As one of the main repositories documenting the history of western Massachusetts and New England, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives collects primary materials relating to the political, cultural, economic, and intellectual life of our region, and the lives and experiences of its residents.
Concentrated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the collections in SCUA touch on many aspects of the history of the region with developing depth in immigration, labor, work, and industry, social change and movements for social change, and literature and the arts. Among the more valuable collections for the political history of the region is the papers of Silvio O. Conte, Republican congressman from the First District of Massachusetts from 1959-1991. A member of the House Appropriations Committee (and its ranking minority member from 1979-1991), Conte is particularly remembered for his work in Health and Human Services, education, and the environment. SCUA also holds collections for state representatives John Haigis and Maurice Donahue, as well as other figures involved in political life in the Commonwealth.
Although the Department holds materials relating to individual communities in western Massachusetts, the history of the Quabbin watershed is a particular focal point. SCUA collects books printed in the Quabbin region and more generally, in rural New England prior to 1900, as well as manuscript, printed, and photographic collections relating to Quabbin towns.
- Business and industry
- In addition to collections relating to organized labor and the labor movement, SCUA attempts to document the experience of work and the business community to provide a rounded understanding of work life in New England. For a more complete listing, see our guide for Labor, Work, and Industry.
- Civic organizations and charities
- Collections ranging from the records of charitable organizations that provide social services to groups that foster civic engagement and social justice, benevolent and ethnic self-help societies, to organizations that support social and professional communities.
- Family history
- SCUA has a strong interest in “family collections,” typically collections that include correspondence, photograph albums, family and farm accounts, and other materials that reveal the every day lives of New Englanders. Researchers on family life and genealogy should note that many collections indexed under other subjects contain personal and family information of some importance. Our printed materials collections include many local and county histories, genealogies, and other resources which may be useful for understanding family life.
- Immigration, demography, and ethnicity
- Medical history
- Collections include daybooks and medical accounts of physicians, primarily from the nineteenth century, personal papers of physicians, and some materials on public health policy.
- Military history
- Political life and culture
- The distinctive political culture of Massachusetts and formal and informal political activity in the Commonwealth. Although the collections extend back into the nineteenth century, our focus is primarily on the post-World War II period.
- Printing in rural Massachusetts
- SCUA collects books, broadsides, and other materials printed in rural New England prior to 1900. The collections include a growing collection for the printers in the Quabbin region, Solomon and John Howes, but also includes works printed in small towns throughout Berkshire, Hampshire, Hamden, and Franklin Counties.
- Quabbin Regional collections
- Collections relating to all aspects of life and the legacy of the four towns inundated by the Quabbin Reservoir: Dana, Greenwich, Enfield, and Prescott, as well as surrounding communities such as New Salem, Petersham, and Wendell. In our rare books holdings, we have a number of works printed in Enfield or Greenwich, mostly by Solomon and John Howe.
- Religious life
- Our efforts to document the spiritual lives and religious commitments of New Englanders has resulted in a number of manuscript and archival collections. Our social change holdings include a number of collections on spiritually-motivated social reform, and our rare book holdings include hundreds of published sermons and other printed materials relating to religious life in the region.
- New England regional history
Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) Records, 1992-2012.
Call no.: MS 868
Originating in 1991, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) was established “to create a global network for book historians working in a broad range of scholarly disciplines.” With more than 1,000 members, research interests include the composition and reception of books as well as their survival and transformation over time.
Records cover the earliest days of the organization’s development, including founding documents, and document a variety of their activities from hosting conferences and publishing a newsletter to promoting scholarship.
- Authors and readers
- Publishers and publishing
Valley Women's History Collaborative Records, 1971-2008.
Call no.: MS 531
During the early phases of second wave feminism (1968-1978), the Pioneer Valley served as a center for lesbian and feminist activity in western Massachusetts, and was home to over 400 hundred, often ad hoc, groups, such as the Abortion and Birth Control (ABC) Committee, ISIS Women’s Center, the Mudpie Childcare Cooperative, and the Springfield Women’s Center.
The records of the Valley Women’s History Collaborative document the activities of these groups as well as the efforts of the founders of the Women Studies program and department at UMass Amherst to preserve this history. Of particular value are the many oral histories conducted by the collaborative that record the history of women’s activism in the Pioneer Valley, especially as it relates to reproductive rights.
- Abortion--Massachusetts--Pioneer Valley--History--20th century
- Birth control--Massachusetts--Pioneer Valley--History--20th century
- Feminism--Massachusetts--Pioneer Valley--History
- Feminists--Massachusetts--Pioneer Valley--Political activity--History
- Mary Vazquez Women's Softball League
- Women--Massachusetts--Pioneer Valley--Political activity--History
- Valley Women's History Collaborative
Types of material
- Oral histories
Association for Gravestone Studies Book Collection, 1812-2005.
Call no.: RB 004
Founded in 1977, the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) is an international organization dedicated to furthering the study and preservation of gravestones. Based in Greenfield, Mass., the Association promotes the study of gravestones from historical and artistic perspectives. To raise public awareness about the significance of historic gravemarkers and the issues surrounding their preservation, the AGS sponsors conferences and workshops, publishes both a quarterly newsletter and annual journal, Markers, and has built an archive of collections documenting gravestones and the memorial industry.
The AGS Books Collection contains scarce, out of print, and rare printed works on cemeteries and graveyards, epitaphs and inscriptions, and gravemarkers, with an emphasis on North America. The AGS Books Collection also includes the AGS publication, Markers. The collection is divided into three series: Series 1 (Monographs and Offprints), Series 2 (Theses and Dissertations), and Series 3 (Markers).
