Here is a fun manuscript I ran across recently in our Historical Manuscripts Collection. It is an oration given by student Story Hebard (Class of 1828) on August 27th, 1828 on the topic of “The Temperature of the Interior of the Earth”. Professor Edward Hitchcock (later president of the College from 1845-1854), a noted geologist, had given a copy, in French, of the 1827 Essay on the Temperature of the Interior of the Earth by L. Cordier to the Junior class at Amherst (a mere 40 students), who were so taken with it that they promptly translated it into English and at the urging of Professor Hitchcock had it published in 1828. Hebard’s oration summarizes the extensive research and conclusions drawn by Cordier and adds the numerous additional theories of the student translators that are shared in published essay in the “Note to the Translation.” I find this a fascinating view into cutting edge science in the early 19th century, with its mixture of hard data, enduring discoveries and utter crack-pottery. Of particular interest are the efforts to support biblical veracity using science, a priority for Hitchcock and many other scientists of his day (see Hitchcock’s Religion of Geology).
Archive for December, 2011
Buried in the papers of Willard L. Thorp, who was at the time Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and U.S. delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, we found this puzzling “secret” document dated February 17, 1949. In reading the heavily footnoted “Prayer for Kiselev’s Recovery,” we realized that we had found a rare recorded instance of edgy, high-level diplomatic humor. The document pretends to be a secret memorandum circulated to members of the Council of Foreign Ministers in response to the illness of a top-level Russian diplomat. Formed in 1945, the Council of Foreign Ministers gave representatives of the Four Powers (Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.) a forum for crafting peace settlements among and between European countries in the aftermath of World War II. Appreciating this high-stakes humor requires some close reading, as well as some knowledge of both the tenets of Marxism and the course of post-war diplomacy.
Nearly every student who has attended Amherst College is represented in the Alumni Biographical Files collection, which documents the lives of alumni from 1821 to the present. Biographical files may contain as little as basic information about a student’s enrollment dates at the college, or may contain many folders of items related to alumni lives and careers, depending on how much material has been gathered or donated for each student. Calvin Coolidge’s “bio file” is equal in size to a small manuscript collection, while others contain just enough for one folder.
Questions and requests from researchers frequently send us to these biographical files, giving us the opportunity to learn about some fascinating Amherst alumni. Looking into these files allows us to rediscover their contributions and learn something about the social and cultural contexts for their work. One of the alumni who came to our attention this way was educator Charles Henry Moore.
While most people associate Amherst College with poets like Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost, few realize that we are also home to one of the leading collections of underground newspapers from the 1960s and 70s. Marshall Bloom came to Amherst College in the fall of 1962 and graduated with the class of 1966. He participated fully in the civil rights movement that was sweeping across college campuses during that time, and he soon became a major force in the development of the alternative press in the United States. More details of his life are available in the Biographical Note section of the finding aid to The Marshall Bloom Papers held by the Archives & Special Collections.