Folklore and Mythology

Folklore and Mythology

Houghton is a receptacle for rare books and manuscripts, but that does not mean that the contents of its collection are exclusively erudite and rarefied. Folklore is an integral part of the Houghton archive, and many collections within the library can be of aid to Folklore and Mythology concentrators pursuing research in the field. In the 49 Book, Folklore and Mythology prides itself in allowing students to pursue “the study of any given society through its language and culture” and in including, among its faculty, members from multiple other departments and concentrations such as Anthropology, the Classics, English, Religion, and History. As such, the items described below are just an amuse-bouche for the Folklore and Mythology undergraduates; they are encouraged to check out other concentrations’ pages in this guide and come to Houghton to peruse materials about which they are passionate.

The library supports, of course, a more traditional view of folklore and mythology. Students working with Classical mythology have access to a richly illustrated fifteenth-century manuscript of Virgil’s Aeneid (MS Richardson 38, 009888840), drawings and proofs of fairy tale illustrations made by George Cruikshank in the nineteenth century (MS Typ 483, 000602407), and an entire collection on Russian folklore (MS Russ 105, 009429199). They also have access to less obvious materials that are nonetheless important for the study of human culture, such as an eighteenth-century New England love token (MS Am 3030, 014369466).

The Folklore and Mythology concentration also allows students to explore topics within a society’s cultural system, and Houghton has plenty of material that can be used in a more focused research endeavor. The library owns, for instance, two domestic medicine treatises—The Family Physician, and the House Apothecary (Med 258.47.5*, 005712629), from 1676, and Aphorismi de Cognoscendis et Curandis Morbis, in Usum Doctrinæ Domesticæ (Med 252.35*, 004500883), from 1737—which can be used to study that aspect of early modern European culture. Its collection also includes a variety of items related to religion, such as The Songs of Argus Zion, a series of revivalist, apocalyptic evangelical hymns with accompanying watercolor illustrations (MS Eng 1610, 010196664), a pamphlet from William James’ library titled “Aggressive Hinduism” (WJ 561.8.3, 012183625), and James’ prospectus of Oahspe, a New Bible (R 3590.5.5*, 009582719), as well as an early modern French tract comparing Chinese and Greco-Roman religion (Ch 62.22.2 (2)*, 003995563). Students can also retrieve a surprising variety of items reflecting the religious practices of the Batak people of Indonesia, such as a book of charms (MS Indo 30, 013481783), a charm necklace (MS Indo 31, 013481797), and prayer sticks (MS Indo 32, 013481804).

The library, in fact, even has items pertaining to fortune telling and its manifestations in different cultures. Those include a Thai treatise on fortune telling based on the animal zodiac (MS Typ 439, 012900213), but also a 1951 album with manuscript preparations for the Tarot cards of Lady Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley, a famous British esoteric (MS Eng 1696, 013340169). Crowley, who also started a religion, is also represented at Houghton through his correspondence with one of his followers, C. F. Russell (MS Am 2837, 013362685). The Tarot also figures in a Timothy Leary typescript titled “The Periodic Table of Energy” (MS Am 2786, 013634384), which draws parallels between it and the periodic table, neurogenetic evolution, the I Ching, and the Zodiac.

Finally, students of Folklore and Mythology might even find theoretical discussion of their concentration at Houghton. Among philosopher and Harvard professor W. V. Quine’s papers, for instance, they can study Daniel Clement Dennett’s 1989 paper “Two Contrasts: Folk Craft versus Folk Science and Belief versus Opinion” (MS Am 2587 [1643], 008937558).