Author Archives: Rebecca Nieto

Midwinter’s Tale from the Primary Source Internship

As we shake off the dregs of last week’s “bomb cyclone”, it seems an appropriate moment to recognize the most recent labors of the Burke’s student workers. By the end of his time processing archival collections in the library this December, Columbia Religion PhD candidate Andrew McLaren had processed a rangy, exceptionally complex number of collections at Burke. At the end of his time in the library this December, Andrew wrote the following reflection of his experiences processing and getting to know some of our library’s distinctive collections.

Warmest thanks to Andrew for his wonderful work these past months. Thanks also belong to Primary Source Internship and the Henry Luce Foundation, whose support facilitate the processing and access of collections like the Donald Shriver and Harrison Sacket Elliott Papers can be effectively processed for use by future researchers.

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Collections

As a primary source intern at the Burke Library of Union Theological Seminary, I have processed four collections of archival documents. Addressing both conservational and organizational issues, I examined, described, and re-housed thousands of documents, photographs, and other materials.

 

Drawing on substantial work done by earlier archivists, I updated and completed the processing of three existing collections: the papers of William Walker Rockwell, Henry Boynton Smith, and Harrison Sacket Elliott. Each of these collections documents periods of growth for Union Theological Seminary. Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1877), educated in Europe, was among the Seminary’s most active librarians, pushing considerably for an expansion of its holdings with more rigorous scholarly collections. William Walker Rockwell (1874-1958), a scholar of church history, oversaw another significant expansion of the library, including the housing of the Missionary Research Library collection at UTS. He also aided with the library’s pioneering re-organization into an expansive research collection under the great librarian Julia Pettee in the early 20th century. Harrison Sacket Elliott (1882-1951), a former missionary in China and an active member of the YMCA, pushed the boundaries of theological education into new territory, extensively exploring the relationships among theology, education, and psychology and helping to re-make UTS’s place in religious education in America.

 

The bulk of my time, however, was devoted to processing the papers of the 13th President of Union Theological Seminary, Professor Donald Woods Shriver, Jr.  (b. 1927). President Shriver is well-remembered for navigating a stretch of financial difficulty for the Seminary. Moreover, his vocal advocacy for the importance of ethical thought and critical remembrance is well-known, culminating in his 2005 book, Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember its Misdeeds, which earned President Shriver the Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 2009.

Moreover, the extensive collection of notes from both his own education (including coursework with R.R. Niebuhr, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Bellah) and the courses he taught as a professor at Union provides a window onto a formative period of theological and religious studies education in America. Internationally engaged, ethically minded, and publicly active, President Shriver’s legacy represents rather aptly the educational values of Union.

Donald Shriver Portrait. UTS2. Faculty Photographs: Pres. Donald W. Shriver.
The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University 

II. Notes on a Process

As a student of early Islamic history, I’ve learned that certain kinds of distance are part of the work: temporal ones (between now and the 10th century), spatial ones (between the Burke Library, and, say, Baghdad), and material ones (between manuscripts and printed editions). I applied to the primary source internship hoping to develop a clearer insight into the relationships between the interpretation of texts and their physical histories. Although the contexts are entirely different, thinking about how the written traces of someone’s life’s work are distilled and distributed neatly into folders and boxes is not unlike the way one must think through the construction of a text.

 

In my research on early Islamic historiography (i.e., the study of how people understand the past and talk or write about it), I’m often hunting for minute hints of how scholars assembled their texts. This can be extremely difficult for eras in which relatively little textual material survives. In a sense, it’s impossible to check the work of our historians, because their resources have often disappeared (in the hubbub of an ancient library, in a fire, in a worm’s stomach). As one of my professors often opines, he’d use a time machine not to alter the course of history, but to have a bit of conversation with al-Tabari, the great 10th-century historian, and a peek at his personal archive. In the meantime, we have to read very carefully for the “seams” of the text—moments of disagreement, patterns in language usage, or anachronistic references can all prove significant for imagining how the surviving text was assembled.

 

As an intern working on processing papers, I stood at the opposite end of that process. The papers of Smith or Rockwell are fragments of story, waiting to be sewn together. And since one of archiving’s imperatives is preserving a sense of the papers’ provenance, organizing documents and photographs in a neutral way that keeps context in focus but bows to a logic requires careful thought. A keen observer might already be able to see the rudiments of a story in the way a collection is organized (this is perhaps especially true, given our propensity for thinking about things in chronological sequences). Of course, the second side of the coin is the difficulty of even wrapping one’s head around all the accessioned materials (for instance, President Shriver’s papers arrived in 30-some bankers boxes). Where do you start if you don’t know the beginning of the story?

