Amherst Explorations Celebrates Research and Creativity

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/22/2015, at 12:59 PM

Student Panelists at Amherst Explorations Even as students enter the time of year where they are practically living in Frost Library, they recently gathered there to share and discuss their theses and other projects at the third annual Amherst Explorations.

The daylong event offers a rare opportunity for students from a broad range of majors to share in one setting what they have been working on in the lab, classroom and community.

“There’s nothing more important than going and putting your ideas to work in the world, with an opportunity to think about the implications of what you’re doing,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin, introducing the event.

Some students and teams shared their projects via poster displays. These included findings from biology students who participated in the 2014 Interterm field trip to Monteverde, Costa Rica, where they studied tropical organisms such as bats, ants and butterflies.

  • John Kim ’15, Kelvin Chen ’16 and Sean Rodriguez ’15 prepared a poster about the life lurking under rotting logs.
  • Elizabeth Black ’16, Margaret Bogardus ’15 and Madeleine Lobrano ’15 presented findings about flower pollination.

Other projects explored

  • geologic records of prehistoric climate change in Mexico
  • protein folding
  • the circadian clock
  • plant defense mechanisms

In a TED-style series of lightning talks, students gave brief overviews of their thesis projects.

Coralie Pardo ’15, a Five College Digital Humanities Fellow, gave a presentation on a virtual-reality game that she is creating, geared at simulating what it is like to experience racism as a black person. Virtual interactions within the game “could be things like being followed in your neighborhood because somebody thinks you don’t belong, or being detained for buying something that’s too expensive,” she said. “Ideally the person who is playing the game will experience these things and take a step back and think … ‘When have I thought these things or done any of these things?’”

Student panels featured reports from fellowship programs such as the Lane Fellowships, which support arts projects informed by materials in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, and the Folger Fellowships, which involve intensive research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Sophie Chung ’17, a managing news editor for The Student, did a project looking at printed news in 17th-century England. “It was really humbling to see this paper [in the Folger collection] that had survived,” the Folger fellow said.

Other panels shared tips and travails of the thesis process. Several speakers noted that one’s thesis research can be the start of something bigger. “The thesis doesn’t have to end when the due date ends,” said Gabriel Gonzalez ’15.

Gonzalez also spoke on a panel of students who assisted with “Life Is a Dream,” a course taught at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction as part of the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program.

Missy Roser ’94, head of research and instruction at Frost Library, said she and her colleagues always enjoy learning about students’ work at Amherst Explorations. “This is one of our favorite days of the year on campus,” she said, “because we get to see what they’ve actually been doing writ large, and it’s amazing.”

Amherst Celebrates Spring with City Streets Festival

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/22/2015, at 11:57 AM


Browse a Flickr gallery of photos from the City Streets festival.

The evening of Sunday, April 19, provided beautiful weather for the City Streets festival on the Valentine Quad. Amherst College students, faculty, staff and families gathered to play games and watch fire dancers. Snacks from around the world, music in various languages, and the dozens of national flags displayed on Fayerweather Hall gave this annual street fair some international flair.

Welcome, Class of 2019

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/1/2015, at 3:50 PM

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Congratulations to the future members of @AmherstCollege’s Class of 2019 and welcome! Watch some of our students tell how they learned of their admission to the College. What’s your story? #Amherst2019

See the Dramatic Effects of Climate Change in the Alaskan Arctic 100 Years Ago vs. Today

February 11, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Beneski Museum of Natural History
Top: Okpilak Glacier, 1907. Photo by Ernest Leffingwell.
Bottom: Okpilak Glacier, 2007. Photo by Matt Nolan.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Then & Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape—a traveling exhibition from the University of Alaska Museum of the North—speaks volumes about glacial retreat and the consequences of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic.

On view at Amherst College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History through April 19, 2015, Then & Now features photographs and media presentations that illustrate the startling effects of climate change, provide context about the Arctic ecosystem and illuminate the behind-the-photo stories of the consequences of climate change for Arctic indigenous peoples.

“The Beneski Museum has an impressive permanent display of large ice-age mammals—the mammoth and the mastodon, for example—that became extinct with the warming climate and receding continental ice sheets tens of thousands of years ago,” says Tekla Harms, Beneski Museum director and the College’s Massachusetts Professor in Chemistry and Natural History (Geology). “Then & Now helps us see how that process is continuing today with melting of the grand mountain glaciers in Alaska.”

The 23 large-format photographs hang on two floors of the museum, offering “before-and-after” views of the Alaskan Arctic by placing decades-old photos alongside contemporary images taken from the same vantage points. The result is a stunning reminder of the effects of climate change.

