FRSEMR 62J – Harvard’s Greatest Hits: The Most Important, Rarest, and Most Valuable Books in Houghton Library

FRSEMR 62J – Harvard’s Greatest Hits: The Most Important, Rarest, and Most Valuable Books in Houghton Library

Semester: Fall
Offered: 2021
Instructor: David Stern
Meeting Time: Th 3:00pm-5:00pm

Have you ever fantasized of turning the pages of a Gutenberg Bible with your own fingers?   Or a medieval illustrated Book of Hours?  Or touching a papyrus fragment of Homer?  Or a First Folio edition of Shakespeare?  Or seeing close-up Copernicus’ diagram of the heliocentric universe?   The Houghton Library of Harvard University is one of the world’s greatest repositories of ancient scrolls, papyrus codices, illuminated manuscripts on parchment and paper, early printed books, rare books published since the sixteenth century down until today, and stunning prints and other types of graphic art. In this freshman seminar, we will utilize Houghton’s extraordinary holdings to study first-hand the history of the book in the West as a material artifact from its beginnings in the ancient Near East down to the present day. Each week we will focus upon a cluster of books.   Before class, students will be asked to examine selected books in Houghton’s Reading Room as well as online.   During class-time, we will study the books again as a group. Visiting experts will demonstrate how to unroll a papyrus codex, the technology involved in creating a codex and printing on a hand-pulled press, and the techniques modern conservators use to preserve manuscripts and books. You will emerge from this seminar with a heightened understanding of what a rich thing a book is, and so much more than just a text. And you will have seen and studied close-up some of the most visually spectacular and culturally significant books in all Western history.

Course Requirements: Course open to Freshman Students Only.

For more details please visit the Harvard Course Catalog.