Travel and Research in Israel/Palestine

Before becoming Circulation Supervisor here at the Burke Library, I attended Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (UTS-NYC) as a Master of Divinity student with a focus in Interreligious Engagement.  My particular area of academic research lies in two distinct segments of scholarship; 1) Judeo-Christian relations in Late Antiquity, and 2) the modern conflict in Israel/Palestine.  Before arriving at UTS-NYC I attended Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary at graduated in May 2014 with a MA in Religious Thought.  In January 2014 I participated in a month-long travel seminar to the Holy Land, sparking an interest that has grown substantially.

When I visited Israel/Palestine in early 2014 I had no idea how much of an impact the trip would have on my continued vocational work.

Photos taken in the West Bank, by Deanna Roberts, 1/27/2014.

From exploring historic landmarks and ancient ruins throughout the region, to sharing coffee at a local Palestinian cafe next to the wall in Beit Sahour with new friends, the trip changed my life.  Beit Sahour is a refugee camp on the eastern side of Bethlehem.  When most people hear the term refugee camp, tents and non-permanent structures come to mind.  However, in Beit Sahour and the other refugee camps inside the West Bank, which have now been around for well over 60 years, dwellings are quite permanent.  The experience I had in the West Bank was eye-opening, insightful, heartbreaking, and joyous.  As a citizen of the United States I was able to move freely in and out of checkpoints and through gated areas with little to no questioning from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers about my intentions.  It became more obvious to me each day just how limited travel is to Palestinians living in both Israel proper and inside the Occupied Territories.  What makes things even less black and white, and way more grey is that people living side-by-side one another, or in some cases directly above and below have drastically different sentiments about whose land they are living on.  On an “illegal” excursion to Hebron, my privileged position as a US passport carrying citizen became all the more clear.

Something interesting about the Holy Land, as in many other places around the world,  is that people continuously build on top of more ancient cultures and civilizations.  We build our dwellings right on top of the lived realities of those that have come before us.  In many instances, international Christian communities like to build churches right on top of historical sites, particularly in the Galilee region. Not only do Christian churches get build on top of ancient Jewish synagogues, but Jewish settler apartment complexes get built right on top of now closed Palestinian homes and storefronts.

Photo taken at Capharnaum, by Deanna Roberts, 1/16/2014

It became clear to me that the vision that Jewish settlers in the West Bank have for a homeland is in contrast to the vision that Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, would have of their homeland.

The experiences in Israel/Palestine in 2014 were not all bleak and dreadful.  One of my favorite photos from the trip is of me standing inside a church on the Mount of Olives overlooking the borders of the old city of Jerusalem.  As I stood there I remember noticing that there was a mesmerizing unity of the cross located on the altar lined up perfectly with the Dome of the Rock, and the Wailing/Western wall that falls directly behind.  The moment captured the hope that I have: that people of three faiths can live together in harmony.

Photo taken inside the Chapel of Dominus Flevit, by Deanna Roberts, 1/21/14.

When I arrived back in the States after my trip I found myself unable to put away from my mind the images and stories I had seen and hear while visiting the people that inhabit the land inside historic Palestine.  I joined the Israel Palestine Mission network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), moved to Massachusetts to participate in a year of service, and then found myself in NYC following a call to ordained ministry in the PC (USA).  Of all the social justice issues swimming around the campus of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, the one that is minimally acknowledged is the moral, economic, social, and religious crisis in Israel/Palestine.

Now that I’m at the Burke in a more official capacity, it makes the most sense for me to share with you all the wonderful resources that the Burke, the wider Columbia University Libraries network, and the city of New York have to offer regarding issues around the current conflict in Israel and Palestine.  For the last few months I have been conducting research in our collections, searching for anything relating to Israel and Palestine, current land rights in historic Palestine, apartheid in the Holy land, and walls and borders throughout history.  I’ve been lucky enough to find a plethora of resources that I would like to share with the wider community:

From the circulating collections of the Burke Library:

Photo of “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” by Naim Stifan Ateek (New York, Orbis 2017).


Located on one of the New Book shelves, this work echos many of the other works by Ateek.  In Burke we also have Justice and Only Justice:  A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation both authored by Ateek.

Also held at Burke are several of the works written by Union Theological Seminary NYC Doctor of Philosophy graduate W. Eugene March including: Israel and the Politics of Land : A Theological Case Study, God’s Land on Loan: Israel, Palestine, and the World, God’s Tapestry: Reading the Bible in a World of Religious Diversity, as well as The Wide Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity.

In addition to these we also hold several books by Mitri Raheb in the wider Columbia Libraries Network, including I Am A Palestinian Christian, Faith in the Faith of Empire, Bethlehem Besieged : Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble, and the recently published The Cross in Contexts : Suffering and Redemption in Palestine has been ordered and will be available at Burke once it arrives.

