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.

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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:

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Whale of a Tale!

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

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From the Student Interracial Ministry Records

and this age-old question:

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Are we?

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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.

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