The two images pictured above, for example, illustrate that Alaska’s McCall Glacier has thinned considerably since 1973; one cirque glacier (right) has shrunk, and another (left) has disappeared completely.

The exhibition also includes a series of thought-provoking quote panels and presentations that provide visitors with an understanding of the deep cultural connection that Arctic indigenous residents have to this fragile land.

Museum of the North guest curator and ecologist Ken Tape, whose book The Changing Arctic Landscape inspired the exhibit, has been studying and photographing the Arctic for over a decade. “A visitor to the Arctic might be struck by the apparent timelessness and constancy of the place,” he says, “but that impression is misleading.” Tape’s images of the past and present lead one to wonder what these landscapes might look like in the future.

Then & Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape was produced by the University of Alaska Museum of the North with funding from the Rasmuson Foundation and contributions from Fairbanks Memorial Hospital/Denali Center, Holland America, Doyon Utilities, and Yukon Accounting. Exhibit toured by the Burke Museum, University of Washington. Local sponsorship for the exhibition is provided by the Dayton Fund of Amherst College.

Acclaimed Author Reimagines Dickinson Love Affair in New Historical Novel


March 3, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Even if you’ve never heard his name, chances are you’re familiar with William Nicholson’s work. An award-winning screenwriter whose film credits include Shadowlands, Gladiator, Elizabeth: the Golden Age and Les Misérables, among others, Nicholson is also an acclaimed author who writes both for adults and younger readers.

His most recent project is Amherst, a historical novel that intersperses a fictional modern-day love story with the historically accurate love affair between Austin Dickinson (brother of Emily Dickinson and Amherst College Treasurer from 1873 until his death in 1895) and his mistress Mabel Loomis Todd (wife of David Todd, Class of 1875, who served the college as Instructor in Astronomy and Director of the Observatory). Both the Dickinson and Todd families were intimately involved in the life of Amherst College from its very beginning.

Nicholson's new novel recreates Austin and Mabel's scandalous affair from numerous letters between the two and cites snippets of Emily Dickinson's poems throughout. "It's in some ways my love letter to the poet Emily Dickinson, who I first encountered over forty years ago," Nicholson wrote on his blog. "Her poems shock and thrill me as much today as they did then."

The story takes place in three historic houses that still exist today in downtown Amherst: the former Alice Maud Hill house, now home of the Amherst Woman's Club; the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson lived and wrote most of her poetry; and the Evergreens, where Austin lived with his wife Susan and their three children. Together, the Homestead and the Evergreens make up the Emily Dickinson Museum, which was created in 2003 when the two houses merged under the ownership of Amherst College.

"Nicholson's Amherst is a delightful blend of lively imagination and deeply researched historical detail,” said Emily Dickinson Museum Director Jane Wald in a press release. “We hope his novel sparks new interest in the Dickinson family and their dramatic stories among his readers."

On Sunday, March 8, Nicholson will join Polly Longsworth, author of Austin and Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd, and moderator Christopher Benfey, author of The Dickinsons of Amherst, for a brief reading from Amherst followed by a conversation about his inspiration, research and experience writing it.

When Longsworth published her book, "I became fascinated by the world of the Dickinsons," writes Nicholson. "Tracking his affair, and Emily’s part in it, led me to reflect on Emily’s own attitude to sex and passion; and from there to my own attitudes. The result is a many-layered meditation on passionate love, with all its self-generated delusions as well as its glories."

The reading and conversation with Nicholson takes place Sunday, March 8, at 3 p.m. at the Amherst Woman's Club, 35 Triangle St. in downtown Amherst, and is free and open to the public. Amherst will be available for purchase from Odyssey Books.

Visiting Artist Sheila Pepe Creates Social Sculpture in Eli Marsh Gallery


February 17, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Sheila Pepe installation Sheila Pepe: From Space to Place, Eli Marsh Gallery, 2015.

“Please don't touch the artwork” is not something you’ll hear when visiting the newest installation in Amherst’s Eli Marsh Gallery.

World-renowned contemporary artist Sheila Pepe—best known for her large-scale and site-specific works of knitting and crocheting—has created a remarkable installation that combines her hand-crocheted materials with artworks by Amherst faculty. The result is an intimate setting that welcomes visitors inside… to sit, to contemplate and, most interestingly, to participate.

On Jan. 29, the installation opened in the Eli Marsh Gallery, located in Fayerweather Hall near art classrooms, faculty offices and studio spaces. Pepe delivered an opening lecture (see the video below) about her life and work as an artist, and her idea behind this nontraditional exhibition space: “What I’ve attempted to do is to make the gallery a place for the art students who study here.”

