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© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Call No.: HUC 6642
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University.
Title: Commencement Theses, Quaestiones, and Orders of Exercises, 1642-1818
Quantity: 6.25 cubic feet (1 legal document box, 16 flat boxes, 2 volumes, and 2 microfilm reels)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The collection consists of Theses, Quaestiones, and Orders of Exercises for Commencement used in Harvard Commencement exercises from the 17th century into the early 19th century as precursors to the modern Commencement program. The Theses (for undergraduates) and Quaestiones (for Master's degree candidates) are broadsides, written in Latin, that list prompts used in the commencement tradition of public student disputation which began at Harvard College in 1642. Broadside Theses were printed through 1810; broadside Quaestiones were printed through 1791. The Orders of Exercises for Commencement broadsides, printed in English from 1791 to 1810, list Commencement speakers and their topics.
In the Harvard University Archives
- Harvard University. General information about Harvard commencement and exhibition. (Arranged by year).
- Mansfield, Isaac. Theses, in Comitiis publicis Harvardini Collegii quod est Cantabrigiae Nov-Anglorum, defensae & pro viribus propugnatae a Juvenibus in Artibus initiatis, 1660-1753. (Harvard University Archives call number: HUM 7)
- Mansfield, Isaac. Questiones propositae pro modulo discutiendae Comitiis publicis Harvardini Collegii quod est divin. provid. Cantabrigiae Nov-Anglorum a Laureae Magistralis candidatis, 1660-1753. (Harvard University Archives call number: HUM 6)Other libraries with Theses and Quaestiones holdings
- American Antiquarian Society
- Massachusetts Historical Society
- University of Glasgow Library Special Collections
- Yale University
The Theses and Quaestiones broadsides display propositions and questions respectively, used in the Commencement tradition of public student disputation which began at Harvard College in 1642. The practice was instituted under the leadership of President Henry Dunster (president from 1640-1654) within a larger effort to model the college after European universities. Behind the printed broadsides was a multi-stage process that involved both students and faculty. The Latin theses were academic statements created by the graduating students to reflect the scope of their undergraduate study. The Theses fit within a curriculum that emphasized public discourse and syllogistic debate and ranged between approximately 50 and 250 propositions in most years. An 1850 handwritten note to the 1807 Theses, by one of the graduates, James C. Merrill, notes, "'Sensibus' - I wrote 'sensus' - which was absurdly altered by a college officer to sensibus,'" indicates the multiple hands involved in the creation process. Printed at the expense of the graduating class, the Theses were posted in advance, and graduates were expected to be able to defend them upon request on Commencement Day. Certain students were selected by the faculty to publicly discuss and dispute specific Theses as part of the day's exercises.Upon receiving a Bachelor's degree, students could continue their studies as candidates for a master's degree, usually for a period of three years. In contrast to the rigidly defined scope of study for undergraduates, graduate students focused on independent reading. The Commencement exercises for the Master's degree included the Quaestiones, a single question chosen by each candidate, to be discussed in the affirmative or negative. In practice, according to a note written by President Joseph Willard on the 1794 Order of Exercises, "There is seldom opportunity for more than two or three who are candidates for the degree of Master of Arts to perform any exercises in the Afternoon, because much of the time is taken up in giving the degrees."Beginning with the first Commencement in 1642 through 1810, Theses were printed as broadsides. They were supplemented from 1791 onward by the Order of Exercises for Commencement, printed in English. The last Order of Exercises was printed in 1810, and subsequent Theses were distributed as quartos until they were replaced in 1821 by a Commencement program. The Quaestiones were printed from 1642 through 1791. Generally, the ceremony for students receiving their Bachelor's degrees occurred in the morning and was followed by the Master's degree ceremony in the afternoon.
- Lane, William Coolidge. Early Harvard Broadsides. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1914.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1935.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Young, Edward J. "June Meeting, 1880. Subjects for Master's Degree" in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 18 (1880-1881) pp. 119-151.
- Edes, Henry M. "April Meeting 1898: Harvard Theses of 1663" in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts: Transactions, 1898, pages 322-339.
The collection is arranged in three series:
- I. Theses, 1642-1818
- ___A. Originals
- ___B. Preservation Microfilm
- ___C. Bound use copy volume of Theses
- II. Quaestiones, 1653-1791
- ___A. Originals
- ___B. Preservation Microfilm
- ___C. Bound use copy volume of Quaestiones
- III. Orders of Exercises for Commencement, 1791-1810
The collection is comprised of Theses, Quaestiones, and Orders of Exercises for Commencement in various formats including originals, photostats, bound photocopy use copies, and master negative microfilm. Within series, items are arranged chronologically by year.William Coolidge Lane's Early Harvard Broadsides (Worcester, 1914) provides a comprehensive list of holdings among various institutions. Since the article's publication in 1914, Harvard has acquired an original Theses from 1719 and original Quaestiones from 1673, 1745, and 1763. Previously unknown originals of the Theses from 1724, 1728, 1729, and 1736 have been discovered at other institutions, and photostat copies are now included in this collection.
This document last updated 2018 February 20.