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In the mid-1970s, the Society's Council appointed an ad hoc planning committee to study ways in which the Society could become more useful to various constituencies. It recommended, among other things, the establishment of formal educational activities for professional scholars, graduate students, Worcester-area undergraduates, and the general, lay public. A five-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided the funds for a part-time educational officer and seed money to experiment with a variety of educational initiatives.

The first major undertaking was the establishment of an American Studies seminar for a select group of undergraduates from the five four-year colleges and universities in Worcester: Assumption College, Clark University, the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Worcester State College. A committee made up of representatives from each of the participating institutions was formed to advise the AAS staff and to select the students who matriculate in the seminar. Thus, the Society is able to make the library collections available on a controlled basis to college undergraduates, a constituency that the Society does not ordinarily serve. The first seminar met in the fall of 1978. Stephen Nissenbaum, a University of Massachusetts historian, led that inaugural seminar the theme of which was "Writers Confront the Marketplace: Literature and Society in Jacksonian America." A renewal of the seminar has taken place every fall since, each led by a different teacher in charge. Topics under scrutiny have ranged from popular culture in colonial America to the myth of violence in the late-nineteenth-century American West. The seminars have been successful educational activities for the students involved, have enriched the curricular offerings of the participating colleges, and have been both a challenge and great fun to the members of the library staff, who relish their role in initiating talented and eager students into the mysteries of research in a major library.

A number of activities provide opportunities for scholarly discussion and collegiality among faculty members and advanced graduate students within the region surrounding AAS. The earliest of these predated the actual establishment of the Society's education office. Two historians from nearby institutions, David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University and Ronald P. Formisano of Clark University, asked AAS to serve as host and meeting place for periodical gatherings of scholars in the region active in research areas akin to their own. As a result, the Seminar in American Political and Social History has met at AAS some five or six times a year ever since. Seminars are held at the Goddard-Daniels House and followed by catered dinners (at moderate cost) in its elegant dining room. In 1990-91, the history departments of Clark University and the University of Connecticut joined AAS in the sponsorship of this on-going seminar, now renamed the New England Seminar in American History. Several years ago, AAS established a similar Seminar in American Literary History, which draws participants from much the same geographical region. More recently, the Society has added two more: the Seminar in American Bibliography and Book Trade History and the Seminar in American Art History. Over the years, many distinguished scholars have given papers, mostly describing work in progress, at one or another of these seminar gatherings. They include Gordon Wood, J.R. Pole, John Murrin, Stephen Botein, Karen Kupperman, Alden Vaughan, Mary Beth Norton, Sacvan Bercovitch, Leo Marx, Robert A. Gross, Hugh Amory, Richard D. Brown, Richard S. Dunn, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. These seminar series all in all have allowed AAS to serve as a vital gathering place for scholars in the region and has helped to introduce the Society's collections and programs to them.

In addition to the seminar series, other AAS activities provide opportunities for professional scholars and graduate students in the area. These include informal brown-bag, lunchtime colloquia as well as occasional evening lectures on scholarly topics.

Within the last decade and a half, AAS has also devised educational activities to serve the general lay public in the greater Worcester area. These have more often than not taken the form of a series of public lectures on a given theme, but have also included such exotic events as a series of poetry readings and the production of operas. Most of these events have been funded by grants to AAS from such funding agencies as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities, and the Worcester Cultural Commission. Although these offerings have been wonderfully diverse, ranging from a lecture series on the social impact on New England of the American Revolution to one explicating the histories of food, drink, and sex in America's past, all are united by their origin in the Society's desire to interpret its collections and the kinds of scholarly research taking place there to audiences of lay people in Worcester and environs.

-John B. Hench, Vice-President for Collections and Programs


More information on the Society's educational programs is available under the heading of "Academic Programs" in the "Programs" section of this website 


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Last updated September 2, 2004

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