Pepe described the space as “a clubhouse, a pinup space and a work space, but still a gallery,” and said that she included loose materials in the installation, such as spools of yarn and fabric, for the specific purpose of allowing students to “continue” to make the space their own.

Printmaking II student
Printmaking student Ashley Felix ’15 discusses her
work during a class critique held in the gallery.

On Feb. 10, Amherst’s Senior Resident Artist Betsey Garand visited the installation with students from her “Printmaking II” course. Garand says that they “immediately felt welcome” in the space. After discussing the color, form and texture of Pepe’s work, Garand’s students pinned their own artworks onto the walls and held a regularly scheduled class critique in the gallery.

“The sense of being welcomed into a gallery space,” says Garand, “not only physically, but also as a participant, was a generous gesture of community on Sheila’s behalf, and integral to the concept of the installation.”

Pepe invited studio art faculty, including Garand, to create work “in conversation” with her own, and added it to the installation. Garand created monotype pochôir prints in response to a crocheted piece Pepe sent her in January; these works now hang beside each other in the gallery. 

“All of the faculty’s work,” says Garand, “surrounds and is placed on the exterior spaces of the installation, in contrast to and protecting the interior, student space.”

Overall, Garand says, “Sheila Pepe orchestrated and created a unique installation for experiencing contemplation, connection and conversation.”

All are welcome to experience this special exhibit, Sheila Pepe: From Space to Place, on view in the Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall, through Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.

"From Space to Place," a lecture by Sheila Pepe
Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015

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0:00–5:30      Welcome and introduction by Garand
5:33–40:15    Pepe discusses her life and work
40:16–44:47  Pepe describes the installation in Eli Marsh
44:48–55:15  Pepe takes questions from the audience

15 Things to Do at Amherst in 2015

By William Harvey ’18


The Amherst campus from above (© 2015 AboveSummit)

This year, make it your goal to do the unexpected and break the habits of your everyday life. Whether you’re visiting Amherst for the first time or hoping to find something new on campus, here are 15 things you should do in 2015 at Amherst.

1) Visit the Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Dinosaurs are awesome. Your 8-year-old self knew it, and deep down you know you still agree.  Along with full-scale dinosaur fossils, the Beneski boasts one of the world’s largest collections of fossilized tracks, including “Noah’s Raven,” the first dinosaur fossil found in North America.

2) Warm up at the Schwemm’s Coffee House fireplace.

The Schwemm’s open-pit fireplace attracts lots of visitors to the Keefe Campus Center on cold days. More than just a heat source, the Schwemm’s fire is a socializing event. The friendly atmosphere and small, close tables encourage open discussion.

3) Attend a Mr. Gad’s performance.

Every Monday at 10 p.m. in the Friedmann Room of Keefe, Mr.Gad’s House of Improv throws an hour-long show of short- and long-form comedy. Even without a script, the students in Gad’s will make you laugh and maybe even shed a tear for the characters you see on stage. Be sure to line up a few minutes early, because seats go quickly.

4) Partake in a Marsh Coffee Haus.

Marsh Arts House is off the beaten trail, in terms of both location and community. An artistic hotspot of student life, Marsh holds a biweekly Coffee Haus, where students demonstrate their performing talents. Acts range from poetry slams to Indian Bollywood dances and are entirely student-run.


Amherst’s Yūshien Garden (photo courtesy of Jessica Mestre ’10)

5) Take in the sights of the Yūshien Garden.

Filling a cozy spot between Webster Hall and Kirby Theater, the Yūshien Garden is a great visit during the more hectic parts of the semester. With its lush foliage and exotic style, the “Garden of Friendship” is an excellent place to take a breath and escape the stress of academic deadlines.

6) Stop in for coffee at the German theme house.

Held in Porter House on Tuesdays from 8 to 10 p.m., the Kaffeeklatsch is a treat for those looking to partake in German culture. With free food and silly German jokes, these weekly parties have it all. All visitors are welcome, regardless of their proficiency in German.

7) Do some reading in Frost Library’s lower levels.

The quieter lower levels of Frost are among Amherst’s best-kept secrets. Frost boasts a proud collection of exciting novels that you may not expect to find in an academic library. Classification nerds will also enjoy exploring C-Level’s shelves.   Did you know that Melvil Dewey, class of 1874, devised the Dewey Decimal System while working as a student library assistant?

8) Peruse the Mead Art Museum’s galleries.

With a rotating selection of art, the Mead will always have a new exhibition to enjoy. Take the time to get to know each collection —you may walk away with more knowledge than you bargained for.

