Houghton Library is world-renowned for its continually-growing collection of rare books, manuscripts, and archives.

Curious about Houghton's Collections?

This spring, the lobby gallery features items recently acquired by the library, including:

  • A Hebrew Old Testament used as a 17th-century Harvard textbook
  • Photographs of Kyiv during the Second World War
  • An 18th-century embroidered book on Christ’s Passion
  • A leaf from a 16th-century Spanish antiphonary on vellum
  • A notebook belonging to ballet dancer and choreographer Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros 
  • An artist’s book documenting the Sufi Muslim movement
  • Images of pioneering antebellum Black musical performers the Hyers Sisters
  • An 18th-century text on using a barometer for weather forecasting 
  • 19th century tintype portraits of African Americans 
  • A first edition of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952)

History of Ideas

Witness breakthroughs in intellectual history through the original manuscripts and printed books that introduced them to the world, on display in the new History of Ideas exhibition case.

This spring, view an anonymously-printed book advocating inoculation against a devastating outbreak of smallpox in Boston in 1721. Long thought to be written by Puritan minister Cotton Mather (1663–1728), the book abstracts two treatises on inoculation published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Mather was ultimately persuaded that inoculation was the answer to safeguarding against the disease by the personal testimony of Onesimus, an enslaved West African man owned by the minister. Onesimus had undergone inoculation himself, imparting to Mather that “whoever had the Courage to use it, was forever free from the Fear of the Contagion.” In recent years, Onesimus has been honored for his life-saving contribution to practical epidemiology in Colonial America, one of many contributions Africans and diasporic peoples have made to the field of medicine both willingly and without their consent.

The History of Ideas case was created in recognition of a generous gift for the renovation of Houghton Library's Reading Room by alumni donors who wish to remain anonymous. The case hosts exhibits of items from the collections of the donor and the library that change three times a year.

Planning to visit?

The lobby gallery exhibitions are open to all visitors; face coverings are recommended. Please see Harvard Library's Visitor Access Page for the most up-to-date information about visiting the library.