Arts & Culture

Libraries launch ‘Expeditions and Discoveries’

3 min read

Harvard’s Open Collections Program has launched “Expeditions and Discoveries: Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age.” Through the new collection, Internet users can find thousands of maps, photographs, and published materials, along with field notes, letters, and unique manuscript materials on sponsored exploration and related scientific discoveries between 1626 and 1953.

“Expeditions and Discoveries” brings important, often unique, historical resources to students of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, botany, geography, geology, medicine, oceanography, and zoology. The collection is made possible with the support of the Arcadia Fund, and includes digitized copies of more than 250,000 pages from 700 books and serials, as well as 50,000 pages from Harvard’s manuscript collections, more than 1,200 photographs, 200 maps, 21 atlases, and numerous drawings and prints.

“Each of Harvard’s open collections offers a vast number of rare and hard-to-find published materials to Internet users,” stated Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library Robert Darnton, “and ‘Expeditions and Discoveries’ is no exception. Support from Arcadia, however, has inspired and enabled a new focus on the University’s legendary special collections. The result is remarkable: ‘Expeditions and Discoveries’ brings a tremendous range of unique manuscript materials into the hands of scholars and Internet users everywhere.”

Since the dawn of the modern age, the world has witnessed an increasingly organized approach to exploration and discovery: sometimes to document the geography, climate, resources, and peoples of little-known areas, sometimes to establish scientific facts, such as the Earth’s circumference.

Historically, organized explorations relied on state or institutional sponsorship. By the 19th century, North America’s universities were emerging as forces in a broad range of expeditions and discoveries. Within that context, Harvard University played significant roles — as underwriter, participant, collector, and repository — for pace-setting expeditions around the world. “Expeditions and Discoveries” features nine major expeditions as they are reflected in the holdings of Harvard’s libraries, museums, and archives. Through the new collection, Harvard provides selective access to these multidisciplinary records.

Of equal importance, the collection offers digital access to published materials in the public domain that document worldwide exploration and discovery in general — with and without a Harvard connection. Users can search or browse materials by discipline or region, explore holdings related to 22 notable individuals, and discover information on 22 additional expeditions from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from Latin America to Africa and Australia, and more.

The Harvard University Library established the Open Collections Program in 2002, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The program received subsequent support from Arcadia, and, more recently, from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of the Saudi Royal Family.