Thanks to the work of our dedicated trustees, you can view archived video of the past History Bites lecture series here.
100 Years of Silk in the Valley
Dr Marjorie Senechal
Friday, May 10, 2019
Silk has been made in China for thousands of years, but its history in the Pioneer Valley only spans about a hundred years, from 1830 to 1930. Dr Marjorie Senechal, who spearheaded The Silk Project a few years ago, gives us a wide-ranging overview of this important chapter in our history.
History of the West Cemetery
Friday, April 26, 2019
Amherst’s oldest cemetery is the resting place of Emily Dickinson, and of many other early Amherst notables, who have their own stories.
The Founding of the JCA in Amherst
Irv and Linda Seidman
Friday, April 12, 2019
In the 1960’s, a diverse group of Jews living in Amherst came together to form their own community. Dr Irv Seidman, author of The Jewish Community of Amherst, the Formative Years, 1969 – 1979, will describe the process of forming a cohesive community.
(Video not yet available)
‘History Bites Cowls’ – a history of the Cowls-Jones family in Amherst
Friday, March 29, 2019
The Cowls family settled in Amherst before the town was founded, and their family history is inextricably intertwined with the town. Look at some of the scenes from their family archives.
History of the Amherst Police
Captain Ronald Young
Friday, March 15, 2019
In this lecture, Captain Young traces the development of the Amherst police force from its origin as a single lamplighter in 1873 to its standing as a professional organization today.
Geology in the Pioneer Valley
Richard Little, Greenfield Community College
Friday, November 30, 2019
History begins with natural history and geology. In this lecture, Richard Little describes some of the natural forces and processes which have given the Pioneer Valley its rich variety of geological features, including the rare ‘armored mud balls.’
19th Century Spiritualism
Dr Robert Cox, UMass Special Collections
Friday, November 16, 2019
Spiritualism was a broadly-based and widely-practiced religious movement of the 19th century. At a time when the nation and society seemed to be tearing apart, it was a powerful unifying, hopeful social force.
How V-mail helped win World War II
Friday, November 2, 2018
‘V-for-Victory’ mail used microfilm to transport messages to and from Allied soldiers and their families in World War II. Almost forgotten now, it was extensively marketed as a morale-booster in the war effort.
Witchcraft Accusations in the Connecticut Valley
Dr Michael Thurston, Smith College
Friday, October 19, 2018
Before there was Salem, there was Hadley and Wethersfield. Dr Thurston shares with us the stories of ‘Half-hanged Mary’ and other accused witches, placing them in the context of the times.
Native Americans in King Philips’ War
Dr Lisa Brooks, Amherst College
Friday, October 5, 2018
Dr Brooks shares her extensive research into the native tribes’ strategies during King Philips’ War, 1675 – 1678. She focuses on the women and children who fled to safer territory to avoid the conflict.
(Video not available)
History of the Methodist Church in Amherst
Terry Tarr, church historian
Friday, September 21, 2018
Since the building of its first church in Pelham in 1831, the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the Amherst area has been housed in half a dozen different buildings, including what is now the NACUL center on Main Street.
Sylvester Graham, the ‘Bran-Bread Philosopher’
Dr Christopher Clarke, University of Connecticut
Friday, May 4, 2018
In a valley known for its eccentrics, Sylvester Graham may have been one of the most eccentric. His theories on nutrition and healthy lifestyle had an impact on Bronson Alcott, and remained influential for more than a hundred years.
The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage
Donald Campbell and Friends
Friday, April 20, 2018
John Russell established the Green River cutlery works in 1834, and for over a hundred years Greenfield was an important mill town, transportation hub, and innovation center. The Museum of our Industrial Heritage was established in 1998 to preserve the history and tell the stories of that period.
The Origins of Teddy Bears
Gregory Wilson – retired antiquarian
Friday, April 6, 2018
Listen to stories about Teddy Roosevelt, our most active, energetic president, one of whose adventures gave rise to the small stuffed bear as a toy. The town of Amherst hosted a Teddy Bear Rally on its common for many years!
Who Owns History?
