(Amherst, Mass., Feb. 24, 2021) — In 1821, a group of residents from the town of Amherst, Mass., and surrounding communities founded the Amherst Collegiate Institution for the “education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.” Two centuries, millions of courses, tens of thousands of degrees and contributions to the world by alumni later, the school that became Amherst College will celebrate its Bicentennial through a series of creative and engaging events and initiatives throughout 2021.
“Amherst has been providing an outstanding liberal arts education on a beautiful campus for 200 years,” said President Biddy Martin. “Marking the Bicentennial gives us an occasion to celebrate the critical thinking, intellectual agility, freedom of thought and intense engagement of faculty with students for which Amherst is best known. During this challenging time, we hope the celebration of the Bicentennial will bring us together, in virtual spaces and, eventually, in person.”
Since its humble beginnings, Amherst has become a world-class liberal arts institution known for its academic rigor, talented and diverse students and faculty, and singular commitment to educational access. Embodying the College’s motto, Terras Irradient (“let them enlighten the lands”), graduates include Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, astronauts, scientists, humanitarians, activists, teachers, novelists, artists, inventors, pioneers in their fields and one president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, class of 1895.
Originally slated to kick off last fall, most of the Bicentennial celebrations were adjusted for a later start because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A few of these initiatives include:
- The Solidarity Book Project (SBP)—Launched by art and the history of art professor Sonya Clark ’89, this collaborative, community-based work of art and activism invites members of the College community and the general public to stand in solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities. Participants in the project are invited to read excerpts of books that shaped their understanding of solidarity, share their thoughts about solidarity in audio or video recordings and, finally, sculpt the iconic raised fist symbol into social- and racial justice-related books. The books will form an exhibition on campus slated for this fall. The College will honor participants’ submissions by making donations to organizations that support literacy in Black and Indigenous communities.
- Three new books—Eye Mind Heart by Nancy Pick ’83; Amherst College: An Architectural Tour by Blair Kamin ’79, P’15; and Amherst in the World, edited by Martha Saxton, professor of history and sexuality, women’s and gender studies, and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, emerita. All three are available for purchase now.
- 200 Years of Indigeous History land acknowledgement—Led by Sarah Montoya ’21, the Native and Indigenous Students Association (NISA) initiated the design and installation of a formal land acknowledgment plaque on campus, slated to occur in the fall.
- Presidential Podcast—This podcast series focuses on the value of liberal arts education and will feature key alumni who exemplify its importance and impact. The conversations will be available for download in the fall.
- The “Mammoth Trails” project—Proposed by economics professor Kate Sims, this initiative involves the renewal of part of the Amherst College sanctuary trail system into two well-marked, named trails—the “1821 Loop” (1.03 miles, or 1,821 yards) and the “Mammoth Loop” (a two-mile running/walking trail). The aim is to enhance the accessibility of the trails and better promote the use of this local resource by the College and region, in support of sustainability and wellness.
- A musical work by composer Reena Esmail—To celebrate both the Bicentennial and the centenary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a group of women faculty from the music department, Amherst College Choral Society, Amherst College Symphony Orchestra and Amherst College Jazz Ensemble commissioned a 30-minute work by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail. (The Women of Music committee earlier asked that sunflowers, one of the emblems of the women’s suffrage movement, be planted in a section of campus near Arms Music Building; the flowers bloomed for the first time last year.)
- The Homestead: An Opera (working title)—This interpretative opera about the poet Emily Dickinson is being composed by Dana Kaufman ’12 in coordination with Jane Wald, executive director of the College’s Emily Dickinson Museum. Performances, in person and/or streaming online depending on the status of the pandemic, are tentatively slated for later this year.
Amherst College today prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding, in 1821, in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts, the importance of critical thinking. Its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.