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Mission and history

Mission

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

SCUA inspires discovery through the collection and curation of cultural heritage materials for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond, contributing to the vital conversation between past and future. As part of a community dedicated to the values of diversity, social equity, and positive social change, SCUA acts through its collections, services, 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

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.

Although SCUA accepts materials in most audio and video formats — cassette, reel to reel, RDAT, VHS, Betacam, or digital — we typically prefer to receive interviews in the format in which they were recorded and in the highest quality available. When possible, we prefer uncompressed digital files, 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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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
Bajgier Family

Bajgier Family Papers

1925-1986
2 boxes 0.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 400
Image of Joseph and Martha Bajgier at Bell Market, Chicopee, 1937
Joseph and Martha Bajgier at Bell Market, Chicopee, 1937

On March 13, 1903, Joseph Michael Bajgier was born in Odrzykon, Poland, the youngest of three sons in a farming family. Schooled only through the third grade, Joseph served as a young man in the First Air Division of the Polish Army before following his older brother in emigrating to the United States in 1927. Settling in Chicopee, Mass., with its large and active Polish community, Bajgier began work as a slaughterer of pigs for a meat processing company, but within a few years, he had saved enough money to purchase a small grocery store in Longmeadow. In about 1935, he returned to Chicopee, purchasing a grocery and deli, Bell Market, that his family ran for 36 years. Bajgier was deeply involved in the local Polish community as a member of the Polish National Alliance, the Holy Name Society of St. Stanislaus Parish, and an organization of Polish veterans in exile (Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantow). He and his wife Martha (Misiaszek) had two sons, Casimir and Edward

The Bajgier collection documents the lives of a Polish family in Chicopee, Mass., from the time of immigration through the 1970s. The core of the collection surrounds the life of Joseph Bajgier, and includes a number of documents and a diary from the time of his emigration in 1927, a fascinating series of letters from relatives in Turaszowka, Poland before and after the Second World War, and several photographs of the family and their business in Chicopee.

Subjects

  • Chicopee (Mass.)--Social life and customs
  • Polish Americans--Massachusetts
  • World War, 1939-1945

Contributors

  • Bajgier, Joseph M

Types of material

  • Photographs
Conte, Silvio O. (Silvio Oltavio), 1921-1991

Silvio O. Conte Papers

1950-1991
389 boxes 583.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 371

Massachusetts State Senator for the Berkshire District, 1950-1958, and representative for Massachusetts’s First District in the United States Congress for 17 terms, 1959-1991, where he made significant contributions in the areas of health and human services, the environment, education, energy, transportation, and small business.

Spanning four decades and eight presidents, the papers offer an extraordinary perspective on the major social, economic, and cultural changes experienced by the American people. Includes correspondence, speeches, press releases, bill files, his voting record, committee files, scrapbooks, travel files, audio-visual materials and over 5,000 photographs and slides.

Subjects

  • Massachusetts--Politics and government--1951-
  • Massachusetts. Senate
  • United States--Politics and government--20th century
  • United States. Congress. House

Contributors

  • Conte, Silvio O. (Silvio Oltavio), 1921-1991

Types of material

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sound recordings
Double Edge Theater

Double Edge Theatre Records

1970-2002
28 boxes 15.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 455
Image of Bold Stroke for a Wife
Bold Stroke for a Wife

Since its founding, Double Edge Theatre has embraced a two-fold mission: to develop and promote the highest quality of original theatre performance, and to create a permanent center of performance, practice, training research, and cultural exchange.

The collection documents the Theatre’s focus on research, international collaboration, and the elevation of artistic performance above and beyond stage work into the realm of cultural exchange.

Subjects

  • Experimental theater
  • Theater and society
  • Theatrical companies--Massachusetts

Contributors

  • Arnoult, Philip
  • Double Edge Theatre
  • Durand, Carroll
  • Klein, Stacy
  • Odin teatret
  • Staniewski, Wlodzimierz
  • Stowarzyszenie Teatralne "Gardzienice"

Types of material

  • Photographs
  • Posters
  • Programs
Hampshire Community Action Commission

Hampshire Community Action Commission Records

1965-1984
25 boxes 10.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 056

A private, non-profit corporation founded in 1965 in Northampton, Massachusetts to finance community action programs for eliminating poverty and assisting low income people. Programs included day care centers, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Summer Head Start, a drug addiction clinic at the jail, Legal Services, and the Foster Grandparent Program.

Records comprise bylaws and organizational charts, annual reports, board of directors minutes; administrative directors’ records, including correspondence with the federal agencies and state agencies granting funds, grant applications and awards, program plans, financial and legal documents, personnel records and staff training directives; the agency newsletter County Voice, Noticero Latina; and newsclippings about welfare programs.