9) Take a walk through the Wildlife Sanctuary.

Nestled behind the tennis courts is a long, winding path that leads through some of Amherst’s wilder grounds. Protected from the sun by overhanging tree branches that let in a cool breeze, the walking route is great for exercise. Some would say it’s even a bit romantic.

10) Take a statue selfie with Henry Ward Beecher or Noah Webster.

Nothing is quite as impressive as a Facebook profile picture featuring you and the “Most Famous Man in America,” Henry Ward Beecher of the class of 1834. Amaze your friends, astound your parents and startle your history professors with this piece of almost-living history. Also available for your social media pleasure is a statue of Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, located behind Frost Library.

11) Doodle in Merrill Science Library’s whiteboard classrooms.

An often forgotten spot on campus, the Merrill Science Library classrooms feature whiteboards as far as the eye can see. With a bountiful supply of dry-erase markers, these classrooms are just as useful for studying as for drawing Godzilla. Just be sure to wipe the slate clean when you’re done.

12) Study Arms Music Center’s unique architecture.

Architecture buffs will find more than beautiful melodies and concerts to enjoy in the Arms Music Center. The building is a case study in the mid-20th- century style known as brutalism, which emphasized a rugged appearance.


The view from the War Memorial

13) Pay respects at the War Memorial.

It’s always worth remembering the alumni of Amherst who gave their lives to protect the country and school they loved.

14) Visit the Multicultural Resource Center.

Looking to gain insight into other students’ cultures? Want to further explore your own? The MRC, in the Keefe Campus Center, can help you do both—and you might just meet the cutest puppy on campus, Daisy.

15) Ask Robert Frost’s statue for new-semester luck.

Rumors say the statue, near the College’s War Memorial, is able to bestow upon you the success of the famed American poet.  Try visiting before exams. At the very least, you’ll have walked the road less travelled.

Drama in the Bunker, and Romantic Comedy, Too

Submitted on Monday, 2/9/2015, at 1:34 PM

The Samuel French Collection

click for a peek inside the Samuel French collection

by Bill Sweet

In an underground storage facility that is about as far a cry as you can get from the excitement and glamour of live theater, a huge and largely undiscovered treasure trove of history of the American stage has been growing steadily over the past half-century.

Archivist Rosemary Davis spends much of her week in Amherst College's repository Bunker beneath the Holyoke Range, opening and examining boxes containing one of the largest donated archives in the College's possession, the Samuel French Collection.

The name Samuel French may not be immediately recognizable, but if you’ve ever appeared in an English-language play, chances are pretty good that you studied your lines from an unassumingly plain script book published by Samuel French, Inc.

The French Connection

Samuel French began publishing plays in New York City in 1854, and later acquired a London publisher founded by Thomas Hailes Lacey.

At a time when amateur theater productions were on the rise, the company was able to practically corner the market for publication rights of many plays.

Since 1964, the company has been sending Amherst College's Archives and Special Collections boxes full of scripts, manuscripts, scores, posters and corporate records, the bulk now residing in the Bunker.

M. Abbott Van Nostrand, Amherst class of 1934, who had made his way up from working in French's mailroom to becoming the company’s president, started the donations, which arrived in annual shipments until his death in 1995 and which continue sporadically to this day. The most recent donation astonished archivists: nearly 200 cartons of historical material and 22 file cabinets filled with author contracts stretching back to the late 19th century.

Davis was hired last year through a two-year “Hidden Collections” grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The Lost Diamonds!

"We found about 10 boxes of plays that were published from about 1814 to the mid-1860s, and so far we've found 195 different authors just within these boxes," Davis said.

In all, there is a trove: publicity photographs of actors, actresses and productions, playbills and theater magazines, amateur production scrapbooks, correspondence, costume design illustrations and scores of musical scores.

The Garrick Gaities of 1926

Some of the older titles may not be familiar, though they were hits in the day: "Thalaba, the Destroyer: A Melo-Drama," "Animal Magnetism: A Farce, in Three Acts," or "The Lost Diamonds!" They include extensive holdings by Augustin Daly, the playwright and director responsible for the “victime tied to the railroad tracks” trope.

The main collection includes the pre-publication manuscripts from a number of authors including Lynda Barry, Lynn Redgrave, Wendy Wasserstein and Neil Simon.

Stage Entrance

"Part of my ultimate goal is to draw this stuff out and engage with the [Amherst] faculty," Davis said. In the spring of 2016, English students in the class of Christopher Grobe, assistant professor of English, will be working with the materials; this month, a Yale Law School doctoral candidate studying the development of copyright and American theater will be coming to look at the Samuel French business records.

