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 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
- 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.
G. Clifford Stamper Papers, 1943-1955.
Call no.: MS 463
George Clifford Stamper was a movie projectionist in the 4th Special Services during World War II. Born and raised in Somerville, Massachusetts, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 1, 1943 and participated in the European Theater from April 6, 1944 until December 12, 1945, when he was sent home and then honorably discharged in January 1946.
The papers of G. Clifford Stamper consist primarily of his incoming and outgoing letters during his training and service from 1943-1945. Correspondence is mostly with his family, but also includes his letters with neighbors, as well as friends that were serving. The collection contains, too, Stamper’s post-war letters received from 1946-1955. In addition, the outgoing letters of James C. Doyle, Jr. during his service in the U.S. Marines from 1958-1959 are a part of this collection. Doyle’s connection to Stamper is unclear.
- United States. Army Service Forces. Special Services Division
- World War, 1939-1945
- World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Czechoslovakia
- World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--France
- Doyle, James C
- Stamper, G. Clifford (George Clifford), 1912-2005
Types of material
- Letters (Correspondence)
Brother David Steindl-Rast Papers, ca. 1928-2015.
Call no.: MS 892
Brother David Steindl-Rast was born Franz Kuno in Vienna, Austria, in 1926. He discovered The Rule of St. Benedict as a young man, which sent him on a search for an authentic version of Benedictine practice. This search brought him through the Second World War in Vienna, where he earned a Ph.D from the University of Vienna in 1952 and to the Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, New York, where he became a monk in 1953. Along with his friend Thomas Merton, Brother David is one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, leaving Mount Savior in the mid-1960s to study Zen Buddhism with Hakuun Yajutami, Shunayu Suzuki, and Soen Nakagawa. He was the first Benedictine to learn directly from Buddhist teachers and received Vatican support for his bridge-building work in 1967. Through Merton, Brother David met Thich Nhat Hanh, who introduced him to the peace movement and grounded Brother David’s spirituality in a tradition of activism. When not in seclusion, Brother David has served as a teacher of contemplative prayer, the intersection of Zen and Catholicism, and gratefulness as a spiritual practice. Through many books and articles, lectures, and residencies in spiritual centers like Tassajara and the Esalen Institute, Brother David has developed an influential philosophy and much of the current popularity of mindfulness and Zen-influenced living and activism owes a debt to his teachings.
The Brother David Steindl-Rast Papers include Brother David’s extensive published and unpublished writings, sermons, memoirs, personal journals, correspondence, photographs, recordings, and videos of his teachings. His papers extend back to his youth in Vienna, documenting his childhood and experience during the war, including a complete run of Die Goldene Wagen, the children’s magazine published by Brother David’s mother Elisabeth Steindl.
- Benedictines--United States
- Peace movements--United States
- Peace--Religious aspects
- Spiritual life--Buddhism
- Spiritual life--Catholic church
- Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968
- Steindl-Rast, David
John D. Strong Papers, 1938-1986.
Call no.: FS 019
John D. Strong was a professor of Physics and Astronomy from 1967 to 1975 and served as the head of the laboratory of astrophysics and physical meteorology. Strong, one of the world’s foremost optical scientists, was known for being the first to detect water vapor in the atmosphere of Venus and for developing a number of innovations in optical devices, ranging from improved telescope mirrors to anti-reflective coatings for optical elements and diffraction gratings. Born in Riverdale, Kansas in 1905, Strong received degrees from the University of Kansas (BA 1926) and the University of Michigan (M.S., 1928, Ph.D., 1930). After twelve years at CalTech and wartime research at Harvard on infrared systems, Strong became professor and director of the Astrophysical and Physical Meteorology Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University in 1946, where, among many other projects, he conducted research on balloon astronomy for the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Strong published hundreds of papers throughout his career and was author of Procedures of Experimental Physics, a standard physics textbook for many years. Strong served as president of the American Optical Association in 1959 and patented numerous inventions for optics in spectroscopy as well as golf (see US Patent no. 3720467). Strong passed away in 1992.
The Strong Papers contain forty years of research notebooks in experimental physics (1930-1970) centered on Strong’s years at Johns Hopkins (1946-1967), along with correspondence, printed publications by Strong for the ONR, and manuscripts for several textbooks (though lacking material on Procedures of Experimental Physics). Strong’s balloon work is documented by diagrams in his lab books and photographs of the Stratolab at John’s Hopkins, and an oral history of his life was made by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 1985, a transcript of which is included in the collection.
- Institute for Man and the Environment
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning
- Strong, John D
Abode of the Message Collection, 1975-2012.
Call no.: MS 780
Founded in 1975 by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, The Abode of the Message is the headquarters for members of the Sufi Order International. Sitting on 430 acres, formerly the site of a Shaker Village in New Lebanon, New York, the Abode was settled by 75 adults and 20 children coming from all over the United States. The Sufi Order initiates spent the first several months preparing for the arrival of winter, a task that required much effort since buildings were in need of repair, there was no central heating system or updated electrical wiring, and few bathrooms. Within a year, the community prospered with the establishment of woodworking, stained glass, and sewing shops, a bakery, and a small school. Today, the community is smaller in number, but their mission remains the same: to collectively embody spiritual awakening.
