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COLLECTION Identifier: UAV 691

Records of the Harvard University Department of Physics, 1879-1983 (textual records) and 2007-2013 (web archive)


Physics has been a part of the college curriculum since 1642. These records document the efforts of the Harvard University Department of Physics to remain at the forefront of original experimental research through the development of curriculum, interaction with other sciences, construction of facilities and collaborative research.


  • Creation: 1879-1983 (textual records)
  • Creation: and 2007-2013 (web archive)

Conditions on Use and Access

Access to unpublished archival records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation of the record(s). Access to student and personnel records is restricted for 80 years. See reference staff for details. No restrictions on access apply to published records or archived web content.

The Records of the Dept. of Physics are stored in an off-site facility. Researchers are advised to contact Reference Staff for more information concerning retrieval of material.


52 cubic feet (157 document boxes, 1 portfolio folder, and archived web content)

These records document the development and organization of the Department of Physics, its laboratories and libraries, as well as the academic, research and social life of the Department. Most of the records document the history of the Department from 1910 to 1983. The web content dates from 2007 and later.

The paper records consist of materials created and received by Physics faculty, staff and students in the course of the daily management of the Department. The records cover such topics as curriculum development, defense research, history of the Department, the relationship between pure physics and applied science, faculty affairs, student life, social life, experimental and theoretical physics, library collection development, facilities and apparatus planning, construction, and maintenance. The majority of the Department's records are in chronological files located in the General Office Files subseries of the Administrative Records series. Researchers are encouraged to examine this series. Of particular interest are both the Laboratory and Historical Records series, which contain material relating to the Department's defense research and training programs during WWI and WWII, as well as design and construction files for both Harvard Cyclotrons.

History of the Department of Physics

The study of physics has been part of the Harvard College curriculum since 1642, when the text was by Aristotle and physics was found in a branch of the humanities called natural philosophy. However, development came quickly, and the 17th century saw Harvard's curriculum embrace the ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, and Descartes through the selection of a new text, Charles Morton's Compendium Physicae and through the gift to Harvard of its first piece of physics apparatus, a telescope.

During the 18th century, the study of natural philosophy became a more prominent feature of the curriculum. Notable are that the first professorship at Harvard in the field was established, the collection of apparatus grew, the space occupied for physical studies was enlarged, and two expeditions for astronomical observation were carried out. Also during the 18th century, Harvard began creating its own texts for use in the curriculum; publication in physics by Harvard expanded throughout the century.

The 19th century began with an expansion of the Harvard curriculum to include applied science as well as pure science, and the "Department of Physics" was established as an entity separate from mathematics. The name reflected the updated vocabulary of science. Harvard's interest in applied science also took shape in the Lawrence Scientific School, a professional school offering systematic instruction in the practical sciences. Laboratory experimentation in physics by students and research by faculty were encouraged and a departmental library was established. This curricular expansion contributed to the fact that the department twice outgrew its space. Eventually the Jefferson Physical Laboratory was constructed to meet the demand for classroom, laboratory and office space. The first evidence of concern over the difficulty in finding qualified students surfaced in the late 19th century, when Harvard established curriculum guidelines and publications for instruction of secondary school physics.

In the first third of the twentieth century, after some administrative upheaval, the study of Physics at Harvard for both graduate and undergraduate students coalesced administratively under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The space occupied for study and experimentation grew with the construction of two new laboratories, one of which included a research library. The First World War initiated the Department of Physics' role in defense. Its members taught military personnel, served in the military, and performed defense research. The 1930s saw increased interest and investigation into the fields of nuclear science and computer science. In order to meet the research needs of its faculty, the Department oversaw construction of both a high-energy particle accelerator and an automatic calculating machine. Peacetime research was again interrupted for defense purposes during the Second World War. One of the most visible effects was the removal of the Harvard Cyclotron to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1943. Again, Harvard personnel served in the military, instructed military personnel, or were members of defense research teams.