Subjects

  • Hampshire Community Action Commission
  • Hampshire County (Mass.)--Social conditions
  • Social service--Massachusetts--Hampshire County
Linguistic Atlas of New England

Linguistic Atlas of New England Records

1931-1972
40 boxes 19.75 linear feet
Call no.: MS 330

The Linguistic Atlas of New England project, begun in 1889 and published 1939-1943, documented two major dialect areas of New England, which are related to the history of the settling and dispersal of European settlers in New England with successive waves of immigration.

The collection contains handwritten transcription sheets (carbon copies) in the International Phonetic Alphabet, with some explanatory comments in longhand. Drawn from over 400 interviews conducted by linguists in communities throughout New England in the 1930s, these records document the geographic distribution of variant pronunciations and usages of spoken English. The material, taken from fieldworkers’ notebooks (1931-1933), is arranged by community, then by informant, and also includes audiotapes of follow-up interviews (1934); phonological analyses of informants’ speech; character sketches of informants by fieldworkers; fieldworkers’ blank notebook; and mimeograph word index to the atlas (1948).

Subjects

  • English language--Dialects--New England

Contributors

  • Linguistic Atlas of New England
Lyman Family Papers

Lyman Family Papers

1839-1942
7 boxes 2.25 linear feet
Call no.: MS 634
Image of Edward H.R. and Catharine A. Lyman on their wedding day
Edward H.R. and Catharine A. Lyman on their wedding day

The descendants of Joseph Lyman (1767-1847) flourished in nineteenth century Northampton, Mass., achieving social prominence, financial success, and a degree of intellectual acclaim. Having settled in Northampton before 1654, just a generation removed from emigration, the Lymans featured prominently in the development of the Connecticut River Valley. A Yale-educated clerk of the Hampshire County courts, Joseph’s descendants included sons Joseph Lyman (an engineer and antislavery man) and Samuel Fowler Lyman (a jurist), and three Harvard-educated grandsons, Benjamin Smith Lyman (a geologist and traveler in Meiji-era Japan) and brothers Joseph and Frank Lyman (both trained in the natural sciences).

Consisting of the scattered correspondence and photographic record of three generations of an intellectually adventurous Northampton family, the Lyman collection explores the ebb and flow of family relations, collegiate education, and educational travel in Europe during the mid-nineteenth century, with important content on antislavery and the Free State movement in Kansas. Although the family’s tendency to reuse names (repeatedly) presents a challenge in distinguishing the various recipients, the focal points of the collection include the geologist Benjamin Smith Lyman, his uncle Joseph (1812-1871), cousins Joseph (1851-1883) and Frank, and Frank’s son Frank Lyman, Jr. Antislavery is a major theme in the letters of Samuel F. Lyman to his son Benjamin, and in the letterbook of the Kansas Land Trust, an affiliate of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, of which the elder Joseph was Treasurer.

Gift of Christine Lyman Chase, 2009.

Subjects

  • Antislavery movements--Massachusetts
  • Germany--Description and travel--19th century
  • Harvard University--Students
  • Kansas Land Trust
  • Kansas--History--1854-1861
  • New England Emigrant Aid Company

Contributors

  • Lawrence, Amos Adams, 1814-1886
  • Lyman, Benjamin Smith, 1835-1920
  • Lyman, Joseph B, 1812-1871

Types of material

  • Photographs
Thacher-Channing families

Thacher-Channing Family Papers

1757-1930
3 boxes, books 22.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 1005
Image of Stephen Thacher, ca.1853
Stephen Thacher, ca.1853

A graduate of Yale, failed schoolmaster, and politically-connected customs collector in eastern Maine during the antebellum period, Stephen Thacher raised a large family with grand intellectual ambitions. Thacher’s sons made the most of their collegiate educations in their careers in law and the ministry, his eldest daughter Mary married Thomas Wentworth Higginson, while a granddaughter Alice Thacher married the Harvard historian Edward Channing, son of William Ellery Channing and nephew of Margaret Fuller.

These relics of a prominent New England family contain nearly 150 letters, dozens of photographs and other visual materials, and a large assortment of books from three generations of Thachers and Channings. The letters are a rich resource for understanding the life of Stephen Thacher from the uncertainty of youth in Connecticut to political and financial success in the ports of eastern Maine. Assembled by Stephen’s son Peter, the collection includes a number of noteworthy items, including an excellent letter from Timothy Goodwin in July 1775, describing his experiences during the failed expedition on Quebec and the retreat to Crown Point, and a series of letters from Congressman Martin Kinsley on the major issues of the day, including the extension of slavery to the territories and formation of the state of Maine.

Gift of Ben Forbes and Fran Soto, 2017

Subjects

  • Channing family
  • Maine--Politics and government--19th century
  • Massachusetts--Politics and government--19th century
  • Thacher family

Types of material

  • Ambrotypes
  • Daguerreotypes
  • Photographs
  • Silhouettes