Historic Humor

University Archives to preserve Harvard Lampoon materials

Video image credits: Harvard Library Communications and Harvard University Archives

With a donation this month of two leather-bound volumes of Harvard Lampoon issues from the 1890s, the humor publication and the Harvard University Archives have formalized a partnership designating the archives as the formal home of the Lampoon’s historic materials. “The Harvard University Archives is the primary repository preserving the history of student organizations,” said Juliana Kuipers, associate university archivist for collection development and records management services. “We’ve been collecting these materials for decades, all the way back to the Lampoon’s founding. As the publication approaches its 150th anniversary, this is a wonderful moment to formalize that relationship.”

The 1890s volumes were donated by Elizabeth Bates, granddaughter of Lampoon editor William Bates, A.B. 1891. They join other historical materials collected by the archives throughout the publication’s history—from newspaper clippings about John Wayne’s 1974 visit to the Lampoon to a first-edition copy of Bored of the Rings, a 1969 parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by Henry Beard ’67 and Doug Kenney ’68.

The archivists hope to prioritize the care and accessibility of these materials, making them available to people outside Harvard. The archives are accessible to the public, and anyone interested in how the Lampoon fits into the history of humor can make an appointment to view the materials. By centralizing and placing these publications in a broader context, the archives can provide insight into their historic significance. The Lampoon’s 1972 Cosmopolitan parody, for example—with jokes like “10 Ways to Decorate Your Uterine Wall”—seems like a departure from older materials when viewed alongside them. And it is: 1972 was the first year women were admitted to the publication’s staff.

Kuipers hopes the partnership will encourage similar donations from others who own Lampoon volumes, posters, or other historic materials. Along with the 1890s volumes, current Lampoon members donated the publication’s most recent content—including this year’s parodies of the Crimson and the New York Times. The difference between the clippings of current college students and the yellowed pages of 19th-century publications is stark. But the archivists hope a standardized collection process will allow the safekeeping of all these materials for future generations to appreciate and evaluate. Such partnerships between student organizations and the archives can also allow students to see themselves as part of a larger history, added associate university archivist for community engagement Sarah Martin. “We like the opportunity,” she said, “for students to come in and see themselves in Harvard’s past, present, and future.”

Read more articles by Nina Pasquini

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