Journey through Harvard University president Charles Eliot’s “five-foot shelf” of classics. This collection, first published in the early 1900s, remains one of the most comprehensive and well-researched anthologies of all time. Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf Making good on earlier claims … more
Charles W. Eliot (1834–1926) was selected as Harvard’s president in 1869 and served for 40 years, the longest term as president in the university’s history. Eliot graduated from Harvard in 1853 and in 1958 was appointed to assistant professor of mathematics and chemistry.
Eliot left Harvard in 1863 and traveled Europe for nearly two years, studying the educational systems of the Old World. After returning home in 1865, Eliot accepted the position of professor of analytical chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He published his ideas about reforming American higher education in a compelling two-part article in The Atlantic Monthly, the nation’s leading journal of opinion.
In 1869, Harvard had found itself in a crisis of short-term presidents and languishing curriculum, so it turned to Charles W. Eliot. Under his leadership, Harvard began to expand the range of courses offered, permitting undergraduates with unrestricted choice in selecting their courses of study. The university soon became a center for advanced scientific and technological research.
Eliot assembled The Harvard Classics, more commonly known as “The Five-Foot Shelf” and the “Shelf of Fiction,” as a way to gather a collection of works that would best represent “the progress of man.”