- Sepulchral monuments
- Association for Gravestone Studies
Arthur Cleveland Bent Collection, 1880-1942.
Call no.: MS 413
An avid birder and eminent ornithologist, Arthur Cleveland Bent was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, on November 25, 1866. After receiving his A.B. from Harvard in 1889, bent was employed as an agent for the Safety Pocket Company and from 1900 to 1914, he was General Manager of Mason Machine Works. His passion, however, was birds. An associate in Ornithology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, Bent became a collaborator at the Smithsonian and president (1935-1937) of the American Ornithologists’ Union. The culmination of his research was the massive, 26 volume Life Histories of North American Birds (1919-1968).
The Bent collection is a glimpse into the birding life of a remarkable amateur ornithologist. It contains the field notebooks of his collaborator, Owen Durfee (1880-1909), his own journals (1887-1942), photographs and negatives (1896-1930), correspondence concerning the photographs (1925-1946), and mimeographed and printed material. Bent’s records cover nest observations, egg measurements, bird sightings, and notes on specimens provided to organizations such as the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Bristol County Agricultural School, and the United States National Museum.
- American Ornithologists' Union
- Bent, Arthur Cleveland, 1866-1954. Life Histories of North American Birds
- Bristol County Agricultural School (Bristol County, Mass.)
- Massachusetts Audubon Society
- United States National Museum
- Bent, Arthur Cleveland, 1866-1954
- Durfee, Owen
Types of material
- Field notes
Brinley Family Papers, 1643-1950.
Call no.: MS 161
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.
- American loyalists--Massachusetts
- Book collectors--United States--History--19th century
- Brinley family
- Brinley, George, 1817-1875--Library
- Businessmen--Rhode Island--History
- Craddock family
- 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
William Penn Brooks Papers, 1863-1939.
Call no.: RG 003/1 B76
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.
- Agricultural colleges--Japan--History
- Clark, William Smith, 1826-1886
- Hokkaido (Japan)--History
- Hokkaid¯o Daigaku
- Japan--Description and travel--19th century
- Massachusetts Agricultural College--History
- Massachusetts State Agricultural Experiment Station
- Sapporo N¯ogakk¯o--History
- Sapporo-shi (Japan)--History
- Brooks, William Penn, 1851-
Types of material
- Letters (Correspondence)
Burgett-Irey Family Papers, 1832-2010 (Bulk: 1929-2008).
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.
- 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
- Guild, June Irey
- Irey, Katherine Burgett
- Irey, Kenneth Monroe, 1905-1994
Types of material
- Letters (Correspondence)
Judi Chamberlin Papers, ca.1970-2010.
Call no.: MS 768
A pioneer in the psychiatric survivors’ movement, Judi Chamberlin spent four decades as an activist for the civil rights of mental patients. After several voluntary hospitalizations for depression as a young woman, Chamberlin was involuntarily committed for the only time in 1971, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her experiences in the mental health system galvanized her to take action on patients’ rights, and after attending a meeting of the newly formed Mental Patients’ Liberation Project in New York, she helped found the Mental Patients’ Liberation Front in Cambridge, Mass. Explicitly modeled on civil rights organizations of the time, she became a tireless advocate for the patient’s perspective and for choice in treatment. Her book, On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System (1978), is considered a key text in the intellectual development of the movement. Working internationally, she became an important figure in several other organizations, including the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilition at Boston University, the Ruby Rogers Advocacy Center, the National Disability Rights Network, and the National Empowerment Center. In recognition of her advocacy, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in 1992, the David J. Vail National Advocacy Award, and the 1995 Pike Prize, which honors those who have given outstanding service to people with disabilities. Chamberlin died of pulmonary disease at home in Arlington, Mass., in January 2010.
An important record of the development of the psychiatric survivors’ movement from its earliest days, the Chamberlin Papers include rich correspondence between Chamberlin, fellow activists, survivors, and medical professionals; records of her work with the MPLF and other rights organizations, conferences and meetings, and her efforts to build the movement internationally.
- Ex-mental patients
- People with disabilities--Civil rights
- People with disabilities--Legal status, laws, etc.
- Mental Patients Liberation Front
- Mental Patients Liberation Project
- National Empowerment Center
Types of material
Robert L. Coffin Ornithological Journal, 1912-1922.
Call no.: MS 593 bd
Robert L. Coffin (1889-1976) began a long association with the Massachusetts Agricultural College when he arrived on campus in 1912 to begin work as an assistant photographer for the East Experiment Station. His skill as a technical photographer and his artistic eye, however, soon made him a valuable commodity on campus and within a few years of his arrival, Coffin had branched out to work for a wide range of departments across campus and, in the late 1920s, for the US Department of Agriculture in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well. An avid birder and naturalist, Coffin was particularly known for his nature photography, using a battery of different cameras to capture everything from scenic vistas to photomicrographs. Although he established a commercial photographic studio in Amherst in 1931, Coffin continued to accept a wide range of assignments at UMass, earning recognition as the unofficial campus photographer. He remained active almost to the time of his death in 1976 at the age of 86.
Containing the meticulously detailed records of an avid birder, the Coffin journal contains records of sightings and first and last occurrences of birds observed in the years 1912 and 1917-1922. The records in the journal reflect Coffin’s many birding trips in western Massachusetts, mostly in the Connecticut River Valley, however the journal also contains records from the Swift River Valley, the Harvard Forest, the Boston area, and the Connecticut coast. In a few cases, Coffin recorded the numbers of birds observed.
- Bird watching--Massachusetts
- University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Coffin, Robert L
Types of material
- Field notes