In his introduction to this guide, Arthur Schott-Lopes ’19, a Harvard undergraduate student of History and Classics, works with the extended metaphor of Houghton Library’s doors—once forbidding steel, now enticingly transparent glass. The idea of this transformation inspires us as well. The openness of this library, not just to Harvard affiliates of all types, but to the whole world of scholars, artists, seekers of knowledge, curious folks, dedicated learners, questioners, and creators, is a key component of the pride we can take in our roles at Houghton. We are particularly proud also of the spirit of openness on display in this guide intended to help students navigate the sometimes imposing landscape of Houghton’s rich collections; here Arthur has presented something for everybody, a myriad of ways not just through the doors of Houghton, but deep into the soul of its collections. Arthur’s guide is a manifestation of something very special, a demonstration of the infinite possibilities for engagement with our collections from every disciplinary perspective.
This guide is first and foremost Arthur’s achievement, but we are glad to have had a hand in creating the conditions for it to be realized within. In 2014, a collegial kvetching session morphed into a strategy meeting as we attempted to develop a remedy to the problem we saw in the divergence between two lines. One line: a beautifully optimistic sort of line, swooping up to ever higher reaches, charted the course of increasing numbers of undergraduate classes being taught at Houghton. The other line was much less inspiring: it was an uncooked noodle of data points—flat and unappetizing—and it showed a stagnant trend in undergraduate student use of the Houghton collections. We knew that students were inspired and intrigued in the classroom, but they weren’t returning on their own terms to use the collections, and we wondered what we could do to change that.
We wanted to offer up Houghton as a place where undergraduates were welcomed and encouraged to explore, a place that offered unique materials and experiences that could transform the already privileged Harvard education. We hoped to very explicitly welcome students in, to let them claim this as their library, and help them chart their own course through the wild and wonderful worlds in our collections. To these ends we developed the Undergraduate Fellowship program to advertise the extraordinary opportunities we thought we could offer and to support at least some students in their work with the library. Over the past two summers we’ve been lucky enough to have nine students serve as Houghton fellows. This summer, 2017, we eagerly welcome six more–they’ll delve into American drug culture, infamous forgers, poetry, physics, natural history, untold places and much human history; they’ll create essays, computer games, letterpress books and prints, knowledge, and inspiration. All of our fellows have realized, or will realize, stunning projects and in that work, in their explorations, through their discoveries and achievements, these student fellows have proven themselves to be true treasures of Houghton Library. We see new things with them; we are enriched by their travels through the archives and the stacks.
Arthur’s proposed project in 2016, to create a student-centered guide of Houghton for every concentration at Harvard, was something a little different than what we originally imagined for the fellowship program. The project was not about his interests per se, nor was it just about Houghton either, it was meant to be about the important meeting between Harvard students and Houghton’s collections, it was meant to offer up a sense of not just what the collections were, but how they could be used. The fact of this project, even at that proposal stage, felt like something of a victory and the idea that it could be borne out as a product that could help transmit the excitement and the generative potential of work with Houghton collections, was thrilling. With the support of our director, Tom Hyry, and administrative officer, Dennis Marnon, we created a special fellowship for Arthur so that he could pursue this work.
With great curiosity, scholarly rigor, boundless enthusiasm, and a will to always learn more, Arthur thoughtfully moved through Houghton’s collections, always with the goal of helping his classmates and those to come find some footing on which to begin their own explorations. We hope that it will offer insight and inspiration, and that it will serve to entice you to visit and join our vibrant community here at Houghton.
Research, Instruction, and Digital Initiatives Librarian
Houghton Library, Harvard University
Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts
Houghton Library, Harvard University