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Reading offers highly selective views from the Harvard library collections on reading as an acquired skill, as a social activity, and as a valued and engaging individual act.

Reading offers highly selective views from the Harvard library collections on reading as an acquired skill, as a social activity, and as a valued and engaging individual act. View Collection Highlights.

Now Online—Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History

New Collection Delivers 250,000 Digitized Pages to Web Users Everywhere

What do John Keats's Shakespeare, Wordsworth's library catalog, and Victor Hugo's commonplace book have in common with primers and spellers and other historical materials on learning to read?

Each item is among the 1,200 books and manuscripts—comprising more than 250,000 web-accessible pages—now discoverable online in Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History. Developed by Harvard's Open Collections Program with generous support from the Arcadia Fund, Reading is an online exploration of the intellectual, cultural, and political history of reading as reflected in the historical holdings of the Harvard Libraries. Visit the collection at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/reading.

"Although reading happens everywhere," states Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, "we don't know what it is when it takes place under our nose. How do we make sense of typographical marks embedded on a page? How did other people in other times and places decipher signs in other languages? The process of reading lies at the heart of our most intensely human activity, the making of meaning, and therefore deserves study as a crucial element in all civilizations, even those without modern means of communication, where natives learn to read footprints in the sand and clouds in the sky as meaningful portents. Curiously, however, the study of reading has only recently become part of the larger effort to interpret cultural systems. Why this neglect? In part because we are so familiar with reading that we fail to see its problematic character, in part because we have not located sources for systematic research.

"The source material abounds," Darnton continues, "but it must be quarried out of locations that are inaccessible to most people—manuscript diaries, commonplace books, correspondence, instruction manuals, library records, fictitious and graphic representations. By assembling evidence from a wide variety of its holdings, the Harvard University Library intends to make this exciting field of study accessible to everyone, everywhere. Beginning students can explore different aspects of it, and advanced researchers can pursue primary material in highly specialized areas. By opening its holdings to the general public in this digital collection as in the earlier projects of its Open Collections Program, Harvard hopes to promote the cause of open access in general."

Reading offers highly selective views from the Harvard library collections on reading as an acquired skill, as a social activity, and as a valued and engaging individual act. The materials digitized for Reading are drawn from unique holdings of the Harvard University Archives, the rare book and manuscript collections of Houghton Library, and the Historical Textbooks Collection in the Monroe C. Gutman Library of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Additional materials reflect special collections in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the world-renowned humanities and social-science holdings of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. For Internet users worldwide, Reading provides unparalleled digital access to a significant selection of unique source materials, including more than 800 published books and 400 manuscript materials.

View Collection Highlights.

The selections include printed books, especially historical textbooks, such as primers, spellers, and readers; library records, largely related to the Harvard collections; documentation in published as well as manuscript form on reading clubs and associations in the US and Great Britain; commonplace books and related items, such as diaries and scrapbooks; and highly significant holdings from Houghton Library that include personally annotated books owned by John Keats, Herman Melville, Hester Lynch Piozzi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, and William James. Items digitized and included in Reading are in the public domain.

While the Reading collection does not aggregate everything available at Harvard on the broad topics of reading, readership, reading history, or reading instruction, the collection vastly increases the availability and use of Harvard's historical resources for teaching and research.

For nearly four centuries, Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums have developed extraordinary collections that reflect the scope and the breadth of the University's world-renowned academic programs. The University opens an online window to those resources through its Open Collections Program (OCP). Through careful collaboration with Harvard's distinguished faculty, librarians, and curators, OCP creates subject-specific, web-accessible collections, open to anyone with an Internet connection, that can support teaching and learning around the world.

OCP focuses on historical materials that are often unique. In the words of OCP founder Sidney Verba, "The experience of working with this University's historical materials has long been an irreplaceable part of a Harvard education. Now, by developing subject-based digital collections on topics of contemporary concern, Harvard is making that experience available to students and teachers everywhere."

Established in 2002 with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Open Collections Program has since received generous support from Arcadia and from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.


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