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.

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!

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.

MYSTERY DOUBLE-FEATURE: The Secrets of the Old Buildings & The Case of the Missing Theologians

This week has been a most exciting time in the DSSI world! We’ve hit the halfway mark of the internship (!!!), which means that most of our time moving forward (and most of our time this past week) will be focused on research–and gosh, am I excited! I really enjoy research. To me, it’s an adventure, a mystery, a fantastic journey that is just waiting for you to discover something new and exciting. I grew up reading all sorts of mystery novels–everything from Nancy Drew to A Series of Unfortunate Events to Sherlock Holmes and every obscure Young Adult Mystery-Fiction title out there–and have held a secret desire to be a detective ever since. Perhaps that’s why I’m so enticed by research… I can finally be a detective to mysteries that I stumble upon myself! Sometimes I begin with a mystery (as in, a research question) and sometimes I just happen to collect a ton of clues that eventually spark a mystery when lumped together. For example:

Beginning With Research Questions

Last week, I was doing more research on college architecture (big surprise) and thought it would be a good idea to collect information on each of the early college buildings into a spreadsheet. I’ve been learning so many data-driven technologies lately that I figured I could do something with the data I collected. So I created a spreadsheet that focused on each of the buildings, with categories like “Year Constructed,” “Architect,” and “Building Materials.” I realized that, despite all that I’d already learned about the buildings, I had more information on some buildings than others, and much of my spreadsheet was lacking. In a desperate attempt to get some answers, I ended up Googling something like “Amherst College architectural history” and, long story short, ended up finding an amazing website. And by amazing, I mean I was literally close to tears when I stumbled upon it, because there was just so much amazing nd information suddenly at my fingertips! It’s called the Amherst Property Viewer and, among other things, it allows you to use GIS software to find information on various buildings throughout Amherst and the surrounding area. Some buildings have more info than others, but to my delight, practically every building in Amherst with some sort of historical significance has a historical PDF record attached to it–which means that all of the early college buildings I needed information on had records! YAY! I found answers to a lot of my spreadsheet questions, and even added in some new spreadsheet categories due to the information that I found on record. There are some downfalls to the APV–such as not-so-intuitive interfaces and the fact that many of the architectural records haven’t been updated since the 1970s–, but what I eventually discovered definitely made all of the digging worth it. Nancy would be proud.

Beginning with Clues

On the flip side, I also came across some exciting discoveries by means of deduction and having some clues in my arsenal (I was apparently unintentionally channeling my inner Sherlock here, and I am not ashamed). Earlier in the week, I spent a lot of time with the 1861 Olio and created a spreadsheet that inventoried each Amherst College student from the year 1861, their home state or country, and all of the clubs/societies/fraternities that they were involved in during that year. Upon checking off the last student, I went back through my spreadsheet and noticed that there were two names who I had noted as being part of a club, Josiah Ayres and Henry F. Hills, but who didn’t match any names of students. After doing some spell-checking, rereading the entire Olio twice over, and using command-F about fifty times, I still didn’t have a clue who these people were. Stranger still was the fact that both of these “ghost sherlocknames” were part of the same club–the Bible Society–and, to make matters even more odd, there was only one other person listed as being a member of that club, a senior named Horace Parker. For a moment, I wondered if they’d died during the semester, but then remembered that a senior actually did pass away during that school year, and it was noted within the Olio at various points. So, who were these people??!!?!?!?!?!?!?!!

My first thoughts were that I shouldn’t be spending time worrying about two random people who probably weren’t going to have an impact on my research overall, and that I was just going to be wasting time looking for them. But my curiosity got the best of me, and I was bound and determined to find out at least something about them. After spending so much time inputting data about everyone else, I felt that I owed it to Josiah and Henry to at least acknowledge more about their existence than I was able to from the 1861 Olio.

