University of Massachusetts Amherst
Special Collections and University Archives
UMass Amherst Libraries
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Mission and history

Mission

Cattle judging at Mass. Agricultural College

Judging cattle at Mass. Agricultural College

A steward of the past for generations to come, SCUA inspires discovery through the collection and curation of cultural heritage materials. As part of a community dedicated to the values of diversity, social equity, and positive social change, SCUA acts through its collections, programs, and exhibitions to promote free inquiry; the production, exchange, and preservation of knowledge; and joy in learning.

Department history

African dancers

African dancers
From the Horace Mann Bond Papers

In 1931, nearly half a century after Librarian Henry Hill Goodell first authorized the permanent retention of the official records of Massachusetts Agricultural College, the Library established a College History Collection. Containing official records of the university’s administrators and faculty and reflecting the life of its students, the College History Collection grew steadily until in 1953, the Library dedicated a room named in honor of Dean William L. Machmer to serve as the first true home of the University Archives.

Goodell’s foresight in assembling the College archives coincided roughly with the university’s first efforts to build a collection of rare books to support its educational mission. As early as 1868 — just one year after the arrival of the first students — the college accepted the donation of twenty scarce volumes on bee culture from the apiculturist (and state Adjutant General) Henry K. Oliver. By the time the college issued its first library catalog in 1875, rare books were a small, but notable part of the collections, closely focused on the primary academic interests of the early college: agriculture, horticulture and botany, and the natural sciences. Included among the Library’s earliest acquisitions were the first London edition of William Bartram’s Travels Through North and South Carolina (1792), François Augier de Marigny’s The History of the Arabians (London, 1758), and early bee manuals by John Keys, The Practical Bee-Master (London, 1780) and The Antient Bee-Master’s Farewell (London, 1796) — both courtesy of Oliver. Each of these volumes remains part of the collections today.

David Axelrod, Class of 1965

David B. Axelrod, ca.1980, Class of 1965, poet, author of The Man who Fell in Love with His Chicken (1980)

From these beginnings, the collection of rare books and manuscripts has co-evolved with the university and its academic programs. In 1973, the acquisition of the records of the Valley Peace Center and the papers of ethnographer Jozef Obrebski marked an expansion of scope beyond into personal papers and organizational records of historical significance beyond the narrow confines of the university, and the arrival of the papers on W.E.B. Du Bois in that same year marked a turning point. The rare book and manuscript collections were merged with the University Archives in the early 1990s to form the current Department of Special Collections and University Archives.

SCUA’s initial foray online came with a simple page on the library’s website in 1997, and by 2007, it had evolved into the UMarmot project, one of the earliest efforts to use freely-available software to create a comprehensive online archival catalog. SCUA launched its online digital repository, Credo in 2011, with the generous support of the Verizon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. Available free to all researchers, Credo is now a robust and heavily used presence on the internet, containing hundreds of thousands of pages of content and dozens of complete collections, including every item in the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois and Horace Mann Bond.

Mile markers

Each of the library’s million-volume milestones has been celebrated by the addition of a special volume to SCUA’s collections:

One millionth volume:
Jonathan Edwards, A careful and strict enquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will; which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, vertue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame. Boston: S. Kneeland, 1754.
SCUA’s copy of this classic theological work on Free Will from the New Light minister from Northampton belonged to Rev. John Cleaveland of Ipswich, Mass., one of the subscribers. It is signed and dated by Cleaveland in several locations.
Two millionth volume:
Phillis Wheatley, Poems on various subjects, religious and moral. London: A. Bell, 1773.
A classic of American literature written by a young woman enslaved in Boston, and the first book published by an African-American woman. Gift of Randolph W. Bromery.
Three millionth volume:
James Baldwin, Gypsy and other poems, with etched portraits by Leonard Baskin. Northampton, Mass.: Gehenna Press, 1989.
When Baldwin, a former faculty member at UMass Amherst, died unexpectedly, he was working with the great printer Leonard Baskin on a special volume of unpublished poems. Celebrating SCUA’s strengths in African American history literature and reflecting the fine-printing heritage in Massachusetts, SCUA’s copy includes a signed portfolio of etchings of Baldwin by Baskin, each signed. It is one of fifty copies bound specially by Daniel Gehnrich in leather and paste paper, made by Babette Gehnrich, over boards, and laid into a cloth traycase. Also laid in are Baskin’s proof, 1989, and touched proof, 1989, of two of the portraits. Gift of Lisa Baskin.
Four millionth volume:
The proclamation of emancipation of the President of the United States, to take effect January 1st, 1863. Boston: John Murray Forbes, 1862.
The first separate printing of the Emancipation Proclamation, this volume was printed in miniature so that Union army troops in the south could more easily distribute it.

