Why Do I Write Like I’m Running Out of Time?

…Because it’s our LAST DAY! :O

[Author’s Note: If you’ve spent any time around the interns this summer, you’ll know that we’ve often and unashamedly burst into Hamilton songs. Hence, this post will include some references; sorry/not-sorry. Consider it an immersive, day-in-the-life DSSI experience.]

As I sit here for one last time in the Room Where It Happens, (AKA the Barker Room), so many thoughts run through my mind. Of course, there were some bumps in the road for us interns–honestly though, this was mostly just with getting software to work–, but there was no way that we were throwing away our shot, and we powered through to create something great! This sounds super cliché, but this internship has truly been an incredible experience. Not only have I learned a ton about digital scholarship, the origins of my alma mater, and the library, but I’ve also made some amazing friends! I’m really proud of all of us; we did some great work [work!] and I’m so glad that we have an awesome final product to share with the world. Interns: We get the job done!

Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.
Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.

Of course, I will never be satisfied, because there’s always room for improvement– if we’d had more time this summer, I would have added a couple of things to my project. First, I would have loved to add more extensive information to my map project! I learned so much about the people and places of early Amherst this summer, and only a fraction of that knowledge (and excitement!!) was able to be integrated into the website, both because of time and technology restraints. For example:

  • Originally, students were responsible for bringing their own furniture for their lodgings–if they didn’t have any or couldn’t afford  to buy any, then they could borrow some from the college through the janitor.
  • President Hitchcock introduced the stone walkways that line College Row; previously, there were only mud and dirt paths, and the campus was actually pretty ugly–there wasn’t much foliage and gaping holes were found in the ground due to townspeople digging up rocks for construction materials.
  • There used to be a huge hat factory in the area that is now Dickinson Street, owned by the Hills family (who I talked about in this blog post after embarking on a missing-persons detective case), that created hats out of palm leaves.
  • The famous Emily Dickinson daguerreotype was made by John Lovell, the photographer who created most of the early photographs of Amherst, and it is likely that she sat for the portrait at the popular Amherst House hotel in town (currently the site of Bank of America on the corner of South Pleasant and Amity Streets).

As someone who’s truly become passionate about understanding early Amherst, it breaks my heart that there are more [than ten] things you need to know that I had to edit out! As a result of the summer’s research, I’ve imagined 19th Century Amherst so much it feels more like a memory, and I really want our audience to have that deep personal connection, too.

Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.
Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.

Secondly, I’d like to make a webpage that allows for a more culturally immersive 1800s experience, featuring music from the time period that the audience could listen to, blurbs about national and international history that occurred during this timeframe, and things like that.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to look more deeply into the political, social, racial, gender, etc. climates of Amherst at this time in order to view it in a less-biased way with heightened awareness. For instance: The Civil War began just at the conclusion of the 40-year focus of our website, but politics were already boiling at the time and it seems that Amherst was pretty divided on several issues–for example, not everyone would have agreed with the lyric “We will never be free until we end slavery.” Discussions about making Amherst co-ed actually began in its early days, and while some people were for it, figures like William Seymour Tyler were strongly against it for some pretty misogynistic reasons. Furthermore, I didn’t find much about women’s roles in early Amherst (which makes a point in itself). If I were to continue this project, I would love to more comprehensively include women in the sequel.

In all honesty, I have a secret dream of continuing my research on my own time just because I’ve acquired such a deep personal interest in all of this stuff! I’ve been semi-interested in Amherst’s early history since my freshman year, but pursuing that as deeply as we have this summer hadn’t been top priority when considering my commitments as a student. So when this internship opportunity came up, I thought, “I don’t know how to say no this!” Not only was this all an amazing learning experience, it was also the beginnings of fulfilling my dream of discovering early Amherst! This summer’s research has sparked an “I want to be an Amherst historian” flame in me and left me helpless. For example, yesterday I went on a field trip to Morgan Hall with Emma to compare our knowledge of the early library with the (albeit repurposed) building itself, visited the archives to look at what they had on Morgan, and continued reading a book on Amherst’s history that I didn’t get to finish earlier. I (almost) wish I could say that was the last time I’ll read an Amherst book… But I’m sure that in a few weeks, while I flip through more Amherst-y pages, I’ll have the same thought again and think “I said that last time!” I think this will become a pastime… The folks in the archives were right when they told me “You’ll be back!”

