An “Old Prayer Book”, Yet Not “a ‘dull’ one”: The Liber ordinarius of Nivelles


By Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Department of Art & Architecture, Harvard University

Edmund Bishop, the famous historian of Catholic liturgy, once posed the question: “Is the subject ‘An Old Prayer Book’ a ‘dull’ one?” Tongue-in-cheek, he replied that he would prefer the dullest form possible, namely, a tabulation of its contents, adding that “any subject is sure to prove dull to somebody.” By Bishop’s definition, a Liber ordinarius, which offers little more than a list constituting the ordo or order of the liturgy for a given church or community, would be a very dull book indeed. However, the Liber ordinarius of Nivelles (which has been fully digitized and now bears the Houghton call number MS Lat 422) demonstrates the contrary.

The front of the Liber ordinarius, which has two clasps across the front.

The front board of the Liber ordinarius (MS Lat 422), Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Longfellow Rides Again

By Vicki Denby, Houghton Library Technical Services

A museum case displays three books and a small card under glass.

Houghton Library’s manuscript of “Paul Revere’s Ride” [center], from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow papers (MS Am 1340 [105]), on display at the Concord Museum. Photo by Laura Larkin, Houghton Library.

A Houghton Library manuscript, on loan as part of the exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, will once again be on public view when the Concord Museum reopens on August 6, 2020.


Houghton From Home: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Candle-lightin’ Time

Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of the most celebrated American poets of the late 19th century. Dunbar was raised in Dayton, Ohio by formerly enslaved parents who were emancipated after the Civil War. He began writing poetry at the age of six and published his first poem at 16. Though he died young, Dunbar published over a dozen collections of poetry, four novels, several short story collections, and an original play before succumbing to tuberculosis at age 33. Dunbar’s work, enjoyed by presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, centers the everyday experience of Black men and women in fin de siècle America.

Dunbar collaborated with the Hampton Institute Camera Club to illustrate six of his poetry collections. The Club’s affirming portraits of Black Americans became some of the mostly widely distributed images of African American visual culture in U.S. history. Dunbar’s 1901 work, Candle-lightin’ Time is a prime example of their partnership. The collection’s first poem, “Dinah Kneading Dough,” tenderly describes Dinah’s breadmaking accompanied by images of a Black woman elbow-deep in flour in her kitchen.


How Sergeant William Harvey Carney Rescued the Old Flag in the Assault on Fort Wagner in the American Civil War

By Peter X. Accardo, Scholarly and Public Programs Librarian

William Harvey Carney wearing his Medal of Honor.

Sergeant William Harvey Carney after the war, wearing his Medal of Honor, ca. 1901-1908. Gelatin silver print by James E Reed, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Public Domain.

Born into slavery in 1840, William Harvey Carney and his family left Virginia sometime in the 1850s before settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an active hub on the Underground Railroad and the same town where Frederick Douglass had brought his own family in 1838 at the start of his prophetic career. Carney was among the first to join Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-Black Union army regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, member of a prominent New York-Boston family and a former Harvard student (Shaw’s family letters are in the collection of Houghton Library and were consulted during the production of the 1989 film Glory).


Houghton From Home–Dickinson Family Library

Why read your own copy of Charlotte Brönte’s novel Jane Eyre when you could read Emily Dickinson’s copy? Can you find the two passages the poet marked in pencil? (Hint: the marks are in the margin on page 418 and the passages are devastating.) Houghton Library is in fact home to 30 volumes known to have been associated with—i.e. owned or read by—the reclusive bard, and nearly 600 owned by her family. Over half of the volumes in the Dickinson family library are available fully online, including Emily Dickinson’s bible which features markings, excised verses, and carefully laid botanical specimens; her brother’s copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Conduct of Life; and her niece’s copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

If you still haven’t gotten your fix of Emily, why not peruse her herbarium, gaze at her writing desk, and of course, read her manuscript poems. (We also heartily recommend watching Apple TV’s Dickinson—a joyous, playful interpretation of the poet’s teenage years.)

Thanks to Christine Jacobson, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Emily Dickinson Bible

Emily Dickinson Bible, Dickinson Family Library, EDR 8. Houghton Library, Harvard University.