Amherst Magazine

College Row

Speaking on the record

One of the signal benefits of being an Amherst student is the opportunity to hear lectures by prominent scholars and important public figures. In the past year, the campus has hosted a Supreme Court justice, a presidential candidate, the first man to orbit Earth, and a host of leading-edge thinkers. On just one Thursday night in October there were lectures by former FDA commissioner David Kessler ’73, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz ’64, and writer and Whiting Award-winning poet Daniel Chiasson ’93. Unfortunately, they were all speaking at the same time in different venues, so a student could attend only one of these extraordinary talks. Given the college’s rich offering of speakers, panels and other events, this sweetly painful dilemma is not unusual.

But thanks to five ambitious students, the Amherst community no longer needs to suffer the pangs of indecision. Juniors Nicholas Doty and Jesse McCarthy initiated the idea of a project to record every event on campus and post those recordings on a Website where anyone could listen at their leisure. With recording equipment borrowed from Frost Library and funding from the Office of Public Affairs, they launched their project last fall under the name Amherst Recording Council, and by the end of October, with the help of juniors Alexandra Apostolides and Ariel Haney, they had recorded approximately 30 events.

“I’ve always found that one of the great things about being here is the talks,” Doty says. “And I found myself trying to go to a lot of them. But there are so many that it actually becomes impossible. So I thought it would be a great way for me to hear more talks and for other people to hear them. Because academics are not just in the classroom.”

“The great thing about doing this at Amherst,” McCarthy says, “is that you get the feeling that there really is an interest. Many, many times if an auditorium isn’t packed, it really is because people can’t come for some reason, but never for lack of interest. And that’s the idea of the project, really: There are lots of students like us, and it would be nice for them to get a second chance.”

The project provides valuable archival information, but its real power lies in making the recordings available on the Internet. “That’s what sparked my interest,” McCarthy says, “because not only is it going to be a service to Amherst students, but to the entire Amherst community. You might be a professor who will have access to this now; you might be an alum and not even be on campus, but still interested in what goes on here. It could be that you’re a prospective student looking at our Website wanting to know, ‘Is this the kind of place I’d want to go to?’ As we build up a larger and larger archive of talks, Amherst looks more and more like what it is: an incredible liberal arts institution with all kinds of fantastic speakers coming.”

The public nature of the project requires the council to get permission both to record the lecture and to post the recording. With that in mind, Doty and McCarthy consulted with an attorney about intellectual property rights as they built the site. So far, they say, most of the speakers have been have been entirely willing to have their presentations made public. There were one or two speakers, they say, who were comfortable with the audio recording, but didn’t want a transcript made, and one speaker who was willing to have the talk recorded, but not posted on the Web. Otherwise, the council has had complete cooperation.

Both Doty and McCarthy seem a little awed by their own creation and how quickly it has grown, but they also seem energized by the historical implications. “I think being able to remember is very important,” Doty says. “Here we are, surrounded by College Row and all these old buildings and a sense that there’s history here.”

“There’s a certain amount of excitement,” McCarthy says, “in having a record of this talk that you found really exciting and that maybe other people didn’t get a chance to go to, and now you’ve got it—it’s not just going to vanish. We can keep a record that this was said here at Amherst College.”

The council’s recordings can be heard at www.amherst.edu/arc.

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