every day in the educational mission of the college and the university, hosting students in direct contact with the amazing objects in these collections. As others have mentioned, Houghton is an award winning building, designed by the Boston firm Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn, which opened in 1942, as the first library of its kind in the US that is dedicated to rare books and manuscripts with special attention to security and climate control needs. And one motivation was to offload Widener, which although it had only been founded 25 years earlier, had already filled its 50 plus miles of shelf space, filling up faster than expected. So Houghton's earliest holdings came from the Treasure Room in Widener and from the stacks there. And then, of course, it immediately grew due to generous bequests, such as that of Arthur Houghton, Jr. of the Class of 1929, who also funded the building itself, and Philip Hofer of the Class of 1921, who was also Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts. And, of course, Houghton also pursued an ambitious acquisitions policy. So it soon was full up and started expanding underground on the basement levels of Pusey and Lamont for a total of six miles of shelving. The building hasn't changed much since 1942, as you can see. And it has lovely rooms, fancy rooms inside, which don't often get viewed. I highly recommend the tour. I think Thursdays at 3, Fridays at 3, something like that. Fridays at 2. Thank you. The Richardson Room, the Hyde Room, the Reading Room, and then I won't show you a picture of the Edison and Newman Room because you'll all be going there shortly to visit the exhibit. This is one change to the building since the 50th, which was removing the bridge 2004, and I'm very grateful to members of the staff for finding this lone picture of the interior of the bridge. It was a time when these card catalog drawers seemed no longer necessary, and that's what filled the bridge. I am told that these card catalog drawers have not disappeared. They've gone to depository, so they can be called up. And indeed in the back spaces of Houghton, there are still other smaller card catalogs. So some change physically, but the biggest change, surely, in the last 25 years, is that Houghton inhabits a whole new kind of space on the World Wide Web. Houghton is a Twitter account, Instagram, Facebook accounts, each with thousands of followers, 5 blogs, a Tumblr feed. And you have to see this. This is an item that you'll see on exhibit-- the giant folio, which is beautifully prepared with so-called volvelles. These are cut out of paper, hand-colored, and stuck around a piece of string. You won't be able to turn said volvelles in this Apian Astronomicum Caesareum in the exhibit. But you can see how this digital rendering of how it turns is a valuable tool in teaching astronomy basically in the 16th century. And then it's also an Ask-Me feature. And, of course, many thousands-- I don't have an exact count. I was told it was pending-- of fully and partially digitized books and manuscripts, freely available on HOLLIS to anyone with an internet connection, sometimes even with notes and bibliographies. And these new resources are lasting achievements that result from major investments of efforts over the last years. And I hope we, and generations to come, will continue to maintain them and add to them to use them and enjoy them. I think the web often seems like it has substituted itself. It's made things less personal. But actually, in terms of library access, I think the web is a fascinating way for people to meet the people behind-the-scenes in the library. And if you use the comment function, you will get an answer. If you use the Ask-Me function, you will get an answer. And it's a wonderful way to realize that Houghton Library is people, fantastic people-- catalogers, curators, conservators, bibliographers, librarians, 45 staff members of amazing skill, expertise, dedication who are always eager to help researchers and students. So here I have a novel way of representing the staff of Houghton Library. I'll invite you to try and find John Harvard who has a different lower body than the others. But since it's slightly difficult, I will point him out to you along with a few other people whom I'd especially like to thank because much of the information behind these statistics comes from people inside Houghton Library who know much more than I do about it. I can't think of a library of this importance, which is as accessible and friendly as Houghton Library. I vividly remember one European colleague commenting a few years ago that working in the manuscript room of his own home university was compliziert-- complicated. It was meant to make me feel good about the difficulties I was having in negotiating my way through the institution, but above all, it was a powerful reminder of how fortunate we are not only to have a library with amazing holdings but also amazing librarians who routinely go far beyond anything one could reasonably expect to make materials available to us as directly and as easily as possible. Houghton has become a huge attraction to Harvard courses. In 2016, Houghton welcomed 2,868 students in 283 classes. These ranged from courses in math and computer science-- which are what one wouldn't expect, and here are the selections that the colleagues involved in those courses, which are on exhibit-- from government, and, of course, from the humanities and the histories. Mainly from Harvard