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 2020 Lecture Series
March 6, 2020 Fence-Viewers of Pelham, Past and Present
In Massachusetts, the position of ‘fence viewer’ was first established in 1693. Early Fence Viewers, armed with wall measurements, and were able to arbitrate and/or prosecute crimes by adjoining farmers. Trespassing by livestock was illegal. Boundaries and fences had to be maintained. If a farmer neglected his fence, his neighbor could do the repairs and charge his nonperforming neighbor twice the cost.
Joseph Larson, one of Pelham’s current Fence Viewers, will explain how this ancient and honorable town position was created in Colonial days. Learn how he became involved, publishing a Handbook on Fence Viewers in Massachusetts. Find out what Fence Viewers actually do today.
March 20, 2020 The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born American anarchists who were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster one hundred years ago during the April 15, 1920, armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts. Seven years later, they were electrocuted in the electric chair at Charlestown State Prison. Both men adhered to an anarchist movement.
Local author Bruce Watson has written a book, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind, in which he re-creates the historical context of the murders, as well as giving balanced, nuanced portraits of the two men convicted of the crime.
April 3, 2020 The Gritty Berkshires
Massachusetts’ westernmost county is not just art museums, music festivals and beautiful scenery. For generations, working class families have lived and worked in the northern part of this county.
In this history, we learn how the Berkshires offer insight into so many crucial aspects of the American experience. Moving from the early 1800s to the present, Seider weaves a narrative that details the area’s vibrant immigrant history, slavery’s role in its textile industry, the battle for national unions and the ideological struggles with corporate elites over who best speaks for the community.
Maynard Seider, an activist sociologist who has taught and researched in the area for more than three decades, is the author of The Gritty Berkshires, which places the history of the North Berkshire region in the context of U.S. and global history. Through the use of oral histories, union archives, newspaper accounts and participant observation, the author focuses on the 1,000 men who built the nation’s longest railroad tunnel, the thousands of men and women who worked in its textile mills and electronics factories and who struck, built worker co-ops, and community coalitions to improve their daily lives.
April 17, 2020 A Virtual Tour of West Cemetery, part 2
In the first Virtual Tour, on April 26, 2019, Bob Drinkwater introduced us to many of the graves of prominent citizens, who are buried in Amherst’s oldest cemetery. He will now continue his tour with a scholarly consideration of some of the less-well-known citizens of Amherst, who share the cemetery space.
Bob (Robert W.) Drinkwater, an historical archaeologist, holds an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For much of the past fifty years he has been recording, photographing and occasionally reporting on the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century gravestones and stonecutters of western Massachusetts. For the past decade or so, he has also been doing research on gravestones for members of under-represented populations, and recently completed a book about gravestones for African Americans: In Memory of Susan Freedom: Searching for the Gravestones of African Americans in Western Massachusetts (in press). Bob is a charter member and past president of The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS), has served several terms on the AGS Board of Trustees, and was the recipient of the 2016 Harriette Merrifield Forbes Award.
May 1, 2020 Introducing Orra White Hitchcock
Orra White Hitchcock (March 8, 1796 – May 26, 1863) was one of America’s earliest women botanical and scientific illustrators and artists, best known for illustrating the scientific works of her husband, geologist Edward Hitchcock (1793–1864), but also notable for her own artistic and scientific work. Her art was integral to the work of her husband. She made hundreds of illustrations for Edward Hitchcock’s scientific publications, including detailed landscapes of the Connecticut River Valley for his Massachusetts geological survey volumes, and custom designed charts that illustrated his local discoveries and his classroom lectures. In addition, she made detailed drawings of native flowers and grasses and small precise watercolors of small local mushrooms. A scientist in her own right, she had the contemporary reputation as one of the valley’s “most distinguished naturalists,” and she did all this while raising 6 children.
Reba-Jean Shaw-Piquette is the Curator of the Shelburne Falls History Museum. She has been a museum educator at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, for National Park Services and for the Veteran’s Education Project, and has worked in the field of history for more than 20 years