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Anti-war sit-in, Whitmore Hall, ca.1971

Anti-war sit-in, Whitmore Hall, ca.1971

Building upon the activist legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives collects primary materials relating to individuals and groups devoted to the political, economic, spiritual, and social transformation of American society. Our intent in taking such a broad collecting scope is to view social change as a totality, rather than as isolated movements and to document how ideas about one set of social issues informs other issues, and how social causes cross-pollinate, organizationally and conceptually. By preserving a record of these activities, SCUA makes it possible for future scholars, activists, and members of the community to continue to engage with the ideas that have motivated so many.

Although our interests extend to any endeavors that reflect the efforts of individuals and groups promote social change, the collections in SCUA provide particularly valuable documentation of the movements for peace, social justice, and racial equality, environmentalism, labor activism, intentional communities, and gay rights.

View our brochure on documenting social change (pdf).


Significant collecting areas

  • Antinuclear movement
    • New England has been a hotbed of activity for the antinuclear movement, spawning groups such as the Clamshell Alliance, the Citizens Awareness Network, the Renewable Energy Media Service, and the Musicians United for Safe Energy.
  • Antiracism and civil rights
    • The Du Bois Papers document the lifelong commitment of W.E.B. Du Bois to addressing issues of racial and social injustice in the twentieth century, but SCUA houses a number of other collections that address various aspects of “the problem of the twentieth century,” and the varied approaches to its resolution. See also our research guide for African American history.
  • Community organizations and charities
    • SCUA houses the records of civic organizations involved in relief work, community assistance, and social justice.
  • Environmentalism
    • Collections relating to the history of the environment in New England and of environmentalism in the broad sense. SCUA is also interested in documenting the history of land use, organic farming and sustainability, and similar topics.
  • Intentional Communities
    • Communes seemed to spring up everywhere in New England during the 1960s, but communes of various sorts have been part of our landscape for two centuries. In both its printed and manuscript collections, SCUA documents a wide variety of approaches to communal living and the cultural legacy of communes. The Famous Long Ago Archive focuses intensively on documenting a cluster of related communes in Massachusetts and Vermont, including the Montague Farm, Packer Corners, Wendell Farm, and Tree Frog Farm.
  • Labor activism
  • Peace Collections
    • Among the department’s collections documenting peace and antiwar movements, SCUA holds the records of several regional peace centers, the AFSC Western Massachusetts branch, and a number of peace activists.
  • Political activism
    • As part of its collections on political life and culture, SCUA houses collections for individuals and organizations working within the political system or against it, and several relating to Socialism and Communism and Cold-War era Eastern Europe.
  • Social Justice
    • Social justice is a catchall term that captures the complex relationships between and among a wide variety of movements for economic justice, social and civic equality. In addition to the other collecting areas listed elsewhere on this page, SCUA documents gay rights, Animal rights, prison issues, and social reform in its various guises.

Learn more:

Student holding academic gown adorned with Black Power symbol, 1970

Each fall, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives sponsors a colloquium focusing on a topic in social change. Like SCUA’s collections, these colloquia cover a broad terrain, touching on a variety of issues in social justice, equality, and democracy.

Colloquia are free and open to the public.

Colloquium 2015, (Friday, April 8, 2016)
Documenting Punk: Writing, preserving, watching and listening to the history of an American cultural movement
Documenting punk

April 8, 2016, from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Room 163, UMass Campus Center

Punk, one of the last major youth sub-cultures during the pre-Internet era, was also a decentralized national and international community linked mostly by recordings, zines and the touring of bands. Individual scenes developed across the country in major urban areas, suburban communities and small towns. While each had its own personality and bands, they were linked by a shared distrust of establishment institutions and commercialized popular culture.

In recent years, punk archives have been established at academic repositories and as a result, scholars and the broader public have access to stories that have before only been shared within the punk community. Efforts have also been made to chronicle the history of the movement through the making of films, books and oral histories. The colloquium aims to open a conversation about the documentation of punk. The panel will explore questions including: How can the anti-establishment, anti-institutional, do-it-yourself ethos of punk be reconciled with the desire to collect, preserve and academically study the movement? How can the needs of community access be balanced with the demands of proper conservation? Can the ways scholars, archivists and librarians document a community be reconciled with the ways the movement documents itself?

Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Stewart Foley is the author of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and Front Porch Politics, The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s. Foley is a professor of American Political Culture and Political Theory at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He is also a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture.

Event speakers also include Ramdasha Bikceem, Byron Coley, Lisa Darms, Michael T. Fournier, Deward MacLeod, Sara Marcus and Tanya Pearson. For full speaker bios, visit: www.punkhistory.org.

The colloquium is free and open to the public. RSVP at: http://bit.ly/punksignup The event is co-sponsored by the UMass Amherst Libraries, UMass Amherst Department of History, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and Social Thought & Political Economy (STPEC).

