An Educational Experience at Burke

It has been two months since I started my internship at the Burke Library. My fears that I described in my previous blog post were quelled my first week under the supervision of Brigette. My nerves in the beginning of the internship were, as one could say, on edge, but I quickly learned that my experience with Brigette at the Burke Library would be an overwhelmingly positive one. I have not knocked over shelving units containing priceless materials, nor have I gotten lost on the expansive subway system of New York City. I have missed my morning train, much to my dismay, only to realize that there will always be another train pulling into station to take me to my destination. My time interning at the Burke Library has not only given me practical experience in the field of archiving, but has also helped my push past self-constructed comfort zones. A year ago, I would have never imagine that I would I would be traveling into the city, taking the subway and coming into a program that would allow me to learn about, touch and make accessible, previously unstudied pieces of history. I feel that this internship position has enlightened me to the importance of the archiving profession, as well as the importance of serving the public and making the historic collections accessible for consumption.

My experience at the Burke Library has allowed me to work in the field of history in ways I had never realized were possible. By processing collections of personal papers, I have had the ability to take a trip back in time to glimpse into the daily lives of individuals long since passed. Throughout my internship, I have processed two collections, the William Carey Letter and the Choi Papers. These two collections offered me the chance to study the lives of two individuals who devoted their lives to religious study and missionary work. The first collection that I processed was the papers of Byung Hun Choi (1858-1927), considered by many to be Korea’s first theologian. Choi’s collection was difficult to process due to the language differences. Choi wrote his personal manuscripts in a form of writing that the aristocracy used. This writing took Mandarin Chinese and modified the characters for the spoken Korean language. Other materials in the collection allowed me to learn that Choi was not originally interested in converting to Christianity, but was only assisting missionary George Heber Jones in learning Korean. His theological discussions with Jones and fellow missionary Henry G. Appenzeller led Choi to convert to Christianity. Choi became one of Korea’s first Methodist Ministers and important theological thinkers of his time. In his theological writings, Choi tried to introduce Confucian culture to Christianity and vice versa. The Burke Library has the only copies of Choi’s originally manuscripts, which were destroyed in the 1950’s. This collection will soon be available to researchers.

The second collection that I had the opportunity to process was a single letter written by William Carey (1761-1834), a Baptist minister considered to be the “father of modern missions.” Carey came from humble beginnings in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire, England. In young adulthood he worked as a cobbler, and his preaching was deemed so bad that his local churches would not ordain him as a minister. In time he prevailed and convinced fellow ministers of the importance of missionary work across the globe. Carey moved with his wife and children to India to begin a missionary settlement. After a year in India, Carey ran out of money due to the mismanagement of funds by his partner, and survived by the missionaries hunting their own food and trying to cultivate land in the Sundarbans, a tiger-and crocodile-infested area on the Bay of Bengal, southeast of Calcutta.  After spending seven years in India most of the plagued with hardship, as Carey lost both his first wife and his five year old son, Carey finally converted one individual. The letter in the collection, written in 1800 entitled “My Dear Bro” highlights Carey’s excitement at the prospect of converting his first person native to India. The letter also exemplifies the loneliness felt by Carey and his family, as Carey expresses deep gratitude for the letter he is responding to. Carey, and his fellow missionaries, went on to create hundreds of schools and convert 1,400 people. By examining the two hundred and thirteen year old hand written letter, I felt I was given permission to glance back in time, to the daily life of an individual who went through many hardships, but never gave up his desire to help the population of a foreign country. The finding aid for this collection is available here.

My internship at the Burke Library has been an amazing experience. I feel that I have received a fantastic education from Brigette about the profession of archiving. I have had the ability to learn about individuals from the past that I would have never heard about or had the opportunity to research in such detail. I have also had the ability to try to organize unprocessed materials, taking the disorganized materials out of old folders and returning them to acid free holdings. Although this may seem like a mundane task, the materials that I have come across are incredibly interesting and diverse in subject. Each new box opened has another surprise within its contents. I have found every aspect of this internship interesting and educational, and I am very happy to have played a small role in processing materials for the Missionary Research Library Collection.

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