Harvard University is a private, Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, established 1636, whose history, influence and wealth have made it one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Established originally by the Massachusetts legislature and soon thereafter named for John Harvard (its first benefactor), Harvard is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning, and the Harvard Corporation (formally, the President and Fellows of Harvard College) is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot’s long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.
The University is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. Harvard’s $37.6 billion financial endowment is the largest of any academic institution.
Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the University’s large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. It operates several arts, cultural, and scientific museums, alongside the Harvard Library, which is the world’s largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries with over 18 million volumes. Harvard’s alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 335 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 150 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists and 13 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff.
The official seal of the Harvard Corporation that can be found on Harvard diplomas with the first motto of the University Christo et Ecclesiae “Christ and Church” later changed for Veritas “Truth”.
Engraving of Harvard College by Paul Revere, 1767
Harvard was formed in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was initially called “New College” or “the college at New Towne”. In 1638, the college became home to British North America’s first known printing press. In 1639, the college was renamed Harvard College after deceased clergyman John Harvard, who was an alumnus of the University of Cambridge. He had left the school £779 and his library of some 400 books. The charter creating the Harvard Corporation was granted in 1650.
In the early years the College trained many Puritan ministers. (A 1643 publication said the school’s purpose was “to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust”.) It offered a classic curriculum on the English university model—many leaders in the colony had attended the University of Cambridge—but conformed Puritanism. It was never affiliated with any particular denomination, but many of its earliest graduates went on to become clergymen in Congregational and Unitarian churches.
Harvard’s 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, about 3 miles (5 km) west-northwest of the State House in downtown Boston, and extends into the surrounding Harvard Square neighborhood. Harvard Yard itself contains the central administrative offices and main libraries of the university, academic buildings including Sever Hall and University Hall, Memorial Church, and the majority of the freshman dormitories. Sophomore, junior, and senior undergraduates live in twelve residential Houses, nine of which are south of Harvard Yard along or near the Charles River. The other three are located in a residential neighborhood half a mile northwest of the Yard at the Quadrangle (commonly referred to as the Quad), which formerly housed Radcliffe College students until Radcliffe merged its residential system with Harvard. Each residential house contains rooms for undergraduates, House masters, and resident tutors, as well as a dining hall and library. The facilities were made possible by a gift from Yale University alumnus Edward Harkness.
Radcliffe Yard, formerly the center of the campus of Radcliffe College (and now home of the Radcliffe Institute), is adjacent to the Graduate School of Education and the Cambridge Common.
The Harvard Business School and many of the university’s athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located on a 358-acre (145 ha) campus opposite the Cambridge campus in Allston. The John W. Weeks Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over the Charles River connecting both campuses. The Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard School of Public Health are located on a 21-acre (8.5 ha) campus in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area approximately 3.3 miles (5.3 km) southwest of downtown Boston and 3.3 miles (5.3 km) south of the Cambridge campus.
Between 2011 and 2013, Harvard University reported crime statistics for its main Cambridge campus that included 104 forcible sex offenses, 55 robberies, 83 aggravated assaults, 89 burglaries, and 43 cases of motor vehicle theft.
Apart from its major Cambridge/Allston and Longwood campuses, Harvard owns and operates Arnold Arboretum, in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston; the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, in Washington, D.C.; the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts; the Concord Field Station in Estabrook Woods in Concord, Massachusetts and the Villa I Tatti research center in Florence, Italy. Harvard also operates the Harvard Shanghai Center in China.
Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The university has been accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges since 1929. The university offers 46 undergraduate concentrations (majors), 134 graduate degrees, and 32 professional degrees. For the 2008–2009 academic year, Harvard granted 1,664 baccalaureate degrees, 400 master’s degrees, 512 doctoral degrees, and 4,460 professional degrees.