Moving Into the Dorms, Circa 1785

Harvard sjketcg

My youngest daughter went to her first college class yesterday morning (Spanish I).  She moved into the dorms last week and has managed to survive four full days of new student orientation.  I think I will send her J.L. Bell’s recent piece at Boston 1775 on Charles Adams’s move into the Harvard dorms in 1785.

Here is a taste:

Fifteen-year-old Charles Adams started at Harvard College that year. His parents, Abigail and John, were across the Atlantic in London, so he was under the wing of relatives on his mother’s side. 

Charles had been studying for the entrance exam with the Rev. John Shaw of Haverhill, an uncle by marriage. On 9 May Charles wrote to his cousin William Cranch: “we study in the bedroom as usual two young fellows from Bradford being added to our number, One of whom will be my chum if we get in and who I should be very glad to introduce to you.”

By “chum,” Charles meant a college roommate. That prospect was Samuel Walker (1768–1846). When Charles’s older brother John Quincy Adams visited that summer, he immediately assured their mother that Samuel was “a youth, whose thirst for knowledge is insatiable.” 

Read the rest here.

Drew Gilpin Faust


She is the outgoing president of Harvard and one of the best Civil War historians working today.  Here is Colleen Walsh’s Harvard Gazette interview with Drew Gilpin Faust:

Q: You wrote a letter to President Eisenhower when you were 9 urging him to support integration. Does it strike you now, looking back, that you had such a strong opinion about right and wrong at such an early age?

A: I would explain it as a product of being a pretty intellectual, rational kid and being told one set of values in Sunday school and at school about what America was, and then seeing just enormous contradictions with what was going on in the world around me.  There’s a way in which the clear-eyed sight of a child doesn’t have the nuance to erase contradictions. It seems very stark. And I think it just seemed stark and contradictory to me. I was pretty outspoken on stuff. And I think maybe having to struggle for my own rights as a little girl made me think, “Who else is being excluded or treated unfairly?”

Q: You talk about being intellectual from a young age. Did that come from one parent or the other, or both?

A: My father graduated from Princeton and was, I think, really smart. And my grandmother, his mother, who lived near us, was really smart and read a lot. Daddy was not intellectual. He read trashy books, but he was always very amusing and verbal and smart. My mother never graduated from high school. I think she was dyslexic. Two of my brothers are dyslexic. One’s a lawyer and the other has a Ph.D. in geology, so they’ve overcome it. But they had to have a lot of attention in school.

My mother was led by emotion, not reason. That’s why I fought with her all the time, because I’d come up with these syllogisms of this is true, that’s true, therefore it is true that I should be allowed to do X. And she’d look at me and blow up and say, “I don’t care. Argue away. You’re going to do it because I said you are.”

Read the entire interview here.

“Till the stock of the Puritans die”


Harvard University has changed the lyrics of the school’s alma mater.

Goodbye Puritans.

Read about it at The Boston Globe.  Here is a taste:

The lyrics “Till the stock of the Puritans die,” the last verse in the 181-year-old song, will be replaced with the line “till the stars in the firmament die,” according to the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, a university group that launched a competition last year and solicited suggestions for revisions from faculty, staff, and current and former students…

“Fair Harvard” was first written in 1836 by alumnus Samuel Gilman for the school’s bicentennial celebration.

The stand-out sentence to replace Gilman’s lyric was submitted by Janet Pascal, a graduate of the class of 1984. The updated version of the alma mater already appears on the school’s website, along with a notation about the revision.

Read the entire article here.

Ghost Dissertation Advisers

harvard history
I am thankful that I had an excellent dissertation adviser who cared about my work.  Katrin Schultheiss, the current chair of the Department of History at George Washington University, did not have the same experience.  She described her experience (at Harvard) in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Here is a taste:

Back in the late 1980s, I applied for admission to various doctoral programs in history. A couple of months later, I was shocked to receive a phone call from an internationally renowned scholar. He congratulated me on being admitted to his university’s program and invited me to the campus to talk with him in person.

When I arrived at the appointed spot, a young woman introduced herself as one of Professor Famous’s graduate students, apologized on his behalf, and said he could not be there after all but she would be happy to talk with me. Far from being offended that I had been bumped from his schedule, I was flattered that I had made it onto his radar at all.