In conclusion: Thank you to Amherst College and all of the library staff who have made this experience possible–I hold each of you in a special place in my heart and am so thankful for all of your support, teaching, and general awesome-ness! Overall, this has been an incredible summer and I’m beyond glad that I’ll be in Amherst for the forseeable future–I wonder what other bygone things I’ll discover? And who knows–maybe future DH interns will look back at our work through awesome technologies that haven’t even been invented yet, just as we’ve looked back on the handprints left behind by Amherst’s first students with today’s technologies. Thanks to the efforts of DH, history definitely has its eyes on us. I suppose all that’s left to say is…

Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.
Unaltered image from the Amherst College Digital Collections.

What’s Next

When we started this internship just over eight weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea what would be possible for us to accomplish. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very optimistic. As I’ve said before on the blog, I’ve never been a very digital person. When my mom told me I should learn to code, I learned how to make books instead. The moment my computer misbehaves, I call a tech-savvy friend to come save the day. I took this internship because I wanted to change this, and to develop new ways of thinking about research and scholarship, but I also brought with me a whole host of digital insecurities. I’m proud to say that, for me, our website represents a tremendous amounts of growth, and I’m excited to present the final result to the Amherst community.

Digital scholarship required me to be much more cognizant of my methods and how they affected the data and materials I was drawing from. Perhaps this was because I was using tools and methods that were previously unfamiliar to me, but during this summer I often found myself thinking critically about the ways in which  the tools and methods I was using to study and present my data and research shaped and directed our understanding of these materials and the arguments I drew from them. Though this is definitely something I’ve also done while working on more traditional written scholarship projects, it was more present in my mind when I started to work digitally.

Next year, I’m conducting on a major self-directed research project in New Delhi, India, and I’ll absolutely be taking the skills and methods I learned this summer with me. As my work will require quite a bit of travel and my physical resources will be limited, the ability to use digital methods for documenting and presenting my work will be hugely advantageous, and I’m excited to discover new applications of the skills we developed this summer.

To the next group of Digital Scholarship Summer Interns, your most valuable assets during the program will be your peers. Though you may each have (seemingly) disparate interests and project ideas, some of the most meaningful, thought-provoking moments for me this summer came from spontaneous brainstorming sessions amongst the four of us, and whenever I reached a sticking point, team members were there to help me regain the momentum I needed. A related note—don’t underestimate the power of the white boards in the Barker Room. Sometimes the best (or only) way to articulate messy research ideas and aspirations is through series of concept maps and diagrams, unintelligible to anyone but yourselves.

Proof of Concept

People are pleased by narratives. Finding a thread, no matter how fictitious, that ties together the chaos of the world into something comprehensible comforts us.

In our haste to tidy up the past, we often erase the uncertainties, the dead-ends and empty spaces, or else we simply hold them up as foils to our successes. Often this is unconscious rather than deliberate, but there are times, too, when it’s just simpler to succumb to the tidiness of romanticization.

I can’t even recall all the sparks and sprightly ideas that flitted through my mind throughout the summer, each one shining bright with the certainty it would be vital in the final project. There is much I dreamed of that never coalesced into reality, and that’s okay. The messiness of the process is not a byproduct of poor planning or sloppy navigation– it’s a crucial part of creation.

Of all the tools we studied and struggled with and implemented this summer, it is important to acknowledge that our own intellects and insights are such in their own right. Every misstep and detour and all that messiness strengthened them, giving them more practice at interpreting data, synthesizing resources, and being flexible in expectations.

All our deliverables and proofs of concept that linger, somewhere, on the web or our hard drives or on whiteboards soon to be erased, were vital in constructing Early Amherst– a website I am quite pleased to have had a part in creating– even if no visible trace of them rests in its posts and pages.

If I had to give one piece of advice to the interns next summer, it would be this: invest in your proofs of concept. Learn to love learning, if you don’t already, and get excited about exploring. For the first half of the summer, don’t be afraid to circle around cul-de-sacs and dally in dead ends. You’ll still be sharpening your tools and methodologies.

And for the second half, as your heart grows set on certain products, start small. Collect the data for a portion, test out your software, be prepared for multiple iterations. The flexibility you learned from your earlier messiness will serve you well.

