From the Archives: Behind the Veritas Shield

Archives By the Numbers: Veritas Crest, 1643
Harvard University Archives

Somebody had to design the Veritas shield. Scrawled in scraggly brown ink and bound in a narrow, leather volume, this sketch resides in Pusey Library in the Harvard University Archives, which are responsible for collecting and maintaining artifacts of historical significance to Harvard.

“Our holdings are not all paper,” says Peter Kosewski, manager for publications and communications for the Harvard University Library. “There’s a lot of cultural property in there, too.”

The collection offers a diverse array of artifacts, from uniforms and catchers’ mitts to papers and letters from former faculty members to copies of the first website interfaces of Harvard academic departments. The Archives house some less expected items, too, like a dining hall tray designed by famed Bauhaus architect Walter A. G. Gropius and paper glasses from Harvard’s 350th anniversary celebration. The oldest item—a London land deed donated by John Harvard as part of the large gift that made him the university’s namesake—dates back to 1577.

The variety of artifacts in the University Archives means that the collection cannot be counted in traditional ways. “Our materials are stored in boxes so we measure [our holdings] by linear feet,” explains University Archivist Megan G. Sniffin-Marinoff. She noted that the Harvard Archives contain over 50,000 linear feet of material.

The Archives also seek donations from current Harvard student groups and organizations to keep their collection up-to-date. When asked what kind of things get chosen to be part of the archive, Sniffin-Marinoff replied that, in addition to saving all of the official records of the University, “the collection aims to catch things that might be elusive.” Such ephemeral items include student organization t-shirts, banners, and scrapbooks that are easy to overlook—vibrant and somewhat innocuous artifacts that illuminate the robust nature of Harvard’s social and intellectual life.