Monthly Archives: June 2015

First Day at Burke

I come to Columbia University Libraries this summer as a Career Enhancement Program Fellow. The program, administered by the Association of Research Libraries, offers library students from backgrounds underrepresented in the profession the opportunity to work and be mentored in a member library. This internship, coming as it does toward the end of my graduate studies at Simmons College, has already proved to be an invaluable experience.

My internship began three and a half weeks ago in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). While I was there, I worked with curators Karla Nielsen and Thai Jones on an analysis of the RBML’s collecting practices over the past five years. Gathering information from the RBML’s acquisitions and accessions databases, as well as its staff, I reported on any number of aspects of collections development at RBML, including the number of collections that were gifts or purchases, the formats present within those collections, and the collecting areas to which they contribute. The project gave me the chance to explore many of the RBML’s functions, as well as the digital and analog resources that document them.

Now I begin at the Burke Library, where for the next three and a half weeks I will assist Brigette Kamsler in processing the archives of the Union Theological Seminary. This project combines my interests in the archives of institutions of higher learning and in historical religious culture. The latter subject preoccupied me in my former career as a scholar of the nineteenth-century antislavery movement, which drew on evangelical organizations for support–financial, strategic, spiritual, or otherwise. I look forward to taking collections through the process of organization and description, and in such beautiful surroundings and with such agreeable colleagues!

A Hallway of Boxes: First Day with the Shinn Papers

Earlier today I was introduced to this hallway of boxes, the contents of which will occupy me for the next several months. ShinnBoxes Everything inside of them once belonged to the Rev. Dr. Roger Shinn, alumnus and professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary. It will be my task to process Shinn’s papers, sorting and cataloging and eventually reorganizing them into different boxes so that they can be easily accessed in the Burke archives.

As I process these materials I will be learning on the job. I am a doctoral student in Hebrew Bible, not an archivist. My first experience with archival materials was this past semester, when I was one of several student curators for a rotating display called #LoveInAction highlighting the legacy of student activism at Union. I worked with two different student-driven initiatives from the 1960’s, the Student Interracial Ministry and the Free University. Thanks to several dissertations and books written about the period, I entered the project with a good basic understanding of the events and characters involved in both. Working with the archives, however, allowed me a different kind of access. I read student publications, seeing not only the articles related to my project but also skimming headlines that gave me a broader sense of the campus environment of the time. I saw drafts of press releases with handwritten corrections or notes and letters between people that were sometimes formal, and other times blunt or humorous.

It was while I was sifting through these materials that I first encountered Roger Shinn’s name. As a member of the faculty at Union, he had written an article in support of the Student Interracial Ministry. It was a compelling article, explaining to those outside of the endeavor what it was and why he considered it such a vital contribution to the theological and moral demands of the times. His voice came across as a powerful advocate of student activism, who understood how entwined his students’ passions were with their theological education at Union. I remember thinking at the time that he sounded like the kind of professor I would hope to be one day.

Now I have all of these boxes filled with his papers, and I look forward to getting to know him better as I work through them in the coming months. The vague labels on the boxes are intriguing – “Theater,” “WWII Papers,” “Genome,” “UCC Conferences,” “Tillich, Niebuhr ‘thought of.’” In the coming months, I will not only know what these boxes contain, but will get to be a part of the process of making their contents accessible to others. At the moment, I have little sense of how this hallway of boxes becomes part of the archives.

What is Past is Prologue: Luce Project Update

“Just as personal identity is anchored in a strong historical sense, so is our professional identity – both come from the ability to experience…continuity. Surely if you have nothing to look backward to, and with pride, you have nothing to look forward to with hope.” Barbara L. Craig, 1992[i]

I have hung up my hat on missionary and ecumenical materials, and have transitioned into processing the papers of the faculty and students from the Union Theological Seminary Archives. Some of the tasks are exactly the same: putting into order the archival material and describing it in a finding aid. Many of the people whose papers I’ve been working on were involved in the same organizations and causes as the missionaries and ecumenists. Some things are very different – I am not a theologian, so while I’ve heard all about Charles Briggs over the years, it wasn’t until this current project that I’ve actually been able to “dig in” to these people and events.


Me presenting at the Columbia University Libraries Staff Forum, March 2015

This project is another three year project, funded largely by the Henry Luce Foundation. Over three years I will be in charge of making available approximately 141 collections – that’s 1,135 linear feet of papers. This is compared to my last project of over 180 collections totaling nearly 800 linear feet. How can we process over 300 linear feet more than we did the last time, but over the same time frame?

