Past ‘History Bites’

Video Archive, 2020 to 2021

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees. Click a title to expand.

5/21/21: DuBois Library Special Collections, by Aaron Rubinstein

“Expanding our great national reservoir of knowledge and intellectual thought:” past, present, and future of the Special Collections at UMass Amherst.

Former Chancellor Randolph Bromery’s ambitious words, written in 1974, presage a transformation of the Special Collections at UMass that began with the acquisition of the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers and blossomed after the arrival of Robert Cox in 2004. The new Head of the Special Collections, Aaron Rubinstein, will discuss the this transformation and how it sets the stage for the future of the department.

Aaron Rubinstein is the Head of the Special Collections and University Archives at UMass Amherst. Aaron grew up in Amherst, graduated from UMass, and has worked in SCUA for over a decade. Before SCUA, he was the Archivist for Digital Collections at Tufts University, and before that Collections Manager at the Yiddish Book Center.

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5/7/21: Shays’ Rebellion, by Dr. Barbara Mathews

At a time when the survival of the American experiment in government by and for the people was neither destined nor assured, the Massachusetts uprising labeled “Shays’ Rebellion” fueled speculation that the new United States could not survive for long. While most widely known for the bloody confrontation at the United States Arsenal at Springfield in January 1787, the lasting legacy of the Massachusetts Regulators and their sympathizers was in the creation and ratification of the United States Constitution.

Dr. Barbara Mathews is the Public Historian and Director of Academic Programs at Historic Deerfield. She was the content director, historian, and writer for the website From Revolution to Constitution: Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation, a collaboration among the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Springfield Technical Community College, and the Springfield Armory funded through a We The People grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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4/23/21: The Black Cats of Amherst, by Jim Hamilton

Shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, a group of Amherst residents, including townspeople, students, and college professors, enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in an ambulance unit supporting French soldiers. Driving Model T and Fiat trucks, this unit, nicknamed the Black Cats of Amherst, served with distinction in France and Belgium during the last year of World War I. Jim Hamilton will describe their exploits using contemporary photographs, newspaper articles, diary accounts, letters, and quotes from their unit history.

Jim Hamilton is a graduate of Amherst College and the grandson of a Black Cat. He has published two books related to the Black Cats. The first is The Black Cats of Amherst and the second is We Unite to Serve: The Wartime Diaries of Reverend Stoddard Lane. For more information on Jim’s writing projects, see


4/9/21: Early Days at the Valley Advocate, part 2, by Chris O’Carroll and David Sokol

In September 2020, Mr Chris O’Carroll reminisced about his time working at the Valley Advocate in the 1970’s. Now he will return, teamed up with the Advocate Music Editor  to tell us more about some of the acts (Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, Marcel Marceau) he covered as Arts and Entertainment Editor for the local weekly, and about the ways in which arts & entertainment coverage can overlap with hard-news political stories — for example, when local activists picket a movie theatre, or when artists espouse political causes and perform at fundraising converts.

Mr. Chris O’Carroll was an editor at the Valley Advocate from 1975-1980 – arts and entertainment editor for most of that time, then briefly managing editor.  After his years at the newspaper, he worked as a freelance journalist and a writer and editor at various magazines published by UMass.

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3/26/21: Native American Stone Structures, by Dr Curtiss Hoffman

Scattered throughout the woodlands and fields of the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada are tens of thousands of stone monuments. These stone constructions have been the subject of debate among archaeologists and antiquarians for the past seventy-five years.  Dr Curtiss Hoffman of Bridgewater State University, the author of Stone Prayers, will share his findings and insights, based on an examination of over 5,000 sites.

Curtiss Hoffman holds a PhD from Yale University in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (1974), and since 1973 has directed field operations at archaeological sites in southern New England. He is Full Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts and is past president of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and currently serves as the editor of its Bulletin.


3/12/2021: The Gritty Berkshires, by Maynard Seider

In his book, The Gritty Berkshires, Dr Maynard Seider tells 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. Enriched by dozens of photographs, these stories focus on the voices of ordinary people as they often do extraordinary things.


Maynard Seider is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (formerly North Adams State College), where he taught 1978-2010.

2/26/21: The Amherst Government Charter, by Nick Grabbe

In the first decade of the 21st century, the Town of Amherst went through a long debate and decision process regarding a proposed change in the structure of the town government. Mr Nick Grabbe will give us historical perspective, beginning with the town’s 1938 decision to do away with the open Town Meeting. Then in 2002 the  Charter Commission delivered its 14-page report, but that was only one more step in the process.


Mr Nick Grabbe, a former newspaperman, worked on the campaign to change to change the structure of the government, which culminated in the vote on March 27, 2018.  We invited him to tell about the campaign.

11/20/20: The Juneteenth Holiday, by Dr. Amilcar Shabazz, UMass/Amherst

“I would like to speak on the history of the Memorial Tablets that commemorated the service and sacrifice of men from Amherst who served as soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. These were the people who paid the ultimate price to make possible Juneteenth (the end of chattel enslavement of people of African descent in the U.S.)! Of course, I would connect the history of Juneteenth to the struggle to remember the Civil War as a common fight for freedom and to form a ‘more perfect union.’”

The lecture weaves the lives of men like Josiah Hasbrook Jr. in Amherst with individuals like Frederick Douglass who was the keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 24, 1894, in Alexandria, Va. to John Mercer Langston who delivered keynote speeches there in 1895 and 1897. Alexandria like Amherst has in recent decades settled on celebrating Juneteenth as the date to commemorate the ending of chattel slavery. I will answer why Juneteenth has become that special date across the country interweaving the remembrance of our veterans and the memory of the war and black liberation with the struggle right here, right now with our Memorial Tablets.


11/6/20, Ray Stannard Baker, by Nick Grabbe

Ray Stannard Baker was already a well-known journalist when he moved to Amherst in 1910, and he lived on Sunset Avenue until his death in 1946. President Wilson sent him on a fact-finding mission to Europe during World War I, and Baker wrote a multi-volume biography of Wilson that won the Pulitzer Prize. Baker also wrote one of the first books about race relations in America.

Baker led a double life. His alter ego was called David Grayson, and the books under this name were very popular. A mix of homespun philosophy, country wisdom and quiet humor, they sold 2 million copies and were translated into multiple languages. For 10 years, there was speculation about who wrote the David Grayson books, and many were shocked to learn it was Baker because his hard-hitting journalistic style was so different.


Nick Grabbe was a newspaper editor and writer based in Amherst for 32 years. When he became editor of the Amherst Bulletin in 1980, it was one of four weekly newspapers based here! He retired in 2013; in 2016 he was elected to a commission charged with proposing a new form of government for Amherst. He supported the plan to create a 13-person Town Council to replace Town Meeting, and pushed to keep a town manager instead of electing a mayor. He is currently during final revisions on a book about his life.

10/23/20: New England Apples, by Russell Powell

“As American as apple pie…” Apples have been part of American history and folklore since colonial days. Orchards used to cover the hillsides of New England until Prohibition times when most of the trees, which were used more for the production of hard cider than edible fruit, were cut down. But now that cider is coming back into fashion, the orchards with their many varieties of new and heirloom apples are being regrown.

This fascinating lecture will offer advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered varieties, comments on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England and on the “fathers” of American apples―Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England will present the apple in all its splendor: as biological wonder, super food, work of art, and cultural icon.


Russell Steven Powell served as executive director of the New England Apple Association from 1998 to 2011, and since then has been its senior writer. He publishes the blog, and is the author of America’s Apple. He was founding editor and publisher of New England Watershed Magazine, named Best New Publication of 2006 by Utne Reader. He lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

10/9/20: Railroads in the Valley, by Philip Johnson

The Connecticut River Railroad opened to passenger service between Springfield and Northampton in late 1845; trains reached Deerfield in August 1846, Greenfield in December 1847, and the junction with the Central Vermont Railway in January 1849. When the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad reached Brattleboro in 1850, the Connecticut River Railroad began running through service from Springfield to Brattleboro.