Following the War, a new cyclotron and nuclear laboratory were built, with funding for construction and research coming primarily from defense contracts. The strengths of the Department included experimental and high energy physics which led to the construction in the early 1960's of a number of specialized research facilities such as the Cambridge Electron Accelerator (CEA). The Department continued its commitment to secondary school physics education with the program "Harvard Project Physics." As faculty interest in the CEA grew, use of the cyclotron fell; by 1967 it was used primarily for medical purposes.

n the last third of the 20th century, the opening of the Science Center led indirectly to the Department revamping its curriculum, developing closer research and instructional relationships with the faculties of the other sciences, and moving its instructional library. The CEA was decommissioned in 1973 and its facilities became the Department's High Energy Physics Laboratory. In the 1980s the Department concentrated efforts to increase the number of minority students in its graduate program and to strengthen selected areas of research. In January of 1999, the University announced plans to spend $200 million on new science programs, including a new research center to investigate the region between quantum and classical physics.

Organization of the Records

  1. Archived web site
  2. Administrative Records
  3. ___Minutes
  4. ___General Office Files
  5. ______Chronological Files
  6. ______Departmental Records Relating to Graduate Student Admissions
  7. ______Morris Loeb Lectures
  8. ______Statistics
  9. ___Financial Records
  10. ___Faculty Appointment Records
  11. ___Concentrator Files
  12. ___Special Projects
  13. ______High School Physics Curriculum
  14. ______Report: Opinions of Returning Graduate Students in Physics
  15. ___Administrative Forms
  16. Historical Records
  17. ___Historical Records Compiled by Dr. Roger W. Hickman
  18. ___Jefferson Physical Laboratory Centennial Exhibition Records
  19. ___Physics Fund and Endowment Histories
  20. Laboratory Records
  21. ___Physics Laboratories Director's Correspondence
  22. ___Laboratory Financial Records
  23. ___Research Laboratory of Physics [Lyman Laboratory of Physics] Planning and Construction Records
  24. ___Cyclotron Records
  25. ______Pre-war Cyclotron
  26. ______Post-war Cyclotron
  27. ______Cyclotron Committee Account Book
  28. ___Laboratory Job Log
  29. ___Laboratory Forms
  30. Library Records
  31. ___Correspondence
  32. ___Department of Physics Library Committee Files
  33. ___Collection Inventories and Statistical Reports
  34. ___Accession Books

Obsolete Call Numbers

The following list provides a map to old call numbers that were eradicated by Archives staff during re-processing. All of the records of the Department of Physics now fall under the single call number of UAV 691.

  1. UAV 691 Administrative Forms and Laboratory Forms
  2. UAV 691.5 Minutes
  3. UAV 691.5.2 Discarded
  4. UAV 691.95.1 Minutes
  5. UAV 691.10 General Office Files
  6. UAV 691.12 General Office Files
  7. UAV 691.50 Discarded
  8. UAV 691.60 Historical Records Compiled by Dr. Roger W. Hickman, Cyclotron Records, and Concentrator Files
  9. UAV 691.204 Faculty Appointment Records
  10. UAV 691.228 Physics Fund and Endowment Histories
  11. UAV 691.229 Administrative Forms
  12. UAV 691.230 Administrative Forms and Dept. of Physics General Folder
  13. UAV 691.253 Dept. of Physics General Folder
  14. UAV 691.282 Financial Records
  15. UAV 691.288 Concentrator Files
  16. UAV 691.386 Special Projects
  17. UAV 691.386.5 Special Projects
  18. UAV 691.386.7 Special Projects
  19. UAV 691.387 Special Projects
  20. UAV 691.388 Special Projects
  21. UAV 691.388.5 Special Projects
  22. UAV 691.448 Special Projects
  23. UAV 691.472f Discarded
  24. UAV 691.495.1f Jefferson Physical Laboratory Centennial Exhibition Records
  25. UAV 691.95.2 General Office Files
  26. UAV 692.5 Physics Laboratories Director's Correspondence
  27. UAV 692.228.2 Laboratory Financial Records and Cyclotron Records
  28. UAV 692.228.4 Laboratory Financial Records
  29. UAV 692.228.6 Laboratory Financial Records
  30. UAV 692.229 Laboratory Forms
  31. UAV 692.230 Laboratory Forms
  32. UAV 692.242 Laboratory Job Log
  33. UAV 692.429 Research Laboratory of Physics [Lyman Laboratory of Physics] Planning and Construction Records
  34. UAV 692.430 Research Laboratory of Physics [Lyman Laboratory of Physics] Planning and Construction Records
  35. UAV 692.477.10 Jefferson Physical Laboratory Centennial Exhibition Records
  36. UAV 693.5 Library Correspondence
  37. UAV 693.8 Department of Physics Library Committee Files and Collection Inventories and Statistical Reports
  38. UAV 693.10 Accession Books

