June 22nd, 2017

Beyond Beyond Words

In the fall of 2016, the major exhibition Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections dazzled the press and the public alike. Divided across three venues, 260 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books from nineteen Boston-area collections shone on gorgeous display. It was the largest exhibition of its kind ever held in North America and was attended by almost 52,000 visitors across the three sites: Houghton Library, Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. beyond_wordsResearchers gathered for a three-day symposium based on the artifacts; the public was welcomed to a number of hands-on events and lectures; and a luxurious print catalog was produced with full-color plates and contributions from 83 scholars. The exhibition was featured in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post.

Along with all of this remarkable effort, the curators also created a digital catalog on the website for the exhibit, beyondwords2016.org. Since the final exhibit shuttered in January, the site has languished. It represents, however, a remarkable resource for researchers, teachers, and hobbyists. As a Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellow this summer, my task is to update the digital catalog. In my first week here, I focused on making sure that all 249 entries had a thumbnail image­—I added more than 75 images!–and fixing or adding links to additional digital images. While this has resulted in a more functional website, much remains to be done.

We plan to upload descriptions and bibliography for the manuscripts, and eventually to add the print catalog write-ups to the digital entries. We hope to work with our web developer to improve search engine optimization and make the website more user-friendly. All of this will help Beyond Words continue to be a model of collaboration and sharing of information in the scholarly community and, well, beyond. Stay tuned for further developments!

Hannah Weaver, Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures, contributed this post.

June 19th, 2017

Byron’s Corsair: A Triptych

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

1826_milan_corsairThe British Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) followed up his successful Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) with a series of popular Oriental Tales, inspired in part by his early adventures in the Levant.  He composed and revised the third of these tales, The Corsair (1814), in just one month, and the first edition sold an unprecedented 10,000 copies on its day of publication.  Already a lion in London literary circles, Byron was out-of-town when his jubilant publisher John Murray wrote, “I really think that I may venture to congratulate your Lordship upon the Publication of a Poem wch has set up your fame beyond all assailment – You have no notion of the sensation which it has occasioned and my only regret that you were not present to witness it.”  Popular demand called for eight further editions in quick succession, bringing the total circulation of The Corsair to 25,000 copies through 1815.

The Corsair reached an even wider audience through several contemporary melodramatic adaptations, in prose or written for the stage.  One such prose adaptation was Conrad and Medora; or, The Pirate’s Isle (ca. 1814), a chapbook printed and sold by Dean and Munday, a London firm that specialized in cheap editions of popular literature intended to reach the masses.  The edition featured a crudely hand-colored frontispiece illustrating the dramatic moment when the pirate Conrad discovers “the lifeless body of his beloved Medora” after his long absence:

He snatch’d the lamp – its light will answer all –

It quits his grasp, expiring in the fall.

chapbook-corsair

Frontispiece, Conrad and Medora (London, ca. 1814)                                       *44W-1217 – Gift of W. B. O. Field, 1944

In 1819 Murray was contemplating his own illustrated edition of Byron’s works.  He commissioned the painter and book illustrator Richard Westall (1765-1836) to create a new suite of images to accompany several poems, including The Corsair.  (Six years earlier, Westall had captured the world-weary poet at the height of his fame in an oil portrait now held by the National Portrait Gallery.)  When Byron in Italy received a set of Westall’s steel-engraved illustrations, he signaled his approval in a letter to Murray: “the brush has beat the poetry.”

1819-corsair

Lord Byron, Works, v. 3 (London, 1821)                                                     *EC8.B9968.B821w2 – Amy Lowell fund, 1964

For Open House 75, I selected an illuminated 1826 edition of The Corsair, bound in black velvet and printed on vellum in an edition of no more than two or three copies by the Societá Tipografica dei Classici Italiani in Milan.  The illuminator, Giambattista Gigola (1769-1841), received his artistic training in France and is best known for exquisite miniatures achieved in a neo-classical style.  For The Corsair, he produced a brilliant frontispiece after Westall’s 1813 portrait of Byron and nine full-page illuminations heightened in gold leaf to accompany the text, each within an intricate border; the artist also provided six ornate headpieces and three tailpieces.

1826_milan_corsair

Lord Byron, The Corsair (Milan, 1826)                                                                                          Typ 825.26.2527 – Bequest of Philip Hofer, 1984

I first came upon this magnificent example of “European Britannica” (translations of English literature and books about England published on the continent) in the bequest of Philip Hofer, the founding curator of the library’s Printing and Graphic Arts Department.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s I had the privilege of cataloging a substantial part of the Hofer bequest under the direction of my colleague Dennis Marnon.  As an erstwhile Byron collector, I find it somewhat paradoxical that this deluxe Milanese edition of The Corsair and the more homely Conrad and Medora chapbook are today equally unobtainable, each surviving in only a few copies.  The triptych of images in this post is intended to suggest a broader range of visual resources available at Houghton Library to those interested in Romantic era book illustration.

Thanks to Peter X. Accardo, Programs Coordinator, for contributing this post.