but not exclusively, they also host classes from Boston-area schools. And that's a tremendous extra workload that Houghton staff absorb, but everyone seems to have embraced this expanding role with great enthusiasm. The tours are great, too, but these sessions are really hands-on in a seminar room around the objects themselves. These are the oldest things that you or I or our students will probably ever get so close to. These sessions resonate vividly with students who mentioned they're the best part of a course or even the best part of their whole Harvard experience. And they create an immediate connection, sometimes to a distant past but also to not such distant past. The students are amazed to see telegrams or typescripts, for example, which are distant for them, too. And as a result, students every year fall in love with some aspect of book culture. And they go on to become book professionals, among them James Capobianco, Class of 1999, who is now a reference librarian at Houghton and responsible for the Houghton history 75H, which is so realistic a depiction of a Harvard class that as the DUS in history actually sent around a little note to everyone, explaining, this wasn't a real Harvard class. If anybody came along being confused, they should disabuse them of that. Or Robert Darnton, one of the luminaries in the field of book history, our own University Librarian, 2007 to '15, who remembers as a freshman, walking into Houghton Library-- that's for James and staff favorites coming soon, I'm told, mid-May, it sounds like. Here is Robert Darnton's selection for the exhibit you'll see. He describes, as a freshmen, coming into Houghton and reading, looking at Melville's copy of Emerson's Essays and noting this annotation by a rather grumpy Melville to this line, which is starred, in which Emerson wrote, the drover, "the sailor buffeted all day, and his health renews itself as vigorous a pulse under the sleet as under the sun of June." Melville's comment-- "To one whose weathered Cape Horn is a common sailor, what stuff all this is." So he remembered that many years later when the opportunity presented. Who knows what our current undergraduates will go on to do? I know some who've gone off to be book artists and book restorers. I'm delighted that one senior I know who is concentrating in statistics and is going off to work at Google will have been into Houghton and really have a sense of the long history of the codex form thanks to Houghton's accessibility. Some of them are also lucky to have summer fellowships at Houghton Library. It's a wonderful new program, which brings on 5 or 6 students every summer to work on a range of topics that are of interest to the libraries from James John Audubon's drawings, for example, to fanzines, fanfiction of the 1970s. Houghton is people, therefore. But, of course, Houghton is books and related objects. These are the items that Houghton is here to safeguard and transmit but also to showcase and provide access to. We call them books, but, of course, they take many forms. Here is Kathleen Coleman's favorite papyrus. You can notice that it's by a Greek orator, Isocrates, from the fifth century. And this copy is from approximately 600 years later. It has, of course, not survived very well, papyrus being a medium that, barring exceptional circumstances like being in a jar in the Dead Sea caves, doesn't come along very well more than a few hundred years. There are other kinds of scrolls, too, though, on parchment like this lovely genealogy of Christ, French 13th century, which was on display at the Beyond Words exhibit that you may have seen during the fall semester in the Boston area, not just at Houghton but also at Boston College and in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Other things that you'll notice, this is a piece of advertisement on a blotter, which was not a medium I was aware of. But I gather that it was meant to be the underside of a rocking blotter, and presumably, you were supposed to tip your blotter on its side so that you'd be able to be entranced by the advertisement lying underneath it. Obviously, this is the kind of ephemera that is very rare and valuable today because, at the time, it was a throwaway item. Another such of piece of ephemera that started off as an ephemera is this wanted poster seeking the assassins of Abraham Lincoln. But it's been turned into memento after the fact by the addition of those cartes de visite of the three perpetrators, so you can see that it acquired commercial value as a memento close to the time. Obviously, Houghton Library has long collected items of great beauty. Here is a sequence from the Mass copied by nuns in 14th century Westphalia. Of great significance, here's a manuscript of Keats' Ode to Autumn. You can see the poet at work revising. And here is another item of beauty, a special limited edition print with hand painting so numbered copies 1 through 50. But our libraries treat equally carefully items, which actually seemed of no importance at the time they were acquired when they were bequeathed to the institution. And I especially like this item with an accompanying letter in which Grosvenor Hubbard, a descendant of Jonathan Trumbull from the Class of 1727, is writing to the Harvard College librarian in 1909-- I send you a notebook with scribblings by Jonathan Trumbull. It has, of course, no value except as a curiosity. And by the standards of 1909, that makes good sense. What it is is a notebook taken down by a student of Aristotelian