A Brief History of Harvard


Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was established in 1636 and named after clergyman John Harvard. Students of Harvard probably wouldn’t mind getting dissertation help online, but they didn’t have such a great opportunity in the 17th century. Harvard is one the oldest higher education and learning institution in the United States. Also, it is a prestigious institution in the world. Harvard’s founding was authorized by Massachusetts colonial legislature, the General Court. Harvard College was initially training congregational and Unitarian clergy.

The student body and curriculum were secularized during the 18th century. President Charles William Eliot’s tenure transformed the college into professional schools and modern research university. In 1900, Harvard became the founding member of the Association of American Universities.

A Brief History of Harvard

Like other historical institutions in America, Harvard is having a rich and complex history. Harvard was founded in 1636, which was named after its first donor, John Harvard who left his library and half of his estate for this institution.

Early Times

Early Times

In the first two hundred years of Harvard, it followed a curriculum that was consistent and instructional according to that era. The curriculum emphasized rote learning, rhetorical principles, and constant drilling. Harvard was having a small faculty and yet distinguishable. John Winthrop (AB 1732), was America’s great man of science in the colonial era. He taught natural philosophy and mathematics from 1738 to 1779.

The buildings of Harvard are from the 18th century. For example, Massachusetts Hall 1720, Holden Chapel 1744, and Wadsworth House 1726 are the earliest buildings of Harvard. Harvard Hall 1766 was burned down in 1764. The fire destroyed a 5,000-volume college library. Later on, the graduate programs were initiated by Harvard. In 1782, the first graduate program was medical studies. Until 1816-17, law and divinity were not the graduate departments.

The college was not taking any aspect of a true university till the mid-century, which was later on converted to a university. The library building was built in 1841, an observatory in 1846, a scientific school was built in 1847, a chemistry laboratory in 1857, and in 1860 a natural history museum was built.

Harvard, The Modern University

During the longest tenure of President Charles William Eliot, a variety of courses were introduced. He was an elected president of the university from 1869 to 1909. The old methods of recitation were replaced by the new system. The new system allowed the students to freely choose their course of study. A. Lawrence Lowell, even before succeeding Eliot as President of University, believed that there was too much teaching but too little studying in Harvard.

Lowell was elected as President of the University in 1909, and he focused on scholarship and working with honors. He introduced the concentration and distribution system, as well as general examinations and tutorials. All of this system is essentially continuing till today without any changes.

In the 20th century, each professional school acquired a new building.

  • Medicine in 1906
  • Law in 1907
  • Business Administration in 1926
  • The great central library building named after Harry Elkins Widener in 1915
  • Fogg Museum in 1927
  • Mallinckrodt Chemical Laboratory in 1929

Growth of University

There was a remarkable growth of university during the eras of James Bryant Conant and Nathan Marsh Pusey. During the presidency of Pusey, there was a government subsidy for science that helped Harvard to renovate the major facilities in the premises. The areas of medicine, basic and applied sciences, and public health were renovated. The faculty salary was improved with benefits because of fund-raising campaigns. There was an increase in financial aid for students and scholarships.

After Pusey, Derek Curtis Bok took over the presidency of the university. His presidency of 21 years from 1971 to 1991 brought unprecedented growth for the university. In the early days of Bok’s presidency, the reduced government support and inflation affected operating costs that begun to wreak havoc. It became necessary to seek private sources of support for achieving the President’s goals of the university. A fundraising campaign was completed during the tenure of Bok.

To improve the College and to strengthen the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Public Service Programs an effort was made worth $350 million. The development of policies was the main effort to encourage the recruitment and appointment of eminent women scholars and members of minorities and give them the position of permanent teachers. The reaffirming principle in Harvard was to train ungraduated broadly in seven areas that were considered essential for contemporary students.

  • Foreign Cultures
  • Historical Study
  • Literature and Arts
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Science
  • Social Analysis

Harvard in 21st Century

Harvard in 21st Century

Harvard’s 26th President, Neil L. Rudenstine took the office in 1991. Rudenstine years were marked to strengthen the collaboration of different parts among Harvard. It was done to advance an array of programmatic initiatives across professional schools, arts, and sciences. It expanded the international agenda of Harvard. Harvard was not adopting the new information age. The doors of Harvard were open for outstanding students across the globe.

The new Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study was also one of the efforts of Rudenstine by merging Harvard with Radcliffe College. Also, Rudenstine took initiating steps for opening a new Harvard campus in the Allston section of Boston. It was done on the ideology of education’s importance with student diversity. For this purpose, a $2.6 billion fund was raised for student financial aid.

In July 2001, Lawrence H. Summers was appointed as 27th President of Harvard. Along with this, Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy at Harvard played an important and prominent role in public policy roles. Now the attention was diverted towards the renewing of the undergraduate experience. During his era, the university reached out to low-income families for undergraduates and strengthened the student financial aid for graduate and professional studies.

This is when the faculty grew and new facilities were provided in the extended campus of Harvard in Allston during Summers’ era. In June 2006, Summer stepped down from the presidency and became a professor at Harvard. Derek Bok was invited to the office for acting president till the new was to be elected. He working on the development of university land in Allston and reformed the academic calendar.

Harvard Today

Lawrence S. Bacow is the current president of Harvard. He was elected as 29th president of the university in 2018. Today, Harvard comprises of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Division of Continuing Education.

Other eight faculties are operating in Harvard such as Design, Education, Business Administration, Divinity, Law, Government, Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Public Health. The Radcliffe Institute is for Advanced Studies.

Now the total campus area covered by Harvard is 500 Acres. All of this covered area is in Cambridge and Boston. There are 20,000 faculty and staff number. Many of them are part-time employees. Harvard enrolls around 17,000 and 30,000 students for credit and non-credit courses. It includes summer school, programs in continuing education, seminars, etc.


Harvard with its rich and complex history is a frontier of intellectual discovery. Those who get admission to Harvard for their undergraduate or graduate or professional studies, learn, research, grow and work on themselves. Harvard has been working on creating educational opportunities in the market for diversified and outstanding students.


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