By Tom Hyry, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library
At 4:00 this afternoon, August 9, 2019, Houghton Library closed its doors.
Over the next 13 months, we will embark on a renovation that will make our spaces more accessible, welcoming, and useful for modern research and teaching. The library will suspend services for two weeks as our reading room operation and many of our staff move to temporary quarters in Widener Library. Our interim reading room will open on August 26 in the space formerly occupied by the Current Periodicals Reading Room in Widener, which, rather poetically, was once the “Treasure Room” where Harvard College’s rare book and manuscript collections were housed before Houghton opened.
This is an historic day for Houghton Library, which has never been closed for more than a short period of time, and provides a moment to reflect upon our past, present and future.
By Gregory Wynn
In his recently published memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert Caro recounts that an early career admonishment from an editor to “turn every page” while investigating a story was one of the best pieces of advice he had ever been given (Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, 2019, p. 11). This call to thoroughness and detail served as a guidepost for him while conducting research for his epic biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. The thrill of discovering an overlooked or misfiled source that allows a writer to connect the dots is one of the great personal and professional rewards of archival research. However, even sage advice as “turn every page” is only so sage if all the pages are there to turn. We can’t know what isn’t there.
So, when an opportunity comes along to add more pages to a historical archive it is a terrific contribution to scholarship. Harvard has made just such a contribution with the addition of ten handwritten letters from Theodore Roosevelt to his sister Anna Roosevelt Cowles—nicknamed Bamie—to the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Houghton Library. These letters have never been published, nor utilized by researchers and scholars. It’s worth noting that Theodore Roosevelt does not have a presidential library. Outside of his papers at the Library of Congress, Harvard—Roosevelt’s alma mater—holds the most significant collection of Theodore Roosevelt material in the world. This includes the Anna Roosevelt Cowles papers (TRC b MS Am 1834.1), which this addition makes as complete as perhaps they may ever be.
By Christine E. Jacobson, Assistant Curator, Modern Books and Manuscripts, Houghton Library
Houghton recently acquired a nineteenth-century bilingual manuscript of Ukrainian and Russian folk songs and verse. At first glance, the work seems unremarkable. At 370 pages, it contains over 120 poems and songs, including well-known works by Alexander Pushkin and Taras Shevchenko as well as many popular songs from the period. Certain details, however, render the object extraordinary. The author of the manuscript copied these verses in a flawless and painstaking stylized script; he also provided page numbers, a table of contents, and title pages complete with dates and place of production. Who would go to such trouble over these common verses and why?
This post is a condensed version of an essay from the catalogue of Houghton Library’s most recent exhibition, Small Steps, Giant Leaps: Apollo 11 at Fifty, which is on view from April 29 – August 3, 2019. Follow us on Instagram, where we will feature images from the exhibition every Monday during its run.
In 1969, 600 million people watched Commander Neil Armstrong descend the lunar module Eagle’s ladder, stand on the moon, and remark, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong’s achievement was the culmination of a series of small steps and giant leaps in human understanding and innovation, advances driven by the curiosity and wonder of countless generations who had looked up at the heavens.