In college, there often wasn’t time for messiness. It was easy to stick to the tried-and-true methods of essay production and late night studying. Like that narrative thread, the certainty of those methods was something you clung onto to navigate the chaos.

No matter how tenacious your grip, such a strategy isn’t tenable. We were encouraged to think of our website as a work in progress, as a large proof of concept, and that is perhaps the best way to view all endeavors. Perfection will paralyze you, and no matter how much you might wish to narrativize your past into a straight line, it’s all the zigzags that make things possible. Learning to be flexible, to accept failure, and to understand that most efficient isn’t always the same as most effective, are lessons I will take with me past this internship.

In a sense, this whole experience was a proof of concept– can I work well with a team, can I allocate my stamina for a seven hour day, can I plan and implement strategies for a long-term project?

I’m not sure how much DH will play a role in my future– I am perfectly amenable to it playing a large role– but I know the skills and ways of thinking I’ve developed will aid me in any endeavor. And perhaps that’s its own form of romanticization, another fictitious thread I’m trying to weave into my tapestry, but it does, in this moment, feel very true.

In any case, I can say with certainty that working with everyone, sharing learning and laughter, dancing between the abstract, the concrete, and the absurd– all of it has been an absolute joy. Thank you!

 

 

A Field Trip to Early Amherst

Between the Jones Library Archives and Special Collections and the Emily Dickinson Museum, a wealth of information brought early Amherst to life! We, as interns, have spent the past few weeks learning the importance of the digital; from important text analysis tools to the ethics of distribution. However, the value of analyzing source material in the physical form and in space cannot be underestimated.

Particularly striking about our visit to the Jones Library Special Collections was the John Lovell photography collection. Lovell (1825 – 1903) was a professional photographer who came to Amherst in 1856 and established the Amherst Picture Gallery, continuing a long history of College imagery and extending the two-decade old technology of modern photography to Western Massachusetts. Throughout his professional life at Amherst, he produced compelling images of the College architectural landscape of then (more) humble town of Amherst. The collection revealed gems I would not have searched for online such as the view of Main Street in the 1860s shown below. Stumbling into such gems can be a valuable addition to primary research in the digital form.

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View west on Main Street toward the Amherst House hotel, circa 1865. http://www.digitalamherst.org/items/show/659

The visit to the Emily Dickinson Museum equally added more context to my investigation of early Amherst. Learning about Emily Dickinson’s connection to the College through her brother Austin, an Amherst College graduate whose involvement with the college extended beyond his graduation, and the social networks that existed around the mid-nineteenth century fleshed out the information I’ve gathered so far on the persons influential in the construction of Amherst College buildings and its guiding pillars.

While the value of digitally accessible sourcing is unquestionable, it need not come at the expense of analyzing physical copies and site visits. Both forms of primary sourcing work alongside each other to paint a holistic picture of spaces and stories in history. Thus, Lovell’s dusty prints and Dickinson’s remodelled bedroom made early Amherst come even more alive.

 

History Comes Alive! (Sorry for the Cliché Title)

On Friday, us interns took a visit to the Jones Library Special Collections, as well as the Emily Dickinson Museum… And if you’ve either (a) read any of my posts or (b) spoken to me at all in the past month and a half, you can probably imagine just how EXCITED I WAS!

I have really and truly been falling in love with the research I’ve been doing this summer, and have a special spot in my heart reserved for the social and architectural landscapes of early Amherst. Two important things to note here:

  1. I’m definitely aware of RRS, or Researcher’s Romanticism Syndrome (I totally just made that acronym up, but it sounds legit, yeah? I’m sure many of us researchers can relate!), and am trying my best to keep several things in mind so that I don’t make Early Amherst into some sort of perfect Disney town in my mind. It’s important to note the historical, social, racial, political, etc. contexts of the time period, as well as the biases naturally found in any sort of document, but especially in the primary source texts I’m reading.
  2. I’ve been viewing Amherst in a different way this summer compared to how I’ve seen it for my entire four years as an undergrad, and I truly wish I’d known all that I do now about Amherst’s early history during my time as a student. Understanding (or trying to) the history of the place where you’re living and learning enriches your experience of that place in SO many ways, and that’s really valuable. I’ve been feeling so much more connected to Amherst these past few weeks and am beginning to see myself not as merely a passerby through the 01002, but rather as an active participant in its living history.