natural philosophy, basically. There are a few dozen such notebooks in various collections in Massachusetts, so it's not unique for the content that it carries. And intellectually, it's probably not terribly original or interesting. But 100 years after the donation to someone like me who's interested in the pedagogy and methods of working in note-taking, this is fantastic. And actually, I'm relying on the scholarship of two scholars who have studied all of the surviving such notebooks and found out that basically they were not taken by dictation, as it would be expected in a European setting, that the students would copy out section by section, as assigned over the course of about two months, their textbook here in natural philosophy. So we can learn a tremendous amount about what actually happened in the classroom thanks to this having been preserved for us even though, at the time, it seemed kind of boring. And I have to say there are items in Houghton now, which I-- well, here's some notebooks, more of the kind. And you can see how each student individualizes them. Some of them have colophons like this in Latin-- you see most of the text is in English, in fact-- or adding an index or table of contents. So there's a way of personalizing your work. It's also a time when with a very small class size, it didn't make sense financially to print this book because you'd have to spend 50 years selling it by dribs and drabs to 10 students a year. But also the act of writing it out was considered pedagogically valuable. Now these are some items from Houghton's Z-Closet. And I think they are going to await a different historian than I. They await scholarly the attention. But objects are patient that way as long as they have a safe haven like Houghton Library, which will keep them until they're called up. And here is something classed as a manuscript, which is a piece of the house in which William Caxton printed his first book in England in 1471. So Houghton has many, many goodies, objects in addition to books. These objects, of course, can prove more durable than people or even institutions. The place is 75 years old, and the people, who are generally younger, are dwarfed in age by many of the objects in Houghton Library. How have they come down to us? They were saved by their first owners and immediate heirs of those first owners like the Harvard notebook, for example, came down through the family directly to the library. We also see here the case of a professorial Nachlass the scrap book of Charles Eliot Norton, Professor of Art History, includes a letter in which a student is praising his stand he took in class against the Spanish-American War. But the other way that books entered Houghton Library was passing through a market. Sometimes the market has some downsides. It encourages the creation of forgeries in the hope that they will fetch money. And this is a wonderfully interesting selection. It is a late 18th century facsimile of forged, completely fake manuscripts that were purported to be Shakespeare's and, particularly here, a love letter. And you can see the making of the facsimile was in itself a huge feat, including the rendering of a lock of hair using engraving techniques. So it was, of course, very rapidly debunked, and yet, it is an object of interest and value today as an example of early facsimile work. The market has a lot of virtues ensuring the survival of many items, which might have been discarded otherwise. Americans travel to Europe to buy books, which is, of course, what Harry Elkins Widener was doing in London when he returned and drowned in the Titanic. European dealers came to the US to find buyers here. And of course, objects considered of value have traveled and been bought at a distance. They travel across time and space, and when that object contains words, it's more likely to end up in a library than a museum. But in fact, these distinctions are porous. And there are books in museums, and there are nontextual things in libraries. But my point here is that institutions play a key role in the preservation of books, and they have done so for centuries. A few libraries have existed continuously since the Middle Ages, but many more have existed continuously since the 16th and 17th century. So if you could get something into a library then, it can have safe passage down to the present. And Harvard's library should rank, of course, among those 17th century libraries. Although there is really only one book, we think, that has survived the fire of 1764. And here it is. I called it up. It comes in a beautiful red box, and it is an example of the reverse phenomenon, of a book that was checked out at the time clearly of interest a good 130 years after its publication in which, nonetheless, now does not seem that appealing to a scholar like me to go read about the Christian Warfare against the Devil World and Flesh. It's a very large folio, and I hope someone embraces it. But books will be saved nonetheless and, in any case, for a long time to come. So I'd like to think a bit with you about what makes a book and/or a text durable. Some items are durable because of their material form. Big books survive much better than small ones, and the Gutenberg Bible was probably printed in about 150 copies of which there are 29 surviving copies. That is a fantastic record of survival. On the other hand, this is an indulgence. You can see its print meant to be cut into four. You can see on the verso, there are two indulgences, and here there