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Boston College Humanities Series director's records

Collection MS-2002-037: Boston College Humanities Series director's records


  • Creation: 1945 - 2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1957 - 1998

Scope and Contents

These records comprise correspondence, financial records, documents, photographs, publicity items, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, and ephemera covering the first forty years of Boston College's Humanities Lecture Series, related lecture series, and events. The materials also documents Director Francis W. Sweeney, SJ's life-long relationship with many prominent writers, theologians, and academics of the twentieth century.

The bulk of the records are composed of correspondence. The correspondence in Series I, Subseries A. includes literary agents, lecture circuit organizations, newspapers, and funding sources, as well as general correspondence related to the routine operations of the Humanities Series and related lecture series. Notable correspondents include Elizabeth Kray, from the Poetry Center and the Academy of American Poets (an important source of lecturers for the Humanities), the New England Poetry Circuit (which provided many speakers for the Younger Poets Series) and John Lowell of the Lowell Institution (a nonprofit organization which began funding the Humanities Series in the late 1980s). The subseries also contains significant correspondence relating to funding and operations of the Stylus and David Steinman Visiting Poets Lecture Series prior to the inauguration of the Humanities Series in 1958. Series VI. Lecturers contains Sweeney’s correspondence with individuals who participated in or were approached to participate in the Humanities Series and the related lecture series. This series also includes posters, promotional items, newspaper clippings, and articles written by Sweeney about individual lecturers, and for scholars for whom he managed lecture tours. These include the tours of theologian Hans Küng and Martin Cyril D'Arcy, SJ. Of particular note among this ephemera are two signed copies of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's broadside “Populist Manifesto for Poets with Love” and original artwork by Gregory Corso and Andre Girard.

These records also contains photographs of lecturers and artists who participated in the events administered by Sweeney. There are both publicity images and images taken on-site during lectures or events. Of particular note are images of poet Robert Frost.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Historical Note: Humanities Series

Beginning in 1951, Francis W. Sweeney, SJ invited speakers to give talks under the auspices of Boston College's student literary magazine, the Stylus, for which he served as a faculty moderator. During the 1957-1958 academic year, Sweeney administered the David B. Steinman Visiting Poets Series, which funded lectures by Ogden Nash, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, and other speakers. The lecture series was only underwritten for one year, and Sweeney had to seek other funds to continue the lectures.

The program, renamed the Humanities Series to reflect a broadening of speakers to include writers of other disciplines, launched on October 2, 1958, when the Pulitzer-prize winning poet and historian Peter Viereck gave a lecture entitled "The Unadjusted Man." Speakers in the new series included poets, novelists, dramatists, theologians, historians, classicists, and actors. Lecturers included Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Nobel Prize winners in literature. In the 1960s, the University assumed the financial responsibility, allotting an annual budget to pay for the visiting lecturers. In 1987, the Lowell Institute took over funding, and it became known as the Lowell Lectures, now the Lowell Humanities Series.

While the Humanities Series is best known its lectures, it also sponsored fine arts performances and art exhibits. These events included the Yale Russian Chorus, which performed every year from 1965 through 1998, and traveling exhibits from other institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art.

Sweeney oversaw several related annual series, many of which were funded by the Humanities Series. The Careers in Writing Conference was a one-day panel-style event where professional writers discussed their craft, which ran from 1961 through 1967. Beginning in 1960 the Younger Poets Series allowed Sweeney to bring in less-established poets to give readings for fees more modest than the Humanities Series. Additionally, beginning in 1963, Boston College and several other New England-based universities participated in the New England Poetry Circuit which allowed the participating institutions to bring lesser-known poets to campus. The Campus Filmmakers Festival, 1969-1978, helped fund students' film-making expenses and presented the best films during a spring festival. In the 1970s, Sweeney arranged live demonstrations by local artisans in the Visiting Artists Series, where students observed stained glass makers, silkscreen designers, potters, weavers, sculptors, painters, and others practice their crafts.

After four decades of service, in April 1998, Sweeney retired as director of the Humanities Series and was succeeded by Professor Paul Doherty.


Baldwin, Maureen. "Sweeney Among the Eminent." Bridge (May/June 1973):8-9.

Dowd, Sue. "32 Years of Literary Excellence at BC." The Heights (March 1, 1982): 8.

“Francis W. Sweeney: Virtual Exhibit Fall 2004 - Burns Library.” (accessed October 16, 2017).

"Poetry and Drama are Highlights of Fall Humanities Series" in The Boston College BiWeekly (September 10, 1987): 7.

Smith, Sean. "Man of Lectures" in Boston College Chronicle (April 23, 1998): 1, 5.

Sullivan, Mark. "Doherty to be Director of Lecture Series." Boston College Chronicle (April 23, 1998):5.

Sweeney, Francis W. "Father Sweeney Reminisces." Alumni News (September-October 1970): 2, 9.


33.75 Linear Feet (66 containers)

Language of Materials



These records include correspondence, manuscripts, financial records, scrapbooks, ephemera, newspaper clippings, and photographs documenting the first forty years of Boston College's Humanities Series and related lecture series. Materials also document director Francis W. Sweeney, SJ's lifelong relationship with prominent writers, theologians and academics of the 20th century.


Organized into six series. I. Humanities Series administration; II. Related Lecture Series; III. Events and Exhibits; IV. Lecturers; V. Scrapbooks; and VI. Photographs.

Series I. Humanities Series administration includes four subseries: A. Correspondence; B. Historical information and publicity; C. Financial records; and D. Index of lecturers.

Series VI. Photographs includes five subseries: A. Lecturers and artists; B. Musical and theatrical groups; C. Careers in Writing Conference; D. Exhibits; and E. Unidentified.


Gift of Francis W. Sweeney, SJ (2002).

Related Materials

Francis W. Sweeney Faculty Papers, MS.2002.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Candlemas Lectures director's records, BC.2002.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College Humanities Series Director's Records
1945-2000 (bulk 1957-1998)
Edward Copenhagen, 2002-2003; AnneMarie Anderson, 2010; Adrienne Pruitt, 2014; and Holly Springer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States