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Administration & Programs

Open Collections Program

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. 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.

Three “open collections” have been launched between 2004 and 2008: Women Working, 1800–1930; Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930; and Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics.

Additional collections, including the Islamic Heritage Project and Organizing Our World: Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age (working title), are currently in development. Harvard established the Open Collections Program in 2002 with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Subsequent support has been received from Arcadia, a charitable trust based in England, and from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud.

Summary of Activities in FY 2007

The OCP—its staff; its collaborators among Harvard’s libraries, museums, and archives; and its faculty advisory—were concerned primarily with launching Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930 with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; planning for the Islamic Heritage Project with support from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, and selection, digitization, and production for Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics with support from Arcadia. Additional time and effort have been expended on planning and consultation with Arcadia for two more collections.

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, is a web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard’s libraries, archives, and museums that documents significant aspects of voluntary immigration to the US from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression. OCP launched the collection on November 21, 2006. 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 9,000 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.

Islamic Heritage Project

Late in 2005, Harvard University announced the creation of a University-wide program on Islamic studies, made possible by a $20 million gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. The program fosters the scholarly study of Islamic history, tradition, culture, and contemporary life. Its multidisciplinary approach will expand Harvard's coverage of the growing field of Islamic studies, enhancing the University's ability to address increasing demands for knowledge and understanding of the Islamic tradition. It will augment Harvard's existing strength by increasing the number of faculty focused on Islamic studies and providing additional support to graduate students.

The program includes an important initiative in the Open Collections Program known as the Islamic Heritage Project that will preserve and digitize historical Islamic materials and make the resulting images available on the Internet. 

OCP will launch the Islamic Heritage Project early in 2009.

Contagion: Historical Views of Dieases and Epidemics

Throughout FY 2007, significant work was accomplished on Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics, which is scheduled for launch early in 2008. This new open collection is designed to contribute to the understanding of the global, social-history, and public-policy implications of diseases and offers important historical perspectives on the science and the public policy of epidemiology today.

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics is a digital collection that provides general background information on diseases and epidemics worldwide, and is organized around significant “episodes” of contagious disease. Materials include digitized copies of books, serials, pamphlets, incunabula, and manuscripts—a total of more than 500,000 pages—many of which contain visual materials, such as plates, engravings, maps, charts, broadsides, and other illustrations. The collection also includes two unique sets of visual materials from the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Library materials and archival materials are supplemented by explanatory pages that introduce concepts related to diseases and epidemics, historical approaches to medicine, and notable men and women.