Davis is writing articles for professional archival newsletters to get the word out, as well as making plans to present at relevant conferences. She will be posting updates on a blog at the company's website and at the Amherst Archives and Special Collections blog, Consecrated Eminence.

Day of Dialogue on Race and Racism

Submitted on Wednesday, 1/28/2015, at 9:10 AM

by Bill Sweet

Discussions about race and racism can be painful, acrimonious or, perhaps worse, avoided all together. However, sensing the need to bring the national discussion here, Amherst College recently stopped everything to thoughtfully consider how this issue plays out on campus.

"The terrain we will cross is rough terrain," said Melvin Rogers ’99, associate professor of political science and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, who spoke at a panel discussion for the Jan. 23 Day of Dialogue on Race and Racism.

The College ceased from its usual operations to allow for participation in the Day of Dialogue. More than 1,300 students, faculty and staff attended a morning panel discussion featuring key educators, and later broke off into discussion groups to share their concerns and float ideas for the future.

Crowd Fills LeFrak

"It's not enough to bring people together in a college community from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds," said Amherst President Biddy Martin, referencing the College’s strong commitment to diversity. "In order to make good upon our promise of access, community and educational benefit, we have to work against a long history.”

"There is a national problem that we are not immune to," said Briana Wiggins ’15, one of a group of students who organized Black Lives Matter Awareness Week last semester, in the wake of grand juries choosing to not indict police officers in the deaths of two black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. In the fall the group approached the Amherst administration and faculty to propose a Day of Dialogue.

"We think there's been progress, and the help from the administration has definitely been positive," Wiggins said.

Panelists and participants spoke of the ways in which racism poisons society, and its ill effects on education.

Rogers discussed understanding entitlement, using travel as a metaphor. He quoted a former student of his at Carleton College who was frustrated at how empathy can be a one-way street: "I always needed to travel to where my white counterpart stood, and they didn't need to do the same in return."

Racism can surface in obvious ways, such as slur-laden graffiti or vandalism, or it can bubble up in the form of micro-aggressions or insensitive comments that may not be intentionally offensive but are all the more painful if not confronted. Even worse is the assumption by some that racism is a thing of the past, speakers said.

"We need to accept that post-racism is a myth," said panelist Shinhee Han, clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty member at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.

Panelist David Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, went further, noting that claims of society being done with racism are not simply ignorance or naiveté.

"Color blindness itself is the historical form in which racism manifests itself," he said.

The turnout for the event impressed the panelists.

"I'm moved profoundly by your presence," said moderator Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and incoming director of Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, and a Trustee of the College.

"I've never seen this happen anywhere. These conversations are hard,” she said.

"I get a sense of a will to change, from all sectors, bottom up to top down," said Eng.

“Today is really just the beginning of an effort to open up conversation and make it easier to talk about these issues,” said Martin. “It's just a step in the journey."

Studying Amherst's Houses with Blair Kamin

Submitted on Friday, 1/23/2015, at 5:19 PM

by Bill Sweet

When Blair Kamin ’79, the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, recently returned to Amherst College to teach an interterm class, the subject was, naturally enough, architecture. The lessons, however, were in journalism.

“You can do all the research in the world, you can have the most fascinating information, but if you don’t compel the reader to read, you’re dead meat,” Kamin told a group of students who joined him in unpacking the design and history of the campus’s former fraternity houses.

Kamin had more at stake than just teaching a decent class. He is currently at work on a guide to the architecture at Amherst, to be published by Princeton Architectural Press. The class both afforded him some time to do on-site observation and provided the assistance of students, whose research and writing may be included in the guide, he said.

Architecture in the Archives

The buildings on College Row and its environs “are not only an entrance, but they frame this space where town meets gown,” he said.

The class’s main focus—the 13 fraternity houses, erected by alumni between 80 and 100 years ago—is of interest to Kamin, though he never opted for Greek life when he studied here (for the record, he said he lived in James, Moore, Coolidge and the now-demolished Milliken). Fraternities were disbanded on campus in 1984, and their underground, off-campus incarnations were banned last year. However, their legacy remains in the form of the buildings, whose history may be unknown to their current residents, Kamin said. His interterm students studied details such as the conglomeration of styles—Tudor revival, neoclassical, Renaissance revival—visible throughout Mayo-Smith House.

Mayo-Smith House

Mayo-Smith House

The fraternity houses “make a major contribution to Amherst’s sense of place,” said Kamin. “If they had not been grandly scaled, beautifully built, mansionlike homes, the gateway into Amherst College would be far less impressive than it is today.”

