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.
Fall Lectures Schedule
Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Phillip’s War
by Lisa Brooks
Friday, October 5th
Lisa Brooks is associate professor of English and American studies at Amherst College. Her first book, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast, reframes the historical and literary landscape of the northeast, and received the Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture in 2011. Although deeply rooted in her Abenaki homeland, Brooks’s work has been widely influential in a global network of scholars. She served on the inaugural Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and currently serves on the editorial boards of SAIL and Ethnohistory. She also works on the advisory board of Gedakina, a non-profit organization focused on Indigenous cultural revitalization, traditional ecological knowledge, and community wellness in New England. Her second book, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War is forthcoming from Yale University Press (January 2018).
The Devil’s Juggles: Witchcraft Accusations in 17th-Century New England
by Michael Thurston
Friday, October 19th
In their influential analysis of the Salem Witch Crisis, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum offer events in Northampton as a telling counter-example to the rash of witchcraft accusations in the eastern Bay Colony. Where residents of Salem Town and Salem Village interpreted the visions and behavior of young women as evidence of a malevolent “invisible world, they argue, residents of the western town understood similar phenomena as evidence of a nascent “awakening” of enthusiastic Christian faith. But was the Connecticut River Valley really free of what Cotton Mather called the Devil’s “juggles”?
This talk (newly updated from its 2016 version) will survey the appearance of witchcraft in the seventeenth-century history of Valley towns and villages, pointing out familiar patterns of accusation and interrogation. While we’ll venture as far as Bridgeport, and spend some time in Wethersfield, CT (site of the largest pre-Salem witch panic in the colonies), we’ll also focus on such close-to-home cases as that of Mary Bliss Parsons and Hadley’s “Half-Hung Mary.” And just as events in Salem were re-narrated and reinterpreted by writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will see that events in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, too, were transformed by later writers to serve their own purposes.
How V-Mail Won WWII
by Tom Weiner
Friday, November 2nd
Drawing from his book ‘Photographed Letters on Wings: How V-Mail Helped Win WWII’ local retired educator Tom Weiner will tell the little known story of the 1.5 billion letters sent to and from the front in England and America during World War II. Tracing the history of microfilm from its invention concurrently with the camera itself in 1839 and its use in the Siege of Paris in 1870 to transmit documents and letters via carrier pigeon, Wiener’s lecture will explore the invention of V-mail, and its strategic use in enabling many more troops and supplies to be shipped by greatly decreasing the space need for the mail, as well as its human impact in carrying the voices of home to troops abroad.
19th Century Spiritualism in the Pioneer Valley
by Robert Cox
Friday, November 16th
A product of the “spiritual hothouse” of the Second Great Awakening, Spiritualism became the fastest growing religion in the nation during the 1850s, and was a religion centered around communication with the spirits of the dead, usually through a spirit medium who interpreted the messages of those beyond. In a country wracked by war and loss following the Civil War, the Spiritualist movement provided people of all ages and social classes with seeming proof and welcome certainty of the continuance of existence after death, in seances, spirit writing, and spirit photography. How did this powerful movement manifest in the communities of the Pioneer Valley, and what impacts did it leave? What losses and comforts drew local residents to Spiritualism? UMass history professor Robert Cox will give a lively overview of the Spiritualist movement in the Pioneer Valley.
From Pangea to the shores of Lake Hitchcock and Beyond: The Amazing Deep History of Amherst
by Richard D Little
Friday, November 30th
We are pleased to have Richard Little, professor emeritus of geology at Greenfield Community College, present an exploration the geology of our region. He is the discoverer of the rare armored mud balls in the Connecticut Valley and he has written a book and produced two videos on local geology, which will be available at the talk.