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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 20.790

Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts

In the mid 1700s, Harvard administrators began incorporating English oratory into an undergraduate curriculum traditionally focused on Latin and Greek. To reflect the expanded emphasis on oratory, upperclassmen participated in English debates, dialogues, and orations on Commencement Day and in public exhibitions using subjects and questions provided by the Harvard Faculty. This collection contains handwritten questions and subjects suggested by the Harvard Faculty primarily in the 1810s and 1820s for use in student performances on Commencement Day and during the four annual public exhibitions.

Dates

  • 1789-1828.

Creator

Researcher Access

The Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts is open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

.35 cubic feet (1 document boxes)

This collection contains handwritten questions and subjects suggested by the Harvard Faculty for use in student academic performances on Commencement Day and during the four annual public exhibitions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The bulk of the collection is comprised of handwritten lists of the chosen subjects (Series I) and slips of paper containing the handwritten suggestions by Faculty members (Series II and III). The collection also contains two drafts of exhibition programs (Series III) and an assortment of source notes presumably intended to provide resources for learning about performance subjects. Most of the documents are undated and unattributed, but appear to have generally been drafted in the 1810s and 1820s for review by Harvard President John Thornton Kirkland. The identified contributors are President Joseph Willard and Professors Edward Everett, John Webster, John Farrar, Levi Hedge, and Andrews Norton.

The term "exhibition" was also commonly used at Harvard, and in University records, in the 17th and 18th centuries to refer to partial scholarships given to students.

Historical Note

In the mid 1700s, Harvard administrators began incorporating English oratory into an undergraduate curriculum traditionally focused on Latin and Greek. To reflect the expanded emphasis on oratory, upperclassmen participated in English debates, dialogues, and orations on Commencement Day and in public exhibitions using subjects and questions provided by the Harvard Faculty.

The Harvard Board of Overseers and the Harvard Corporation began in 1754 to examine methods for "promoting oratory and correct elocution among undergraduates." In July 1755, the Harvard Corporation voted that the president should select a classical dialogue and assign parts to students, with each selected student to "translate his part into correct English, and prepare himself to deliver it in chapel in an oratorical manner." Six students presented a dialogue translated into English before an audience that included the Overseers in April 1756, and soon after, English forensic disputations were incorporated into the academic curriculum. Since the first Harvard Commencement in 1642, disputations and orations were delivered in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but in 1763, the first English oration was included in the exercises. In 1766, the Board of Overseers requested that students make public performances during the semi-annual meetings of the College visitation committee.

On February 27, 1781, the Corporation established four public student exhibitions each academic year, two of which would occur during the semi-annual meeting of the Committee of the Overseers. During the exhibitions, the students were "to exhibit in public, specimens of their proficiency on such subjects" assigned by the Harvard Faculty (then known as the "Immediate Government"). The public exhibitions were intended to both motivate students and honor high achievers, and mirrored the exercises performed on Commencement Day. The exhibitions continued into the 1860s, but interest in the events waned among both students and the public. In 1866, a Corporation committee appointed to investigate the declining interest noted that the, "academical affairs are too tame to rival the highly seasoned entertainments." The last College exhibition occurred on October 26, 1869, and the practice was abolished the following year.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in five series:
  1. Compiled lists of subjects, 1789-1825
  2. Attributed questions and subjects, 1790-1826; ca. 1820s
  3. Unattributed questions and subjects, [1819]-1828; ca. 1820s
  4. Exhibition program drafts, 1825; 1828
  5. Source notes, ca. 1820s

Acquisition information

The complete provenance of these records is unknown. The Harvard Library annual report for the year 1904-05 may have referred to these records in noting that the Library had received, "a bundle of early commencement or exhibition parts from Mr. Charles P. Bowditch."

Online access

All of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Commencement Theses, Quaestiones, and Orders of Exercises (HUC 6642)
  2. Early Faculty minutes (UAIII 5.5)
  3. General information about Harvard commencement and exhibitions (HUC 68XX, arranged by year).
  4. Harvard University. Corporation. Committee on Exhibitions. Reports, 1866 May and June (UAI 10.154)

References

  • Pierce, John. "Commencements at Harvard, 1803-1848" in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (January 1890).
  • Wilds, Elmer Harrison. "Public Speaking in the early Colleges and Schools" in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. Volume 2 (1916), pp. 31-38.

General note

This document last updated 2015 July 13.

Processing Information

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980 as part of the Chronological miscellany collection. The material was re-processed in 2011. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid.

This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in August 2011.

Preservation and description of the Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Title
Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts, 1789-1828: an inventory
EAD ID
hua50011

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.

Contact:
Pusey Library
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
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