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Frequently Asked Questions
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Archives and Special Collections is the department of the Library that contains material relating to the history of the College, the official College archives (administrative records), manuscript material (such as literary and historical manuscripts, and personal papers), old and rare books, and a variety of special collections. The department is located on Level A of the Robert Frost Library.
Amherst College was founded in 1821 by Congregational clergy and Amherst citizens including lexicographer Noah Webster and Samuel Fowler Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's grandfather). This group sought to create a non-sectarian institution that would educate young men - especially poor but talented students - for the ministry and other vocations. Amherst today is an independent liberal arts college for young men and women. For more details, see this Chronology of Amherst College or this History of Amherst College.
In November 1974, after four years of formal review, the Board of Trustees determined (by a vote of 15 to 3) that Amherst would become a college for men and women. In Fall 1975, 94 women students began classes at Amherst; 79 of these women were transfer students, and 15 were Twelve College Exchange students. Of these 15, nine chose to complete their degree at Amherst, graduating in the Class of 1976.
In the summer of 1763, attacks by Native Americans against colonists on the western frontier seriously challenged British military control. In a letter to Colonel Henry Bouquet dated July 7, 1763, Amherst writes "Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?" In a later letter to Bouquet Amherst repeats the idea: "You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race." There is evidence that the Captain at Fort Pitt (outside Pittsburgh, PA -- then the western frontier) did give two infected blankets and one infected handkerchief to Indians in June of 1763. This action happened before Amherst mentioned the idea in his correspondence. It is also highly unlikely that the tactic caused any infection.
It is accurate to say that Lord Jeffery Amherst advocated biological warfare against Indians, but there is no evidence that any infected blankets were distributed at his command. For more about Lord Jeffery Amherst's military career, see Professor Kevin Sweeney's article "The Very Model of a Modern Major General." For a detailed examination of Amherst's role in the Fort Pitt smallpox episode, see "The British, the Indians, and Smallpox: What Actually Happened at Fort Pitt in 1763?" by Philip Ranlet.
Neesima was the first Japanese graduate of Amherst (Class of 1870), and the founder of Doshisha University in Kyoto. His portrait hangs in Johnson Chapel.
Uchimura was the second Japanese graduate of Amherst (Class of 1887), and a prominent missionary and Christian scholar in Japan. His portrait hangs on the north wall of Level 1 of the Robert Frost Library, outside the Research & Instruction offices.
The Archives and Special Collections maintains a biographical file on nearly every alumnus of the College. Brief information, in a "Who's Who"-type format, can be found in various editions of the Biographical Record, published at intervals—the 1973 edition is the most complete and useful for older alumni (before 1950). It is available at the Library's Reference Desk and in the general stacks of Frost (call number: LD152.4 .A5 1973). A copy is also available in the Higgins College History Room of the Archives and Special Collections. If you have a specific question, please e-mail us.
7. Where can I find some information about an Amherst building?
Stanley King's book The Consecrated Eminence is the best quick reference source. It is available at the Library's Reference Desk and in the general stacks of Frost (call number: LD 153.K5). A copy is also available in the Higgins College History Room of the Archives and Special Collections. The Archives and Special Collections maintains extensive historical files (many of which were used by King), including plans and photographs, on College buildings. If you have a specific question, you may e-mail Archives and Special Collections.
8. How can I find out more about the history of Amherst College?
The Higgins College History Room in Archives and Special Collections has a wide selection of materials by and about the College available for browsing, including complete runs of the Amherst Student (the student newspaper), the Olio (the yearbook), course catalogues, and various historical writings about the College and its alumni. Some of these College publications are also in the general stacks of the Library.
Several books may be of interest for earlier periods of the College's history (before World War II).
- Edward Hitchcock's Reminiscences of Amherst College (call number: 378 A47H Hit) contains much anecdotal information about the first forty years of the College's existence.
- William S. Tyler's History of Amherst College during its First Half Century, 1821-1871 (call number: LD153.T94 1873) and A History of Amherst College during the Administrations of its First Five Presidents: From 1821 to 1891 (call number: LD153.T94 1895) contain many facts about the early history of the College.
- Thomas LeDuc's Piety and Intellect at Amherst College, 1865-1912 (call number: 378 A47H Le) deals with a transitional period.
- Claude Fuess's Amherst, the Story of a New England College, published in 1932 (call number: LD153.F8), is the most recent comprehensive account.
- "Amherst College in Its Early Years," the first section of The Most of It, selected essays by Theodore Baird (call number: PE1069.A47 B3 1999), offers an unusually vivid account.
In addition, the Archives and Special Collections has extensive archival and manuscript records covering all aspects of the history of Amherst College. If you have specific questions, please consult with staff in the department, or send e-mail to archives.
Please see the Amherst College Library's general statement on donations. Inquiries about archival material may be directed to the Head of Archives and Special Collections. Offers will not be accepted if we feel they fall outside of the Archives & Special Collections collection development policy.
There is a permanent display of Frost and Dickinson manuscripts in the John William Ward Exhibition Room of Archives and Special Collections (Level A, Frost Library). The specific manuscripts change from time to time, but there are always some on view.
A microfilm of Amherst's Emily Dickinson manuscripts is available and may be used at Amherst or requested through Inter-Library Loan; copies of it are also located in many other libraries in the U.S. and abroad. Photocopies of Dickinson's manuscripts may be studied for scholarly or academic purposes in the Barnett Reading Room of Archives and Special Collections; because of the fragility of the originals, they may only be used with special permission.
- See "Requirements for Format and Deposit of Theses for Honors" which are set by the Registrar's Office. For technical help in preparing your thesis, contact the Amherst College Information Technology Department.
- Used thesis binders in good condition are available for $5 apiece in Archives & Special Collections.