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As the centennial commemorations of World War I come to a close, we’ve been working to develop two class sessions focused on the local impact of the war. As a result, we’ve been digging into our biographical files on students from the period to track down hidden stories of Amherst students that went off to war.

As soon as the United States entered the conflict, the Alumni Council of Amherst College established a Committee on War charged with requesting information and updates from alumni who had served. Questionnaires sent out were almost universally returned, demonstrating a desire on the part of the alumni to remain connected to the College community and to accurately reflect their service during the war. The Archives’ student biographical files cannot capture the full extent of personal experiences in the war – but the files do provide enough detail to show the hardships faced overseas. In this blog post we present a selection of materials from the class of 1914. These materials present an interesting challenge for researchers. In the face a vast amounts of raw historical data, how do we begin to make sense of it all? And how do we begin to track down loose threads presented in the primary source?

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A typical war record information card sent by the Alumni Council (the original is a 3″ by 5″ card). This card lists Donald H. Brown’s (AC 1914) service history.

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An excerpt of a letter written by Donald Brown. This is a typescript copy of the original.

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Another example of a solicitation for information by the Alumni Council. The form also asks for “non-military” service, if applicable. The Alumni Council also asked for a “photograph of each man in active service, in uniform.”

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Charles Morris Mills (AC 1914) – an Amherst alum in uniform. Mills enlisted in 1917 and was discharged in the spring of 1919.

 

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A subsequent 1925 questionnaire for Mills indicates that he was “gassed Argonne Sept ’18” – referring to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a major part of the final months of the war.

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We’ll end with Merrill S. Gaunt (AC 1914), whose diary is pictured above. After graduating Amherst College, Gaunt attended Andover Theological Seminary before volunteering for the ambulance service in France in January 1916. He was in service at the start of the Battle of Verdun but succumbed to cerebrospinal meningitis. He died in the hospital in Bar-le-Duc, France, April 3, 1916. The Amherst College archives holds his diary for this period. Though only in the war for three months, Gaunt’s brief journal entries offer glimpses into the cruelties of war.

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1916 March 4: “Heard a woman cry when son dead.”

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1916 March 16: “Receiv’d Helmet and Gas mask.”

The diary also includes his Gaunt’s last entry, written in French:

 

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Usually when people think of preservation work in archives and special collections, the first thing that comes to mind is crumbling old letters and ancient volumes, but the reality is that modern materials can pose even greater preservation challenges. The last 50 years has seen an explosion in the kinds of materials used in books and book arts: from the huge variety of plastics to experimental inks, dyes and paints; new photographic processes to unusual substrates like metal or concrete; books that include electronics to books that include dirt and seeds. It is clear that caring for modern books is not for the faint of heart!

A couple months ago, I attended a conference titled “Now! And Then? Preserving Modern and Contemporary Collections in Libraries and Archives“. It gave me a great excuse to pull together many of the modern items in our collections that pose particular preservation challenges. I’ve put together a photo montage of some of my favorites, click on an image to learn more about the item and its preservation concerns.

A number of these artist books have been explored in greater depth in other posts on this blog:

 

Digging into Class Albums

Earlier this year I wrote up a brief description of the Class Albums we will digitize for the upcoming Bicentennial celebration in 2021. This week I spent a little more time reviewing these materials and came up with some interesting tidbits.

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You may know from an earlier blog post, that here in the Archives & Special Collections we are conducting a shelf-by-shelf review of our collections.  This has prompted us to look through collections that do not get the most consistent use or that we aren’t as familiar with.  Recently, I surveyed the William P. Bigelow (AC 1889) Papers, a small collection of personal and professional papers of an Amherst College alumnus and professor.

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This blog post is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave last Friday to our regional professional organization, New England Archivists. We have a one-day meeting in the fall, and this year it was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Our theme for the meeting was ethics in archives, and each of the nine presenters discussed collections or events that dealt with ethical challenges. 

Like librarians and doctors, archivists have a code of ethics that guides our work. You can read ours here: Society of American Archivists: Core Values and Code of Ethics for Professional Archivists. Shared discussion and consideration with colleagues is an important way for us to develop and learn as professionals, especially about ethical questions, which are always matters of judgment.


Describing Archival Collections—Ethical Considerations

It’s hard to say no to your boss, especially when it’s your first job as a professional archivist. Reprocessing the

Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers

took far more of my time and labor than either of us expected. Negotiating this collection and its ethical demands was both personally and professionally challenging. Looking back now, nearly a year later, I find that I can better trust my own ethical judgments and see more vividly the violence inherent in overly “neutral” or “objective” descriptive practices. Continue Reading »

Wordsworth for the Blind

 

One of the great things about working in a college library is that student research projects often send us digging into parts of the collections we probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Earlier this week I talked with a vision-impaired student who had consulted our twentieth-century braille edition of Worsdworth in the past. The published bibliography, The Amherst Wordsworth Collection, includes entries for two other editions of Wordsworth produced for blind readers in the nineteenth century.

Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille

Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille.

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A Strength of Snells

A pounce of cats.  A crash of rhinos.  A gaze of raccoons. A prudence of vicars.  A strength of Snells.

Whenever I think of the Snell family of Western Massachusetts, I think of collective nouns, especially the entertaining “terms of venery.” The Snells are such a distinct unit that they seem to demand their own term.  There are a lot of them, so there are many lives to follow and stories to be told.  And they’re tight-knit.  Something —  maybe it’s from those early days as a big family in North Brookfield – bound them together, even when some of them ended up on the other side of the country.  So there’s a strength to them as a group, and that suggests their term, a “strength of Snells.” It’s not as colorful as “a murder of crows,” but it certainly describes the Snells.

The Snells are of particular interest to us because of their links to Amherst College.  If you’re even a little familiar with Amherst’s early history, you’re likely to have heard of Professor Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876), known to his family as Strong.  Strong was about 14 when his father, Reverend Thomas Snell, a trustee of Williams College, was meeting with other trustees to discuss whether Williams should move to Hampshire County, and Strong was a student at Williams College during the September 1818 “Convention of the Congregational and Presbyterian Clergy,” when his father participated in discussions about an institution of higher learning in Amherst.  To make a long, complicated story short, a new college was finally formed in Amherst and Reverend Snell’s old friend President Zephaniah Swift Moore of Williams was chosen to lead it.  Shortly thereafter, in September 1821, Strong Snell and a small group of students accompanied Moore from Williams College to Amherst to open the new institution.

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