a brief history of The Hoosac Institute
On a cloudy spring day in the early 1970s, in a moderately deteriorating cottage on the bucolic campus of a small liberal arts college in northwestern-most Massachusetts, several very new and young [late 20s-ish] professors sat together, as they did most afternoons, for a chat. Their faculty offices were located apart from their various departments’ official locales. Teachers of literature, history, fine arts, they formed, without intention, an interdisciplinary and almost intellectual cadre. United by their left-liberalism, their opposition to the Vietnam War, and their support for student protest, this small group realized that their modest contribution to the education of their prosperous and privileged students was simply not enough. The times seemed, in the words of the radical sociologist C. Wright Mills, to be a period of “moral emergency.” I had just finished reading the long, and mostly dispiriting, memoir of Nadezha Mandelstam, the widow of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who had disappeared into the gulag— where so many died of starvation and firing squads. Her book, Hope Against Hope, described in detail Stalin’s destruction of potential and imaginary opposition to Soviet rule. In the memoir— essentially a biography of her Osip—Nadezha Mandelstam noted her husband’s prophecy of this own demise. He had written:
Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?
Somehow, these novice professors, thinking themselves members of an intellgentsia in training, decided that what was needed, in order to bring about the unity of theory and practice, was an Institute: a research and policy organization which would, inevitably encourage vital action. Immediately, they found a formal title for the emergent independent scholarly entity: The Hoosac Institute, named for the moderately smelly yet not entirely polluted, river which ran though the neighborhoods around the college. Next, a letterhead had to be produced. It fell to me to design the stationery. THE HOOSAC INSTITUTE topped the bonded paper with a logo, a miniaturized rendering of the Haymarket Riot bomb of 1886, in which anarchists had been framed and punished after a labor riot near Chicago’s Haymarket Square. As far as the professorial “conspirators” can remember, that was both the beginning and the end of The Hoosac Institute. Specimens of the letterhead stationery do remain, though the paper has faded a bit. The Haymarket bomb is still quite visible. The young faculty scattered. Most, if not all, are now retired from active teaching.
The story of the original HOOSAC INSTITUTE is not one of failure; neither is it the story of success. It is simply a story.
Its revival is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
— Terry M. Perlin
June 2018, New York