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Archive for the ‘Edward “Old Doc” Hitchcock (AC 1849)’ Category

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A few weeks ago I wrote about our facial goniometer, an instrument that measures the precise angles of the human face, and wondered whether it had been acquired by Amherst’s college physician and professor of physical education and hygiene Edward “Doc” Hitchcock (AC 1849). This led me to further pondering about the interesting 19th century origins of anthropometry, the science of measurements and proportions of the human body. (more…)

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Appleton Museum GuideWhen Millicent Todd Bingham and Richard Sewall wrote their biographies of Emily Dickinson, they each included a section about the influence upon the poet of President Edward Hitchcock and Amherst College. Bingham and Sewall sought to show that one can see in Dickinson’s poems – in her ideas, imagery, and unexpected vocabulary – the effect of Hitchcock and the college he helped establish.

The science cabinets at the College were among Dickinson’s Amherst-related influences.  They housed specimens of minerals, shells, fossils, and animals gathered by Hitchcock and his colleagues over the course of their careers and were important campus attractions.  Edward Dickinson, the poet’s father, contributed $50 to the Woods cabinet and $100 to Appleton, and his children were no doubt part of the thousands of people who visited them over the decades. There is evidence that Emily attended the opening of the Woods Cabinet (mineralogy, meteorology, geology) in the Octagon in 1848, and she probably also visited the Appleton Cabinet (zoology and ichnology) when it opened in 1855.

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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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