For the course, students each crafted an essay about a specific house, combining research from the College’s Archives and Special Collections with their own observations.

“They need to be professional skeptics. They need to learn the power of firsthand observation,” Kamin said. And then, like all good reporters, they needed to craft engaging prose, quickly.

“Your professors have to read your papers. The people reading this guidebook don’t,” he told the students. “An editor of mine once had us put a little sticker on our computers that said, ‘The Easiest Thing for the Reader is to Quit Reading.’”

The Moose Abides

Submitted on Thursday, 12/4/2014, at 4:11 PM

The moose in Frost Library

by Bill Sweet

A mysterious moose has taken up residence at Frost Library, and no one is asking him to leave.

The large, black, detailed metallic sculpture was discovered in the Frost foyer when staff opened the building up the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said Susan J. Kimball, head of access services at the library, who first discovered the moose.

The moose’s only identifier is a cryptic—and mellow—note, written on birch bark lashed to its neck. It reads, in part:


“The sign says he chooses us, and we’re happy to be chosen,” said Amherst College Librarian Bryn I. Geffert. “We’ll have to decide what we're going to do with him. There are probably all kinds of things one can do with a moose. We just have to figure out what they are.”

“It’s only a matter of time before decorations are probably going to start to appearing upon it. We were already talking about Christmas lights,” Kimball said. As a native of the state of Maine, Kimball said she felt compelled to point out that the scale of the moose’s antlers is a bit off, but that doesn't detract from the fine craftsmanship. As writing on birch bark does qualify as a written work, she said she expects the moose’s note “will need to be catalogued, once we enter it into the archives as a monograph.”

Geffert said he hasn’t decided what will be done with the moose ultimately. He is treating it as a gift, as the sculpture appears to be entirely benign in nature.

“As far as we can tell, he’s housebroken. He hasn’t bitten anybody,” Geffert said. And while the metal sculpture is hollow, there is no evidence that it is a Trojan moose, he said.

Amherst being Amherst, the motives behind the moose will likely come under considerable analysis. However, the author of the moose’s missive hopes to minimize that. Sometimes a moose is just a moose, according to the rest of the birch bark note.


The moose abides, for now, at Frost.

Ebola: Amherst Responds

Submitted on Wednesday, 11/5/2014, at 2:34 PM

by Bill Sweet

As the world watches West Africa and beyond for the increasingly concerning news about the outbreak of Ebola, Amherst College does what it always has done: thoughtfully examine the problem, and offer help.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Setting the Ebola challenge in their sights, Amherst’s Public Health Collaborative, a student-run group partnering with health care providers in the Pioneer Valley to promote issues of public health and social justice, and Globe Med, a student-run organization that aims to strengthen the movement for global health equity, have joined an international effort to provide more accurate maps for aid workers navigating Ebola-stricken West Africa.

“It's a big concern,” said Minjee Kim ‘17, a board member of the collaborative. “There's definitely a lot of us who are following the news.”

Students have signed up to join the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, a group of international volunteers who are adding detail to open-license OpenStreetMap maps of the region.

“Public health depends a lot on knowing the geography of the location, and the problem with West Africa is that a lot of the detail is not known,” said Andy Anderson, a specialist in Amherst’s Academic Technology Services, who is coordinating the effort. “When you get out in the rural areas you don't even see the roads.”

Project volunteers have started to meet weekly to examine satellite maps and leave notations at OpenStreetMap about where there are buildings, schools, villages. On the OpenStreetMap Team

“If you’ve been spending any time playing with Google maps and satellite imagery, you recognize things fairly well,” Anderson said. “When you have that information there, the first responders have the ability to locate where people were, where there are open spaces were a helicopter can land, and so on.”

Studying Contagion

“Ebola captures the public imagination like no other disease. It's not going away,” said Alexandra Purdy, assistant professor of biology. “There are so many facets to understanding it, we could spend all sorts of time discussing it. And we should.”

Purdy, whose specialty is in studying the genetic underpinnings of cholera, includes a unit on Ebola in her course “Contagion.” This past spring, as the outbreak bloomed, it proved tricky in teaching.

“In March, somebody in my Contagion class asked, what happens if it gets to a big city? And I had no response for that,” she said. “If containment protocols are not in place and if adequate supplies are not available, it has the potential to be quite serious.”

On the Front Lines

Dr. Inger Damon ’84 is currently the Incident Manager for the Ebola 2014 response for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She took the position in August, when the CDC deployed 350 additional staffers to West Africa.

"Our primary goal is to bring to an end to the suffering of so many as well as develop the public health infrastructure there to help prevent future outbreaks,” she said at the time.

