Subject Areas Collected:
Literature: Poetry, Fiction, Journalism
Performing Arts: Theater, Film, and Television
Diplomacy and Government Service
Missionaries & Travel
Native American and Indigenous Studies
History of Printing and Publishing
Types of Materials
Appendix: Excerpt from the Board of Trustees Minutes, April 21, 1979
The Archives & Special Collections of Amherst College serves as the repository for special collections materials in Frost Library and supports research by a wide range of patrons including undergraduates, faculty, and other scholars whose work relies on primary resource materials, including rare books, manuscripts, media, digital files, and archival records. The Archives & Special Collections develops its collections primarily to support the curricular and research needs of the faculty and students of Amherst College; thus the collections encompass the broad sweep of a liberal arts education. The Head of Archives and Special Collections is primarily responsible for the development of the collections, in consultation with the Librarian of the College, members of the faculty, colleagues in the Library, and the department staff.
The department has also been designated by vote of the Trustees as the repository for all records of the College of permanent historical value, and in support of that mission collects a wide range of materials documenting the history of the College, including records pertaining to academic programs and courses of instruction, academic departments and committees, administrators and administrative offices, and College museums. Further, the department collects a wide range of historical and biographical materials relating to alumni, faculty, staff, and other individuals connected with the College.
The collecting mission of the Archives & Special Collections is twofold:
1. To preserve the official records of administrators and administrative offices; academic programs and courses of instruction; and academic departments and committees, insofar as they have permanent historical value.
2. To acquire, preserve, and provide access to a wide range of primary research materials in their original formats, including books, manuscripts, archives, audio-visual materials, objects, realia, and other items in support of the educational and research activities of its various constituencies.
Our mission to acquire and preserve materials is coupled with a commitment to outreach and access. Materials are described according to national standards established by the American Library Association and the Society of American Archivists. The Archives & Special Collections mounts regular exhibitions both in Frost Library and online. We are committed to collaborating with the Frost Library Digital Programs department to digitize collection materials and make them freely available through the worldwide web. We regularly host group visits to the Archives for tours and classroom instruction sessions. Whenever possible we seek to collaborate with faculty and students to incorporate Archives & Special Collections materials into the undergraduate curriculum.
The Archives & Special Collections is committed to preserving the work of writers and artists in their original formats, paying close attention to the book as a physical object and other media in their original state when possible. Materials preserved in the collections are meant to be used for scholarly research that requires use of the original editions or works in original formats. These collections complement the collection policies in the general stacks by supplying rare or fine editions of texts and original copies of media or by prospectively collecting works that will become important historical evidence.
Archives & Special Collections' primary responsibility is to serve the research needs of Amherst College faculty and students. To this end, the department seeks to collect in subject areas receiving substantial and sustained attention within the College community, those representing ongoing departmental research interests, or those areas that are the focus of interdisciplinary programs.
The department also considers service to scholars on the national and international levels to be an important part of the mission. Archives & Special Collections seeks to play a role in the broader research community by building collections in areas not well covered by other repositories. Consequently, Archives & Special Collections draws visiting scholars to the Amherst campus and enhances the College’s overall reputation as a center for scholarship.
Throughout its history, the College has acquired interrelated collections of exceptional depth in various fields. These areas are described below, and form the core of our retrospective and ongoing collection development efforts.
Existing Collection Strengths: Literary manuscripts held at Amherst include half of the known manuscripts of Emily Dickinson, and major holdings of manuscripts by Richard Wilbur, Martin Espada, Louise Bogan, and Margaret Sutton Briscoe. The personal papers of Chris Bohjalian, Scott Turow, Ted Conover, and other authors are currently held on deposit. The book collections include extensive holdings of fiction and poetry with particular strength in American literature of the last 200 years. The book collections include exhaustive holdings of the works of Robert Frost, Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, David Foster Wallace, and other writers with close ties to the College.
