The Hippo


Oct 21, 2019








A page from the handwritten record of the Amherst Franklin Society’s meeting on June 8, 1808. Courtesy photo.

Amherst Lyceum Series 

Where: Main Reading Room, Amherst Town Library, 14 Main St. 
When:  Part 1: “Does Increasing Knowledge Increase Happiness?” will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Part 2: “Is Novel Reading Detrimental to Society?” will be held Tuesday, Jan. 19, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Cost: Free and open to all teens and adults. Registration is required. 

Kickin’ it old school
Library recreates 19th-century educational forum

By Angie Sykeny

 Society has seen countless changes over the last 200 years, but even with the arrival of 3D printers and wearable electronic devices, life’s biggest questions remain the same.

On Tuesday, Jan. 5, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Amherst Town Library will explore one of those questions — “Does Increasing Knowledge Increase Happiness?” — in the first program of its two-part Amherst Lyceum series. 
The original Amherst Lyceum opened in 1834 to provide supplementary education for all ages, with a more analytical study of select topics. It hosted public lectures and discussions on and off until 1872. 
Ruslyn Vear, head of reference and adult programming, was inspired to recreate the lyceum while working with an intern to further explore the Amherst Town Library’s Local History Collection last summer. In the collection, they found a book containing handwritten records of the Franklin Society’s meetings in Amherst from 1807 to 1818. 
Named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Societies were assembled throughout the country as a forum for community leaders to consider life’s greatest conundrums. While keeping the minutes was standard practice at most meetings, the Franklin Society of Amherst maintained a surprisingly detailed account of its bimonthly dialogues. 
“It’s a unique book in that it’s more than just a record of the actual meetings,” Vear said. “Some of the secretaries recorded some of the discussions, so you get a little window into the thoughts of the men who lived here and the big questions of that time period.” 
The records cite discussion questions like, “Is war beneficial to mankind?” “Does climate influence intellect?” and “Should any crime be punishable by death?” At the end of each meeting, after the members dissected and argued all sides of the issue, the president would give a final ruling and summarize the implications of their conclusion. 
The topic for the first Amherst Lyceum program, “Does Increasing Knowledge Increase Happiness?” was taken directly from the Franklin Society’s meeting on June 8, 1808. 
“When we discovered the [Franklin Society] book, we thought it’d be great to revisit those questions today in a similar forum,” Vear said. “Then, we found that the Franklin Society questions were pretty similar to [those studied] at the Amherst Lyceum, so we sort of combined them into one event.” 
In the first half of each program, Vear will offer some background about the Amherst Lyceum and the Franklin Society, followed by a presentation from a guest speaker. For the first program, that will be Christopher Brooks, a professor of leadership and ethics at Northeastern University and a social studies teacher at Souhegan High School. Brooks will look at the history of philosophical thought on the topic, its affirmative and negative responses and its relevance in today’s world. 
The second half will be a facilitated discussion time for the audience to weigh in on the topic. At the first program, there will be a panel of students from the Souhegan High School Ethics Forum and Jane Martina, a Colby Sawyer College junior and the aforementioned intern working with the Amherst Town Library’s Local History Collection, to offer a younger generation’s perspective. 
“We try to make it interesting and very accessible to everyone, so we hope people will jump in and be engaged from the beginning,” Vear said. “The subject of happiness is something that’s common to all of us, so it’ll be a great conversation to be a part of.”  
The second program in the Amherst Lyceum series will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and will explore another question from the Franklin Society meetings: “Is Novel Reading Detrimental to Society?”
Vear said she hopes to continue the series. 
“There are many questions to be explored from these records,” she said. “And I think many of the questions in there resonate so much today, so it’s important that we talk about them.”  

®2019 Hippo Press. site by wedu