The first railroad train arrived in Amherst in 1853, from Palmer, over the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad.  Then in 1871, the Athol & Enfield Railroad (also known as the Rabbit Line, Bunny Road, and the Soapstone Limited) began operations through the Swift River Valley, eventually connecting Athol to Palmer and Springfield. And then there was the Hampden Railroad – “the Greatest Railroad that never ran.”


Philip Johnson grew up in Springfield, but has roots in Amherst area. His mother’s family comes from Leverett and they went to high school in Amherst. He has been a lifelong railfan and has researched many lines in Western Mass. He is a railroad photographer, model railroader, and author of The Hampden Railroad, The Greatest Railroad that Never Ran. Philip is also a member of several railroad groups, including a 47-year member of Amherst Railway Society.

9/25/20: Sacco and Vanzetti, by Bruce Watson

Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind

“A century ago, as America emerged from another pandemic, frenzy arose over the case of a ‘good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler’ accused of robbery and murder.  As it twisted from arrest to trial to six years of appeals, the case of Sacco and Vanzetti caught the world’s attention, sparking protests in every major capital.  Dozens of books have been written about the case but Bruce Watson’s Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders and The Judgment of Mankind is ‘the most thorough and readable plumbing yet of the case record’” (The Nation).


Along with his popular column in the Amherst Bulletin, Bruce Watson has written for Smithsonian, American Heritage, Yankee, Nautilus, and other publications.  He is the author of four books on American history and currently writes The Attic, an online magazine for “a kinder, cooler America.”

9/11/2020: Early Days on The Valley Advocate, part 1, by Chris O’Carroll

“The Alternative in the Pioneer Valley” — When the Advocate Was Young

The Valley Advocate should need no introduction in the Pioneer Valley. Founded in 1973, it has been “The News and Arts Weekly” for the Valley ever since. Mr. Chris O’Carroll was the Advocate’s Arts and Entertainment editor from 1975 to 1980, and will share some of his memories and stories of that time.

Mr. Chris O’Carroll was an editor at the Valley Advocate from 1975-1980 – arts and entertainment editor for most of that time, then briefly managing editor.  After his years at the newspaper, he worked as a freelance journalist and a writer and editor at various magazines published by UMass.


3/6/20: Fence-Viewers of Pelham, Past and Present, by Joe Larson
Dr. Amilcar Shabazz


Amherst Rail station


Russell Powell with apple


Video Archive, 2018 to 2019

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees. Click a title to expand.

5/22/19: The North Prospect-Lincoln-Sunset Local Historic District, by Dr. Maurianne Adamsin

Maurianne Adams will present a discussion on the historic Lincoln-Sunset neighborhood of Amherst, including the history of farm houses lived in by members of the 19th century Black community and Irish immigrants, as well as houses that were home to college faculty members, businessmen, and other professionals and their families. Amherst College faculty member Robert Frost purchased a home in this neighborhood in 1931. It was named a Historic District by the town in 2017.


For more information on the formation of the District, visit the Amherst Town website here.

11/8/19: Memory Lands: Native American Perspectives on King Philip’s War, by Dr. Christine DeLucia

Dr Christine DeLucia will discuss her new book, Memory Lands, in which she offers a major reconsideration of the violent seventeenth-century conflict in northeastern America known as King Philip’s War, providing an alternative to Pilgrim-centric narratives that have conventionally dominated the histories of colonial New England. DeLucia grounds her study of one of the most devastating conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers in early America in five specific places that were directly affected by the crisis, spanning the Northeast as well as the Atlantic world. She examines the war’s effects on the everyday lives and collective mentalities of the region’s diverse Native and Euro-American communities over the course of several centuries, focusing on persistent struggles over land and water, sovereignty, resistance, cultural memory, and intercultural interactions.


10/25/19: Scars of Slavery, by Dr. Bruce Laurie

On July 4, 1863, one of the most widely read magazines in the country during the Civil War published an image capturing the abhorrent cruelties of slavery — the side portrait of an escaped slave with terrifying, streaking scars across his back caused by a whipping from his owner.

