Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
A Monumental History: Stories of the Berkshires is a creative-nonfiction work focusing on stories surrounding forgotten monuments in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts. The Berkshires exhibit a distinct regional culture that has set them apart from the rest of Massachusetts and indeed from the rest of the rural and urban United States. As one of the first American frontiers, the region was settled by self-reliant and determined pioneers who had to endure harsh environments, Native American unrest, wars, and political and religious disturbances and disagreements. Utopian communities like the Shakers would settle in the Berkshires, drawn by their promise of frontier religious freedoms.
At the same time, the region also attracted celebrities who were drawn to the unperturbed natural beauty of the mountains. No other landscape can boast the attentions of literary giants like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, while also showcasing the artistic work of residents like Norman Rockwell. Even the natural landscape poses a contrast to the rest of Massachusetts. While Massachusetts is relatively flat, the Berkshires are a land of mountain ranges, including both the Berkshire mountains in the east, really the southern branch of the Hoosac Range, and the Taconic Mountains in the west. The geology of the region has made it distinctive and created a crucible for the unique culture that colors its hills.
Yet, while the wild beauty of the area has attracted people like the Shakers, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, it has also attracted industries that have left the land scarred with old abandoned railroad lines and quarries, for instance. The land was left ravaged and the inhabitants were decimated by the loss of these industries. However, in the past century the Berkshires have come back to life, as exemplified by the outpouring of local aid that accompanied a military plane crash in the region in 1942 and the memorialization of the site on Garnet Peak.
To tell the story of the Berkshires, this work focuses on four sites: the Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, the Hudson and Chester Granite Quarry in Becket, and the Garnet Peak plane crash monument in Peru. Each of these areas is described firsthand as they exist in the present day through descriptions of hikes that serve to take the reader into the very woods where these stories took place. Then, the history of each area is analytically explored using historical texts, which provide the historical context of the Berkshires. Ultimately, by contrasting the present day with the past, the goal of this work is to establish how the natural environments of each of these sites were changed by human hands and what human happenings these changes memorialize.
By focusing on and exploring these specific sites, it is possible to reveal greater trends about the relationship between religion, art, industry, and community, on the one hand, and nature, on the other. Also, this project aims to evaluate the effects of Americans’ inhabitance upon the land. Literary works dealing with these topics are cited and unpacked in order to add dimension to the question of how Americans might properly memorialize regional land. The works of William Cullen Bryant and Percy Bysshe Shelley serve to provide a Romantic perspective on the purpose and longevity of humanity’s monuments in nature. Expanding on this creative analysis, the Berkshires can serve as a microcosm from which the extensive history of America can be understood. From the history of the Berkshires, greater conclusions can be drawn about the United States as a country of progress, innovation, and hope.
Bolduc, Kimberly, "A Monumental History: Stories of the Berkshires" (2017). Honors Theses. 9.
American Literature Commons, Literature in English, North America Commons, Nonfiction Commons