John Spragens Cambodian Photograph Collection, 1983

1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 116

Washington based photojournalist John Spragens, Jr. lived in Asia for more than seven years. He spent a total of three years in Vietnam between 1966 and 1974, and traveled in several other countries in Southeast Asia., including Cambodia.

Spragens’ photographs document Cambodia under the rule of the Communist-Vietnamese dominated government that came to power in January 1979, after the defeat of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army.

  • Cambodia--Photographs
  • Spragens, John
Types of material
  • Photographs

Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts Intiative Collection, 1988-1989

1 folder (0.1 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 321

Founded in 1987, the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts Initiative (TEAM) was a coalition of government groups, civic and business leaders, human services advocates, unions, and others sharing the conviction that fair taxation and quality services must go hand-in-hand. The collection is limited to their publication, “Talking Tax,” and brochures both for their volunteers and for the public.

  • Taxation--Massachusetts

Thomas W. and Margaret Tenney Photograph Collection, 1966-1978 (Bulk: 1966-1972)

12 boxes (6 linear feet)
Call no.: PH 045
Thomas W. and Margaret Tenney Photograph Collection image
Submit Gaylord, 1766, Hadley, Mass.

A long-time resident of Berkeley, Calif., Thomas W. Tenney and his wife Margaret took up photography in a serious way in the early 1960s. Photographing the Bay Area scene and publishing in the New York Times and elsewhere, the Tenneys became full time photographers by about 1964. For over a decade, they took summer trips to New England to photograph colonial and early national gravestones, culminating in a public exhibition of their work in 1972 at the Bolles Gallery in San Francisco.

The Tenney collection consists of several hundred scrupulously-documented images of gravestones in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other New England states taken between 1966 and 1978. Selecting stones for “artistic rather than historical reasons,” the Tenney’s focused primarily on details of the carving and inscriptions.

  • Gravestones--Connecticut
  • Gravestones--Massachusetts
  • Gravestones--Rhode Island
  • Gravestones--Vermont
  • Tenney, Margaret K.
  • Tenney, Thomas W.
Types of material
  • Photographs

Curtis B. Thorne Papers, ca.1976-1989

2 boxes (3 linear feet)
Call no.: FS 153

Before joining the faculty of the microbial genetics department at UMass Amherst in 1966, Curtis B. Thorne worked as the branch chief at the biolabs in Fort Detrick from 1948-1961 and 1963-1966 where his research focused on Bacillus anthracis, the microbe that causes anthrax. During his tenure at UMass, Curtis applied for and received numerous grants for his continued research on the bacterium, including funding from the U.S. Department of Defense. While his research was centered on the genetics and physiology of the anthrax bacillus, with an emphasis on developing a vaccine, it garnered the unwanted attention of local peace activists in 1989. Protestors, who feared Thorne’s research was linked to germ warfare, picketed outside of his laboratory and demanded that the university reject Pentagon funding. Even though the university and the town of Amherst refused to limit Thorne’s research, he decided not to seek an extension of his contract with the Army in 1990, a decision he regretted having to make. Four years later, Thorne retired from UMass and was honored by his former students with a symposium and dinner. Thorne died in 1988 at the age of 86.

Thorne’s papers consist of lab notebooks and materials relating to the classes he taught at UMass Amherst. Many of the notebooks are related to his research on Bacillus anthracis as well as other microbes including Bacills thuringiensis. His papers do not contain any information related to the funding of his research or the controversy that later surrounded it.

  • Bacillus anthracis
  • Biological weapons
  • Geneticists--Massachusetts
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Microbiology
  • Thorne, Curtis B

Gifford H. and Marjorie B. Towle Papers, 1970-1987 (Bulk: 1945-1980)

24 boxes (33 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 881
Gifford H. and Marjorie B. Towle Papers image
Gifford and Marjorie Towle, 1957

As a student at Mount Hermon School in the late 1920s, Gifford Hoag Towle met Marjorie Ripley Blossom, a young woman at the Northfield School for Girls. When Giff went on to the Massachusetts Agricultural College (BS 1932) and Marjorie to a midwestern Bible College for a year (before being called home due to a family crisis), they remained connected and after Giff’s graduation in 1932, they married. By the time that Giff graduated from Hartford Seminary, he had left his Quaker upbringing to enter the Congregationalist ministry, and he and Marjorie filled three pulpits near Pelham, Mass. In 1939, however, they were called by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to serve as missionaries in the American Marathi Mission in Maharashtra State, central India. Following two years of intensive study of the Marathi language in Ahmednagar, they settled in Vadala, a rural village on the semi-arid plains, where they worked for thirty-four years, counting furloughs. In 1946 on furlough in the U.S., Giff earned a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from Cornell while pastoring a small church in the suburbs of Ithaca. In his agricultural work in India, Giff used the mission farm to demonstrate crop diversity and farm animal improvement; created co-operatives to enable poor farmers to use appropriate modern tools and machinery for pennies; taught good irrigation and soil conservation; and later built a Mechanical Unit and trained local Indians as mechanics to repair machinery and drill wells. Giff also invented a pump for which he never filed a patent, wanting instead to make it as widely available as possible. He built networks with relatives, churches, and non-profits to fund these efforts and get supplies.