A few other resources within the Columbia University Libraries to draw your attention to:

Comprehending Christian Zionism: Perspectives in Comparison, Goran Gunner and Robert O.Smith, editors, 2014.

The Biblical Text in the Context of Occupation : Towards a New Hermeneutics of Liberation, Mitri Raheb, editor, 2012.

The Gospel and the Land of Promise : Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible, Philip Church, editor, 2011.

I would also recommend:

What It Means to be Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood, Dina Mater, 2011.

Anything by Ilan Pappe.

Israel/Palestine-related events are happening throughout New York.  To highlight one which just closed at the end of February, please see information on traveling exhibit of Bethlehem Beyond the Wall up at Manhattan College in the Bronx.


Coloring in the Burke With #ColorOurCollections

Coloring has long been, for me, a way to relax and unwind during stressful periods of my life–which is why I was intrigued to hear about a fun and fascinating global outreach initiative called #ColorOurCollections when Myong Jin, our Collections Specialist, forwarded me an email from the Ex Libris listserv. The New York Academy of Medicine started the initiative in 2016 as a way for libraries, museums, and cultural institutions around the world to take part in a collective week of coloring and exploring each other’s collections.

Original #ColorOurCollections promotion template, from (2018)

The way it was designed is simple: institutions share images from their books, archives, and other items in the form of black-and-white coloring pages. This year over 180 institutions participated in uploading coloring books, including libraries like Andover-Harvard Theological Library and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, as well as fascinating international museum sites like the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum and academic institutions like Universidad de Buenos Aires. Anyone with an internet connection can go to and download free coloring books from these world-wide repositories, to be filled in with markers, colored pencils, or even paint. Coloring, long a beloved pastime for children, has recently become a trendy crafting hobby for adults, who find shading in the spaces of intricate images to be a relaxing and meditative activity that provides a nice respite during the day. Institutions can host coloring events as a way to engage with the public, and guests have an incentive to visit the museums and libraries to take part in the coloring activities. Participants can then upload photos of their coloring creations on social media platforms with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. This way the public can “explore, color, and connect with libraries and their collections.”

Myong and I thought it would be fun to join this initiative and have our own day of coloring at the Burke Library. We have had coloring events here in the past (we really like coloring here at the Burke; living in New York can be stressful, and finding ways to unwind is important!) so we already had digital folder of coloring pages ready to go. Plus we uploaded some new ones too. Making a coloring page involves selecting an image from our collections — such as a photo in the archives, a folio of a rare book, and even (in this case) a hand-drawn cartoon that was submitted as part of a student’s thesis in the 1970’s — and scanning it into a digital file. Then, using PhotoShop to make the image black-and-white and adjust the Brightness and Contrast levels, we can turn the scanned image into a graphic with black outlines and white empty space to be filled in by our users.

“How a Coloring Book Page is Made,” Sample from photograph of Brown Tower, at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (c. 2016)

We held our coloring event “Color In the Burke” (pun intended… get it? “Color In”?) on February 8th during the lunch hour, and our staff promoted it on Instagram, Facebook, the Union Theological Seminary Student Digest, and on paper flyers and digital signs throughout the building. We had lots of enthusiastic feedback from the community members who heard about the event, although we had lower attendance than expected on the actual day. Those who attended enjoyed coloring in images from some of the Burke’s rare folios. Our printed coloring books are still available at the Circulation Desk, and anyone who wants to see the Burke’s or any other coloring book can go online to and download any of the hundreds of books available online. They’re fun to look at — I like engravings and woodcuts myself, and I especially like the anatomical drawings from the medical libraries. We’ll gladly participate in #ColorOurCollections again next year.

Sample page from the Burke Library #ColorOurCollections 2018 Coloring Book

Circulation Team Re-Orientation: New Year, Fresh Start

The Burke Library is of course a world-renowned research library and serves as the steward of rare volumes, sacred objects, and archives of Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. But the Burke is also home to a thriving circulating collection; thousands of books, bound periodicals, microforms, and audio-visual materials change hands at our front desk every single day. And the people who keep this system running smoothly and pleasantly are our beloved Circulation Team, consisting of students at UTS, Columbia College, and Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This team of over a dozen current students is the face of the library. They greet visitors who enter the front door and offer support and answer questions about finding the resources they need. We know we can rely on the Circ Team for keeping the Burke Library running smoothly and we appreciate them immensely. That’s why we were excited to offer a team-wide re-orientation session for them at the start of the New Year—with pizza and games related to the technical aspects of circulation. Myself and the Circulation Supervisor, Deanna Roberts, brainstormed, created, and led the session with the goal of strengthening the unity of the Circ Team in providing outstanding and consistent high-quality service and meticulous maintenance of our collections.