June 12th, 2017

Spending Time with Tennessee

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

MS Thr 91.1 In the fall of 1954 Tennessee Williams was desperate for a hit. After the meteoric successes of The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire came one respectable showing and two abject commercial failures. It was with this in mind that he presented a new script to Elia Kazan, who had directed both the lauded Streetcar and the critically decimated box office flop Camino Real.

The raw power of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof called to Kazan, but he played coy. He was eager to direct, but only if he could convince Williams to make significant changes that to his mind would ensure a success. After the experimental Camino, he wanted a more traditional story structure, with character development and resolution. Early drafts offered a protagonist in Brick who, aside from a couple of notable outbursts of emotion, spent the play in a drunken lethargy. Whatever trajectory Brick was on in the first two acts, there was no further character development in the final act, which also relegated one of the most dynamic characters of the play, Big Daddy, offstage and mute. Keep reading →

June 8th, 2017

Join Us for Houghton Library’s 75th Anniversary Symposium: Who Cares?

banner image of brick wall covered in ivy with the words "Who Cares?" in graffiti

October 5-6, 2017
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Free to register

The symposium is limited to 200 participants to encourage productive and dynamic dialogue in a more intimate setting. We expect demand to exceed our supply of seats, so please register early to secure your spot.

This year Houghton Library, Harvard College’s primary rare books and manuscripts library, marks its 75th anniversary. We’ve acknowledged the occasion in many ways, but with this symposium we seek to resist the themes of comfortable reflection, appreciation, and celebration that attend anniversaries. Instead, we intend to examine the legacy, mission, and future of the library, and others like it, through the lens of the question: who cares?

More than a provocation, this question is an earnest interrogation of roles and responsibilities of special collections and archives in an ever-shifting social, cultural, intellectual, and technological landscape. Who cares for special collections? Why do we open our doors? How will we move forward? These questions have no fixed answers, consensus is unlikely; it’s this uncertainty we welcome as we engage in substantive, productive conversation. To that end, we’ve invited speakers and panelists who connect to our collections in a range of ways – as creators and collectors, readers and interpreters, colleagues in cultural heritage from around the world – and asked them to grapple with these questions.
The symposium will feature keynote lectures by Jamaica Kincaid and Johanna Drucker; remarks from Drew Gilpin Faust, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Sarah Thomas, and Thomas Hyry. We are also pleased to feature papers and presentations from Tez Clark, Jarrett Drake, Maria Estorino, Arthur Fournier, Michelle Habell-Pallan and Sonnet Retman, Angela Lorenz, Marcyliena Morgan, Trevor Muñoz, Jay Satterfield, Liz Ševčenko, Jordan Alexander Stein, and Chris Wilde.

Our hope is that you’ll join us as well. Learn more and register online: https://houghton75symposium.org.

June 5th, 2017

The Start of Something Big

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

MS Hyde 50 (38)In 1746, a consortium of London publishers approached Samuel Johnson, a rising star in the literary world, with a proposal: write an English dictionary. In the end, Johnson was equal to the task, but only after nine years of mammoth intellectual labor. Although the practice of lexicography has advanced considerably in the centuries since, Johnson’s Dictionary is still regarded as a tour de force, appreciated for the wit and trenchancy of its definitions, and the erudition underlying its illustrative quotations. Samuel Johnson’s stamp on the writing of English is profound and lasting.

Everything started from this modest manuscript, now visibly cracked from the corrosive ink used to write it. Over the course of a handful of pages Johnson lays out his plan for a work that would grow to two enormous volumes: how he will choose the words to define, how he will determine their proper spelling, from which authors he will draw quotations.
Keep reading →

June 1st, 2017

Collections Now Available for Research: June 2017

Houghton Library is pleased to announce that the following collections now have descriptive finding aids and are available for research in the library’s reading room.

American Repertory Theatre Records, 1979-2012 (MS Thr 1605) – processed by Adrien Hilton, Jennifer Lyons, and Dale Stinchcomb

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Costume Designs for Theater, Musical Comedy, Pantomime and Opera, 1841-1909 (MS Thr 1625) – processed by Irina Klyagin

Donald Hyde and Mary Hyde Eccles Iconography Collection, circa 1700-1999 (MS Hyde 100) – processed by Rick Stattler, edited and uploaded by Adrien Hilton

Jamaica Kincaid papers, circa 1950-2013 (MS Am 3097) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Edward Jackson Lowell Papers, 1881-1893 (MS Am 800.2) – processed by Ashley Nary

Murray Anthony Potter Papers, circa 1900-1915 (MS Am 863-MS Am 871) – processed by Ashley Nary

Hilary Putnam Papers, circa 1950-2012 (MS Am 3126) – processed by Melanie Wisner

Simon Vinkenoog Papers Concerning Timothy Leary and Hallucinogenic Drugs, 1960-2001 (MS Dutch 22) – processed by Susan Wyssen

May 24th, 2017

Most Creative: John Lithgow’s Harvard Years

It’s been a year of milestones for actor and Harvard alum John Lithgow, who this week celebrates his 50th class reunion. Last April, he was fêted with the 2017 Harvard Arts Medal at the kick-off of Arts First, the annual festival of student creativity he helped launch 25 years ago.

