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!

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!

One thought on “History Comes Alive! (Sorry for the Cliché Title)”

  1. Amanda! I’m excited to see how your final project turns out – especially after witnessing your research process first-hand and joining you in the journey of understanding the Digital Humanities. As challenging as making Amherst come alive today in a digestible way given the overwhelming amount of primary sources available to us, I am sure it will be a valuable endeavor and am certain that you are up to the task. Your excitement is contagious!

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