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Archive for August, 2012

The recent news of a daguerreotype that just might be another portrait of Emily Dickinson is a reminder of the collaborative nature of archival work and intellectual labor in general. That story is one of a private collector who worked closely with the staff and resources at the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, the Emily Dickinson Museum, Dickinson scholars (particularly Polly Longsworth and  Martha Nell Smith), and others to assemble the evidence now being presented for further discussion. Follow the links in this paragraph to keep up with the latest news about this image.

We are pleased to announce a new Dickinson-related artifact that has come to light via another collaborator in our archival and scholarly enterprise: the antiquarian trade. Ian Brabner, a specialist in 18th and 19th-century American rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera, offered us two copies of the Eleventh Annual Catalogue of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for the academic year 1847-1848. We quickly accepted this offer and purchased the items for our collections, where both copies are now fully cataloged and available to researchers.

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One of the projects that has been under way all summer is sorting through the estimated 16,000 uncataloged books and periodicals currently housed in our offsite storage facility — The Bunker. The story of The Bunker is a fascinating one, but today’s theme is the bibliographical gems we keep turning up as we work our way through the backlog.

For example, this copy of the first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce:

Ulysses. Paris, 1922.

Ulysses. (Paris, 1922)

As with many of the great books in our collections, this item was given to Amherst College by an alumnus. Wilfred B. Hadley (AC 1921) purchased this volume while visiting Paris and donated it to the college in October 1971. I was particularly excited to discover that this copy is in its original blue and white paper wrappers, unlike our other copy of the 1922 Ulysses, which was rebound in cloth. Although the copy shown here is not in perfect condition, it is wonderful to have this book in its original binding.

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Detail from daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson

In this week’s post, guest blogger Polly Longsworth writes about a work in the Dickinson family library.

The year after he graduated from Yale College in 1823, Edward Dickinson purchased a two-volume edition of Washington Irving’s terrifically popular Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. The book contained fourteen fictional stories, including “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” that Irving had written early in his career and published individually as pamphlets. More recently, clever publishers had begun to bind the pamphlets into book form. Twenty-one-year-old Edward scooped up a copy of the Fourth American Edition of The Sketch Book, published by C.S. Van Winkle of New York in 1824. He immediately wrote his name and the date of acquisition, 1824, on the flyleaf of both volumes.

Edward Dickinson’s signature (AC-ED239)

Fifty years later, around the time of Edward’s death in June 1874, his daughter Emily lifted the title from the big brown bookcase in the Homestead Library and scissored out the two flyleaves bearing her father’s signatures. At some time in the weeks and months to follow, she inverted the sheets and wrote a poem in pencil in each of the empty spaces yawning above his upside-down name. One poem begins, “The most pathetic thing I do\ Is play I hear from you -” (AC-ED412; Fr.1345); the other begins, “I send you a decrepit flower” (AC-ED239; Fr1346). Possibly she wrote the poems directly into the books and later scissored them out. We simply don’t know, although we do realize from other evidence that the poet had few qualms about scissoring items from books on the family shelves.

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The records of the Amherst College Anti-Slavery Society provide an interesting glimpse into a formative period in College history. In addition to detailing the early history of activism about race at Amherst, they show the first strong challenge to the administration by students of the college.

The Anti-Slavery Society was founded on July 19, 1833, just two weeks after the formation of the Amherst College and Amherst Colonization Society. Both groups were intended as local chapters of state or national organizations, and their activities on campus mirrored the debate playing out on the national level.

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