Old habits may die hard, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. David Gordon Lyon, founder of Harvard’s Semitic Museum, Hollis Professor of Divinity and Hancock Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages began keeping a diary in 1870 as an undergraduate and continued throughout the rest of his life. The 38 notebooks Lyon filled capture world events and 40 years of life at Harvard through a unique and personal lens.
This rich record, held by the Harvard University Archives, will be soon be more accessible to researchers thanks to a grant to transcribe them from the Lasky/Barajas Dean’s Innovation Fund for Digital and Humanities. The grant was to Professor Peter Der Manuelian, director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, by Faculty of Arts & Sciences Curriculum Services.
Lyon’s brief, daily entries document his lectures, research and activities at Harvard as well as his prayers. In 1912, Lyon jotted down a reminder to write a note of condolence to the family of a victim of the Titanic disaster. In 1918, he chronicled local reaction to the end of World War I; Lyon celebrated by going “to the movies,” possibly newsreels.
Ephemerae were tucked in the pages — tickets, invoices and colorful birthday cards and Valentines from his wife. “He used them kind of like wallets,” explained Robin McElheny, associate university archivist for collections and public services.