Some of Us Just Like to Read

Sitting in the upper tier of the Philips Wing, the stacks are lined with books several decades old– among them, perhaps, ones that belonged to former Haverford students and others, seminal texts in the early Haverford curriculum.

Maybe you’re pumping Lady Gaga through your headphones and curiosity gets the best of you. Maybe you just like to read. If you’ve taken some time to browse these books, have you wondered what it was like to read them as a Haverford student in the 1800s? Did you question if someone was sitting in this same spot cramming for a term paper 100 years ago and wonder if they left any inspiration for you?

This year, in preparation for a spring exhibit in Magill, we’ve been digging in the archives to explore the reading communities and rituals of Haverford students in the 1800s. Student literary societies were vibrant outlets for student-led events including debates about current topics (such as Suffrage or Lincoln’s Election). The literary societies located a space of extra-curricular reading and student leadership. Students even created their own libraries to complement those of Magill’s (at that time) selected holdings.

The front of invitation from a sophomore-led ceremony in 1883
The front of invitation from a sophomore-led ceremony in 1883

The members of the sophomore class set the stage –literally. Each sophomore class had the daunting task of creating an end of the year ceremony for the entire school and even the surrounding community. They crafted a theme, printed invitations, rented costumes, and planned all year long to put on a ceremony that involved a parody of their least favorite book from the curriculum.

Our explorations in the archives are still in progress. But it’s clear Haverford’s history of reading illustrates that not only have students always been serious scholars, they have always valued a strong sense of community and displayed a penchant for play.

This week, as you’re browsing the pages, web or otherwise, consider what passions your reading is driving you towards. Imagine how you can engage and contribute to the community of bold creators, broad thinkers, and steadfast friends who are reading with you over the next two and a half years.

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