Queer Books in the Burke Library: a Web Comic

In addition to being a student at Union Theological Seminary and working at the Burke Library, I also draw a weekly web comic called QueerBibleComics.com. It’s part diary, part art project. It’s a way for me to creatively and visually engage with the ideas I encounter as a seminarian. Most of the comics are about Christian theological concepts and biblical passages as they relate to the experiences of LGBT*QIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) persons today. This summer, I’ve been thinking about critical librarianship (sometimes referred to online among librarians with the hashtag #critlib) and the ways in which categories and organization systems affect real life. For example, how does the way the library categorizes different books on sexuality and gender reflect — or even produce — library users’ thoughts, beliefs, and actions affecting queer people? While pondering these #critlib ideas I wrote and drew the following cartoon, illustrating a map of the Burke and taking the reader on a “tour” of the queerest sections in the library. Hope it’s thought- and laugh-provoking! To view the comic in enlarged format, either right-click it and choose “View Image” from the drop down menu, or click the following link to view it on my web comic site: QueerBibleComics.com!

Queer Books in the Burke Library with characters and images

Internship Project: A Budding Librarian/Archivist’s Perspective

Hello everyone!  I am excited to be a contributor for the Burke’s blog. I am an MLIS student at Long Island University and spent my summer as an archives intern here at the Burke mainly processing the collection of the esteemed Paul F. Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union. I started this project back in June and it has been going extremely well. I do not have a background in theological studies, but I did attend catholic school for twelve years – there I took religion as a sixth class – so I am not completely unfamiliar with religious doctrines. I would like to mention that Knitter is best known for his belief in religious pluralism. He was previously Professor Emeritus of Theology at Xavier University where he taught for 28 years before he joined the Union Theological Seminary in 2007. Most of Knitter’s publications and teachings have to do with religious pluralism.

The collection was originally comprised of eighteen cartons. I did an intensive survey of the materials which lasted me about the entire month of June coming in two days a week.

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Once I had a sense of what Knitter’s papers included, I began to physically process the collection according to an arrangement scheme I created and had approved by Rebecca, the Burke’s Project Archivist. In addition to ordering and arranging materials in keeping with the arrangement scheme, physical processing involves relocating materials from the acidic conditions they arrived in into acid free folders and boxes.

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I am also creating the finding aid as I perform the physical processing; this will allow researchers to access materials in person, through CLIO and the Burke’s website. The bulk of the collection is course files for the classes Knitter taught at the Union Theological Seminary, Xavier University, and other institutions. The course files are filled with intriguing topics including feminism in religion and inter-religious dialogue.

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The collection also contains Knitter’s thesis, critiques of his works (notably from the Vatican), correspondence, and other memorabilia that would be intriguing to anyone who is interested in Knitter, pluralism, or both. One aspect of physical processing that I especially enjoy is preserving materials. Many papers are acidic and can turn brittle. Metal paper clips also rust.

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They can be placed in archival envelopes and plastic paper clips are used instead of metal.

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I enjoy this project because I get the chance to help preserve the history of a community for years to come. I also enjoy creating ways for others to access those materials as easily as possible because I believe they are more valuable when used. These, I believe, are some of the fundamentals of why we do what we do. I’m very glad to have been asked to be a part of this experience.

 

Cartoonists, Dramaturgs and Old Testament Feminists: An Archivist’s First Months at the Burke

Hello Burke world! I joined Union’s library staff this February, filling a vacant Project Archivist position whose previous occupant guided the successful processing of the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives, the Missionary Research Library collection, and more with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other grant-funding organizations and individuals. I’m originally from New Mexico (a place with an aridity that I’m sorely missing during my first summer on this swampy island), and recently completed my M.L.I.S. in Archival Studies from McGill University in Montreal. Coming into this community has been in many ways a rigorous crash course in ecumenical studies, but happily a smooth process of folding into and keeping step with the everyday work of a small academic archive situated in an expansive research university. The learning curve I’ve ridden this spring has been notable given my status as a new archival professional with interests both in academic librarianship, special collections and rare books and archives. Prior to coming to the Burke, my background in archival practice had been situated in the U.S. and Canada, and primarily saw me leading small survey and processing projects in cultural heritage, art and academic settings with an acronym-riddled arsenal of best practices and archival theory at my disposal.

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Phyllis Trible at work. Trible’s archive consists of text-based, visual materials and realia reflecting Trible’s historic career in Biblical criticism, feminist studies and the Old Testament. Her papers bridge the UTS Archives to the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, and is an actively growing collection now available for on-site consultation. 

