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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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One of the strengths of the Emily Dickinson Collection at Amherst College is the large number of manuscript fragments — scraps of paper, pieces of envelopes, and a range of other ephemera on which Dickinson jotted a few lines, or even entire poems. One such fragment is identified by Thomas Johnson as “Prose Fragment #96” in his edition of Dickinson’s letters. It’s Amherst manuscript #868: “Of our deepest delights”

Emily Dickinson. "Of our deepest delights" Amherst #868

Emily Dickinson. “Of our deepest delights” Amherst #868

This fragment is clearly a piece of a concert program, but no one seems ever to have done the work to find out more about this piece. Fortunately, there is an important clue present on both sides of the paper:

Emily Dickinson. "Of our deepest delights" Verso.

Emily Dickinson. “Of our deepest delights” Verso.

If the program had been torn in half just a little higher up the page, the name Howard Parkhurst might have been lost. As it is, a quick check of the Amherst College Biographical Record (Sesquicentennial Edition, 1973) reveals that he was a member of the Class of 1873. It also tells us that he studied music in Stuttgart, Munich, and Berlin as well as Liverpool between 1873 and 1875. From 1875 – 1882 he taught music and served as organist for various churches around Boston, then it was back to Germany for a couple of years to study with Rheinberger and Kellarmann. Finally, Parkhurst settled in New York city where he taught music and published books about birds from 1884 until his death in 1916.

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In some parallel universe, an Amherst College student might wake up in the morning, leave their dorm room in East College, skirt by Stearns Church on their way to class in Walker Hall, then go for a little exercise – perhaps in Barrett gymnasium or Pratt Natatorium. If they twisted an ankle? Off to Milliken Infirmary. After dinner in Hitchcock Hall, some study time in Morgan Library, a refreshing drink from the College Well and a quick trip to visit the fossils in Appleton Cabinet.
What?
This doesn’t sound like Amherst? Let’s take a little tour of some of the bygone buildings of Amherst College.

East College building

East College and Stearns Church

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1974 Black Studies brochure

We may not normally think of the establishment of an academic department as an event with political significance, but sometimes social change can lead directly to recognition of necessary parallel changes in scholarship and academic culture. The establishment of the Black Studies Department at Amherst College is one example of this. Amherst College Archives and Special Collections contains records, clippings and publications across several collections which together document the story of how the department came to be.

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