Rod Serling and Boxes 1-20

In the Amherst Special Collections, there are documents that venture onto the precipice of strange and weird, categorized within an archive beyond man, the middle ground between light and shadow, science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of mans fears (Amherst Literary Monthly) and the summit of his knowledge (everything else). It is known as the Twilight Zone.

Behind the door to this dimension lie Amherst Student clippings with headlines like “Sarat Joins [O.J.] Simpson Defense.” One front page article features a student covered in a white full-body poncho,  “SHE’s debut new mascot, Captain Condom” Publications dedicated to alternative art, advocating students to wave around Mao’s little red book. It depicts an Amherst that both was, is and will never be.

These documents, worthy of headline in any SNL Weekend Update, are legitimate. On their own, they are the quirkier aspects of life in a small college. They are united only by their deviation from the norm and not similarities, a collection of misfits. Together, they paint Amherst as a little unhinged but immensely lovable.

Unfortunately, that makes them ill suited for study. I love to snap photos of each strange feature I see, with Ripley’s Believe it or Not on speed dial. However, I can’t really find any digital use for them- I can’t even explain why we’re so drawn to them anyways! The application of some collections to projects are easy, like charting the growth of buildings or the advancement and recession of Sarat’s hairline in each photo appearance.

Sarat’s “Peak” hair years- named for both the climax in hair density and the premature onset of widow’s peak.

If anything, it’s affected my attitude towards my dedicated project. I’m grateful to be exploring comedy publications, because the lines between fiction and reality and not as blurred. For now, I’d like to focus on the question I asked earlier in the summer- when was comedy looking inward and when was it looking outward? Originally, I would’ve assumed most inspiration came outward. But now…. I’m wondering if it flowed from the pioneer valley between reality and fiction, situated in the Twilight Zone.


Shocking: Moleman Bares All!


Despite my loud mouth, I’m not a very outwardly social person. When it comes to group research projects, I would much rather live in a corner of the archive bunker, scraping off lichen from the walls to eat and subsisting off the dried ketchup stains of messy readers past. Those moleman tendencies push me towards individual research and study, as well as sources of light when I’m digging subterranean tunnels.

When we first drafted our list of proposals, we made a list of the projects we had already begun as well as other general questions we wanted to answer. Some of the new questions were wide-ranging like “What type of writing was popular by each decade, and why?” and others were more specific, ‘Which is more absorbent, toilet paper or Amherst Literary Monthly?”

After we had this list, we committed our first cardinal sin of group research: we broke up into groups of 1 or 2 to each work on individual proposals. This was part selfishness, part-necessity. There were too many ideas whizzing around to be focused into 3 solid proposals by four interns at 2pm on a Friday.

Now, we’re attempting to come together and combine those ideas, which is proving a little difficult because we aren’t sure how wide-ranging the overall proposal should be. I’m sure that we’re probably still very rooted in what we originally proposed.  We’ve summarized our proposals into bullet points and then did some “text-analysis” by highlighting common words and themes in each proposal. These have included:

  • Publications looking outward v. inward
  • Anonymity in Amherst writing
  • Administration and censorship
  • Reactions
  • Wartime Attitudes
  • Protest

However, I think that as we push forward, that protectiveness will slowly drop away. At first, I was hesitant to let go of my issues of Hamster, but I’m definitely now more interested in the way comedy tracks trends present in other publications. Admittedly, it’s hard to come together on a day when Europe decided to fall apart. (#Archivexit)




Digital Humanities: The Home Depot for the Hammer-abusing Researcher

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Such a phrase describes my research process prior to this internship. When embarking on a paper, I would frantically skim through documents, desperately writing any fact that could take up footnote space. It was inefficient and incoherent. Many a paper have come back marked “Too sporadic!”

Continue reading Digital Humanities: The Home Depot for the Hammer-abusing Researcher

Retreating to Advance

At the beginning of his post on the Digital Humanities, Trevor Owens asks whether should “Start with the question, the archive or the tool?”.  The answer he gives is that the digital humanities has no set starting point; The process is not rigid. In our work, I see a similarly fluid approach, despite being greenhorns to the field of DH. The only pattern is the lack of pattern.

Recalling how we planned (or are planning) our projects, I don’t see a strict order for our work. However, I do see a hierarchy of our considerations while brainstorming for each assignment. These priorities are only present briefly- we let them guide us in terms of the borders of first-draft thinking, but drop them once we actually begin moving forward. We can move anywhere within the boundaries and even push outward as long as we are doing research.

The considerations for the structure of our projects have generally followed this order:

  • The tool that has been assigned.

