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.
- 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 hsitory 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
- For more detailed information, see our research guide on Labor, work, and industry
- 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.
Arvo A. Solander Papers, 1930-1958.
Call no.: MS 587
Graduating from Harvard in the thick of the Great Depression, Arvo A. Solander worked as a civil and sanitary engineer for a variety of state and federal agencies, including the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the 1930s, as opportunity arose, he filled positions as a road engineer, in the design and construction of water and sewage plants, in pollution control, as a safety engineer in the shellfish industry, and in mosquito control, taking jobs throughout Massachusetts and as far away as Tennessee. After using his talents as an officer in the Sanitary Corps during the Second World War, based primarily in Arkansas, Solander returned home to Massachusetts and opened a private engineering office in South Hadley. He worked as a civil engineer and surveyor until his death in January 1976.
The Arvo Solander Papers consists of twenty-four bound volumes documenting thirty years of varied work as an engineer, including his contributions to the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir. Within the bound volumes are a wide range of reports, typescripts, sketches and diagrams, graphs, contracts and design specifications, photographs, and postcards.
- Civil engineers
- Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.)
- Quabbin Reservoir (Mass.)
- Roads--Design and construction
- Sanitary engineers
- Sewage disposal plants--Design and construction
- United States. Federal Civil Works Administration
- Westfield State Sanatorium
- World War, 1939-1945
- Wrentham State School
- Solander, Arvo A
Types of material
George Edward Stone Papers, 1890-1957.
Call no.: FS 085
Professor of Botany, Massachusetts Agricultural College.
Correspondence, lecture notes, reports, notes on experiments, drawings depicting original apparatus, scrapbooks of printed botanical illustrations, student papers, genealogies, memorabilia, and photographs; together with papers reflecting administrative and official duties; correspondence, notes, and news clippings on psychic phenomena; and autobiographical notes, including reflections on Massachusetts Agricultural College and on Emily Dickinson.
- Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886
- Massachusetts Agricultural College--Faculty
- Massachusetts Agricultural College. Botany Department
- Plant physiology--Massachusetts
- Barlow, Waldo
- Stone, George E. (George Edward), 1860-1941
Types of material
Storrsville Lyceum Debating Society Minutebook, 1842-1846.
Call no.: MS 016 bd
Club that met weekly or bi-weekly in Storrsville, Massachusetts, to debate questions of local, national, and international interest including religion, abolition and slavery, human nature, penal reform, the lure of the West, intemperance, and war and peace. Single minutebook includes two versions of the constitution, proposed and debated questions, the teams, the outcome, and notations of any additional activities that took place during the formal meetings.
- Ciceronean Debating Club (Dana, Mass.)
- Dana (Mass. : Town)--Intellectual life--19th century
- Debates and debating--Massachusetts--Dana (Town)--History
- Storrsville (Dana, Mass. : Town)--Intellectual life--19th century
- Storrsville Lyceum Debating Society (Dana, Mass.)--Archives
Types of material
- Minute books
Harvey Swados Papers, 1933-1983.
Call no.: MS 218
The author and social critic Harvey Swados (1920-1972) was a graduate of the University of Michigan who embarked on a literary life after service in the merchant Marine during the Second World War. His first novel, Out Went the Candle (1955), introduced the themes to which Swados would return throughout his career, the alienation of factory workers and the experience of the working class in industrial America. His other works include a widely read collection of stories set in an auto plant, On the Line, the novels False Coin (1959), Standing Fast (1970), and Celebration (1975), and a noted collection of essays A Radical’s America (1962). His essay for Esquire magazine, “Why Resign from the Human Race?,” is often cited as inspiring the formation of the Peace Corps.
The Swados collection includes journals, notes, typewritten drafts of novels and short stories, galley proofs, clippings, and correspondence concerning writings; letters from family, publishers, literary agents, colleagues, friends, and readers, including Richard Hofstadter, Saul Bellow, James Thomas Farrell, Herbert Gold, Irving Howe, Bernard Malamud, and Charles Wright Mills; letters from Swados, especially to family, friends, and editors; book reviews; notes, background material, and drafts of speeches and lectures; financial records; biographical and autobiographical sketches; bibliographies.