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Oral history

Class of 1889 in front of Durfee Greenhouse

Oral historian at the First National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, 1977. Photo by Diana Mara Henry

No matter how rich our archival collections may be, there are always parts of the historical record that never make it onto the page. Memories, emotions, and attitudes are notoriously difficult to document, and there a variety of all-too human reasons that people choose not to write down every detail of their lives. As a result, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has been actively engaged in recording oral histories as a way of capturing a more complete record of the many voices and diverse experiences that comprise .

SCUA first ventured into oral historical work in the mid-1970s with efforts to document the history of the university prior to the massive expansion of the previous decade, and the department has subsequently engaged in oral historical projects to document the university’s 125th and 150th anniversaries. In the past decade, SCUA has extended its work to documenting the histories of persons represented in its collections and to a broader array of projects documenting the history and experience of social change and the people and cultures on New England. Furthermore, SCUA is the repository for hundreds of oral histories recorded by other people, ranging in scope from interviews with Franco-Americans in the 1980s, 20th century Argentine political figures, and former residents of the Quabbin towns in Western Massachusetts.

Many of SCUA’s oral histories are available online through our digital repository Credo. These include audio and video recordings and, in a few cases, they may be fully transcribed.

Supporting material

For donors of oral histories:

SCUA is happy to accept donations of oral histories that fit within its collection policy.

SCUA accepts materials in most audio and video formats — cassette, reel to reel, RDAT, VHS, Betacam, or digital — but in every case, we prefer to receive the interview in the format in which it was recorded and in the highest quality available. When possible, we prefer digital files that are uncompressed, however we appreciate receiving a compressed derivative (e.g., mp3 for audio, mp4 for video). When available, transcripts in print and electronic form are a very valuable addition.

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New Approaches to History

New Approaches to History Collection, 1967-1985
23 boxes (10.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 182

The collection documents the creation and content of a course entitled New Approaches to History, which relied almost exclusively on the use of primary sources in teaching undergraduates history at UMass.

The collection includes the course proposal, correspondence, syllabi, course assignments, and resources for three units: Salem witchcraft, Shay’s Rebellion, and Lizzie Borden.

Subjects
  • History--Study and teaching
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of History

Brinley Family

Brinley Family Papers, 1643-1950
(4.75 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 161
Brinley Family Papers image
Deborah Brinley and infant son Francis, 1729
Copy by Charles U. Bond (1830)
after John Smibert

A prosperous family of merchants and landowners, the Brinleys were well ensconced among the social and political elite of colonial New England. Connected by marriage to other elite families in Rhode Island and Massachusetts — the Auchmutys, Craddocks, and Tyngs among them — the Brinleys were refined, highly educated, public spirited, and most often business-minded. Although many members of the family remained loyal to the British cause during the Revolution, the family retained their high social standing in the years following.

The Brinley collection includes business letters, legal and business records, wills, a fragment of a diary, documents relating to slaves, newspaper clippings, and a small number of paintings and artifacts. A descendent, Nancy Brinley, contributed a quantity of genealogical research notes and photocopies of Brinley family documents from other repositories. Of particular note in the collection is a fine nineteenth century copy of a John Smibert portrait of Deborah Brinley (1719), an elegant silver tray passed through the generations, and is a 1713 list of the library of Francis Brinley, which offers a foreshadowing of the remarkable book collection put together in the later nineteenth century by his descendant George Brinley.