I ended up matriculating at the university, though I eventually switched to another male adviser (for intellectual reasons and not because Professor Famous tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter). My new adviser — I’ll call him Professor Prominent — was well regarded but not a superstar like Professor Famous. Professor Prominent was an excellent teacher and my conversations with him were always pleasant, and sometimes even inspiring.

I accepted as “bad timing” the fact that he had a secretary put a pink “While You Were Out” message in my mailbox informing me that he would be out of town for my comprehensive oral exams. But maybe that was a sign of what was to come. When it came to providing guidance and feedback on my dissertation, I remember clearly the downward slope of his engagement with my work: I received a page of comments on my first chapter, a postcard of comments on the next two, and an efficient “looks good!” on the remaining three.

Read the rest here.

Slavery at Harvard

Faust and Coates

Drew Gilpin Faust and Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just came across this article Lydialyle Gibson’s essay in Harvard Magazine titled “A Vast Slave Society.”  It is a report on a one-day conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on slavery at America’s first institution of higher education and other colleges and universities.  Speakers included Drew Gilpin Faust, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lizabeth Cohen, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Adam Rothman, James T. Campbell, Craig Steven Wilder, Vincent Brown, Natasha Trethewey, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sven Beckert, Julian Bonder, Daniel Coquillette, Alexandra Rahman, Alejandro de le Fuente, Hilary Beckles, Max Price, Christiane Taubira, and Daniel Carpenter.

Here is a taste:

OTHER SPEAKERS, including Faust, echoed that same sentiment, though with less specificity. “We cannot successfully move forward as a university, as a nation, or as citizens, without acknowledging this history and making it important to the understanding of our present,” said Harvard’s Beckert. “And to be meaningful, that acknowledgement will have to have economic and political consequences; it cannot be purely symbolic or rhetorical.” Stanford historian James T. Campbell, who a decade and a half ago led Brown’s effort to research its own past, said, “There has to be some response in the present to what you know about the history.” Conceding the impossibility of any full remedy, he added, “Nothing you do in the present even approaches the significance and scale and scope of the crime. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” Adam Rothman, a Georgetown historian involved in that university’s archival effort, asked how many in the audience thought his university ought to help subsidize the education of people descended from slaves that it had owned in the early 1800s. Most hands went up.

As schools move forward in their efforts to reckon with centuries-old questions that have suddenly become urgent, Coates offered a few bits of advice. For one thing, he said, “Do not limit the study of enslavement to slavery.…Recognize that the plunder of enslavement does not end with enslavement.”  He also counseled them to “listen, and don’t be self-congratulatory, and don’t get too mad.” People will be angry with them, he warned, and with good reason. “The worst thing you can do is retreat into your shell.…You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to hear that anger. It comes from a deep, deep place.”

Read the entire article here.


Did John Quincy Adams Pass the Harvard Entrance Exam?

jqaHe took the exam in 1786.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell tells us what happened.

Here is a taste:

Here’s John Quincy’s description of the test from his diary:

Between 9 and 10 in the morning, I went to the President’s [Rev. Joseph Willard], and was there examined, before, the President, the four Tutors three Professors, and Librarian.

The first book was Horace, where Mr. [Eleazer] James the Latin Tutor told me to turn to the Carmen saeculare where I construed 3 stanza’s, and parsed the word sylvarum, but called potens a substantive.

Okay, a little slip there, but he can recover.

Mr. [Timothy Lindall] Jennison, the greek Tutor then put me to the beginning of the fourth Book of Homer; I construed Lines, but parsed wrong αλληλομς. I had then παραβληδην given me.

Uh-oh, the pressure might be getting to him.

I was then asked a few questions in [Isaac] Watts’s Logic [Logic, or The Right Use of Reason, in the Inquiry after Truth], by Mr. [John] Hale, and a considerable number in [John] Locke, on the Understanding [An Essay Concerning Human Understanding], very few of which I was able to answer.

Did Adams pass his exam? Head over to Boston 1775 and find out.


Harvard Law School Removes Crest Linked to Slavery. Annette Gordon Reed Dissents

Harvard Law School has decided to abandon the crest of the Isaac Royal family, a slaveholder who helped endow the school because it does not represent “Harvard values.”


Harvard Law School has abandoned this crest

Not everyone at Harvard Law School agrees with the decision.  One of them is the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed.  Here is a taste of an Re:

In her dissent, Ms. Gordon-Reed wrote that erasing the Royalls would also extinguish the memory of the slaves whose labor contributed to the founding of the law school. “People should have to think about slavery when they think of the Harvard shield; but from now on, with a narrative that emphasizes the enslaved, not the Royall family,” Ms. Gordon-Reed wrote. She was joined by one other member of the 12-member committee, Annie Rittgers, a law student.