I instinctively went to the bio file books in the little Archives reading room/library/awesome space; perhaps Josiah and Henry dropped out of school that semester, and I knew that the biographical books listed whether or not people graduated from Amherst or merely passed through as non-graduates. To my dismay, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

I then went to the Archives desk and inquired of any other resources that might help me find them, and was directed to another amazing book that contained student files (shoutout to Rachel! You’re awesome!)… But again, no luck. I even looked for alternate spellings of their last names (such as “Ayers” or “Hill”) since I noticed a few discrepancies throughout the Olio, but I still couldn’t find anything about either of them. To say that I was dissatisfied was an understatement–I was more heartbroken than anything else. I mean, they couldn’t have just randomly dropped off the face of the earth, could they? Well, even if they did, I wanted to know.

In one final attempt to gather more clues, I decided to Google their names and see what I could find (honestly, I often forget that Google exists when I’m surrounded by all of these primary sources… I’m failing you, my fellow millennials). Aaaaand… LO AND BEHOLD! DISCOVERIES ABOUND!! nd2

I found a digitized version of a family genealogy that noted Josiah Ayres as being a janitor at Amherst College. Sounds great, right? But the problem was that the book also noted that he died in 1860. So, four options:

  1. The book mislabeled Josiah’s death year
  2. The Olio mislabeled Josiah’s involvement year
  3. Josiah died during the 1860 part of the ’60-’61 school year and was still labeled as having been involved in the society
  4. Josiah is a ghost

Next, I moved on to Henry F. Hills, and found a bit more information. After looking through several digital resources via the Googlenator, I pieced together that Henry was a part of the famous (well, back then at least) Hills Family of Amherst. His family owned the Hills Company, which forged a fortune from their hat factory which was on present-day Dickinson Street, right between the Dickinson Homestead and today’s Amherst College Police Department building. This was exciting to me, since I had come across an 1886 map of Amherst a couple of weeks ago and noticed some sort of factory on Dickinson Street–sure enough, I looked back at the map and noticed that the factory was labeled as the Hills Company.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE! Some of my digging actually landed me back at the Archives–it turns out that the College holds a collection called the Hills Family Papers, which, you guessed it, is the same family. Looking at the finding aid, I found that Leonard (Henry’s dad) built a house on the corner of Triangle and Main Street, and that Henry built his own house next door. This is where it gets really exciting… Upon reading those street names, I was pretty sure that I knew exactly which houses these were, and that they were still standing! A quick Google Maps search confirmed my hunch.

Leonard’s home currently houses the Amherst Women’s Club, and I only know this because I went on a “Let’s Explore the Town We’re Living In For the Next Four Years” walk with a friend during my freshman year at Amherst. We stumbled upon the Women’s Club and, both of us being lovers of all things old and architecturey, fell in love with the house. We then continued down the street, saw what I now know to be Henry’s house, and immediately decided that we were somehow going to buy it and turn it into a cafe-bookshop-art gallery one  day. Anyways. Henry’s house is listed in the finding aid as being the home for the Amherst Boys & Girls Club, but I remembered that, when my friend and I saw the house almost four years ago, it was pretty dilapidated–and I’ve also noticed that, a couple of years ago, it seems to have been renovated and, I’m assuming, is a private home now. Doing some research, I found that the AB&GC has moved to a rented space in the town center as of several years ago.

The Leonard M. Hills House
The Leonard M. Hills House

After looking a little more into Henry, I also found that he was involved in the Christian community in Amherst, and then remembered three short words that I’d written down earlier in the day from data in the AC Biographical Record about Horace, the senior in the Bible Society: “Studied theology privately.” When I’d read this originally, it didn’t mean much–but now, it might be the key to linking my “ghost names” to the Bible Society. What if Josiah and Henry had been doing a bible study with Horace, and ended up calling it the Bible Society? I can’t find any records of this concretely, but all of these little clues seem to at least point in that direction. This possibility is especially exciting to me, since I was involved in multiple bible studies during my four years at Amherst–perhaps we should have called them Meetings of the Bible Society!

