My two main projects for this website were the 1860 Map and the Image Gallery; if you couldn’t tell, I’m very interested in how the social and architectural landscapes of early Amherst impacted one another! During the first month of this internship, I spent a lot of time perusing 19th Century photographs and sketches of the town and college, as well as reading personal journals, letters, and books written by various Amherst figures. This all fascinated me—I’ve spent four years in this town and finally I was learning how Snell Street got its name, why the Beneski Museum has so many local archaeological specimens, and that the Pindar Field dinners were named after a person christened Pindar Field rather than a grassy meadow in a town called Pindar. I was also very aware of how easy it is to romanticize early Amherst, especially because most of my research stemmed from primary written sources—which were, of course, biased. While my entire view of Amherst College and town has been remodeled (I now imagine wide dirt/mud roads instead of paved ones in town and sometimes wonder if the Mrs. Kellogg who originally lived in the Starbucks building even liked coffee), it’s important to remember that 1800s Amherst was a lot more complicated than pretty brick buildings and carriage rides to Northampton—it had its own social, gender, political, racial, and economic problems that cannot be ignored.
Over that month of initial research, I became passionate about giving others a glimpse into how Amherst looked and functioned in its early years, especially because so many of the names, events, and places that shaped Amherst then still characterize Amherst now. After viewing an 1860 map of Amherst, I noticed that many of the roads and buildings on that map still exist today—I realized this both through my own familiarity with Amherst and through the Amherst Property Viewer, courtesy of the Town of Amherst GIS project, which allows you to click on buildings throughout town and explore data on their past and modern history. I also began making connections between residents on the map and photos, letters, or histories I’d found on them throughout my research. Hence, my map project was born!
I ended up using the APV and Google Maps to compare current buildings and streets to those on the 1860 map, documenting important information and crossovers. To create the interactive map, I edited the digitized version of the 1860 map in Photoshop, highlighting the streets that still exist today and the buildings that held deep significance to either 1860 or 2017 Amherst. Along the way, I collected images and wrote up mini-histories on these places and the people who occupied them, mentally compiling and condensing all of the information I had gathered through primary and secondary source research. In the spirit of the Digital Humanities (and also because I believe there’s something valuable in relating the past to the present), I linked portions of my write-ups to online resources, such as articles and museum websites, in order to give further context to my audience should they wish to learn more. My final step consisted of using a WordPress plugin called Draw Attention, which allowed me to draw coordinates onto my altered map and digitally link my write-ups and images to their corresponding buildings and landmarks.
Furthermore, I’d also been organizing many of the photographs I’d found into my own Zotero library and decided that it would be valuable to give the public easy access to these visual materials through an image gallery. As both an artist and a scholar, I highly value the information that primary visual materials give us—sometimes words just aren’t enough to show us what a person or a place of the past looked or felt like.
Through these projects, I hope that my audience will come to a deeper understanding of what early Amherst was like, draw connections between the past and the present, and become aware of the importance and complexity of digital scholarship. Thanks for visiting our website!