Monthly Archives: April 2017

Missionary Research Library Pamphlets: 3,000+ Now Available Online!

Global in scope and including materials from as far back as the 18th century, the Missionary Research Library (MRL), housed at the Burke Library, chronicles world history and the efforts of Protestant missionaries both in the United States and abroad. The MRL contains over 20,000 pamphlets (among other items) and now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Columbia’s Libraries Preservation and Digital Conversion staff, more than 3,000 have been fully digitized and are freely accessible online!

An outcome of the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, 1910, the MRL was founded in 1914 by John R. Mott (with funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) in connection with the Foreign Missions Conference of North America. In 1929, the MRL was housed in the Brown Memorial Tower of Union Theological Seminary, its Board of Trustees composed of FMCNA (later DOM-NCCCUSA) and UTS members. In 1976, its unique collections, the documentary heritage of Ecumenical Protestantism, were transferred into the care of the Burke Library.

The MRL Archives contains collections of named missionaries’ papers and institutional records within 12 geographic divisions:

Series 1. Africa
Series 2. Near/Middle East
Series 3. South Asia
Series 4. Southeast Asia
Series 5. East Asia
Series 6. China
Series 7. Japan
Series 8. Korea
Series 9. Latin America
Series 10. North America
Series 11. Australia and Oceania
Series 12. Ecumenical/World Mission

The digitization work will continue this year as we look forward to sharing even more pamphlets from the MRL collection with the world. For anyone interested in MRL, please see the finding aids for the 12 archival series and Columbia’s catalog, CLIO, for individual pamphlets within the collection.

Ethiopian Holdings at the Burke

The Thompson Collection — 77 printed works as well as 9 manuscripts acquired in 1923 as a gift from philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson — comprises a small but important section of the Burke Library’s special collections, containing several of its most celebrated printed Bibles. These include the 1611 King James Version, the 1661 Algonguian Bible (sometimes called the “Eliot Indian Bible”), and the Hebrew and Greek testaments owned and annotated by poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Mary Clark Thompson (1835-1923), from the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park

The Thompson Collection includes a copy of the first book printed in the Ethiopic: the Psalterium Aethiopicum(The work is also known as the Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea, reflecting the erroneous belief on the part of its sponsor and publisher that Ge’ez — ancient Ethiopic, now used primarily as a liturgical language — was related to the near eastern language Chaldean.) In order to print the work, the Ge’ez type had to be designed and cut, an important moment in the history of printing technology. King’s College London has digitized their copy of this work as an online exhibit well worth further exploration.

Psalm 1 in the Burke Library’s copy of the Psalterium Aethiopicum (Thompson CB46 .4 1513)

The Burke Library also holds 5 Ethiopic manuscripts, dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Ethiopic Manuscript 5 was partially digitized, showing here both an illumination of Christ as the Lamb of God as well as its maḫdär, a leather satchel used for transport.

A passage from the 2005 Columbia University Libraries exhibition of which it was a part provides further some context:

This collection of Ethiopian magical prayers includes those that can be used against demons for each day of the week, and prayers for overcoming enemies. It also includes “images,” an “image” being a hymn in honor of a saint in which the different members of his or her body are addressed in successive stages. The book is bound in wooden boards covered in reddish tooled leather in which crosses have been worked. The leather carrying case was used to facilitate easy and safe transport. The manuscript’s elegant script is enhanced by two kinds of decoration: abstract, linear motifs that highlight textual transitions and figural representations. This is a fine example of an African-Christian culture to which the African-American community has, from earliest days, looked as a source and model.

Behind the Stacks: “At a single view” – Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart

Close-up of the 15th and 16th century sections in Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart, showing proximity of the advent of printing and the Reformation

One of the joys of my job as Collections Services Assistant is the ability to browse the closed stacks where we store our rare books and special collections. One item I happened to find recently was too large and unwieldy to simply peek at, and since there’s no telling when some reader will next request this item for it to see the light of day, I brought it down to our conference room to spread it out and admire the scale and detail of this chart.

Full view of the 3.5 feet wide circular chart

 

Created by Richard Cunningham Shimeall in 1833, and revised at the latest in 1853, this item may be best described by listing its full title:

A COMPLETE ECCLESIASTICAL CHART, From the earliest Records, SACRED AND PROFANE, DOWN TO THE PRESENT DAY; SHOWING ITS CONNECTION WITH CIVIL HISTORY AND PROPHECY: And exhibiting at a single view, the IDENTITY AND PERPETUITY of the CHURCH, IN HER ADVERSE AND PROSPEROUS STATES, UNDER THE Mosaic and Christian Dispensations, And embracing a detailed account of the Political Events, External History, Internal Government, Religious Observances, and growing corruptions of the Church; and of the REFORMATION: AND EMBRACING THE NAMES OF REMARKABLE PERSONS; Viz. Bishops, Popes, Martyrs, Writers, Doctors, Philosophers, Emperors, &c. And a general survey of Doctrines, Sects, Councils, and Prevailing Philosophy; The comparative Rise, Revolutions, and Fall, of the PRINCIPAL EMPIRES IN THE WORLD, And a complete Nucleus to the FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY OF THE WHOLE.

Section of chart showing figures and events of the “Æra of the Jewish Church”

In the accompanying key to the chart (also available in digitized form), Shimeall describes how the chart is to be read and how he has used shapes, colors, and placement to indicate the changing size or influence of the Church in relation to civil and political events.

Data visualization, 19th century-style: section of chart showing the “Æra of the Christian Church” and the use of widths of color bands to show comparative social forces in time.

Truly a feast of type, decoration, and illustration, the chart was engraved and printed by Samuel Styles of New York. Imagine composing and proofing for this job!

Close-up of the 1st century section, showing a box that seems to have been mistakenly left blank

Calling the chart his “Great Circle,” Shimeall chose the circular shape to “serve as an intimation of [the Church of the living God’s] final recovery to a state of eternal peace and glory.”

Close-up of vignette in the 19th century section, depicting an angel and a broken hourglass, seeming to herald the “Prelude to the close of time.”

The Burke Library’s copies of the key to the chart come with pages of contemporary testimonials and reviews, and many of the reviewers express the sentiment that they could not do justice to the exhaustive detail of the chart and recommend that the work be viewed in person. And indeed, 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.