There are still questions that I have about Horace, Josiah, and Henry, and if time allows, I’d love to do some more digging. But for now, I’m quite satisfied with the mystery that I partially seem to have solved.

All in all: research is fun, being a detective is awesome, and I think I need to buy myself a magnifying glass and deerstalker cap now.


The Proposal

Guess what? We’ve had a SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL!!!!

Nah, no one’s getting married, but this progression of events is just as exciting (perhaps even more so) for us interns! This past week, we presented our first major project proposal, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it was both a challenge and a delight.

Our overarching project theme was “Learning at Amherst” and focused on the years 1821-1861. This project consisted of three main sections, which, when viewed together, we hoped would give our viewers a multi-faceted perspective on what it was to be learning at Amherst College in the mid-Nineteenth Century. These three sections drew on three personal interests which we have been investigating during our research–Amherst’s early libraries, the first course catalogs, and the lived experiences of Amherst students, faculty, and townspeople. Personally, I loved putting the proposal together; it was wonderful to see topics that the four of us have been interested in on a personal level be morphed into a collective project, with crossover information that allowed us to see our main topic on deeper levels and through different lenses. I think that this was one of the first times that we saw our personal research pursuits shaping into something tangible and, for lack of a better term, “for the greater good,” which was so exciting! Also encouraging was how well we worked together as a team to talk about our ideas, take on specific roles, and produce an idea and a document that expressed our thoughts and passions coherently.

For me, the current biggest question that I have revolves around that “lived experiences” topic, which Takudzwa and I have a profound interest in: What, exactly, are we doing? This question makes me sounds pretty clueless, but it’s not that bad, I promise! The predicament is merely that, currently, our ideas take into account both the architectural and geographical landscapes of 1800s Amherst, as well as personal accounts and photographs of people’s daily lives at the young College on the Hill. We’re going to have to narrow down our topic, figure out a specific question to answer, as well as narrow down the resources that we’ll use to answer that question. Personally, I’m definitely going to struggle with this–I’m fascinated with all of the resources that we have and I want to delve into everything… But I know that that’s not feasible. Lucky for me, I get to work with an amazing team who I know will give amazing advice and input when it comes to making these tough decisions!

Overall, I know that this proposal is really only a small starting point for the main project that we will be working on for the second half of the internship (though this definitely doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate our accomplishment–I’m so proud of us!!). Looking ahead, I have two main concerns:

  1. The narrowing down of our topics. There’s just so much amazing information and so many resources at our fingertips, and I want to utilize every single bit of it! But if that happened, I’d probably still be sitting in Frost in the year 2067, just in time for my 50th class reunion.
  2. The technological processing. Something I’ve learned when putting together our proposal, as well as when using programs like the Topic Modeling Tool, Tableau, and Gephi, is that tasks that we originally estimate might only take an hour can sometimes take up an entire morning (or more)! We’re definitely going to have to be smart about not biting off more than we can chew while still being ambitious, as well as working as a team to get things finished.

When all is said and done, I can’t wait for what we come up with next! I suppose all of this is sort of like a wedding engagement–we’re currently in a season of anticipating and preparing for the Big Day, which for us will be the finalization of our main project! In the meantime will be a lot of preparing and decision-making (and maybe some cake-tasting? We should get a cake. I love cake. Let’s get a cake). Yaaaay!


New Tools and Old Histories

The featured image is a detail of the entire original map, available by means of digital scholarship: Gray, Alonzo,  Adams, C. B. (Charles Baker),  and Pendleton’s Lithography.  “A map of Amherst with a view of the college and Mount Pleasant Institution.”  Map.  1833.  Norman B. Leventhal Map Center,  https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:cj82ks51r (accessed June 16, 2017). 

Welcome to this week’s edition of I Never Knew That Thing Existed, But It is So Cool, and Now My Mind is Going in A Million Different Directions With Differing Ideas of How to Utilize It!, featuring NGrams, Voyant, Lexos, and the Topic Modeling Tool! Yay!