Dr Robert Weir – Smith College Professor
Friday, March 23, 2018
Recent controversy over Confederate Civil War memorials highlights the problematic nature of historic narratives. The English novelist L P Hartley famously quipped, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Professor Weir argues in favor of the uncomfortable, as a means to creative dialog leading to greater understanding.
A History of the South Amherst UCC Church
Sheila Rainford – Church Historian
Friday, March 9, 2018
My talk will emphasize the community leading up to the founding of the church, the people who organized the South Congregational Society, the building of the meetinghouse and the early days of the church’s life. South Congregational Church will be 200 years old in 2024, and I have begun to write a history of the church in celebration of that milestone. Audience participation with comments or questions will be welcome.
Dorothy Wrinch and the Protein Wars
Dr Marjorie Senechal
Friday, February 23, 2018
This is the story of a brilliant mathematician, and Smith College professor, who found herself on the wrong side of a scientific debate in the 1930’s.
A Lecture on the Porter Phelps Huntington House in Hadley
Dr Karen Sanchez-Eppler
Friday, Dec 1, 2017
When in the 1840s Elizabeth Phelps Huntington wrote letters to her eleven children, many now living far from Hadley, she generally sent along a few pounds of butter—a taste of home for a son in Boston, and a bit of a cash crop. The Porter Phelps Huntington family occupied the same Hadley house from the 1752 until 1968. The house itself, now a museum, and the family papers provide an extraordinarily detailed and continuous record of life in the Connecticut river valley. As one project in the introductory American Studies course “Global Valley” students have been transcribing family letters and making them available on-line, offering fascinating access to the details of daily life and family dynamics in this place.
A History of the Amherst U U Church
Janis Gray – Unofficial Church Historian
Friday, Nov 17, 2017
Exactly 130 years ago — November 17, 1887 — the Universalist Convention of Massachusetts granted a charter to a new Universalist parish in Amherst. Starting with about 40 families, the parish met in Grand Army Hall and other rented spaces until 1893, when it opened the doors to a modest meetinghouse on the corner of North Pleasant Street and Kellogg Avenue. We suspect many of the original parishioners would be amazed by the transformation of their “little house” and its membership between its founding and today.
A History of the Amherst UCC Church
Carlton Brose – Church Historian
Friday, Nov 3, 2017
There are many histories of the First Congregational Church in Amherst: First there is the history of each of the four buildings that have housed the continuous and changing congregation. Second is the history of church membership, polity, and the pastors beginning with David Parsons in 1739 up to Vicki Kemper the present day Pastor. Third is a significant history of the Congregational Theology from the pre-revolutionary Great Awakening to liberal protestantism. Finally there is the history of the presence of First Church as a contributor to the life of Amherst and an integral part of the town’s growth and changes. As a founding institution this church stands as Amherst’s historic big bang.
Poet Robert Francis in Cushman
Friday, Oct 20, 2017
Robert Churchill Francis, once described by Robert Frost as “the best neglected poet,” was born on August 12, 1901 in Upland, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard University; after graduating, he moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where he taught high school for one year, then devoted his life to writing poetry. He lived in Cushman in a small house he built in 1940 that he named “Fort Juniper,” inspiring editors at the University of Massachusetts Press to name their poetry award the Juniper Prize.
During his writing career, Francis served as Phi Beta Kappa poet at both Tufts and Harvard. A world traveler, he often journeyed to Europe, at one time teaching at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
“Martians and a Hole in the Sky”
Dr George Greenstein – Astronomy Professor
Friday, Oct 6, 2017
Most people know of Todd only as the long-suffering husband of Mabel Loomis Todd. In reality he was a remarkable scientist in his own right. The telescope that he built at Amherst College in 1905 was one of the finest in the nation, and it still stands today. Todd, a master inventor who once worked with Thomas Edison, was a leader in studies of the Sun’s atmosphere and the planet Mars.
To study the Sun’s corona, Todd undertook a 4-month voyage to observe an eclipse in Japan . . . where he met with tragic failure as, at the last minute, clouds moved in to obscure the view. On another occasion, he observed an eclipse from an airplane over Russia.
