Located in Houghton Library's lobby, the History of Ideas case allows viewers to witness breakthroughs in intellectual history through the original manuscripts and printed books that introduced them to the world.

In November 1572, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) observed what he thought was a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia, but which was actually a phenomenon that we now know as a supernova, a massive explosion of a dying star. The name "nova" comes from the title of his groundbreaking 1573 report, known as De Nova Stella (On the New Star), which is today regarded as one of the most important books in the history of astronomy.

Houghton's rare first edition of De Nova Stella is on display along with Tycho's Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (1598) and De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentari (1606) by his former assistant, Johannes Kepler (1571–1630).

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?

Houghton's 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.