college_seal_1825aWhen Amherst College was founded in the early 19th century, part of its raison d’être (aside from being a protest against Harvard’s Unitarianism) was to educate young men to go out into the world and preach the gospel.  The College seal illustrates this philosophy: “Terras Irradient” – “let them enlighten the lands.” However, by the end of the century graduates’ interests had evolved to something in addition to religious instruction, or something entirely different.  Graduates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were still going into the world as missionaries, but by then the work often meant starting schools or becoming medical missionaries.  Other alumni were writers, doctors, teachers, publishers, ambassadors, “industrial barons,” and in many other professions far removed from those of the first Amherst graduates.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

For Laurens Hickok Seelye, Class of 1911, “Terras Irradient” meant that he would teach philosophy at the American University of Beirut (AUB, known at the time as the Syrian Protestant College), where he moved in 1919 with his indefatigable wife Kate Chambers Seelye, daughter of missionaries William and Cornelia Chambers.  For Kate the move was a return home after her college years in the U.S. (Kate was born and raised in Turkey but left to attend Bryn Mawr and Columbia).  For Laurens the Middle East was something entirely new, and he threw himself into its culture unreservedly.  Professor Seelye probably stood out everywhere he went for his height, his humor, and his intense intellect.  And he loved AUB.  He loved it for its diversity, tolerance, and collegiality.  In a memorable letter to an old friend, he described both himself and the college:

WCSB-LHS-to-Dorry[Robbins]-1928-Aug-excerptIn addition to testing boundaries and teaching philosophy, Laurens acted as the director of West Hall, which was and still is the student campus center.  In that position, he came to know more students than he would otherwise have known.  After he had settled in at AUB, Laurens noticed a need for something else – financial assistance for ambitious young Armenian refugees to continue their education beyond what the Near East Relief provided.  This organization had established orphanages to help with Armenian refugees who had flooded into the area during and after World War I.  They provided a basic education to about age 16, at which time the boys left the orphanages to fend for themselves.  Because of Kate’s personal connection with the Armenian community and Laurens’ work at the college, several of these boys came to the Seelyes to ask for help.  Laurens decided to do what he could as a personal project, outside of his work at AUB.

In a letter to Clarence Young, an uncle, Laurens described the situation and his plan to help.  He said that there was no provision to train the Armenian refugees beyond a trade-school education, no resources to train teachers, doctors, dentists, pastors, and other professionals.  “I am right up against young life determined to win out and get an education if given half a chance,” Laurens wrote to Clarence.  The world “can do nothing in the future without an educated and large-minded minority scattered through the races and nations who are willing to stake their lives and reputations on the practice of Good Will.”  Would his uncle share his plea with churches and schools and clubs at home and ask if they might raise funds to support some of these boys?






The plan worked.  Laurens and his donors were able to provide funds for a long list of boys to continue their educations.  The boys were mostly Armenians, but there were also boys of other backgrounds.

In 1923 a few of these boys met with Laurens and came away with the idea  of forming an Armenian Students Cooperative Association.  The club started with the goal of finding an affordable living space that a handful of students could share, splitting the cost of food, rent, and a cook (the latter after one of the boys inadvertently fried up his tie with some eggplants).  The club was sufficiently popular that it had to expand to two clubs and two houses.  A few of its members weren’t even Armenians, which pleased Laurens because it realized his goal of having the students regard themselves as “humans first, Armenians second,” by which he meant that he wanted his students to recognize their common humanity, and to work to improve conditions for all.

Club members lived, worked, and played together. Click below to enlarge the photographs and view them as a gallery.


The club also issued annual reports, three of which (1923-24; 1924-25; and 1926-27) are in the collection.  The reports demonstrate the democratic philosophy they practiced:

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.


The Seelyes were friends with several of these students for decades; in fact, there are letters in the collection from the club’s founder, Dicran Berberian, that date from the 1960s.  The existence of the club is a testament to the industry of the students, but also to Laurens’ teaching.  In his own way, he had realized Amherst’s motto, “Terras Irradiant.”