We got the idea for the re-orientation training because it was clear to us that, while the team as a whole have been doing a fantastic job lately, the various members of the team had somewhat different approaches to many of the processes that their responsibilities entail. For example, some Circ Team members place the outgoing mail in a different spot than others, some use different notation formats for the record logs, and some—try as they might—had not been checking the drop boxes and maintaining the shelves in the stacks as regularly as we would hope. The Circ Team has a complex set of responsibilities; in addition to checking books in and out and helping patrons with their library needs, they are responsible for shelving, maintaining the stacks, fixing printers and copier equipment, scanning materials for our Scan & Deliver service,  opening and closing, keeping the library’s appearance neat and orderly, and serving as ambassadors for the library in their academic community. It’s a lot to keep track of. Many of our students come from different academic programs across the campus and have varying degrees of familiarity with the multiple aspects of the front desk. Deanna and I aim for the Circ Team to be consistent in the responsibilities of each team member during their shift, and the training session offered us a chance to get everyone “on the same page.”

We offered two paid sessions during the January Intercession, one on a Monday and one on a Wednesday, at 5:00pm after the library had closed—and (though attendance at either of the sessions was mandatory) we sweetened the deal with complimentary pizza, soda, and cookies. We were glad to have 100% attendance across the two sessions. Prior to that week, Deanna and I sat down twice in person to plan the content and delivery of the sessions, and we created a Google Doc to share our ideas for the agenda. Deanna planned the delivery of the parts that would cover technical services at the Circ desk, and I planned the section covering library face-to-face interactions and public services. We gave each other feedback and collaborated to create a comprehensive 90-minute program plan, including—at Deanna’s suggestion—a 10-minute assessment at the end to gather feedback from the students on our content delivery.

The sessions, as we heard back from several students, were fun and engaging. The flexible scheduling and bonus pizza made it seem less like a chore and more like a party.

Quiz Show slide from PowerPoint presentation with question and answer

Circulation “Quiz Show” slide with hidden answer that pops up with the click of the leader’s mouse. (Burke Library, January 2018)

Add to that the fact that we designed the training to take the form of a series of games.  First, over dinner, we started with a “Game Show” in the form of an animated PowerPoint, with students guessing the answers to multiple-choice and  true-or-false questions such as “Student employees are allowed to handle fines and fees related to late and lost materials” (Answer: False) and “How many times a day should the book drop boxes be checked?” (Answer: At least twice, once mid-morning and once in the early evening).

The answers were animated to pop up on the screen after the questions had been discussed, fostering a lively and engaging time.  Next came two back-to-back challenges related to shelving and LC Call Numbers: one with physical book carts the students were tasked with putting in order, and one with a computer-based quiz that also asked students to put virtual books in order by call number.

Screenshot of LC Call Number Order Quiz LC Call Number Order Quiz (Burke Library, January 2018)

We wrapped up the evening with a discussion of public services, asking the students how they would respond to different types of questions from patrons in different scenarios, and to whom they would refer the questions they didn’t feel comfortable answering. We ended the session by soliciting feedback from the students in the form of “Stars, Deltas, and Key Learnings,” a framework Deanna had learned through her vocational training, with opportunities for the students to name things about the session that worked well for them, things that could be improved, and significant take-aways that stood out. We received positive feedback on the quizzes, scheduling flexibility, and scenario-based patron question discussion. We think we can improve on making the sessions more visual, more hands-on, and based in the physical setting of the Circ Desk environment. The Circ Team generally seemed more confident in the support they receive from supervisors as well as their own abilities to keep the library functioning smoothly. All told, it was a positive experience for the participants, and we hope to offer similar training sessions for our wonderful Circ Team in the future.

Behind the Stacks: Born’s Natural History of Monks

Browsing our special collections stacks surfaced this amusing plate depicting what at first glance looks like random shorts, sandals, and… rope?

Tab. III [engraving of belts, breeches, shoes] — Born’s Natural History of Monks, London 1783.

The book is Ignaz Edler von Born’s Specimen of the natural history of the various orders of monks, printed in London in 1783. It turns out to be a satirical, anticlerical pamphlet that describes monks according to a Linnaean classification system.

Detail from Born’s satire, Natural History of Monks, London 1783. Text reads: “The Monk. Definition. An animal inimical to man; hooded; howling by night; thirsty.”

The Burke Library’s copy is an English translation from Born’s original Latin, and includes a “Preface by an English Protestant,” as well as some biting commentary by an unimpressed reader.

Detail from the “Preface” to Born’s Natural History of Monks, London 1783. Marginalia reads: “far too long and contains little or nothing but what every protestant knows as well as the writer.”

There are two more plates of engraved illustrations depicting various aspects of monks’ dress and appearance.

Tab. II [engraving of scapularies, sleeves] — Born’s Natural History of Monks, London 1783.

Tab. I [engraving of tonsures, veils, hoods] — Born’s Natural History of Monks, London 1783.

