English at Amherst: New Book by Theodore Baird, Edited by William H. Pritchard
January 17, 2006
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—William H. Pritchard ’53, the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College, has edited English at Amherst: A History (Amherst College Press, Amherst, Mass., 2005), a compilation of writings by Theodore Baird, the Samuel Williston Professor of English, Emeritus, who taught at the college from 1927 until his retirement in 1969. Baird died in 1996. Gorham Cross ’52 supported the publication of English at Amherst.
The first of two sections in English at Amherst, “Reflections on Amherst and English 1,” is the transcript of a “self-interview” Baird conducted in 1978, in response to a request from the college’s director of public affairs. “In these pages,” Pritchard writes in his introduction, “one can see the emeritus professor warming to the task of making a story of his coming to Amherst in 1927, of the sort of English Department he found there, and of what he went on to do with it in his subsequent 43 years of teaching. Evident is the wicked humor that students and colleagues of Baird can testify to and that one strove not to be on the receiving end of.”
The second section, “The History,” is a document that Baird worked on intermittently through the 1980s. Here, he recalls his predecessors in the English Department and at Amherst—Erskine, Woodberry, Genung, Meiklejohn and Frost, among others—and attempts, in closing, to make sense of his own role in the teaching of English at the college.
Baird taught a wide range of literature at Amherst, from Shakespeare through the 18th century to modern British and American fiction; edited an anthology, The First Years: Selections from Autobiography (1931;)and wrote articles and reviews for The Bookman, Saturday Review of Literature and the New York Herald Tribune. He is best remembered—not just at Amherst, but more broadly, too—as the creator and driving force behind a required freshman composition course that he and scores of other faculty taught at the college over a period of 28 years. An estimated 6,000 students took the course, known as English 1-2. Under Baird’s direction, professors devised a sequence of assignments asking students to think and write about their own observations and experiences as they executed a task or addressed a problem.
A graduate of Hobart College, Baird received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. After teaching briefly at Western Reserve University, Union College and Harvard, Baird joined the Amherst faculty as an instructor in 1927.
Pritchard, a 1953 graduate of Amherst, has taught at the college since 1958. He is an eminent critic and the author of, among many other works, Updike: America’s Man of Letters (2000), English Papers: A Teaching Life (1995), Randell Jarrell: A Literary Life (1990), Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered (1984), Lives of the Modern Poets (1980) and Wyndham Lewis (1968).