Ultimately, the archive points toward the power of the organizing narrative. Six dozen document boxes sitting quietly on the shelves can’t tell their own story; 1700 photographic negatives themselves can’t recount the past without a little light shining through them. In this idea, there is perhaps a rather poetic connection to President Shriver’s work on the significance of communal memory, particularly of the shameful past. Because our stories obscure as easily as they reveal, it is the narrator’s task to tell a story that takes account not of who we wish we had been, but who we must be in the future.

I wish to extend my thanks to Matthew Baker, Betty Bolden, Myong Jin, Rebecca Potts, and Deanna Roberts for their generosity in all things. I want especially to thank Rebecca M. Nieto for all her guidance and good cheer in the course of my internship. –AGM

~

Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation research focuses on a historiographical text about conquests and politics in the first three centuries of Islam, as well as its reception in various geographical and linguistic contexts and understandings of history.

Mr. Smith Goes to Berlin: German Learning in the Papers of Henry Boynton Smith

Below is a blog post written by the Burke’s current Primary Source Intern, Andrew McLaren. Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia.Andrew McLaren is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation research focuses on a historiographical text about conquests and politics in the first three centuries of Islam, as well as its reception in various geographical and linguistic contexts and understandings of history. More broadly, he is interested in the function of the writing of texts in social history, particularly in historiography, theology, and law.

The staff at the Burke is thrilled that Andrew will continue to work with us into the next academic year, and we’re thrilled to make this special collection available for research. You can also read Andrew’s post on the Columbia University Libraries Internship Program blog.

 

Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1877) was professor and librarian at Union Theological Seminary from 1850 to 1874, joining the faculty at UTS after serving as a Congregationalist minister (1842-1847) and teaching philosophy at Amherst College (1847-1850). Smith is perhaps best remembered for the active role he played in the reunion of the Old and New Schools of the Presbyterian Church, beginning with his election as moderator of the General Assembly of the New School denomination in 1863. He also wielded significant influence in the growth of the study of church history in America.

Photo 1. Steel plate of H.B. Smith by Ritchie.

Before joining the faculty, however, Smith spent a long time in pursuit of education, including three years passed in Paris, Halle, and Berlin studying with several prominent theologians, philosophers, and Orientalists. Smith’s time there appears to have been incredibly productive. In a letter (dated April 30, 1839) to his parents, Smith describes a class schedule to make even the hardiest student blush:

My lectures are 8-9, Logic, with Gabler, five times a week ; 9-10, Jewish History, Hengstenberg, five times; 10-11, Job, Hengstenberg, five times ; 11-12, Neander, Acts, six times ; 12-1, History of Christian Doctrines, Neander, three times a week ; 4-5, Criticism of Hegelian Philosophy with Trendelenburg, four times; a lecture on John, twice a week; Homiletics, once; History of German Philosophy, twice a week; Twesten, Introduction to Christian Morals, once a week, and one or two others; one in Goethe and Schiller, twice a week. So you see my time is likely to be full

 

Photo 2. “So you see my time is likely to be full…” H.B. Smith’s class list. Spring 1839.

European philosophy in the lifetime of Henry Boynton Smith is usually thought of as sliding into stagnation, its energy sapped by the rise of the natural sciences. But as Frederick Beiser argued in a recent book, that narrative is largely incorrect; rather, the time between 1840 and 1900 actually saw a flourishing among philosophers desperately grappling with a confounded sense of purpose: what role should philosophy play in modern intellectual projects, like the natural sciences?

In this flourishing landscape, Beiser argues, many different stories can and should be told. One story has been recently related by Annette Aubert in her work on the influence of German theologians on their American counterparts, where she argues that H.B. Smith and other students who studied in Europe played a key role in the interpreting those ideas and translating them to America.

 

 

 

As the documents in H.B. Smith’s papers show, the thoroughfares and the byways of his career crisscrossed through the verdant intellectual landscape sketched by Beiser and Aubert. For instance, one of Beiser’s main characters, Adolf Trendelenburg (1802-1872), is one of the teachers mentioned in Smith’s course list, and Smith left behind a notebook full of detailed notes on Trendelenburg’s lecture course entitled Kritik des Hegelischen Systems (“Criticism of the Hegelian System”).

Photo 3. “Criticism of the Hegelian System, according to his [i.e., Hegel’s] Encyclopaedie. A. Trendelenburg.”

Among the papers are also several notebooks from classes with Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), a theology professor at the University of Halle and prolific author and preacher. With him, Smith studied Christian ethics, dogmatic theology, the Pauline letters (about which Tholuck wrote a famous commentary), and theological literature more generally. Smith maintained a lifelong relationship with many of his teachers, including Tholuck—12 letters from him are found among Smith’s correspondence.