Current Collecting Focuses: The department continues to acquire a wide range of poetry, fiction, and theater, both published editions and archival materials. We are particularly interested in developing our holdings of African-American and Afro-Caribbean writers. Contemporary works are collected and items are selectively purchased to fill in gaps in the historical holdings. Special attention is given to contemporaries of Dickinson, Frost, Merrill, Wilbur, and Wallace. Works of poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction by Amherst alumni are comprehensively collected. Secondary works about Dickinson, Frost, and others are added selectively. We also have limited interest in acquiring the personal papers of scholars and artists whose work focuses on Emily Dickinson.
Existing Collection Strengths: Amherst has particularly strong theatrical holdings in both manuscripts and print. The archives of the Samuel French Company provide exhaustive coverage of theater from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Archives & Special Collections holds over 60,000 plays, including one of the most complete sets in existence of T. H. Lacy’s acting editions of Victorian plays. The Plimpton Collection of Dramas contains approximately 1,400 plays from early nineteenth-century Britain and America. The personal papers and library of playwright Clyde Fitch document the career of one of the most successful American dramatists at the close of the nineteenth century. The papers of screenwriters Joseph Moncure March, Victor Levin and John T. Kretchmer are valuable resources for the study of film and television production.
Current Collecting Focuses: Archives of writers, producers, and directors working in film and television are very actively sought to support the growing Film and Media Studies program at Amherst College.
Existing Collection Strengths: Printed books and archival materials in the field of Natural History have long been a strength of Amherst College. The papers of pioneering geologist Edward Hitchcock are supported by extensive holdings of his published works and the specimens held by the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The works of Orra White Hitchcock, who provided illustrations for Edward Hitchcock’s publications and classroom lectures, are another significant collection. Papers of other faculty prominent in the sciences are also held in the department. Major gifts of books and journals in the fields of ornithology, angling, and lepidoptera form an outstanding core collection for the history of science.
Current Collecting Focuses: The department seeks to acquire historic books that fill gaps in our holdings of the history of science, particularly in the fields of geology, astronomy, ornithology, and entomology. Special emphasis will be placed on acquiring items in the history of science that also illustrate significant points in the history of the book, particularly the history of illustration techniques and technologies. Papers of faculty and alumni are also sought to complement and expand our coverage of the history of science.
Existing Collection Strengths: Amherst alumni have played major roles in government, politics, public policy, and international diplomacy. The papers of John J. McCloy, Karl Loewenstein, Dwight Morrow, Charles Kades, and Willard Thorp document political and diplomatic activities in the 20th century.
Current Collecting Focuses: We seek additional materials that document the service of Amherst College faculty and alumni as civil servants, elected officials, and scholars of diplomacy and government service.
Existing Collection Strengths: Student involvement in social issues of national importance has been a feature of College life at least since the foundation of the original Anti-Slavery Society at Amherst in the 1830s. The Clubs & Societies Collection and the Moratoria Collection are two rich sources for the study of student activism at Amherst. The papers of Emma Willard document the personal life and career of Emma Hart Willard, a pioneering advocate of educational equality for women. The core collections that document social activism beyond the College are the Marshall Bloom Alternative Press Collection, the Marshall Bloom Papers, and the Jerry Cohen Papers. The Bloom Collection contains several thousand issues of underground newspapers and magazines from the late 1960s into the 1980s. Jerry Cohen served as General Counsel of the United Farm Workers of America and personal attorney of César Chávez.
Current Collecting Focuses: We seek to add underground publications that complement those held in the Bloom Alternative Press Collection along with manuscript and archival material that documents the American left in the last half of the twentieth century. Materials that document student activism at Amherst College and beyond are also of interest, particularly in the areas of minority student empowerment, women’s rights, and the history of access to education for women and minorities.
Existing Collection Strengths: Amherst College was founded with the goal of training young men as Congregationalist ministers, many of whom went on to serve as missionaries both within the United States and around the globe. We hold extensive documentation of these activities in the form of diaries, letters, published books, and other archival material. In addition to the obvious religious activities, these materials also provide unique accounts of international travel during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One strength in this area is documentation of travel and missionary life by women such as Dora Judd Matoon Ward, Abby Wood Bliss, Clara (Kate) Pond, and Mary Sheafer Whitcomb Clark.
