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Harvard University Archives Site Visit, November 1, 2012

Exhibition.  Note-taking Habits at Harvard: A Selected History

Note-taking Habits at Harvard: A Selected History


"Take Note" brought together scholars from literature, history, media studies, information science, and computer science to explore the past and future roles of note-taking across the university. The conference opened with the launch of an online, interactive exhibition of notes held in Harvard University collections, in tandem with site visits that were free and open to the public in the libraries and museums that contributed to the exhibition. On Friday, November 2,  panelists discussed the history of note-taking in different disciplines as well as the potential of emerging digital annotation tools.

Videos of the conference will be available on Harvard's YouTube channel. 



For its site visit, the Harvard University Archives featured note-taking habits at Harvard, in an historical display of notes from the 17th to the 21st centuries, including commonplace books, diaries, and annotated publications kept by administrators, faculty, and students. Visitors were introduced to the history and role of the Archives, which provided context and provenance for the materials on display, and viewed a variety of resources in online and paper formats.

The checklist from the Harvard University Archives site visit display is available by clicking here.


Please see below for selected items from the site visit display

Corporation Meeting Waste Book. 1771-1777

Corporation Meeting Waste Book. UAI 5.50 Box 3

Waste books contain notes taken during actual meetings and later edited and augmented to create an official version of the meeting minutes. Waste books often contain information not transcribed into the official minutes.  The notes taken by an unnamed scribe at the Corporation meeting of August 8, 1775 include the original text of a vote regarding the financial obligations of degree seekers. The waste book version refers to the losses that some students have sustained due to the “hostile, Arbitrary proceedings of General Gage.” The official minutes delete the personal reference to Gage, mentioning only the “hostilities of the Kings Troops” – a minor edit, but one that a scholar of the American Revolution may find intriguing.

UAI 5.50 Box 3


    Nebulae - Photographs taken at the Harvard College Observatory’s station in Arequipa, Peru. UAV 630.271

    Notes play a key role in the documentation and analysis that characterizes scientific research. In these examples, annotations provide supporting information, including date, place, equipment, and length of exposure, that the images themselves do not convey.  Photographs taken at the Harvard College Observatory’s station in Arequipa, Peru. 1894 & 1896

    UAV 630.271 Album 2 Page 2
    UAV 630.271 Album 3 Page 2


      Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Othello, the Moore of Venice.” edited with notes by William J. Rolfe. 1909

      Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Othello, the Moore of Venice” edited with notes by William J. Rolfe.  HUC 8909.324.2

      In 1909-1910, James Buell Munn (AB 1912) took George Lyman Kittredge’s course English 2, for which were assigned various works by Shakespeare, including this volume of Othello. Munn later loaned the book to Arthur Cushman McGiffert (AB 1913), who took the course in 1911-1912, and to Lionel de Jersey Harvard (AB 1914), who took the course in 1913-1914.  All three students heavily annotated the volume.  Munn’s notes are written in ink in a sprawling hand, while McGiffert used smaller script; Harvard’s notes were written in pencil.

      HUC 8909.324.2


        Notes on the Web & College Book No. 1

        Here, laptop displaying 21st century notes on a web site collected in WAX and handwritten minutes from the early 17th century sit side by side.

        College Book No. 1, UAI 5.5

        Luboš Motl's blog reference frame, archived December 20, 2007 A-Sites: Archived Harvard Web Sites.

        Persephone Miel’s blog Media Re:public, archived August 21, 2010 H-Sites: Harvard Life and Learning.