Considering these things, you might begin to imagine both my apprehension and my exhilaration during Friday’s tours–I was impacted by many things, like looking through photographic prints of town buildings, or standing in the very living room that Samuel Fowler Dickinson (Emily’s grandfather) came home to after helping to secure the founding of the college. And it’s not as if these are new things to me; I’d seen random photos of the early college throughout the walls of Frost during my countless hours of studying there as an undergrad, and I’d been to the Dickinson Homestead a couple of times over the past four years. But something was different this time.

This artwork make me think about the complex and creative mind that Emily Dickinson had--all of my thoughts about 19th Century Amherst have become complex and creative this summer! http://vein.es/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/astronomy-2.jpg
This artwork make me think about the complex and creative mind that Emily Dickinson had–all of my thoughts about 19th Century Amherst have become complex and creative this summer!
http://vein.es/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/astronomy-2.jpg

This time, I had spent basically a continuous month and a half diving headfirst into the world that supplemented those photos and homestead visits. This time, I actually recognized names like Rufus Graves, Mabel Loomis Todd, and Nehemiah Strong–and I could even tell you which buildings in town they had called home. This time, I nodded in agreement as our incredible tour guide mentioned that the Dickinsons hosted famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, because I had just recently read a firsthand account of the event myself.

This time, I was on a mission that stretched beyond mere personal interest–now, the mission was also for the sake of research, scholarship, teaching, and accessibility (wow, that sounds pretty DH-ish!). How cool is that?! And to be spurred on by a deep personal interest just makes it all the more worthwhile and exciting!

While I’m still mentally processing a lot of what we saw on Friday (mostly at the Dickinson Museum, merely due to the tactility and the verbal teaching that we experienced), I can definitely say that the mini-project that I’m working on for our final DSSI project will be greatly impacted. This is, of course, because we got to do things like see new photographic material and hear recitations of Emily’s poems while standing on the very property that she lived on… But it’s a little more than that, too. I think it’s also because I’m beginning to see these people that we’re researching not as mere characters in some fairytale book, but as real people who lived in this real place that I, another real person, am currently living and moving and breathing in. I’m beginning to truly catch glimpses of how Amherst itself lived and moved and breathed way back in the 1800s, and I’m beginning to realize that the Amherst of 200 years ago is coming alive for me today.

My goal? To make early Amherst come alive for those who view our project, too. And while I know that this is a hefty task, I’m eager and excited to accomplish it!

New Perspectives

Today we took a field trip to the Jones Library Special Collections and the Emily Dickinson Museum as a means to expand our understanding of nineteenth century Amherst. This was really exciting, because not only did these excursions deepen our understanding of the historical context surrounding early Amherst, they also allowed us to break out of our everyday Barker Room-Frost Cafe-Archives routine, which definitely helped me to refocus and consider my work from different perspectives.

P1090726-crop

A *small* change in scenery
A *small* change in scenery

At the Jones, we looked at several photographs I hadn’t seen before, both of Amherst College and the town of Amherst. These we a huge help in my own mental visual and spatial reconstructions of Amherst. It was also exciting to hear Amanda speak about some of the photos and locations, because so much of her work and her contributions to our final project have to do with these spaces and the people that inhabited them. I’m really looking forward to interacting with her final product!

The Dickinson Museum was also inspiring. I’ve always been quite ashamed that in all my time at Amherst, I never once visited the Dickinson Homestead, but today, as an alumna, I finally made it! Immersing ourselves in two nineteenth-century spaces—the Homestead and the Evergreens—was an important exercise, I think, for two main reasons:

1.) It permitted us to consider (very approximately, of course) what life physically looked like and felt like during that time. Architecture and interior spaces are often such a central part of human experience, and being able to engage with these spaces gave me a better sense of the period we’re working on.

2.) The tour itself was informative, not only for its content, which was excellent, but also for its structure and style. During the tour, I thought a lot about our guide’s use of visual materials and interactivity, which engaged us in ways that went beyond a simple lecture might. The organization and the curation of the tour got me thinking again about how our viewers will interact with our projects, and what types of guiding and interactivity we might try to facilitate on the website.

