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Amherst College Dramatic Activities Collection

Identifier: MA.00146

Scope and Contents

The Amherst College Dramatic Activities Collection documents the history of theater and dance at the College. The collection includes programs, scripts, photographs, slides, set and costume designs, publicity material, posters, newspaper clippings, audio/video material, and objects that chronicle the creation, production and review of hundreds of College performances.

The collection documents a wide variety of student performances: the "dialogues" of the earliest student organizations; ceremonial prank burnings of textbooks in effigy; thirty years of set and costume designs; photographs documenting performances beginning in the 1880s. In addition, the collection offers information on the history of student dramatic groups, theater and dance across the Five College consortium, and contains records of courses offered in the theater department at Amherst for 50 years.

More detailed scope and content notes are provided at the series and sub-series level.


  • Creation: 1826-present

Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the Dramatic Activities Collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.


48 Linear feet (125 boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection includes surviving programs, scripts, photographs, slides, set and costume designs, publicity material, posters, newspaper clippings, and audio/video material that chronicle the conceptualization, creation, production and review of hundreds of Amherst College theater and dance productions.


This collection is arranged into twelve series:

  1. Series 1: Production Ephemera, 1826-2012
  2. Series 2: Production Ephemera, 2018-
  3. Series 3: Facilities
  4. Series 4: The Masquers
  5. Series 5: Department of Dramatic Arts
  6. Series 6: Five College Theater and Dance
  7. Series 7: Scripts and Music Scores
  8. Series 8: Costume Design
  9. Series 9: Slides
  10. Series 10: Audio Recordings
  11. Series 11: Video Recordings
  12. Series 12: Objects

Other Finding Aids

  1. Music at Amherst Collection
  2. Louis P. Dolbeare (AC 1940) Papers
  3. W. Clyde Fitch (AC 1886) Collection
  4. Buildings and Grounds Collection
  5. Clubs and Societies Collection, Series 7 and 8: Athenian Society
  6. Amherst College Posters Collection
  7. Amherst College Class Album Collection
  8. Amherst College Scrapbooks Collection

Custodial History

Professor Ralph C. (Tuffy) McGoun (AC 1927) created the Dramatic Activities Collection between 1978 and 1984. McGoun was a professor of Dramatics and the lighting and technical director for College productions. He saved much of the 20th century in Kirby Theater. After McGoun retired, he volunteered in the College Archives. McGoun facilitated the transfer of the material preserved in Kirby. McGoun identified 19th century material from what had been located in the former Hitchcock Memorial Room (the precursor to Archives and Special Collections) and brought it into the Dramatic Activities Collection. While arranging and describing the collection, McGoun searched contemporary accounts of productions in College and local and national publications and added those accounts to the collection. He searched scrapbooks, bound volumes and photograph albums kept by students and identified and added any items that chronicled the dramatic arts at the College. He also arranged for ongoing transfer of material documenting College productions from the Department of Theater and Dance.

Professor McGoun collected, arranged, and described the collection between 1978 and 1984. Since different items were received at various times from different sources and were pulled together to form a collection, there was no original order to maintain. Additional items are added regularly. The original guide to the collection was in the form of a card catalogue providing alphabetical access by title of production to a chronological arrangement of material. The original card catalogue also included access to material by format and by general subjects relating to dramatic activities at the College. In 2002, the original card file was transferred into machine readable format. The collection was organized into 14 series reflecting the different formats and subjects represented in the collection. Access to the primary series, Dramatic Productions (now Production Ephemera), was expanded to three access points - author of the play, title of the production and date of the performances.

In 2019, ahead of the College's bicentennial, the Archives reporcessed the collection - removing duplicates, photocopies, and secondary source material. The collection now contains only archival primary source material.

Further Reading

For information on many dramatic productions prior to 1871, see "Student Life at Amherst College" by George Rugg Cutting. The Amherst Student is an invaluable resource for publicity, reviews and other write-ups on dramatic productions.

Processing Information

In 2019, the physical arrangement and finding aid were revised. Series 1 was renamed "Production Ephemera" and was broken out into 5 sub-series. Folders were given box and folder locations. Folders containing only photocopies from other sources were discarded. Cross-references to oversize material were incorporated into the finding aid as locations. Folders that were included in the list but were not in the box were deleted from the finding aid, as the collection did not include material on those plays. Series 9 (Posters) was incorporated into Series 1.

Finding aid prepared by Ralph McGoun, Jr., Peter Nelson, Claudia Gunter, Sarang Gopalakrishnan, Daria D'Arienzo. Revised in 2019 by Rachel Jirka, Jonathan Jackson, Elliott Hadwin, and Jess Dampier.
2003; 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299