What was interesting for me was to compare the engravings in multiple versions of this work. From a basic search on Internet Archive, I was able to view digitizations of four different editions:

  1. 1783 English translation, printed in London. From the collections of New York Public Library; same edition as the copy in the Burke Library’s collections.
  2. 1784 Latin edition, printed in Augsburg. From the collections of New York Public Library.
  3. 1884 French translation, printed in Paris. From the collections of the Library of Congress.
  4. 1852 English translation, printed in Edinburgh. From the collections of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at University of Toronto.

Select engravings from Born’s Natural History of Monks compared side-by-side.

Though this is only a superficial comparison, a more extensive search and closer examination of the engravings could add to our understanding of how reproductive prints spread in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As always, 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.

Midwinter’s Tale from the Primary Source Internship

As we shake off the dregs of last week’s “bomb cyclone”, it seems an appropriate moment to recognize the most recent labors of the Burke’s student workers. By the end of his time processing archival collections in the library this December, Columbia Religion PhD candidate Andrew McLaren had processed a rangy, exceptionally complex number of collections at Burke. At the end of his time in the library this December, Andrew wrote the following reflection of his experiences processing and getting to know some of our library’s distinctive collections.

Warmest thanks to Andrew for his wonderful work these past months. Thanks also belong to Primary Source Internship and the Henry Luce Foundation, whose support facilitate the processing and access of collections like the Donald Shriver and Harrison Sacket Elliott Papers can be effectively processed for use by future researchers.



As a primary source intern at the Burke Library of Union Theological Seminary, I have processed four collections of archival documents. Addressing both conservational and organizational issues, I examined, described, and re-housed thousands of documents, photographs, and other materials.


Drawing on substantial work done by earlier archivists, I updated and completed the processing of three existing collections: the papers of William Walker Rockwell, Henry Boynton Smith, and Harrison Sacket Elliott. Each of these collections documents periods of growth for Union Theological Seminary. Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1877), educated in Europe, was among the Seminary’s most active librarians, pushing considerably for an expansion of its holdings with more rigorous scholarly collections. William Walker Rockwell (1874-1958), a scholar of church history, oversaw another significant expansion of the library, including the housing of the Missionary Research Library collection at UTS. He also aided with the library’s pioneering re-organization into an expansive research collection under the great librarian Julia Pettee in the early 20th century. Harrison Sacket Elliott (1882-1951), a former missionary in China and an active member of the YMCA, pushed the boundaries of theological education into new territory, extensively exploring the relationships among theology, education, and psychology and helping to re-make UTS’s place in religious education in America.


The bulk of my time, however, was devoted to processing the papers of the 13th President of Union Theological Seminary, Professor Donald Woods Shriver, Jr.  (b. 1927). President Shriver is well-remembered for navigating a stretch of financial difficulty for the Seminary. Moreover, his vocal advocacy for the importance of ethical thought and critical remembrance is well-known, culminating in his 2005 book, Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember its Misdeeds, which earned President Shriver the Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 2009.

Moreover, the extensive collection of notes from both his own education (including coursework with R.R. Niebuhr, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Bellah) and the courses he taught as a professor at Union provides a window onto a formative period of theological and religious studies education in America. Internationally engaged, ethically minded, and publicly active, President Shriver’s legacy represents rather aptly the educational values of Union.

Donald Shriver Portrait. UTS2. Faculty Photographs: Pres. Donald W. Shriver.
The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University 

II. Notes on a Process

As a student of early Islamic history, I’ve learned that certain kinds of distance are part of the work: temporal ones (between now and the 10th century), spatial ones (between the Burke Library, and, say, Baghdad), and material ones (between manuscripts and printed editions). I applied to the primary source internship hoping to develop a clearer insight into the relationships between the interpretation of texts and their physical histories. Although the contexts are entirely different, thinking about how the written traces of someone’s life’s work are distilled and distributed neatly into folders and boxes is not unlike the way one must think through the construction of a text.


In my research on early Islamic historiography (i.e., the study of how people understand the past and talk or write about it), I’m often hunting for minute hints of how scholars assembled their texts. This can be extremely difficult for eras in which relatively little textual material survives. In a sense, it’s impossible to check the work of our historians, because their resources have often disappeared (in the hubbub of an ancient library, in a fire, in a worm’s stomach). As one of my professors often opines, he’d use a time machine not to alter the course of history, but to have a bit of conversation with al-Tabari, the great 10th-century historian, and a peek at his personal archive. In the meantime, we have to read very carefully for the “seams” of the text—moments of disagreement, patterns in language usage, or anachronistic references can all prove significant for imagining how the surviving text was assembled.