This all comes at the perfect time, because we are starting to hit the final stretch (!) of the internship, and are really starting to dig into our respective components of the final project, so the look, structure, and organization of the website are definitely becoming very real considerations, which must be determined very, very soon.

There’s definitely lots to consider and process over the weekend, but I think that we’ll all be heading into next week with lots of new inspiration and momentum!

Missing Metadata, Categorization Chaos

nometa72-small

Currently, I’m most excited about the mini project centered around the original college library (If you’ve been following our internship at all over the past few weeks this probably comes as no surprise…). I’m interested in asking the following research questions: How do student-developed and institution-developed libraries differ in terms of subject matter and contents in the 1830s at Amherst? Are library collections during this time at the college consistent with the college curriculum, or not?

Seeking answers to these questions will elucidate the place of college libraries in the early intellectual environment at Amherst. With those questions and goals in mind, over the past few days, I’ve been examining potential primary sources for the project in the archives. These include: The 1833 College Library Catalogue (manuscript), the 1833-44 Alexandrian Society Library Catalogue (manuscript), and the 1821-36 Athenian Society Library Catalogue (print).

I specify whether or not these sources are printed or handwritten because this has substantively affected how I engage with them. The printed Athenian Library Catalogue is exceptionally user-friendly compared to the other two…it is completely legible, intuitively organized, and tallies the total number of books in each subject area in a nifty little table in the back. The other two catalogues are far more challenging. Since they’re handwritten, they were able to be expanded and corrected over time, making them more difficult to read and understand through crossed out areas, different hands, and different organizational styles, and the nineteenth century handwriting doesn’t help…

On top of that, each catalogue has a different way (or lack thereof) of organizing their books and presents a different set of information about the texts, which adds another layer of difficulty to the task of comparing the contents of the three libraries (this experience is certainly deepening my library-nerd love and appreciation for standardized call number systems like Dewey and LOC…). 

In essence, as I begin to tackle these materials, I’m having major flashbacks to the metadata workshop–if you’re not really deliberate and standardized about how you categorize/organize/structure metadata, it becomes really hard for future people to do anything with the piles of stuff you leave behind.

Then there is the problem of trying to impose categorization onto bodies of materials that were not organized by subject matter in the first place, like the college library, which is essentially a giant list with no discernible order. Some of the books have ambiguous titles or might fit in more than one category, and as the researcher, I must decide where these books fit. I am trying my best to be faithful to the categories already designated by the other nineteenth century catalogues, but in order to apply these categories to other materials that were originally uncategorized, I’ll have to be sure I understand what the categories meant back then.

Though the research and data collection methodologies here are posing quite a challenge so far, this is a project that I’m very excited about, and hope to produce compelling data visualizations from once I’ve been able to structure and compile the data. Hopefully, armed with my ever-deepening appreciation for metadata, I’ll be up for the challenge!

(and hopefully, as library practices have become far more standardized and metadata-focused, researchers of the future will have a less-difficult time working with the stuff that we leave behind!)

Early Amherst Perspectives

After many project proposals, methodology workshops, and blog posts, I think I am ready to start crunching out a final research project website deliverable. Design is an iterative process. Although our brainstorming has somewhat narrowed our focus and pointed to where we need to invest our time for the remaining three weeks (time flies when you’re having fun!), I feel the need to start molding the clay of research accrued over the past few weeks. The challenge, now, is to decide what what sculpture we as interns want to (and can) make in the remaining time (some time has been invested into brainstorming the possibilities), where the online piece will be hosted, and what tools we will call on.

One mini-project that has captured my interest is the “Amherst___through the lens of___” project. Potential fill-ins for the blanks could lead to each of our different projects, which focus on early Amherst perspectives: social networks, the early College library collection, academics as viewed through course catalogs, and architecture. What is interesting about this proposal is its potential to draw the site user into learning about early Amherst in a playful, interactive way. In giving the user autonomy to select their path through the site according to what lens interests them the most (be it Amherst faculty, a specific student or society, or time period, or even a specific building) the site will keep the user engaged as they leap from one section to another. A challenge, however, would be to make the different sections overlap enough to make a scholarly argument about early Amherst, as Este suggested in our team meeting.

As critical as it is to produce an aesthetically pleasing, fun website, it is equally important to see this assignment as a scholarly research project. While we have been absorbing information in preparation for our final product, we should keep in mind that the site must balance between disseminating information and advancing scholarly work on the data available on early Amherst. I can’t believe I’m beginning to sound like my thesis advisor!