The material illustrated here is from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Family Papers in the Archives and Special Collections.  Contact the department for more details.

One of the best parts about working in archives is getting to “discover” things – maybe a first edition in a box of uncataloged books, or fascinating images in a box only labeled “negatives” – things that weren’t lost, exactly, but whose awesomeness went previously unrecognized.

A few months ago, I was gathering together all of our material on the Amherst College student radio station, WAMH (previously WAMF). They had recently donated a couple boxes of records and I wanted to integrateWAMH audio reels and make a finding aid for all the material they have given us over the years (WAMH/WAMF Records). I found three boxes of reel to reel audio tapes of shows that had been broadcast in the 1950s-70s and given to us in 1989. The tapes included all kinds of intriguing topics from Neils Bohr lecturing on Atomic Theory in 1957 to students protesting the Vietnam War. Most interesting was one reel reading: Martin Luther King, Pres. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaking at the New School for Social Research on “The Summer of Our Discontent” from February 1964. An internet search quickly revealed that the New School Archives holds a recording of the question and answer session from this lecture, but not a recording of the lecture itself, and that this is most likely a unique recording of the speech. We had the tape digitized and got in touch with our colleagues at The New School Archives, who were pleased to learn that we had found this additional documentation from an important event in their history.


Dr. King speaking at The New School

Dr. King speaking at The New School

In the Spring of 1964, The New School hosted a 15 lecture series, The American Race Crisis Lecture Series, featuring 15 civil rights leaders in the United States and attended by hundreds of students. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. opened the series on February 6 with a lecture on the tumultuous summer of 1963. King began by asking the question, why 1963? The answers included disillusionment with progress in desegregation, the failure of political parties to live up to their promises, administrative action focused solely on voting rights and the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation highlighting the paucity of progress since 1863. After a review of the history of African American political action since the Emancipation Proclamation, finishing with the events of 1963 in Birmingham, King brought to the fore the value of nonviolent tactics to the movement. In closing, King called for continued action in 1964, including the passage of the Civil Rights Bill (which happened four days after the speech). The bulk of the speech was published, revised and much expanded, in the first two chapters of King’s 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait.

The question and answer period following the speech (available in The New School Digital Collections) is just as fascinating as the speech itself. King responds to questions about the Black Muslim movement, a perceived “bog down” in civil rights activity following the March on Washington, and affirmative action (although not by that name). The story of the initial discovery of The New School’s recording and their subsequent exhibition on the American Race Crisis Lecture Series can be found in the following articles:


On December 8th, 1964, at 6pm, Amherst College students could have tuned in to WAMF and heard Dr. King’s speech rebroadcast on the Lecture Hall program. The Lecture Hall was a twice weekly program of pre-recorded lectures, some given at Amherst College and some obtained through agreements with other institutions. Les Black, class of 1966, was the program manager of WAMF in 1964 and hosted the Lecture Hall program. It is his voice that you hear at the beginning and end of the recording linked above. He recalls that at the time, “a lot was going on and there was no Facebook, no YouTube, not much alternative media yet. College radio stations like WAMF played a key role by giving students a way to hear about it.”

While it is very exciting to be able to add this small piece to the documentation of the rich and important life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this recording can be heard not just as an historical artifact, but as a call to reflect on current events. 2014 and 2015 have also been years of turmoil, protest and nonviolent action against racism. And while the terrain has shifted, many of King’s analyses and calls to action are still relevant today.

Many thanks to Wendy Scheir of The New School Archives for generously sharing her experience and background materials, Les Black for his recollections of WAMF and the Lecture Hall program, SceneSavers in Covington, KY for digitizing the audio reel, and WAMH for starting this whole thing off! 

[Note: since this will be my last post on The Consecrated Eminence, I feel no need to apologize for opening with such a horrible pun.]

