Social Studies

Social Studies

Social Studies is the interdisciplinary concentration par excellence. Devised around a focus field rather than a concrete set of courses and requirements, it allows students to pursue any interest from a social scientific perspective. Houghton’s archive can most certainly cater to that, but, because of the concentration’s highly individualized curriculum, it is difficult to pinpoint items that would be of use to all students. As such, Social Studies concentrators are highly encouraged to delve into the Houghton archive on their own—they are almost sure to find a wealth of material related to their particular research area. Moreover, students are invited to flip through this guide and check out the pages dedicated to the social sciences at Harvard—History; Psychology; History and Science; African and African American Studies; Anthropology; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Government; Sociology; and Economics—which should provide them with more focused examples of the incredible depth and breadth of the archive. Below, students can find a small sample, covering multiple cultures and time periods, of items that could help them conduct research in the Social Studies concentration.

One of the most multifaceted collections at Harvard is the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions records, which include documents and accounts from all over the globe. The archives can be used to study intercultural exchanges and culture in general; the role of religion in human and societal interactions; and even the role of women in leading and proselytizing. Besides the missions’ general records (ABC 1-91, 000602481), students can  also narrow down their research area to locations such as Africa (ABC 15, 009763477), the Pacific Islands (ABC 19, 009763593), and native North America (ABC 18.3-18.8, 009763568).

Religion and its interaction with other aspects of human culture, in fact, are the topic of many other tracts at Houghton. Students interested in assessing the role of religion in government can, for instance, peruse L’Italie Mystique (Ital 240.1.3, 000755583), a turn-of-the-century French treatise on medieval Church history and compare it with modern theocratic practices. Undergraduates can even research religion’s connection to health care inoculation from a religious standpoint (Med 1857.21.2*, 007256720)—something that is still an issue in the modern-day United States. On the topic of medicine and health care, students coming to Houghton can find a report about British mortality in the Crimean War written by Florence Nightingale (EC85.N5647.858m, 002917124), a document that can be paired with studies in other concentrations such as Statistics, History and Science, and even WGS.

Social Studies concentrators with an interest in experimental societies and utopian communities will also find plenty of material about their field of study at Houghton. The library possesses a whole reference class (Utopia) on the matter, besides items such as the John Thomas Codman Brook Farm collection (MS Am 2740, 012627267), about the Massachusetts transcendental cooperative community; and the Amos Bronson Alcott papers (MS Am 1130.9-1130.12, 008259890), which contain some items about the Fruitlands community.

Finally, undergraduates can also study macroscopic phenomena through personal, primary accounts that can be important research sources. The “My Life in Germany” contest papers (MS Ger 91, 000602078), for instance, contain autobiographies detailing the effects of the Nazi regime on private lives, and the personal correspondence between philosopher and Harvard professor W. V. Quine and architect Clive Entwistle (MS Am 2587 [333], 008937558) includes fascinating ideas about urbanism and the city, two topics that can be explored very effectively through the interdisciplinary lens of the Social Studies concentration.

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