2016mt-55_the_crown
Self-portrait as Winston Churchill in The Crown. 2016MT-55

Fresh from on-screen successes in Netflix’s The Crown and NBC’s crime mockumentary Trial & Error, Lithgow has earned a reputation as a consummate performer; his two Tonys, five Emmys, and a laundry list of accolades make it impossible to imagine otherwise. Yet the former history and literature major once nursed ambitions of becoming a painter. His undergraduate years, he recalls, were “the most active and creative of my life.”

The artistic license of those formative years has proven impossible to recreate. “It was the last time I worked in the theater for the pure, unfettered joy of it,” he has written. “Some of the work was excellent, much of it was dreadful, but its quality was never really the point. Joy was the point.”

Here’s a joyous look back at just a few of Lithgow’s extracurricular entanglements, compiled from his memoir, Drama: An Actor’s Education, with illustrations from the Harvard Theatre Collection.

Keep reading →

May 16th, 2017

Open House 75: Houghton Library Staff Select

The 75th anniversary of Houghton Library has provided an occasion to reflect on the library’s founding and history, to connect with friends and supporters old and new, and to consider the challenges and opportunities that will shape our future. Open House 75  Throughout our 75th year, we have carried out a series of events, publications, and other activities designed to promote the library and its collections, programs, and services.  The first of our series of 75th anniversary exhibitions HIST 75H: A Master Class on Houghton Library featured a partnership with Harvard faculty, nearly fifty of whom selected for display and narrated a collection item of personal or professional significance. Now it is Houghton staff’s turn to take the stage with Open House 75: Houghton Library Staff Select.

Open House 75 showcases memorable collection items encountered by staff during careers at the library that range from four months to over forty years. A microcosm of Houghton in breadth and depth, highlights from Open House 75 range from a Renaissance letter written by Michelangelo and a missive stained by Hemingway’s sweat, to a moving instance of gay fandom and women writers on domesticity and revolution. Among the notable “firsts” represented are the diary of the first American meteorologist and an Edison lightbulb that illuminated America’s first electrified theater. Cultural treasures from Liberia and Japan are presented alongside everyday objects such as a Roman coin and a Panama hat; taken together, these and other objects in the exhibition suggest the rich variety of human experience housed within Houghton’s walls.

Keep reading →

May 11th, 2017

Julian I. Edison in Memoriam

Houghton Library is saddened to learn that Julian I. Edison (AB ’51, MBA ’53) of St. Louis, Missouri, passed away on Monday, May 8, 2017. With Mr. Edison’s death, both Houghton and Harvard University have lost one of their most distinguished and generous supporters.

Julian was the former CEO and chairman of Edison Brothers Stores, Inc., a national retail chain founded by his uncles in 1922.  He was truly loyal to Harvard, supporting the university in numerous ways, and was involved in many charitable organizations in St. Louis including the Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Washington University in St. Louis.

Julian I. Edison (left) at Houghton Library in 2005.

Julian I. Edison (left) at Houghton Library in 2005.

Julian was a book collector of considerable distinction; his collection of miniature books was world renown both for its size and variety.  He was named one of “100 Top Collectors” by Art & Antiques magazine in March 2007.  The Edison Collection was the subject of exhibitions here at Houghton Library in 2005 and in 2007 at the Grolier Club in New York.  Julian was the author, with Anne C. Bromer, of the comprehensive and extensively illustrated Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2007).  The Edison Collection was given by him to Special Collections at the Olin Library at the Washington University in St. Louis.

We at Houghton Library are especially grateful to Julian and members of his family for a generous gift to renovate the Library’s exhibition and events room which now bear their names.  The Edison and Newman Room was dedicated in 2005 –its inaugural exhibition was the aforementioned Miniature Books– and remains the space where thousands of visitors learn about our collections each year.  Julian’s understanding of the role of special collections libraries was key in this gift.

Julian’s enthusiasm was infectious and we will miss his rapid-fire questions on many subjects.  He never really ended many of his conversations and letters, but simply stopped them temporarily with the telling phrase “to be continued.”  His memory will be continued for many years to come at Houghton Library.

Thomas Hyry, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library

William Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts and former Florence Fearrington Librarian

 

 

May 9th, 2017

New on OASIS in May

Four finding aids for newly cataloged collections have been added to the OASIS database this month:

Processed by Michael Austin:
José María Castañé Collection of Photographs by Agustí Centelles, circa 1936-1939 (MS Span 181)

 
Minimally Processed by Adrien Hilton:
George Antheil Papers, circa 1950-1953 (MS Thr 1601)

 
Processed by Irina Klyagin:
Elena Bonner Papers, circa 1930-2003 (MS Russ 134)

 
Minimally Processed by Melanie Wisner:
Thomas Buford Meteyard personal and family papers, circa 1849-1982 (MS Typ 1144)

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