Cosmic Visions: Illuminating Dante’s Divine Comedy

By Madeleine Klebanoff O’Brien

Last summer I conducted independent research at Houghton Library through Harvard’s remote Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program undergraduate fellowship. Inspired by Houghton’s collections, I created an allegorical map of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

The Comedy follows Dante through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. It is a cosmography, a “total vision” of the cosmos. While most Comedy illustrations are episodic or focused on infernal topography, my map spans the entirety of Dante’s cosmos. It embodies a “total vision.”

The ultimate “total vision” is the beatific vision, in which Dante sees “by love in a single volume bound, / the pages scattered throughout the universe” (Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso. Translated by Robert and Jean Hollander, Anchor, 2007. XXXIII, 86-87). My map binds, in a “single volume,” the pages of the Comedy. It promises us a glimmer of Dante’s beatitude.


Baking with Emily D.

By Emily Walhout, Reference Assistant, Public Services and
Christine Jacobson, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts

Around this time of year, Team Cake’s thoughts turn toward fruitcake. Emily Dickinson’s “black cake” to be precise—a 20-pound cake darkened by molasses and boasting 8 pounds of combined raisins, currants, and citron. The original manuscript of the recipe for this hefty cake, written in Miss Dickinson’s own hand, is housed in Houghton Library’s Emily Dickinson Collection.

Now, fruitcake is not a word that generally elicits delight or happy memories. A more common reaction might be skepticism or even a gasp of alarm. But Emily Dickinson’s black cake is not your average fruitcake. Along with the molasses and brandy, an assortment of aromatic spices goes a long way in giving this cake its memorable flavor.

For the past five years, Team Cake—a troupe of brave and curious bakers at Houghton—has recreated this cake, rigorously adhering to the poet’s recipe, and served it up to colleagues and friends at celebration of the poet’s birthday on December 10. Fruitcakes are traditionally steeped in brandy and stored away for months to mature and ripen, so September is the time to get a cake underway if it’s to be shared in December.


A Stellar Intern

By Vicki Denby, Manuscript End Processor, Technical Services Department, Houghton Library

This past spring, Houghton Library Technical Services had the superluminous pleasure of working with Zoe Padilla, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). This is the seventh consecutive year we been able to hire a paid intern from CRLS to learn about our work by helping end-process our collections.

Through the School-to-Work (STW) program, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) coordinates with the Cambridge Office of Workforce Development, Harvard schools/departments, and CRLS to provide job training and learning opportunities for high school students. Joie Gelband of HUCTW helps select students to work in departments for three afternoons a week as paid interns. Each student has an HUCTW member as a supervisor the student an overview of the work and specific assignments. They explain how the student’s work fits into the mission of the department, and check in regularly with updates and feedback.


An “Old Prayer Book”, Yet Not “a ‘dull’ one”: The Liber ordinarius of Nivelles


By Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Department of Art & Architecture, Harvard University

Edmund Bishop, the famous historian of Catholic liturgy, once posed the question: “Is the subject ‘An Old Prayer Book’ a ‘dull’ one?” Tongue-in-cheek, he replied that he would prefer the dullest form possible, namely, a tabulation of its contents, adding that “any subject is sure to prove dull to somebody.” By Bishop’s definition, a Liber ordinarius, which offers little more than a list constituting the ordo or order of the liturgy for a given church or community, would be a very dull book indeed. However, the Liber ordinarius of Nivelles (which has been fully digitized and now bears the Houghton call number MS Lat 422) demonstrates the contrary.

The front of the Liber ordinarius, which has two clasps across the front.

The front board of the Liber ordinarius (MS Lat 422), Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Longfellow Rides Again

By Vicki Denby, Houghton Library Technical Services

A museum case displays three books and a small card under glass.

Houghton Library’s manuscript of “Paul Revere’s Ride” [center], from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow papers (MS Am 1340 [105]), on display at the Concord Museum. Photo by Laura Larkin, Houghton Library.

A Houghton Library manuscript, on loan as part of the exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, will once again be on public view when the Concord Museum reopens on August 6, 2020.