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Archive for the ‘Manuscripts’ Category

[Note: since this will be my last post on The Consecrated Eminence, I feel no need to apologize for opening with such a horrible pun.]

The Howard B. Hamilton Japanese Theater Papers will be an extraordinary resource for the study of both Japanese culture and theater performance. It documents the frankly amazing avocational activity of an American medical researcher in post-World War II Japan who, over the course of 30 years, went on to become one of the leading performers on the noh stage – quite unusual for any non-Japanese.

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Howard B. Hamilton, MD (1918-2007)

Hamilton’s papers, consisting chiefly of photographic images, programs, albums, film, video, and printed matter, were acquired as a gift five years ago and are now being arranged, described and prepared for research use. Work on the collection has been challenging and time-consuming, since none of us here professes any expert knowledge in Japanese noh theater. (Archival processing always has an educational element.)

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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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Professor Snell.
In the tool shed.
With a piece of wood
.

EbSSnell-Snell-house-shed

SnellFP-Bx11-F6-wood-shim

Things are already not what they seem:  Prof. Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876, Class of 1822) was not a murderer, a murder did not take place in his tool shed, and he used the piece of wood as a door wedge.  So why does our title mention “murder,” and why would anyone save such an inconsequential-looking piece of cheap pine long enough for it to enter our archives?

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Initial AA Mellon-funded Five Colleges digitization project began last fall; its goal is to digitize and catalog the manuscripts (created prior to 1600) held by our institutions. The digitized versions will eventually be available through Digital Scriptorium, a database that currently provides access to more than 6,000 manuscripts held at more than 30 institutions.

Later this month, the images of the 24 manuscripts owned by Amherst College will also be accessible via ACDC. You can read a brief overview about these manuscripts here in Lisa Fagin Davis’ blog Manuscript Road Trip. For additional information about several of Mount Holyoke and Smith College’s holdings, check out Brittany Osborne‘s blog Mysteries in the Margins.

So here’s a little sneak preview:

 

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Gibney in 1936 from an advertisement in Fortune magazine for Dictaphone.

A recent acquisition that we purchased at auction was a folder of letters written to Sheridan Gibney (AC 1925). Gibney was a very successful playwright, Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter, and three-time president of the Screenwriter’s Guild. He wrote dozens of successful screenplays, two of which, in particular, became film classics: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), both starring Paul Muni. For the Pasteur biopic, Gibney won two Oscars for Best Writing.

The newly acquired letters will make a good addition to our existing collection of Gibney’s papers.

Gibney’s third and final tenure as president of the Screenwriter’s Guild coincided with the infamous anti-Communist “witch hunt” by the House Un-American Activities Committee beginning in 1947. For that reason, his career is a representative case for the fraught relationship between culture and politics. As he wrote in his brief unpublished memoir (available in his biographical file in the Archives), Gibney always considered himself to be against Communism, but his position as guild president brought his career to a halt when the so-called “unfriendly witnesses” at the House committee hearings implicated the Screenwriter’s Guild as a hotbed of Communism — and Gibney was guilty by association.

Gibney's senior portrait in the 1925 Olio, the college yearbook.

Gibney’s senior portrait in the 1925 Olio, the college yearbook.

His success in drama notwithstanding, Gibney’s great love, especially during his undergraduate years at Amherst, was poetry. Robert Frost considered him one of his best pupils. At one critical point in his undergraduate career, Gibney felt alienated by what he perceived as a lack of intellectual seriousness at Amherst. He considered dropping out to write and travel in Europe, citing Frost as his model: he, Frost, never earned a college degree yet supported himself by writing, teaching and lecturing — even, for a time, farming. (more…)

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Margaret Sutton Briscoe Hopkins

Margaret Sutton Briscoe Hopkins, undated. From the Ladies of Amherst photo album.

Margaret Sutton Briscoe was born at the end of the Civil War–December 1864–in Baltimore, MD, the daughter of a wealthy doctor, Samuel W. Briscoe and his wife, Cornelia Dushane Blacklock Briscoe. Although she had no memories of the war or slavery, the War marked an immense change in her extended family’s fortunes (the Briscoe family owned the large Sotterly plantation on the Chesapeake Bay), and she had strong memories of Reconstruction. Briscoe’s father died when she was two years old, and she, her mother, and infant brother moved in with her maternal grandfather and his wife. According to Briscoe, her grandfather and step-grandmother doted on and clearly preferred her brother. She was educated at home by private tutors and later lamented the fact that she had not gone to school or studied at college, something that “wasn’t done” in the circles she grew up in.

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ImageCelebrity trumps all.

Lawyer, financier, ambassador and US Senator Dwight W. Morrow (Amherst class of 1895) had a brilliant career in business and diplomacy, despite dying at only 58. In the 1920s, his name was often mentioned as a top prospect for Secretary of State or even President. As Ambassador to Mexico (1927-1930) he was very successful, not just for representing American interests (oil, primarily), but for playing an important role in negotiating a solution to the Cristero War in Mexico, which pitted the ruling government against the Catholic Church. His frequent breakfast meetings with Mexican President Calles caused him to be dubbed “the ham and eggs diplomat” by newspaper reporters.

But alas, in the cruel compendium of popular history, what is Morrow mainly known for? Being the father-in-law of Charles Lindbergh. In his recent best-selling pop history of 1920s America (One Summer: America, 1927), Bill Bryson simply characterizes Morrow as a comical tippler with a tendency to be frighteningly absent-minded. Regrettable.

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