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Archive for the ‘Amherst College Presidents’ Category

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Charles Thompson, custodian at Amherst College for more than 40 years in the second half of the 19th century – do you know him?  Have you seen photographs of him before, perhaps in an old Olio yearbook?  For over 40 years Amherst students graduated and left town with a photograph of Charles Thompson in their copies of the yearbook.  Thompson was deeply connected with the College, and with the students’ experience of it, and there is no doubt that those who knew him remembered him fondly.

Most of what we know about Thompson’s life comes from a volume written to raise money for Thompson’s old age by President William Augustus Stearns’ daughter Abigail Eloise LeeI’ve looked at the book many times over the years, both for the purpose of learning about Thompson’s life and to find details about the College and town during those days.  Recently I looked at it again and this time I happened to focus on a passage in which Lee mentions Thompson’s experiences as a sailor.  I’d never noticed this information enough to wonder about it, but this time I did.

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1830-Tyler-Wm-1837-Jan-30-p4-to-bro-Wellington-env

An old letter is like a present.  Its handwriting is the wrapping paper: before you can see or know the present, you have to unwrap it.  The present may be lousy, something you’ll quickly forget.  Or it might be something you keep, something you take with you, maybe even something that changes your life.  But you’ll never know until you unwrap it.

Sometimes a present is for sharing, like the one-pound chocolate bar in your colleague’s desk drawer.  I recently unwrapped such a present –a letter full of delicious nuggets — and want to share it with you because it has lingered in my mind ever since I first read it.

Tyler-WS-fr-autobio-ca1840The letter is from William Seymour Tyler, Class of 1830, to his brother Wellington Hart Tyler, Class of 1831.  The letter is dated January 30, 1837, when both men were in their mid-twenties.  Wellington (apparently nicknamed “Edward”) was principal at an academy in Manlius, New York, while William was at Amherst College teaching Latin and Greek and heading into his glory days as the man whose tardiness inspired the founding of the Philopogonian Society. We often think of Edward Hitchcock, professor and president, as the emblem of early Amherst College, but Tyler was here just as long and served just as devotedly. His “History of Amherst College” continues to be a very valuable, reliable resource, and he was the author of other, more modest works, including the nicely named “Why Sit Ye Here Idle?” (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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Our objects collection houses many of the things you might expect: reunion badges, fraternity pins, endless college mugs and tshirts… but it also contains a wide variety of surprises.
Here are a few for your enjoyment:
(click on the images for more information)

These tiny shoes and bracelets are part of a complete Turkish young girl’s outfit belonging to Laura Bliss, daughter of Edwin Bliss (Class of 1837) who was a missionary to Turkey from 1843 until 1852. Laura was born in 1846 and was six years old when her family left Turkey. She received this costume as a gift sometime before then. What you can’t tell from the images is how very small the shoes are – they range in length from 6 to 7.5 inches – they would likely fit a preschooler.

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We named this blog “The Consecrated Eminence” partly as a self-conscious salute to the high-flown rhetoric of the 19th century, the kind of flowery language that many of us here in the Archives & Special Collections have a fondness for. Of course it sounds bombastic and stuffy to modern ears – but, as I hope our posts over the past two years have shown, we’re not! In any case, when we started the blog, we said that the earliest appearance we could find of the phrase “the consecrated eminence” was in the first issue of the College’s earliest student publication, The Sprite, dated May 1831. In this inaugural issue, the editors appeal to its readers (the Amherst student body) to support this new venture:

Our habitations, moreover, are small and we are but a weak people; we therefore apply for aid to you, inhabitants of the “consecrated eminence”; on you rest all our hopes and expectations…. (p. 2)

But those quotation marks clearly suggest that it is a reference to an even earlier source. As it happens, I believe I’ve found that source. I know our readers have been waiting breathlessly for any news on this issue, so without further ado, here it is.

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Those who work in digital collections often talk about supporting scholarship and new research. While that’s certainly an important endeavor, occasionally it can be fun to explore the wacky and weird in the archives without necessarily having higher academic pursuit in mind.

Full-length portrait of Edward Hitchcock

Edward Hitchcock

Since December 2013, I have been working closely with the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock collection held by Amherst College. As the Metadata Resident, I look at individual objects in depth to attach titles, dates, subject headings, and abstracts (among other things) to these items to make them discoverable in our online collections in Amherst College Digital Collections (ACDC). I have read nearly all of the letters that passed between Edward Hitchcock and Benjamin Silliman, have read pages upon pages of sermons written by Hitchcock during his early career as a Congregationalist minister, and have become quite the expert at reading Hitchcock’s notoriously bad handwriting. In all, I’ve read over 200 letters, 144 sermons, 28 sermon outlines, packets of lecture notes on botany, chemistry, and natural history, and much, much more. Often, I come across passages, phrases, or situations that strike me as funny and I thought I’d share some of them.

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