Amherst College Bicentennial 1821 2021

When Amherst officially opened in 1821, it had one building, a president, two professors and 47 students. The College has grown over time, but an Amherst education is still personal, dynamic and rigorous. Our professors are among the foremost authorities in their fields and they work with students every day, in and out of class, as teachers, advisers and mentors.

A black and white photo of a man in glasses wearing a graduation cap

The Three Prophecies of Alexander Meiklejohn

Robert Howard '76 looks back at June 22, 1921, to a remarkable speech given at Amherst’s centennial celebration by the College’s then-president, Alexander Meiklejohn.

A book entitled Amherst College Announcement of Courses 1972–1973

Explore Early Amherst Course Catalogs

Course catalogs are more than lists of classes; they're a window into the intellectual life of a time and place. For example, in the 1840s, Amherst had three terms instead of semesters, and in the 1920s students still had to study Latin. 

Academic Department Histories

At Amherst’s founding, there were no academic departments and only one course of studythe ministry. Over time, the curriculum expanded to include majors in the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities. During the summer of 2020, Amherst student research interns explored the origins, popular classes and long-serving professors in a handful of Amherst academic departments. We’re happy to share their findings.

Classics: One of the First Amherst Departments

By Anna Smith '22

The study of Greek and Latin was once the heart of Amherst College and academia at large, from coursework to fraternities to the theater, even before the Amherst classics department came into existence. These ancient languages also dictated who enrolled at Amherst, as when the College first opened in 1821, there was no standardized test or application process. Instead, prospective students in the 19th century were given examinations in a variety of subjects. The game Would You Get Into Amherst in 1842? uses Greek and Latin exercises from the period to simulate these examinations.

The Departments of Greek and Latin were two of the first departments at the College after its curriculum was reorganized in 1884. Until the 1933-34 academic year, all students were required to study Latin prior to graduation. This required knowledge of ancient languages led to a greater sense of commonality, as this knowledge was used in commencement addresses, fraternal organizations and the theater. Staged readings or performances in Greek were performed across campus as late as the 1970s, and small class sizes often resulted in close relationships with professors. However, the study of ancient languages is traditionally associated with elitism and privilege, and this sense of commonality was fostered through the exclusion of students who had not studied the ancient languages. As Harold Wade ’68 wrote in the 1976 book Black Men of Amherst, “few blacks had a background in the classics,” leading to a prevailing sense of whiteness within the College. In the academic year 1945-46, the College dropped the ancient language entrance requirement, but many of these sentiments remained.

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Our Faculty

Amherst’s faculty is made up of distinguished professors in every field who regard teaching as a calling and an art. These award-winning scholars, artists, and scientists have prepared thousands of Amherst graduates for successful lives and careers.