A summer trip to Harvard

Krissie West, one of our postgraduate researchers, writes…

I was really fortunate to spend three weeks of this summer in the US, thanks to a bursary from the department and the Graduate School, continuing my PhD research on Transcendentalism in the archives at Harvard University and presenting a paper at a conference in nearby Concord.

Harvard’s version of our grad school…

Krissie West Harvard

My first two weeks were spent in the Houghton Library at Harvard, which houses thousands of original manuscripts from the most eminent writers in American Literature, researching the papers of Amos Bronson Alcott (better known as the father of Louisa May Alcott) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This work will form part of my thesis on Transcendentalism and childhood.

The Houghton Library at Harvard…

Krissie West Houghton Library

Having had little previous experience working in archives, I found the process itself really interesting – the thousand, mostly unwritten, rules and regulations prohibiting the use of pens, paper (unless it was pink), jumpers or cardigans unless they were being worn rather than on the back of a chair, and the need to show every little thing being taken in or out of the room. And no bags, of course – not even in the ladies’ room!

However, once I had more or less learned the rules, I found the magnitude of the experience amazing – that as a non-Harvard, non-US scholar, I could visit at any time, for free, and read, transcribe and photograph (with limitations) the original manuscripts of my chosen writers. Particular highlights included discovering the first page of Little Women sequel, Jo’s Boys; letters from her father to a seven-year old Louisa May on her birthday, and letters from Louisa to her ‘Marmee’. Reading Emerson’s Journals was also a particularly exciting addition to my work.

Finally, I enjoyed a week in Concord, attending and giving a paper at the Summer Conversational Series at Alcott family home, Orchard House, which gave me the opportunity to discuss my research with fellow Transcendentalist scholars and learn about their work (not to mention the ‘accidental’ purchase of a first edition of Emerson while visiting a local historic home!)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables on a weekend visit to Salem…

Krissie West House of Seven Gables

It was an amazing experience, and I hope to return again soon.


About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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