Photo 4. Spine and page from notebook for Tholuck’s Christliche Sittenlehre (“Christian Morals”). The opening lines read, “Introduction. §1. Concept of the Moral.”

Of further interest are the notes of Smith’s own students at Union in the 1850s and 1860s, which were used in the posthumous publication of three volumes of Smith’s lectures in systematic theology. Even a quick perusal of the pages reveals that Hegel and other German thinkers are not absent from Smith’s work, but their appearance here alongside a broader swathe of philosophers (including English and French thinkers, from David Hume to Auguste Comte) reveals both Smith’s own erudition and the space of interaction into which he carried his German education. All of these intellectual currents are addressed within the broad gaze of Smith’s theology.

 

 

Photo 5. Page from Systematic Theology notebook, giving Hegel’s definition of spirit.

The history of philosophy in the late 19th century took many roads, some less-travelled than others. The papers and publications of Henry Boynton Smith show how one of those roads, travelled by a precocious young man from Maine, passed directly through Union, marked by a collection of signposts and waypoints in the Burke archives.

 

***

 

 

Further reading

A.G. Aubert: “Henry Boynton Smith and Church History in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History 85, no. 2 (2016), 302-327.

A.G. Aubert, The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

  1. Beiser,After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  2. Smith,Henry Boynton Smith: his Life and Work. New York: Armstrong and Son, 1881.

A Window into a Life’s Work: The Eddy Papers

N.B.: The following post was written by Bo Reynolds, a recent M.Div. graduate from Union and current archives assistant processing the papers of Norman and Margaret Eddy with the generous financial support of the Eddy family. Read more to learn about Bo’s spring working with this collection at the Burke! And congratulations to Bo and the rest of Union’s Class of 2017!

Since November 2016 I’ve been working as an intern in the Burke Library, specifically hired to process the Norman and Peg Eddy papers. The collection is a large one, with their photos, journals, correspondence, and personal archives filling 86 banker’s boxes which, when lined up side to side, extend over 118 linear feet. Norman and Margaret (Peg) were both Union alumni, members of the class of 1951, and dedicated their lives to ministering in East Harlem, initially through involvement with the East Harlem Protestant Parish and continuing with the different ministries and churches which were the heirs of EHPP’s spiritual legacy. Norman and Peg’s family, particularly their daughter Martha Eddy, continue to be actively involved with the collection as they work on compiling a biographical narrative of their parent’s faith and service.

Peg and Norman, May 30, 1951, shortly after their graduation from Union. UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

 

I have a greater grasp on Norman’s life than I do Peg’s by virtue of his many varied autobiographical efforts and his meticulous preservation of his journals, essays, work-related materials, and correspondence dating back into his year spent as an exchange student at The Stowe School in 1937-1938 (where he became acquainted with Christopher Robin, son of AA Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh). Norman later studied at Yale, while Peg studied at Smith. Norman completed his course of study at Yale early, leading the class effort to acquire their degrees ahead of schedule in order to be able to serve in the war effort; he volunteered for the American Field Service as an ambulance driver.

 

Peg’s Union Diploma, May 22, 1951. UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

 

Both Norm and Peg were drawn to pursue theological study by the experience of a

spiritual vision: His was in the Syrian desert, hers at a light house in Nantucket. They both sensed that the Holy Spirit was at work broadly within the world, drawing people of faith and goodwill into cooperative efforts to address social ills; they both entered Union Theological Seminary in 1948, married in 1950, and graduated and were ordained in Congregationalist churches in 1951. They had become individually aware of the ministry efforts in East Harlem by the East Harlem Protestant Parish during their time at UTS and became co-pastors of the 100th street storefront church for the first five years of their ministries.

Norman and Peg lived and worked in East Harlem for the entirety of their ministries, with a deep commitment not only to their parishioners, but to the neighborhood itself and its citizens. I am not studying archival science; I came to Union Theological Seminary in order to prepare myself for parish ministry in the Episcopal Church. As I spend time organizing, preserving, and reading the materials left behind by Norman and Peg Eddy, I am continually inspired by the work and faith of the Eddy family. Their energy seems boundless as they tackled school reform, local elections, the formation of a credit union, the construction of two new church buildings, a committee to assist those addicted to Narcotics, global travel, interfaith work, and numerous sermons and essays. Their love for their neighborhood and their neighbors is immediately evident the amount of support, tangible and intangible, that they gave through reference letters for first-generation college students, advocacy and pastoral support for the incarcerated, anonymous donations to families in need, housing and shelter for those who had none; the list goes on.

