About the content
Do you love printed paper and wonder how much longer it will survive in the age of ebooks? Are you curious about how the mass-produced modern book emerged in the first place? Come behind the scenes in Harvard’s libraries to explore the look, feel and even smell of nineteenth-century British and American books in this module of The Book: Histories Across Time and Space.
In 19th-century Britain and America, schooling expanded, paper cheapened, and new technologies allowed print to reach wider audiences than ever before. After the rare and beautiful manuscripts and books showcased by earlier modules, the mass-produced, disposable objects that survive from the nineteenth century bear witness to the rise of the reading public.
This module investigates what scholars know about nineteenth-century reading, as well as how they know it.
This module’s six sections guide you through underlined, inscribed, defaced and repaired books in Harvard’s collections:
1. Name That Book
Find out what you can tell about a book when you’re blindfolded.
2. Handheld Books and Mobile Readers
What book did one soldier carry to Civil War battlefields in his pocket? (Hint: it’s not what you think.)
3. The Pen and the Needle
Did 19th-century girls have to choose between sewing and reading? The holes pricked in one book suggest they did both at once.
4. Leaving your Mark
Luckily for future historians, these children didn’t listen when people told them not to write in their books.
5. Detective Work
Try out some tools that build on what you’ve learned about books at Harvard to discover the stories hidden in your local library.
6. Over to You
Your chance to share what you have found in the books around you.
Join us, and discover how people in the first information age read, underlined, and repaired the pages that they treasured.
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- Examine books for clues to the lives of the people who have read them
- Gain historical perspective on today’s shift from print to digital media by tracing the 19th-century origins of modern mass-produced books
- Compare your own reading habits to those of past readers. What conclusions would future historians draw if they could look at your bookshelves?
- Leah Price
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. The Harvard Corporation is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot's long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who followed Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard's land holdings and physical plant. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.
The university is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. The endowment of Harvard's is worth $37.1 billion, making it the largest of any academic institution.
Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the university's large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. The Harvard Library is the world's largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries holding over 18 million items. The University is cited as one of the world's top tertiary institutions by various organizations.
Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 157 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 14 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff. In addition, Harvard students and alumni have won 10 Academy Awards, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 108 Olympic medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 21 bronze).
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