- Authors, American--20th century--Biography
- Jewish authors--United States--Biography
- National Book Awards--History--20th century
- Socialists--United States--Biography
- Bellow, Saul
- Farrell, James T. (James Thomas), 1904-1979
- Gold, Herbert, 1924-
- Hofstadter, Richard, 1916-1970
- Howe, Irving
- Malamud, Bernard
- Mills, C. Wright (Charles Wright), 1916-1962
- Swados, Harvey, 1920-1972
Ray Ethan Torrey Papers, 1832-1983.
Call no.: FS 121
A plant morphologist and member of the Botany Department at Massachusetts Agricultural College, Ray Ethan Torrey was among the college’s most charismatic faculty members during the early twentieth century. Born in Leverett, Mass., and educated in the local public schools, Torrey graduated from MAC with the class of 1912, earning his PhD at Harvard six years later. After serving on the faculty of Grove City College and Wesleyan, he returned to his alma mater in 1919, where he remained for more than 36 years. A specialist in plant morphology and author or two widely used textbooks and numerous articles, Torrey’s introductory course in botany was among the most popular in the college. He was best known, however, for taking a broader, philosophical approach to science that encouraged students to explore the connections between philosophy, science, religion, and the humanities. Torrey died of leukemia in Boston on Jan. 16, 1956.
Correspondence, chiefly with former students and colleagues at other institutions; lecture notes and outlines; 27 pen and ink drawings; published writings and drawings; biographical material; class and laboratory notes taken by students; family and educational records (1832-1956); photographs, and other papers.
- Botany--Study and teaching
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Botany Department
- Torrey, Ray Ethan, 1887-
Types of material
- Pen and ink drawings
Roberta Uno Collection of Asian American Women Playwrights' Scripts, 1924-2005.
Call no.: MS 345
Roberta Uno was the founder and long time artistic director of the New WORLD Theater at UMass Amherst, a theater in residence dedicated to the production of works by playwrights of color.
Established by Uno in 1993, the Asian American Women Playwrights Scripts Collection contains manuscripts of plays, but also production histories, reviews, and articles, along with biographies and audio and videotaped interviews with playwrights. Among the individuals represented are Brenda Wong Aoki, Jeannie Barroga, Marina Feleo Gonzales, Jessica Hagedorn, Velina Hasu Houston, Genny Lim, le thi diem thuy, Ling-Ai Li, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Nobuko Miyamoto, Bina Sharif, and Diana Son.
- Asian American women authors
- New WORLD Theater
- Uno, Roberta, 1956-
Types of material
- Scripts (Documents)
Valley Peace Center Records, 1965-1973.
Call no.: MS 301
In the summer of 1967, members of University of Massachusetts Amherst campus groups, such as the Faculty Group on War and Peace and the Students for Political Action, joined with individuals from other area colleges and from the community at large to form the Valley Peace Center of Amherst for the purposes of opposing the Vietnam War, providing draft counseling, eliciting pledges from the government to avoid first use of nuclear and biological weapons, and reduction of the power of the “military-industrial complex”. The Center was active for more than five and a half years, drawing its financial support largely from the community and its human resources from student and community volunteers.
Correspondence, minutes, volunteer and membership lists, financial records, newsletters, questionnaires, notes, petitions, clippings, posters, circulars, pamphlets, periodicals, other printed matter, and memorabilia. Includes material relating to alternative service, boycotts, war tax resistance, prison reform, environmental quality, and political candidates.
- Amherst (Mass.)--Social conditions--20th century
- Draft--United States--History
- Peace movements--Massachusetts--Amherst
- Social movements--Massachusetts--Amherst
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--Massachusetts--Amherst
- Westover Air Force Base (Mass.)--History--20th century
- Valley Peace Center (Amherst, Mass.)
Types of material
Carlos Vega Collection, ca.1966-1995.