The extent of my religious studies acumen prior to joining the Burke was limited to my middling knowledge of the Presbyterian beginnings of the small Midwestern town where I lived during college, the particular dryness of Eucharistic hosts during my Catholic adolescence, and a fairweather interest in the eternal consequences of my meager mortal actions. I come from a literary studies and critical theory background, and have always been drawn toward the nuanced, less visible ways in which people and communities of people make sense or chalk up their experiences of this life, those experiences of religion and spirituality that respectively become occasions for world-making, diasporas, rituals and art forms that seem endlessly abundant in relief and hope. Part of what compels me toward the humanities, history and narrative has been the particular privilege and work of acknowledging my own ignorance of the world beyond my own, the limits of individual perspective, but also of the ways in which knowledge is produced to bind our subjectivities to one another. In the process of memory-making and historicization, I am equally interested in the erasures and violences that also constitute a part of the ways in which we understand our spiritual and social worlds.  Theology, perhaps more than any field I’ve taken up so far in my life and nascent work, attests to this pervasive knee-jerk desire to balance sense-making with reverence, critical thought with faith, silence with articulation. This process of coming to know, even in silence and subjectivity, is what drew me to library science, and archival practice in particular.

The projects that met me at the Burke did not disappoint. As the Project Archivist responsible for the processing, housing, and long-term preservation of the UTS 1 Archives – an aggregate of archival collections stemming from faculty, alumni, and other Union-affiliated individuals acquired by the library – I have become a sudden steward of a world steeping in interdisciplinary, interdenominational discourse. From my first day in the library, I realized that I had entered a space that, though a slim five-block walk north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, is unique in its historical and academic context. As one of my colleagues told me on admiring the crucifix-emblazoned doorknobs leading into our on-site archival space, “The divine is in the details”. It’s indeed astonishing to be a custodian of archival collections outside my formal background and to learn so quickly and richly about the haptic space the seminary is situated in, the gargoyles that greet me in the stairwell, the filigreed doorknobs evoking Union’s denominational past, the engraved edifice on the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary (…“And the bush was not consumed”), or the limestone gauntlet of the neighboring Interchurch Center (a.k.a. the God Box).

The variance and allure of the people and spaces I’ve had the privilege of connecting with since arriving at the Burke has been matched only by the archival collections themselves. With the invaluable assistance of library school interns, Columbia and UTS student employees, and the support of my colleagues and mentors, I have been bolstered in processing the papers of people like Phyllis Trible, a beacon of Union’s community and bracing feminist Biblical scholar; Max Coots, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Union graduate whose joint Master’s in religious education in 1953 between Teacher’s College at Columbia and Union was fulfilled with a brilliant full-color cartoon thesis depicting the politics of post-war activism, racism and redemption through the UU tradition; and the papers of Bob Seaver, Union’s beloved late professor of Speech and Drama, whose papers include audiovisual evidence of his singular teaching style as well as his extensive work in religious drama in the ecumenical and theater communities. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Seaver’s papers so far have been his extensive notes used when preparing for his courses in preaching. In these notes, Seaver’s approach to vocal exercise and tuning the human voice become a form of scrawled language poetry. One undated note card reads:

We’ve been dealing with how to release breath
F U L L Y
Breath — The source of sound
Work on the jaw
Tongue, concerns
Throat
How to free the channels
Through which sound travels
Jaw — widens the exit
When some deep emotion
Is the impulse for sound

Tongue — shapes sound 
Articulation
Throat — the main channel
The task — relax the channel

Stimulate the source.

***

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Two frames of Max Alden Coots’ cartoon thesis submitted in fulfillment of his M.Div./M.Ed. in 1953 from Teachers College and UTS. Coots, an artist and Unitarian Universalist Minister, is one exemplar of the visually and conceptually compelling approaches to religious education that Union alumni and faculty have practiced throughout their careers. 

Processing collections coming from individuals like these is not only a privileged sort of intellectual labor, but one that begs to be curated and made accessible to researchers beyond the auspices of Union’s immediate audience. Drawing on the talents of our in-house staff and from the support of our larger organization, I feel confident that new knots of researchers, students, scholars, and armchair theologians will find themselves as intrigued by the gems to be found at the Burke as I have become only six months into this new role through a mix of digital curatorial work, on-site exhibitions, cross-institutional collaborations, and streamlined practices for uploading and curating finding aids.

