Early Work for “Early Amherst”

The first two days have been a whirlwind of information. I think it’s fair to say that the three of us (Takudzwa will join us soon!) were blown away by the versatility and expressive power of Digital Humanities, the enthusiasm of everyone involved in this endeavor, and the endlessly fractalling potential for our project.

rackham three girls in wind

The Archives already feel like an upcoming adventure. Unassuming as the Reading Room seems, with its quiet tables and gentle book cradles, it nonetheless feels like the edge of canyon or the bottom of a mountain–  the sheer scope of the collections available (90 linear feet of student publications alone!) electrifies the air. Tantalizing too is the long list online of the special collections, the finding aids all lined up for inspection and susceptible to quick control-F.

Though it’s only the second day, I feel as if ideas for the project have been arising, colliding, and coalescing in my mind for weeks. Already I’ve jumped from Jacob Abbott to Noah Webster to Lucius Boltwood and back, eyes lighting up as the same names pop up in faculty minutes, transcribed journals, and history books. I’ve stared, puzzled, at 19th century handwriting and each author’s chirographical eccentricities, parsing out with difficulty “Athenian” and “Alexandrian,” just to have those two literary societies mentioned easily and offhandedly in Fuess’s book (along with the tidbit that people were assigned to either in alternating alphabetical order).

My questions– bifurcating with every new piece of information– are perhaps too manifold to list. Let me focus, instead, on my goals for this internship.

I am enchanted with DH theory and praxis, and I’m hoping not just to immerse myself equally in the DH world and the world of early Amherst but also to have the two inform each other.

Though I acknowledge I will be limited by the tools available and the team’s proficiency thereof, the idea of melding medium and subject matter is too much of a siren call to shake. To have the interface and experience of our project reflect its very content, to mirror the values of research subjects within their own representation, to allow ease of access and friction in ways that imitate the generation of information– such ideals are tantalizing.

But even if the quixotic remains beyond my lance’s reach, I feel certain that the cohort’s endeavors here will never be wasted. Already our ideas spark off each other’s, our passions lending new lenses to the same sources. Humorous tidbits (expulsion for chicken stealing, grave concern over oversleeping ) are shared with the same frequency as more serious discoveries, and it is rare that one observation is not met with another’s connection. I fervently hope that such academic camaraderie continues.

The final goal I’ll mention is more worldly. That I have found a field that synthesizes my love of learning with my deep commitment to effective and aesthetic communication– which I hopefully achieve in my creative writing– feels strangely both inevitable and like a windfall. The future for me– until now always somewhat murky– now opens another possible path. Though I’ve but two months this summer to immerse myself in the theory, praxis, and intellectual joy of DH, I hope it will be enough to allow me to continue further in the field.

And now, since I’ll undoubtedly have a good laugh about it when my dreams from day two meet the research and reality of the upcoming weeks, I’ll name “Learning at Early Amherst” as the topic that entices me the most and that I hope to follow. Among the possible branches of exploration are the student self-directed literary societies, the evolving pedagogy and curriculum, and the sometimes tense relationship between students and faculty. As for resources, there are a few posters, a handful of student journals, and a number of student periodicals that present a promising starting point.

In any case, no matter what direction our research pulls us in, I know I’ve a good team beside me. In a field which embraces the expansion of expression and the tension between interpretations, there is no better way to explore any subject than with a cohort ready to dive in, develop, and debate with you.

I look forward to sharing our future explorations here, and I hope my reflections may offer you something of value!

(As a side note, I intend to include an Arthur Rackham illustration in every blog post. There’s always room in the world for more beautiful art.)


3 thoughts on “Early Work for “Early Amherst””

  1. Also looking forward to continued camaraderie amongst the DSI cohort! Some of the most valuable moments last week definitely happened when we found ways to connect our separate thoughts and ideas. I’m also excited about the idea of examining learning at early Amherst in some form in our project, especially because it encompasses so many aspects of the student experience at that time, both in classroom environments and outside these formal spaces—literary societies, fraternities, student publications etc.

    I’m excited to see where all of our research ideas take us as we begin to learn and introduce digital methodologies!

  2. Your enthusiasm for the summer and its upcoming treasures shines through in this post! I’m so glad that you’re just as excited as I am to explore all that DH has to offer, particularly when looking at our beloved alma mater (how crazy that we’ve graduated!). After only two days here, I’ve come to view this internship not only as a place for learning and pursuing new intellectual endeavors, but also as a place for building a deeper appreciation for and relationship with the past history and contemporary handprint of Amherst. You seem to share this excitement and I can’t wait to find out what all of us will discover in the coming weeks!

  3. Oh my goodness- I totally know what you mean on spending forever trying to figure something out and then look to something else for another reason and it’s plainly stated in clear typewritten text. This happens to me all the time! Surely it’s good four our brains, right?

    Also- I really find the literary societies interesting too. There are two notebooks from two societies at Amherst Academy in the Early History Collection, Box 1 that are super interesting. I have a draft of a blog post about that will go up on Consecrated Eminence sometime. The notebooks have their minutes of meetings, and the questions they would debate at each minute are really, really…well, they’re something.

    (PS: Archives’ Consecrated Eminence blog is awesome. I use it all the time for fun and to learn more about collections, AC, & historical context. https://consecratedeminence.wordpress.com/)

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