June 5th, 2019

A Mysterious Manuscript in a Banned Language

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?

Photo of Makukhin's mysterious manuscript.

Sbornyk ukrainskykh pisenʹ y stykhov … sbornik russkikh pi͡esenʹ i stikhov, 1875-1880, MS Slavic 26. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Purchased with the Bayard L. Kilgour, Jr. Fund for Russian Belles-Lettres and the FHCL Ukrainian National Home of Lorain Ohio Book Fund.

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April 29th, 2019

On the Shoulders of Giants: Scientific Innovation and the Apollo 11 Mission

Exhibition poster for Small Steps, Giant Leaps: Apollo 11 at Fifty, including an image of the Saturn V rocket

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.

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April 25th, 2019

2019 Philip Hofer Prize Winners

From left to right: Luke Kelly (Harvard College '19), Khin-Kyemon Aung (HMS/HBS '20), and Angela Wheeler (GSD)

From left to right: Luke Kelly (Harvard College ’19), Khin-Kyemon Aung (HMS/HBS ’20), and Angela Wheeler (GSD).

On April 5, 2019, three Harvard students were named winners of the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting Books or Art. The Hofer Prize was established by Melvin R. Seiden, A.B. ’52, L.L.B. ’55, to encourage student interest in collecting. It is awarded annually to a student or students whose collections of books or works of art best reflect the traditions of breadth, coherence, and imagination exemplified by Philip Hofer, A.B.’21, L.H.D. ’67. Hofer was the founder and first curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at Houghton Library and secretary of the Fogg Art Museum.

This year, Angela Wheeler, a second-year student in the Graduate School of Design, and Luke Kelly, Harvard College Class of ’19, were co-awarded first prizes of $3,000 each. Khin-Kyemon Aung, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School ’20, was awarded second prize of $1,500.

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April 15th, 2019

The Castañé Collection Series: “Two: Officer’s Photo Album”

portraits of Ernst Banaski, owner of a photo album in the Castañé Collection.

All images: Meine dienstzeit, circa 1941-1942. José María Castañé collection of war-related photograph albums, MS Span 183. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

By Michael Austin, Manuscript Cataloger, Houghton Library

In my first post on Houghton Library’s holdings from the Castañé collection of documents and objects relating to European conflicts of the 20th century, I focused on two particularly poignant items: a ration card issued to a young Polish girl early in the Second World War and an armband worn by a “Kapo” at an unspecified Nazi concentration camp.

In this second post, I’ll be examining another category of material strongly represented in the collection: photograph albums created by military personnel in the field.

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March 5th, 2019

All Work but Some Play: Jaret Berman, Houghton Library, and the School-to-Work Program

By Vicki Denby, Manuscript End Processor, Houghton Library

Cambridge Rindge and Latin student, Jaret Berman, helps create a custom folder for a scrapbook.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin student, Jaret Berman, helps create a custom folder for a scrapbook.

For the sixth consecutive year, Houghton Library had the opportunity to hire a paid intern from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School (CRLS) to learn about our work by helping with collections end-processing, which among other activities includes labeling and housing items. Through the School-to-Work program, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) coordinates with the Cambridge Office of Workforce Development, Harvard schools and departments, and Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School to provide job training as well as learning opportunities for high school students.

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February 6th, 2019

Accessing Archives in the 19th-Century Atlantic World

By Derek Kane O’Leary

I have everywhere found Archivists the least competent of human beings to judge of the character or value of historical papers; and if I had not been favored with the aid of higher powers, both in Paris and London, my enquiries would have been to little purpose. There Archivists look upon themselves as the special guardians of the good name of forgotten statesmen, and their families, and are particularly tender in whatever touches the reputation of foreign governments, friends or foes; in other words they have a high opinion of their own consequence, and have a mortal aversion to every thing that may disturb the repose of their offices to giving trouble either to themselves or their clerks.

–Jared Sparks to Henry Wheaton, Jan. 29, 1844 (Jared Sparks Personal Papers, MS 147h, Houghton Library, Harvard University)

Historian Jared Sparks leans against a pillar.

Historian and Harvard President Jared Sparks (1789-1866) in a photograph by John Adams Whipple, ca. 1860-1864. FAL85448, Special Collections, Harvard Fine Arts Library

When Jared Sparks vented to Henry Wheaton in the winter of 1844, he was midway through four decades spent peering into American and European archives. Like many historians in the antebellum U.S., as a young man he had descended from the Unitarian pulpit in order to pronounce another narrative–also transcendent, and likewise based on the close analysis of primary documents. At the helm of the North American Review, as the editor of George Washington’s and other revolutionary leaders’ papers, and later while a Harvard history professor and president, Sparks pursued his abiding obsession to comprehensively document and narrate the American Revolution. More than any other American in the early U.S., he envisioned an American archive, which would gather materials from throughout the nation–indeed, from different corners of the Atlantic–in order to tell a unifying national story.

