Each spring, the Friendly Periodicals Reading Room at Frost Library becomes a microcosm of what’s bubbling in Amherst brains, as students share projects along the full spectrum of disciplines.
The fourth annual Amherst Explorations, held April 1 this year, showcased individual and collaborative projects in panel discussions, lightning talks, poster presentations and performances
“Amherst Explorations celebrates everything that we hold most dear,” said Catherine Epstein, dean of the faculty. “Student research is at the core of what we hope to instill in our students. Independent inquiry is absolutely at the heart of liberal arts education: it’s about teaching and learning to ask questions; it’s about discerning what’s important, what must be known. It’s about thinking broadly and deeply and making connections that would not otherwise be made.”
Individual departments and classes often conduct poster sessions and the like for students to show off their work, but Amherst Explorations offers an opportunity for students (particularly first-year students) and the whole community to get a glimpse at the variety of topics studied on campus. The event is sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Office of Student Life, the Library, the Center for Community Engagement, the Writing Center and Information Technology.
In a daylong series of lighting talks, students gave encapsulated overviews of their research.
“While ambrosia and nectar are in your reach, I beseech you do not become companions with swine on the dunghill,” said Sylvia Hickman ’16, quoting Amherst’s third president, Edward Hitchcock, an early advocate for healthy eating. Her project, “More Than Sustenance: Health, Morality, Authority and the History of College Dining at Amherst, Smith and Mount Holyoke, 1821–1941,” drew from archival materials of the three colleges. The women’s colleges had dining services from the time of their founding, but Amherst did not. Until about the 20th century, Amherst students dined with local families, at boarding houses and in their fraternity houses. Hickman showed some menus from the former Hitchcock Dining Hall (located on the site where Converse Hall now stands): “Mostly meat and potatoes. Also, you’ll notice in the ‘extras’ that you could buy off the main menu was a list of vegetables. It is six different ways to prepare potatoes,” she said.
Student panels reported on projects completed through fellowships and other programs.
Digital Scholarship interns discussed how they spent the summer reexamining the life and legacy of President Hitchcock, who was a geologist and minister. Seanna McCall ’17 explored Hitchcock’s obsession with reconciling the Bible with science. Darya Bor ’18 concentrated on the design and construction of the Octagon, one of the campus buildings erected during Hitchcock’s tenure, still in use today. Daniel Rivera ’17E examined Hitchcock’s financial records, translating them into a searchable database.
A panel of Folger Fellows discussed their research projects conducted at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Students presented on how 20th-century Shakespeare scholarship in China restored a new kind humanism during a tumultuous time; how Othello has been interpreted and performed in utterly different fashions throughout its history; how period dress in drama has been interpreted over time; and explorations of sickness and the human body in Shakespeare’s time.
Students on Lane Fellowships discussed their projects in the arts, for which they delve into historical and rare source materials from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections. Other students discussed findings from the collaborative “Being Human in STEM” course, which looks specifically at diversity within STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—at Amherst College and beyond.
Elena Marione ’16 showed a clip of Twine: After Troy, the performance piece she wrote and directed, in which four women struggle for a new life following the fall of their ancient city.
Observers were also treated to a performance by the Amherst College Alphorn Club, who played on versions of the massive alpine horns that they have crafted out of PVC pipe.
Ashley Montgomery ’16 presented an audio piece, “What Does A Superhero Sound Like?: On New Media and Heroines,” which examines the roles of women in the superhero genre. “It’s his story. It’s time for hers,” she said. “It’s past time for hers.”