The Howard B. Hamilton Japanese Theater Papers will be an extraordinary resource for the study of both Japanese culture and theater performance. It documents the frankly amazing avocational activity of an American medical researcher in post-World War II Japan who, over the course of 30 years, went on to become one of the leading performers on the noh stage – quite unusual for any non-Japanese.


Howard B. Hamilton, MD (1918-2007)

Hamilton’s papers, consisting chiefly of photographic images, programs, albums, film, video, and printed matter, were acquired as a gift five years ago and are now being arranged, described and prepared for research use. Work on the collection has been challenging and time-consuming, since none of us here professes any expert knowledge in Japanese noh theater. (Archival processing always has an educational element.)

How Hamilton, an American-born, Yale-trained physician and medical researcher, found his artistic calling in the esoteric realm of Japanese noh theater is hard to fathom, but one is inclined to behold his work as a genuine example of cosmically cross-cultural aesthetic affinity. Aside from some basic facts, we know little about Dr. Hamilton: undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester, Yale Medical School, wartime service in the U.S. Navy, biochemistry research after the war at Mass General and Harvard; then, in 1956, a move to Hiroshima, Japan, to research the effects of radiation on atomic bomb survivors as Chief of Clinical Laboratories for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (1956-1975) and later the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (1975-1984). Though his medical research was important (well documented in his medical papers at the Houston Academy of Medicine), it was in Japan that Dr. Hamilton discovered his passion, Japanese theater, and noh in particular.


The noh stage at the Itsukushima shrine, built on the beach of Miyajima Island and often surrounded by shallow water. Hamilton performed here annually for many years.

The oldest extant theater tradition in the world, noh is a highly symbolic, aesthetic, non-realistic, poetic monodrama with origins in dance and religious ceremony in Japan and China. It was perfected to its present form in the 14th century. Noh’s three elements are song, dance and drama. It is performed by elegantly costumed and often masked actor-dancers on an uncluttered stage devoid of realistic scenery or props. The highlight of noh drama is the dance section, consisting of abstract movement and gesture in a symbolic pantomime of verses chanted by a chorus. Noh is a “monodrama” in the sense that it is completely dominated by the leading role: as Paul Claudel has observed, “In western drama, something happens; in noh, someone appears.” Song is always present; dance and drama only sometimes. Its effect is sculptural (a square stage viewed from the front and sides) rather than pictorial, as in traditional western theater.

Shortly after his arrival in Hiroshima, Hamilton met IZUMO Tsunekazu, a professional actor in the Kita Noh school. He began taking weekly lessons in September 1956. He soon performed various shimai in Hiroshima. (A shimai is a simplified version of noh performed by the shite, or lead role, wearing a crest-adorned kimono and Japanese-style trousers; it generally involves no masks, costumes or props, with the exception of a long sword or cane.)


Hamilton being dressed for a performance of Kurozuka at the Miyajima noh stage, 1965.


Kurozuka, 1965

In 1959 Dr. Hamilton was involved in his first public noh performance as the shite in Chikubushima. His first performance on a true noh stage was in Miyajima, the ancient stage at Itsukushima Shrine, as part of its annual Tokasai Festival. He generally performed twice a year: once on temporary stages in Hiroshima, and again at Miyajima. Eventually he also performed at the Kita Noh stage in Tokyo and elsewhere. For the benefit of English-speaking attendees at Miyajima, Dr. Hamilton prepared summaries of the plays in English, and translations of the play in which he performed.


Hamilton’s English translation of Yorimasa, ca. 1980), mounted in a beautiful album with photographs, as he did for all the noh plays in which he acted. 


Kurozuka, 1965

In processing the Hamilton Papers, I have discovered how impossible it is to appreciate noh except by experiencing it in performance. (There are many videos on YouTube that impart a sense of it, but even these I have found wanting.)

