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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

However 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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Nineteenth Century Theatre

Nineteenth Century Theatre Records
1987-1996
4 boxes (6 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 469

Established in 1983 and published twice a year at UMass Amherst with the support of Five Colleges, Inc., Nineteenth Century Theatre offered scholarly, critical, and documentary coverage of a broad range of subjects. Issues of the journal contained essays, documents, book reviews, bibliographical studies, and analyses of archival holdings.

The records of the journal include essays and reviews submitted for publication, correspondence, and published issues.

Subjects
  • Theater--History and criticism
  • Theater--History--19th century
  • Theater--Periodicals

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP)

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) Records
1992-2016
4 boxes (4.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 868
Image of

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.

Subjects
  • Authors and readers
  • Authorship
  • Books--History
  • Publishers and publishing

Valley Women’s History Collaborative

Valley Women's History Collaborative Records
1971-2008
15 boxes (10 linear feet)
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.

Gift of Susan Tracy, 2006, 2009
Subjects
  • 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
Contributors
  • Valley Women's History Collaborative
Types of material
  • Oral histories

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.

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Akin, Ebenezer, Jr.

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

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

Artwork

Artwork Collection
ca.1645-2003
ca.100 items
Call no.: MS 597
Image of Ernst Toller, portrait by Lydia Gibson Minor
Ernst Toller, portrait by Lydia Gibson Minor

Over the years, SCUA has become home to both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art pertaining to three of its key thematic collecting areas: the University of Massachusetts Amherst, New England, and social change.

The Artwork Collection is comprised of miscellaneous works visual art, realia, and decorative arts, relating primarily to figures in UMass or to leftist or proletarian artists. Among the artists represented are Michael Russo, Cook Glassgold, Lydia Gibson Minor, Laura Wheeler Waring, Daniel Chester French, and Laurence Bradshaw. For reference purposes, we have cross-listed paintings belonging to other SCUA collections.

Subjects
  • Portraits
Types of material
  • Oil paintings
  • Prints (Visual works)
  • Sculpture (Visual works)

Bailey, Ebenezer

Ebenezer Bailey Papers
1852-1882
1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 448

Ebenezer Bailey was a wholesale shoe purchaser and distributor from Massachusetts. The collection comprises just over 100 items, the bulk of which are receipts for the purchase and sale of shoes and slippers, covering the period from 1852 to 1882.

Acquired from Peter Masi, Mar. 2005
Subjects
  • Business records--Massachusetts
  • Dearborn, J. J
  • Lynn (Mass.)--History
  • Shoe industry--Massachusetts--Lynn
  • Shoe industry--New England--History--19th century
Contributors
  • Bailey, Ebenezer
Types of material
  • Receipts (Financial records)

Brinley Family

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