As an intern working on processing papers, I stood at the opposite end of that process. The papers of Smith or Rockwell are fragments of story, waiting to be sewn together. And since one of archiving’s imperatives is preserving a sense of the papers’ provenance, organizing documents and photographs in a neutral way that keeps context in focus but bows to a logic requires careful thought. A keen observer might already be able to see the rudiments of a story in the way a collection is organized (this is perhaps especially true, given our propensity for thinking about things in chronological sequences). Of course, the second side of the coin is the difficulty of even wrapping one’s head around all the accessioned materials (for instance, President Shriver’s papers arrived in 30-some bankers boxes). Where do you start if you don’t know the beginning of the story?

Ultimately, the archive points toward the power of the organizing narrative. Six dozen document boxes sitting quietly on the shelves can’t tell their own story; 1700 photographic negatives themselves can’t recount the past without a little light shining through them. In this idea, there is perhaps a rather poetic connection to President Shriver’s work on the significance of communal memory, particularly of the shameful past. Because our stories obscure as easily as they reveal, it is the narrator’s task to tell a story that takes account not of who we wish we had been, but who we must be in the future.

I wish to extend my thanks to Matthew Baker, Betty Bolden, Myong Jin, Rebecca Potts, and Deanna Roberts for their generosity in all things. I want especially to thank Rebecca M. Nieto for all her guidance and good cheer in the course of my internship. –AGM


Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation research focuses on a historiographical text about conquests and politics in the first three centuries of Islam, as well as its reception in various geographical and linguistic contexts and understandings of history.

Interview with Betty Bolden

The following is taken from interviews with Betty Bolden by Meredith Levin, the Burke Library’s interim Head from 2016-17. Betty will be retiring in December 2017 and will be greatly missed by her many colleagues and friends!


After nearly 50 years at the Burke Library, Betty Bolden, one of Union Theological Seminary’s most beloved community members, is ready to begin her much-deserved retirement at the end of 2017. I  had the privilege of working with Betty last year in my role as the Interim Head of the Burke and I’m so grateful that I was able to learn from her. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with her one more time and ask about her many experiences in various roles at the Burke. Below are excerpts from our conversation.

What’s the strangest library request you’ve ever received?

Years ago, probably in the 1970s, UTS offered (possibly for the first time) a class on sexuality and there were 2 copies of a book, “The Playbook,” that were placed on reserve for students in the course. This book detailed male and female bodies, positions, and featured a lot of graphic content. Whenever students needed to borrow the book for class, they would often hide it under piles of their other books so nobody could see what they were checking out. This was in the early years when there were battles against pornography and everybody was talking about decency. It was a big deal for this course to cover some of these issues and questions. And both copies of “The Playbook” were stolen before the end of the semester so I guess people were really, really interested in learning more…

It’s been nearly 5 decades since you first walked through the doors of the Burke. How has the library changed?

There are more people than ever in the main reading room. In the last 3 years in particular I’ve noticed that the library is really full again. I think people still like books. I certainly still buy books myself.

We’re coming up on a big anniversary in this neighborhood. Spring 1968 saw sit-ins at Columbia (and at Union), protests over civil rights issues, the Vietnam War, and students vocally opposing academic administration in unprecedented numbers. What do you remember about those events?

I remember that when the Union sit-in began I couldn’t get into work because the building was totally locked down. I had a friend, a 1st year student at the seminary, who let me in and I just wandered the building all day long taking everything in. Later in the afternoon some reporters arrived and began interviewing professors out on Claremont Avenue. Some members of the old guard, like Daniel Day Williams, were very upset by these events because it meant that seminaries were really changing. UTS students were also in close contact with Columbia students. What was happening on the Columbia campus resonated with Union students and vice versa. It was really an exciting time- students everywhere were invested in activism and social justice issues, particularly around the Vietnam War.

How many different Burke Library directors have you worked with (and outlasted)?

8 directors! One who stands out was Father Molloy- he was very nice and taught me a lot. I remember him wearing the fanciest, tailor-made clothes and driving a Mercedes. He was quite a character. He later went on to work at the Smithsonian and I think at SMU.

So, it’s been a while, but how did you get your first job at the Burke?

I had never heard of Union. I was living in Brooklyn at the time looking for jobs and I had gotten an offer for an agency in the South Bronx. My brother told me not to take that job because he said it was too dangerous so I kept looking. I had a friend who worked at General Theological Seminary and when we met for lunch one day her boss who offered to introduce me to the HR person up at Union. I came to Union for my interview and there were two open jobs: 1 in an office and 1 in the library. I decided I would prefer the library job so I took it and I first worked as a circulation assistant. In those days, Burke had a large staff and I remember the big card catalog drawers that could open on both ends so staff members and patrons could access the cards if they needed to. The Missionary Library had its own separate staff of 4-5 people and the Religious Education Library was up on the 5th floor. The Sacred Music Library was also located in the two rooms behind the main reading room on the 3rd floor.

What will you miss most about working at the Burke?

Daily contact with the students and interacting with special collections readers from all over the world.