Describing the “action” of a noh performance is a rather superficial exercise. For example, a synopsis of Kazuraki goes something like this: “Three priests who have journeyed to Mt. Kazuraki are given shelter from the snow by a woman. Later, she asks them to pray for her to relieve her suffering. When questioned, she reveals that she is the goddess of the mountain and is being punished for having failed in her duty once in the past. Later, she reappears in her true form and, having been saved from further punishment by the prayers of the priests, performs a dance for them in gratitude.”


Hamilton portraying the old woman in Kazuraki, 1969. Laying down a sprig of leaves before the priests as she prepares a fire for them, the chorus intones words that speak of the evanescence of life – like lightning, morning dew, or the sparks that issue from her flint as she lights the fire.


Hamilton’s English summary from the Kazuraki album.

The Howard B. Hamilton Japanese Theater Papers include much information about noh based on the extensive research he did for his slide lecture-demonstrations, which he gave many times a year in Japan and the U.S. – even at medical conferences. He became a collector of costumes, masks and props, some of which are held at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum.


Contact sheet of Dr.  Hamilton’s extensive collection of slides depicting noh masks.


Noh mask called “Manbi.”

Aside from Hamilton’s subject files, the albums, containing English summaries and images from noh performances, make up the most useful part of the collection for researchers who are new to this ancient theatrical art form. In addition, thousands of color slides, photographic prints and and film and video footage will make this a very rich resource.


Remembering John Trudell

AlcatrazisnotanIsland picture

Native American poet, activist, and performer John Trudell died earlier this week. Obituaries and tributes can be found online in publications ranging from Indian Country Today to the New York Times. We have several works in the Archives & Special Collections by and about this remarkable man.

The image above is taken from the book Alcatraz Is Not an Island, a collection of poems, artwork, and assorted documents about the takeover and occupation of Alcatraz by Native activists from November 1969 through June 1971. Trudell became one of the primary spokesmen for the occupation and is sometimes called “the voice of Alcatraz.”


The Alcatraz takeover was just one of many political actions by the American Indian Movement and its allies during the turbulent period of the 1960s and 1970s. More information about this event and Trudell’s role in it can be found throughout the collection, in books like Alcatraz! Alcatraz! published 20 years after the event:

John Trudell was active in the American Indian Movement throughout the 1970s, and made frequent appearances in the underground press of the time. The Marshall Bloom Alternative Press Collection includes a substantial run of Akwesasne Notes, a major source of information about Indigenous activism:

The Archives holds a copy of Living in Reality: A Story of Struggle (1982), which collects writings by Trudell and others, along with transcripts from the trials of several activists.

Society of the People

The phrase “Living in Reality” also appears on the cover of Trudell’s book Songs Called Poems, published in the same year.

Living In Reality

Trudell never stopped speaking out in defense of Indigenous rights, the health of the planet, and the rights of all people to live healthy and meaningful lives. Hundreds of videos of Trudell speaking and performing his poetry can be found on Youtube and elsewhere. In addition to his writing and activism, he also acted in several feature films, including Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals.


Anyone interested in the life and words of John Trudell is invited to use the resources available in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

Student Activism on Campus

Yesterday and today at Amherst and at institutions of higher education throughout the United States, students have gathered to demand a more “just and inclusive environment” on college campuses.  The Frost Library is honored to be a site of this student movement on campus.

Amherst students have a long history of speaking out on issues of race and of public demonstration on campus.  Evidence of past student activism on campus can be found in the Archives and Special Collections.

The Race and Rebellion at Amherst College exhibition is currently on exhibit in the Archives and Special Collections and in the Lobby of Frost Library.  This exhibit “explores the history of student activism and black lives on campus from the 1820s to the present day.  From the founding of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 to the Moratorium on Black Dissatisfaction in May 1969 to the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot! walkout in December 2014.”


1833 Anti-Slavery Society: Records of the Anti-Slavery Society, founded on July 19, 1833, show an early history of activism around race at Amherst and evidence of the first strong challenge to the administration by students of the college.