Todd was also a pioneer in studies of the planet Mars. At one point he tried to organize a nation-wide radio blackout as he ascended in a balloon to listen for transmissions from the inhabitants of Mars.
Garden Herbs in Folk Art
Jade Alicandro Mace – Herbalist
Friday, September 22, 2017
Many medicinal herbs historically used in healing are still used quite often by modern herbalists today! Join local herbalist Jade Alicandro Mace as she discusses the historical and current medicinal uses of the herbs painted on an antique quilt in the museum’s collection.
Edward Hitchcock’s Mountain Mania, or How the Mountains Got Their Names
Dr Howell Chickering
Friday, September 8, 2017
From the Holyoke Range to the Vermont border, many of the hills and peaks that we see around us were named by the fourth president of Amherst College, Edward Hitchcock. Their names are surprisingly diverse — Castor and Pollux, Bull Hill, Mount Norwottuck — and there is a story behind each one. After a brief account of Hitchcock’s extraordinary accomplishments, and his vigorous yet eccentric character, retired Professor “Chick” Chickering describes the circumstances by which Edward Hitchcock arrived at what he called his “denomination” of several of our local landmarks.
Forging Arms for the Nation
Susan Ashman – National Park Service
A History of the Springfield Armory
Friday, May 5, 2017
Begun as a major arsenal under the authority of General George Washington early in the Revolutionary War, the first national armory began manufacturing muskets in 1794. Within decades, Springfield Armory had perfected pioneering manufacturing methods that were critical to American industrialization. Reopened in 1978 as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the original 1840’s arsenal houses the world’s largest collection of historic American military firearms.
From Arkham to Amherst
H P Lovecraft and New England folklore
Friday, April 21, 2017
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) is widely known and admired as an author of supernatural fiction. But he was also an avid scholar and antiquarian, and his detailed, highly descriptive stories of New England in the 1920’s and 30’s contain many references to local history and folklore. This lecture by a long-time Lovecraft fan gives an overview of his life, work, and influence.
A Hands-On Lecture
Friday, April 7, 2017
If the past is what happened, then primary sources are the evidence we rely on to understand and interpret the past as history. In this hands-on talk and workshop, participants through the 30 million primary sources online from the Library of Congress, and searched for maps, letters, photos, newspapers, posters, and political cartoons with Amherst connections. Investigate with Rich Cairn, veteran educator with area schools, supported by the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources Program.
Susan Snively – author
A novel of Emily Dickinson
Friday, March 24, 2017
THE HEART HAS MANY DOORS is a work of imaginative fiction. Poet, scriptwriter, and essayist Susan Snively lives in Amherst, and works as a guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum. In this lecture, she talked about the process of working historical fact into a fictional narrative.
Kitty Burns Florey – author
A novel of Amherst in 1892
Friday, March 10, 2017
In this lecture, author Kitty Burns talks about Amity Street, the sequel to her 2012 novel The Writing Master, which took place in New Haven in 1856. Amity Street moves ahead 35 years: it is now 1892. Anna Felice, a wealthy former opera star, travels from Rome, Italy, to America — to Manhattan, to New Haven, finally to Amherst, Massachusetts — in search of the truth about her birth. The novel is deeply immersed in the history — the architecture, the shops, the colleges, the farms, the customs — of the town of Amherst not long before the turn of the century, and the end of an era.
Tom Weiner – retired schoolteacher
Friday, February 24, 2017
The Vietnam War ended more than 40 years ago, but its effects are still being felt. Tom Weiner, recently retired after teaching for 40 years at the Smith College Campus School, talks about his book, Called to Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft. He interviewed 62 people around Pioneer Valley who shared with him their decisions about how they responded to the draft and the circumstances and backstories behind the choices they made.
Peter Thomas – Church Historian
Friday, December 2, 2016
Members of a Congregational Church would enter into a Covenant with God and other members of the church “to walk together in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, [and in the next breath also] agreed to watch ourselves and one another in the spirit of meekness, tenderness, and Christian fidelity”. In this presentation, Peter Thomas, church historian, describes the normal workings of the Second Parish Congregational Church and other Congregational Churches during the period 1818-1891 as described in church records.