Some of Norman’s letters from WWII (January, April, June 1943). UTS1: Norman and Margaret Eddy Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

I am mindful, however, not to stray into writing hagiography. Their life’s work came with great personal cost at times and there are many instances of setback, heartbreak, and frustration present in their letters and journals. For me, though, the Eddys represent a life of true solidarity with those that they served. They lived in the community alongside their parishioners and made the cares and struggles of East Harlem their own. I read and handle their materials with deep gratitude for their race well-run and for the opportunity to encounter their ministries and stories in such a deeply personal manner. As I graduate and move on from Union towards a life of ordained ministry, I will remember the example and faith of Norman and Peg Eddy as I seek to walk in solidarity with people of faith and goodwill in service to ‘the least of these’.

Meeting “Pit”: Processing the Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers

N.B.: The Burke Archives had the good fortune of inviting Olivia Rutigliano to be our Intern in Primary Sources for the 2016-2017 year. During this time, she has processed the papers of Henry Pitney Van Dusen, one of Union’s most well-known presidents. Read below to learn about Olivia’s first experience processing a large archival collection, Union’s history, and Van Dusen’s legacy.

In my capacity as Columbia’s Primary Source Intern for the 2016-2017 academic year, I have been working at Burke Library, processing an exhaustive collection of documents once belonging to Henry Pitney Van Dusen (1897-1975), who served as president of Union Theological Seminary from 1945-1963. The wide-ranging collection includes material concerning his teaching and academic responsibilities, his many book and article projects, his ministry and outreach, and his work for various international and domestic ecumenical committees and conferences, as well as his personal correspondence, and other materials or publications relating to his life as a public intellectual.

Portrait of HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

In short, it is a huge collection. In fact, before the collection had begun being processed, it took 72 banker’s boxes to hold the entire thing. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, my chief responsibilities principally included sorting through these boxes — organizing and classifying this large volume of materials within various definitive categories, removing them from packaging that might be chemically or physically hazardous to their preservation, locating dates and other identifying information for the contents, and producing a clear and intuitive Finding Aid, to help future researchers navigate the collection with ease.

Now, after nearly all the materials have been organized and sorted into (smaller, sleeker, and clearly delineated) manuscript boxes, we estimate that the collection physically spans around 100 linear feet (archival collections are measured the total width of every box in the collection). The collection contains letters, memos, sermons, lectures, photographs, magazines, pamphlets, programs, index and business cards, and entire book manuscripts, as well as countless drafts of both chapters and individual essays. It also contains several children’s illustrations completed in crayon on construction paper (likely made by Van Dusen’s children), messages from such longtime pals as John Foster Dulles (who filed a legal brief on his behalf, arguing that Van Dusen, who caused an outcry by admitting that he did not believe that Christ was literally born of a virgin, should not have his his minister’s ordination questioned by the Presbyterian General Assembly), and several copies of the 1954 Time, with Van Dusen as the magazine’s cover story.

A letter from Eleanor Roosevelet to HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 15, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

A PhD student in Columbia’s English and Theatre departments, specializing in Victorian entertainment, I barely had any exposure to Van Dusen’s prolific and distinguished career prior to processing his papers. As I began to read and sort through his documents, I learned about the depth of his various worlds, and the impact of his tremendous influence. Indeed, Van Dusen was a prominent thinker and sought-after academic, whose expertise and engagement was vast — spanning very many contemporary issues. I processed many files of sermons and articles directly addressing contemporary theological and socio-political debates, as well as his own personal ruminations on ethical matters. He was the engineer behind many massive organizations of which I had heard, such as the World Council of Churches. He was also, I learned, an entrenched New Yorker — a descendant of one of New York City’s oldest families, who had been here since it inhabited a few hundred people and was called New Amsterdam. (Personally, I can claim three generations of family in the city — he could claim ten.) The Van Dusen family has, in its family tree, U.S. Presidents Martin Van Buren and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as, I just found out, the Brooklyn-based clothing designer Dusen Dusen.

Letter from John Masefield on the birth of John George Van Dusen. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 2, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting two members of the Van Dusen family, Hugh, Van Dusen’s second son, and Hans, his grandson. They stopped by Burke to check out the collection, and I was delighted to show them a few items from it: birth announcements, letters of congratulations (including from UK poet laureate John Masefield) and a baby photo of Van Dusen’s oldest son, John George, as well as (a personal favorite of mine) a series of letters exchanged between Van Dusen and Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1954, through which Roosevelt enlisted Van Dusen’s help to work the Membership Drive Committee for the American Association for the United Nations. 

It was wonderful to meet Van Dusen’s family, who were excited to look at the documents and glad to chat about them; spending weeks upon weeks organizing and filing his material legacy, it was both lovely and uncanny to meet the people who had known him the best, during the life that he had documented so well. 