Subjects
  • American loyalists--Massachusetts
  • Book collectors--United States--History--19th century
  • Brinley family
  • Brinley, George, 1817-1875--Library
  • Businessmen--Massachusetts--History
  • Businessmen--Rhode Island--History
  • Craddock family
  • Landowners--Massachusetts--History
  • Landowners--Rhode Island--History
  • Libraries--Rhode Island--18th century
  • Massachusetts--Economic conditions--18th century
  • Massachusetts--Politics and government--19th century
  • Rhode Island--Economic conditions--18th century
  • Rhode Island--Genealogy
  • Rhode Island--Politics and government--19th century
  • Slavery--United States--History
  • Tyng family
  • United Empire Loyalists
Types of material
  • Deeds
  • Realia

Burgett-Irey family

Burgett-Irey Family Papers, 1832-2010 (Bulk: 1929-2008)
4 boxes (2 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 605

Born in 1908 to Louis and Sarah Kessel Burgett, Katherine grew up on the family farm outside of Oquawka, Illinois. In 1924 her parents purchased their own farm in Monmouth, which they later lost due to the devastating impact of the Depression on agriculture, and it was there that she first met her future husband, Kenneth Monroe Irey, a student at Monmouth College. The newlyweds moved to New Jersey in 1931 where Kenneth was transferred for work. As a chemical engineer, Kenneth enjoyed a successful career and comfortably supported his wife and two children. Retiring in 1970, he and Katherine spent their later years pursuing two passions: traveling and bird-watching. Kenneth and Katherine’s eldest daughter, June Irey Guild, spent most of her adult life in Massachusetts where she has married twice, raised six children, and operated her own business. During her retirement years, June focused on preserving her family’s history by collecting letters and recoding family narratives.

The Burgett-Irey Family Papers chronicle the changes that many twentieth-century American families experienced as the nation descended into an economic depression, entered into a world war, and emerged as one of the most powerful countries in the world. The collection, which will continue to grow, includes approximately 65 letters between Katherine Burgett Irey and her family. Most of the letters exchange family updates, particularly precious after Katherine relocated to New Jersey. Among the earliest letters is an account of Katherine and Kenneth’s first meeting described as “fast work,” since he asked her out on the spot. Also included are autobiographical writings by Kenneth describing his cross-country trip to California in 1927 and a brief history of his life and career.

Subjects
  • Bird watching
  • Burgett family
  • Irey family
  • Marriage--United States
  • Motherhood--United States--History--20th century
  • Mothers--United States--History--20th century
  • Women--United States--History--20th century
Contributors
  • Guild, June Irey
  • Irey, Katherine Burgett
  • Irey, Kenneth Monroe, 1905-1994
Types of material
  • Diaries
  • Letters (Correspondence)
  • Slides

Kingsbury family

Kingsbury Family Papers, 1862-2006 (Bulk: 1881-1902)
10 boxes (6 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 504
Kingsbury Family Papers image
Kingsbury children, ca.1910

The family of Roxana Kingsbury Gould (nee Weed) farmed the rocky soils of western New England during the late nineteenth century. Roxana’s first husband Ambrose died of dysentery shortly after the Civil War, leaving her to care for their two infant sons, and after marrying her second husband, Lyman Gould, she relocated from southwestern Vermont to Cooleyville and then (ten years later) to Shelburne, Massachusetts. The Goulds added a third son to their family in 1869.

A rich collection of letters and photographs recording the history of the Kingsbury-Gould families of Shelburne, Massachusetts. The bulk of the letters are addressed to Roxana Kingsbury Gould, the strong-willed matriarch at the center of the family, and to her granddaughter, May Kingsbury Phillips, the family’s first historian. In addition to documenting the complicated dynamics of a close-knit family, this collection is a rich source for the study of local history, rural New England, and the social and cultural practices at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Gift of Conrad and Michiko Totman, 2006
Subjects
  • Conway (Mass.)--Genealogy
  • Kingsbury Family
  • Shelburne (Mass.)--Genealogy
  • Totman family
Contributors
  • Drew, Raymond Totman, 1923-1981
  • Lewis, Gertrude Minnie, 1896-
  • Totman, Conrad D
  • Totman, Ruth J
Types of material
  • Genealogies
  • Letters (Correspondence)
  • Memoirs
  • Photographs
  • Tintypes

Perske, Robert

Robert and Martha Perske Papers, 1964-2005
13 boxes (19.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 772
Robert and Martha Perske Papers image
Bob and Martha Perske with their dog, Wolfie, 2004

While serving with the U.S. Navy in the Philippines during World War II, the teenaged Bob Perske became aware of the vulnerable and disabled in society and turned his life toward advocacy on their behalf. Studying for the ministry after returning to civilian life, Perske was appointed chaplain at the Kansas Neurological Institute, serving children with intellectual disabilities for 11 years, after which he became a full-time street, court, and prison worker — a citizen advocate — laboring in the cause of deinstitutionalization and civil rights of persons with disabilities, particularly those caught in the legal system. After Bob married his wife Martha in 1971, the two became partners in work, with Martha often illustrating Bob’s numerous books and articles. In 2002, Perske was recognized by the American Bar Association as the only non-lawyer to ever receive the Paul Hearne Award for Services to Persons with Disabilities.