are two indulgences. And this would make four indulgences, and you can see here that it is meant to be filled in by hand with your name after you'd purchased it. This would be proof that you had just purchased some time off purgatory, bluntly put. This kind of thing survives very little at rates of about 0.02%, a few hundred copies out of maybe a million printed by 1500. And so printing helps us understand why Luther was so agitated with the flooding of indulgences, which had existed in the Middle Ages, too, but just not in this incredible quantity. Some books survive not because of their content, so these are tiny bibles, 13mos that were meant to be in a lady's pocket. And I was just had a talk at the Renaissance Society of America, explaining that many of these editions of the Bible-- which of course, don't have any scholarly value, were never considered of importance-- only survive because of the bindings were made for them, which are, of course, beautiful embroidered and keepsakes that were kept and passed down from mother to daughter and even, I learned, down the male line, also. So here the text is saved by accident because of the binding. Similar example, the oldest object in the collection is an Anglo-Saxon 10th century page from a benedictional, which survived only because it was included in the end papers of the binding of a later manuscript. So then we have a tension between our wanting to see the 10th century page and yet, of course, also valuing that original binding from the later Middle Ages. But I think the 10th century won out on this one, but we try to keep a record of the bindings as they were before they're disbound. And books are durable things. They can survive damage. So here, for example, is a Ben Jonson's copy of Lucretius annotated, and then apparently, ink was spilled on it. And the ink sort of burned through the paper and creates a paper burn, which is nonetheless still an object that has come down to us so signs of use and abuse. So that's how books survive materially. But in fact, some of our oldest texts do not survive materially. Except for inscriptions on stone or on clay tablets, texts from antiquity, whether they are biblical or classical, owe their survival not to material durability-- because those papyrus rolls really don't do well-- but instead to cultural longevity. The text of the Bible, of ancient Greece and Rome, that have come down to us were those that were central to a religious, or a pedagogical, or general literary canon. And that canonical status ensured that they were copied over and over again like the Isocrates that 600 years after he wrote we have a papyrus fragment. And ultimately, the ones that got copied onto parchment in late antiquity with the rise of the codex are the ones that have come down to us. Once inscribed in parchment, which is quite durable, the text could survive a few centuries of neglect, which is what befell many ancient texts and even some of the biblical ones that were not in regular use. So when those texts were rediscovered in the Renaissance, there was enough cultural continuity, in fact, to make the recovery rather easy. They could turn to Byzantines to help with the Greek language. The Roman alphabet and the Greek alphabet was pretty much similar. And they had maintained the use of Latin. They were eager to learn. They had the cultural motivation to admire the ancient texts they were recovering. So basically this process of recovery was not very onerous. But when there isn't cultural continuity, interpreting long lost texts is much more fraught. You need to decipher the writing system, master the language, interpret the text, contextualize it. And text can travel alone through time and space without cultural continuity to accompany them. So the Maya petroglyphs would be an extreme example. The stone inscriptions are doing fine, and we have no clue how to read them. We don't have the cultural legacy with which to understand them. Texts from foreign cultures require special skills in cultural understanding to read and interpret them, and Houghton, although centered on American and European materials, also has abundant collections in non-western materials. Here's an Ottoman manuscript. And you can see all this is from our wonderful new Mirador system whereby you can flip through the books and you can also download the entire thing, very powerful. And here, for example, in Houghton, we even have this Chinese imprint, which was the work of a Jesuit missionary who's writing a conversion manual for Chinese consumption, which is in Houghton rather than the Yenching Library where we might expect it. So a library like Houghton collects and preserves not only items that are clearly central to our cultural heritage, whether we want to think of that as American or English speaking, but also items that now seem culturally distant because of chronological or geographical distance. And the university is that place where we develop and transmit the specialized skills for conserving, understanding, and interpreting these sources of all kinds, requiring the expertise of librarians and techniques like paper-making, or binding, or past cataloging, to academic departments, which treat the languages and cultural context of many different times and places. So together libraries and universities are trying to transmit to the future physical and cultural access to as much of the heritage of human culture as we can. So texts are made more durable by redundancy, right, the creation of multiple