The Mysterious History of Amherst College Press?

Greg Call summer intern Joy Won on the "fascinatingly" sparse historical record of ACP

As I continue my journey in learning more about Amherst College Press (ACP) and the world of open access publishing, I became interested in digging a little into the history of the press at Amherst. Around six years ago, ACP converted to what it is now, an open-access, digital publisher focusing on scholarly works. However, beyond the last six years there is fascinatingly little information about the press’s existence. Although the press has been around for quite a number of years (more than 60 according to Amherst’s digital collections), there is not much that has been documented about the press.

However, the press does have a list of titles published dating back to the 1950s, and some of these, though likely not an exhaustive list, can be found on our "About" page under "Historical Documents." Some notable titles are Curious Footprints: Professor Hitchcock’s Dinosaur Tracks & Other Natural History Treasures at Amherst College by Nancy Pick and The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson edited by R.W. Franklin. Curious Footprints was printed circa 2006, but even the circa adds to the mystery of the press’s obscure past.

On the other hand, The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson has a little more information to accompany it although it was published at an earlier date, in 1986. The description notes that the books were “issued in brown cloth or tan paper covers” with three letters in facsimile and some issues even having a “second set of facsimiles inserted in [an] envelope or pocket.” It was very intriguing to see Franklin’s title listed as the ACP prepares to release a title this fall in time for both her birthday and the bi-centennial that continues the conversation around Dickinson’s Master Letters.

One of the many facets of being an intern at the press has been learning more about the titles we produce. In celebration of our upcoming 200th anniversary, a special edition title has been distributed under the ACP that is the culmination of the work of various scholars. Amherst in the World, edited by Martha Saxton, discusses everything from the beginnings of the college to our continued commitment to admitting students from different socioeconomic backgrounds to discussing natural history drawings made by Orra White Hitchcock. Orra Hitchcock’s drawings were actually used for the cover of Amherst in the World (as well as ACP's 2020/21 catalog!) and it is interesting to see that a book about her husband’s dinosaur tracks and other natural history findings was published more than 30 years by the ACP.

Another title I alluded to earlier is Writing in Time: Emily Dickson’s Master Hours. From the description of the book we learn that, “rather than presenting the ‘Master’ documents as cut off from Dickinson’s larger scene of textual production, Marta Werner’s new edition proposes… new constellations of Dickinson’s work as well as exciting new methodologies for textual scholarship as an act of ‘intimate editorial investigation.’” Furthermore, we currently have a title that is available to be read on our website titled, The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson which was co-authored by Marta Warner, Mike Kelly (Head of Archives and Special Archives), Carolyn Vega, Susan Howe and Richard Wilbur. The Networked Recluse was published in 2017 and was actually created as “an accompaniment to an exhibition on Dickinson mounted at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York” which allowed viewers to see “the network of connections and influences that shaped Dickinson’s life presents us with a different understanding of this most enigmatic yet elegiac poet in American letters, and allows us more fully to appreciate both her uniqueness and her humanity.” It is fascinating to see Emily Dickinson celebrated by our press time and time again despite our disconnected history, and it just goes to prove how powerful and impactful her work was and continues to be at Amherst and beyond.

At Amherst College Press, we work to not only bring significant and relevant scholarly work to light such as Emily Dickinson’s master letters, but we take extensive efforts to bridge the world of open-access to our college. We hope to help the college to further the work being done to preserve our institution’s history which undoubtedly twines together with the history of ACP.

Joy Won ('23) is a rising sophomore at Amherst College majoring in English with an interest in educational and health equity. As the Greg Call Summer Intern she dived into the world of open-access and hopes to learn more throughout her career at Amherst. In her spare time she plays with her kitten who has listened in on many of Joy’s Amherst classes during the last few months.