Quarrying the Twain Research Library (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows and Residents, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

Clifton Hood is the George E. Paulsen ’49 Professor of American History and Government at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.   He received his B.A. from Washington University and his Ph.D. from the History Department at Columbia University.   Hood is the author of two books:  722 MILES: THE BUILDING OF THE SUBWAYS AND HOW THEY TRANSFORMED NEW YORK(1993) and IN PURSUIT OF PRIVILEGE: A HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY’S UPPER CLASS AND THE MAKING OF A METROPOLIS (2016). He is now writing a history of imposters in the United States (tentatively entitled “American Imposters:   Identity, Aspiration, Surveillance”) and plans another book project, about the relationship between core and periphery in the Pittsburgh region.  Hood has published scholarly articles in publications like the JOURNAL OF SOCIAL HISTORY, the JOURNAL OF URBAN HISTORY, and the BULLETIN OF THE GERMAN HISTORICAL INSTITUTE; op-ed pieces in the NEW YORK TIMES, the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, NEWSDAY, and the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE; and has appeared in several AMERICAN EXPERIENCE as well as other historical documentaries. 

In speaking with my colleagues and students, I have likened my experience as a Quarry Farm Fellow to living for two weeks in a first-rate reference library devoted to one of the subjects of my book project. Staying atop a mountain that separated me from the attractions of Elmira and with no screens (apart from my laptop), no radio, and no stereo to distract me, I spent nearly all my time reading, taking notes, and thinking. The two library rooms were right next to the bedroom I used, my shortest commute ever.  I have received grants to conduct research at historical archives, but my stay at Quarry Farm constituted perhaps the first interlude I have had since graduate school where, in time away from teaching, I was not concentrating on producing research, articles, or book chapters.  Instead, I had the freedom to think. 

I am sure that the constraints of the pandemic made me value my opportunity even more.  It was, in any case, wonderful.  

Second Floor Study Area in the main house at Quarry Farm (Photo courtesy of Clifton Hood)

A month or two before my arrival at Quarry Farm, I had finished a draft of the chapter of my imposters book that deals with Twain.  The research materials I consulted at Quarry Farm let me correct some errors and misunderstandings in that draft.  I also learned how the ‘real’ Hannibal differed from Twain’s reconstruction of it in works like Tom Sawyer and Pudd’nhead Wilson, and my realization that Hannibal was part and parcel of the nineteenth-century transportation revolution and slave economy will let me restate in that chapter a major component of my thesis involving geographical and social mobility and personal re-invention. Most importantly, I was already moving from a tight focus on imposture to thinking about identity-switching more broadly, and my reading about Twain’s penchant for paired characters and his general fascination with identity and duplication supports that development.  I paid special attention to later works such as No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

On a side note, the archivist at the Chemung Valley Historical Society told me about a case of imposture at “Hellmira” that I use to open a section of another chapter.   I conducted this research online and before going to Elmira, but, if not for the fellowship, I never would have reached out to her. 

I also benefitted from having lunch with Professors Lemak and Seybold toward the end of my stay as that gave me a chance to try out some of my ideas and impressions and hear their reactions.  

Night time view fo Elmira from the Quarry Farm porch (Photo courtesy of Clifton Hood)