Archives + MIT History

Technology & Enlightenment in the Maihaugen Gallery

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by Heather Denny

A new exhibit opens in the Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery on Wednesday, February 3. Technology and Enlightenment: The Mechanical Arts in Diderot’s Encyclopédie explores one of the most important and controversial publications of the eighteenth century, Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

This massive work became infamous in its day as an enlightened attack on French and European religious dogmatism and monarchical inefficiency and injustice. Containing over 2,500 elaborately engraved plates, it documented the mechanical arts and technology, placing equal importance on the manual trades as the arts and sciences.

Curated by Jeffrey S. Ravel, MIT Associate Professor of History, and Kristel Smentek, MIT Assistant Professor of Art History, the exhibit features fascinating images chosen from the 32 original folio volumes owned by the MIT Libraries, as well as multimedia components illustrating the Encylopedie’s significance.  The exhibit is open to the public Mon.-Thurs. during gallery hours, and runs through July 2010.

Harriet Ritvo discusses “The Dawn of Green” in the Archives on Dec. 9

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Heather Denny

Harriet Ritvo, MIT’s Arthur J. Conner Professor of History, will discuss her latest book The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism on Wednesday, December 9th at 4 p.m. in the Institute Archives (14N-118).

In The Dawn of Green, Ritvo reveals how today’s environmental movement can be traced to Thirlmere, a bucolic reservoir in the English Lake District, and the 19th century battle around it that pitted industrial progress against conservation.

Ritvo is also the author of The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of Classifying Imagination and The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age.

During her talk she will show materials used in her research and sign copies of her book.  This event is sponsored by the MIT Libraries’ Institute Archives & Special Collections, and the MIT History Faculty.  It is free and open to the public.

Read all about it–inside the Fall issue of BiblioTech

Posted November 24th, 2009 by Heather Denny

Inside this issue:

  • Learn about new and improved places to study in Barker & Dewey Libraries
  • Connect with the Libraries on your mobile phone
  • Read about the Libraries’ book that traveled into space
  • Discover how a generous gift from an MIT alumnus is revealing a hidden collection in the Libraries
  • Learn how Rotch librarians are helping to archive and share thousands of digital architectural images
  • Follow the latest Libraries exhibits, events and more

Get a PDF copy of BiblioTech or subscribe by emailing

Astronaut Mike Massimino talks about Hubble mission, and returns a book to the Libraries

Posted November 19th, 2009 by Heather Denny

“Riding the space shuttle is like strapping yourself to a gigantic beast….you go from 0 to 17,500 miles per hour in eight and a half minutes,” MIT alumnus, Astronaut Mike Massimino said in a talk at MIT last month.

After nearly 3 years of training, in May 2009 Massimino rocketed 5.3 million miles into space on a mission to repair NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.  The veteran astronaut spoke about the extensive preparation for the journey, as well as the risks and thrills that were a part of the historic final trip to Hubble.

He also returned an item to MIT that he took into space with him—a book loaned from the MIT Libraries’ collections.  The book, a limited edition facsimile of Galileo’s landmark publication Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), was chosen to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s astronomical research, the first recorded planetary observations using a telescope.  It is on display through December 2009 in the Science Library (14S-134).

Astronaut Massimino’s talk was sponsored by the MIT Libraries, the Technology and Policy Program (TPP)/ Engineering Systems Division (ESD), and Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Galileo book returns with Astronaut Mike Massimino on Oct.28

Posted October 20th, 2009 by Heather Denny

Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009
Killian Hall, Building 14

Veteran Astronaut and MIT Alumnus Dr. Mike Massimino (SM TPP 1988, Engineer ME 1990, PhD 1992) will come to MIT on Wednesday Oct. 28 to talk about his recent work servicing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and to return a book to the MIT Libraries.

In May 2009 Massimino and six other astronauts boarded the space shuttle Atlantis for a journey that took them 5.3 million miles for a final servicing of the telescope.  Massimino and other STS-125 crewmembers conducted five spacewalks to upgrade the Hubble, enabling it to send back spectacular images of the universe well into the next decade.  While on the mission the crew captured photographs and video, and Massimino became the first astronaut to ‘Tweet’ from space—sending back updates on the mission through his Twitter feed (, which has surpassed 1 million followers.

