Step down into A-level at Frost and you’re faced with a choice: go into the computer lab or enter its polar opposite, the Archives and Special Collections. Most students, sadly, aren’t even aware of its existence. It’s only when you have a class that demands a specific kind of research or if you’re a senior looking at previous theses that you wander into the cozy, warmly lit lobby. It’s an ironic floor plan that contains these two facilities within the same space. But believe me, the Archives hold as much amusement as whatever you’ll find scrolling through Buzzfeed. The Archives are, in fact, three floors. The entire collection isn’t all housed within the confines of Frost, part of the collection is offsite in a Cold War bunker. But never fear! These materials are still accessible but may take longer to be processed. The collection is a non-circulating, closed stacks collection, which means you have to specifically request books, files, boxes, or objects and they’ll be brought to you. The wonderful and kind staff (much like the rest of staff on campus) who rule the Archives sincerely want to help you find whatever rare book or object you may be curious about (or desperately need for that paper). They even have a blog!
The magic of the archives is its role as the repository for the history of Amherst. For students who are some form of legacy, it’s a more personal history. The archives have alumni files on every student who has attended Amherst College. One can find the file and the thesis of a relative, a parent, or even a professor who also attended the college. Can you imagine your professor in the 70s? While the alumni files give us the faces of the past, you can find yearbooks dating back to an age where there were no yearbooks. In the 19th century, you had a book that contained engravings of classmates. You picked which classmates to include in your book. While there is no cheerleading squad in the present, there was an all-guy cheerleading team in 1965. There’s an incredible amount of photographs, documents and objects showing the past of the college and its transformation to the Amherst we know now.
Still a bit scared to enter the archives? Then look around the exhibits in the hallway of A level and on the second floor, first floor and B-level. There’s been a recent large acquisition of Native American material and the current exhibition highlights some of these books. This semester, I’m taking a class that requires handling very old texts. It’s a peculiar and unique privilege to be able to hold a book, with bare hands, that was printed five hundred years ago in Dublin. For me, the archives are the epitome of one of the best things of Amherst: a chance to let your curiosity roam and experts to help you along the way.