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UAI 20.790

Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts, 1789-1828: an inventory

Harvard University Archives

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Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: UAI 20.790
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Title: Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts, 1729-1828.
Date(s): 1789-1828.
Quantity: .35 cubic feet (1 document boxes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: 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.

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."

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.

Researcher Access:

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

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Online access:

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

Preferred Citation:

Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Suggestions for Harvard commencement and exhibition parts, 1789-1828. UAI 20.790, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives

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.

References

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in five series:

Scope and Content

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.

General

This document last updated 2015 July 13.

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