“Today, I bowed my head and cried, realizing that even if I should get Ebola tomorrow, chances are I would be left at home to die in a room with nobody around me,” Kimmie Weeks ’05 wrote from Liberia in a mid-September update on the website for Youth Action International, the philanthropic organization he started during his days at Amherst. “Even if I wanted to go to the hospital, they would not have the logistical capacity to take me in.”

“The cremation centers are operating around the clock to keep up with the bodies,” he said.

Weeks has launched a campaign to purchase or donate beds for his native Liberia. His group is also training young people for a door-to-door education campaign raising awareness about the virus and how to reduce chances of transmission. He is raising money to purchase no-touch thermometers for field volunteers, as fever is one of the first indicators of the illness.

Our Friends, Our Fight

Reports from Sierra Leone have moved three alumni to help as well. Keri Lambert ’13, Anna Sutherland ’14 and Aaron Lemle ’13, who worked in Sierra Leone for OneVillage Partners (a nonprofit started in 2006 by Jeff Hall ’87), learned in August that Ebola had reached the villages they’d called home: Foindu, Pujehun and Jokibu.

The three have launched an Indigogo campaign to fund the building of isolation units to treat the sick and keep them from infecting their families. The fund, which as of the end of August had raised more than $13,000, will also provide food, medical supplies and other aid to quarantined villages.

Taking Flight

Randy Davis ’76 was in the news after flying two Texas Health Presbyterian nurses diagnosed with Ebola from Liberia to the U.S. for treatment. Davis is vice president, general counsel and sometime pilot at the Atlanta-based Phoenix Air Group, which has been a part of a dozen Ebola-related missions, but these transports were the first into the U.S.

Davis told ABC that he was proud to have provided the transport: "I think everybody everywhere would agree that you’d like to try to help people who are so selfless.”

Making Discoveries at the Mead

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/16/2014, at 11:30 AM

A new school year means new works, new classes and new discoveries being made at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum, starting with an exhibition that simultaneously occupies the gallery space and cyberspace.

Bradley Bailey, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Postdoctoral Curatorial Teaching Fellow in Japanese Prints, with the assistance of Hampshire College student James Kelleher, has completed work on “Pain’s Pyrotechnic Spectacle: The Sino-Japanese War in Print” for display at the Mead, and for a dynamic experience via the Web, especially formatted for tablets.

This special exhibition, which draws exclusively from Ruth S. Nelkin’s donation of Sino-Japanese War prints to the Mead in 2000, offers a comprehensive overview of the military action of the war (1894–1895), as well as a survey of the subjects, ideas and attitudes conveyed in the prints of the era.

The Sino-Japanese War, according to contemporary accounts, saw Japan besting its ancient adversary, China, and emerging from the battle poised to assume the mantle of a modern imperial power.  In Japan, artists and publishers told the tale of the conflict using the centuries-old tradition of ukiyo-e (woodblock printmaking), which was in decline against the rising tide of lithography and photography. In Manhattan Beach, N.Y., in 1896, capitalizing on the West’s fascination with all things Japanese, Pain’s Firework Co. staged a “superb pyro-spectacle” reenacting a battle from the war. Sino-Japanese War Print

The exhibition’s website,, features several woodblock triptychs, the entire album of prints and a reproduction of the original pamphlet distributed at the Manhattan Beach “pyro-spectacle.” Visitors can view the site on their own devices or on the iPad provided alongside the exhibition at the Mead.

Even as this and other exhibits are being prepared, students and staff are behind the scenes making discoveries. Just this past summer:

  • Amherst and UMass students working on a group of recently donated pre-Columbian vessels identified a curiously shaped pot as depicting a South American crustacean.
  • Amherst students discovered new details about two unusual 17th-century European luxury chests, inlaid with precious materials and featuring tiny drawers and hidden compartments, to be on view in October.
  • A scientific study of a silver perfume container engraved with scenes from classical mythology determined that it is an authentic antiquity from the Greek world of the fourth century B.C.E.

Another change afoot is the departure of Elizabeth Barker, who, after seven years as director of the Mead, has taken the position of Stanford Calderwood Director of the Boston Athenaeum. Pamela Russell, the Mead’s head of education, took over as interim director last month, and a search is under way for a permanent director. Barker’s contributions to the Mead and the college were celebrated at a Sept. 12 tea in her honor.

Under Barker, the museum expanded its operating hours and the number of free events, started offering complimentary iPod audio tours and added an espresso bar.