Left of the Middle – the Donald Laverne Benedict Papers

Don Benedict was many things — a Union alumnus, a founder of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, a WWII conscientious objector-cum-Air Force sergeant (retroactively pardoned by Truman in 1947), a staunch criminal justice reform advocate/prison abolition activist, a minister in the United Church of Christ, an ally and advocate to people of color targeted by the police from New York to Chicago, a devout Midwesterner, and husband to Ann, a fellow activist and EHPP founder whose own tireless work could span volumes.

Just some light reading… an annotated first edition of DLB’s autobiography alongside a typescript of his 1994 essay, “Will America Self-Destruct?” Series 3, box 2, folders 1 and 24.

This particular reverend was also what I like to call a “keeper”. Like many writers, he tirelessly drafted, annotated, and held onto versions his writing as if they were precious food in wartime. When I first passed over the fifteen-plus record boxes that have been waiting in the Burke’s basement since we first received Don Benedict’s papers in 2010, I steeled myself for extensive weeding to uncover the thread of a cohesive life story.

DLB circa 1960s. Series 4, box 1, folder 2.

Don Benedict’s life doesn’t seem like it was one that took kindly to order and intuition, though. A white middle-class boy raised in Michigan, Benedict could easily have taken a more or less intuitive road in life – gone to seminary, served in the war when he was asked to, married when he supposed he should, settled down with a single parish and perhaps one day gather up his sermons and correspondences to donate to the appropriate historical society or library. Instead, Reverend Benedict seemed pulled (from a remarkably early age) to something greater, messier and far more transformative for himself and for people and communities walking the same streets as him, but whose life experiences were riven by systemic oppression because of racism and poverty.

The numerous drafts and excerpts of memoirs that I organized in Reverend Benedict’s papers do justice to winter sleigh rides with his father in Canton and Don’s diffidence in school, but also to his early observations of social injustice that undergirded urban American life. I was happy to find so little to weed in Reverend Benedict’s writings — he was a keeper, but an exceptionally wry, generous and illustrative memoirist. It was as if his autobiographical impulse stemmed not so much from the need to be remembered himself, but from an understanding that his work and life was bearing witness to a dream for change that was much bigger than one person. As such, it didn’t seem possible or ethical or do away with the traces and passages Benedict wrote, since so much of it tells a personal history, a history of Union, and a cultural history of activism in 1940s America at the same time. In one passage recounting his Union admission interview with Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, Benedict writes:

With my B- college grade average I hesitakenly [sic] walked into his office. I talked a bit about my background and admitted that I had not spent much time on my college studies. I talked about my interest in relating the church to questions of race and poverty. At this point he warmed up a bit and said that they might find some small tuition help if I decided to come to Union. The warmth and understanding of this man really impressed me […] about two weeks later I received a letter from him saying that I was admitted to Union Seminary. Little did he know that within two years he would be visiting me along with others in the federal jail at West street in New York City but that comes later in the story. [“Early Years”, Series 3, Box 1, f 7]

Don Benedict (second from the front on the right) and his Union classmates after their arrest for resisting the draft in 1940. Series 4, box 1, folder 8.

 

Paragraphs like this one – irregularly paginated and stuffed among mottled clippings – made me feel like I was listening to Don while taking a walk near his family home in Chittenden, Vermont. Most of us have had experiences like this, when someone’s freeform thoughts are written in such a way that the words almost seem to pop. Reverend Benedict’s memoirs have this quality, and create a compelling real-life bildungsroman of a middle-class Midwesterner whose calling was anything but middle-of-the-road. Indeed, Benedict’s autobiographical impulses eventually did take a relatively concise form in his 1982 memoir, Born Again Radical, which recounts Benedict’s upbringing in Detroit (including witnessing the race riots there), to Union, to his brief time incarcerated at Danbury, to Iwo Jima in 1945, back to Union, to the storefront churches of East Harlem, to some of the numerous (truly, so many) community organizations founded or in some way led by Don and Ann, to the intimate relationships Don maintained with members of the many communities he moved in.

Some of the most glimmering materials I had the privilege of organizing came from Don’s longstanding correspondence with people whose lives were/are affected by the criminal justice system. When he couldn’t fight alongside someone, Benedict fought for them, and this realization lent particular credence to the work of handling his papers. As I was researching this collection/googling, I came across an expired IndieGoGo fundraiser organized by one of Don and Ann’s grandchildren, Agnotti Cowie, who was creating a documentary about Ann and Don called “A Dangerous Pair”. In the project trailer, one of Don’s friends attempts to summarize Don and Ann’s life’s work: “[He] would go into a neighborhood, talk to the people, find out what’s troubling them, convince them that those troubles are a consequence of powers greater than they are, then organize people to exercise their organized power against the powers that were oppressing them.”