Accompanying Massimino on the mission was a rare book loaned from the MIT Libraries’ collections.  The book, a limited edition facsimile of Galileo’s landmark publication Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), was chosen to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s astronomical research, the first recorded planetary observations using a telescope.

In his talk, Massimino will discuss his work and show images and video from the mission.  He will also present the well-traveled book back to the MIT Community and the Libraries.

Sponsored by the MIT Libraries, the Technology and Policy Program (TPP)/ Engineering Systems Division (ESD), and Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“Power Supply” Exhibition–Opening Reception Oct.23

Posted October 19th, 2009 by Heather Denny

Power Supply: Energy Resources in the MIT Libraries is a new exhibit in the Maihaugen Gallery that showcases “energy resources” in the Libraries that have supported and resulted from research and education throughout the Institute’s history. Included are books and articles from historical collections, examples of rich working collections, theses by MIT students, and video (below) highlighting MIT’s current efforts in energy research.

The MIT Community is invited to an opening reception on Friday, October 23, 1-3pm in the Maihaugen Gallery (14N-130). Check out the exhibit and enjoy refreshments with friends!

From MIT to the moon–Celebrating Buzz Aldrin and the 40th anniversary of the moon landing

Posted July 17th, 2009 by Heather Denny

Monday, July 20th marks the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, when heroic MIT graduate Buzz Aldrin took his historic steps on the lunar surface.

Institute Archives’ records reveal that it was an accomplishment he had only dreamed about as a graduate student.  In the dedication of his PhD thesis, Aldrin wrote, “In the hopes that this work may in some way contribute to their exploration of space this is dedicated to the crew members of this country’s present and future manned space programs. If only I could join them in their exciting endeavors!”

See Aldrin’s thesis in the current Fascination of Flight exhibit in the Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery, or find it online in DSpace.

Archives July exhibit commemorates Project Whirlwind

Posted June 30th, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Project Whirlwind report R-209

The July Object of the Month of the Institute Archives and Special Collections celebrates the transfer of the Project Whirlwind records from the MITRE Corporation to MIT.  The Project Whirlwind collection is a compilation of records of the  pioneering digital computing research conducted at MIT in the 1940s and 1950s. Whirlwind was developed as part of a project initiated by the Office of Naval Research to design a universal flight trainer that would simulate flight. Eventually the focus of the grant, a flight simulator (using an analog computer), changed to the development of  a high-speed digital computer.

In 2008 the Project Whirlwind records were transferred to the MIT Archives from the MITRE Corporation, where many research staff  had relocated in the late 1950s. For more information, including documents and digital objects available in DOME, the MIT Libraries’ digital repository, see

“Media in Transition” video on MIT World

Posted June 17th, 2009 by Heather Denny

A panel of archivists, librarians, and historians reflected on the anxiety and exhilaration of a digital age that is constantly transforming their disciplines at a recent MIT Communications Forum event focused on Media in Transition.

MIT’s Director of Libraries, Ann Wolpert spoke about digital archives. “Persistence in the digital world does not happen by luck but through intentional action and explicit investment. The odds that bits will survive in a shoe box in the attic are pretty small,” she said.

View the entire video, or go to Wolpert’s comments which begin at approximately 52 minutes with an introduction by moderator, Peter Walsh.

Archives’ June exhibit celebrates the Blashfield murals in Walker Memorial

Posted June 1st, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Mural - south wallThe murals painted by Edwin Howland Blashfield (MIT 1869) in the main hall of Walker Memorial in the 1920s have, for many years, “elevated the spirit and stimulated the imagination of countless visitors and members of the MIT community,” in the words of former President Howard Johnson. The idea of decorating the hall was conceived by MIT’s Treasurer, Everett Morss (MIT 1885), who also gave the funds to make it possible.

The story of the murals is told in the June Object of the Month exhibit of the Institute Archives and Special Collections. The murals, in what is now called Morss Hall, consist of five allegorical panels illustrating the role of education in society with particular emphasis on science and engineering. The panel illustrated here is on the south wall and shows a mother and her children being guided by knowledge and imagination through the darkness of chaos into the brightness of an enlightened era.