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January 31st, 2019

Collections Now Available for Research: December, 2018 and January, 2019

Houghton Library is pleased to announce the following collections are now described online and accessible in the reading room.

Carl Chiarenza papers (MS Am 3177) – processed by Adrien Hilton

Nabokov family papers (MS Russ 140) – processed by Magee Lawhorn and Irina Klyagin

Harvard Theatre Collection dance scene photographs (TCS 36) – processed by Farraj Alsaeedi, with the supervision of Betts Coup

Collection of Sumneriana (MS Am 3258) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Collection of diaries detailing one man’s experiences with prostitutes (MS Am 3260) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Collection of broadsides and newsletters printed by Yugoslav Partisan survivors (MS Slavic 25) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Pelagie Green papers (MS Thr 1871) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Harvard Theatre Collection theatrical portrait prints (visual works) (TCS 43) – processed by Betts Coup

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January 25th, 2019

The Castañé Collection Series: “One: ‘Miscellaneous Items’”

By Michael Austin, Manuscript Cataloger, Houghton Library

The Castañé collection, donated to Houghton Library in 2015 by Spanish businessman and collector José María Castañé, comprises over 10,000 items documenting the major conflicts of the 20th century involving European powers. Papers, photographs, and realia from the Second World War are most strongly represented, followed by material from the First World War, the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and the Spanish Civil War, along with a smaller amount from the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The collection contains documents in over two dozen languages, with the bulk in English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian. Cataloged in subsets corresponding to genre and format, it is a treasure of immense importance, both for the serious scholar of 20th-century history and for the more casual researcher.

I cataloged most of the collection, with the exception of the Russian-language material. In the 10 years that I’ve worked at Houghton Library, I’ve never seen a collection quite like it in terms of scope and variety. This post will be the first in a series of eight highlighting papers and objects that struck me as especially compelling as I went through them. I’ll begin by describing a few artifacts from the Second World War, with subsequent posts on the Korean conflict and the Spanish Civil War.

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January 14th, 2019

Houghton Library Renovation

An artist's rendering of Houghton Library's renovated exterior, featuring a new staircase, fully accessible entry points, and fresh landscaping.

A message from Thomas Hyry, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library.

I am pleased to announce that we will undertake a major renovation of Houghton Library with the goals of modernizing our research and teaching facilities, expanding our exhibition and display capabilities, and improving physical accessibility and visibility. Enhancements will include a new gallery space in Houghton’s lobby to showcase items from the collections; designated areas for quiet study and collaboration in our reading room; and the addition of a graceful new entryway, visitor elevator, expanded restrooms, and other measures that will promote accessibility. To learn more about the renovation, please read the detailed announcement in the Harvard Gazette.

The vision and plans for a more accessible and welcoming Houghton Library have developed over the past several years, in consultation with faculty, students, visiting researchers, architects, security experts, and many others. Over the next two years, Houghton staff will work together to bring to fruition an evolving concept of the library that will provide a more contemporary approach to the excellent research and teaching services on which the Harvard community and visiting scholars rely while maintaining many elements of our classic identity. We anticipate a one-year construction period, to begin in Fall 2019, during which we will continue to provide access to Houghton collections for research and teaching through temporary quarters in Widener Library. Extreme care will be taken to ensure the collections remain protected and secure over the course of the project.

The plans for Houghton align with the commitment by the university, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard Library to provide more inclusive, welcoming spaces for students, faculty, researchers, staff, and visitors from across campus and around the world. This renovation is a key component of a larger group of initiatives that will ensure Houghton becomes an even more active and valuable resource for current and future generations.

January 9th, 2019

Surprises and Suddenness in Edward Lear

By Noreen Masud, 2018–2019 Houghton Library Visiting Fellow/Eleanor M. Garvey Fellow in Printing and Graphic Arts, and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Durham University. She works on topics including aphorisms, culinary leftovers, flatness, and hymns in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature.

Owls and Pussycats going to sea, Old Men with beards full of birds, Pobbles with no toes: Edward Lear’s landmark nonsense writing overflows with things surprising to his readers. But, for his characters, things are sudden more often than they are surprising.

At night if he suddenly screams and wakes,

Do they bring him only a few small cakes                 or a LOT,

For the Akond of Swat? (“The Akond of Swat,” 1873)

“Sudden” and “surprising” both describe events one didn’t expect. But “surprising” is preachy: it tells you how you should feel (astounded, startled, confused). Something “sudden,” meanwhile, omits emotional cues: it also happens quickly, but does not dictate how you should respond. Describing something as sudden only tells you that it happened faster or sooner than you might have expected. In a letter to Hubert Congreve, Lear uses the word idiosyncratically, to mean something like “immediately”: “If you want to buy the Corsican Series for £1100—let me know suddenly” (2 May 1883, [MS Eng 797]).

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