April 18, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

The History of Harvard University

3 min read


Harvard University is considered one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Most recently, the university elected Claudine Gay as President of Harvard University, making her the first Black president of this elite institution. Incidentally, Gay’s appointment to lead the university makes her one of four female leaders leading the world’s four best universities — alongside Deborah Prentice at Cambridge, Irene Tracey at Oxford, and Sally Kornbluth at MIT. In this post, we’ll look at the history of Harvard University and how it’s doing presently:

The beginning of Harvard University

Harvard was founded on September 8, 1636. It was the first college in the American colonies. A popular misconception about Harvard University’s name is that John Harvard founded it. However, John Harvard was the university’s first major benefactor, who donated half of his estate and his library of more than 400 books to the school.

Today, the statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard remains a hot destination for tourists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard Yard is considered the historic heart of Harvard University, surrounded by some of the university’s most historic buildings, such as the Massachusetts Hall, which dates back to 1720. Massachusetts Hall is also one of the oldest buildings in the United States. While many think of Harvard Yard as Harvard’s campus, the University also has campuses in the Longwood and Allston neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts.

In line with our introduction on Harvard’s newly appointed President, Harvard did not appoint a woman faculty member until 1919—roughly 300 years since its founding—when Alice Hamilton became Harvard’s first woman professor as an Assistant Professor of Industrial Medicine in the Harvard Medical School.

What is Harvard known for?

Harvard University is known for its research output, teaching quality, and academic influence. Harvard has long been associated with winners of critical accolades, including hundreds of Nobel laureates, Rhodes scholars, and Marshall scholars. Many notable names we know today have graduated from Harvard, including Barack Obama and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Apart from academic prestige, Harvard is known as one of the world’s wealthiest colleges. Harvard’s social life, clubs, and student activities have become favorites known for their prestigious membership. Arguably the most famous sports club is the Harvard rowing club, which takes part in the Harvard Yale Regatta. The Harvard Yale Regatta was originally raced on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, with the first race taking place in 1852. Today it is now raced annually on Thames River, New London, Connecticut. Currently, Harvard leads Yale with 95 wins to 58, although the university hasn’t won the event since 2014.

Harvard in the present day

Despite its great historical background, Harvard has had to adapt to digital and emerging technologies to progress with the times, like most other schools. As a university known for its research and academic prestige, going digital has helped Harvard University remain competitive. Harvard recently launched a research network through the Harvard Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics. The network is called the Governance of Emerging Technology and Technology Innovations for Next-Generation Governance through Plurality (GETTING-Plurality). It aims to bring together Harvard’s researchers and academics from different disciplines to understand technological developments better in support of democracy, collective intelligence, and other public goods.

The university also has a thriving student community sharing study notes on Studocu, where Harvard students share a host of important documents and books online to support each other in their academic studies. While not directly affiliated with the school, this online student community provides access to five million study resources on the site for their fellow learners, encouraging them to excel in their studies. The study materials shared among the students range from Computer Science to Art and Understanding, as well as study notes for law-specific subjects in different formats, such as sample questions to lecture summaries.

For more fun and insightful history facts and trivia, check out our other Hankering for History posts, where we cover exciting histories across various fields and topics.

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