Scanning archival material

History in its rawest form is things people leave behind. In preparation for the College’s 2021 bicentennial, Frost Library is digitally preserving—and making public—what Amherst of old left behind.

This material includes the obvious (letters, publications, meeting notes), and the less so:  pens, a shovel, even a cricket that Emily Dickinson saved.

Curriculum reports will be digitized. So will more than 300,000 negatives from College photographers, taken between 1960 and 2005.

The eventual goal is an easily searchable database accessible to the public.

“So if someone’s saying, ‘I was on the basketball team in 1972,’ they should be able to type in ‘basketball 1972’ and pull up something,” says Michael Kelly, head of Archives and Special Collections.

“There’s a real academic audience, but we’re really thinking more in terms of the large popular audience.”

Some of the more colorful documents include 1830s disciplinary letters for playing cards and drinking cherry rum.

There are limits to what can be made available. Trustee and faculty meeting notes are protected by a 50-year embargo, for example.

Some material is already up, including yearbooks (with home addresses redacted). See them at