Author Archives: Matthew Baker

Martin Luther Redux

In the fall of 2017, an exhibit marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation-kindling Ninety-five Theses was mounted at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. On Oct. 31 — “Reformation Day” — a panel was held there that included Union Seminary faculty members Euan Cameron and Brigitte Kahl and the German Consul-General, David Gill. The panel examined Luther’s significance from a variety of historical and cultural perspectives.

Thanks to the support of Columbia University Libraries’ Digital Collections and Preservation team — especially VIoleta Ilik, Melanie Wacker, Ryan Mendenhall, and David Ortiz — the exhibit has now been digitized. The online version of Wild Boar in the Vineyard: Martin Luther and the Birth of the Modern World went live this week.

Woodcut illustration of the flood narrative from Luther’s translation of the Hebrew scriptures into German

The Burke Library has a very large and far-reaching collection of printed holdings by Luther and other Reformation figures. The exhibit highlighted not only Luther’s key ideas but showcased the role both the new technology of printing and his embrace of the German vernacular as a means of expression played in the rapid spread and impact of his works.

Woodcut illustration from Luther’s German translation of the NT Apocalypse.

It is hoped that this exhibit will be a useful tool in courses studying the Reformation, as well as historical theology and the early modern history of Europe.

Exhibit URL:

Never Enough Singing!

Never Enough Singing is the title of the Festschrift published in 2011 on the occasion of Seth Kasten’s retirement from the Burke Library. It is among the items featured in the inaugural exhibit in the Seth Kasten Memorial Exhibit Case.

Seth (1945-2017) was a reference librarian at the Burke for more than 35 years. In that time, he helped countless students, faculty, and visiting researchers from near and far. Alongside his devotion to the library and its collections, Seth was a passionate musician and choir leader, founding and conducting the annual choir at the American Theological Library Association conference as well as the men’s and women’s scholas at Union. For decades he worked as an organist at many churches around the city. His wide interests made him an avid explorer and he took numerous trips to Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. This exhibit draws from the Burke’s special collections that Seth did so much to care for and share, and reflects his deep love for music, liturgy, and travel. Please come by a have a look!

Part of the Burke’s celebrated Missionary Research Library Collection, this work translates an early section from the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. Though it resembles writing, the text is printed.

This manuscript on paper contains chants for the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass. The musical notation is nagelschrift, an early modern form so-named for its resemblance to a horseshoe nail (nagel). This book was part of the collection of Leander van Ess, the core library of Union Theological Seminary at its founding in 1838.


On “Missionary Cosmopolitanism”

Among the Burke Library’s most frequently consulted collections is the Missionary Research Library (MRL), an extensive body of books, pamphlets, reports, periodicals, and archives that originated in 1914, following the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910. Created by, and initially intended as a research resource for, Protestant missionaries working in various mission “fields” around the world, it is today understood as one of the richest repositories in the U.S. for area or global studies. As the self-understanding and goals of primarily liberal Protestant denominations and organizations changed over the course of the twentieth century — from evangelization to more broadly humanitarian work in education and public health — a wide variety of materials nevertheless continued to flow into the perennially underfunding MRL. In 1976, the MRL became part of the Burke Library; in 2013 the processing of the bulk of these collections was completed by Burke Project Archivist Brigette Kamsler. (Columbia University Libraries has digitized nearly 4,000 the more than 21,000 pamphlets in the MRL; that project is expected to continue in the coming years.)


Several academic presses, including Brill and Eerdmans, have been regularly publishing works on the history of missions, evaluating the significance of Protestant as well as Roman Catholic missionary endeavors. A recent work of particular interest for the Burke’s MRL collection is David Hollinger’s Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World But Changed American (Princeton, 2017). Hollinger recently discussed his work at Columbia’s Heyman Center for the Humanities. One of the stories Hollinger highlights concerns the extent to which liberal Protestant missionaries were often the first of any segment of US society to support the work of movements such as civil rights and decolonization. Many children of missionaries (sometimes known as “mish kids” or “third culture kids”) would become scholars, diplomats, and founders of international NGOs (including precursors to programs like the Peace Corps). During World War 2 and after, they were leading advocates and supporters of Japanese citizens who had been confined.

Hollinger uses the phrase “missionary cosmopolitans” to describe the outlook and cultural influence of these individuals and the movements and organizations they fostered. Because many had grown up and been educated outside the US and often possessed deep cultural and linguistic knowledge, they tended to be sympathetic to a broader range of perspectives and experience as well as critical of both the domestic and foreign policies of the US government. They espoused a nascent version of what would later be called multiculturalism or pluralism. Though they were not always successful in achieving their cultural and political goals (he notes their often vehement but failed opposition the Vietnam War, for one), Protestants Abroad analyses how the experiences and values of these “missionary cosmopolitans” (well-attested in the holdings of the MRL) had an important influence on education, politics, and activism.