A cloth banner bearing a defiant red fist urges students to strike. An aged letter grants colonial troops permission to use Harvard Yard during the Revolutionary War and announces the accompanying campus relocation to Concord.
When students from Ariane Liazos’ expository writing class step into the Harvard University Archives — where they’re surrounded by stacks of private letters, Crimson articles, and protest buttons — they learn how many of the objects safeguarded at Harvard tell a story.
“They’ve never touched a letter that’s 100 years old and flipped through it,” said Liazos. “It makes them excited about history, seeing their connection to Harvard’s history on a deeper level.”
At the University Archives, librarians and archivists curate materials that show how students, administrators, community leaders, alumni, and staff reacted to the events of their time — such as the Vietnam War or apartheid in South Africa — and how they envisioned Harvard’s place in them.
Liazos’ course on “Class, Race and Space in Boston and Cambridge” raises questions about how physical spaces promote or detract from social interactions based on class and race. She brings her students to the archives so they can get a fresh look at history and explore Harvard’s impact on the community. In examining instances of students occupying University Hall in 1969 and Occupy Harvard in 2011, current freshmen are challenged to ask questions.
Liazos sees the partnership with the archives as essential. “The University Archives hold an amazing wealth of materials that enable me to introduce students to the process of historical research,” she said.
Emma Toh ’20 found part of Harvard’s past that surprised her. In 1930, Harvard laid off 20 women on the janitorial staff at Widener Library — called “scrubwomen” — when the Minimum Wage Commission from the Department of Labor determined that they deserved a raise. The ensuing discussion among administrators, students, alumni, and news media resonated as Toh began her project in 2016 during the Harvard dining workers’ strike.