One reason is because these UTS collections are in different (meaning, better) shape than the MRL and WAB collections had been. We have a better idea of what is in the collections, and there is not a huge mountain of unprocessed/disorganized material like with the last grant. There is also less of a learning curve as I have established practices in place and I have been able to “hit the ground running” on this one.

Let’s take a look at what I have been doing, shall we?

You’ve gotten a glimpse into some of the materials processed thanks to my interns this semester – Margaret, Kate and David. A few of the collections I’ve worked on include those of Charles Augustus Briggs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Sloan Coffin, Robert T. Handy, Charles Cuthbert Hall, and the East Harlem Protestant Parish Records.

Currently in process include the Student Interracial Ministry Records and the commentary on Song of Songs, which was created by Charles Briggs’ children Emilie Grace Briggs and Alanson Tuthill Briggs (although this work was never completed or published).

So far, my team and I have processed over 185 linear feet in 25 collections.

I’ve been enjoying the discovery of funny or interesting things in collections, including this whale picture from the Wilbert White Papers when answering a reference inquiry:


Whale of a Tale!

this letter from the desk of Martin Luther King Jr. (in SIM):


From the Student Interracial Ministry Records

and this age-old question:


Are we?


Picture from November 2014 when I attended Digital Archives Specialist courses at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

Apart from processing and making collections available, I’ve continued with my other duties of social media, committee work and task forces, presenting at and attending conferences and meetings, supervising students, appraising and accessioning material, EAD, MARC, being active in professional organizations, continuing education, presenting to the Columbia University community on my last successful project, and assessing the usage of collections, just to name a few.

I also continue to evaluate the work of my last grant, answering questions related to MRL and WAB, and see the impact the project has had on research, teaching and learning. As Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue.”

I am thrilled to be working on such an interesting and important set of archival collections, while still advocating for and making available the materials in my last project. We will see what other surprising and interesting things come to light as processing continues, so stay tuned.

[i] Barbara L. Craig, “Outward Visions, Inward Glance: Archives History and Professional Identity,” Archival Issues 17 (1992), page 121.

Codicology: Part 4

In the Spring of 2015 Union Theological Seminary students from CH108: The History of Christianity Part 2: Introduction to Western European Church History (c.1000-c.2000) viewed manuscripts and early printed books from the rare books collections at Burke Library. Over the course of the semester they chose manuscripts or early printed books to study and wrote codicological descriptions. Excerpts from their work are recorded below – along with the opportunity to read their research in full.

Dr. Jane Huber and Russ Gasdia, Teaching Fellow

**Please note: For footnote citations and bibliography, see paper in full at the above author link.  


John Rogers — UTS Ms. Cop. 1 [and Arabic]
Psalter, n.d.; Coptic Manuscripts collection; UTS Ms. Cop. 1, Burke Manuscripts.

Click for PDF of complete paper

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The Psalter, found within the “Coptic Manuscripts Collection” of the Burke Library, could also be labeled “A Liturgical Handbook.” Coptic Psalters are traditionally a collection of one hundred and fifty-one psalms. An additional psalm is contained in the Coptic tradition written specific for David when he combated Golaith (Kamel 205). The existing information regarding this specific book is sparse. Filed under the call number “Coptic 1 (and Arabic),” the worn, brown leather binding of the Coptic Liturgical Handbook is as nondescript as present codicological information. The cover of the manuscript measures 6.5” x 4.25”. The hand-laid paper on the inside spans 6.25” x 4.25” with a depth of 1.75”.3 Exposed end-bands hold the manuscript. The blue spring found within the end-bands appears intentionally visible.4 To conclude this description of the external physical features of the Psalter, a hole on the back cover should be noted. An examination of other bound Coptic Manuscripts supports the assumption that the hole once functioned to tie the book to a table (Kamel 7).

Russ blog post_rogers image 2

The process of translating the Psalter led to less knowledge about the documents content, but indicated further clues regarding the Psalter’s origins. With my A Simplified Coptic

Dictionary (Sahidic Dialect) in hand, I attempted to decode the title page (figure one). Two unfamiliar letters, however, halted this process. By combing other resources I found these letters, an alpha and gamma, in the Bohairic dialect. Bohairic Coptic is known as the Memphitic dialect.

