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Archive for September, 2013

It’s time for another visit to the bunker!

We’ve already taken a peek at a few 20th century and 19th century books in our backlog of uncataloged books, now let’s look into some of the many pre-1800 volumes. I find the title page illustrations in these very early volumes especially interesting, here are a few of my favorites:

civil wars in england detail

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Poet James I. Merrill (AC 1947) was a frequent doodler. The margins of his manuscripts are often crowded with small faces that encroach upon the text. Doodling even showed up in his published work: his poetry collection, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, includes a poem about doodling. Appropriately, Merrill doodled on a manuscript copy of the poem. Merrill’s second published novel, The (Diblos) Notebook, is the story of a novelist who doodles and finds other ways to procrastinate instead of working on his novel.

At the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, we hold the manuscript for Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio, which is brimming with doodles. Some, like those below, are faces or other drawings.

Detail of a doodle from The Seraglio, Box III

Detail of a doodle from The Seraglio, Box III, Merrill-Magowan Family Papers, Amherst Archives & Special Collections

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Source: Amherst College Bound Memorabilia, vol. 67, no. 8.

For much of its history, Amherst College was a much smaller place than it is today. Enrollment 100 years ago was just 420 young men; today it is over 1,800 and about evenly divided between males and females. (The student body didn’t expand to anywhere close to its current size until the swell of post-World War II returning soldiers and their subsequent baby-boom offspring made the growth seem inevitable.)

So 19th and early 20th century Amherst was a much quieter place, more intimate — and, one might venture to suppose, more oppressive for that reason. Among the students there was virtually no cultural diversity to speak of; where very little actual distinctions existed, there seemed to have been a need to invent artificial ones. This is how I explain to myself the extremely elaborate system of social rules and distinctions that are documented in the College Archives: seemingly arbitrary rules and distinctions that were erected by the undergraduates themselves.

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