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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.

Learn more:

New Approaches to History

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

During the late 1960s, the Department of History at UMass Amherst created a new undergraduate course entitled New Approaches to History, relying almost exclusively on primary sources. The theme of the course varied from the Salem witch trials to Daniel Shay’s Rebellion to the Lizzie Borden murders.

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

Agriculture

Founded under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, UMass Amherst has long been dedicated to the study and teaching of agriculture and the natural sciences. One of two land grant institutions in the Commonwealth (along with MIT), the university has played an important role in the development of scientific agriculture in New England and has been a major factor in agricultural instruction through its classes and extension service.

SCUA’s collections contain a wealth of information on the history of agriculture and related fields, including horticulture, botany, entomology, animal husbandry, gardening, and landscape design. The strength of the collection lies in documenting the development of American agricultural sciences with an emphasis upon the northeastern states, but it is supplemented with numerous works on British, French, and German agriculture. Adding additional depth are the records of the several departments at UMass Amherst charged with instruction in the agricultural sciences and the papers of individual agricultural educators.

Currently, SCUA is particularly interested in documenting the growth of organic agriculture, heritage breeds, and the practices of sustainable living.

Notable collecting areas (view all)

  • Agricultural education
    • Papers of faculty members at Massachusetts Agricultural College and UMass Amherst, as well as educational organizations dedicated to instruction in the agricultural sciences. Among the individuals represented are the agricultural educator, Kenyon Butterfield; Levi Stockbridge, the first farm manager and long-time instructor at MAC; and William Smith Clark, William Penn Brooks, and William Wheeler, who were instrumental in the 1870s in establishing the agricultural college in Hokkaido, Japan.
    • Also printed works through the late nineteenth century on agriculture in America, Britain, and Europe, including those by John Fitzherbert, Thomas Hale, Arthur Young, “Columella,” John Smith, Gervase Markham, et al.
  • Animal husbandry
    • Books on sheep culture in the United States (Robert R. Livingston, Samuel Bard) and England (Lord Somerville, John Lawrence); dairy and beef cattle, horses, poultry science.
  • Farming and rural life
    • Correspondence, farm accounts, and other records of farming and rural life, primarily in New England, as well as materials relating to the sociology of rural life.
  • Beekeeping and entomology
    • Among the earliest rare books acquired by the Massachusetts Agricultural Library were a collections of rare books in beekeeping, including key works by Thomas Hill, John Keys, Daniel Wildman, Henry Eddy, from the late 17th through late 19th centuries. Works by Maria Sibylla Merian, John Curtis, Dru Drury, Johann Jakob Romer, Jacob l’Admiral
  • Botany, horticulture, pomology, etc.
    • Collections relating to the scientific study of botany, horticulture, forestry, and related sciences.
    • Important printed works on American botany by Frederick Pursh, Thomas Nuttall, Humphry Marshall’s Arbustrum Americanum, François André Michaux, early editions of Linnaeus, William Prince, William Coxe, William Chorlton, et al.
  • Landscape and gardening
    • The papers and photographs of the landscape designer Frank Waugh, Julius Fabos, Erwin Zube, and other collections.
    • Among many printed works on gardens and landscapes are three editions of Bernard M’Mahon’s seminal American Gardener’s Calendar, William Cobbett, Alexander Jackson Davis, Humphry Repton, and others.
  • Organic and sustainable agriculture
    • Records of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and others involved in organic agriculture, alternate energy, and sustainability.
  • Other natural sciences
    • Including entomology and geology.

Learn more:

Akin, Ebenezer, Jr. (Fairhaven, Mass.)

Ebenezer Akin Account Book, 1842-1869
1 vol. (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 220 bd

A merchant, town clerk, part-owner of many ships, and involved citizen, Ebenezer Akin lived nearly all of his 87 years in the town of Fairhaven, Mass.

This miscellaneous personal ledger includes documentation of Ebenezer Akin’s work as town clerk and includes accounts for ships he may have owned, entries made as an estate executor, accounts of expenditures for clothing and incidentals, and accounts of lot purchases and loans. The volume also contains genealogical information about the Blossom family of Bridgewater and the family of Benjamin and Eunice Akin, Ebenezer’s great-grandfather.