Custodial Information

The records of the Department of Physics came to the Archives in several accessions, including unnumbered accessions starting in the 1930's. Accruals of both paper holdings and web content are expected in the future.

Acquisition Information

  1. Accession number 07996, Physics Laboratories, 1976 October 15
  2. Accession number 08551, Dept. of Physics, 1978 December 12
  3. Accession number 10092, Dr. Katherine Sopka, 1984 May 23
  4. Accession number 10746, Dept. of Physics, 1986 June 9
  5. Accession number 11278, Dept. of Physics, 1987 November 16
  6. 2007 February 26 - and later accruals Captures of Dept. of Physics web site through WAX, Harvard's web archiving service

Allied Material in the Harvard University Archives

University Records
  1. Lawrence Scientific School (UAV
  2. Cambridge Electron Accelerator (UAV 257.xx)
  3. Harvard Project Physics (HUF 713.3xxx, UAV 713.4xxx)
  4. Harvard Cyclotron (HUB 3312)
  5. Naval Training School (Harvard University) (HUE
  6. Cruft Laboratory (HUF
  7. Records relating to World War II training programs
  1. Publications by and about the Department of Physics and Physics Laboratories are cataloged in HOLLIS, Harvard's on-line integrated library system.

Selected Bibliography of History of the Harvard University Department of Physics

  • Annual Reports of the President and the Departments of Harvard University.
  • Aronovitch, Isaac Lawrence. Towards a New Knowledge of Nature: Physics at Harvard University, 1870-1910. Thesis (A.B., Honors)--Harvard University, 1983.
  • Elliot, Clark A. and Margaret W. Rossiter, eds. Science at Harvard University: Historical Perspectives. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press; London ; Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses , 1992.
  • Historical Register of Harvard University, 1636-1936. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1937.
  • History of the Officers Electronics Training Courses. Army Electronics Training Center, Harvard Division. Naval Training School (pre-radar) Harvard University. [Cambridge, Massachusetts] Cruft Laboratory, Graduate School of Engineering, Harvard University, [1945]. 2 vols.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Development of Harvard University Since the Inauguration of President Eliot, 1869-1929. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936. 2 vols.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Morton, Charles. Compendium Physicae. [Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1940]. Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Publications ; v. 33.

General note

This document last updated 2013 April 5.

Processing Information

Textual records processed by Andrea Goldstein April-June 1999. Web archival content first described by Kate Bowers April 2010.

Processing staff in the Harvard University Archives re-arranged the Records of the Department of Physics in 1999. Re-arrangement included consolidation of series, creation of subseries, re-numbering of boxes, elimination of separate call numbers, creation of this finding aid, and archival re-containering of fragile material. Processing staff discarded duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Harvard University Archives as expressed in the General Records Schedule.

Harvard University. Department of Physics. Records of the Harvard University Department of Physics : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
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Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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