I’d been excited to dig into Reverend Benedict’s papers since I began working as an archivist at the Burke. This collection adds to our still-deepening collection of archival material from the postwar years, situated somewhere between the East Harlem Protestant Parish papers processed before my arrival, and the Norm & Peg Eddy papers being processed by a current Union student this semester. In Don Benedict’s papers, I was delighted to take a proverbial walk with a humble, driven, devoted person who embodied the spirit of allyship in urban ministry and in community building.

Appropriately, the linear extent of this newly-processed collection is about equivalent to the height of an exceptionally tall person.

Four Collections Later: LIS Student Paul Paulson’s Semester in the Burke Archives

The following blog post was written by Paul Paulson, the Burke’s most recent archival student intern. Paul is completing his coursework in the LIS program at Rutgers University, and saw several projects through the archival life cycle during his semester with the Burke. Here are some of Paul’s thoughts on the other side of his internship experience:

This fall I have had the good fortune of working in the archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary an apply, in a real world environment, what hitherto had only been theoretical. I had the benefit of taking an archiving class concurrent to my work here, which informed much of this experience. Conversely, my time at the Burke gave salience to issues and concerns we investigated in a classroom environment.

I processed a total of four collections which were all rather heterogeneous. The first were the papers of Dr. Christopher Morse, a professor who spent the bulk of his career at Union and who is credited with creating the Bonhoeffer Chair in Theology and Ethics. His papers represent a rather contemporary collection. Along with printed articles and the like were computer diskettes of varying antiquity. Professor Morse’s papers comprised about 12 1/2 boxes of material which were primarily scholarly in nature.

Archival boxes holding the Morse Papers just after processing.

A smaller but no less fascinating collection were the papers of Titus and Fidelia Coan, 18th century missionaries who settled in Hawaii. Titus Coan was very peripatetic, traveling to Patagonia and the Marquesas islands as part of his missionary calling. The papers donated were letters that Titus and Fidelia exchanged between one another. The beauty of the language and the sheer volume of letters the Coans exchanged were quite inspired.

Another small collection that I process belonged to Eitel Proelss, a German born theologian who, like his contemporary Dietrich Bonhoeffer, belonged to the Confessing Church and resisted Nazi influence during WWII. Proelss was sentenced to hard labor but survived the war. Proelss eventually became interested in criminality and began a program at UTS that merged pastoral care with psychology. He also served as the Chaplain of Rikers island for 10 years . His papers offer a glimpse at the thoughts of an individual concerned for well-being of the incarcerated and assured of the redemptive possibilities for criminalized people.

My last collection was that of an individual named Arthur Mason Brown , whose grandfather, Francis Brown, was the seventh president of Union Theological Seminary. Arthur Mason Brown was born and grew up in present day Syria and served in the Navy during World War II. He eventually moved Egypt where he taught at the The American University of Cairo, also preaching at the Maadi Church in Maadi, Egypt. Though he eventually settled in the States, Brown returned to the Middle East for a year in 1971 to teach at the American University in Beirut.  In his teaching years he found himself at a number of different institutions in the States, but spent the bulk of his career at Bates College in Maine. It was there that he suffered a devastating stroke which is said to had triggered a crisis of faith in him. After he stopped teaching and preaching, he devoted his energy to Haiku poems, two books of which are included in the collection. Most of Brown’s archival papers are sermons. These are abundant and a number of them exist in several different versions. It was challenging to fix an accurate chronology for them all and hopefully I have done an adequate job of it. There are also photos and the Haikus which provide a welcome contrast to the preponderance of sermons.

All in all, it has been a blessing to have had the opportunity to work here alongside – and with the guidance-  of the knowledgeable and generous staff at the Burke. This has whetted my appetite to pursue more opportunities in this field, and I am grateful for having been given the chance to work here.

First Steps Processing the Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers: An Odd Sort of Activist

Rebecca Lossin was a summer intern who began processing the Van Dusen Papers in the Burke’s archives. Below are some of her thoughts processing the first several series in the voluminous Van Dusen Collection. The project will be completed in the 2016-2017 academic year with the support of the Columbia University Libraries Primary Source Internship. Read on and stay tuned for more on Pit’s life and legacy in the coming months!

The late 1960s found Henry Pitney Van Dusen in a flurry of letter writing activity. At this time the Vietnam War was at its height; the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 sent ripples through otherwise placid religious communities at home and abroad; students across the United States were making demands of their governments and universities; and women sought equal places in institutions of higher education. The modernization theory that sat so comfortably with a traditional missionary mandate throughout the 1950s and early 1960s was on its way out and new set of political relationships and expectations were on the horizon.