Call no.: MS 800
An Ecuadorian-born community activist, Carlos Vega moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts, with his family in 1955. Settling in the working-class “Flats” neighborhood at a time when many of Holyoke’s factories were relocating to the southern United States or Asia, the Vegas were one of the few Spanish-speaking families in the city, but when Carlos began to work on a local tobacco farm at the age of 14, he encountered the new influx of migrants from Puerto Rico who had been lured to the Connecticut Valley as agricultural laborers by the Department of Labor. With the Puerto Rican economy declining in the 1960s, many of these farm workers settled permanently in Springfield and Holyoke, but they soon discovered that the declining economy there combined with racism and urban decay blocked their hopes for upward mobility. Radicalized by the anti-colonial, anti-war, and Civil Rights movements of the late 1960s, Vega emerged as an important community organizer in the 1970s, working with Fair Share, New Unity, Urban Ministry, and other progressive organizations. With a backdrop of riots, arson, and racial tension, these organizations focused on issues relevant to the Puerto Rican community, particularly voter education and registration, fair housing, and education. In 1982, Vega helped found Nueva Esperanza, a non-profit community development organization whose mission was to restore and maintain blighted buildings in South Holyoke. He worked with Nueva Esperanza for over 30 years, continuing until 2010 after a brain cancer diagnosis in 1995. He survived until April 2012.
The materials in this collection reflect Vega’s interests in left wing movements in Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, South America and Africa from the 1960s through 1980s and include leaflets, pamphlets, books, and newsletters. The approximately 300 items offer sometimes scarce documentation of internationalist liberation movements such as the PAIGC in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, and the EFLNA in Eritrea. Of particular note is a small collection documenting Vega’s participation in the 1974 Venceremos Brigade and a collection of clippings, newsletters, notes, fliers, conference material, and newspapers from various groups such as New England Action Research, Friends of the Filipino People, The Latin American Student Association, and the Ethiopian Students Union of North America. Some printed materials are cataloged and housed with the rare books collection.
- Central America--Foreign relations--United States
- Civil Rights movements--Africa
- Civil Rights movements--Central America
- Civil Rights movements--Chile
- Civil Rights movements--United States
- Civil Rights movements-Asia
- Civil Rights movements-Caribbean
- Latin America--Periodicals
- Radicalism--United States
- Revolutionary literature
- United States--Foreign relations--Central America
- Venceremos Brigade
William Gould Vinal Papers, 1931-1963.
Call no.: FS 138
William “Cap’n Bill” Vinal was the first instructor in nature education at Massachusetts State College and a pioneer in the field. A graduate of Bridgewater State (1904), Harvard (MA 1907) and Brown (PhD, 1922), Vinal worked for several years as a camp director on his native Cape Cod and held a variety of university appointments in nature education before joining the faculty at Massachusetts State College as Professor of Nature Education in the Nature Guide School in 1937. Spontaneous in the classroom and field, enthusiastic, and highly popular with his students, Vinal taught courses in conservation, outdoor leadership, outdoor recreation, and nature guiding, and was an important figure in the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the American Camping Association, the Camp Directors Association, and several conservation groups. After retiring from UMass in 1951, Vinal returned to his home in Norwell, Mass., remaining active as a nature writer and teacher until his death in 1973.
A valuable glimpse into the early growth of nature and conservation education, the Vinal collection includes dozens of scarce publications by the exceptionally prolific Cap’n Bill, along with a small quantity of correspondence, talks, and reports. As a collection, these document the origin and growth of the Nature Guide School and the program in nature recreation at MSC and UMass, and more generally the growth of nature, recreation, and conservation education in New England. Of local interest is an extensive report for the town of Amherst Recreation Survey Committee (1948) regarding recreational opportunities for youth. Nearly half of the collection consists of an extensive run of Vinal’s quirky, self-published Nature Guide Newsletter (1935-1951).
- Amherst (Mass.)--Social life and customs
- Conservation of natural resources--Study and teaching
- Nature Guide Newsletter
- Outdoor education--Massachusetts
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Nature Guide School
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Program in Nature Recreation
- Vinal, William Gould, 1881-