Current Collecting Focuses: We seek to add manuscript and published material related to missionary activities by Amherst alumni as well as other missionaries not directly connected to the College. Personal diaries, correspondence, and photographs are of particular interest in this area.
Existing Collection Strengths: In August 2013, Amherst College purchased the private collection of Pablo Eisenberg, thanks to a generous gift from Younghee Kim-Wait (AC 1982). The Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection forms the core of this collecting area. The Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Collection includes 1,400 titles written by Native American authors from across the 50 states of the USA as well as Canada. In the Spring of 2014, we acquired 500 books from the personal library of Native author, editor, and activist, Joseph Bruchac. Individual items by Native authors have been acquired by purchase, such as three leaves from the 1663 “Eliot Indian Bible,” the 1827 Welsh printing of Samson Occom’s Sermon, and The Great Mystery by Russell Means (1997). Other highlights that predate these acquisitions include a complete set of The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis (1907-1930) and the folio edition of Thomas L. McKenney’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1836-1844). These holdings are further supported by archival material related to Indigenous people of North America in the Plimpton French and Indian War Items collection and the Jeffery Amherst Collection.
Current Collecting Focuses: The goal of our Native American collection is to represent, as comprehensively as possible, the full spectrum of Native American writing and intellectual life from the seventeenth century to the present. We focus on published works ranging from rare imprints and ephemera to mass-market books, rather than unique manuscripts and artifacts; our aim is to document the full range of public expressions and statements by Indigenous people. We collect books by Native writers comprehensively, regardless of genre, format, or audience. To a limited degree, we acquire related materials by non-Native writers.
NOTE: Although our focus is on Native authorship, the collection does include authors whose claims to Native heritage are either fraudulent or have been challenged as inauthentic; we retain these materials and include notes in our catalog records where appropriate.
Existing Collection Strengths: Amherst College was the first American institution of higher education to grant a degree to a Japanese citizen, and the ties between the College and Asia are long-standing and significant. We hold archival collections related to Joseph Hardy Neesima (AC 1870), Kanzo Uchimura (AC 1887) and the founding of Doshisha University in Kyoto; the Howard Hamilton Collection of traditional Japanese theater; and the papers of John Dower, scholar of post-WWII Japanese politics and culture.
Current Collecting Focuses: We seek to add archival and printed materials that complement our strengths in this area. Materials that document missionary activity, travel, and the natural sciences throughout Asia, with special emphasis on Japan, are of particular interest. Personal diaries, correspondence, and photographs are especially desirable.
Existing Collection Strengths: From its founding in 1821, Amherst College has played a unique role in the history of higher education in the United States. In addition to our role as the official repository for College records of enduring value, we also seek to thoroughly document the history of student life and activities, the evolution of the College curriculum, and the activities of Amherst College alumni. Areas of particular strength include documentation of minority students at Amherst, the fraternity system, the development of College athletics, and the debate over co-education. In addition to serving historians of the College, we aim to support the work of scholars of higher education in America more generally. Given the close relationship between the College and the Town of Amherst, we have significant holdings in local history
Current Collecting Focuses: College history materials in the archives richly document Amherst’s founding, its major milestones, the development of the curriculum, and many aspects of student life. However, we will always seek to add new materials of high informational, evidential or intrinsic value. We actively acquire student correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, photograph albums and ephemera from any period, as well as audio or motion picture recordings. We seek objects of various kinds insofar as they document student life, particularly if they are exhibitable. We selectively acquire students’ course notebooks, especially those from the 19th century. Because our coverage in most College publications (The Amherst Student, Olio, etc.) is strong, we now generally accept only those issues or titles that fill in known gaps. We selectively acquire faculty papers if they demonstrate exceptional scholarly or teaching activity while a member of the Amherst faculty. Other topical areas of especially strong interest currently are: student activism; student diversity with regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, etc.; student-faculty collaboration, both academically and socially; the female student experience after the establishment of coeducation; fraternity and non-fraternity/alternative living arrangements; and artistic expression on campus. We selectively collect materials related to the history of the Town of Amherst, with preference for materials with some direct link to College history.