Afro-American Students in 19th-Century UMass
Robert Cox – Director of Special Collections at UMass
Friday, November 18, 2016
The forerunner to the University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC), was an intimate place where virtually every student knew one another and where education and manual labor went hand in hand. In this talk, Robert Cox, Director of Special Collections at UMass, explores one aspect of life in late nineteenth century MAC which reveals something about the aspirations and achievements of the young school: the previously hidden, and quite surprising lives of first nine African American students at MAC. Their remarkable legacies say much about what we did right, and were we could have done – and could still do — better.
Jeff Lee – amateur historian
The Little Red Schoolhouse
Friday, November 4, 2016
On the eastern edge of the Amherst College Campus, the Little Red Schoolhouse stood as a symbol of excellence in early childhood education for nearly eighty years. Slated for demolition in 2012 to make way for a new science center, the Little Red Schoolhouse was the focus of an active citizen effort, working in cooperation with Amherst College, to relocate and preserve it. The building’s twilight years serve as an object lesson in the challenges of historical preservation.
Steve Strimer, The David Ruggles Center
Friday, October 21, 2016
In the second part of a two part lecture series, Steve Strimer speaks about history of the abolitionist movement in Florence, Massachussetts, and the Summer of 1833 when the work of two women emerged as flashpoints in the struggle to end slavery and promote justice for free African Americans. The bravery of Prudence Crandall of Canterbury, Connecticut and Lydia Maria Child of Boston helped inspire the founders of an abolitionist “utopian” community, the Northampton Association, at the root of what became the village of Florence, Massachusetts.
Gregory Wilson – antique postcard specialist and dealer
Friday, October 7, 2016
In this lecture, George Wilson, antique postcard specialist, talks about and displays historic postcards of the Pioneer Valley. Gregory Wilson has been a collector of postcards ever since he was a small boy and started to see them in scrapbooks. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware (BA 1961) and University of Pittsburgh (1963) with a Master of Library Science degree, and has worked at the undergraduate library at Harvard University. He became the curator of the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard, where his first job was to catalog Roosevelt’s 500 postcards. During that time he started his own antique business, which included antique postcards.
Bonnie Isman – retired librarian
Amherst College and the Dewey Decimal System
Friday, September 23, 2016
Go back in time to Amherst in the 1870s and see how one of the world’s most widely used library tools came into being in this lecture by retired librarian Bonnie Isman. Library reform advocate Melvil Dewey invented the Google search engine of its day during his undergraduate years at Amherst College. Isman explores the ways that Dewey’s Amherst education influenced this innovative approach to library management.
Ken Samonds – Church Historian
Grace Church – The First 150 Years
Friday, September 9, 2016
Grace Episcopal Church historian Ken Samonds, gives a talk about some of the highlights of the church’s history in celebrations of its 150th anniversary.
Rebecca Fricke, Sally Dillon & Flo Rosenstock
Friday, April 29, 2016
In May 2015 the Amherst Historical Society and Museum invited the nine members of Fiber Artists of Western MA to tour the collection and create pieces that reflected their curiosity about and fascination with what they saw. We were pleased to present Artifacts Inspire, an exhibition of the works created by the nine members of the group as the inaugural exhibition at the Strong House. In this lecture, three of the artists talk about their work.
Tim Barker – UMass Archaeological Services
Friday, April 15, 2016
This presentation outlines the various aspects of archaeological research and excavation in the Connecticut River valley and the New England region, and summarize the work done at the Strong House to date, including previous investigations by UMass Archaeological Services at the Strong House property and the initial results of the ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey completed November 2015.
Shays’ Rebellion and the Dickinson Family
Friday April 1, 2016
Shays’ Rebellion was more than the culminating moment of the raid on the Springfield Armory in 1787. It involved protests and vocal opposition to the taxation levied by the new state’s government in Boston. Ann Tweedy will share her ongoing research on this subject and provide a look at the people who supported the revolt, including the Dickinson family of Amherst and other prominent families in the region.
