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Harvard Library Highlights Drug-Themed Santo Domingo Collection

Updated: Aug 30, 2023


Some light reading for the Alpen retreat. See Houghton Library for more on the book’s provenance.

An American “hygienic physiology” textbook of 1888 subtitled “with special reference to the use of alcoholic drinks and narcotics.” Adolf Hitler’s copy of Kokain, a German translation of Cocaina, the 1921 narco-novel written by Dino Segre under his pseudonym Pitigrilli. A 1973 “psychedelic guide to preparation of the Eucharist in a few of its many guises” published in Austin, Texas, combining spiritual and biochemical instructions in the use of mescaline and other hallucinogens.

These items suggest the breadth of the more than 50,000 pieces in the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection, now stored at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. The bulk of the collection focuses on the production, use, representation, and study of drugs. Santo Domingo (1958–2009) was an investment advisor who became a full-time collector, acquiring material from 19th-century French literature to 21st -century comics. His family placed his collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, audio materials, and films on long-term deposit at Harvard last year.

This year the librarians combing through the collection have been displaying intriguing discoveries on Houghton’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog. In coming weeks, Points will be cross-posting a number of such entries, as part of an occasional series highlighting recent acquisitions, discoveries, and announcements in various archives.

Houghton librarians emphasized that the Santo Domingo collection enriches and greatly expands Harvard’s holdings on psychoactive drugs and their physical and social effects—from cultivation and synthesis to the myriad cultural and counter-cultural products linked to altered states of mind.

Rich in scientific and medical works, it documents in depth both the pleasures of controlled use and the horrors of addiction. The bulk of the collection explores drug use by individuals and the influence such use and users had on their society, with emphasis on the 1800s and 1900s in America and France.

For those who study drugs, the collection’s appeal highlights the dizzying breadth of approaches to the topic.

“The Santo Domingo Collection is a major acquisition and mind-blowing in the depth and diversity of material,” said John Stauffer, chair of Harvard’s History and American Civilization program. “It will be indispensable for anyone interested in interdisciplinary work on altered states of consciousness in 19th and 20th-century U.S. and Europe, and it will attract a wide range of researchers, from literary and art critics to historians, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, cognitive scientists and anyone interested in popular culture.”

Santo Domingo had broad interests, ranging from drugs, mysticism, and social taboos to a fascination with the overlap between “high” and “low” culture. Long runs of pulp fiction—including crime novels, science fiction, mass-market paperbacks, erotica, and underground and mainstream comics—in the collection show how drug cultures began to permeate national cultures. Literary and intellectual manuscripts range from those of Thomas de Quincey to Timothy Leary. There are also approximately 3,000 film posters and photographs.

In addition to the collection now deposited at Harvard, he formed a major rock and roll collection—now at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In 2001, Santo Domingo merged his own collection with materials from the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Library in San Francisco.

Leslie Morris, curator of modern books and manuscripts at Houghton Library, coordinated the transfer of the collection to Harvard. Even for titles already held at Harvard, “the Santo Domingo copies are often enriched with annotations, presentation inscriptions, added illustrations or beautifully crafted bindings that have never before been available to the scholarly community,” Morris pointed out. “There are also many volumes in the collection that were published only for select audiences and underground groups. It’s quite an astonishing collection.”

Read more about the collection on Houghton Library’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog, and find the collection in Harvard’s online library catalog HOLLIS catalog by searching for Author=Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

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