So, that said, I shall start site construction this week. I will get frustrated with the tools I have and my shortcomings in using them. I will fail to make the visuals match my vision for the site. I will miss some important data. But I will learn. I will get better at using the tools, and I will research more to find missing pieces to the puzzle. In the words of Amherst alumn William Hastie (1925), “Achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.”

Without further delay, may the site construction games begin!

And Now I Want to Be A Cartographer

Although it was wonderful to have a long weekend, I was a bit worried that only having three days to do research this week would make me feel as if I’d missed out on valuable research time, or that I would have trouble “getting back into the groove,” etc., etc. Well, I am excited to report that I was wrong!

The past couple of days have been quite exciting for me in terms of pursuing a project based on mapping the physical and social landscapes of early Amherst. In preparation for our final project, the intern team has put together a proposal filled with several mini-projects that we brainstormed up. While it’s not likely that all of them will make it into our final project, we are each choosing a project and  pursuing it over the next couple of days in order to see where it will take us.

A project that is of particular interest to me is some sort of interactive map that details both the town and the college sometime during our 1821-61 timeframe. I’m really interested in the ways that Amherst physically developed over time, as well as in the people who lived, worked, and learned  in Amherst as it developed. I really believe that the social and physical landscapes impacted (and continue to impact) each other, which is why this map project is so interesting to me… I mean, you can only read so many love letters, personal anecdotes, and student disciplinary reports until you become invested in the people who wrote them and the place where it all happened. Moreover, learning so much about the social and geographic landscapes is giving me an incredibly new perspective on what it was like to live in Amherst in the mid-19th Century–and it’s impacting how I digest the campus and town in my personal daily life here in 2017, as well! But that’s another blog post.

Anyways, on Wednesday, I used my (very minimal) Photoshop skills to alter an 1886 map to our uses. Here is the original map:

Burleigh, L. R. (Lucien R.), and Burleigh Litho. "Amherst, Mass." Map. 1886. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:x633fd88x (accessed July 07, 2017).
Burleigh, L. R. (Lucien R.), and Burleigh Litho. “Amherst, Mass.” Map. 1886. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:x633fd88x (accessed July 07, 2017).

The website I accessed this map from has a powerful zoom tool that allows you to see each and every detail Mr. Burleigh, the mapmaker, created (yay digitization tools!), and wow was he great at what he did! You can view many more of his New England maps here, if you’re interested. While I realized that 1886 is over twenty years out of our timeframe, I was hoping I could at least experiment with this map to familiarize myself with both map editing and Amherst in this general timeframe. Below is my edit, complete with color-coding (of which isn’t too important at this point, so I’ll refrain from explaining):
Woven Map 3My hope for a mini-project that somehow revolves around 19th Century Amherst maps was to color code it to highlight important points, and then link those points to information about the buildings, roads, or landmarks that they correspond to. Perhaps this information could include things such as the date it was built, its architectural materials and cost, and why it was a point of interest to Amherst College and its students, faculty, and community members. If we’re lucky, we could even link to a photograph, sketch, lithograph, etc. of the landmark in the 19th Century, as well as a photograph of it today, if it still stands.

This mini-project idea really intrigued me, so I continued working on it. My ultimate dream was to find a map that existed sometime towards the end of our 1821-61 timeframe, which would both give us more resources on researching the town at that time, as well as give us a fuller picture of the Amherst that encompassed most of the first four decades of the college. But I figured that it was highly unlikely I’d find a map from the late ’50s…

WELL. Guess who was wrong? ME! After a seemingly-wild-goose-chase through Google, various digital image databases, a sketchy website full of old map prints, a visit to the archives, and a headache, I ACTUALLY FOUND WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR!

Walling, Henry Francis. Map of the county of Hampshire, Massachusetts. New York: H. & C. T. Smith & Co., Publishers, 1860. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2012592249/. (Accessed July 07, 2017.)
Walling, Henry Francis. Map of the county of Hampshire, Massachusetts. New York: H. & C. T. Smith & Co., Publishers, 1860. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2012592249/. (Accessed July 07, 2017.)