Further information about Walker Memorial and the murals is available in the Institute Archives, 14N-118. The images in the exhibit are from Rotch Visual Collections and are also available in DOME, the Libraries’ digital repository.

A book that has REALLY circulated

Posted May 28th, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Atlantis ready for take-offWhen the space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth on Sunday, few people knew it was carrying a volume owned by the MIT Libraries – our first book to orbit the Earth.

Astronaut and alumnus Mike Massimino (M.S. 1988, Mechanical Engineer 1990, Ph.D. 1992), through contact with MIT Professor Dava J. Newman, offered to “fly” a book from the Libraries’ collection. Because this NASA mission to repair the Hubble was scheduled to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope, the Libraries decided to send into space a numbered, limited-edition facsimile of Galileo’s landmark 1610 publication Siderius Nuncius, in which he announced his discovery of, among other things, four of Jupiter’s moons.

The MIT Libraries look forward to welcoming Dr. Massimino back for a visit in the fall. We also look forward to displaying our space-travelling Siderius Nuncius – known in English, appropriately enough, as The Starry Messenger.

MIT Commuications Forum Collection Now Digitized

Posted May 1st, 2009 by Heather Denny

Since 1983 the MIT Communications Forum has hosted cutting-edge discussions about the cultural, political, economic, and technological impact of communications, with special emphasis on emerging technologies.

Valuable summaries and transcripts from the Forum’s earlier years (1983-1995), documenting the words and impact of leading scholars, journalists, media producers and political figures, have now been digitized by the MIT Libraries and are available online at

More about “The Perceptual Form of the City” study in Archives’ May exhibit

Posted May 1st, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Map of central Boston used in studyThe May Object of the Month exhibit by the Institute Archives and Special Collections illustrates some of the experiences of researchers in the five-year study of the city environment directed by MIT Professors Kevin Lynch and Gyorgy Kepes from 1954 to 1959. “The Perceptual Form of the City” project was the foundation of Lynch’s book The Image of the City, published in 1960. The part of the study featured in the exhibit involved field trips in Boston to ask directions of a diverse sample of people to get a sense of their perceptions of the city.

The complete documentation of the project is included in the papers of Kevin Lynch (MC 208) and includes research notes, working papers, interview transcripts, trip diaries, course notes used for teaching, and other materials. The collection is available for research at the Institute Archives and Special Collections, room 14N-118. Many of the images and documents have been digitized and are also available in DOME, the MIT Libraries’ digital repository.

Archives April exhibit celebrates MIT’s founding

Posted April 6th, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Cover of the Objects and PlanWilliam Barton Rogers’s ideas for a new kind of scientific institution were well received in Boston in the mid-nineteenth century.  In November 1860 a committee chaired by Rogers petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for incorporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rogers summarized his plans in a pamphlet entitled Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology, the focus of the April Object of the Month exhibit by the Institute Archives and Special Collections. To gain support for the proposed institution, the pamphlet was widely disseminated among civic and commercial leaders, educators, and scientific and literary figures. The proposal was approved by the Massachusetts legislature, and on April 10, 1861, Governor Andrew signed the Act to Incorporate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Learn more about the Institute’s beginnings and William Barton Rogers, the extraordinary man whose vision made it happen.  Rogers’s papers and many documents concerning MIT’s early years are available for research in the Institute Archives, 14N-118.

A New Exhibit Takes Flight in the Maihaugen Gallery

Posted March 17th, 2009 by Heather Denny

FOF exhibit header

For centuries humans have been fascinated by the concept of flight. From simple attempts to fashion human wings to the serious science of space exploration, our fascination with flight has been constant and compelling, and has literally known no earthly bounds. This allure is the focus of a new exhibit in the MIT Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery.

The Fascination of Flight showcases both the dream and the reality of flight through historical materials, archival records, and current collections owned by the MIT Libraries.

The exhibit also highlights the pioneering work of the Institute’s faculty, students and heroic graduates and acknowledges their contributions to the science of powered flight.

The MIT community is invited to an opening celebration for the exhibit on Wednesday, April 1 from 1-3 pm.