copies. Each individual copy is at risk of loss. But the more copies you have, the better the chance of survival. Oh yeah, where's my Horace? Oh, well. Let me talk a bit about-- Well, so lots of redundant copying ensured that Horace's line, that I have written something that will outlast the pyramids of Egypt, Ode 330, has actually come true, not because we have what he wrote but because he has become central to the teaching of Latin for 2000 years minus about a 400 year period there between the 5th and the 9th centuries. But he was safe on parchment somewhere. And the Latin transmitted despite that. So that's one way you can have durability. Sometimes the multiple copies only one survived to be read, and that's probably what happened to Lucretius. Only one copy was found in a German monastery in 1417 as beautifully told by Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve and then put back into circulation. And of course, there were many ancient works that we know existed that don't survive at all. Maybe parchment copies were made, but they don't come down to us. For example, Aristotle's book of the poetics on comedy And Umberto Eco's book and movie of the same title-- The Name of the Rose-- makes a plot point of how that text might have become destroyed. Estimates of how much ancient literature have survived range from about 1%, which was the estimate made by humanists, in particular, Pietro Bembo in the 15th century, to about 4%, which is the recent estimate of a classics scholar studying the survival of ancient plays. So then you'd say, well, printing, which began in 1453, is going to solve all these problems of preservation. To be commercially viable, a print run has to be at least 300 copies. By the 16th century, it's normally a 1,000 copies. Even though the survival rate for printed books seems to be not that much greater than 1% on average because to offset the Gutenberg Bible that survives at a rate of 30%, we have lots of cheap print that doesn't survive that well. And that's what this slide is about. Aristotle's complete masterpiece-- we have here the 21st edition in 1738. And we have these other editions. But between the 25th and the 31st, we certainly cannot account for every single missing edition. What's happened here? Either this is like a x-million hamburgers sold kind of advertisement. It's possible. But more likely, simply, this work, which was borderline obscene in the eyes of the educated at the time, which was very lowbrow, was not considered of sufficient value to ever end up in an institutional library. Because printing alone does not carry books down to the future, it needs printing plus a library. Similarly, my selection for the exhibit is writing tablets, which combine print with these pages of hardened paper that you can write on, which we found a handful of examples. Now that Peter Stallybrass has made us aware of these, we may find more of them. But basically, it's a very functional object, which is not collected until much later, and then anything old has some value. So basically, these cases are good reminders that even though the concept of a legal deposit library was present by the early 17th century in both France and England, clearly it was not effective. And there are many kinds of books that just don't make it into institutional libraries. So I'd want to end with talking about libraries and to turn to an author on whom I've been working lately. Oh, there's Horace's Odes. Sorry, misplaced. But we move on to Conrad Gessner who we celebrated 500th of his birth last year. He's a humanist, naturalist, bibliographer, physician in 16th century Zurich, a prolific author of 65 publications, many of them massive folios, and a great dedicator. Out of the 65 books, he manages to get 102 dedications. How does he do that? He takes pieces of a book, and he dedicates different parts to different people to get extra mileage. And then he will use dedications to multiple people, so he has 127 individual dedicatees plus 6 institutions. These are universities or city councils. So his first major work is this Bibliotheca Universalis, a kind of virtual library. It's often hailed as the first modern bibliography. It's trying to be exhaustive, a catalog of all authors in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, extant and not, ancient and not, learned and not, published and hiding in libraries that is, in manuscript, waiting to be hunted down. He's a late humanist. There aren't that many manuscripts left, you know. The good stuff's already been printed. And he did managed to score a few editiones princeps. It's not completely modern. It's organized by first name, which seems bizarre to us. But it provides an index from last name to first name. If you know Luther, you get Martin that way. It's not completely exhaustive, and it has some personal touches-- a long autobibliography where he lists his own works. And in particular, he gives shout outs to works he wants to write and tries to invite people to fund him to write his Natural History of Animals, for example. He also includes a few of his friends who hadn't actually published anything in the relevant languages, but he wants to thank them and, in particular, for access to their library. So the Bibliotheca is an amazingly ambitious project taken on by a 26-year-old. It took him three years, and he listed 10,000 works by 3,000 authors, comparing the experience, quote, "to having climbed the tallest steepest mountain." He starts with a dedication, of course. That's