April 1969 Moratorium: In the spring of 1969, student grievances over College governance, coeducation, the Vietnam War, and race relations on campus led to a two day suspension of classes.  Faculty stated their intent for the moratorium:  “The moratorium can be a constructive period of self-appraisal and provide the framework within which students, faculty, administration and staff can for the first time devote full energies in this way to the questions of education and Amherst College; however, this period will be fruitful only with full participation by all members of the college community.”

pages from “Amherst: A Black Perspective” ca. 1973

May 1969 Moratorium: On May 14, 1969, at the instigation of the College’s Afro-American Society, Amherst held a Black Moratorium, in which seminars were held to address issues of race relations and black dissatisfaction. (This event contributed to the College’s decision to found the Black Studies Department in 1970.)

May 5, 1970 National Student Strike: On May 5, 1970, students and faculty of Amherst College joined more than 1,250 other colleges and universities in a nationwide student strike.  The May 7, 1970 Amherst Student strike resulted in a call by students and faculty to insure justice and full constitutional freedoms for Americans of all races.


Photograph from May 7, 1970 student strike

May 1992 Converse Hall Sit-In: In response to the non-guilty verdict for police officers charged in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, Amherst students took over Converse Hall and issued eight demands, including demands for the hiring of more faculty and administrators of color, as well as an affirmative action officer.


Amherst Student May 6, 1992

Here in the Archives, both on exhibit and in our collections, we have documented evidence of past student activism and protests on campus.  This material is freely accessible to all students and the public.

Yama Yama Halloween

Need an idea for Halloween? See the photograph below from a costume party in Turkey, ca. 1920-21, except for the French soldiers, who are real and probably on duty (which doesn’t rule out their garb for your party purposes). The other men are in “Pierrot” costume, perhaps inspired on this occasion by the popularity of “Yama Yama Man,” a strange song and dance routine not to be missed for your daily dose of weirdness from another place and time.

The photograph is from an album formerly belonging to Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers (Blaisdell), daughter of missionaries William N. and Cornelia P.W. Chambers.  Dorothea, a Bryn Mawr graduate, was a hardworking but fun-loving woman who grew up in Turkey and worked there for the YWCA before her marriage in 1926.  She is probably the photographer here.

Friends of Dot Chambers in Turkey (probably Adana).  Photograph from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Papers.

That the Yama Yama dance was popular is clear from this photograph of the 10th reunion (in 1912) of the Class of 1902.

The Class of 1902 at their decennial reunion, June 24 1912. Published in

The Class of 1902 at their decennial reunion, June 24 1912. Published in “College on the Hill.”

Yama Yama Man continued to appear through subsequent decades, including in this album’s title and in one of its tracks.

Chris Barber Band, album ca. 1960.

Chris Barber Band, album ca. 1960.

If anyone ever wanted proof that our small college’s archives has everything from soup to nuts, here it is, our own Yama Yama Man costume (or most of one), a gift from the family of Arthur F. Ells, Class of 1902, who owned it originally and is no doubt in the reunion photograph above.

Portion of a Yama Yama Man costume used by the Class of 1902 in 1912.

Portion of a Yama Yama Man costume used by the Class of 1902 in 1912.

tickets from 1891, 1926 and 1937In honor of Homecoming Weekend, and the Amherst vs Wesleyan football game tomorrow, here are a few glimpses of past games, mostly from our Athletics Collection. Here’s hoping the score tomorrow is more like the one in 1915 or 1935, and less like 1899!


One hundred years ago this weekend, Amherst won against Wesleyan, 10-6. According to the student newspaper “Despite the fact that the deciding touchdown was scored on a fumble, the victory was deserved, the Purple and White eleven making eleven first downs to their opponents’ seven.”


November 18, 1899 – Wesleyan won, 40-0 (!)

October 22, 1927

October 22, 1927 – Wesleyan won, 20-12

October 26, 1935

October 26, 1935 – Amherst won, 26-0

October 23, 1937 - Amherst won, 12-2

October 23, 1937 – Amherst won, 12-2

October 22, 1949 - Amherst won, 14-7

October 22, 1949 – Amherst won, 14-7


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