Van Dusen served as the President of Union Theological Seminary from 1945 to 1963 after which he continued to be active in the academic world, weighing in on issues at UTS, organizing semi-annual symposia on theological themes and serving on the Board of Trustees of Princeton University. “Pit,” as he was affectionately called by friends and colleagues, was always active in several organizations at once. He was a prolific and respected theologian and, if his notes from the time he spent teaching Systematic Theology are any indication, extremely well-versed in subjects as various as Augustine of Hippo and William James.

The papers of Henry Pitney Van Dusen are a rich and informative collection that should appeal to scholars of many stripes and the information contained in these surprisingly well-organized record boxes could paint numerous and varied pictures of this active and well-documented man. It seems to me, however, that “Pit” was at his most active and most interesting when theological questions intersected with political events.  While he was clearly capable of giving learned lectures on “Homiletics and the Pauline Letters” or  “The Evangelical Revival” the volume of correspondence and other writing that Van Dusen produced in relation to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Vietnam, and the institution of apartheid in South Africa, indicates a particular passion for political events.

Van Dusen does not settle easily into current popular categories of Left and Right. His political positions would seem utterly contradictory within the context of today’s party platforms (indeed, we see something similar in the current Pope). He was, for example, deeply suspicious of coeducation, preferring that Princeton take its cues from the Harvard-Radcliffe model, where, according to his letters, a Mrs. Bunting did a fine job of reminding young ladies of their future roles as wives and mothers.

He supported the war in Vietnam and was mortified by the publicity that a few of his fellow trustees obtained by publicly declaring their anti-war positions. While, in the end, The Princeton Board of Trustees chose not to address this issue in any official capacity, Van Dusen took it upon himself to distribute surveys in order to discern what a majority of the members’ positions actually were. His correspondence indicates that he wanted to correct the record publicly so that it was not assumed that Princeton was anti-war,  but was discouraged from doing so by other trustees.

Politically nuanced, Van Dusen was horrified by the institution of apartheid and devoted his inexhaustible energy to encouraging Princeton’s board to take an official position against the practice of apartheid and to divest from companies that directly or indirectly supported the government of South Africa or benefited from their practices.

He took what seems, from his records at least, to be an unpopular and arguably pro-Arab position during and following the Six Day War or the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Files dated as early as 1940 indicate that he is not a supporter of political Zionism, but the voluminous correspondence that resulted from the 1967 war shows a man who took a principled stance that was at odds with a majority of his colleagues. He received letters that ranged from reasoned and even-handed disagreement to pure vitriol. One correspondent claimed that “the pathological unconscious of Christendom has at last come to the surface in this man.” There are indications in later letters that he suffered along with his family from his very public opinions regarding this matter and became more cautious about sharing his views later in that year.

And there is, of course, his principled stance on euthanasia, which he and his wife put into practice late in their life by committing suicide together.

What I find most compelling about Henry Pitney “Pit” Van Dusen is not any of his political positions alone or in combination, but the overwhelming evidence of a man whose faith and religious beliefs oriented him solidly and unapologetically in the face of widespread and sometimes vitriolic opposition.  The only thing lacking in these papers is any indication that Van Dusen could be swayed by popular opinions or a group consensus. Even, it turns out, when this consensus was doctrinal–he was very nearly denied ordination because he did not believe in the Virgin Birth.

 

Cartoonists, Dramaturgs and Old Testament Feminists: An Archivist’s First Months at the Burke

Hello Burke world! I joined Union’s library staff this February, filling a vacant Project Archivist position whose previous occupant guided the successful processing of the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives, the Missionary Research Library collection, and more with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation and other grant-funding organizations and individuals. I’m originally from New Mexico (a place with an aridity that I’m sorely missing during my first summer on this swampy island), and recently completed my M.L.I.S. in Archival Studies from McGill University in Montreal. Coming into this community has been in many ways a rigorous crash course in ecumenical studies, but happily a smooth process of folding into and keeping step with the everyday work of a small academic archive situated in an expansive research university. The learning curve I’ve ridden this spring has been notable given my status as a new archival professional with interests both in academic librarianship, special collections and rare books and archives. Prior to coming to the Burke, my background in archival practice had been situated in the U.S. and Canada, and primarily saw me leading small survey and processing projects in cultural heritage, art and academic settings with an acronym-riddled arsenal of best practices and archival theory at my disposal.

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Phyllis Trible at work. Trible’s archive consists of text-based, visual materials and realia reflecting Trible’s historic career in Biblical criticism, feminist studies and the Old Testament. Her papers bridge the UTS Archives to the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, and is an actively growing collection now available for on-site consultation. 

