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Archive for January, 2019

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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Preserving Modern Books

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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:

 

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