History Bites is a series of thirty minute lectures to inform and entertain, covering various aspects of the history of Amherst and the lives of those who once lived here.
Bring your lunch, and we provide coffee, tea and cider for you as you listen to the presentations. The programs begin promptly at 12:15 with seating and beverages ready just before noon. The lectures are free and everyone is welcome to attend.
Thanks to the work of our dedicated trustees, you can view archived video of past History Bites lectures here.
Spring Lectures Schedule
Indigenous Amherst: The life and work of Charles “Ohiyesa” Eastman and his Family
by Kiara Vigil
March 1st, 12:15pm
Charles Eastman was a Native American (Santee Dakota) author and activist, and resident of Amherst from 1911-19, where he published nine of his eleven books. In this lecture, Kiara Vigil, Assistant Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, will highlight Charles Eastman’s life, his position as a “public face for the Indian people” and how he successfully navigated circuits of power using academia, the literary marketplace, and the federal government’s Indian Service. Eastman’s story offers a glimpse into the life of Indigenous members of the Amherst community during the early 20th century, a critical period in which Indigenous people gained cultural and political influence in the United States. She will draw on research from her first book “Indigenous Intellectuals: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and the American Imagination, 1880-1930,” (Cambridge University Press) in which she posits that Charles Eastman and his contemporaries were integral to the shaping of debates around citizenship and race within American society during the early twentieth century, and identifies his cohort as part of a wider network of Indian people whose work as writers, activists, and performers demand a re-imagining of American history.
The History of the Amherst Police
by Ronald Young
March 15th, 12:15pm
Join us as Captain Ron Young of the Amherst Police gives a talk about the origins of the Amherst police service, and the early days of policing in Amherst! In 1873 the town appointed its first night policeman, who patrolled the streets from 9PM to 6AM, 351 nights of the year. That was also the year the first lock-up was constructed, in accordance with a new Massachusetts state law.
Cowls in Amherst: A Founding Family
by Cinda Jones
March 29th, 12:15pm
Because we expect a larger crowd than usual, this presentation will be held in the Woodbury Room at Jones Library.
Cowls Building Supply advertises; ‘Family Owned and Operated since 1741.’ Join us as Cowls’ current manager, Ms Cinda Jones, presents Cowls in Amherst: A founding family’s generational contributions to building community. This talk will cover nine generations, showing how the twenty-acre Home Farm site was rebuilt to meet each generation’s needs, as they managed forests, cut timber, were involved in tobacco, onion, and fairy farming, sawmilling, road & subdivision building, and sold retail building materials. This history of the Cowls Building supply illustrates the history of economic interests in Amherst. From farming to a trolley depot, to the sawmill and retail businesses, learn about the ways this family business grew and changed over the centuries in service of Amherst.
The Jewish Community of Amherst: The Founding Years
by Irv Seidman
Friday, April 12th, 12:15pm
“No place, no rabbi, no prayer books, no Torah, no Ark… The stakes were high.” Join as as author and JCA founding member Irving Seidman speaks about his new book “The Jewish Community of Amherst: The Formative Years, 1969-1979.” This is the story of how a widely diverse group of Jews new to Amherst wished to connect to each other for the sake of their children’s Jewish identities and their own. How word-of-mouth connections led them to establish two different Jewish committees that coalesced to form the Jewish Community of Amherst. How a Torah carried to safety from a small town in Poland invaded by Nazis became the JCA’s first Torah. How the JCA’s bid to purchase the sanctuary and parish hall of the Second Congregational Church hung by the thread of a vote by the Zoning Board of Appeals. How rabbinic guidance helped the JCA face the challenge of becoming true to its name.
How the accomplishments of the founders and early members of the JCA established principles, structures and ways of being together that continue to influence the JCA today.
Virtual walking tour of West Cemetery
by Bob Drinkwater
Friday, April 26th, 12:15pm
The West Cemetery on Triangle Street was established in 1730, and for 90 years was the town’s only burying ground. Join us for a audio-narrative, virtual stroll through the paths of the West Cemetery, in this talk presented by Bob Drinkwater detailing the history of Amherst’s first graveyard, which is the resting place of Emily Dickinson and other town notables.
100 Years of Silk in the Valley
by Marjorie Senechal
Friday, May 10th
The production of silk and manufacture of silk products has played an important role in the history of Pioneer Valley. Join us as Marjorie Senechal unravels one hundred years of silk history and manufacturing and their importance in shaping the blossoming towns of the Pioneer valley into the community we know today. Both Wistariahurst in Holyoke and the Silk Mill building on Route 9 in Northampton are relics of this once-thriving industry.