I know, I know–you’re probably like, “Um… What am I supposed to be looking at?” This map is basically the mother of all maps. It consists of six sheets, is HUGE (though I can’t tell you how huge, because the Library of Congress didn’t fully complete the metadata on its physical size… Tsk tsk…), and contains detailed maps of various towns throughout Hampshire County. Including… Amherst! And the best part? It’s dated 1860! HOW PERFECT. I can’t even believe it.

For my purposes, I zeroed on in the Amherst map:

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 3.29.09 PMMy heart cried happy tears when I found this. Not only does it list the names of people and businesses that occupied various structures, but it also details some geographic features, the railroad (which was a pretty new feature to Amherst and, as you can see from this map, was still to be completed… Unless I didn’t like my house, I wouldn’t want to be any of the families who lived in its soon-to-be path), and a business directory! I could talk about my findings for hours, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll skip to the image I finished constructing today:amherst1860 CI focused on a section of the map that was both (1) most familiar to me and, I would guess, most contemporary Amherst-dwellers and (2) most relevant, I’m guessing (due to the nature and inhabitants of the structures), to Amherst College at the time. Let’s zoom in so I can make a few points:Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 2.34.36 PM

  • Green: Streets that are still around today. I didn’t color in areas of the 1860 streets that aren’t around anymore, and I didn’t add in any post-1860 streets.
  • Purple: Amherst College structures. Almost all of these are included on a TimeMapper project that Takudzwa and I did a few weeks ago, which is exciting.
  • Blue: Houses where Amherst professors who taught during 1860 lived. I found a list of these faculty members from the bottom right section of the complete map.
  • Pink: Significant people or places that have come up in our DSSI research over the last month.
  • Orange: Structures (other than Amherst College structures) that are still standing today. I found this information through spending a lot of time comparing this map to the Amherst Property Viewer map (which I mentioned in my last post) and digging through its records.

A ton has gone through my mind while doing this research and altering this map, all of it pushing me to ask more research questions and think about ways that this altered map could be of use, perhaps after more editing, in our final project. I think it has a lot of potential, especially when focusing in on the ideas about an interactive map that I mentioned earlier, and I’m so excited to see where the road will lead (no map-pun intended)! Perhaps the best part of all of this research and Photoshopping is that it’s given me a deeper and fuller perspective of 1860 Amherst and its social network–and I LOVE it!

Now, all I have to do is find a time-machine so I can have a picnic by the fountain that used to be on the town common… I’ll save that project for next week.

Visualizing the Final Project…

We have no shortage of research questions—the list is ever expanding. However, at the moment, the question that I think is present on most of our minds is not necessarily one of content, and has much more to do with our methods and approaches going forward. As a cohort, we all seem to agree that we want to produce a project with a strong sense of cohesiveness—though we will all inevitably work on separate pieces,  I think I speak for all of us when I say that our vision is not necessarily one of four discrete projects under a broad, unifying theme. 

However, what our vision will actually look like has been more difficult to articulate—fitting the work and interests of four different brains into a unified final product sounds great in abstract terms, but it has been challenging to define what that might actually look like in practice. Today, we had an excellent improptu brainstorming session (first just the four of us, later with Sarah and Este) in which we sketched out visualizations, lists, and diagrams of how we might go about structuring our collaborative website and integrating our ideas in a (relatively) seamless fashion. We don’t have answers necessarily, but we do have a big pile of thoughts and directions to process over the long weekend!

Our first step will be to each do a bit more individual research, and to get a better sense of the research topic and materials that we’re most interested in. Monday, we’ll get together for a bit more brainstorming, diagramming, and concept mapping to see how we might best organize, connect, and integrate these. I’m still totally drawn to the development of libraries at Amherst—what was in them, how that related to the college curriculum, how student-developed libraries compared to institutional ones, etc. etc. etc… 

In the next working day or so, I’m planning to construct a rough research plan centered around these interests, which I’ll share with my fellow interns. Each of us will share our loosely-conceived ideas, and we’ll talk together about how they connect or speak to larger questions or directions.

We’re still leaving a lot of room for each other to express and explore individual interests, but I’m loving how well this team is working together so far. Unstructured brainstorming sessions and discussions amongst the four of us have really been some of the most compelling moments of the internship for me so far, and I’m sure that what comes next will be a reflection of this incredible team dynamic.