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Harvard Observed

Harvard Observed

An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century

John T. Bethell

ISBN 9780674377332

Publication date: 11/07/1998

In the early years of the twentieth century, President Charles William Eliot fought to keep Harvard from becoming a refuge for “the stupid sons of the rich.” A. Lawrence Lowell, a tireless builder, gave the modern University its physical structure. James Conant helped forge a wartime alliance of universities, industry, and government that sustained an astonishingly prosperous postwar epoch.

Their successors saw Harvard through the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, adapting the University’s programs and policies to the needs of a rapidly changing society, strengthening longstanding bonds with international institutions, and creating new ties to the cultures of Japan, China, and other Eastern nations.

In words and pictures, Harvard Observed documents the shaping of the singular institution that poet and essayist David McCord, a former Harvard Alumni Bulletin editor, called “the haven of scholars and teachers, the laboratory of scientists and technicians, the church of the theologian, the crow’s nest of the visionary, the courtroom of the law, the forum of the public servant. It is gallery, concert hall, and stage; the out-patient ward for the medical student, counting-house of the businessman, classroom of the nation, lecture platform for the visitor, library to the world; and…‘on of the great achievements of American democracy.’”

Depicting the evolution of twentieth-century Harvard in the broader context of national and world events, Harvard Observed has much to say and show about the academic rites, intellectual arguments, sexual mores, fads, and folklore that became touchstones for successive generations of Harvardians. Photographs, drawings, and paintings from the University’s vast archival collections and museums add a compelling visual dimension.


  • Mr. Bethell, former editor of Harvard Magazine, guides readers through an engaging history of the modern university as it mirrored the ups and downs of this century—wars, the Depression, the atomic and electronic ages. It is a heritage of which not only Cantabrigians but all Americans can be proud.

    —King Features Weekly Service


  • John T. Bethell was Senior Editor of The American Scholar and is a contributing editor at Harvard Magazine, where he was Editor from 1966 to 1995.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 7-1/2 x 10 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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