(video not available)
A History of the South Amherst Common
Friday, March 18, 2016
Rachel Hare Mustin will present an account of how the South Amherst Common evolved from 1703, when Amherst was still the East Precinct of Hadley, until today. Early houses were built on the Common, as well as a number of buildings for “common uses” over the years, such as the church, the parish house, the school, the library, the former post office and general store, and the former Poor Farm, as well as the cemetery. Today the South Amherst Common, including nine homes, three barns, and “public buildings,” is on the National Registry of Historic Districts.
(video not available)
Steve Strimer – The David Ruggles Center
Friday, March 4, 2016
In the first part of a two part lecture series, Steve Strimer speaks about history of the abolitionist movement in Florence, Massachussetts, and the Summer of 1833 when the work of two women emerged as flashpoints in the struggle to end slavery and promote justice for free African Americans. The bravery of Prudence Crandall of Canterbury, Connecticut and Lydia Maria Child of Boston helped inspire the founders of an abolitionist “utopian” community, the Northampton Association, at the root of what became the village of Florence, Massachusetts.
Telltale Timbers: a New England Dendrochronology primer
William Flynt – Historic Deerfield
Friday, February 19, 2016
Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating wood based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings. It can be used to date the timber used in wooden structures, like the Simeon Strong House. Of particular importance is the ability to ascertain the precise date that a tree was felled, thus providing the earliest possible date for the construction of a house or other structure. Mr. Flynt will discuss the application of this science in the study of structures at Historic Deerfield and throughout New England.
(video not available)
A Coming of Age Story: Mercy Sheldon, Amos Amsden and a Young Nation
Ann Lanning – Historic Deerfield
Friday, December 4, 2015, 12:15
This presentation explores a compelling “Coming of Age” story for both a young couple and a young nation. The growing personal relationship between Mercy Sheldon and Amos Amsden in Deerfield at the time of the New Republic (1790-1810), begins with their enrollment at Deerfield Academy when it opened in 1799 and continues through a series of points of empathy, each offering the opportunity to thematically link people, objects, historical documents, buildings, and landscape along the village’s mile-long main street.
(video not available)
Rob Cox – Special Collections, UMass/Amherst
Friday, October 9, 2015
Pie has been a delectable centerpiece of Yankee tables since Europeans first landed on New England’s shores in the seventeenth century. With a satisfying variety of savory and sweet, author Robert Cox takes a bite out of the history of pie and pie-making in the region in his new book New England Pie: History Under a Crust.
Friday, Sept 25, 2015
Jonathan Edwards has long epitomized the Puritan preacher as a fiery scold fixated on the inner struggle of the soul, a Calvinist scourge who majored in hellfire and brimstone, the fearful preacher of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this talk, Ronald Story draws on his recent book, Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love, to reveal a more complex figure.
Envisioning Emancipation – Black History and the End of Slavery
Dr Barbara Krauthamer – University of Massachusetts
Friday, April 24, 2015
In this illustrated talk, Dr. Krauthamer will highlight the intersecting histories of photography, slavery and emancipation in the 19th-century U.S. Using photographic images of African Americans and images created by African American photographers, this presentation considers the ways in which photographs helped shaped understandings of African American slavery and freedom in the past and also in the present.
(video not available)
Cliff McCarthy – Pioneer Valley History Network
Friday, April 10, 2015
In the spring of 1840, prominent Belchertown attorney and businessman Mason Shaw schemed to transport his ten-year-old, African-American servant girl, Angeline Palmer, to Georgia in order to sell her into slavery. Only a daring rescue by members of Amherst’s African-American community saved her from this fate. Cliff McCarthy, Belchertown’s Stone House archivist, will present the story along with new research into the event.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Exploring Quabbin: Finding the boundary markers of the four lost towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott
Friday, February 27 at 12:15 p.m.
The boundaries of the four lost towns were marked by some 62 markers, most of them scraggly granite posts. A total of 41 of these posts are located above water, and 21 are now inaccessible, except possibly in time of severe drought. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bob Romer found and photographed about 35 of the markers. In this talk, he will describe some of his techniques for finding those markers and his epic journeys through the wilds of Quabbin to find two markers of particular interest.
(video not available)