In all seriousness, this week has been filled with many workshops, discussions, and test-runs designed to familiarize us interns with varying digital scholarship tools–and my goodness, has it been awesome! Overwhelming, but awesome. As a person who’s always struggled with the STEM side of my education (though I’ve also always been fascinated by it, and consequently frustrated that my brain often struggles with understanding it), I’ve absolutely loved getting to know these deeply technologically-based tools through the lens of the humanities. For example, Voyant’s ability to analyze text and create visualizations describing various characteristics of that text blows my mind! As an artist who loves image-based learning, this technology expands not only my conceptualization of the text, but also the questions brewing in my mind when thinking about the text. It’s cliché to say (and therefore my inner almost-English-major heart weeps as I type this), but new doors have been opened for me that may lead to new horizons!

Perhaps these Amherst students of 1868 are just as intrigued with their studies as I am with these new methodologies! Lovell, John L., 1825-1903, “Room no. 12, North College dormitory at Amherst College,” Digital Amherst, accessed June 16, 2017, http://www.digitalamherst.org/items/show/571.
Perhaps these Amherst students of 1868 are just as intrigued with their studies as I am with these new methodologies!
Lovell, John L., 1825-1903, “Room no. 12, North College dormitory at Amherst College,” Digital Amherst, accessed June 16, 2017, http://www.digitalamherst.org/items/show/571.

I’ve used texts and topics relating to the early history of Amherst College as my “guinea pigs” when exploring how to use these tools, which has been really valuable. Three college history books I’ve been familiarizing myself with over the past couple of weeks are William Seymour Tyler’s Autobiography of William Seymour Tyler, his History of Amherst College During Its First Half Century, and Stanley King’s The Consecrated Eminence. As I’ve looked at visual models and textual lists created by the aforementioned technologies, I’ve begun to see trends and develop new research questions, such as:

  • What topics did Tyler write about most often and why?
  • How did Amherst College physically and conceptually develop as it passed through the hands of various college presidents?
  • What, if anything, does Tyler’s writing style say about his experience with the college? Was his experience an exceptional one, or can we infer his contemporaries’ Amherst experiences from his?

When realizing that the time to turn from “learning how to use tools” to “working on a project” is fast approaching, I’m really excited! I definitely feel that I have enough of a grasp of these methodologies to begin brainstorming/creating a focused project–it already seems that I’m creating a billion mini-project-ideas in my mind as I play with the tools! Plus, I get to work with an amazing team of interns and librarians (I promise I’m not just saying this to butter anyone up–they’re all awesome)! One of the best parts of working in a team is pulling from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and I definitely know that I can count on the others to help me learn, push myself, and gain new insights into the technologies we’re using and topics we’re researching. How cool is that?


So, behold: Barrett Hall (far left through window), circa 1859, and the Moose, circa 2014.  I’ve witnessed the establishment of one of these Amherst College icons, and the other I’ve been reading up on over the past couple of weeks as an intern. As I type this, I sit betwixt the two–physically, of course, but metaphorically, too. In what ways will I utilize tools of the digital world to bridge the gap between Amherst past and Amherst present? The Moose grins at me as if he already knows, and I grin back at him, eager to find out.

DH and Research and Mapping… Oh My!

Research is in the eye of the beholder. –Not-so-ancient proverb

When I begin a new research project, I feel very much like how I imagine the girl in this painting, A Girl Writing, by Henriette Browne to be feeling–excited by so many intellectual and imaginative prospects, but also easily distracted by the wonder of the world around me and all that I am discovering.

