History and MissionSCUA

Mission

Cattle judging at Mass. Agricultural College
Judging cattle at Mass. Agricultural College

To spark researchers’ imaginations and to celebrate the legacy of innovation and the activist spirit, SCUA pursues an ambitious program of collecting materials of enduring historical value and offers strong support for research and learning. Through its collections, programs, public events, and exhibitions, SCUA promotes meaningful engagement with the broad record of social change in America, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the varied histories of the people of New England and the UMass Amherst community. We embrace the university’s historic role as a center of knowledge for the people of the Commonwealth and are committed to providing free and unfettered access to our holdings for all who wish to use them, using the highest professional standards and practices and the best technologies available.

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. Documenting the activities of the administration and faculty and the life of its students, this 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.

The timing of Goodell’s proposal to preserve the College archives coincided roughly with the Library’s first efforts to assemble a collection of rare books to support its educational mission. Although the campus had no separate library building until 1885, the College accepted several significant gifts of books, beginning as early as 1868, when the apiarist and state Adjutant General Henry K. Oliver donated twenty scarce volumes on bee culture, followed by other donations of important works in agriculture, history, and science. By the time the library published its first catalogue in 1875, rare books were a small, but distinctive part of the collections. 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 two 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. All remain 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 its initial focus on agriculture, horticulture, and the natural sciences, the Library soon extended its collections to encompass the history and culture of New England. With the acquisition of the records of the Valley Peace Center and the papers of ethnographer Jozef Obrebski in 1973, the Library began to acquire collections of personal papers and organizational records of historical significance. The rare book and manuscript collections were combined administratively with the University Archives in the early 1990s to form the current Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Today, SCUA oversees a growing research collection of primary materials that includes rare books and manuscripts, historic maps, photographs, prints, and the official records of the campus at UMass Amherst.

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