Ms. Gordon-Reed said sheaves of wheat had also appeared on American pennies and did not have the visceral associations of a Confederate or Nazi flag. Besides, she said, since it was designed in 1936, the shield had taken on its own meaning, separate from the Royall family, honoring the law school graduates. Her opinion acknowledged the complexities that universities confront in dealing with these issues and was a rare departure from the cautious approach of many campuses…

Bruce H. Mann, a Harvard law professor and the chairman of the committee, said Friday that the rest of the committee had agreed that the history of slavery had to be remembered, but disagreed about how to do it.

In an email Friday, Ms. Gordon-Reed said she had been influenced by her scholarship on Hemings. “This is my life’s work,” she said. “I sincerely believe that we owe it to the enslaved to work through those feelings and think of ways to carry their stories forward. And we should do that in a way that shows the inherently entwined nature of the good and bad of our past, using written text and symbols like the sheaves and, even, buildings like Monticello.”

Read the entire article here.

Digital Archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions

Another great digital history project just went live last week.  

Harvard just made accessible a searchable online database of close to 3500 antislavery and antisegregation petitions sent to the Massachusetts colonial and state legislatures from the 1600s to 1870.  These petitions are housed at the Massachusetts Archives.

Read all about it here and here.

A small taste:

Each petition image is annotated with detailed information, and the dataset provides web-based browsing, searching, and filtering, along with images of the digitized documents. These digitized images include documents that date back to antislavery efforts from 1649 but also reflect black Revolutionary War veterans, female abolitionists (including Sojourner Truth), and petitions submitted before, during, and after the Civil War. The images, and the associated metadata, will be distributed by the Harvard Dataverse Network infrastructure and will be made publicly available for the first time at this event on February 27, 2015, at the end of Black History Month.

Why Harvard Hates You

Jonathan Rees is on fire.

Using Springsteen’s version of “John Henry” as a lead in, he explains how Harvard University is using MOOCs to kill off as many academic jobs as possible.  Here is a taste:

Exhibit A: After the speech I gave in Connecticut last Friday, a Harvard Ph.D. in the audience slipped me an article. It’s from their Arts and Sciences graduate college alumni magazine. The new issue isn’t available online yet so you’re just going to have to trust me here:

“Thanks to technologies like HarvardX, [Grad Students Wen Yu] and [Ian] Miller suspect, there may be fewer professors in the academy in the future, but they will be much better teachers.”

That last sentiment is so perverse, I’m going to have to take it up in a post all its own, but for now just let the total lack of compassion there sink in for a moment. Sure, we’re going to screw over a lot of other grad students, but we’ll be fine! We’re from Harvard! With respect to there being fewer professors in the future, you just know they’re getting that from somewhere.
Exhibit B comes from former Harvard dean Harry Lewis (who talked to that New Yorker reporter, but was not quoted extensively). In this blog post, he absolves his employer for all blame for MOOC-induced professorial unemployment:

In the case of MOOCs (or other ways of chunking online instruction), Harvard could impose burdensome licensing rules in an effort to protect the scholarly professionals elsewhere. (Just as the Wall Street Journal is now Online but hardly Open.) But of course UC would then utilize someone else’s product, resulting in lower quality instruction at UC, perhaps at a higher price. Would we at Harvard then sleep better, knowing that if any philosophers had been laid off in California, it was not because of OUR MOOC?

Someone else is going to destroy your jobs, he’s arguing, so why shouldn’t it be Harvard? “You’re going to die someday anyway, so why don’t I just shoot you now?

In other words, my fellow faculty members who teach at universities with precarious balance sheets (which therefore makes them ripe for “disruption”), Harvard hates you. Not content to be the richest of the rich, they want to get even richer by making your jobs no longer economically viable.

Read the entire post here.

De-Disciplinizing the Humanities

Chris Buczinsky of Calumet College of St. Joseph (Whiting, IN) and Robert Frodeman of the University of North Texas think that the humanities have been held captive for too long by the so-called “Harvard model.”  This model confines the humanities to particular disciplines and understands humanities scholarship in terms of monographs and academic papers.  Buczinsky and Frodeman believe that too many schools have followed the Harvard model and this has led to our current crisis in the humanities.