Ex: WordPress, Omeka, Concept Mapping, Timemap, etc.

  • The sources that we can easily obtain

The materials in the Amherst College archives that we have access to and won’t take long to get, basically boxes 1-10 of the Student Publications

  • Topics and questions that we are both individually and collectively interested in

Architecture, music, biting satirical snark,which Val Dining Hall dishes are the worst, etc

In our TimeMap projects, for example, the priority was the tool first and the sources second. We knew that we had to make at least two maps using the TimeMap software and that our deliverables would pull data from the Student & Alumni Publications archives. The initial urge to map each publication and its period of distribution (the most basic application of TimeMap) was disqualified thanks to the nature of our archives. Every publication was from Amherst, which would be a very boring map.

However, we then reconsidered what we could pull from the publications and instead focus on their content. Undoubtedly, our favorite parts have been the humor mags and the Student’s weekly crime log. We were hoping to map each reference to a location on campus satirized by the range of publications. But with such a small range of locations within a small area, we weren’t certain of how accurately on a map we could distinguish each victim of college satire. We had to switch attention to further areas outside of the Amherst campus, such as Panama, New York or Manhattan.

Ultimately, this worked to our benefit. TimeMap, with the help of external GPS coordinate locators like google maps, was able to show individual locations on campus quite well. Still, we decided to keep looking for references to areas outside of Amherst as well, which gave extra breadth to our investigation. This adds more to interpretation of our project. Before, it would have only spoken about the areas on campus that students hated most by time period. Now, it can also answer questions like “How inwardly thinking where publications on campus?”, “What global events/locations were most in the eye of teen comedy writers?” and “Is Florida really the most ridiculous place on Earth?”

I don’t think the aforementioned considerations are inherent to digital humanities, but rather the framework for guided digital humanities. None of us are independent researchers yet; we’re all toddlers waiting to grow into the professor’s tweed jackets that we’re wearing. I’m doubtful that this hierarchy will remain when we reach the more free-form stage of the internship. Once the work-shops slow down and we begin pursuing our own projects, I’m excited to see what we come up with. We’re already thinking outside the box, imagine what we can do without a foot on the brakes.


Are you a 1910 Slang Word? Because You’re “Jamake”-ing Me Crazy

Despite all the Digital Humanities concepts, ideas and jargon thrown at us within our first 48 hours of internship, one question dominated my mind this morning.

“What the heck is a ‘Jamake’?”

I’d encountered the term while reading the Kidder, a 1912 humor zine that was quite sophomoric for the time (although I’d argue that all publications in a college should be at the very least 25% sophomoric, if only for proper class-year representation.) The student editor, one Frederick Barton, had sent a draft to esteemed writer and troublemaker Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard, impressed with the rebellious display, wrote a kind letter in response. The editors would run Hubbard’s approval in the same issue, a trophy of witty delinquency.


Remember the good ol' days when world renowned authors invited you to sip lemonade on their porch because of your college magazine? I'm still waiting to hear back, Margaret Atwood. 

Reading his kind regards, I was left wondering what quality “jamake” could describe. Google searches turned up nothing. I texted my grandma at lunch and she never responded (crossing finger she didn’t pass away but too right now too call). Not until later did I realize the truth.

Jamake is plural.

The singular is “Jamoke,” a slang term from the late 19th century to describe a fool. The phrase arose from Irish American slang, particularly those working in shipping ports. It’s a combination of java and mocha, new words in America that had yet to be made cliche by Starbucks. To call someone a jamoke, apparently, is to say they no greater mind than that of a cup of coffee. It would rise to prominence in the trenches as slang for an army men, and like Tang, classic rock and the US presidency, would pick-up a less savory definition in the 70s.

Questions like these make me excited to spend real time looking at Amherst’s publications (unfortunately it’s not quite as easy to appreciate that old, mildewy book smell when you’ve gone digital.) I’ve written for a good number of our papers and magazines, but one thing I’ve found lacking is a sense of community and history within them. Students email their drafts, never step a foot in the office and don’t even know each others names. If it weren’t for the icons attached to their gmail address, I wouldn’t even know my editor’s faces.

My guess is that it’s hard to talk about legendary writers for The Student because it boasts such a massive, unwieldy history. Publication controversies, successes and tragedies come and go, but aren’t well recorded because they are ultimately covered up with the slog of boring candid sports photos and fluff news pieces. If an American icon were to contact a publication I wrote for, it probably wouldn’t even trickle down to my level. It seems a little ironic how the gatekeepers of Amherst’s daily history, have almost no knowledge of their own past. That’s all a little bit too selfless for me. Hopefully this jamoke can rectify it.