Religion through the Ages: Treasures from the Harvard University Library

Susan Halpert shows students manuscripts and         early printed books in Houghton          Library.: Credit: Peter Reuell, Harvard College Library.Susan Halpert shows students manuscripts and early printed books in Houghton Library. Credit: Peter Reuell, Harvard College Library.

Harvard's newly configured academic calendar this year provided three weeks between the fall and spring terms for offering noncredit programs. Andover-Harvard research librarians Renata Kalnins, Gloria Korsman, and Clifford Wunderlich successfully proposed and conducted a program for students to get to know Harvard libraries, appreciate their treasures illustrating religious life through the ages, and become comfortable with librarians as allies when navigating library collections. For three half days (January 20-22, 2010), 10 Harvard master's and doctoral students and the research librarians visited four Harvard libraries to get acquainted with their unique collections of primary sources and to consider how they might incorporate special collections into future study. Each day's program concluded at Andover-Harvard with casual social time over refreshments to discuss the objects and learn more about the organization of knowledge in libraries.

At Harvard-Yenching Library, Raymond Lum, librarian for the Western languages collection, and Kuniko Yamada McVey, librarian for the Japanese collection, introduced program participants to treasures in its collection, which included:

At Houghton Library, Rachel Howarth, associate librarian for public services, Susan Halpert, reference librarian, and Micah Hoggatt (MDiv '07), reference assistant, organized and showed some of its treasures, which included:

At Andover-Harvard Library, Kalnins, Korsman, and Wunderlich showed some of the library's treasures and talked about how using them could be incorporated into research. These included:

  • facsimiles of the Aleppo Codex and Codex Vaticanus;
  • all of the volumes of the first two printed polyglot Bibles (the Complutensian, 1514-17, and the Antwerp, 1569-72);
  • two copies of the second volume of the Hutter New Testament polyglot (1599) that had been bound differently;
  • the first printed French translation of the Bible by a Protestant;
  • a French Bible (1687) owned by Andrew Sigourney (who recorded the Boston earthquake of 1727) and his descendants Wirt Dexter and Gordon McKay;
  • the first scholarly translation of the Bible into Italian (1541)
  • pamphlets written by Martin Luther and published in 1520 (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and the Latin and German versions of The Freedom of a Christian);
  • a copy of Calvin's Institutes (1550) owned and annotated by Ulrich Zwingli (1528-71, the son of the reformer) as well as the first English edition (1561) and the first Italian translation (1557);
  • two pamphlets written by Argula von Grumbach (1523);
  • early records of the First Parish in Cambridge (1696-1831);
  • drafts of William Ellery Channing's sermon Unitarian Christianity;
  • the private journals of Theodore Parker;
  • letters of Booker T. Washington in the American Unitarian Association letterbooks.

At Schlesinger Library, Ellen Shea, head of public services, introduced participants to the range of materials collected by the library that illustrate the religious lives of women or illuminate religious positions on social issues that affect women. The collection overview included:

  • papers of missionaries such as Ida Pruitt, missionary to China;
  • papers of ministers such as Pauli Murray, African American Episcopal priest, activist, and lawyer;
  • early-nineteenth-century women's diaries exploring everyday women's spirituality;
  • spirit writing on slate tablets;
  • records of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its ecumenical task force on women and religion;
  • periodicals and ephemera that document religious aspects of societal questions such as abortion or that show religious organization support or condemnation of issues (such as voting rights and the equal rights amendment) important to women.

At the end of the program, the students reflected on their experience. One student commented: "I enjoyed the breadth and informality of the visits and exposure to the collections. This really made the libraries turn into friends." Another said, "Through the texts and manuscripts, I met extremely fascinating people who I had never ever heard of, and I can't wait to get to know them better."