Acquired from Charles Apfelbaum, 1987
Subjects
  • Akin, Benjamin, 1715-1802
  • Akin, Eunice
  • Blossom family
  • Clothing and dress--Prices--Massachusetts--Fairhaven
  • Fairhaven (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
  • Fairhaven (Mass.)--Politics and government--19th century
  • Hesper (Bark)
  • Merchants--Massachusetts--Fairhaven
  • Napoleon (Ship)
  • Shipowners--Massachusetts--Fairhaven
  • Shipping--Massachusetts--Fairhaven
  • William Rotch (Ship)
  • Winthrop (Bark)
Contributors
  • Akin, Ebenezer, 1816-
Types of material
  • Account books
  • Genealogies
  • Inventories of decedents estates

American Morgan Horse Association

American Morgan Horse Association Registry Records, 1911-1981
119 boxes (150 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 781
Image of Morgan horses at MAC
Morgan horses at MAC

In 1789, Vermont native Justin Morgan acquired a bay colt in Springfield, Mass., that became the progenitor of a distinctly American breed of general purpose horse. Noted for its stamina, strength, disposition, and beauty, the Morgan became widely popular in western Massachusetts and Vermont, eventually spreading nationally and internationally. To support the breed, the Morgan Horse Club (later the American Morgan Horse Association) was founded in 1909 and today maintains the breed registry, publishes The Morgan Horse magazine, and offers a wide range of public information and educational services.

The Registry records of the AMHA are a product of concern during the late 19th century for documenting and preserving the integrity of the Morgan breed and a means for breeders to certify pedigrees for their stock. In 1894, Joseph Battell published the first volume of the Morgan Horse and Register containing nearly 1,000 pages of pedigrees for “any meritorious stallion, mare, or gelding tracing in direct male line to Justin Morgan and having at least 1/64 of his blood,” and although standards have been modified since, the registry remains the primary source for documenting the history of the breed. The records in this collection include approved applications for the AMHA registry, including pedigrees and supporting materials.

Subjects
  • Horses--Breeding
  • Morgan horse

Antislavery

Antislavery Pamphlet Collection, 1725-1911
(7.5 linear feet)
Call no.: RB 003

The Antislavery Collection contains several hundred printed pamphlets and books pertaining to slavery and antislavery in New England, 1725-1911. The holdings include speeches, sermons, proceedings and other publications of organizations such as the American Anti-Slavery Society and the American Colonization Society, and a small number of pro-slavery tracts.

Subjects
  • Abolitionists--Massachusetts
  • Antislavery movements--United States
  • Slavery--United States
Contributors
  • American Anti-Slavery Society
  • American Colonization Society
Restrictions: Collection currently unavailable due to renovations in SCUA

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

Chamberlin, Judi, 1944-2010

Judi Chamberlin Papers, ca.1970-2010
30 boxes (45 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 768
Image of Judi Chamberlin, 2000
Judi Chamberlin, 2000

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.

Gift of National Empowerment Center, 2012
Subjects
  • Antipsychiatry
  • Ex-mental patients
  • People with disabilities--Civil rights
  • People with disabilities--Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Psychiatric survivors movement
Contributors
  • Mental Patients Liberation Front
  • Mental Patients Liberation Project
  • National Empowerment Center
Types of material
  • Videotapes

Colman, William, 1768-1820

William Colman Account Book, 1802-1822
1 vol. (0.2 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 212 bd

Merchant and shoemaker from the Byfield Parish of Newbury, Massachusetts and Boscawen, New Hampshire.

Includes accounts of the prices paid for shoemaking and agricultural labor, accounts of the men and women who worked for his father’s shoe store and factory, notes of who lived in the younger Colman’s home, a page mentioning his move to New Hampshire, and accounts of agricultural produce sales and exchange of farm labor.

Subjects
  • Agricultural wages--New Hampshire--History--19th century
  • Boscawen (N.H.)--Economic conditions--19th century
  • Boscawen (N.H.)--Rural conditions--19th century
  • Households--Massachusetts--Newbury--History--19th century
  • Merchants--Massachusetts--Newbury--History--19th century
  • Newbury (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
  • Shoemakers--Massachusetts--Newbury--History--19th century
  • Shoes--Prices--Massachusetts--History--19th century
Contributors
  • Colman, William, 1768-1820
Types of material
  • Account books

Drury, Luke, 1737-1811

Luke Drury Papers, 1746-1831
4 boxes (3 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 258

Soldier in Revolutionary War and Shays Rebellion, later a state legislator and local politician from Grafton and Marlboro, Massachusetts. Drury’s papers contain family and business (farm and mill) correspondence, notes of hand, bills, receipts, and legal papers as well as records pertaining to the town of Grafton. Collection also includes papers of Timothy Darling and the Goulding, Place, and Sherman families.

Acquired from Cedric Robinson, 1989
Subjects
  • Grafton (Mass.)--History
  • Massachusetts--History
  • Shays' Rebellion, 1786-1787
Contributors
  • Darling, Timothy
  • Drury, Luke, 1737-1811
  • Goulding, Israel
  • Sherman, Thankful Temple
Types of material
  • Deeds
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