Do you have a favorite archival collection or rare book

Carter Heyward Papers

Beverly Harrison Papers

The Re-Imagining Community Papers

The Harry Emerson Fosdick Papers and the Near East Relief Committee Records are some of the most heavily used collections, along with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other major theologians.

Some collections I’ve recently become interested in are the East Harlem Protestant Parish Records and the Student Interracial Ministry Records from the 1960s.

What advice would you give the person who takes on this job after you?

This is very physical work- heavy boxes are no joke! But this job enables you to work with so many different people and you’ll learn a lot from folks around the world. Once you start to know the collections better you’ll be able to refer people to other materials and that makes your interactions with readers even more special.

Any big plans for retirement?

I’ll be back at Union in February for the Trailblazers event honoring Professor Delores Williams and the 25th anniversary of the publication of her groundbreaking book, “Sisters in the Wilderness.”

In March 2018, I’m going to South Africa for 3 weeks. It’ll be my 3rd time in S. Africa but my first trip just as a tourist! The first time I went was in 1996 on a Plowshares trip and I went again in 2001 for a UN conference in Durban on homophobia/xenophobia.

Then I’m planning on taking a writing class, learning how to sketch and paint, and I’d like to volunteer in my community in the Bronx with formerly incarcerated people.

If you could go back to 1968 and give newly hired Betty some advice about working at the Burke, what would it be?

I wouldn’t warn her against anything. I was innocent when I started working here and I’m glad I came in with an open mind. I’d say to expect the unexpected and you’ll have fun.

Thank you, Betty, for your wisdom, kindness and mentorship to countless students and researchers who have visited the Burke. We wish you all the best and will miss you!

-Meredith Levin


Burke’s Religious Education Collection

Not much is known about how or why this large collection of college catalogs came to Union Theological Seminary except we did find postcards stuck into a few of them that tells us these were intentionally being sent and collected.  One such postcard included in this small exhibit dated from July 29, 1913, states:


We publish our Catalogue only once in two years. We are using 1912 with a supplemental slip, a copy of which I am sending you.


Alfred Theol[ogical] Sem[inary]

  1. E. [last name illegible]

Ranging in years from approximately 1826 to 1983, this assembled collection is collectively referred to as the Burke Religious Education Collection and consists of school catalogs, registers, announcements, and bulletins mostly from seminaries and each have been cataloged and are findable through the library’s online catalog – CLIO (  

From plain beginnings to robust examples of graphic design, these catalogs offer a lot of information.  From names of students enrolled, to the names of professors teaching, to the courses being taught — numerous lines of inquiry can be drawn from these information-packed booklets.



This small exhibit will be on display on the 1st floor of the Burke Library through till the end of the fall 2017 semester.

All of these catalogs are cataloged and findable through the library’s online catalog (CLIO), to see all of the records just do a series search for “Religious Education Collection.”

Mr. Smith Goes to Berlin: German Learning in the Papers of Henry Boynton Smith

Below is a blog post written by the Burke’s current Primary Source Intern, Andrew McLaren. Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia.Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation research focuses on a historiographical text about conquests and politics in the first three centuries of Islam, as well as its reception in various geographical and linguistic contexts and understandings of history. More broadly, he is interested in the function of the writing of texts in social history, particularly in historiography, theology, and law.

The staff at the Burke is thrilled that Andrew will continue to work with us into the next academic year, and we’re thrilled to make this special collection available for research. You can also read Andrew’s post on the Columbia University Libraries Internship Program blog.


Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1877) was professor and librarian at Union Theological Seminary from 1850 to 1874, joining the faculty at UTS after serving as a Congregationalist minister (1842-1847) and teaching philosophy at Amherst College (1847-1850). Smith is perhaps best remembered for the active role he played in the reunion of the Old and New Schools of the Presbyterian Church, beginning with his election as moderator of the General Assembly of the New School denomination in 1863. He also wielded significant influence in the growth of the study of church history in America.

Photo 1. Steel plate of H.B. Smith by Ritchie.

Before joining the faculty, however, Smith spent a long time in pursuit of education, including three years passed in Paris, Halle, and Berlin studying with several prominent theologians, philosophers, and Orientalists. Smith’s time there appears to have been incredibly productive. In a letter (dated April 30, 1839) to his parents, Smith describes a class schedule to make even the hardiest student blush:

My lectures are 8-9, Logic, with Gabler, five times a week ; 9-10, Jewish History, Hengstenberg, five times; 10-11, Job, Hengstenberg, five times ; 11-12, Neander, Acts, six times ; 12-1, History of Christian Doctrines, Neander, three times a week ; 4-5, Criticism of Hegelian Philosophy with Trendelenburg, four times; a lecture on John, twice a week; Homiletics, once; History of German Philosophy, twice a week; Twesten, Introduction to Christian Morals, once a week, and one or two others; one in Goethe and Schiller, twice a week. So you see my time is likely to be full


Photo 2. “So you see my time is likely to be full…” H.B. Smith’s class list. Spring 1839.

