It’s hard to imagine even the most jaded student entering the Houghton Library without a sense of awe. Within these walls, you can read a letter signed personally by Vladimir Lenin, unfold a book of spells from Indonesia, and marvel at Emily Dickinson’s writing desk and chair.
As Houghton celebrates its 75th anniversary, scholars take a look back at how some of the library’s rare holdings have inspired their research.
Katherine Leach, a Ph.D. student in Celtic languages and literatures, took her students to Houghton to explore medieval and early modern tracts against witchcraft.
Librarian Emilie Hardman showed them original sources from the period such as the Malleus Maleficarum but to the delight of the class, she also rolled out an Indonesian spell book, bamboo sticks engraved with spells, and an Armenian charm scroll.
“The class changed because of what Emilie brought in to show my students,” Leach says. “There were two Armenian students in the class. Seeing that scroll blew their minds. They were posting on Instagram and texting other Armenian students.”
Leach says that as a medievalist, she’s often focused exclusively on texts and manuscripts but “seeing these artifacts made the topic more relatable, more real” for her students.
“I was so impressed with the collection and with Emilie,” Leach says.