one of the points of publishing a book. It's a dedication to Leonard Beck von Beckenstein, imperial counselor. And it starts with fulsome praise, of course, for the dedicatee, including this colored rendition of his coat of arms. But really what his point is that is the fragility of transmission. It's the trauma of loss that the humanists experienced. The loss of all that great ancient Greek literature of which we are recovering so little. And so Gessner is listing, in fact, in the Bibliotheca, lost works in the hopes that people will find them. So he's got a complex view about printing. On the one hand, he sees printing as a divine gift. "Today the art of typography, granted by God to the men of our time for the preservation of letters to posterity, will supply authors of every kind. By this art as much is produced in one day by one man even unskilled in letters, as it was barely possible to produce in a whole year by several men with the speediest quill." Great stuff printing is. However, although the typographical art seems to have been born for the conservation of books, most of the time nonetheless the silliness of men and useless writings are edited, to the neglect of the old and better ones. For this reason we need libraries, and libraries for manuscript books alone. In other words, we need a Houghton Library in the middle of the 16th century. He is feeling that printing brings on his its problem, this problem of overload, that the good books, by which he means the ancient texts in new editions, are being swamped by cheaper bad books, less important books, silly books. He is well aware, though, that printing can't survive without libraries. And actually Gessner knows that well enough himself because in another of his works, he offers advice on how to index a book. He then offers you a collective index basically of all the books in the bibliotheca. To index a book efficiently, you should own two copies of it. And you should cut and paste out of the book the passages that you want to index. You need two copies, so you can cut from the recto and the verso of each page. Interestingly, he doesn't talk about a third copy, so you might be able to have something later on. And Gessner, in fact, does this. So here from his Nachlass is a work that was prepared for publication after his death but never published. And so we have a manuscript. And you can see that it is made of slips of paper glued in. Some of them are manuscripts in Gessner's hand. Some of them are letters sent to him. But you can see here two printed books, a German one in the Gothic script and a Latin one. Now some of these items did not have commercial value. When they are marked up with a red pencil as this piece of manuscript is, it's a printers copy being marked by the compositor and then normally would have been discarded. So we can imagine Gessner, who hangs out at the printers all the time preparing his own books, picking stuff off the cutting room floor basically, finding the text of interest, and filing it in his cubbies, and then sort it under headings. This is actually a thesaurus of practical medicine of remedies sorted by disease. So Gessner knew well what might happen to books. They could be used. So what you need then is libraries. He starts off his preface to Leonard Beckenstein bemoaning the loss of library of Alexandria with its 700,000 volumes. These were scrolls, not necessarily whole works, like the volumes eight books of Aristotle might each have been a scroll. And he also bemoans the loss of many other lesser known libraries like the 30,000 books belonging to the grammarian Tyrannion or even just the two books by Galen that Galen reported losing in a fire at the temple of peace. And Gessner goes on to lament recent losses such as the pillaging of Buda, which occurred "in the memory of our fathers" in 1526, which destroyed the great library formed there by Matthias Corvinus. And he exclaims, "but what now remains of all these glorious libraries except an empty reputation? So many and such precious books in every philosophy were gradually lost, some consumed by flames or the tumult of war, some by age itself corrupted by worms or an unhealthy location, many dissipated by negligence and the hatred of barbarians for learning." His solution then is the Bibliotheca. "I have opened a way and given a great occasion to others, by which the wealthy and the princes can establish libraries, which are necessary for transmitting books to posterity." So of course Gessner is writing to someone who he hopes will take him up on this. He hopes that Leonard Beckenstein whom he praises for his learning and his book collection will prove to be one of these great princes. As it happens, we don't know much else about him beyond Gessner's dedications. We don't know what happened to his library. But in fact, this personal dedication to one man thanks to print also becomes an open call to everyone out there. And Gessner is very adept at using the public nature of the printed book to thank people in dedications for sending him materials for his various projects, manuscripts, images, information, specimens for his natural histories in particular. And he encouraged further contributions tacitly and even very explicitly with, for example in one of his prefaces, calling openly for contributions from Scandinavia and Spain, in particular, on birds where he has too little information, and telling you if you're going to send him something, go to a merchant in your town who visits the fairs