Looking for Buoys

This past week bumped up the amount of intensity not with the number of workshops, but with the increasing amount of self-scheduled time for deliverables, proposals, and general digging around in the archives. The proposals that we have come up with thus far have been in relation to a specific tool. Although this lens provided a narrow focus, we used this “limitation” as an anchor, a jumping-off point for research questions. Now that the methodology workshops have come to an end, we are set free in this ocean that is the student publications collection. But with this freedom comes the inevitable – where, and how, to begin? Yes, we have some tools (digital, mental, intellectual etc.) at our disposal, but the challenge now becomes knowing when to draw on them most effectively, first of all to minimize the risk of drowning.

A few topics of interest have emerged in the process: wartime Amherst, student protests, comedy over the years, and origins of the many publications. Although the group brainpower has generated these topics, the four of us has branched off to pursue what most intrigues us individually. The final product will be a group proposal, and at this point, we are trying to find threads that weave through all of our interests. We jokingly said that the main thread is “student publications.” After all, despite the diversity and range of topics and purpose, they sought to react to something in the world, and did so in their own way of expression, whether that be comedy, politics, arts, or creative writing.

Thinking about the people behind these publications helps me connect the most with this collection. Instead of seeing a stack of papers, separated into bland yellow folders, shuffled into austere grey boxes, I want a glimpse into why certain publications came into existence: what forces propelled their founders, and what challenges did they face in getting the final product published? In short, the context is the thing. While it is a Sisyphean task to track down every single reason that contributes to the beginning of each publication, I did stumble upon a few extensive first-issue editorials and other accompanying documents that discussed the circumstances of their origins. The two currently on my mind are Io, an unconventional literary magazine that accepted drafts in an effort to rebel against the supposedly elitist literary establishment at Amherst, and the Amherst Story Project, which emulated an NPR show of the same name to showcase the unique life stories of the Amherst community members.

I have not yet graduated to the stage where I’m thinking of how to incorporate digital tools, because I only know a small number of publications from writing abstracts for the collection. Although we are still in the brainstorming stage, with no ideas set in stone yet, the search has begun. Specifically, the search for an umbrella term for our final group project that is not “student publications.”