Balloon Prints exhibited by Archives in March

Posted March 2nd, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Balloon ascent from DublinThrough the generosity of Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. ’57, the MIT Libraries have undertaken the conservation and digitization of the Theodore Newton Vail Collection of Aeronautical Prints, Broadsides and Clippings. “Balloon Prints from the Vail Collection” is the subject of the March Object of the Month exhibit by the Institute Archives and Special Collections. On display are images from the balloon collection and a short history of early ballooning.

The balloon collection is part of the Vail Rare Book Collection, given to MIT in 1912 by Theodore N. Vail, former president of AT&T and member of the MIT Corporation. All Vail Collection materials are available for research in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118, and the Vail Collection of Aeronautical Prints, Broadsides and Clippings will soon be available in the MIT Libraries’ DOME collection of online resources. Some images from the collection will also be included in the “Fascination of Flight” exhibit opening soon in the Maihaugen Gallery, next to the Institute Archives.

Archives February exhibit: Tech Songs, 1903

Posted February 2nd, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Cover of Tech Songs, 1903Tech Songs, 1903, was compiled when MIT was located in Boston’s Back Bay and known informally as “Boston Tech” or simply “Tech.”  February’s Object of the Month exhibit by the Institute Archives and Special Collections is a glimpse into student life at the beginning of the 20th century.  A poster is displayed in the exhibit case opposite Room 14N-118; the version on the Web includes the entire song book and performances of some of the songs.

Browsing the Archives’ exhibits may whet your appetite for more information about MIT’s history. You are  welcome to explore further in the Archives, 14N-118, Monday – Thursday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

MIT Libraries Receive Audubon Lithographs

Posted January 23rd, 2009 by Heather Denny


The MIT Libraries were recently given 37 hand-colored lithographs from John James Audubon’sViviparous Quadrupeds of North America. The rare lithographs were generously donated by Mr. Ron Juster and family, in honor of Josh Juster, M. Eng. 2004. Several of the prints from the collection can be viewed in the Libraries’ Maihaugen Gallery where they are on display as part of the Celebration of Gifts exhibit.

The prints embody one of the 19th century’s most artistically successful attempts to catalog, illustrate, and promote understanding of the natural world. Following the monumental success of his publication Birds of America, naturalist and artist John James Audubon (1785-1851) attempted to produce accurate illustrations of every quadruped native to North America. In an effort to limit such a massive undertaking, he decided to include only viviparous animals (those that give birth to live young). The result was 150 paintings that are widely celebrated for both their scientific accuracy and their artistic beauty.

The Celebration of Gifts exhibit runs through February 19th in the Maihaugen Gallery, adjacent to the Institute Archives (14N-118). Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Archives greets the new year with “Beacon of Progress” exhibit

Posted January 8th, 2009 by Lois Beattie

Beacon of Progress
In 1900 the Paris Salon awarded its highest medal to MIT Professor Désiré Despradelle (Department of Architecture, 1893-1912) for his extravagant design for a proposed monument “dedicated to the glory of the American nation.” The January Object of the Month exhibit by the Institute Archives and Special Collections describes Despradelle’s “Beacon of Progress” and the state of the Institute at the beginning of a new century.

The account of Despradelle’s design is taken from Technology Review, Vol. 2, No. 4, October 1900. A complete run of Technology Review is available in the reading room of the Institute Archives, 14N-118.

Ellen H. Richards Memorial Home Economics Calendar displayed by Archives in December.

Posted December 1st, 2008 by Lois Beattie

Cover of the calendarEllen Henrietta Swallow Richards (1842-1911) was the first woman to receive a degree from MIT (S.B. in chemistry in 1873). She was instrumental in establishing the Women’s Laboratory, which operated at MIT from 1876 to 1883, for the instruction of women in chemistry. From 1884 to her death, Richards was instructor in sanitary chemistry at MIT.

But beyond MIT, Richards was active in social services, leading efforts to improve the health and education of the general population. The Ellen H. Richards Memorial Home Economics Calendar, the Object of the Month of the Institute Archives and Special Collections, was created in recognition of her leadership role in the area of home economics.

Further information about Ellen Swallow Richards is available on the Archives web site and at the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.