Sever Hall

[Lorelai is showing slides of the road trip as Emily and Rory sit on the couch.]
LORELAI: This is Sever Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Harvard.

Sever Hall is an academic building in Harvard Yard designed by the famous architect H.H. Richardson, and built in the late 1870s. It was a gift from Anne Sever in honour of her deceased husband James Warren Sever. It is used for classrooms and lecture halls in the humanities, so this is where Rory would have listened to the philosophy lecture.

Dormitories

[Lorelai and Rory are walking past a dormitory.]
LORELAI: This is a dorm? Not bad, huh?
RORY: Pretty, actually.
LORELAI: Come on, let’s see what it looks like on the inside.
RORY: It says “Residents Only” in plain English.

Harvard University has seventeen dormitories for freshmen students in Harvard Yard. While some can be by no standards called “pretty”, a few of the older dormitories do have a certain charm to them. The dormitory may be intended to represent Wigglesworth Hall, which is near the Widener Library. Constructed in 1931, its past residents include Leonard Bernstein, Bill Gates, Ted Kennedy, and indie pop singer Naomi Yang.

It is of course almost inevitable that the Gilmore girls will decide that they are above the rules, and free to trespass wherever they so choose. They even go into someone’s room and take photos – despite photos of dorm rooms being available on the Harvard website.

The Library

RORY: The biggest library I’ve ever seen.
LORELAI: Uh oh. Brace yourself.
RORY: What?
LORELAI: This is just one of the libraries.
RORY: One of the libraries?
LORELAI: This building is one component of a thirteen million volume collection housed in more than ninety different libraries. It’s the oldest library in the United States and the largest academic library in the world. Breathe, breathe.

Rory and Lorelai are talking about the Widener Library, full name The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Housing 3.5 million volumes, it is the centrepiece of the Harvard College Libraries in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and of the entire Harvard Library system. It honours 1907 Harvard graduate and book collector Harry Widener, who was drowned during the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.

As Lorelai says, the Harvard Library system is the oldest library in the US, having grown from a bequest of 400 books by John Harvard in 1638. It is not only the largest university library in the world, but the largest private library.

Rory and Lorelai Visit Harvard University

After examining the map, Lorelai surprises Rory by driving her to Harvard University, which is in the city of Cambridge in Massachusetts, part of the Boston metropolitan area. Why Rory didn’t think of it herself is really the big surprise in this scene – surely she knows where Harvard is, and wouldn’t she have been begging her mother to take her there? Apparently not, as they get all the way to the front gates before Rory seems to realise where they are.

Rory wants to get a guide to the university – Harvard offers free one-hour guided group tours of its campus, given by students. Lorelai opts for the self-guided tour: you can navigate yourself around the university with the help of a brochure. Rory already knows the foundation date of Harvard (1636) by heart.

Lorelai reads about important scientific discoveries made at Harvard. The idea for the pacemaker was first originated by John Alexander McWilliam from Aberdeen University in 1889, while the first pacemaker was devised by Mark C. Lidwill from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Edgar H. Booth from the University of Sydney in 1926. The brochure is probably talking about Paul Zoll (1911-1999) from Harvard Medical School, one of many who helped develop and refine the pacemaker during the 1940s and ’50s.

The other scientific advances mentioned seem to be referring to Sheldon Glashow (born 1932), a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is a Professor of Physics at Harvard University. In 1964, in colloboration with James Bjorken, he was the first to propose the existence of the charm quark, which helped to solve a number of problems in quantum field theory. In 1973, in colloboration with Howard Georgi, he proposed the first grand unifed theory, a model in which the interactions of electromagnetism, radioactivity, and nuclear forces are merged into one single force.

Lorelai is disturbed to see that out of 18 000 applicants to Harvard in the previous year, only 2000 were accepted. It’s a piece of news she should already know by now, and comes as a stiff reality check. Possibly for the first time, Lorelai gets an inkling that Rory’s dream of going to Harvard may be out of reach. The odds are even worse now – although Harvard still accept around 2000 students per year, nearly 40 000 applied to graduate in the year of 2022.

The scenes of Harvard were filmed at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Westwood, which doesn’t resemble Harvard University. The front gates that Rory and Lorelai enter were made for the show.

Brown

WOMAN (to Rory): We have a son just a bit older than you.
MAN: He’s not good enough for her.
WOMAN: Oh, Dave. He’s a freshman at Brown.
MAN: He majors in MTV.

Brown University is a private Ivy League university in Providence, Rhode Island. It was founded in 1764, and was the first university to accept students regardless of their religion. It became fully co-educational in 1971 when its women’s college, Pembroke, merged with the university.

Brown is well regarded in the liberal arts, and its students were rated the happiest of any at American universities. It has a reputation for being free-spirited and iconoclastic, which fits in with the son taking (what sounds like) self-directed cultural studies.

“You could go to a fancy school if you wanted to”

DEAN: I mean, I’m not going to a fancy school. I don’t have that kind of pressure. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like.
RORY: You could go to a fancy school if you wanted to.
DEAN: I don’t think so.
RORY: Why not? You’re smart.

Rory continues trying to make Dean into something he’s not – he’s an average student who likes playing sport and home mechanics, but she persists in making him read classic literature, and telling him he could get into a private school if he wanted to. On some level, she cannot be satisfied with Dean as a boyfriend if she won’t accept him not being a bookworm and not going to private school.

Dean is too polite to make the obvious comeback: that he doesn’t have rich grandparents who can bankroll his academic dreams. Even Rory, a very good student, couldn’t get into Chilton on a scholarship, so what hope does Dean have of attending a similar school with average grades and no money for school fees?