Centuries of the Harvard student experience

During this year’s two-week course, Chapin’s class visited the Widener, Houghton, and Schlesinger libraries, as well as the Harvard Map Collection, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The trip to the Archives, though, was particularly relevant to her students’ lives.

“The archivists and I did a lot of brainstorming to think about what would be useful for high school students to see,” Chapin said. “Their worries about the future are ‘What is college going to be like?’ and ‘Who am I going to be in the world?’ I wanted to find materials in the collections that spoke to those questions, as much as I could.”

The students were particularly drawn to materials like the food fight illustration and mid-20th century party photo, that showed young people at College having fun and being irreverent.

“They really loved that stuff,” Chapin said. “They told me they didn’t realize people in the past were also silly.”

She added that one student, inspired by the University Archives materials, even did their final project for the course on the concept of “silliness.”

Some students observed that youthful hobbies and passions have changed over the years, but the sensibility of teenagers from decades or centuries ago was very similar to the modern day.

As one student put it, “These are all just young people like us, figuring themselves out.”

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