Do you believe in supporting the vibrant spaces and resources housed within one of the most beautiful campus libraries in the country? Are you interested in helping preserve Mount Holyoke’s history? By choosing a destination — such as the Library and Archives — for your gift through The Mount Holyoke Fund, you enrich Mount Holyoke’s academic experience, support the pursuit of knowledge and empower incredible students like Emily Isakson ’19.
While many keep their eyes fastened on the future, Emily has made a habit of looking back. Back in history, that is. An ancient studies major with a medieval studies minor, Emily first discovered her interest in history during high school when, in senior year, she needed a project to complete for graduation. Knowing she enjoyed reading and researching, a family friend who served on the board of a local art museum suggested she volunteer at the museum for an exhibit. Aftering meeting with the museum staff, Emily was introduced to the world of archives and quickly became fascinated by the folds of history.
For her senior project, Emily worked on an exhibit entitled, “Take a Bite Out of History.” Scouring old cookbooks from Worcester, Massachusetts, she selected recipes that showcased history from the 1800’s to present day and then set to recreate them in her own kitchen.This proved to be a formidable task, as many of the historical recipes were not as detailed as modern ones — giving instructions such as “cook until done” or excluding the cooking temperature. After hours of fiddling and experimenting, Emily recreated and updated seven recipes, which were passed out to museum visitors at the exhibit on a card along with the original recipes.
The Telegram & Gazette, a Worcester-area newspaper, documented her project and showcased one of her spectacular recipes: a spaghetti beehive. A worker in the Mount Holyoke archives saw the article and forwarded it to head archivist, Leslie Fields, noting that Emily would be attending Mount Holyoke in the fall and that Ms. Fields should keep an eye out for her. It was only a few months later that Emily arrived on campus, and in her first week, made her way to the Archives and Special Collections to introduce herself and ask if there were any employment opportunities available for students in the archives. Ms. Fields immediately recognized Emily and exclaimed, “You’re the spaghetti beehive girl!” Emily began a job at the archives that very week.
Her work with the archives is greatly varied. Emily assists students and faculty in their research by pulling artifacts out of the stacks for them to view or scanning them for digital use. She runs many of the archives’ pop-up events in the library and also creates many of the designs for the department’s wildly popular button-making sessions. Student workers in the archives also have the opportunity to curate their own exhibits that showcase unique aspects of Mount Holyoke’s history. Last year, Emily worked on an exhibit called “College Girl Fiction,” which focused on the narratives surrounding the imaginings of college women and their daily life away from home. Currently, she is working on a zine* about the animals of Mount Holyoke, examining student and faculty pets throughout history.
An invaluable resource to the entire campus community, the Archives and Special Collections have a breadth that explores Mount Holyoke history and beyond. The rare book collection houses a Dante collection from the 15th century, as well as some of the original 19th-century seminary textbooks. Some of Emily’s favorite artifacts include a first edition of poetry by Emily Dickinson and Mary Lyon’s green velvet purse, which was used to collect the funds needed to open the seminary. She also loves seeing student scrapbooks from their time at Mount Holyoke. “They’re great indications of what was important to students at that time,” she explains. “You get to see what they chose to preserve, what they chose to keep and what they felt were their favorite memories at the school.”
Particularly striking to Emily is the continuity of Mount Holyoke’s traditions over the years. “Almost any Mount Holyoke student would say their favorite thing about the school is the traditions. I don’t think a lot of other schools get to lay claim to traditions the way we do.” And for those traditions and pieces of history that don't continue? “Well, that’s what the archives are for,” she says. “So we can always remember.”
Inspired by her time at the archives, Emily plans to pursue a graduate degree in Museum Studies. “I've learned the importance of material culture and ensuring that it's accessible to the public,” she reflects. Emily hopes all students take the time to explore the archives during their time at Mount Holyoke: “there’s so much to learn about the Mount Holyoke journey,” she explains. “This history is your history.”
At Mount Holyoke, Emily found the Archives and Special Collections, a place that caters to her academic interests while enabling her to give back by helping to preserve Mount Holyoke’s history and legacy. What matters most to you?
Your gift. Your choice. Choose your destination.
* A small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier.