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
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).
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.
Announcing the winner of the 2020 Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP) undergraduate fellowship at Houghton Library
By Adrienne Chaparro, Scholarly and Public Programs Assistant
The Harvard College Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URAF) and Houghton Library are pleased to announce that Madeleine Klebanoff-O’Brien, Class of ’22, is the winner of the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP) Fellowship. Houghton offers fellowships through SHARP, a program that supports arts and humanities research for a cohort of undergraduates each summer. Houghton’s SHARP fellowship allows students to propose their own research projects within any topic or discipline supported by the library’s collections. Usually a 10-week residential program, this year’s fellowship will be conducted remotely for 8 weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Harvard’s commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of its community.
Klenbanoff-O’Brien describes her project as a survey of Dante illustrations at Houghton Library focused on maps of the Divine Comedy, in which mapping signifies an effort to spatially synthesize multiple of the poem’s episodes. She plans to produce original maps for Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, and the poem as a whole, as well as a commentary tying to her artistic decisions to her research.
The Harvard Undergraduate Fellowship at Houghton Library is open to all Harvard College students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program. Applicants are asked to describe their proposed project, including information about the Houghton Library materials the project would use and project outcomes. This year’s project supervisors are Houghton staff members Kristine Greive, Head of Teaching and Learning and Kate Donovan, Associate Librarian for Public Services.