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Administration and Programs

Open Collections Program

Open Collections Program

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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 Open Collections Program (OCP) opens an online window to those resources 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. 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 the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation.

OCP's unique online collections do not duplicate individual collections of books or manuscripts. Instead, OCP offers unique virtual collections of thematically linked material selected from numerous Harvard repositories. Each collection is easily searchable on the web.

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.”

Three “open collections” were launched prior to FY 2009: Women Working, 18001930; Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930; and Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics.

Significantly, OCP completed each of these collections on time and on budget, while surmounting numerous logistical challenges. These challenges include the creation of metadata; the determination of the University's right to digitize, store, and present individual items on the Internet; and the conservation of fragile, often unique materials.

Three additional collections, including Expeditions and Discoveries: Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age, the Islamic Heritage Project, and Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History, were in various stages of development throughout FY 2009.

Expeditions and Discoveries: Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age

Launched in April 2009, Expeditions and Discoveries delivers maps, photographs, and published materials, as well as field notes, letters, and a unique range of manuscript materials on selected expeditions between 1626 and 1953. The collection is made possible with the generous support of the Arcadia Fund.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Harvard University played a significant role—as underwriter, participant, collector, and repository—for pace-setting expeditions around the world. For Internet users, Expeditions and Discoveries provides selective access to Harvard's multidisciplinary records of those expeditions. 

The collection features nine significant expeditions as they are reflected in the holdings of Harvard's libraries, museums, and archives. Other materials—both published and unpublished—provide vital, contextual information on exploration in the modern age. In the aggregate, the collection will offer important—often unique—historical resources for students of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, botany, geography, geology, medicine, oceanography, and zoology.

In addition, users will have the opportunity to search or browse materials by discipline or region, explore holdings related to notable people, and find vital, contextual information on modern-age explorations from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from South America to Africa and Australia, and more.

Islamic Heritage Project

Late in 2005, Harvard announced the creation of a University-wide program on Islamic studies, made possible by a gift from the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation. 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.

To support this vital new program, OCP initiated a digitization project in FY 2008 that yielded hundreds of texts, totaling over 80,000 pages of published materials, more than 60,000 pages of Islamic manuscripts, and 59 maps by the end of FY 2009. The online digital collection will include rare and unique materials from the 10th through the 20th centuries of the Common Era that represent many regions, including Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Ottoman Turkey, and South, Southeast, and Central Asia; numerous languages: primarily Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Persian, but also Urdu, Chagatai, Malay, Gujarati, Indic languages in Khojki script, and several Western languages; and subjects, including Islam, hadith, Sufism, religious texts and commentaries (aqaid, kalam, tafsir), history (tarikh), geography, law, science (astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine, veterinary medicine, zoology), literature (adab, poetry), calligraphy, dictionaries, grammar, rhetoric, logic (mantiq), philosophy, and biographies and autobiographical works.

Editor's note: OCP launched the Islamic Heritage Project web site in November 2009.

Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History

OCP's forthcoming Reading collection is an exploration of the intellectual, cultural, and political history of reading as an individual practice and as a social phenomenon. Drawing on the rich collections in Harvard University's libraries, the collection will make freely available significant source materials in one of the liveliest fields of interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences.

Annotated texts from the personal libraries of writers, such as Herman Melville and John Keats, and commonplace books will provide evidence of the reading habits of individuals. Historical textbooks, including spellers, grammars, and readers, will reveal the pedagogical principles that stood behind the teaching of reading from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Records of the American Board of the Commissioners for Foreign Missions document efforts to teach reading across cultures. Book club and literary association records demonstrate the sociable side of reading as a shared, communal experience.

Library catalogs and charging records provide information on the institutional role of the library in mediating the reading activities of individuals. By making the richest material from these Harvard collections freely available online, OCP will provide a way for researchers, teachers, and students at colleges without extensive libraries to participate more fully in this exciting field.

Editor's note: OCP launched the Reading collection on February 28, 2010.