When conducting my own, personal research (i.e., when unprompted by a specific topic for a class exercise), I tend to begin with a topic that interests me. For example, prior to my semester studying abroad in Scotland, I thought it was a good idea to learn as much as I possibly could about Scottish culture, society, geography, history… The list goes on. I began by watching documentaries and reading travel guides geared towards tourists, with the intention of gaining knowlehttps://giphy.com/gifs/fall-unicorn-psl-scarves-legwarmers-bike-funny-cute-illustration-l2Jho5fnv7sfNAAZqdge of the basics (for example, did you know that the bicycle was invented in Scotland? Or that the national animal is the unicorn? Yeah, Scotland is pretty cool). From there, I found that I had deeper interests in specific topics, such as the clan system, folklore, and music. I also wanted to learn more about the town of St Andrews specifically, where I was preparing to study and to live. With these topics in mind, I then sought out resources (films, documentaries, books, poetry, art, and songs) to give me more information concerning them. As I discovered, questions began formulating in my mind, and I took on some side-research to find answers as I continued on. I learned quite a lot this way, and enjoyed how one topic would lead into another, which would lead to another and another… The possibilities were endless!

Today, my research methods in those types of situations are much the same, and have been guiding my first week of the internship. I’ll start with looking at a list of Amherst College presidents because I don’t know much about them, become interested in William Augustus Stearns because I lived in a dormitory named after him, read the program and speeches given at his inauguration, read snapshots of his life written by one of his colleagues, and finally end up digging through the archives to look at his personal letters… All the while finding interesting tidbits that make my mind go in a million other directions.

While exhilarating, this method can also be exhausting while not being exhaustive (though, is it really possible to ever research everything about anything?), which made Trevor Owens’ article “Where to Start? On Research Questions in the Digital Humanities” an interesting read for me. While it may seem like the logical thing to do, I don’t usually begin any sort of research with a question–at least, not one that I’m cognizant of. Owens notes that “research questions are useful structures to organize your work and inquiry,” which is a great point, also reflects on the importance of establishing goals when doing research. Both of these points have actually been huge focuses of the last few days of this DSSI Summer, and I’m definitely seeing how valuable they are, particularly when tackling topics that are large, complicated, and laden with historical and archival material to sift through (COUGHthefirstdecadesofAmherstCollegehistoryCOUGH).

I’m quite excited to continue researching and exploring topics within Amherst’s early history–as a team, we interns have come up with some incredible questions and ideas, and the Digital Humanities tools that we’re beginning to use are already proving to be invaluable to our tasks. In particular, I’m excited about creating some sort of interactive map for viewers to engage with that connects the architecture and landscape of the contemporary campus with that of the mid-19th-century campus. GIS mapping tools could provide amazing platforms for this potential project, and I’m really thankful for the various mapping websites that we looked at (such as two of my favorites, The Roaring Twenties: An Interactive Exploration of the Historical Soundscape of New York City and Geography of the Post: U.S. Post Offices in the Nineteenth-Century West), which are each giving me ideas and expanding my conception of what is physically possible to create.

Screenshot from The Roaring Twenties: An Interactive Exploration of the Historical Soundscape of New York City, a website that utilizes GIS mapping to create an interactive map experience.
Screenshot from The Roaring Twenties: An Interactive Exploration of the Historical Soundscape of New York City, a website that utilizes GIS mapping to create an interactive map experience.

Moving forward, I’m eager to continue exploring answers to the questions that the other interns and I have come up with–it’s amazing that we have so many resources at our disposal, and that we’re learning so many new tools to help with researching and presenting! I can’t wait to see what we come up with!

Initial Thoughts on A Summer in Digital Scholarship at Amherst College

From a young age, I have been intrigued by the faces and places of the past–as a child, I visited various historical museums, found a home within the pages of historical fiction novels and films, dreamt of finding a time machine or Narnia-like wardrobe, and spent hours poring over the diagrams, photographs, and first-person accounts that I found in my history textbooks. I loved how I was alive in the same world that so many others had once been alive in, and that, while most of the people and events that I was learning about had passed on, handprints of those people and events still impacted my own life however-many years later. I often found myself thinking of historical figures as friends who I’d merely lost touch with, and, as a native of Buffalo, New York, I loved comparing old photographs of Buffalo to the contemporary land and cityscapes that I lived in myself. For me, exploring history was merely a step in discovering where my life and other lives intersected in this big world that we live in.

