Amherst Magazine

College Row

Putting the best footprint forward

Have you ever wondered how Amherst came to own the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks? Or yearned for a better understanding of the relationship between Christianity and science? Or speculated about the love lives of college presidents?

A new book from Amherst College Press examines these issues and more. Curious Footprints: Professor Hitchcock’s Dinosaur Tracks & Other Natural History Treasures at Amherst College outlines how Amherst’s third president, Edward Hitchcock, assembled the dinosaur track collection in the mid-1800s, while arguing that the tracks were made not by dinosaurs but by gigantic ancient birds. The book combines a biographical sketch of Hitchcock, written by Nancy Pick ’83, with Frank Ward’s color photographs of the college’s broader natural history collections. (Photos from the book were featured in the Fall 2005 issue of Amherst.)

Although Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) never attended college, he became president of Amherst and a well known geologist. He wrote in every conceivable genre—from poetry to scientific treatise to health-food tract—and, in the decades before Darwin’s Origin of Species, made a heroic effort to reconcile Christianity with science. “I confess I find myself drawn to you,” writes Pick, in an opening letter to Hitchcock. “You were brilliant. From the backwater of Amherst, you established a reputation even in London. And yet you were vulnerable, a little tortured, often endearingly wrong.”

Nancy Pick is the author of The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, named one of the best science books of 2004 by Discover magazine. Frank Ward, the Amherst College photographer for 22 years, has taught photography at Amherst and Smith, and is now a professor of photography at Holyoke Community College. His work has appeared in Oprah magazine, Dance magazine and The New York Times.

The images in Curious Footprints were taken in the former Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst, before its collections were transferred to the recently opened Amherst College Museum of Natural History.

Curious Footprints is available for $20 from Amherst College Press, or (413) 542-2321.

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