European philosophy in the lifetime of Henry Boynton Smith is usually thought of as sliding into stagnation, its energy sapped by the rise of the natural sciences. But as Frederick Beiser argued in a recent book, that narrative is largely incorrect; rather, the time between 1840 and 1900 actually saw a flourishing among philosophers desperately grappling with a confounded sense of purpose: what role should philosophy play in modern intellectual projects, like the natural sciences?

In this flourishing landscape, Beiser argues, many different stories can and should be told. One story has been recently related by Annette Aubert in her work on the influence of German theologians on their American counterparts, where she argues that H.B. Smith and other students who studied in Europe played a key role in the interpreting those ideas and translating them to America.




As the documents in H.B. Smith’s papers show, the thoroughfares and the byways of his career crisscrossed through the verdant intellectual landscape sketched by Beiser and Aubert. For instance, one of Beiser’s main characters, Adolf Trendelenburg (1802-1872), is one of the teachers mentioned in Smith’s course list, and Smith left behind a notebook full of detailed notes on Trendelenburg’s lecture course entitled Kritik des Hegelischen Systems (“Criticism of the Hegelian System”).

Photo 3. “Criticism of the Hegelian System, according to his [i.e., Hegel’s] Encyclopaedie. A. Trendelenburg.”

Among the papers are also several notebooks from classes with Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), a theology professor at the University of Halle and prolific author and preacher. With him, Smith studied Christian ethics, dogmatic theology, the Pauline letters (about which Tholuck wrote a famous commentary), and theological literature more generally. Smith maintained a lifelong relationship with many of his teachers, including Tholuck—12 letters from him are found among Smith’s correspondence.

Photo 4. Spine and page from notebook for Tholuck’s Christliche Sittenlehre (“Christian Morals”). The opening lines read, “Introduction. §1. Concept of the Moral.”

Of further interest are the notes of Smith’s own students at Union in the 1850s and 1860s, which were used in the posthumous publication of three volumes of Smith’s lectures in systematic theology. Even a quick perusal of the pages reveals that Hegel and other German thinkers are not absent from Smith’s work, but their appearance here alongside a broader swathe of philosophers (including English and French thinkers, from David Hume to Auguste Comte) reveals both Smith’s own erudition and the space of interaction into which he carried his German education. All of these intellectual currents are addressed within the broad gaze of Smith’s theology.



Photo 5. Page from Systematic Theology notebook, giving Hegel’s definition of spirit.

The history of philosophy in the late 19th century took many roads, some less-travelled than others. The papers and publications of Henry Boynton Smith show how one of those roads, travelled by a precocious young man from Maine, passed directly through Union, marked by a collection of signposts and waypoints in the Burke archives.





Further reading

A.G. Aubert: “Henry Boynton Smith and Church History in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History 85, no. 2 (2016), 302-327.

A.G. Aubert, The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

  1. Beiser,After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  2. Smith,Henry Boynton Smith: his Life and Work. New York: Armstrong and Son, 1881.

Behind the Stacks: You had me at “charts”

Since my last “Behind the Stacks” entry on R. C. Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart, I have been noticing more charts, awkward formats, and too-large items within our special collections. As a redux of that post, here featured is another circular chart of history and yet another exhaustive production from Shimeall. Enjoy the images!

Cover — James M. Ludlow. Ludlow’s concentric chart of history. New York : Funk & Wagnalls, [c1885]. (Union Rare HH95 L94)

Spread of leaves charting B.C. history and “Modern Quarter Centuries” — Ludlow’s concentric chart of history.

Spread of leaves charting A.D. history; chart is approximately 23 cm in diameter — Ludlow’s concentric chart of history.

Title vignette of chart “exhibiting in one view the… Posterity of every Person mentioned in Scripture” — R. C. Shimeall. A complete historical chronological geographical & genealogical chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ. Philadelphia : Published by H.S. Tanner, 1832. (Union Rare CU S55)

 “Explanation of characters” and “Directions for the proper method of reading this map” — A complete… chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ.

Full view; chart is approximately 50 x 61 inches — A complete… chart of the sacred Scriptures from Adam to Christ.

To learn more about viewing special collections material at the Burke Library, please visit our website at Burke Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Exotic Travel, Biblical Geography and Tragedy in 1904: The Lewis Bayles Paton Papers

Among the many collections of personal papers held at The Burke, there is a small cache of materials belonging to Biblical geographer Lewis Bayles Paton and his first wife, Suvia Davison Paton. The Patons traveled throughout the Middle East in the early 20th century and Lewis led the American School for Oriental Study and Research in Palestine (based in Jerusalem) from 1903-1904. I was particularly interested in the documents written by Suvia Davison Paton, as they are mostly personal correspondence and diaries from her travels in Europe and the Middle East. Such travel accounts are invaluable in helping historians reconstruct Americans’ experiences abroad over 100 years ago but they are also poignant since they record how places change over time and how they remain the same despite the passage of many decades. Below are some anecdotes from the letters and diaries of Lewis and Suvia that really resonated with me. They offer a window into the lives of intrepid theologians and travelers in the early 20th century.