Existing Collection Strengths: The Archives & Special Collections houses the general rare book holdings of the College, ranging from the fifteenth century to the present. Highlights of the collection include two leaves of the Gutenberg Bible (1456), a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), the Second Folio of Shakespeare (1632), a first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855)by Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens novels in original parts, Emily Dickinson’s appearances in The Springfield Republican (1852 – 1866), and the Double Elephant Folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-38). Changes in printing and publishing practices, methods of bookbinding, and illustration technologies are thoroughly documented in this collection.
Current Collecting Focuses: We seek to add items that fill in gaps in our historic holdings of significant works in the history of ideas as well as items that illuminate particular aspects of the history of the book. Our holdings complement the strong collection of artists books in the general collections of Frost Library, and we regularly add items to the collection when their inherent value or physical features demand the protection afforded by a closed stacks collection.
Archives & Special Collections collects books, journals, newspapers, yearbooks, annuals, manuscripts, archives, ephemeral materials, film, video, and a variety of other original materials. Emphasis is placed on acquiring items in their original states. Authors' books should be acquired in their first appearance. In general this means the first edition in the country of the author, though precedence is given to the first appearance in print. Collected editions of works are selectively purchased for major authors. Scholarly editions of works are also added selectively. Facsimiles are purchased, but sparingly. Most facsimiles should be purchased by the general stacks.
We accept archival collections that contain a very broad range of formats and material types including, but not limited to, paper documents, photographs, slides, film, computer files, sound recordings, and objects. Items designated as “fine art” may be transferred to the Mead Art Museum; natural history specimens may be transferred to the Beneski Museum of Natural History.
Physical Condition of Acquisitions
Because the Archives & Special Collections does not have dedicated preservation and conservation resources, it is vital that we only acquire materials in the best possible physical condition. Exceptions may be made in instances where the scarcity of an item in any condition warrants accepting a less-than-perfect specimen. In general, the costs involved in repairing and storing damaged materials are beyond the limited means of our budget, so we must decline imperfect copies.
Given the limitations on storage space for our collections, we cannot accept duplicate copies of items already held in the Archives & Special Collections. Exceptions may be made in instances where a second copy has unique features, but the general rule is against adding redundant copies of published works. In the case of Amherst College publications and ephemera, we retain a limited number of copies of each item and are generally not interested in acquiring additional copies of yearbooks, class albums, student publications, etc.
Because of its location within the Connecticut River Valley, the Archives & Special Collections is complemented by nearby collections of rare materials and primary sources. Included among these other collections are the Mortimer Rare Book Room and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College; the Archives & Special Collections at Mt. Holyoke; and the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts. Our goal is to develop our collections in such a way that we do not duplicate holdings of nearby institutions or enter into direct competition with them for collections and resources.
Appendix 1: Excerpt from the Board of Trustees Minutes, April 21, 1979.
VOTED: The Archives of Amherst College is one of the oldest and most extensive collections of its kind in the United States. For institutional purposes, the Archives preserves the record of the College’s operations; for historical purposes, the Archives provides an important source for scholarly research.
To ensure that documentation is as complete and as useful for the present as for the past, the Trustees of Amherst College affirm the principles of preservation of official records and the importance of the Archives of Amherst College.
Therefore, it is
RESOLVED, that the records of academic programs and courses of instruction, and of academic departments and committees of the College, so far as they have permanent historical value, should be preserved.
The official records of administrators and of administrative offices of the College, so far as they have permanent historical value, should also be preserved.
Decisions concerning permanent historical value will be made from time to time by the Committee on the Archives of the College which shall be appointed by the President of the College.
Records of permanent historical value should be deposited in the Archives of the College when retention in active files is no longer considered necessary by the Department, Committee, or Administrator responsible for the records.
Access to records in the Archives of the College should be restricted as needed to safeguard the rights of individuals, or preserve the confidentiality of deliberations, or as required by law. Normally, restrictions on access to the Archives of Amherst College will not be for a period of more than thirty (30) years.