Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Burke Library Goes International

One of the great joys of working at an educational institution is the chance to meet and interact with students, teachers, and researchers from all over the world. At the Burke, that kind of interaction usually takes place when people come to visit us in New York City. But recently I had the distinct pleasure of bringing a little piece of the Burke overseas to the wonderful town of Provins, France.

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Provins, which is situated a little more than 50 miles to the southeast of Paris, is a town of about 12,000 people. Since 2001, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its remarkably well preserved medieval architecture, which includes its twelfth-century walls, a massive fortified tower at the center of the Upper Town, and several beautiful medieval churches. The town is also home to the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins, the local municipal library and archive which houses, among its many treasures, a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts and documents. In 2009, Columbia University and City of Provins forged a special partnership, which has given students and scholars at Columbia access to Provins and its many historical sites and cultural artifacts.

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

In the summer of 2010, just after the first year of my doctoral program in medieval history, I had the good fortune to be among the very first researchers to visit Provins from Columbia. I spent three weeks in July exploring Provins’ archive and the manuscripts it contained. Two weeks ago, after almost a decade-long absence, I had the good fortune to return to that same archive to help lead a special workshop on medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts. Organized by Susan Boynton, Professor of Historical Musicology at Columbia, the workshop brought together eight graduate students past and present (from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary!) who share an interest in the history, music, and religious culture of medieval Europe. Over eight days, we dug into the contents of more than a dozen medieval manuscripts, learned from one another, and shared laughs and a good helping of fellowship over many meals.

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

The entire week in Provins was great success, in large part due to the organization and tireless hospitality of two individuals: Susan Boynton and Luc Duchamp, the longtime director of the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. But as the week progressed, I was also reminded how the best kind of intellectual experiences are often determined by the people who take part in them—and how the best kind of learning is often communal—and collaborative—in nature. What made this workshop both special and also productive was the group itself. Yes, our daily work sessions in the archive were always interesting and thought-provoking, simply because of the manuscript material displayed before us. But it was also our conversations over dinner or while walking around town in search of the best almond croissants, that we bonded over our shared love of a remarkable period in history. By the end of the week, our discussions, which were as wide-ranging as they were interesting, flowed freely from the library to the restaurant, from the work table to the dinner table.

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Many people who pass through the halls of today’s universities never realize how the very word university (from the Latin “universitas”) is imbued with the idea of community and shared experience. The university is a product of the medieval world, a time when collectivism in many ways trumped the individualism that has become the norm today. Even as someone who studies the Middle Ages, I am not sorry that the medieval period is behind us. But I do hope that the very medieval notion of a shared intellectual community—universitas—lives on. In our busy lives, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of making the process of intellectual discovery a truly shared enterprise. Two weeks ago, in Provins, a group of us did our best to keep that torch of intellectual discovery aflame. And we are already hoping to plan a second installment of this workshop next year. -JMW

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Queering the Archives at Union Theological Seminary

Students in the course Christian Ethics 223, “Queering Ethics,” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, visited the Burke Library on Wednesday, March 6th, to discuss queer frameworks of power, authority, and queer subjecthood in relation to archives. The class and I delved into hands-on archival inquiry with the papers of emilie m. townes, a former professor at Union and currently the Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, a self-identified lesbian and a leading figure in womanist thought. We framed our activity with discussions of archival theory, with readings from Derrida and Foucault among others. The students debated the ethics of archival acquisition processes and research — especially as it affects the history and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons today. For several of the students, this encounter at the Burke Library was their first time handling archival documents.

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Students enrolled in CE 223 “Queering Ethics” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library. This photo appears on the Burke Library’s Instagram account @BurkeLibraryUTS

In preparation, the eighteen masters-level students in the class read a literature review of theoretical views of the archive by Marlene Manoff titled “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines” (Libraries and the Academy, 2004, 4:1). We framed our discussion around ethical issues at play in critical archive studies when it comes to the custodianship of both literal archives as well as the proverbial collective archives of social memory. If, as Derrida says, “There is no political power without control of the archive,” who decides what is kept in the archive, and how is their political power sustained? When it comes to topics in LGBTQ studies, especially in art, literature, and political movements, key figures often defy typical organizational frameworks, and resist categorization. How do researchers identify a gay or transgender writer, for example, who spent their early life in the closet, and was not labeled as such or recognized for their work (or their identity) until later in time? What are the power dynamics at play for archivists, in curating and making primary-source materials of these figures available and searchable for scholars? How do researchers with questions pose their inquiries without being imposing on, or intrusive to, queer subjects? Hefty questions indeed. After a break, we shifted gears from discussing archival processing to handling materials from the emilie townes papers first hand.

The students worked in pairs to examine the contents of one document folder each from the emilie townes papers, including some manuscript writings from early in her PhD program. One group found that some of Dr. townes’s personal research notes had been typewritten on the back of what appeared to be event flyers or inserts for church program booklets. The students speculated it may have been to save paper, but the reason was not readily apparent; we were unable to tell from the Finding Aid whether the existence of these flyers had been previously documented at all. One of the event flyers (pictured below) advertised a 1987 event called “Homosexuality and the Church” at Faith United Methodist Church, in Downers Grove, Illinois — a particularly eye-catching object, given the present ongoing debates concerning homosexuality in the UMC denomination. (Leaders at the recent UMC General Conference in St. Louis, MO, debated and voted to reaffirm the current stance of the denomination, that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” But the debate continues, as numerous LGBTQ-affirming UMC churches around the world maintain the contrary stance, in welcoming solidarity with their LGBTQ communities.) It is truly a pressing issue, one that is deeply personal to me and to many students at Union. Yet, from a cursory look, without apparent information about this document, we cannot know how it came to be among her papers, nor what role this event played in Dr. townes’s life and education. A key takeaway from this exercise, predictably, was that archival documents often raise more questions than answers.

"Homosexuality and the Church" event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

“Homosexuality and the Church” event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Some of these masters-level students are beginning to consider the possibilities for continued graduate study, and possible projects for future archival inquiry. Some students are even considering collaborating on a potential project on the LGBTQ history of Union Theological Seminary together, requiring extensive time in the UTS records held at the Burke archives. Such a project would be a hefty undertaking, but one of great value to the community here, I have no doubt. In the end, the session received a greatly positive response, and it seems these intrepid students thoroughly enjoyed their close encounter with the archives.