These letters do not appear in the same form in the Sahidic dialect and thus this finding altered my method. Upon further investigation, I found out that Bohairic Coptic had replaced the

Sahidic dialect as the official liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church since the 11th century (Budge xiv). The world around the text began to expand. The realization that the Psalter is written in Bohairic Coptic inspired further inquiry regarding the manuscript’s origin. Since the Memphitic dialect derives from the western Nile Delta, I posit this region could be the document’s source. Furthermore, there are a number of watermarks sprinkled throughout the pages. The damp conditions of the western Nile Delta have hindered the preservation of the area’s earlier texts, but later documents—like this one —survive (Kamel 5). Finally, while interest Sahidic Coptic has increased due to the discovery of early Gnostic Christian texts Nag Hammadi, the Bohairic dialect proves more valuable for later texts.

Russ blog post_rogers image 3

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Gregory Simpson – Latin to German Dictionary
Lateinisch deutsches Wörterbuch de 1463, manuscript, 1463; UTS Ms.24 Burke Manuscripts.

Click for PDF of complete paper

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With call number UTS MS 024, this manuscript forms part of the Leander Van Ess (1772-1847) collection in the Burke Library of Union Theological Seminary (UTS). The manuscript acquired two years after the founding of UTS in 1836, is a 249 page Latin to German Dictionary, with its origin of writing dating back to 1463 in Germany. Although no reference is made about the original owners specifically, Gatch reports that in 1500 the manuscript was owned by Sebaldus von Plaben of Nürnberg (Gatch 158-9). It follows the manuscript tradition of German texts of the Middle Ages, demonstrating particularly unique features both in binding and text writing style (Ricci 1643). This codicological description will seek to uncover some of these unique features, in addition to gaining some understanding of the region, reasons and purpose for the writing of this manuscript.

This hand written manuscript written in Cursiva script, and lacking imagery and color inside the book, strongly suggests that this dictionary was used in a scholarly way. It was not meant for a general readership, but for those engaged in research. The region from which the owner Sebaldus von Plaben of Nürnberg, was known to be a conservatively and free Lutheran city, where authorities allowed evangelical preaching in 1521 (MacCulloch 616, 630). Depending on the depth of the preaching, it can be imagined that exegesis of biblical text may have required research and translation from Latin to German. The Free City of Nürnberg would have been fertile ground on which to expand and expound ideas of Lutheranism through preaching in German. This was a time of reformation in Europe, where writing and knowledge of scripture fueled Protestant ambitions (Ozment 257, 463). Outside of the fascinating history of the late 15th and early 16th century, the other point of interest for this author was in the technology used to produce the manuscript. Particularly the use of cords in the binding of the paper and the use of parchment waste to strengthen the manuscript. The thought of further study on where the waste came from and what books were they first published in, if any, posed interesting thoughts for pondering. The necessity for clasps and hinges also was of interest, and it is hoped that further research would lead to better understanding of the reasons for these types of ornaments during this time.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Jason Storbakken – Martyr’s Mirror
Het Bloedig tooneel, of, Martelaers spiegel der doops-gesinde of weereloose Christenen, die om’t getuygenis van Jesus haren salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn can Christi tijd af tot desen tijd doe : Versamelt uyt verscheyde geloofweerdige chronijken, memorien, en getuygenissen,
Thieleman J. van Braeght, 1685; Burke Union Rare Folio.

Click for PDF of complete paper

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The Martyr’s Mirror was first published in Dutch in 1660 and documents the testimonies of Christian martyrs. The second edition appeared in 1685 and includes additional content as well as engravings not included in the first edition. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York contains a copy of this magisterial 1685 edition of the Martyr’s Mirror, and it is this text to which I will provide a codicological description. The full title of the book is The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Savior, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660. Second only to the Bible, the Martyr’s Mirror is held in utmost prominence among Anabaptists, especially Amish and Old Order Mennonite. The term “Defenseless” is in reference to the pacifist convictions of the Anabaptist martyrs.

The 1685 edition was published after van Braght’s death by a group of Anabaptist investors. This edition included 104 superbly crafted copper etchings by the renowned Mennonite artist Jan Luyken. There are 49 etchings in Part 1 and 55 in Part 2. Each of the etchings captured the climactic moment in a particular martyr story. According to Roth, “The Luyken etchings were not only a stroke of marketing genius, making the 1685 much more popular than the earlier version, but they also transformed the way later generations would encounter the volume” (Roth). Luyken’s powerful images provided a simple way to understand and interpret the massive and complex martyr stories, making the text much more user-friendly, although these images perhaps simplified the depth and nuance of many of the stories.

