Expeditions and Discoveries: Sponsored Exploration and Scientific Discovery in the Modern Age Harvard Libraries Expeditions Home Image Info

Scope and Content

Since the dawn of the modern age, the world has witnessed an increasingly organized approach to exploration and discovery: sometimes to document the geography, climate, resources, and peoples of little-known areas; sometimes to establish scientific facts, such as the earth’s circumference.

Historically, most organized explorations relied upon state or institutional sponsorship. By the 19th century, North America’s universities were emerging as forces in a broad range of expeditions and discoveries. Within that context, Harvard University played significant roles—as underwriter, participant, collector, and repository—for pace-setting expeditions around the world.

The holdings of the Harvard libraries, archives, museums, and observatories reflect the far-flung explorations of Harvard-connected scholars. These repositories hold immense collections of books and maps, correspondence, type specimens, charts, drawings and photographs, rocks and minerals, and cultural artifacts.

For users of Expeditions and Discoveries Harvard provides selective access to these multidisciplinary records. Of equal importance, the collection offers digital access to published materials in the public domain that document worldwide exploration and discovery—with and without a Harvard connection.

Featured Expeditions

Expeditions and Discoveries features nine major expeditions with strong Harvard connections, which are represented by significant holdings among the University’s repositories.

These expeditions, which are easily browsable from the collection home page, are framed by introductory materials and enhanced by links to complementary collections both online and in print.

Users of Expeditions and Discoveries discover important materials on more than 30 additional expeditions in which Harvard played a role.

General Materials

While the collection is framed by discrete expeditions, other materials—both published and unpublished—provide vital, contextual information on exploration in the modern age.

Expeditions and Discoveries offers important—and often unique—historical resources for students of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, botany, geography, geology, medicine, oceanography, and zoology, as well as broad areas of social and cultural history. Users can search or browse these materials by discipline or region and explore holdings related to 22 notable individuals.


Published and Unpublished Materials

While Expeditions and Discoveries includes many printed materials that are searchable in full text, a commensurate number of materials are in manuscript form.

Manuscript materials are not generally convertible to optical character recognition (OCR) and therefore are not searchable in full text.

While manuscript materials may be included in library catalogs such as HOLLIS, manuscript repositories often rely on separate finding aids to guide users who are interested in these materials. Where possible and appropriate, the Open Collections Program provides links to finding aids at Harvard.

To view Harvard finding aids online, visit the OASIS catalog.

Selections and Exclusions


Materials included in Expeditions and Discoveries are meant to increase the availability and use of Harvard’s historical resources for teaching and research. This collection does not, however, aggregate everything available at Harvard on a broad topic.

The selections include printed books, published maps and photographs, and a wide range of manuscript materials, including letters, diaries, field notes, hand-drawn maps, and more.


Exclusions: Non-Duplication

In selecting materials for Expeditions and Discoveries, the Open Collections Program has avoided materials that are available in digital form elsewhere. As an aid to collection users, editorial materials on the following featured expeditions provide direct links to supplementary digital collections.

Exclusions: Serials

In general, Expeditions and Discoveries does not include digital copies of serial publications. In some cases, however, serial offprints have been included in the collection.

Users should take particular note of three serials: The Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, The Illustrated Catalogue of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology—which are currently being digitized by the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Exclusions: Copyright

Materials digitized for Expeditions and Discoveries are limited to those in the public domain.

Related Links

Consult Related Links to browse a selection of web sites that may be useful to researchers, teachers, students, or anyone interested in learning more about issues related to Expeditions and Discoveries. These links are selected for their unique or thorough contributions to the topic, and sites produced by governmental, cultural, or academic institutions have been favored.

Digitization Standards and Practices

Project cataloging and descriptive metadata practices are designed to promote discovery of digitized items in the environments that students, teachers, and researchers use. OCP applies community standards for bibliographic description, assigns persistent links to digital objects, and stores metadata in centrally supported library systems using open protocols (MODS, OAI–PMH) to facilitate discovery in major Internet search engines, as well as in library catalogs and project databases for OCP web sites.

When supported by optical character recognition (OCR) software, machine-printed texts in a variety of languages are digitized to facilitate full-text as well as catalog searching. OCR-generated texts are not corrected to be 100% accurate transcriptions of all characters in the original materials.

Digital imaging and structural metadata practices have evolved with technologies and institutional expertise—primarily in HCL Imaging Services—to produce complete, legible, navigable, citable, and portable electronic reproductions delivered by the centrally managed delivery systems of the Harvard University Library’s Office for Information Systems. Digitization processes and practices for materials preparation and quality control balance mandates for safe handling, high rates of throughput, and affordability.