As I scythe through the work accomplished and the projects that I’ll undertake over the next two years, I am becoming pinchingly aware that I’ve just begun to skim the surface, to scratch the bed of all the intellectual and physical labor that lies ahead. As we approach our goal of 30-35 linear feet of processed archives per month, and as the steamy heat lamp of New York City summer settles in, I could hardly feel more energized to embark on the remaining mountain of collections. Where do you even begin to excavate the history of glory? Flick light, switch on dual monitor. Select Start.

 

Behind the Stacks: literally

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Freshly hewn blocks of wood? Or roughly ploughed fore-edges of the collected works of Christian Scriver from among Burke Library’s rare books?

Sometimes the most interesting views are not the front of bookshelves with all the book spines facing outward, but rather the back, where you can find various edge decorations, hardware, and conditions that make for a visual treat. I often find these during shelf maintenance tasks that involve removing a range of books from a shelf, thereby revealing the backside of another shelf. Literally from behind the stacks, here are some choice reverse views of Burke’s special collections shelves:

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Some classic marbled edges

tartan pattern edge

A simple tartan pattern for edge decoration

tube

A solitary tube

Green ribbons

book closures

Book and box closures, old and new

blue edges

Blue colored edges (with neighboring green)

gauffered edges

Gauffered edges

tidy shelf

Protective enclosures are good for the books and make it easy to keep a tidy shelf… but they do hinder chance discoveries of other interesting reverse views!

Analyzing Scavenger Hunt Scores to Understand Library Familiarity Among Incoming Students

 

When I was a kid I loved scavenger hunts– the harder, the better! Whenever we took a field trip with school I preferred to explore a museum or new place with a scavenger hunt, rather than have someone show me around on a long tour of things I wouldn’t remember. Scavenger hunts contained mysteries that were fun to solve, making the places and objects I found more interesting when I finally found them.

A year ago the Burke Library decided to flip the script on the standard orientation tours held for incoming Union Theological Seminary students and created a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was designed so that students can get introduced to the library by finding features in the books, the building, the computer stations, the online catalog, and the library manual. Each feature is something students need to know how to find, in order to make the most out of the library’s many resources while they are in studying towards their degrees. After doing the scavenger hunt, the idea is, students will know how to find the resources with ease once classes start.

This summer I am assessing student responses from last fall’s inaugural hunt in order to revamp the questions where necessary.  I am passionate about making sure students have easy access to all the resources they need for their studies. As a student, I know it can be frustrating to need a book or article urgently, but not know how to get it. Especially if one is a “new kid in town” and has never used the library before. The best time to learn how to access library materials is BEFORE classes begin, not the day before a reading assignment is due. That’s why it’s important that the scavenger hunt give students a thorough introduction to the library during orientation, so they can be fully prepared to gain access to the materials they need ahead of time.

From looking at the scavenger hunt results, it seems that new students last fall had the most trouble with understanding three particular types of library resources: periodicals, databases, and BorrowDirect/InterLibrary Loan options. This is understandable for many possible reasons: students who did their undergraduate studies many years ago might not have used any kind of online catalog before; students who are new to the Columbia University Libraries may never have heard of BorrowDirect or InterLibrary Loan and not know the difference between them or what they are for, etc. There are many factors that could be affecting so many students’ answers. I am looking forward to conducting further analysis on the results of the scavenger hunt and seeking to make sure my fellow students have access to the kinds of information materials they need for their studies here at Union.

Behind the Stacks: Manuscript facsimile

In youth, I spent interminable hours copying out by hand long passages of the Bible for Sunday school. I also remember dutifully copying out lecture notes in school and feeling grateful for mechanical pencils (no sharpening!). These days, I use my phone to snap a picture of some text, printed or handwritten, and in a few moments have an OCR (optical character recognition) converted text file to save, share, or copy-paste however I want. The motivations behind these actions are different, but I had reason to reflect on the far cry between such modes of copying when I happened upon this title in Burke’s Special Collections:

Eröffneter Weg zum Frieden mit Gott und allen Creatüren, dürch die Publication der sämmtlichen Schrifften Christiani Democriti

Eroffneter Weg title 1

Produced in the 18th century, well into print culture, this very long manuscript copy of an already printed publication is an intriguing item that was quietly posing as a printed book among thousands of others in our special collections. I happened to open it in the process of measuring a number of our rare books for preservation boxes, and noticed that it was not actually print. We’ve since reclassified it into Burke’s manuscript collection.