Imagine my excitement when I arrived as a first-year at Amherst College: an institution of higher learning that was literally built into the historically rich (for better or, oftentimes, for worse–but that’s another discussion) hills of Western Massachusetts. Naturally, I yearned to learn as much as I could about the place where I would spend at least four years of my life, and took every possible chance to absorb information pertaining to the College on the Hill. During the summer of 2016, I became especially interested in the first few decades of the College’s history, and spent time over the following months reading and investigating. But, alas, my senior thesis was then birthed into the world, and as I’m sure I’ll learn whenever I become a mother to a human child, I found that much of my life became re-centered on Caring for My Thesis rather than Pursuing In Depth My Own Miscellaneous Interests. That being said, I was naturally overjoyed when being offered an internship in Frost Library where I would not only be able to explore Amherst College’s history on a deep level, but where I would also be laboring within the framework of the Digital Humanities, a field I’ve been slightly dipping into here and there over the past couple of years.

So far, I have only experienced two days of my internship, where I’ve spent much time exploring information pertaining to the early years of Amherst College. Rather than not having much to say due to how early in the game it is, my mind is absolutely packed with ideas, questions, interests, and random-bursts-of-thought–one of which is, “I could spend the next several decades within the walls and webpages of Frost Library and still not have enough time to explore all of the projects that I’m already forming in my mind.” What a great first day-and-a-half, no?! To make it easier for both you and me (For you: to be able to coherently read my thoughts. For me: to be able to coherently assemble my thoughts), I’ve provided a list of some of these items below:

Topics of Interest on Amherst College, 1821-1861

  • Campus Life
    • Student uprisings
    • Class divisions and rivalries
    • Hazing culture
    • Sports and their impacts
    • Fraternities and their impacts
    • Women involved with the College
    • Amherst students of color
    • Christian revivals
    • Personal narratives and accounts (students, faculty, townspeople, etc).
  • Education & Intellectual Endeavors
    • Relationships between students and faculty
    • Role of the arts and visual media in education
    • Role of Christian ministry and missions in education
    • Amherst as an educational opportunity for low-income students
  • Architecture/Landscape of the College & Town
    • Interaction between students, faculty, and townspeople
    • Architectural development of the College
    • Impacts of the College on the town (cultural, economic, etc.)

…The list could go on, but I’ll stop here. My point is that I’ve found a vast array of topics interesting and worth pursuit–the problem is that, as I mentioned earlier, I could basically spend the remainder of my life researching all of this information and still have ideas and topics left to explore and discover. Truthfully, it seems that every time I find another interesting topic or every time I have a question answered, about six more topics or questions branch out of the original ones. On one hand, this is a problem for my adventure-and-exploration-seeking heart: I just want to learn everything I can (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in order to come to a fuller understanding of who and what Amherst College was and is, both for my own benefit and that of anyone who cares to take an interest. On the other hand, is this not an integral aspect of the beauty, complexity, and value of a liberal arts education? Having only graduated from Amherst two weeks ago, I can reflect on the past four years and say that I have more questions on my mind as an alumna than when I first arrived–and what a blessing that is!

I’ve learned to challenge, to question, to engage, and to disrupt. I’ve learned to utilize resources, to voice my thoughts, and to be critical of those same thoughts that I’ve voiced. I’ve learned to explore. I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a dead end, even when the door is locked. I’ve learned that pursing knowledge is useless unless we are willing to challenge those pursuits, learn about things we’re uncomfortable with, and humble ourselves when we realize that we don’t know everything. Pursuing knowledge is useless unless we make that knowledge accessible, and making that knowledge accessible is an integral step in making our world a more fruitful place.

Each of these things is something that time-machine-searching, old-Buffalo-daydreaming Amanda would never even have dreamt of pursuing. But thankfully, Frost-Archives-searching, old-and-new-Amherst-daydreaming Amanda is excited to pursue each of them (and more, because goodness knows she’ll discover more worth pursing) as she delves into her internship. Cheers to an incredible summer!