At first sight, Houghton does not look promising to engineering students. A rare books and manuscripts library, it does not seem to support the concentration’s heavy emphasis on innovation and progress because of its focus on the past. However, Houghton has a large collection of materials related to the Engineering Sciences concentration and its subfields—materials, in fact, that sometimes tackle questions still being asked by engineers and scientists around the world. Below is a sample of such items.
Students interested in the intellectual history of engineering might turn to older portions of the archive, which contain true treasures related to the multiple fields of engineering. One of the collection’s highlights is the Edwin Herbert Hall papers (MS Am 1734, 000601801). Hall, a Harvard physics professor from 1881 to 1921, is most famous for discovering the Hall effect, but his areas of expertise and research went beyond electric current and voltage to include electric conductivity, ionization, magnetism, and atomic structure. His papers can be of use to concentrators in the electrical and computer engineering, engineering physics, and mechanical and material science and engineering tracks of the concentration.
Engineering physics and mechanical and material science and engineering students might also be interested in a 1665 sketch by Melchisédec Thévenot depicting a level (FC6.T3444.665m, 014319243)—an early drawing of one of the most important tools in engineering. Assessing, comparing, and contrasting the drawing with engineering models today might also prove interesting, especially from a historical point of view.
A 1725 work titled A Compleat History of Drugs (Med 266.20.3*, 001777206) will also prove itself interesting for concentrators, especially those in the biomedical sciences and engineering, the environmental science and engineering, and the mechanical and material science and engineering tracks. The work, a remarkably thorough compendium of plants, roots, minerals, and even animals, with accompanying explanations about “their use in physick, chymistry, pharmacy, and several other arts,” also contains illustrations explaining the structure and workings of colonial sugar and tobacco mills. As such, the work can even yield collaborations with concentrations such as History and African and African American Studies.
More modern items, however, discuss topics that are still part of an engineer’s daily musings. Electrical and computer engineerings might be interested in D. C. Dennett’s papers “The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot” (MS Am 2587 , 008937558), from 1994, and “Exploring the Space of the Turing Test: A First Step” (MS Am 2587 , 008937558), from 1991, both of whom discuss philosophical questions intrinsic to the field of computer science and engineering that are still pivotal today.
Finally, students might be surprised at Houghton’s more physical and less orthodox links to the engineering sciences. Bookbinding is a form of mechanical engineering in itself, and a practice that has a rich history. Houghton and its collections, which span many centuries, is the perfect place to explore the history and engineering that surround bookbinding, and the library even has material related to the practice. Both Biblio Tech (Typ 2070.13.4475, 013688724) and Bookbinding: A Practical Demonstration (B 6205.767*, 003251075) have bookbinding models that provide insight into the process from its medieval inception to the present day. Moreover, engineering in its many forms, including bookbinding, is a daily feature of the work done for Houghton at the Weissman Conservation Center, which preserves the library’s collection through chemical and physical processes that would be of interest to engineering concentrators, especially those in the mechanical and material science and engineering track of the concentration.