After remaining closed for nearly two years, the Houghton Library brought its exhibit “Animals Are Us” – which explores the use of animal anthropomorphism in literature – to the public this semester.
Open September through January, the exhibit “invites you to critically engage with animal anthropomorphism and appreciate the art of this enduring genre,” according to the Houghton Library website, which houses the collection of books. rare from the university.
Visitors can see original manuscripts and illustrations of children’s literature, including an 1865 ‘deleted’ edition of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and letters from author Beatrix Potter about her famous children’s book “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”.
The exhibit also contains the works of more contemporary children’s literature authors like Brenda Child, as well as a “Restoring Dignity” section, which features animal illustrations from books that reframe American history “across the board. prism of indigenous peoples ”.
Anne-Marie Eze, the library’s communications officer, said she believed people had criticized the genre of animal anthropomorphism as “one of the reasons why the path of children’s publishing is not ‘is not more diverse “.
“There are more books that have anthropomorphized animals or inanimate objects as protagonists than there are books that have protagonists of color, or protagonists with disabilities, or LGBTQ protagonists,” Eze said.
Eze added that the exhibition literature encourages thoughtful engagement.
“This is not the kind of children’s literature exhibit that gives way to nostalgia,” she said. “We have tried to engage very critically with this kind of children’s literature.”
The introduction to the exhibit also refers to the controversy surrounding animal anthropomorphism.
“Librarians, teachers, and academics, especially those of color, have long attributed literary preference to animal anthropomorphism as a factor delaying diversification,” the introduction reads.
Eze selected two “experts” in children’s literature as curators of the exhibition: H. Nichols B. Clark ’69 and Meghan Melvin.
Clark is currently director and curator of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, while Melvin is curator for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Zelin Liu ’22, who visited the exhibit on Monday, said he appreciated the specific focus on children’s literature.
“Children’s literature does not tend to be very concentrated in academic discussions, so it’s nice to see some attention given its importance for people’s understanding of literature,” Liu said.
Liu added that he appreciated the chance to return to Houghton, which was closed for much of his time as an undergraduate student.
“Now that it’s open, it’s great to be back here to look at all these wonderful rare books and see the wonderful Harvard collection,” he said.