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Administration & Programs

Open Collections Program


Through Harvard’s Open Collections Program (OCP), the University advances teaching and learning on historical topics of great relevance by providing online access to historical resources from Harvard’s renowned libraries, archives, and museums. OCP’s highly specialized “open collections” are developed through careful collaborations among Harvard’s distinguished faculty, librarians, and curators.

Harvard University established the Open Collections Program in 2002, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The program has received subsequent support from Arcadia and from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. The goal of the Open Collections Program is to offer a new model for digital collections that will benefit students and teachers around the world.

OCP works concertedly to link related holdings across Harvard’s extensive system of libraries and museums. Across Harvard, curators, bibliographers, and public service librarians are generous collaborators for OCP. They open their doors and—quite literally—their collections to help shape the contours of OCP collections, current and future.

In FY 2006, OCP completed digitization of materials for its second collection, Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930. Users will particularly value one important feature of Immigration: the large collection of rare and unique photographs from the Social Museum Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, which is on deposit from the Carpenter Center of the Visual Arts. Preparing the Social Museum photographs brought about an extensive and valuable collaboration between OCP and the University Art Museums.

Throughout the year, OCP continued to collaborate with faculty, librarians, curators, and other subject specialists to lay the group work for two additional collections: Contagion: Historical Views of Contagious Disease and The Islamic Heritage Project.

Technical Infrastructure

OCP makes extensive use of the University’s investments in technical infrastructure through Library Digital Initiatives. In order to maximize the sustainability of materials digitized for OCP, all files are stored in Harvard’s centrally managed Digital Repository Service. Through the use of the persistent identifiers managed by the Name Resolution Service, all materials created by OCP are made available not only through the program web site, but also through the appropriate library catalogs (VIA for images, HOLLIS for published materials, and OASIS for manuscripts).

In addition, OCP and its catalogers have given much attention to the complexities of describing digitized manuscript material at the item, folder, and collection levels. A University-wide working group proposed changes to some of the descriptive practices used in OCP’s Women Working, and those changes have already taken effect.

OCP Collections

Two “open collections” have been launched since 2004: Women Working, 1800–1930, and, in November 2006, Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930. Two additional collections are under development: Contagion: Historical Views of Contagious Disease and The Islamic Heritage Project.

Women Working, 1800–1930

This collection explores women’s roles in the US economy between 1800 and the Great Depression. Working conditions, conditions in the home, costs of living, recreation, health and hygiene, conduct of life, policies and regulations governing the workplace, and social issues are all well documented by original source material.

The collection features approximately 500,000 digitized pages and images, including:

  • 7,500 pages of manuscripts
  • 3,500 books and pamphlets
  • 1,200 photographs 

Specifically, the sources for Women Working include:

  • Harvard Business School: trade catalogs and industrial photographs from Baker Library;
  • Harvard College Library (HCL): narrative accounts of work in the factories from Widener Library, and statistical publications from Littauer Library, which anchors HCL’s Social Sciences Program;
  • Harvard Graduate School of Design: books on tenement life from the Frances Loeb Library;
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education: educational reports from the Gutman Library;
  • Harvard Law School: legal treatises from the Harvard Law School Library;
  • Harvard Medical School: works on birth control, hygiene, medicine, and nursing from the Countway Library of Medicine; and
  • Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study: books on domestic science from the Schlesinger Library, as well as diaries and manuscripts on the lives of working women from its manuscript collections.

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930 (launched November 2006)

This web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard’s libraries, archives, and museums documents voluntary immigration to the US from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression.

Immigration has profoundly influenced the character and the growth of the United States. Its salient themes—including acculturation, nativism, racism and prejudice, homesteading, and industrialization—and the policies governing it are illustrated in the online collection.

Concentrating heavily on the 19th century, Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, includes approximately 1,800 books and pamphlets as well as 6,000 photographs, 200 maps, and 13,000 pages from manuscript and archival collections. By incorporating diaries, biographies, and other writings capturing diverse experiences, the collected material provides a window into the lives of ordinary immigrants. For example:

  • Images from Harvard’s Social Museum, which was established in 1903 by Harvard professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, illustrate “problems of the social order” related to the rapid influx of immigrants.
  • Original manuscript and archival materials—ranging from records of the Immigration Restriction League to the papers of New Jersey librarian Jane Maud Campbell (1869–1947)—document the plight of newly arrived immigrants.

In addition to thousands of items that are now accessible to any Internet user, the collection includes contextual information on voluntary immigration and quantitative data. The site also provides links to related digital resources that cover other aspects of immigration to the US, including vital materials on the African diaspora.

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, relies on the new Virtual Collections Service, developed and launched by the University Library’s Office for Information Systems in FY 2006.

Contagion: Historical Views of Contagious Disease (available in 2008)

Harvard’s new Contagion collection will gather historical materials from the University’s libraries and museums into a web-accessible format that illuminates a series of globally significant outbreaks of contagious disease. These historical “episodes” include the cholera epidemics of the 19th century, the 1918 influenza epidemic, syphilis (before and after 1910), tuberculosis in 19th-century Europe and America, and yellow fever (notably the 1793 outbreak in Philadelphia).

The collection also documents important developments in public health around the globe through the early 20th century and the evolution of the germ theory of disease. The collection will provide an online gateway to approximately 1,600 digitized books, 10,000 manuscript pages, selected incunabula, and a range of other historical materials relevant to significant epidemics in the US, continental Europe, Panama, Manchuria, and elsewhere. While these historical materials clearly offer valuable insights for students of the history of medicine and for researchers seeking a historical context for current epidemiology, Contagion will also prove to be a valuable social-history resource for students of many ages and disciplines. The collection is expected to be available online late in 2008.

The Islamic Heritage Project (available in 2008)

Through the Islamic Heritage Project, Harvard will digitize historically significant Islamic materials and make the resulting images—including imaged texts of the classics of the Islamic tradition—available on the Internet.

The Islamic Heritage Project is the library component of a new, University-wide Islamic studies program, made possible by a $20 million gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. The new program will build on Harvard’s strong commitment to the study of the religious traditions of the world, and it will augment Harvard’s existing strength by increasing the number of faculty focused on Islamic studies and providing additional support to graduate students.