Frodeman, a philosopher, is helping to train North Texas graduate students in the humanities to work alongside scientists, engineers, and policy makers to address environmental problems.  He calls this “field philosophy.”  Buczinsky is tapping into the Catholic mission of his college, training students to be “humanely educated citizens working to create a just society.”

Here is a taste of their piece at Inside Higher Ed:

High-level humanistic scholarship will always have a place within the academy. But to limit the humanities to the Harvard model, to make scholarship rather than, say, public policy or social justice, the highest ideal of humanistic study, is to betray the soul of the humanities. To study the humanities, our students must learn textual skills, the scholarly operations of reading texts closely, with some interpretive subtlety. But the humanities are much more than a language game played by academic careerists.
Ultimately, the self-cultivation at the heart of the humanities aims to develop the culture at large. Unless they end up where they began — in the marketplace, alongside Socrates, questioning, goading, educating, and improving citizens — the humanities have aborted their mission. Today, that mission means finding teachers who have resisted the siren call of specialization and training undergraduate and graduate students in the humanities in the art of politics.

The humanist possesses the broad intellectual training needed to contextualize social problems, bring knowledge to bear on social injustice, and translate disciplinary insights across disciplines. In doing so, the humanist helps hold together an increasingly disparate and specialized society. The scholasticism of the contemporary academy is anathema to this higher calling of the humanities.

Did the British Plan to Burn Harvard in 1775?

J.L. Bell has a great post at Boston 1775 on a 1775 Thanksgiving sermon accusing the British of plotting to burn Harvard College.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Isaac Mansfield Jr., a Continental Army chaplain.  When it was published in 1776, it contained a footnote that described a plan that would have had British soldiers destroying Harvard in April 1775 on their return from Concord.

Bell is not buying Mansfield’s story.  He writes:

Mansfield thus accused the British commanders of planning to capture the Massachusetts legislators, destroy Harvard College, and fortify Cambridge common. He refused to identify his source for that inside information about enemy plans. And of course he was speaking in the midst of a war, when rumors and accusations fly at their fastest.
In fact, Mansfield’s claims don’t make sense. Gen. Thomas Gage did issue a call in September 1774 for the Massachusetts General Court to convene, but they were to gather in Salem, not Boston, and he quickly canceled that summons after the “Powder Alarm.” (The politicians gathered in Salem anyway, out of his reach, and formed a Provincial Congress instead.) There was no call for a legislature in April.

There was also nothing in Gen. Gage’s orders about Harvard. Indeed, the college was so little on Col. Percy’s mind on 19 April that he had to ask tutor Isaac Smith, Jr., which road led from there toward Concord. Percy didn’t have entrenching tools, and Cambridge was a poor place to stop and defend. So when Percy brought the column back through Cambridge, they didn’t pause at the college or the common, nor tried to recross the bridge over the Charles River, but pushed straight on to Charlestown, which was closer to the troops in Boston and more easily defended. 

Read the entire post here.

Exiles from Eden: The John C. Danforth Center Announces Their New Hires

St. Louis may soon become the new mecca for the study of religion and politics in America.  Recently the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University raised their profile significantly when it lured the husband and wife team of R. Marie Griffiths and Leigh Eric Schmidt away from Harvard Divinity School.  Griffiths directs the Center and is the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities.  Schmidt is the Edward Mallinckrodt University Professor of Humanities.  Under their leadership, the Center has a new website, a new web journal (Religion & Politics), a post-doctoral fellow, and what seems to be plenty of money to invite nationally known speakers to campus.  (See our April 2012 post on the Danforth Center).

Yesterday the Center announced its next two faculty hires.  They are Darren Dochuk and Mark Jordan.  Readers of this blog will know the work of Dochuk.  His book, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism has garnered a host of awards in the past year, including the prestigious John H. Dunning book prize. 

Mark Jordan comes to the Danforth Center from Harvard, where he was the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor at the Divinity School.  (Poor Harvard Divinity School–all their best people are heading to St. Louis!). 

Congrats to these hires. I am glad to see that some faculty members have chosen–at the pinnacle of their careers–to leave the hallowed halls of Harvard for the heartland. Perhaps this is another, albeit slightly different, example of the “Exiles from Eden” phenomenon.

I look forward to watching this exciting new center grow and prosper.