VIDEO: Students Document the Agricultural and Architectural History of UMass Amherst

Drone image of library and fine arts center

The aesthetic and function of UMass Amherst has changed dramatically since its establishment as a land-grant college in 1863. In a new documentary, students from the department of landscape architecture and regional planning (LARP) examine these changes, and what they mean for campus architecture, landscapes, and eco-friendly buildings.

The history of UMass is deeply rooted in the geologic history of the Connecticut River Valley. The valley’s lush farmland owes its fertility to the sedimentary deposits left by Glacial Lake Hitchcock, an ancient lake thought to have formed almost 20,000 years ago that stretched from central Connecticut to northern Vermont.

Over time the lake receded, providing the earliest inhabitants with an area full of natural resources.

"This was a place rich in thousands of years of Native American occupation by all sorts of different groups,” said Dana MacDonald, adjunct lecturer in LARP, and Department of Geosciences research fellow. “It’s important to acknowledge they were here first and there was a series of rich resources here.”

MacDonald was one of several faculty and staff interviewed for the documentary by five sustainable community development majors, Grace Alves, Olivia Boyce, Jake Butler, Hailey McQuaid and Justin Risley, who has a double major in journalism.

The video originates from the one-credit honors seminar SustComm 140 taught by Patricia McGirr, associate professor and bachelors of landscape architecture program director.

“In the process of brainstorming the project for the honors seminar, they decided to focus on the campus and the changes over time in its visual qualities – and heading toward sustainability,” said McGirr.

McGirr and students prepared themselves for pre-production by making trips to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library to explore archival material, select buildings to focus on, and determine storyboards to set the narrative.

Risley directed and edited the film; and Risley, Alves, Boyce, Butler and McQuaid all had a hand in cinematography, research, interviews and pre- and post-production.

“They brought it to my class at the end of the semester and showed it to the class, to a great round of applause,” said McGirr.

Watch the video.