Link to catalog record in CLIO



Hannah Tasker — On the Freedom of a Christian
Von der freyheyt eynes Christen menschen, Martin Luther, 1520; Burke Union Rare.

Click for PDF of complete paper

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These Luther pamphlets are two copies of the same treatise titled “Von der Freyheyt eynis Christen menschen” which translates to “On the Freedom of a Christian”. Both pamphlets were printed in Wittenberg, but by the different printers, which was very uncommon. In November of the year 1520 is regarded as an important year for the Reformation where Martin Luther created many pamphlets that opposed the abuse of the papacy. Each pamphlet contains leaves measuring 20.5 centimeters tall and 15.5 centimeters wide. These pamphlets were printed on paper with small black text and paragraph markers at the beginning of each paragraph. For the Luther, Christian freedom of faith from the papacy is essential to the life of a Christian. Addressed to Pope Leo X, Luther points out the abuse of power surrounding the Roman Curia and articulates his Reformation concept of justification by faith. This meant the freedom of a Christian was not dependent upon good works and the practice of the sacraments but on faith and the grace of God alone. Luther believed this liberating idea outweighed Pope Leo X’s papal authority. For Luther, the inner spirituality of a person is saved by faith alone and those who are saved by faith therefore engage in good Christian works. These works help the neighbor and discipline the soul.

The early years of the Reformation, the supply of pamphlets needed to reach a large audience with its message, therefore there was a major turn to the vernacular (Edwards 21). Only a small portion of the German population could read and an even smaller portion could read Latin. This drastic turn to print in the German language made the pamphlets more available to the small population that was literate. The pamphlets themselves were resolutely addressed to the laity hence the switch to the vernacular (Edwards 81). Due to the popularity of Luther’s pamphlets there was massive printing and reprinting of his works. This meant that because of the amount of pamphlets being printed it actually saved money to print from one’s actual town rather than to send for the products that were being produced in a much larger printing town. This may explain why there were two of the same pamphlets printed in the same place in the same year by different printers. Luther’s popularity was growing and the demand for his writings was so great that two printers were used. Also since Wittenberg wasn’t a big printing area like Augsburg or Leipzig, it was necessary for two printers to print the work. Since Luther brought Melchior Lotter to Wittenberg to print his works, there was an obvious necessity demand for another printer.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Heidi Thorsen — Necrology
Necrology, ca. 1400; UTS Ms. 60, Burke Manuscripts.

Click for PDF of complete paper

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This necrology originates from an unnamed Benedictine convent in the diocese of Halberstadt, near Hadmersleben. The convent was affiliated with a double cloister located in nearby Huysburg. Double cloisters, or double monasteries as they are also called, attempted to create a symbiotic relationship between communities of monks and communities of nuns. Women in particular had to rely on ordained men for practical and spiritual needs, from representation in public and financial matters to celebration of the mass and administration of other sacraments (Griffiths 5).Two other necrologies of Hadmersleben are known (Digital Scriptorium). This paper seeks to describe the book that contains the necrology, speculate on its uses, and rediscover the identity of an unnamed community of women who created and stewarded this book for centuries.

The necrology dates from the 15th century with entries up to 1710. It does not stand alone, but is bound together with a martyrology (1v-52) and the Rule of St. Benedict (53v-68)—I will refer to these documents as Part 1 of the manuscript and the necrology as Part 2, which will be the main focus of this paper. However, there are some interesting things to note first about the documents with which the necrology now shares its present binding. Both documents in Part 1 are printed, in contrast to the various styles of handwriting we will find in Part 2. The Digital Scriptorium notes that the martyrology is a defective document, missing its first two leaves (Digital Scriptorium). The entire book is heavily worn, with ruffled or torn pages, stains, and various annotations. However, the edges of the pages on the Rule of St. Benedict are noticeably more ruffled, possibly indicating that this section was referred to most often by the monastic community. There are numerous examples where the book has been repaired with scraps from a missal printed in red and black. The expense of other text for the preservation of these pages suggests that all the documents in this book, not just the Rule, were of paramount importance among other texts in the convent library.

Link to catalog record in CLIO