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Posts Tagged ‘Edward Hitchcock’

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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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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I really need to get out more. I mean out around campus. Despite having worked at Amherst for over a decade, I somehow never heard about the boulder sitting on the south side of the Octagon until recently. On the occasions I’ve gone past it, I’m sure I didn’t notice it.

A large bowlder and friends

A large bowlder and friends

This may seem like a minor offense – it is, after all, just a rock on campus, right? But knowing the history of the College is mandatory in the archives. It’s our raison d’être. We seek to know everything about our turf, and then to make it possible for others to know it too.

So when I heard about this boulder, I immediately reached into my bag of paranoias: surely I alone was ignorant of the facts surrounding the boulder. I would have to hide my ignorance from my colleagues. My stomach churned.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps other people don’t know about the rock either. On the assumption, therefore, that my reader may also be ignorant of the facts, let me set them down here with the few relevant documents that remain to us.

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fowler-2-detail

You have a hardy, enduring organization indicating a great amount of both mental and physical power. Your head is more than usually uniform in its developments, the brain is large densely organized & well proportioned to the muscular and vital indications. Your constitution favors a combination of mental & physical labor, but in which mind must take the lead and give [word missing] to all your efforts. — Your temperament is not favorable to enthusiasm, ardor & excitement, but inclines you more to cool dispassionate reading and deliberate conclusions, & to patient plodding investigations, yet you are not deficient in mental activity, intensity of thought nor power of feeling but these tendencies are all so regulated as to secure a harmonious and uniform action. The mental tendency is indicated by your large brain, sharpness of feature, and firmness in the texture of organization. The power of endurance whether mental or muscular is seen in the prominent or motive temperament & in the density & compactness of the organization. The continuity and uniformity of mental action is the result of your large Concentrativeness, Cautiousness and Firmness, and a predominance of the reasoning organs….

So begins the report of a phrenological examination of the head of Edward Hitchcock (Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Papers, box 1, folder 2). As such, we have a wonderful case study in 19th-century pseudoscience.

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Pdf of the Oration by Story Hebard, Class of 1828

Here is a fun manuscript I ran across recently in our Historical Manuscripts Collection. It is an oration given by student Story Hebard (Class of 1828) on August 27th, 1828 on the topic of “The Temperature of the Interior of the Earth”. Professor Edward Hitchcock (later president of the College from 1845-1854), a noted geologist, had given a copy, in French, of the 1827 Essay on the Temperature of the Interior of the Earth by L. Cordier to the Junior class at Amherst (a mere 40 students), who were so taken with it that they promptly translated it into English and at the urging of Professor Hitchcock had it published in 1828. Hebard’s oration summarizes the extensive research and conclusions drawn by Cordier and adds the numerous additional theories of the student translators that are shared in published essay in the “Note to the Translation.” I find this a fascinating view into cutting edge science in the early 19th century, with its mixture of hard data, enduring discoveries and utter crack-pottery. Of particular interest are the efforts to support biblical veracity using science, a priority for Hitchcock and many other scientists of his day (see Hitchcock’s Religion of Geology).

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