Lewis Bayles Paton in the early 1930s

Suvia’s description of a June 1890 visit to the Blue Grotto at Italy’s island of Capri is remarkably similar to the experience of a 21st century traveler on the island. Suvia and her husband visited Capri from Naples, traveling by ferry the 26 miles from the mainland to the island. “We were taken to the blue grotto first & left the steamer in row boats to enter the grotto as it is only 3 ft. high at the entrance. Everyone was obliged to get down in the bottom of the boat as we passed through the grotto but the grotto is 40 or 50 ft. high in the centre. A dozen boats were in it at the same time as all the passengers entered the cave & only 3 are allowed in one boat beside the boatman.”

Some years later, in the early 20th century, while they visited Venice, Italy, Lewis and Suvia attended Sunday morning mass at the Scotch Presbyterian church and she describes a quaint, intimate service: “About 40 people were present. The Scotch minister and his wife are earnest people & very pleasant. Afterwards there was a communion service to which we were all invited. 25 remained. The minister passed the one silver goblet of wine & a small plate of bread. It was a simple but impressive service which we all enjoyed. It reminded us of the gathering of the disciples in an upper chamber.”

When Lewis and Suvia journeyed to the Middle East in June 1903 so Lewis could continue his studies and lead the American School for Oriental Study and Research in Palestine, they landed first in Beirut. Geopolitics have changed significantly since the Patons’ arrival, as both Lewis and Suvia describe Beirut as being a city in Syria. Lebanon didn’t even exist as an independent nation! The Patons spent time in Damascus, Beirut, Smyrna, Palestine, and Egypt, visiting ancient sites like Jericho, the Sea of Galilee, and the Cedars of Lebanon.

A letter from Lewis to his mother-in-law from Cairo in January 1904. Their hotel boasted electricity and an elevator!

A flower collected and pressed by Suvia in Haifa in February 1904.

According to Lewis’ Report of the Director, 1903-04, written for the Managing Committee of the American School of Archaeology in Palestine (which included representatives from both Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University), his own studies were “devoted chiefly to the topography of ancient Jerusalem. I investigated all the archaeological remains that were accessible, and obtained a large collection of excellent photographs. …At the request of the Trustees of Hartford Theological Seminary [where Paton taught] I took advantage of my residence in Jerusalem and my trips to other parts of the country to make a quite complete collection of objects illustrating the life of the Bedawins and of the Fellahin. This collection is now on exhibition in the Museum of Hartford Theological Seminary, where it is open to the inspection of the public.” One wonders where these artifacts are today!

Lewis and Suvia led a very full life during their time in Jerusalem, participating in archaeological excavations and socializing with other scholars and diplomats residing in the region in this period. Tragedy struck in March 1904 when Suvia fell off the horse she was riding near Amman, Jordan and died shortly after, never regaining consciousness. Lewis touchingly records the incident in his report to the Managing Committee:

“Late in the spring, just before the end of the School year, we planned a tour in company of Dr. Masterman of Jerusalem, to make a more thorough study of ‘Araq el-Amir, then to visit Amman, Jerash, Pella, the Decapolis, and to return by way of Beisan and Nablus. We had gone as far as Amman, and were just starting on the road to Jerash. It was a cool, cloudy morning, and we were riding slowly over a level, grassy spot, when suddenly, without any warning, and without uttering a cry, Mrs. Paton fell from her horse. Her head struck on a sharp stone, and she never regained consciousness. We were able to move her to the Amman station on the new pilgrimage railway from Damascus to Mecca, and to take her in a train to Damascus. She died on the train within two hours of Damascus, and I was obliged to bury her body in Damascus. She was the constant companion of my travels, and whatever success may have attended the work of the School during the past winter is due to her enthusiasm and brave willingness to put up with the inconveniences of life in Palestine.”

It must have been so shocking and so awful for everyone involved, particularly Lewis, to have lost his beloved young wife suddenly and unexpectedly. Their young daughter had already gone back to the United States several months earlier but one feels, even more than a century later, so much sympathy for the family at such a devastating loss. The Paton collection at The Burke includes several carefully snipped and pasted obituaries and newspaper articles documenting Suvia’s death.

Lewis Bayles Paton went on to marry two more times before his death in 1932 and he enjoyed a successful career teaching and writing on diverse theological subjects. Anyone interested in Biblical geography, Western perceptions of the Middle East in the early 20th century, or personal travel accounts from a pair of adventurous Americans, should look to the Paton papers for illumination.