The Towle Collection contains a wealth of information for research in three distinct areas: missions and religious matters; agriculture in “developing” countries; and the cultural and socio-economic context of social change in rural India. The Towles’ voluminous correspondence and reports offer a particularly rich view into mission life in India, including American participation through churches, relations between Hindus and Christians or between Christians, and the viability of these efforts. Marjorie’s letters are particularly vivid, adding significantly to our understanding of mission lives and experiences. The collection is equally rich in revealing the impact of the Towles’ agricultural work and for study of the efficacy of government agencies and non-profits seeking to understand cross-cultural issues.

  • Agriculture--India
  • India--Description and travel
  • Maharasthra (India)--Economic conditions
  • Missionaries--India
  • Towle, Marjorie Blossom, 1907-1994
Types of material
  • Photographs

Travel Brochure Collection, 1921-1949

1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 490

Collection of travel brochures for camps, inns, hotels, historic sites, and tourist attractions throughout New England. Most brochures advertise accommodations or attractions in a natural setting, including room rentals at farms, hiking in the White Mountains, and the rivers and mountains of Vermont. Women traveling alone are the target audience of some of the brochures, which promise clean accommodations and wholesome activities. Tourist sites in a few states outside of New England are also included: New York State, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Ontario.

  • Tourism--New England
  • Travel--United States

Ralph L. Tucker Collection, 1951-ca.2000

14 boxes (6 linear feet)
Call no.: PH 041
Ralph L. Tucker Collection image
Erased stone, Salem, Mass.

Known for his extensive research into Boston and Merrimac Valley area gravestone carvers, particularly Joseph Lamson and John Hartshorne, Ralph Tucker received the AGS Forbes Award in 1992 for his excellence in carver research. One of the attendees at the inaugural Dublin Seminar, and the first President of the Association for Gravestone Studies, Tucker served as editor of a column, “17th and 18th Century Gravestones and Carvers,” in the AGS Newletter from 1993-1999. Born on May 29, 1921 in Winthrop, Mass., Tucker attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and Episcopal Theological School. He married Mildred R. Moore in 1946 and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1947. Tucker spent two years as a missionary in China, returning to serve parishes in Utah, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. In addition to extending his ministry to hospitals and prisons, he participated in 1960s Civil Rights protests in Alabama and Boston. In 1985 he went to Zimbabwe as a missionary, retiring to Maine soon thereafter where he acted as interim pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Bath. Tucker died March 28, 2010, and was survived by his wife, four sons — Ralph, Jr., Richard R., Roger W., and Paul M. Tucker, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Tucker collection includes research notes and copies of published works stemming from Ralph Tucker’s decades of research on stone carvers and other gravestone-related topics, along with hundreds of images documenting carvers and stones in Massachusetts.

  • Cemeteries--Massachusetts
  • Gravestones--Massachusetts
  • Stone carving--Massachusetts
  • Tucker, Ralph L.
Types of material
  • Photographs

Abel Turner, The Life and Travels of Abel Turner, 1839

451p. (0.2 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 708 bd

As a young man in Foxcroft, Maine, Abel Turner was caught up in the evangelical revivals and converted to Free Will Baptism, becoming a minister by the age of 21. Beginning in the backwoods settlements, Turner spent the better part of a decade attempting to “convert sinners” in Piscataquis and Penobscot Counties and the in the Burned-Over District of New York state, from Utica to Penn Yan and Cattaraugus County.

Written for his wife, Abel Turner’s long and detailed autobiography is a remarkable record of a young Free Will Baptist minister’s labors during the Second Great Awakening. Beginning with his childhood in Maine and his conversion experience, the manuscript provides insight into Turner’s experiences preaching in the rough-hewn interior settlements of Maine and the Burned-Over District of New York from roughly 1821 through 1839. In addition to some wonderful commentary on evangelical religion in the heart of the Awakening and on Turner’s own spiritual development, the memoir includes fascinating descriptions of the towns and people he met along the way.

  • Free Will Baptists (1727-1935)--Clergy
  • Maine--History--19th century
  • New York (State)--History--19th century
  • Second Great Awakening--Maine--History
  • Second Great Awakening--New York (State)--History
  • Turner, Abel
Types of material
  • Autobiographies

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