of Frankfurt or Lyon, and they will find there someone from Zurich who will bring me what you have sent. And send me what you want in return, and I will send it back to you. So he's really using print as a call for people to contribute to his ongoing projects. But in one instance, I think Gessner is also using a printed dedication to try and pressure the owner of a great library to share his material. Diego Hurtado de Mendoza was a Spanish diplomat who served as imperial ambassador to Venice and took advantage of this terrific location to form a great library of rare Greek manuscripts, which he either purchased or had copied. And Gessner dedicates also in the same years the Bibliotheca Universalis a new edition of his Lexicon Graeco latinum to Mendoza. And notice that on a title page he mentions the dedication, which is quite unusual. In the dedication, he praises the man's library, explaining, "the learned Arnoldus Arlenius Paraxylus showed me the catalog of your Greek collection. The greater part of the learned will soon know that remarkable books are hiding in your library when they read mention of them in my bibliotheca which I have just completed since your name is cited every time I knew you owned a rare Greek book." And so he also lists Mendoza's library among the sources. But he never got to see any of these books. It's not clear that the dedicatee appreciated the publicity. I found no further mention of Mendoza and Gessner's life or correspondence. And Mendoza's library became property of the King of Spain at his death in 1575. Gessner addresses other great owners of libraries, typically to thank them for their generosity. Now why do I have this here? I'm not-- OK, I don't have slides of these. Basically, Gessner makes editio princeps of Aelian's Natural History, and he dedicated to Jakob Fugger thanking Fugger for the loan of your very old Greek manuscript, which he clearly edited the work from. And he goes on to say, "welcome easily and benevolently the return of your Aelian now complete, corrected, bilingual, and published, and admitted into your library by the law of hospitality." Similarly, he dedicated an edition of Dioscorides in 1565 to the city of Augsburg, saying, "please add this volume to your library that ornament to your city which was begun by you and which will grow in perpetuity." So Gessner had high hopes for the preservation of his own books by getting them placed in these very nice institutional libraries of his time. Those libraries actually did serve well to preserve their contents even though they moved around. The Duke of Bavaria purchased Fugger's collection, so it moved from Ausburg to Munich, for example, in the late 16th century. But by and large, these works have survived well, and we are not aware of missing any works of Gessner's, whether the lavish illustrated folios, which of course, would have survived or these cheaper works here, which I show as example. But Gessner's works do not survive all in one place, even in his hometown of Zurich. So what made possible my project of exhaustively studying the paratext of his 65 publications was the fact that all but one of these 65 are digitized in PDF, scanned by one major European project or another, thanks especially to Gessner's standing as a famous scion of Zurich. And this brings me to my final point about the future objects of libraries. Libraries are responsible for preserving not only physical objects now but also their digital surrogates. And both are essential for the future of transmitting to the next generation the treasures gathered by generations past. Digitization offers access across geographical distance in powerful ways and promises a form of preservation and backup as long as resources are devoted to maintaining them because they do require resources in addition to new kinds of expertise. But digitizations are also no substitute for the objects themselves. They're convenient when you know what you're looking at. But to make good use of a digitization, you first need experience with books themselves. And it's only by coming into Houghton that students can experience how the objects relate to their digitizations. They can see how a book is put together. They can try to figure out what's going on here with this typescript manuscript of Marguerite Yourcenar, the first woman admitted to the Academie Francaise. And what's happening is she has used scotch tape to tape on corrections to her material. So the tape has aged. The little pieces of paper are slipping around. And the digitization gives you some sense of this, but obviously, seeing the object itself is much more effective. A couple of caveats I learned about digitizations from my Gessner project-- we will always use digitizations, and we should use them. But we have to remember that a digital copy is just one copy. It's going to become the most convenient copy, the most widely used copy. But this copy of Gessner's Bibliotheca, which is the only one digitized to my knowledge, is actually a very unique copy. It is Gessner's own copy, Handexemplar, which he has annotated on the one hand. But it turns out it actually is a bit of a pre-print. It is a galley because inside here is a major correction that was made at the very last minute. This is as compared to the widely disseminated version. Gessner's own copy, you see, has crossed out this paragraph and substitutes this paragraph up here. And in this paragraph, he is critiquing a recent edition by a Basel printer in no uncertain terms. And I