Early Harvard History in College Books

Early Harvard History recorded in Eight College Books

Three hundred and seventy years ago, at a meeting of “the Governors of Harvard College” on December 27, 1643, a coat of arms for Harvard was established. Recorded in the minutes is a pen-and-ink drawing of a shield defined by three open books with the motto “Veritas” inscribed on the pages  –  the origin of the iconic symbol still in use today.        

College Book 1, the volume in which this emblematic shield first appears, is one of eight such compilations of the earliest records of Harvard in the collections of the Harvard University Archives.  All eight College Books, which document Harvard from its founding in 1636 to 1827, were recently digitized as part of an ongoing project to improve access to the Archives’ 17th and 18th century collections, in conjunction with the Colonial North American Project at Harvard University.  The Archives has created a detailed finding aid for the College Books with links to the digitized content.

Other highlights include:

  • College Book 3, which provides an extensive record of Harvard’s real estate holdings in Cambridge as well as throughout New England.  This volume contains plans of Harvard Yard, as well as several drawings of plots of land owned in other Massachusetts communities, including Dorchester, Lunenberg, Townsend, and Fryburg (now Fryeburg, Maine).  
  • College Book 7, which covers the years 1750 to 1778, documents the effect of the Revolutionary War on the College. Included are Corporation meeting minutes describing a request that Harvard’s treasurer, John Hancock, relinquish his Harvard duties as he is detained by “the Congress at Philadelphia” (April 10, 1775) and plans for the relocation of the College to Concord (November 7, 1775).

Please contact the Archives reference staff at archives_reference@harvard.edu for more information about access to this collection.