It has been over a month since I began making the trip to the Burke Library Archives at Union Theological Seminary twice a week for my archival internship. Under the guidance of Brigette Kamsler I have learned an immense amount about the art of archiving. My fears from the first day (see 1st Day – New Internship) have been assuaged and allayed. Surrounded by acid free boxes both full and empty, surprises and variety abound.
Most people seem to think the work an archivist does is stuffy and boring – let’s face it – most people have no clue what an archivist does! And I probably did not have much of one either prior to starting at Burke either. Over the course of the past six weeks I have begun to learn and really appreciate the tasks of an archivist: accessing, processing and organizing documents and ephemera into cohesive usable research aids; creating documentation of a collection’s organization and order; providing access to research materials (frequently primary sources) to library patrons through finding aids. Often, a collection is donated by an individual and the precise order in which the collection was donated is in fact part of the archival nature of the materials. Other times the material in a collection may have been amassed over a longer period of time by more than one individual or institution and so the archivist gets to embark on the task of creating order and imposing an organization schema on the materials.
During my time at Burke I have had the opportunity to work on a sizeable collection – the Kagawa Toyohiko Papers. Kagawa was an early 20th century Japanese Evangelical preacher who traveled to the United States on speaking tours four times between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The collection has undergone numerous rounds of processing and continues to grow as new materials are donated and further materials keep popping up in the Missionary Research Library collection. The most recent additions included correspondence with an American preacher Stanley Armstrong Hunter which were donated by a descendant of Mr. Hunter as well as extensive correspondences regarding Kagawa’s 1954 tour of the United States. The latter set of materials was unearthed in the unprocessed papers of the Missionary Research Library.
While the nature of the material may seem dry or bizarre to many, the fact there was a world famous Japanese Evangelical preacher whose American National Committee headquarters were in Brooklyn, NY has been one of my most exciting factoids for the summer of 2013. Part of the job of an archivist is, as I mentioned earlier, to draft a collection finding aid. This finding aid lists not only what is in the collection box by box and folder by folder but provides background material on the subject matter, individual or organization the collection focuses on. Reading about Kagawa I found myself going down a highly enjoyable rabbit hole – I have read numerous slightly varied accounts of his childhood, his adolescence, his introduction to Christianity, his early years preaching in the slums of Japan. I have also been able to ever so slightly glean an idea of Kagawa’s changing beliefs and doctrine. The man lived in heady times not only in Japanese history but world history – he witnessed both World War’s, Japanese colonialism and the rise of Communism. His particular brand of Christianity took much of these events going on in the world into account. I have also found collections relating to Kagawa in other archives around the world. There is an archive and research center dedicated to the man in Tokyo, Japan. There are other small collections of papers of his followers in places like the archives at Southern Illinois University. For an individual who has always been curious about just about anything you put in front of her, the opportunity to chase down information and learn about an obscure former nominee for a Nobel Prize in Literature has been fascinating and dare I say exciting.
Another project the interns working under Brigette Kamsler have been working on this summer is the extensive Missionary Research Library project. We are all taking bits and pieces of this large seemingly unwieldy collection of papers and beginning to create order and sense out of it. Brigette runs an incredibly well oiled machine with interns working collectively and individually on the massive MRL collection. Currently I am separating MRL administrative papers from the larger collection of archival materials and housing these in archival acid free boxes. While perhaps not the most exciting sounding task, I know my efforts are part of a larger project and I enjoy my work knowing it is part of a larger effort. Once the Missionary Research Library papers are completely available to the public, I will know I had a small part to play in that project.