Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections

Class notes

Notes in the Classroom

Classroom teaching has long been and still is largely an oral phenomenon, involving lecture, question and answer, group discussion, or activities like observation and experimentation. Today audio and video recording provide a powerful way of recording a class, but even video cannot capture what an individual student experiences, such as an opportunity to doodle (as in this law school class in 1868-69).

Insincere rot?

Henry Edwards Scott
Paul Sachs

Harvard University, 1922-1923

Class notes of Henry Edwards Scott, a student of Fogg Museum Associate Director, Paul Sachs. These notes, taken in Fine Arts 5n, “French Painting” (1922-1923) shed light on Sachs’ inconsistent attitude regarding contemporary art. He was an advisor to the student-created Harvard Society for Contemporary Art in the 1920s, although it is questionable whether this role demonstrated actual enthusiasm for the subject. Student leaders of the Society (Lincoln Kirstein, Edward Walberg and John Walker) felt Sachs showed a remarkable lack of support, and that his involvement in the group was merely a way to keep contemporary art out of the Fogg. [See Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928-1943 (Nicholas Fox Weber, 1992).] In the last meeting of the class, Jan 23, 1923, Scott’s notes indicate that Sachs said:

""Cezanne, Gauguin, ??-- cleared way for all disregard for truth to nature. Gauguin --decorative, rich color. Then came so-called pure creative emotion emotion -- cubists, futurists, etc. insincere rot! A perverse theory of vision! A futurist may keep you up all night trying to make you appreciate some piece of work which is supposed to suggest to the mind what the thought the artist has tried to expose or something like that; but one does not have to take all night to appreciate a real piece of art.”

. Henry Edwards Scott Papers (SC 14); file 4..
HOLLIS Catalog: 012709092

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What is taught and what is learned

Henry Edwards Scott
Arthur Pope

Harvard University, 1905-1949

Class notes of Henry Edwards Scott, a student of Arthur Pope, in which Scott refers to some of the color theory outlined in Pope’s own lecture notes. In addition to diagrams relevant to the material the notes also contain doodles.

. Henry Edwards Scott Papers (HC 14); file 5 .
HOLLIS Catalog: 012709092

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Using math to learn science

Samuel Williams
Thomas Crafts

Harvard University, 1782

This notebook, dating from April to June in 1782 and believed to have been created by a student named Thomas Crafts, contains notes taken during Hollis Professor Samuel Williams' "experimental lectures" (lectures on natural philosophy, or early science). It contains notes on twenty lectures, covering the topics of "properties of a body" (extension, solidity, divisibility, mobility, figurability, and inertia); the powers of attraction, gravity and repulsion; the "Congress of bodies, and their effects"; the use of the pendulum; centripetal and centrifugal forces; the lever and the pulley; the wheel, screw and wedge; hydrostatics; hydraulics; pneumatics; fire; magnetism; electricity; optics; dioptrics; and astronomy. These notes indicate that Williams' lectures involved hands-on experiments, providing the students first-hand and immediate knowledge of some of the concepts they were studying.

The cover of this paper-bound volume is a recycled sheet that appears to have previously been used to solve a mathematical problem set. One problem was to "find the superficial contents of a circle" and another was to find the contents (area) of a polygon. The student's work, including calculations and diagrams, are visible on this cover sheet.

. HUC 8781.370.
HOLLIS Catalog: 012521868

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Taking notes on writer's palsy

William James

Harvard Medical School, 1866-1867

Although he never practiced as a physician, William James—philosopher and psychologist best known for The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)—received a degree from Harvard Medical School in 1869 and taught physiology during the 1870s. This notebook was used by James as a Harvard student just after the Civil War, as he attended the lectures of Henry J. Bigelow, Henry I. Bowditch, and other members of the medical faculty.

In a letter to his sister, Alice, from this period, James claimed he had just attended a lecture “which I could not understand a word of, but rather enjoyed the sensation of listening to for an hour.” Here William James—despite his wandering attention—has taken notes on the lectures of Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard on writer’s palsy, reflex paraplegia, and other diseases of the nervous system

. CB 1869.42.
HOLLIS Catalog: 006573935

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Doodles and depositions
Dodge Class Notes 1

Frederic Dodge

Harvard Law School, 1868-1869

Frederic Dodge (1847-1927) attended the Harvard Law School for one year, from 1868 to 1869. During that year he filled three small, slender notebooks with meticulous notes of his classes. He dated each lecture, noted the professor (including HLS luminaries Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Emory Washburn), and carefully recorded citations to cases mentioned in class. In this respect his notes resemble many of the almost 200 sets of HLS class notes in the Law Library’s Historical & Special Collections. What sets Mr. Dodge’s notes apart is the fact that he was quite the doodler. Included in his notes are doodles of his professors and fellow students, transcripts of bars of popular music, animals, human legs, and a vignette of a young man and woman dancing. Shown here are images from volume 3.

. MSS Class Notes Collection.
HOLLIS Catalog: 002201239

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