The extent of my religious studies acumen prior to joining the Burke was limited to my middling knowledge of the Presbyterian beginnings of the small Midwestern town where I lived during college, the particular dryness of Eucharistic hosts during my Catholic adolescence, and a fairweather interest in the eternal consequences of my meager mortal actions. I come from a literary studies and critical theory background, and have always been drawn toward the nuanced, less visible ways in which people and communities of people make sense or chalk up their experiences of this life, those experiences of religion and spirituality that respectively become occasions for world-making, diasporas, rituals and art forms that seem endlessly abundant in relief and hope. Part of what compels me toward the humanities, history and narrative has been the particular privilege and work of acknowledging my own ignorance of the world beyond my own, the limits of individual perspective, but also of the ways in which knowledge is produced to bind our subjectivities to one another. In the process of memory-making and historicization, I am equally interested in the erasures and violences that also constitute a part of the ways in which we understand our spiritual and social worlds.  Theology, perhaps more than any field I’ve taken up so far in my life and nascent work, attests to this pervasive knee-jerk desire to balance sense-making with reverence, critical thought with faith, silence with articulation. This process of coming to know, even in silence and subjectivity, is what drew me to library science, and archival practice in particular.

The projects that met me at the Burke did not disappoint. As the Project Archivist responsible for the processing, housing, and long-term preservation of the UTS 1 Archives – an aggregate of archival collections stemming from faculty, alumni, and other Union-affiliated individuals acquired by the library – I have become a sudden steward of a world steeping in interdisciplinary, interdenominational discourse. From my first day in the library, I realized that I had entered a space that, though a slim five-block walk north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, is unique in its historical and academic context. As one of my colleagues told me on admiring the crucifix-emblazoned doorknobs leading into our on-site archival space, “The divine is in the details”. It’s indeed astonishing to be a custodian of archival collections outside my formal background and to learn so quickly and richly about the haptic space the seminary is situated in, the gargoyles that greet me in the stairwell, the filigreed doorknobs evoking Union’s denominational past, the engraved edifice on the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary (…“And the bush was not consumed”), or the limestone gauntlet of the neighboring Interchurch Center (a.k.a. the God Box).

The variance and allure of the people and spaces I’ve had the privilege of connecting with since arriving at the Burke has been matched only by the archival collections themselves. With the invaluable assistance of library school interns, Columbia and UTS student employees, and the support of my colleagues and mentors, I have been bolstered in processing the papers of people like Phyllis Trible, a beacon of Union’s community and bracing feminist Biblical scholar; Max Coots, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Union graduate whose joint Master’s in religious education in 1953 between Teacher’s College at Columbia and Union was fulfilled with a brilliant full-color cartoon thesis depicting the politics of post-war activism, racism and redemption through the UU tradition; and the papers of Bob Seaver, Union’s beloved late professor of Speech and Drama, whose papers include audiovisual evidence of his singular teaching style as well as his extensive work in religious drama in the ecumenical and theater communities. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Seaver’s papers so far have been his extensive notes used when preparing for his courses in preaching. In these notes, Seaver’s approach to vocal exercise and tuning the human voice become a form of scrawled language poetry. One undated note card reads:

We’ve been dealing with how to release breath
F U L L Y
Breath — The source of sound
Work on the jaw
Tongue, concerns
Throat
How to free the channels
Through which sound travels
Jaw — widens the exit
When some deep emotion
Is the impulse for sound

Tongue — shapes sound 
Articulation
Throat — the main channel
The task — relax the channel

Stimulate the source.

***

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Two frames of Max Alden Coots’ cartoon thesis submitted in fulfillment of his M.Div./M.Ed. in 1953 from Teachers College and UTS. Coots, an artist and Unitarian Universalist Minister, is one exemplar of the visually and conceptually compelling approaches to religious education that Union alumni and faculty have practiced throughout their careers. 

Processing collections coming from individuals like these is not only a privileged sort of intellectual labor, but one that begs to be curated and made accessible to researchers beyond the auspices of Union’s immediate audience. Drawing on the talents of our in-house staff and from the support of our larger organization, I feel confident that new knots of researchers, students, scholars, and armchair theologians will find themselves as intrigued by the gems to be found at the Burke as I have become only six months into this new role through a mix of digital curatorial work, on-site exhibitions, cross-institutional collaborations, and streamlined practices for uploading and curating finding aids.

As I scythe through the work accomplished and the projects that I’ll undertake over the next two years, I am becoming pinchingly aware that I’ve just begun to skim the surface, to scratch the bed of all the intellectual and physical labor that lies ahead. As we approach our goal of 30-35 linear feet of processed archives per month, and as the steamy heat lamp of New York City summer settles in, I could hardly feel more energized to embark on the remaining mountain of collections. Where do you even begin to excavate the history of glory? Flick light, switch on dual monitor. Select Start.