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The 2 volumes contain over 2,000 hand-written and -drawn pages, painstakingly copying not only the text but the printed ornaments from its source.

Eroffneter Weg orthodoxieEroffneter Weg ende

Even the frontispieces are drawn in imitation of [probably] etchings.

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(For comparison, a printed copy of the title held by Princeton University can be viewed here: https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/9377442)

We welcome and invite you to view this or other special collections held by the Burke Library; to learn more about visiting our library or to make an appointment please visit our website.

 

Behind the Stacks: Unheard-of Curiosities

As the Collection Services Assistant at the Burke Library, I am constantly in and out of the stacks and handling materials from both the special and general collections. In the course of my work, I frequently stumble across interesting items, images, or views that may otherwise go unnoticed or are even inaccessible for the public. It’s my pleasure to start sharing some of these finds through the Burke blog.

One the most common finds I make among the special collections items are foldouts with fun illustrations. For today, I’ll share images from this 1706 publication of Jacques Gaffarel’s Curiositates inauditae. An unassuming exterior contains some delightful illustrations of “unheard-of curiosities”:

Jacques Gaffarel's Curiositates inauditae, 1706

Jacques Gaffarel’s Curiositates inauditae, 1706

Triton. Siren.

Triton. Siren.

Dagon

Dagon

Diana

Diana

Cherubim

Cherubim

Moloch

Moloch

Theraphim. Averruncus.

Theraphim. Averruncus.

We welcome and invite you to view this or other rare books held by the Burke Library; to learn more about visiting our library or to make an appointment please visit our website at Burke Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Letters between a Prisoner and a Soldier: The Houser-Shinn Correspondence from the Roger L. Shinn Collection

 

“I’ve never had the experience of writing to anyone in the army before. I suppose you’ve never written to anyone in jail before, so I guess we’re even.”  George Houser, July 17, 1941

George Houser and Roger Shinn first met as students at Union Theological Seminary, living across the hall from each other on the fifth floor of the dorms. The two young men, both sons of pastors, bonded in their early years of graduate school, frequently stopping by each other’s rooms for long conversations and playing on the same basketball team. As World War II escalated, they together began to question the role of Christians in matters of war and peace, and co-wrote an editorial in The Union Review about their correspondence with Canon Raven, a British pacifist. They shared admiration for Raven’s expression of his pacifism, and wrote together in the spring of 1940 that “in the ultimate analysis, the Christian must stand for the way of the Cross, and the problem of war is the place for our age to take the stand.”

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Credit: UTS1: Roger L. Shinn Papers, 1920-2010, Series 3D, box 1 folder 1, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Ultimately, however, the two friends took quite different stands. Houser decided that it was his duty as a Christian to reject war and consequently refused, along with seven other students at Union, to register for the draft. He was subsequently arrested and served a year at Danbury Federal Prison instead of completing his degree at Union. Shinn not only registered for the draft, but waived the exemption he could have taken as a theological student. Rather than continue on with his doctoral studies after graduating from Union, he began basic training for the Army. Throughout Houser’s imprisonment and Shinn’s training, the pair maintained a steady correspondence. The conversations that had once taken place in their fifth-floor dorm rooms now occurred in letters as they continued to wrestle with their respective positions. Shinn held onto copies of the letters he typed to Houser, along with Houser’s handwritten responses from prison:

“I’ve been sending out Christmas cards this week. The two-cent stamps which I got at the post office have pictures of big guns on them and the words ‘National Defense.’ It seemed a terrible irony to be putting those stamps on Christmas cards… Reconciliation is so much more wonderful than fighting. I just don’t see how it can be accomplished until some other forces are crushed.”
– Shinn’s letter to Houser, Dec  22, 1940

“In the abstract-that is, in principle-you and I agree pretty much. But the more I think about the world situation, the more I feel that I would have to become a complete defeatist and cynic in order to support one side or the other in the war… The cycle has to be broken somewhere, and I think one of the important points at which to break it is at the point of the method of war.”
– Houser’s reply to Shinn, Dec 26, 1940.

Even as their differing positions took them further and further from each other, Shinn and Houser diligently reminded each other of the shared aspects of their convictions. The tone of their letters remained light even as they disagreed, with friendly banter and frequent apologies for not having the time to write more. As Shinn’s number came up in the draft he wrestled with whether or not he should join the Army or take advantage of his exemption as his mentors, Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Sloane Coffin, advised. When he decided that, given his support for the war he felt compelled to serve in it, Houser was one of the first people he told. Houser wrote back disagreeing with his friend but supporting his decision to accept the consequences of supporting the war.