The Perske Papers contains a fifty year record of published and unpublished writings by Bob Perske on issues surrounding persons with disabilities, along with correspondence, photographs, and other materials relating to the Perskes’ activism. The correspondence includes a particularly rich set of letters with a fellow advocate for persons with disabilities, Robert R. Williams.

Gift of Robert and Martha Perske, 2013
Subjects
  • Mental retardation--Social aspects
  • People with disabilities--Deinstitutionalization
  • People with disabilities--Legal status, laws, etc.
Contributors
  • Perske, Martha
  • Williams, Robert R.
Types of material
  • Photographs

Ray Family

Ray Family Papers, 1898-1953 (Bulk: 1911-1944)
2 boxes (1 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 432

Herman Edgar Ray, son of Fred Jackson Ray and Mabel Cosella Merriam Ray, was born in Westminster, Massachusetts on May 28, 1911. Herman Edgar married Anita Crabtree on May 4, 1934 in Gardner, Massachusetts. The family remained in the area throughout the 1950s as indicated by their correspondence.

The collection consists primarily of family photographs spanning three identifiable generations of the Ray family, and contains photograph albums, formal portraits, and miscellaneous photographs. Additional material includes postcards, correspondence, and hand-made greeting cards. The materials document the childhood of Herman Edgar Ray. His extended family includes: Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Ray, Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Ray, Ray Fenno, Mary Emergene Fenno, Mr.and Mrs. Charles A. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Davis, Helen Gates, Mary Russell, and Eleanor Howe.

Acquired from Peter Masi, Apr. 2005
Subjects
  • Camping--Massachusetts
  • Family--Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts--Description and travel
  • Portraits--History--20th century
  • Westwinster (Mass.)--History
Contributors
  • Ray, Herman Edgar
Types of material
  • Photograph albums
  • Photographs

Bestor, Charles

Charles Bestor Papers, 1971-2002
2 boxes (0.75 linear feet)
Call no.: FS 126

A composer, Professor of Composition, and Director of the Electronic and Computer Music Studios at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Charles Bestor has also taught at Juilliard School of Music and other universities, won international awards for his music, and collaborated with contemporary installation artists.

The Bestor Papers includes scores and sound recordings for two of his compositions, Suite for Alto Saxophone and Percussion and In the Shell of the Ear, as well as correspondence, concert programs, and reviews, all relating to the publication and performance of the works.

Gift of Charles Bestor, Mar.-Apr. 2004
Subjects
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Music and Dance
Contributors
  • Bestor, Charles

Brooks, William Penn, 1851-

William Penn Brooks Papers, 1863-1939
3 boxes (1.5 linear feet)
Call no.: RG 003/1 B76
William Penn Brooks Papers image
Sapporo Ag. College students, 1881

Two years after graduating from Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1875, William Penn Brooks accepted an invitation from the Japanese government — and his mentor, William Smith Clark — to help establish the Sapporo Agricultural School. Spending over a decade in Hokkaido, Brooks helped to introduce western scientific agricultural practices and the outlines of a program in agricultural education, and he built a solid foundation for the School. After his return to the states in 1888, he earned a doctorate at the University of Halle, Germany, and then accepted a position at his alma mater, becoming a leading figure at the Massachusetts Experiment Station until his retirement in 1921.

Brooks’ papers consist of correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, an account book, and translations which provide rich detail on Brooks’ life in Japan, the development of Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University), and practical agricultural education in the post-Civil War years.

Subjects
  • Agricultural colleges--Japan--History
  • Clark, William Smith, 1826-1886
  • Hokkaido (Japan)--History
  • Hokkaid¯o Daigaku
  • Japan--Description and travel--19th century
  • Japan--History--1868-
  • Massachusetts Agricultural College--History
  • Massachusetts State Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Sapporo N¯ogakk¯o--History
  • Sapporo-shi (Japan)--History
Contributors
  • Brooks, William Penn, 1851-
Types of material
  • Letters (Correspondence)
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