think that his Zurich printer told him, uh-uh. We are going to have some little discussion of Serapio and of confusion of his name with other Johns and so forth. So it's a reminder that the digital copy may be particularly available, but it is just one copy. And you should make sure you know what you're dealing with. And if it's a special copy, keep that in mind. Another feature of digitization is that it often neglects things that don't fit the format of the book. So Gessner wrote this in octavo on the variety of languages Mithridates. Many copies have been digitized. None of them contain the fold out table at the back even though the catalog record for the particular copy of digitized states the table is present. Unfortunately, in Zurich, where I have a few connections, the table isn't present. So they would have gone to the trouble of digitizing it. I don't know anybody in Munich, but maybe someone will give me a connection. And so this foldout is fantastic. I saw it at the Countway Library when I realized the situation. That's what made me realize it was going to Countway to see this. It's the Lord's Prayer in 23 different languages. Also from the Countway Library is my realization of something that really isn't visible at all in this otherwise high quality digitization of a medical dictionary where Gessner had a part. It was part of my corpus. And you can see here a page opening. You have a Latin dedication and then the Greek text. It's a piece by Hippocrates. Nothing comes to mind. If you look at the book itself, suddenly you realize there are these two little stubs of paper and a little bit of ink on one of them. This is a cancel. The first two pages of book were different originally. They were cut out, and two new sheets were introduced-- the title page and the dedication. And I just wouldn't have noticed at all if it hadn't been for seeing the book itself. And of course, we can't know what the original dedication was. The new dedication does explain that the book had been printed much earlier than it was sold, and probably the dedicatee, in the meantime, no longer seemed appropriate. So it's unlikely to have been really juicy stuff. But nevertheless, once you know that there's a cancel here, you can actually see it in the changing font of that gathering here in Roman and there in italic. But I'm not going to look at my PDF that closely. And so I really want the book to tell me about this. So basically, I would just say at 75, Houghton is a mature institution, bursting with books and people, but also young at heart, bustling with activity, embracing the digital to improve interactions with the public, and invigorating the appreciation of books at a time when our students are drawn to other media, a key partner in our collective goal of interpreting and transmitting unique objects of cultural heritage but also the expert knowledge from which future generations will, we hope, carry the project forward. So I wish us all a long and productive future and especially to the institution, which will outlive us all. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] I would normally ask Ann take questions, but I'm going to use her availability, and I think that Houghton Library has even one more incentive to ask you to come back for our reception, but I do want to thank her when we're [INAUDIBLE]. [APPLAUSE]



NicholasLynde bookplate.jpg
Bookplates from the Houghton collection
Bookplates from the Houghton collection

Harvard's first special collections library began as the Treasure Room of Gore Hall in 1908.[1] The Treasure Room moved to Widener Library after that library was completed in 1915. In March 1938, looking to supply Harvard's most valuable collections with more space and improved storage conditions, Harvard College Librarian Keyes DeWitt Metcalf presented the Harvard Corporation with a set of proposals which would eventually lead to the creation of Houghton Library, Lamont Library, and the New England Deposit Library. Funding for Houghton was raised privately, with the largest portion coming from Arthur A. Houghton Jr., in the form of shares of stock in Corning Glass Works. Construction was largely completed by the fall of 1941, and the library opened on February 28, 1942.

Houghton holds collections of papers of Samuel Johnson, Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Margaret Fuller, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family, Amos Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May Alcott, along with the papers of other notable transcendentalists, Theodore Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Henry James, William James, James Joyce, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, Gore Vidal, and many others.

Houghton also holds the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts during the Civil War, and was killed during the assault on Fort Wagner.


The Edison and Newman Room at Houghton
The Edison and Newman Room at Houghton

Houghton has five main curatorial departments:


  • A Houghton Library Chronicle, 1942–1992. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Library. 1992. OCLC 26633110. 
  • Centuries of books & manuscripts : collectors and friends, scholars and librarians build the Harvard College Library : an exhibition on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Houghton Library, 1942–1992. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Library. 1992. OCLC 26024581. 

External links

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