“To me it is impossible for a person to accept comfort and luxury for himself while others are suffering and deprived. This is an eternal criticism of the faculty of Union Seminary as far as I am concerned. How Reiny [Reinhold Niebuhr] can do it is more than I can see. The danger of his position is just that of not ceasing to compromise. Of course I expect nothing different from Uncle Henry [Henry Sloane Coffin]. So I think from this angle, your choice is right…”
– George Houser, Feb 20, 1940

Neither friend shied from challenging  the other to change his mind. As Shinn prepared to go to war and Houser realized that he would not be able to return to Union, their letters tell their sadness about how their paths, and those of their community at seminary, had diverged. This sadness and the strength of their differing convictions only made their theological and ethical debates more urgent.

“…It is not like a year ago, when we could brush past our differences by simply saying of the other fellow, ‘he’s sincere,’ or ‘he’s a good fellow.’ When you actually believe thoroughly that the other man, if his policies were carried out, would plunge the world into turmoil and chaos, or remove any possibility of historical justice, then the differences cannot be reconciled breezily. Unity, then, must lie in a faith more profound than the church has usually preached.”
– Roger Shinn, July 4, 1941

A letter from the Danbury, Connecticut prison where Houser was incarcerated, notifying Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

A letter from the warden of the Danbury, Connecticut prison where George Houser was incarcerated, notifying Roger Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

After 1941, the correspondence between the two men appears to stop. No more letters to or from Houser appear in the Shinn collection. Their lives continued to head in different, though related, directions. Houser moved to Chicago to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist anti-war organization, and then turned his attention to civil rights issues within the United States. He helped to found the Congress for Racial Equality in 1942 and participated in the original Freedom Ride before devoting the rest of his career to abolishing apartheid and colonial rule in Africa.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter Bayard Rustin at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

 

 

Shinn, meanwhile, served in World War II and was held as a prisoner of war. Upon his return, he completed his doctorate at Columbia and enjoyed a long career at Union as a faculty member, dean of instruction and, briefly, acting president. His participation in later political activities at Union is particularly notable in light of his earlier friendship with Houser. When Union students again refused to register for the draft during the Vietnam War, Roger was one of the faculty members who wrote a letter supporting them. He also was among members of the Union community who published a statement regarding apartheid in South Africa in 1967, and worked through the 1980s to divest the Seminary’s endowment of shares in companies profiting from apartheid. Although the former hallmates chose different ways of living into their convictions as Christians, it seems that throughout their lives they continued to “agree pretty much.”

Burke Coloring Book

Today is our inaugural stressbuster where we will be offering up coloring books and sweet treats!  The coloring book was created using images of items within our amazing special collections.  For those who are unable to come and who want to follow along at home we wanted to share the pages as well as a PDF of the entire coloring book here on our blog.  Feel free to print out and color in from wherever!

Burke Coloring Book (pdf)

 

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Coloring in the Burke

In honor of the Burke’s first “coloring book,” created for a stress buster event the library is hosting for Union Theological students next week, I thought it would be nice to show off this sweet children’s coloring book from ca. 1920:

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Each page offers a new image (x3) to be painted in with the way it should be painted in attached.  The image below shows what the backs of the pages look like.  Children could paint these in, then tear along the perforated edges to mail off as a post card.
Color post card_4color post card_6color post card_7color post card_8My favorite aspect of this book are the instructions given at the end,”Read this before Painting the Pictures”:

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Before going into great detail about how each of the different skin tones should be painted, it instructs the child to “Be sure not to begin painting before you have cleaned your paint-box.  To do this let just a trickle of water from the tap run on to your paints while you wash them carefully with your brush.  Then dab away the water with a rag, except when the paints have got hard and dry – these you can leave full of water to soak a bit.”  Just to give you the reader a little perspective below is an image of my daughter’s paints.

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This was not quite the neat image of a paint box conjured when reading those instructions!

 

 

 

 

This children’s coloring book is part of the Mission Research Library pamphlets held by the Burke Library, many of which are fully digitized and available on the Internet Archive.

Creation of the Burke coloring book referenced in the very beginning was inspired by the inaugural #ColorOurCollections week (February 1-5) started this year by The New York Academy of Science Library.