12 Years Leading the Schlesinger Library

Cott's leadership led to closer ties with the Radcliffe Institute, the Harvard faculty, and scholars. Photo by Kathleen DooherCott's leadership led to closer ties with the Radcliffe Institute, the Harvard faculty, and scholars. Photo by Kathleen Dooher

At the end of June, Nancy F. Cott left her position as the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library, to which Drew Gilpin Faust, the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute, had recruited her in 2001. Cott will remain on the Harvard history faculty, where she is the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History.

“Nancy’s visionary intellectual leadership has shaped what the library has acquired, digitized, and shared with the world,” says Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute. “From boxes filled with to-be-processed treasures in the archives to the public events that filled rooms and minds, her impact on our work and our library cannot be overstated.”

Among the highlights of Cott’s accomplishments are organizing the Schlesinger Library Council, whose members are partners in guaranteeing the library’s future; expanding the Schlesinger’s research grant program by increasing the number of awards and adding grants for oral history projects; and overseeing the library’s extensive building renovations. The library’s Maximum Access project, which eliminated a significant backlog of collections in need of processing, was completed under Cott’s leadership.

During her tenure, the Schlesinger has become a leader in collecting born-digital materials and in using newly available digital tools. Cott hired Marilyn Dunn, the library’s executive director and Radcliffe Institute librarian, who oversees the Schlesinger’s digital programs. Cott also organized many successful events, including the library’s 60th and 70th anniversary celebrations and a well-attended conference about the achievements of the chef, author, and television personality Julia Child.

Among the manuscript collections that the Schlesinger acquired under Cott are the papers of Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist writer; Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer and advocate for human and women’s rights; and Patricia Williams, a legal scholar and proponent of critical race theory.

Schlesinger Library Council member Susan Ware AM ’73, PhD ’78, an independent scholar and writer, will serve as a senior advisor to the library while Radcliffe and the history department search for Cott’s replacement.

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