The day after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, Harper’s Weekly published “A Typical Negro,” which included the image of the tortured former slave. He was misidentified as Gordon (his name was Peter), and the photo was accompanied by a narrative that bore little resemblance to the facts.

It did, however, provide readers in the North with some of the most powerful visual evidence of the wickedness of slavery and the abuses that slaves endured.

Recent research by Dr Bruce Laurie, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, into two local men who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War era — Henry S. Gere of Northampton and Marshall S. Stearns of Northfield — provided new clues about the true identity of the former slave brought to national attention by Harper’s.


10/11/19: Jews and Puritans in Colonial New England, by Dr. Michael Hoberman

When the early New England Puritans chose to reject the excessive ritual and structure of the Roman Catholic and established Anglican churches, they went back to the Bible for guidance and found a ready-to-hand model for governance in its depiction of the ancient Jews. But their relations with contemporary Jews were more problematic, as was the application of biblical law to their everyday problems, and the issues of transatlantic trade.

Dr Michael Hoberman of Fitchburg State University is the author of New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America. He will share the findings of his historical studies in the American colonial era.


9/27/19: “Stories in Stone”, by Ta Mara Conde

There is a cemetery in every town and whether it is a colonial burial ground from the beginning of our country or the modern memorial garden on the outskirts of the city; it holds the history of that town. It tells the story of the people, their attitudes towards death, and the industries in which they worked. The cemetery can even show us the geology of the local landscape. These outdoor museums hold a wealth of information which is accessible and open to the average person. The stones reveal the stories, even the mysteries of the town, through the monuments to the people who lived there and whose stories are written in stone.


9/13/19: “Heaven is a World of Love”, by Rev. Peter Ives

Reverend Peter Ives will present a new perspective on the life, ministry, and theology of Congregational minister Johnathan Edwards (1703-1758) , widely regarded as one of America’s most important and original philosophical theologians and a key figure in the first Great Awakening. Rev. Ives was minister of the First Congregational Church in Northampton; the same church where Edwards ministered.


5/10/19: 100 Years of Silk in the Valley, by Dr. Marjorie Senechal

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.


4/26/19: History of the West Cemetery, by Bob Drinkwater

Amherst’s oldest cemetery is the resting place of Emily Dickinson, and of many other early Amherst notables, who have their own stories.


4/12/19: The Founding of the JCA in Amherst, by Irv and Linda Seidman

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.


3/29/19: ‘History Bites Cowls’ – a history of the Cowls-Jones family in Amherst, by Cinda Jones

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.


3/15/19: History of the Amherst Police, by Captain Ronald Young

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.


11/30/18: Geology in the Pioneer Valley, by Richard Little, Greenfield Community College

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.’


11/16/18: 19th Century Spiritualism, by Dr. Robert Cox, UMass Special Collections

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.


11/2/18: How V-mail helped win World War II, by Thomas Weiner

‘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.


10/19/18: Witchcraft Accusations in the Connecticut Valley, by Dr Michael Thurston, Smith College

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.


10/5/18: Native Americans in King Philips’ War, by Dr. Lisa Brooks, Amherst College

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.

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9/21/18: History of the Methodist Church in Amherst: by Terry Tarr, church historian

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.


3/20/18: The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, by Donald Campbell and Friends

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.


3/6/18: The Origins of Teddy Bears, by Gregory Wilson – retired antiquarian

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!


3/23/18: Who Owns History?, by Dr Robert Weir – Smith College Professor

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.


3/9/18: A History of the South Amherst UCC Church, Sheila Rainford – Church Historian

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.


2/23/18: Dorothy Wrinch and the Protein Wars, by Dr. Marjorie Senechal

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.


Air pilot drawing

‘How V-Mail Won WWI’ by Thomas Weiner

Cowls family photo

‘History of the Cowls Jones family in Amherst’ by Cinda Cowls

West Cemetery Amherst