Harris Hawthorne Wilder Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The Harris Hawthorne Wilder papers, perhaps by Wilder's own intent, reflect a single overarching theme: Wilder as a man of science. Although the collection comprises both personal and professional materials, very few documents fall outside of this portrait. Even personal documents such as diaries and correspondence tend to illustrate Wilder's buoyant compassion for the natural world. Personal items unrelated to Wilder's interest in science are rare. Whether this focus reflects Wilder the man, or just this particular collection, is not certain.
The Wilder papers, measuring 21 linear feet (54 boxes), include biographical accounts, both formal and informal; eulogies and obituaries; newspaper clippings, including accounts of the near drowning of Wilder and his wife; genealogical studies; photographs; memorabilia; scrapbooks; diaries; an autobiography of his youth; correspondence, including 22 items from mentor and Amherst College professor John Tyler; class notes made as a student at Amherst and at Freiburg University in Germany; lecture notes made as a teacher; publications; unpublished manuscripts; speeches; original research data; and a slide collection used in his teaching. These materials date from 1868-1975, with the bulk spanning 1882-1928.
The strengths of this collection lie in two areas: 1) biographical materials, especially those concerned with Wilder's early life, and 2) Wilder's research and publications. Professional materials include either the original manuscripts or reprints of most of his 65-item bibliography. These documents, however, tend to represent the final stages of publication with few items offering a view into Wilder's preliminary thinking. These files appear to be Wilder's office files rather than his working files. A view into the early stages of Wilder's writing process is available in many of his unpublished manuscripts, which often contain early versions of material that appeared in publications years later.
Wilder students often remembered him as an inspiring teacher and examples of his teaching style can be found in his handwritten "Popular Lectures." He was also noted for his generalist, "man for all seasons," approach to knowledge, drawn principally from his early training in the classics. This tendency can be seen in manuscripts of Popular speeches, which Wilder presented at Northampton social functions. Other notable materials from Wilder's professional life include the original palm and sole prints from his internationally acclaimed dermatoglyphics research, a field that he discovered.
A noticeable weakness of the collection is the relative absence of items from Wilder's adult personal life, especially from his life with wife and fellow Smith College professor Inez Wilder. Only photographs and secondary biographical accounts offer a view of this period. Wilder's adult life is represented almost exclusively by his professional activities. As a result, the Wilder collection offers little to researchers wanting to recreate the social milieu around Smith College and Northampton near the turn of the century. Researchers wanting to reconstruct the formal history of Smith College may find letters written by Wilder as the dean of the Zoology Department to the Board of Trustees useful.
By contrast, his autobiography, diaries, childhood correspondence, memorabilia, and scrapbooks offer an excellent view into the private history of a boy growing up in a rural Massachusetts resort town between 1865-1885.
The Wilder collection also contains an extensive genealogical study by Wilder himself. Wilder's family came from old New England stock, including Thomas Wilder who first arrived in America in 1638, and perhaps even an unconfirmed Wilder who arrived on the Mayflower. Wilder traced his family tree back to Nicholas Wilder, who fought at Bosworth Field in 1485 and received a landed estate (Shiplake) and coal of arms (Burke's Peerage, sub. Wilder) from Henry VII.
The Harris Hawthorne Wilder papers naturally break into two large intellectual groups, non-professional activities and professional activities. This collection is arranged to offer both the most direct access into these two areas, as well as the most logical progression through the entire collection. The collection is divided into six series, The first five emphasize Wilder's non-professional life: 1) Biographical; 2) Photographs; 3) Memorabilia; 4) Non-Professional Writings; and 5) Correspondence. This ordering allows for a progressively more specific understanding of Wilder's nonprofessional life. Correspondence follows Writings in this collection as many correspondents are introduced in Wilder's diaries and in the autobiography of his preadult life. The sixth series, Professional Activities, is subdivided into categories of Teaching, Publications, Unpublished Manuscripts, Speeches, Research, and Teaching and Research Tools. Genealogical information is located within the Biographical series.