“On Lizzie’s watch, the Mead’s 19,000-object collection has become a fully digitized, Web-searchable resource, which is available not only to the Amherst community, but to scholars from around the globe,” said Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein. “Lizzie led efforts to expand and conserve the collection, enhance the staff, increase access to the objects, expand the museum’s audience and improve facilities, [and she] has introduced education programs and innovative collection-based presentations.”

You might expect that faculty in the Department of Art and the History of Art take most advantage of the Mead’s collection, but the museum is routinely host to courses from throughout the school’s catalogue: American studies, anthropology, Black studies, environmental studies, geology, history, mathematics and more are instructed using the Mead. This fall, courses taught partly at the museum include

An accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Mead recently won the top prize for its website from the New England Museum Association, and received second-place awards for the exhibition catalogue Picturing Enlightenment and the "Dig Into Art" activity totes for children at the museum.

The Mead and its gift shop and café are open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round, and until midnight on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday during the academic term.

Innovative Program Helps Students Tackle Science, Math

Submitted on Thursday, 8/14/2014, at 9:52 AM

By Peter Rooney

On a summer afternoon in an Amherst College chemistry lab, new friends and incoming first-year students Natalia Dyer of Queens, N.Y., and Alejandra Possu of Houston take a break from writing a lab report.

They’re part of a group of admitted Amherst students selected to participate in an innovative science and math program that introduces them to some of the toughest calculus and chemistry problems they’ll face during their first year at Amherst.

The program seeks to level the academic playing field for promising students with an interest in science and math whose backgrounds may not have prepared for them for the rigorous courses they soon will be facing.

collage of 3 photos from summer chemistry lab

Discussing, then solving chemistry problems

“They emailed me about summer science because I’m interested in pre-med,” Dyer said. “I’ve never taken calculus before and they told us we’re going to do chemistry, calculus and bio. So I was definitely thinking I should be more prepared for college level calculus.”

After two weeks in the three-week program, Dyer and Possu were feeling more confident by the day.

“The professors are so willing to help work with you, and the doors really seem open here,” Possu said. “I’m really glad I came.”

Now in its 27th year, The Summer Science program has been tweaked and refined to the point where more than half of its participants go on to major in science and math.

Increasing the number of women, minorities and low-income students who graduate with degrees in so-called STEM fields – majors that incorporate elements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – has long been a priority at Amherst.

It’s also become a priority at the White House, which recently invited Amherst to join other colleges and universities in improving higher education access and success for low-income students. As one of its four announced initiatives,  Amherst pledged to increase the proportion of low-income Amherst students who major in science and math fields.

The Summer Science program is helping the college achieve that goal. The percentage of low-income students at Amherst who graduated with a STEM major increased from 9 percent in 2008 to 32 percent in 2013. (Low-income students graduate from Amherst at about the same rate as other students—95 percent.)

“In the first five years of the program about 10 percent of those who participated majored in math or science,” said Jennifer Innes, director of the Moss Quantitative Center at Amherst College and director of the Summer Science program. “That increased to about 20 percent in the next five years and to 30 percent in the decade after that. In the last three years we’re seeing 50 to 60 percent of the participants go on to major in math and science.”

Collage of 3 photos from summer math class

Math professor Robert Benedetto talks calculus

One of them is Omar Pineda, a math major from the Bronx who will be a junior this fall. A Summer Science veteran, this is his second year working as a tutor for the program.

“If I hadn’t done the program I would have come in the fall, taken math and science classes and been totally overwhelmed,” Pineda said. “Instead of majoring in math, I probably would have been discouraged from taking more of those classes.”

As tutors, Pineda and Doyin Ariyibi ’17 not only share chemistry and calculus pointers but also help students form friendships and become familiar with the routine of college life.

“One thing I really like about the program is that it’s not just academic, it’s social too,” said Ariyibi, who’s from Nigeria. “You’re bonding with people from similar backgrounds and when school starts you have a support group already, people you can study or go over notes with.”

The Summer Science program is not about lowering academic standards for students who may have attended high schools with few labs or AP courses to offer. Instead, Summer Science presents students with the most challenging material they’ll face in their freshman courses, and then provides the professors, instructors and tutors to help students work through the material.

“A lot of my work is to help students overcome negative associations they may have with chemistry from high school,” said Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, an academic manager who teaches chemistry labs, leads discussion groups and charts the progress of all Amherst students taking introductory chemistry. “I’m trying to boost their confidence.  I’m also encouraging them to access the resources here to help them succeed.”

Math professor and former dean of the faculty Gregory Call has been teaching at the program since 1994. He’s only missed one summer. Call said he keeps coming back because of the enthusiasm of the students.

“They’re immensely fun to work with,” he said. “They’re excited, dedicated, anxious and really eager to do well.”