The collection consists chiefly of publications produced by the Abode, including two newsletters Connections and The Messenger dating from the 1970s to the present. Also represented are other Sufi Order publications, such as Heart & Wing and Mureed’s Newsletter.
- Sufi Order International
Gordon Francis Sutton Papers, 1970-2004.
Call no.: FS 111
Gordon Francis Sutton (1928-2012) began his tenure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as an Assistant Professor of Sociology. Sutton was later appointed to serve as the Director of the Population and Ecology Studies Program. With an interest in social policy, Sutton’s work focused on evaluating statistical classification systems of metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. His dissertation on travel patterns in urban communities earned him a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in 1959. In 1997 Sutton’s son Matthew created the Gordon and Dolores Sutton Scholarship Fund at UMass Amherst to promote ethnic diversity and economic opportunity.
The Sutton Papers contain a wealth of material relating to Sutton’s research in urban sociology, social statistics, and demography.
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Sociology
- Sutton, Gordon Francis, 1930-
Brainerd Taylor Family Papers, 1871-1964.
Call no.: MS 733
A member of a distinguished family of New England educators and clergymen, Brainerd Taylor played an key role in assisting the U.S. Army takes its first steps into modern mechanized warfare. Born in Newtonville, Massachusetts, in 1877, Taylor entered Harvard with the class of 1899, but during the rush of enthusiasm accompanying the start of the Spanish American War, he left before completing his degree to join the military. Serving with the Coast Artillery for several years, he became the Chief Motor Transport Officer for the Advance Section of the Service of Supply for the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War, earning promotion to Colonel, a Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Honor from France for his efforts. Taylor married twice, first to Vesta Richardson, who died in 1919, and then to Helen Cady. Taylor died in 1955.
The Taylor family collection contains over 1,000 letters documenting the military career and personal life of Brainerd Taylor, with particularly thick coverage of the period of the First World War when he was stationed in France, building the Motor Transport Corps virtually from scratch. These letters are exceptionally well written and rich in description, both about his duties and his travels in France and Germany. The collection also includes Taylor’s extensive correspondence to his father, James Brainerd Taylor (1845-1929), and correspondence relating to Taylor’s wives, children, and grandchildren.
- France--Description and travel
- Germany--Description and travel
- World War, 1914-1918
- Taylor, Brainerd, 1877-
- Taylor, Helen M.
- Taylor, James Brainerd
- Taylor, Vesta R.
Sue Thrasher Poster Collection, ca.1975-2010.
Call no.: MS 861
The activist, writer, and educator, Sue Thrasher became involved in the civil rights movement while a student at Scarritt College in 1961. A native of rural West Tennessee, Thrasher was drawn to the local chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee shortly after arriving on campus, and in 1964, she helped found the Southern Students Organizing Committee, serving as its first executive director and taking part in the “white folks project” during Mississippi Summer. As a stalwart of the freedom movement and its historian, she joined the staff at the Highlander Center in 1978, helping to organize their archives and conducting oral histories. After more than twenty years of social activism in the South, Thrasher came to UMass Amherst to earn a doctorate in Educational Policy and Research, and from 1997 until her retirement in 2013, she worked as Partnership Coordinator at Five Colleges Incorporated, linking faculty with public school districts in western Massachusetts. Among her several works on the civil rights movement is the collaborative volume Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (2000).
A visual record of Sue Thrasher’s involvement in movements for social justice, the collection includes dozens of posters reflecting international liberation movements (Mozambique, Palestine, Central America), Cuba, the antiwar movement, campaigns for literacy in Nicaragua, the International Council on Adult Education (Chile and Bangladesh), and activities at the Highlander Center (benefit concerts by Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Sweet Honey in the Rock). The collection also includes two Nicaraguan masks collected by Thrasher.
Types of material
Thresholds to Life Records, 1983-1986.
Call no.: MS 156
Thresholds to Life is a training program for decision making, problem solving, and life planning taught by volunteers to prison inmates and offenders on probation in 30 locations in the United States. The records in this collection are those of the Thresholds program in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a United Way agency.
- Thresholds to Life
C.S. Toppan Account Book, 1845-1861.
Call no.: MS 084
A wealthy merchant from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Includes details of his ventures in ship owning and his investments in manufacturing companies and real estate. Also contains total assets of his “property in possession” as of January 1845, and lists of debtors, including men, women, businesses, religious groups, and political groups.
- Debtor and creditor--New Hampshire--Portsmouth--History--19th century
- Inventories of decedents' estates--New Hampshire--Portsmouth
- Merchants--New Hampshire--Portsmouth--Economic conditions--19th century
- Portsmouth (N.H.)--Economic conditions--19th century
- Shipowners--New Hampshire--Portsmouth--Economic conditions--19th century
- Toppan, C. S. (Christopher S.)--Estate
- Toppan, C. S. (Christopher S.)
Types of material
- Account books